“I just want to be an artist”, says Radha Blank, tired of the aspersions cast upon her by professionals. The 40-Year-Old Version is the contemplative journey of a Black woman who is trying to salvage her voice as an artist. It is a celebration of Black female artists, who have their own unique way of looking at the world, to which the general populous has not been privy till now. It is a culture within an ethnonym.
The film has been written and directed by Radha Blank. It is loosely based on her life. She has fictionalised her own character but never compromised with the spirit. There are scenes which are created only for the purpose screen and are not original events taken from the life of the director but the characterization never lurks into a factual territory. It is unswervingly faithful to the core of Radha Blank.
Radha Blank derives her inspiration for “The 40-Year-Old Version” from the works of Roy Decarava, Carrie Mae Weems and many such photographers who illustrated the intricate detailing of their subjects through their prolific works. Carrie Mae Weems worked with digital images often telling a story by keeping herself as the subject.
Most of all she feels indebted to the great filmmaker, Spike Lee who has not only conserved the Black culture but put it out on a large platform so that the world can cherish it. It’s a favour to all those inquisitive artists out there who are hungry for some diversification.
‘The 40-Year-Old Version’ Summary
Radha Blank is a 40-year-old playwright living in Brooklyn New York. When she started out people expected really great things from her and she even got featured in the “30 under 30” list, known for enlisting promising talent. But somehow things didn’t turn out the way she was expecting them to be. She feels as if she was losing her creative voice. She teaches a few students and tries to create something noteworthy with them, but it just doesn’t work out. She goes to a local theatre group to ask for work but it just doesn’t match her taste and style of doing things. She is told by her friend Archie, played by Peter Y. Kim, that she must put up the renowned producer Josh Whitman and be a part of his huge production. Josh Whitman, played by the brilliant Reed Birney, is just too stereotypical for Radha’s taste.
Radha feels that there is nothing unique in what he wants to portray and it lacks innovativeness. She feels that it is just white gaze eroticism about the black pain. With the passing of her mother, Radha is in a state of grief on both, professional and personal fronts.
She is drawn towards hip hop and she feels that the only way to salvage her voice as an artist is by becoming a rapper. Archie advises her against it. But she sets out on this obscure journey in the underbelly of Brooklyn which has a flair for beats and rhythm.
Music serves as catharsis for Radha. She feels that it is the mechanism that could pull her out from the state of grief that she has been in for a very long time. She feels the need to create. She wants to experience that pain, mould it into words and strike it out of her system. She is done feeling apologetic about herself. She is done searching for her lost identity. She is done thinking about how people will perceive it. She wants to do it because it’s her calling. She says that rhythm and poetry are not new to her. She has always been writing and creating. It is the people who never paid attention to that angle of her personality. So it was never all of a sudden, it’s just that people started noticing now.
The Three Most Impactful Characters
The 40-Year-Old Version makes use of certain elements in a way that they are personified into characters of their own. The three most impactful characters of the film are it’s MUSIC, COSTUMES AND THE CITY OF NEW YORK itself.
The music by Guy C. Routte is in the form of an expression that communicates to you on a personal level. Radha’s angst and grief are moulded into words and spitted out like sharp arrows. It rips through the popular beliefs and cultural stereotypes. It tells that even the revolution needs to evolve with time. It has to go hand in hand with the changing perceptions and evolving civilizations. Just like the people living in Brooklyn, the music too has a character, it’s own colour and it’s own dynamics.
The film being shot in black white needed to express the texture and tone of the narrative in some other way. The costumes did that for the film. Sarah Williams, the costume designer, makes use of the different textures to create colour. Different shapes and designs tell a story in itself, elucidating the characteristics of the narrative. The wardrobe displays the notions of the character and what they are going through ay a particular moment.
Filmmakers such a Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee have often used the city of New York as a character in his films. Radha Blank together with Valeria De Felice, the Production Designer and Kate Fleming, the Art Director, gives life to the city of New York. One can observe the city live and breath through the narrative. It adds a very different flavour to the film. There are character arcs of the city which embodies the thematic veins of the film itself.
Blurring the Lines
Radha Blank does not want her film to be perceived as just being a work of fiction. She blurs the lines between what is fictional and what is real, often breaking the fourth wall. It meddles between her reality and coorbroates it with fiction.
The film is an astounding debut effort from the filmmaker. It is an ode to all the filmmakers, photographers, painters and artists who have envisioned reality in their own unique way. But most importantly it is an ode to a city, often inexplicable but surely having very strong and diversified flavours. The city of New York.
The 40-Year-Old Version is streaming on Netflix.
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