Tonight at BAM, four local filmmakers will present their film Below the Brain, ahead of its weeklong run at the Spectacle Theater (the first time the Spectacle’s attempted a theatrical or I guess semitheatrical run). Below the Brain is an hourlong montage of footage taken by the filmmakers this time last year, at the annual West Indian Carnival and Parade on Labor Day in Crown Heights; with mostly rapidfire editing, the filmmakers emphasize the performative, triumphant excess of the parade—it’s overwhelming in a way that feels not inaccurate, with stray glimpses of fascinating human specimens.
The film begins the day before, with a rush of color from flags and fruit stands; night is bustling and preparations in storefront churches and dollar stores along Flatbush, and cops setting up barriers in the black predawn while revelers sip Henny out of plastic cups. The rhythm hardly slows down as day dawns and the parade begins, with quick-hit shots of sequined, feathered costumes, street food, cheap bling, men in wings and women in thongs and grandparents in white zombie makeup marching, shimmying, banging on tins and singing; it’s all scored to Top 40 hip-hop, soca and steel drumming.
Sometimes the staccato cuts are chopped up and replayed, like remixes—the attempt, clearly, is to approximate the “vibrant” energy of the day. But there are longer moments, as well, of the camera buffeted along by the early-morning crowd, attacked with baby powder by revelers, and pausing to watch a woman in skintight zebraprint grind on a cop. There’s much grinding, from fly-girls on floats and costumed revelers (a shirtless black Santa doggy-dry-humps a woman for several thrusts); and much firm and rolling flesh is displayed (and ogled by wandering camera-eyes).
When the film ends, surveying the piles of spilled stew and empty aluminum baking trays and styrofoam containers, you may know exactly how Eastern Parkway feels, but little stray bits of color, from the from the costimes (ladies in Jordan Almond-colored umbrellas and tutus; gold spray-painted heels; death maskes) to the religious and political placards (semiliterate warnings against fornication; a list of “white devils” including Palin and Netanyahu) to the quiet, fascinated kids watching from their first-floor living room windows, provide genuine nourishment amid the staycation slideshow.