It’s astounding that Kevin Willmott’s faux documentary about a post-Civil War America succeeds for as long as it does. Many intrepid satires show a tin ear and all at some point dissipate polemically. But Willmott (an assistant professor and therefore ready-made fodder for conservative talk shows) has a ready sense of humor and enough creative flair to bring off his hypothetical Confederate-ruled America without flinching.
Framed as a historical doc by a restless BBC clone, CSA defamiliarizes (and so refamiliarizes us with) racism’s central role in American history by taking the logic of the Southern position to its conclusion. Sure details, like the deposed Abe Lincoln’s flight, punctuate the turns of history since then, plugging the normalization of slavery into an expansionist America whose socioeconomic machine functions with recognizable efficiency. By the end, the age of Prozac produces treatments for the pesky urge to escape that “afflicts” many slaves.
With ads for products and TV shows, CSA is just as effective as a sustained Brechtian experiment on our country’s amoral powers of ideological assimilation as a transgressive confrontation of race. It’s also funnier than I’ve made it out to be, with a penchant for punchline that sometimes gives the feel of a comedy writer who can’t bear to edit out some bits.
But if you don’t want your critiques from a Dutchman, here is a homegrown critic who’s learned from both Peter Watkins and Christopher Guest. It’s not half as juvenile as naysayers will have it (look for “great premise, but...”), and ultimately downright uncanny.
Opens February 15 at the IFC