A Bread Factory, Part One

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

A Bread Factory
"The meat of A Bread Factory lies in the details."

Editor's note: This is an amalgamated review of A Bread Factory Parts One and Two

All the world may not quite be a stage, but performance and regular existence run ever closer together in Patrick Wang's playful consideration of arts in the community. Set in the fictional upstate New York town of Checkford, his rangy, increasingly experimental two-part film tracks the fortunes of a local arts centre - the Bread Factory of the title - as it mounts a production of Greek tragedy Hecuba and struggles to retain its funding in the face of competition from a pair of newcomer performance artists called May Ray.

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You could watch Part One: For The Sake Of Gold and, less successfully, Part Two: Walk With Me Alone as individual films but much better to take the full four-hour plunge into this examination of community and communication, which revels in complexity. After all, what's not to love about spending the best part of four hours in the company of Tyne Daly? She plays Bread Factory co-founder Dorothea alongside Elisabeth Henry-Macari as her wife, co-founder and chief Bread Factory actress Greta.

They're not alone, of course, this is a multi-generational film that shows how the arts centre has become a magnet and sometime haven for the young - including 10-year-old projectionist Simon (Keaton Nigel Cook) - and old-timers like Sir Walter (Brian Murray, in his final film role), who might forget where he is sometimes but can always remember his lines. The threat, as so often in films, is represented by the middle generation and, particularly, Karl (Trevor St John), whose slick manner in support of May Ray shows the way that marketing can sway opinion even if what is being marketed is less than spectacular.

The plot of the first film has the most traditional story arc, building to a council meeting that will decide the fate of the funding, while the second part broadens out to consider the tapestry of modern life in a small town like Checkford, where it is easy to become self-absorbed to the point where important things go unnoticed.

Although Wang's film is partially a warning about embracing a new thing simply for its novelty value, it's much less didactic about the contrast between May Ray and the Bread Factory than you might imagine. He may enjoy poking fun at May Ray's po-faced "hierarchy of furniture" performance piece and their canned applause - but this isn't about one thing usurping another's place so much as about the state of arts funding in general, which likes to pit projects one against the other and declare 'winners' in uneven races. Wang also isn't scared of employing some avant-garde techniques himself, showing through sudden outbursts of music by tourists with selfie sticks, a choral siren's song by estate agents and tap-dancing by phone-obsessed coffee drinkers, how insular its possible to become in the modern world and how easy it is to be distracted by items such as "the oldest parking lot in America" without seeing the Bread Factory that lies next to it.

The meat of A Bread Factory lies in the details. Wang perfectly captures the sort of eclectic mix of events that are held in places like this around the world - from the stellar to the sublime and frequently under-attended - and surely the use of the word 'A' in the title of the film rather than 'The' is an open invitation to draw parallels with places a long way from Checkford. He does push the limits with his insertion of various performances - although the Hecuba element is good, less elsewhere would be more.

Anyone who has sat through even a handful of film Q&As will see how to true to life - and ridiculous - the questions are that visiting filmmaker (Janeane Garofalo) bats away, while most people will recall, as kids, that one time there was a class visit by a slightly crazy but impassioned guest that somehow managed to change your outlook. This shifting of perspective is something Wang returns to again and again, as local newspaper editor Jan (Glynnis O'Connor) mentors her young intern Max (Zachary Sale) or Dorothea, taking the same teenager up on stage, tells him, "Things look different from here." There is a slight fairy tale gloss to all this, of course, not least as Max suddenly begins running a sort of Press Gang style operation at the paper, but there's no faking its emotional sincerity. Wang makes a case for strong critical engagement with the arts - with the film variously dismissing press releases, glib audience questions and council attitudes - and it might just inspire you to take a second look at what's playing down at your local community centre this month.

Reviewed on: 24 Jan 2019
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A Bread Factory, Part One packshot
Dorothea and her partner Greta have devoted 40 years to transforming their small-town’s disused bread factory into a civic centre promoting theatre, dance and film. As they prepare to stage Hecuba, they learn that their funding may be cut in favour of a glitzy, commercial rival.

Director: Patrick Wang

Writer: Patrick Wang

Starring: Tyne Daly, Elisabeth Henry-Macari, Brian Murray

Year: 2018

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Glasgow 2019

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