Brandy Burre gives the performance of her life
by James O’Barr
Actress, docu-iconoclast Robert Greene’s genre-bending film about his Beacon neighbor Brandy Burre’s upstate mid-life crisis, will be next up for Depot Docs at Garrison’s Landing on Friday, April 1.
Burre, whose main claim to acting fame was a recurring role on HBO’s The Wire, was living the good life with her partner, restaurateur Tim Reinke, five floors up in a sublet, rent-controlled midtown Manhattan apartment, when unexpectedly, she was expecting. Not long after the baby was born, the sublet suddenly ended, whereupon Burre and Reinke decided to leave the city for the country, far from the madding traffic.
Finding a Beacon fixer-upper, they settled in and settled down, with Reinke opening the soon-popular Birdsall House bar-restaurant in Peekskill, and Burre, with the arrival of a second child, sharpening her chops as a stay-at-home mom. By the time Greene approached her with the idea of starring in a documentary playing herself, the idyll had long-since ended, and Burre was feeling trapped by domesticity and aching to go back to the future.
Greene, who’d made pretty much the same move at the same time as our star-crossed couple, happened to be their next-door neighbor. A multi-threat filmmaker — producer, director, editor, writer, critic and, since 2014, assistant professor and filmmaker-in-chief at the Murray Center for Documentary Journalism of the University of Missouri — he’s also an important critical voice in debates about “performance” in documentary or non-fiction cinema.
In Greene’s view, all filmmaking is performative, and cinematic non-fiction, which “favors cinema over reportage, cross-pollination of fictional and non-fictional modes, and pushes the boundaries of form,” is one of the most exciting things happening in documentary filmmaking. His previous film, Fake It So Real, is about professional wrestling as performance art, and the collaboration with the actor next door in Actress has allowed him to take his theoretical preoccupation to another level.
“It’s about using the camera so people can go about the business of being themselves, including the performance of playing themselves,” Greene says. “This is my particular obsession.”
Come to think of it, it was also Shakespeare’s. In any case, Burre was only too happy to oblige. The filming took place over 18 months, during which time the relationship with Reinke had gone from bad to worse, as had Burre’s identity crisis. As she moves to resolve both her need to work and confirm her professional cred as an actor, and her longing for love and romance, there was something of Emma Bovary meets Norma Desmond (of Sunset Boulevard fame) in her “performance.”
To this viewer, these resonances were no less true because they were fictive. “Documentaries are hybrid monsters by their very nature,” Greene says. “Wild combinations of realities and fictions have indisputably yielded some of the most inspired cinematic moments in movie history.” Indeed, Actress has its inspired moments, with power and pathos to spare.
The film will be shown at the Philipstown Depot Theatre at 7:30 p.m., after which Burre will be present for a Q&A and reception. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com.