DOC NYC Feature: LEMON dir. Laura Brownson & Beth Levison

by Dan Cerruti

Poetry suffers from a huge deficit in attention from the world at large. When was the last time you remember hearing some poem not written by a long-dead Englishman? Chances are high it was Def Poetry Jam (yeah, remember that blast from the early aughts?). And, from that program, maybe it was a poem by a younger Lemon Anderson, the subject of the new doc LEMON (dir. Laura Brownson & Beth Levison). The film looks at the poet’s attempts to rekindle his ambition and success with an autobiographical one-man show. It’s a highly engaging trip through the ups and downs of the creative process, and how it gets mixed with personal, political, and fiscal miseries. And it’s no wonder this film won the Special Jury Prize at DOC NYC last week.

The film is beautifully shot, turning brutal housing project architecture into visual poetry and making the cavernous black-walled performance spaces appropriately inviting and daunting. Most riveting, though, are the long stretches where Lemon just performs his poems, whether straight to the camera or in rehearsals. The guy has a command of language that makes his work clever, but not for its own sake, and the lines can be surprisingly funny and deep at each turn. Wordsmiths take note – this is how it’s done. I was particularly into the poem “Himalaya.” Google that shit. Each time Lemon gets a chance to perform, his body goes electric and you can feel the charisma shoot off the screen.

However, the movie isn’t just about Lemon and his art. Along the way are various theater executives and creatives, all with their own two cents for our hero, and Lemon’s family, of course, who provide the sort of motivating and infuriating presence that only a family can. While the world around Lemon is all about practicalities and minute concerns, Lemon’s the incorrigible dreamer.

All in all, don’t we just love an underdog story? So get inspired, kids! Reach for your dreams and fuck everyone who says no to it.

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