Review: “Disabled but Able to Rock”

I mention this quite a bit, but when watching a movie, the thing that stays with me most is not necessarily the story or characters, but the framing and meaning of certain shots. The films of Stanley Kubrick are classic examples of photography with purpose (there’s even conspiracy theories surrounding the hidden messages in “The Shining”). The placement of characters in relation to one another, items in the background and foreground, lighting and color — all enhance the story beyond what’s being said.

But meaningful cinematography isn’t exclusive to narrative features.

Disabled but Able to Rock is a look at the larger than life Danger Woman AKA Betsy Goodrich — part comic book character, part performance artist, part singer and part activist. The fact that she is an autistic super heroine with the power of karaoke might be what draws attention, but it’s her moxie, incredibly infectious positivity and independent spirit that makes her memorable. The crew that followed her life for a number of years captured some wonderful moments and asked fine questions during interviews with friends and family, but what provided the most insight — for me anyways — was what they captured in two scenes.

The first moment comes during an interview conducted by a reporter. At a DragonCon event, Betsy as Danger Woman is being interviewed by a reporter (not a member of the documentary crew). When his camera is on him, he perks up and begins a line of questioning. When Betsy answers, and the cameraman is off of him, his face goes sour. It’s almost as if he has a problem interviewing someone like her. You know, someone “like that”.

This is a perfect representation of Danger Woman’s key function; exposing ignorance. Betsy certainly enjoys singing and performing for the fun of it, but she also says many times that she fights against what she calls Disable-Phobia. Her performances force what she calls normals to give a reaction. These reactions range from delight to annoyance, from joy to mocking. All genuine and raw. It’s almost like what Sacha Baron Cohen has done in his movies — getting real emotions out of others and making them public. The costume Betsy wears and the songs she sings are loud as hell, and impossible to turn away from. What she does is like a creative version of shouting into a megaphone while standing on a soap box. Activism-tainment, folks. It’s in your face and challenging.

The second moment takes place in a more personal setting. We get to see Betsy’s home life, where she lives with her mother and also disabled brother. The camera pans across the living room, cluttered like a house from Hoarders. The kitchen is cruddy and the bathroom is disgusting. But then, down a very dark hallway, there is a brightly lit room. They stay on this view for a good while.

The meaning of that should be obvious. Betsy faces obstacles such as a depressing home life, the passing of a guardian, loneliness and restrictions put on her by others. Despite all of that, she remains cheery. Her attitude never dips. Optimism about what the next day will bring and courage to live the life she wants just radiates from her… like a brightly lit room at the end of a dark hallway. After presenting a legal challenge against her relatives in an effort to maintain her rights, one of her cousins remarks that he wishes his regular ed. kids were as brave as her. The path might be dark and creepy, but the destination is glowing and rewarding.

I pulled all of that from just two shots. Aren’t wonderfully framed scenes great?


This was originally published at billreviewsfilm.blogspot.com on April 1, 2013

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