20 November 2010

The Park Is Mine

In cooperation with some of the finest movie blogs I know, Lost Video Archive is proud to contribute this post to Kotto Week, an event focusing on the long extensive career of this under appreciated actor. A full list of participants follows this post.

Canada - 1986
Key Video, 1987, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 40 minutes

Tommy Lee’s Mitch is no different than other cinematic Viet-vets of the 80’s. He’s emotionally damaged, bitter and unable to readjust to civilian life and he feels lost in and at odds with the world around him. But the way The Park Is Mine conciliates his trauma with society deviates from the typical ‘Nam Vet storyline in an interesting way and reflects some of the political developments of the period in which it was made. It was around this time that vets successfully won recognition and compensation from the manufacturers of Agent Orange and their own Veterans Administration for the postwar afflictions they were suffering.
The film opens with a shot through the flashing lights atop a police cruiser as it speeds through the streets. This is a theme that will persist throughout the film and ultimately come to define its resolution. For now it serves to anchor the portrayal of Government authority as reactive and ineffectual when the cruiser arrives at a Veteran’s Hospital where a distraught ‘Nam vet promptly leaps to his death.

A short while later at his hotel room, Mitch receives a letter from the jumper, one of his war buddies which explains his frustration with the plight of veterans, the fact that society “doesn’t listen”, and the locations of hundreds of explosive charges and a cache of military equipment hidden in Central Park. The following sequences show Tommy Lee uncovering all the hardware while his friend explains in voiceover. Giving Mitch this internal dialogue places him safely within the established mentally-ill Vietnam Veteran stereotype established by his cinematic predecessors. Having assessed, with his friend’s posthumous help, the extent of his arsenal, and encouraged by that inner voice, Mitch informs the authorities of his intent to take over Central Park on behalf of all ignored and mistreated veterans. Typically, the resolution in veteran movies is for the vet himself to come to terms with his or his friend’s trauma, but here Mitch doesn’t learn to cope, he doesn’t change at all.

It is his confrontation with State authority that is significant here. The sheer volume of gunfire and hardware in the subsequent standoff suggests that Mitch is something more than just a crazy vet. He is not a symbolic attempt to address the issue of collective national guilt for the war as in films like Distant Thunder, but to externalize its legacy exclusively to veterans. It reformulates the veteran as a helpless victim, which inheres the State’s (everyone but the veteran) responsibility for fixing him. The State is not responsible for the problem but is compassionate enough to try and fix it.

The person who mediates this conclusion is Lieutenant Eubanks, played by Yaphet Kotto in a familiar role as competent and capable police officer who conflicts with the hard-headed institutionalism of his superiors. Mitch has delivered an ultimatum demanding that he be left to control the park until a certain time, and his message be delivered to the public. Eubanks’ countermands his superior’s reactionary orders and simply gives Mitch what he wants. His conflict with his superiors and empathy for Mitch suggest an experiential understanding of the latter’s condition. Eubanks knows that one cannot fully break from the parent culture, but to demand and receive acknowledgement within it is a salve, both for the oppressed and forgotten as much as the status quo which needs to tell itself that it has “done enough.” By allowing this wayward child to speak and return to the fold symbolically lets society off the hook without addressing the issue in terms that are actually meaningful for the newly minted “victims”.

It’s important to remember of course that just because this victim identity has been created to serve political needs doesn’t make it true. It reinforces claims of benevolent and superior authority and thrives on the disempowerment of the subject to create their own solutions; “equality” rather than liberation. But we know better, it was through the hard work of blacks themselves that catalyzed the Civil Rights Movement, and it was Vietnam veterans who fought for their rights, and all too often, token “recognition” that undermined those accomplishments. The final scene of The Park Is Mine confirms this as Mitch is being led to a police cruiser in handcuffs. The sympathetic TV reporter who followed Mitch’s escapades in the park says, “You did it” and the movie ends. Did what I ask, what has changed for Mitch except his uniform from camouflage to an orange jumpsuit? Is that a solution?

The Park Is Mine trailer comes courtesy of Rare Retro Trailers at Youtube.

I don't know what this is, a poster maybe? Looks like a cropped VHS box to me.

Well, whatta ya know, a German VHS from Die Filmfreaks

 Spanish VHS sleeve and poster are both from a Spanish language movie forum, Association Arhem.

Visit these other Kotto Week participants:
Monday Nov. 15th
Friday Nov. 19th
Illogical Contraption - Eye of the Tiger 
Ninja Dixon - Across 110th St.
Lines That Make Things - The A Team (TV episode)
Things That Don't Suck - Blue Collar
Saturday Nov. 20th
Breakfast In the Ruins - Bone
Lost Video Archive -  The Park Is Mine

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