The very first scene in John Sayles directorial debut, Return Of The Secaucus Seven, shows someone unblocking a toilet. Which isn’t a bad metaphor for his films – frank, realist, down-to-earth and not taking any shit. From the off Sayles had a beady eye for pretensions of any kind, especially for the contradictions and evasions of the American Dream.
Secaucus, an amiable movie that conceals some barbed observations, concerns a bunch of friends getting together for a weekend in rural New Hampshire. They’re all pushing 30 and realisation is dawning that their hippyish lifestyle and radical political convictions are fraying at the edges. Sayles makes masterly use of his frugal resources, displaying an affectionate eye for low-key comedy.
Lianna takes on sexual politics among the liberal intelligentsia. Lianna (Linda Griffiths), married with kids and resigned to her husband’s extra-curricular romps with his female students, finds herself – to her dismay and delight – falling in love with a female teacher. Sayles handles the love scenes with a tender eroticism and the acting – as always – is note perfect.
Rounding out this trio of early films is Brother From Another Planet, a fable on racism that jettisons preaching in favour of laid-back humour. Sayles’ use of Harlem locations and passers-by lends a feel of warm authenticity.
Too bad there’s not a trace of the director’s commentaries that accompany the Region 1 discs.