Allis, the chief subject, architect and narrator of "Must Read After My Death", directed by Morgan Dews.  The documentary of the anguish of a woman trapped in a hellish marriage and family life opened today in New York City and online at Gigantic Digital (www.giganticdigital.com).  (Photo: Allis & Charley)

THE POPCORN REEL FILM REVIEW/"Must Read After My Death"

Bruce & Anne & Doug & Chuck & Charley & Allis In Hell, Unplugged
By Omar P.L. Moore/February 20, 2009                     SHARE

Morgan Dews' documentary "Must Read After My Death" is as plainly beautiful and unsparing in its intimacy as it is painfully tragic and compelling.  All of the undiluted behaviors of human beings are paraded with such a dignified nakedness.  Dirty laundry is aired out to dry and the stench of much of it is suffocating.  The documentary is a compilation of hundreds of hours of home videos and hundreds of letters by Allis (last name not revealed) about her marriage to Charley, an adulterer who for many months at a time is in Australia doing business and dancing the months away with a variety of women whom he forges intimacies with.  It just so happens that Allis, who lives in a big house in Connecticut also has her and Charley's four children (Bruce, Anne, Doug and Chuck) to take care of.  " . . . I'm not a person to sit around and sew and decorate and paint and do things like that.  I am not a housewife.  I have never been a housewife", words from Allis that begin the documentary, which follows her vivid recordings from 1961 right through to the 1990's.

We learn much more than we hope to about the trials and turmoil of what is clearly a wretched family life for all involved, especially Allis.  Sometimes shrill, other times sobering but most times rarely tender or saccharine-feeling as its distant feature film cousin "Revolutionary Road", "Must Read" is always electric viewing if not an enjoyable experience.  Mr. Dews pares down the hundreds of hours of recordings into a slender 76 minutes.  Many of the recordings hadn't been officially or fully disclosed to Allis's family members until just after Allis's death in 2001.  The tapes detail an eldest child who runs away, a developmentally-disabled son, an angry and vengeful older son, and a mother who just wants to fly the coup for ten minutes of freedom.  As we watch we feel that we ought not be witnesses -- perhaps the voyeuristic intrusion on the family's personal affairs is a little too much for most, but we are forced to be introspective about the nature and fragility of our own family household structure.  "Must Read", which opened today in New York City at the Quad Cinema and nationwide in the U.S. via Gigantic Digital, online at (www.giganticdigital.com), opens next Friday in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Sunset 5.

Mr. Dews' documentary features excellent cinematography from Allis and Charley, who shot virtually all of the video footage.  "Must Read" isn't a referendum on this family as much as it is an exploration of whether a man can ever be a truly effective parent and husband to his wife in western society.  Is it the inherent sexism in the male-dominated society that favors the man?  Is that even the right or relevant question here?  And when a woman doesn't fit the "traditional" western paternalistic and psychological profession's paradigm and ideas of the role as a wife and mother does that make her unfit to be a parent in the objective eyes of the world?  In our eyes?  In Western society's?  These and other fascinating questions are presented.

"Must Read", more intimate than a dirty weekend, examines the unraveling and disintegration of an American family, any family -- whether rich or poor, urban or suburban -- it hardly matters, though in this case it is a middle-class suburban family.  We have heard a portion of the Alec Baldwin phone message to his daughter whom he fathers with his now-divorced former spouse Kim Basinger.  We read news stories about sad family disruptions (most recently the aching horror and tragedy of a Los Angeles man who killed all of his family members including his wife and four children, and then himself), but we have never been as devastated and captivated by such an arresting spectacle of melancholy as we are here.

"Must Read After My Death" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America, but some will find the dialogue coarse and grating.  You may need to take two showers and call a shrink in the morning, but the viewing of this film is well worth the two showers.  Running time: one hour and 16 minutes.  In English, with English subtitles throughout for audio that most English-speaking audiences won't have trouble hearing.

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