MOVIE: ROY’S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD’S CHICAGO
Smack dab, in the center of cinema is the collaboration of artists. When these collected minds come together to make something of substance, it is truly a beautiful thing. That sentiment is, for more or less, the reason why I loved Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago. This is a documentary that comes alive through the sheer passion of artists. In that passion is the story of a brilliant writer. Barry Gifford was born and raised in Chicago and his writing gained national acclaim from his work with David Lynch on films such as Lost Highway and Wild at Heart. Director Rob Christopher discovered Gifford’s writing long ago, but part of that discovery was Gifford’s untapped collection of “Roy Stories”, semi-autobiographical tales of a boy named Roy growing up in Chicago. Through the words of Gifford, assisted with narration done by acting legends Lili Taylor, Matt Dillon, and Willem Dafoe, Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago is a cool dive into the beautiful language of an unknown artist.
What sticks out about this documentary is that it’s not like most we see these days. No talking heads or documented footage of a person's life. It’s not trying to be something it isn’t. We don’t even get a glimpse of Barry Gifford till much later in the film. The story is told through the writing, along with archived footage of Gifford’s childhood in Chicago, and beautiful animation that matches the words. It also helps when the three people narrating the writing are those who believe in the material. All three actors, Dillon, Dafoe, and Taylor have a connection with Gifford’s work or the city of Chicago. Dillon’s directorial debut- City of Ghosts was a Gifford piece, Dafoe played the unforgettable pencil-thin mustachioed gangster Bobby Peru in Wild at Heart, and Lili Taylor is all things Chicago. She was born and raised here, went to Depaul for acting, and has an incredibly recognizable voice that works smoothly with the words. Rob Christopher has gathered all the right pieces.
For the uncommon viewer, Barry Gifford’s work might not mean anything, and it’s especially true if you’re unaware of the films of David Lynch. After watching Roy’s World, it’s a complete one-eighty of discovery. Christopher, alongside editor Marianna Milhorat, has pieced together a documentary for the senses. Roy’s World transcends audiences to a romantic, 1950's Chicago of the past, where the winters made you tougher, and the neighborhoods had a unique appreciation for the arts. The addition of airy and harmonious jazz music creates a noir feeling, while the writing of Gifford’s is whisking you away to another place and time.
But who is Roy? And why was a man named Barry writing stories about a boy named Roy? That’s a bit of the beauty of this documentary. Christopher segments the pieces in chapters, giving us an idea of where the text fits in Gifford’s narrative. And the writing comes alive, because the stories of Roy, are the stories of Barry. As Christopher intertwines the writing with Gifford’s life, the two become one and the same. Stories of Roy’s father passing away are also Barry’s reality and the Chicago that Gifford eloquently describes as Roy’s just so happens to be the same Roger’s Park that Barry lived in. The best way to describe a documentary like Roy’s World is a complete artistic experience.
Will there be some that don’t care for Roy’s World, of course, but that would mean you are dismissive. I found this to be an educational journey, where one immediately seeks out the writing of Barry Gifford’s because it lingers with the viewer long after. Rob Christopher has done exquisite work, collaborating with people who care about the artist, have been impacted by the writer, and find a serenity that we all desperately seek. Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago becomes a part of our world, enhancing our minds for the better.
ROY’S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD’S CHICAGO HAS ITS NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE AT DANCES WITH FILM LA TONIGHT AND ENCORE SCREENING THIS SUNDAY. FIND ALL THE DETAILS HERE
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady