by Willard Manus
In 1988, radical filmmaker Robert Kramer returned to America after twenty years of expatriate life in France. As a way of rediscovering his roots, he set out on an epic journey, traveling the entire length of historic Route 1, filming the whole time for five months.
The resulting 4-hour-long documentary, ROUTE 1/USA, was released a year later, winning plaudits from audiences and critics alike. Now Icarus Films has released a freshly-restored version in a 2-disc set which includes an essay on the late Kramer by Peter Gessner.
Taking inspiration from Walt Whitmans Song of the Open Road, Kramer headed south from the Canadian border, bringing his camera into logging camps, Indian reservations, bible-thumping church sessions, old-age homes, schools, and Pat Robertson rallies.
His technique is kaleidoscopic: one scene follows another without explanation or introduction. Some scenes are long; others as short as thirty seconds. Kramer, soft-spoken and inquisitive, makes an occasional appearance but mostly lets the visual images speak for him.
a story it is: a gutsy and provocative excursion into the heart and soul
of America. Sometimes whats revealed is depressing, such as the
narrow-mindedness and dogmatism of our religious institutions; the ignorance
and racism of many of our citizens. But just as Kramer exclaims, This
is appalling, nothing has changed, what am I doing here? he discovers
uplifting things in unexpected places: a family Thanksgiving dinner; Thoreaus
Walden House; Bostons Beacon Hill where John Browns statue
was being honored by a group of visitors.