John Sayles has worked at the margins of US cinema – both thematically and financially – for some 30 years now.
Odd-jobbing as a Hollywood scriptwriter and actor has kept a roof over his head while he wrote, directed and edited 16 independent features of his own.
His films reveal a brilliant ear for working class vernacular, convincing depictions of sexuality, a deep empathy for black and female characters, and a yearning to foreground overlooked US history and politics.
This overdue DVD edition takes in three of his early gems. Return Of The Secaucus 7 (1980) sees a bunch of 1960s Boston radicals reuniting for a summer weekend to mark ten years since they were arrested on the way to a demo.
Sayles scrutinises the pragmatic compromises of the former idealists.
Arguing, screwing, drinking, breakfasting, singing, smoking and sunbathing their therapeutic way towards a variety of reality checks, many British lefties will find themselves reflected in this poignant tale.
Lianna (1982) is the wife of a film studies lecturer who falls in love with another female academic. Her passions, fears and struggles to cope with a new sexual identity are dramatised with a rare frankness.
It is a little seen but key cinematic work about lesbianism, especially as refracted through the eyes of Lianna’s kids.
The Brother From Another Planet (1984) is a generic oddball – a blaxploitation science fiction comedy.
Joe Morton plays a black extraterrestrial whose spaceship crashes into New York harbour.
On the run from a pair of alien enforcers, he survives by using his magical laying on of hands to fix broken video games machines in bars and arcades.
Using a string of visual as well as spoken gags Sayles manages an unusual take on racism and the plight of migrants.
If you do enjoy these I’d also recommend Limbo (1999). Hopefully a future collection will then release the excellent City of Hope (1991) and Lone Star (1996) – currently not available on DVD.
The John Sayles Collection
DVD box set out now
Optimum Home Entertainment