Chameleon Street is a film about a black con man from Detroit who specializes in being a master of plain-sight disguise. Doug Street can enter a room and upon meeting someone understand what they want to see reflected back, and after cutting through the "emotional baggage" of his own personality, assume the role like an actor taking a part. Throughout the course of the film he becomes a surgeon (going so far as to perform several successful operations), a lawyer for a human rights organization, journalist, and a French exchange student. His greatest role and the one he seems to struggle with the most throughout the film are the roles of husband and father. These he only seems capable of, as long as he has another more exciting identity to supplement his "real life". The film is considered to be far ahead of its time in it's critique of the performative and trans formative nature of identity, race, and class, a sort of spiritual cousin to Samuel R. Delany's short story "Time Considered As A Helix Of Semi-Precious Stones".
Street as a character is a clever anti-hero, similar to, but less psychotically unpredictable than Alec Baldwin is in "Miami Blues", but infinitely more entertaining than Leonardo Dicaprio in "Catch Me If You Can". Street survives by his wits and chance, and has an unconcerned Dandylike air about him. He quotes Oscar Wilde "the divine Wilde" and refers to "Vivaldi, Hendrix, Sly Stone, The Sex Pistols, and Ipso Facto" as "the classics" he listens to on his newly fashionable (at the time the film takes place, in the early 80's) Walkman. Essentially he follows in a long tradition of the charming rouge, only viewed through the mind of a clever black man in the early 90's (hence the po-mo, multi-culti stuff). Several people who knew the real Doug Street as one of his personas, including the Mayor of Detroit, appear in the film playing themselves, adding another layer of identity confusion that Hsiao-hsien Hou's "Puppetmaster" and Jason Rietman's "Up In The Air" would similarly use to greater acclaim. Harris has a voice reminiscent of Orson Wells, especially when he narrates, which is for most of the film, and has matching ambitions for a first time director. Harris wants to include everything he's ever thought or felt into a single film as if it would be his last. In fact this is his first and only film, so better too much, than not enough.
Beyond easy designation of social relevance (race, class, etc.), Street's chameleon like behavior is in microcosm the way everyone behaves at a certain basic level, learning to read the people and situations life brings us to, often playing them to our advantage (maybe more than we are even fully aware of), and only occasionally putting our foot down to announce what we are not, at those times when we either cant or refuse to cut through the "baggage of our personalities". You can't be everything to everyone, and the film asks even if it's possible to be yourself to yourself.
Doug Street's narration throughout the film is the story he recounts to amuse himself, creating a pleasant illusion to stave off his own boredom, impatience, and dissatisfaction with being, on top of intelligent enough to perform surgeries though luck, mimicry, and quick study) poor black, lacking a high school diploma, working in his father's burglary installation company and living in his parents house in Detroit. Why go to school, why get a job, when you can be senator tomorrow, or a police officer, or anyone you can imagine (quite literally) with the right combination of confidence and creativity. "All the world's a stage And one man in his time plays many parts." that old chestnut.
"Chameleon Street" is not a perfect film, not the funniest ever, or featuring the best cinematography, no one is going to clamor about the use of soft-focus, shadows, mood, blah, blah, blah, and it will not be praised for it's soundtrack (typical of it's time and unimpressive), but like Hal Hartley, Bill Gunn, David Blair, or Mark Rappaport, Wendell B. Harris Jr. is sui generis in his sense of style, focus, and concerns, and if nothing else deserves praise as a great neglected American auteur. There is more personality in this one movie than in some director's entire oeuvre's. Personally, this is my new favorite film the kind you watch twice back to back because you can't believe what you've seen, and pick up your jaw up off the floor hours later. The kind you rant and rave about to everyone you know, fully aware most wont like/get it/care about it. It's okay if you don't like this as much as me, I can't expect you to. If you don't, tomorrow is always available for you to take on a new personality, perhaps one with better taste.
Comedy / Drama
Comedy / Drama
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William Douglas Street is bored with his life. Working for his father is getting to him, his wife wants more money, and he's had enough. His solution is to re-invent himself. He becomes a chameleon, taking on whatever role suits the situation. From reporter to doctor to lawyer, he impersonates anyone he sees a need for and he can earn money being. The movie is based on the real people, William Douglas Street, Jr., and Erik Dupin.
Uploaded by: FREEMAN
June 15, 2022 at 02:25 AM