Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day | Chicago Reader

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This boldly atmospheric and mystically beautiful 1996 movie reflects the preservationist and pioneer spirits of its writer-director-editor, Christopher Munch (The Hours and Times), and lead character, John Lee (Peter Alexander), as Lee attempts to resurrect the Yosemite Valley Railroad. The fictional story, set in the 1940s, was inspired by the ideals of a real-life railroad fan and has a wistful sincerity that's invigorating and poignant. Disarming art direction and devastating cinematography immerse you in Lee's aspirations and conflicts as he pursues a business venture and a romance almost as if their objects were reversed. His ambivalence about his mixed ethnic heritage is revealed in a sexualized if not sexual relationship with his sister and in his involvement with three other women, and his devotion to the railroad is expressed in a quietly impassioned bond with its manager (Michael Stipe). Echoing the stately pace of the sound track, the dialogue is delivered with a rhythm that intensifies the drama even as it draws attention to the artifice of acting. Munch's self-conscious blend of documentary and fiction conventions reveals both the limitations and possibilities of received ideas about storytelling, as this movie gives many levels of meaning to the apparently contradictory notions of preservation and progress at the heart of Lee's—and the filmmaker's—restoration project.

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