Even if Vojtech Jasny weren’t one of the fathers of modern Czech cinema, “Gladys,” his five-years-in-the-making documentary about psychic New York centenarian Gladys St. John-Colegrove, would still be a sure bet for doc fests and a must-see video item for students and fans of paranormal explorations. Pic takes its subject’s New Age musings and straight-faced affirmation of psychic phenomena and filters both through the gentle humanism of Jasny’s Czech New Wave sensibility. Result is never less than involving, amusing and enlightening — even if the viewer doesn’t accept a word of St. John-Colegrove’s pronouncements about her contacts with “the other side.”
Jasny discovered his subject living in the same New York apartment building where he resided during a teaching stint at Columbia U. A self-professed true believer in the supernatural, Jasny was captivated by her almost daily “communications” with her deceased husband, Walter St. John.
Along with a few other artists, actors and students who befriended the house-bound St. John-Colegrove, Jasny entered into her world with love and enthusiasm for her eccentric (sometimes bordering on racist) beliefs. He makes her lively humanity captivating for the viewer as well, but gradually gives the film a larger meaning, intercutting his five years of conversations with his aged subject with street scenes of New York, multiracial crowds, changing weather and seasons, even insects.
Nearly every conversation begins with her reciting the latest message from Walter, who invariably counsels her on her imminent departure from Earth. She is ready every day, but never becomes disengaged from her guests. An impartial observer might judge the subject equal parts wisdom and madness, but Jasny would argue that she is humanity in all its glory.
Pic transcends its Hi-8 video limitations with grace.