Defining, if not quite definitive, docu on the Living Theater and its legacy, “Resist” is stirring testimony to the renegade spirit of Julian Beck, and to the few places where social action and American legit life still cross paths. Combo of archival and first-person view of where the happily anarchic company is at today, should attract anyone interested in experimental theater, and will get extended play on politico fest circuit, too. Brief bits of nudity (it was the’60s after all) shouldn’t dissuade even the tamest pubcasting outlets.
Narrating in a sing-song voice more than passingly reminiscent of the governor of California, German-based helmer Dirk Szuszies, a onetime member of the famously confrontational outfit, usually referred to simply as “the Living,” is well-positioned to tell the story of a group that “you don’t audition for; you just show up.”
He follows the company, led by Judith Malina ever since Beck, her husband and co-founder, died in 1985, through sojourns in Italy (where they try to find a home), south Lebanon (where an Arab group finds them too pacifistic for its liking), and back to New York (where a challenging piece at Ground Zero is attended mostly by cops and head-scratching winos).
Through it all, the Living practices its brand of political street theater, intended to galvanize an increasingly consumerist public — a process that too often feels like “whizzing in the wind,” as one longtime participant puts it.
One thing the Living is revealed not to be is a place where serious thesps can refine their stagecraft. But then that’s not the intention of the company. Pic adequately identifies few of the nomadic members — an oversight that applies even to Hanon Reznikov, Malina’s current partner and co-director.
Explanation of why the theater had to abandon its beautiful Italian home (the rising tide of Euro-rightists) is perhaps too vague to have been brought up without further explanation.
Tech qualities are above average for vid-shot project, with stately B&W footage from older sources nicely breaking up more ordinary new stuff, and locations and rhythms varied, too. Resistance might be futile, but “Resist,” made with affection and well transferred to film, is curiously upbeat. It ends with Malina – at almost 77, recalling a lullaby from her long-ago German-Jewish childhood – getting a kick out of her race with mortality. “Everyone knows how it will end,” she says with a last-laugh twinkle, “but at present, I’m winning!”