By Fleet Wilson, Staff Writer
Humanizing the monster and empathizing with the condemned, two difficult concepts for an American society with such polarized ideas of guilty and innocent. For many of us, prisoners are simply felons or convicts, rather than complex individuals. In “Not Yet Titled” a short film by Bradford Sharpe that captures a peculiar afternoon on New York’s infamous Rikers Island. The film begins with a lofty proposition, bringing a world renowned orchestra into the prison yard to perform for a group of world renowned criminals. In doing such, our stereotypes of the incarcerated are challenged, and we are forced to consider these men in the same light we would consider our peers; people with hopes and dreams, people with open minds, and people with a longing for the simple pleasures that free citizens enjoy.
By mixing exquisite music with the hardened faces of Riker’s inhabitants, we are exposed to a side of these men that is never considered. Interviews following the performance provide a touching reflection, as prisoners express their newfound appreciation for the symphony. Close up shots of teary eyed grown men are shocking, yet they are necessary in delivering the broader message of this film. This film juxtaposes such extreme aspects of society in order to bridge the gap between a culture associated with class and extravagance, and one centered around emotionless masculinity. It suggests that these two worlds need not be so separated, and as the interviews with the prisoners showed, the orchestra’s music can have a profound impact on even the most unlikely listener.
While the mere concept of the film is progressive in nature, the cinematography adds another layer to this piece. The director experiments with light and color in order to forge a visual masterpiece suitable to be shown while the music is being played. The camera zoomed in on specific scenery in the prison yard, converting the desolate landscape into a glorious amphitheater. The goal of such detailed cinematography is to create a lasting image that remains in the viewer’s mind long after the film has ended. After watching, perhaps someone may envision this Riker’s Island as opposed to the nightmarish hellhole it has been depicted to be by the news.
While this medium of art may not resonate with some viewers, it is a valiant effort to question and challenge the social status quo. Hopefully it can succeed in sparking an important dialogue on the humane treatment of the imprisoned and how art is not a right exclusive to the privileged.
Photo from Flavorwire.