The most essay-like of the three films, Routine Pleasures sees Gorin gleefully setting up these two side-by-side and letting each of the highly specific observations (the train enthusiasts talk shop about engines and routes; Farber connects his work to the films of William Wellman) bounce off one another. What Gorin sees as a thematic through-line isn’t always clear, but his fascination and that of his subjects is palpable and contagious.
In My Crasy Life (1992), it initially appears as if Gorin has made a significant step toward more accessible, traditional snapshot documentary. He makes his own personal presence less felt (it’s the only film of the three where he’s neither heard nor seen) and the film’s themes are far more visible. But this look at Samoan gangs in Long Beach is often just as formally bizarre, constructed mainly out of patently artificial reenactments and accompanied by a number of ironic asides from a HAL-like talking computer.
Gorin’s great success here is that the film never feels false despite its construction — there’s a penetrating portrait of inevitability among the gang members, many of whom wax poetic about the need for revenge and the supremacy of the gang family above even actual blood relatives. Gorin also travels to Hawaii and American Samoa, where the sensibilities of gang life loom large over those who’ve been physically separated from it. Religious heritage and family life come to be seen as essential parts of many of the subjects’ lives, but not to the exclusion of gangbanging.
Again, Gorin refrains from making sweeping statements or diagnosing the cyclical patterns of death that hover over the lifestyle. He doesn’t have to. The disheartening implications are clear.
Three Popular Films by Jean-Pierre Gorin is another essential Eclipse offering from Criterion. Each of the films is accompanied by liner notes from critic Kent Jones.