by Jasmine Jones
Kathleen Collins’ Losing Ground has layers upon layers upon layers of story. As I sit down to write, I don’t think my review will even scratch the surface of everything this film is about. Collins effortlessly juggles a film with in a film, several storylines, existential crisis and discourse on the plight of the black artist. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Any other filmmaker would allow themselves to become weighed down by such heavy subject matter and overwhelm their audience. Not Collins though, she manages to weave together a subtle, yet powerful portrayal of a woman in search of herself without dropping the ball at any point during this film.
Released in 1982, Losing Ground, was broadcast on PBS’ American Playhouse and played at various film festivals and colleges. Although deemed a classic upon its release, the film never received distribution and sort of fell into obscurity. The negatives were eventually rescued and restored by Collins’ daughter and the film was released by classic film distributor, Milestone Films, in early 2015.
At the heart of this film is Sara Rogers, a professor of philosophy who suddenly becomes focused on ecstatic experiences, particularly her inability to have one. She buries herself in research on ecstasy, but eventually finds herself as the lead in her student’s thesis film. The film is an interpretation of the song, “Frankie and Johnny.” Ironically, the story of Frankie and Johnny is a reflection of her relationship with her husband Victor, an abstract painter who has no issue with losing himself in ecstatic experiences. The two spend the summer in upstate New York as Victor looks for inspiration for his work while questioning his journey as an artist.
Losing Ground closes similarly to its opening statement as spoken by Sara to her college class, “Human existence must be without rhyme, without reason. That in the face of sustained horror, the argument for an absurd universe becomes the only rational argument.” There is no ending, no explanation or any sense made out of the events staged throughout the film.
One of the first African American women to direct a feature film, Collins was undeniably ahead of her time. Decades later, films rarely explore the internal conflicts of women…so it goes without saying that we often do not get to see films where the internal struggles of African American women are central to the storyline. Unfortunately, the world never got to see the full span of Collins’ creative genius due to her passing in 1988 at the age of 46. A deluxe 2-disc DVD of Losing Ground will be available for purchase on January 26, 2016 on the Milestone Films website.
Jasmine Jones currently works in the entertainment marketing industry specializing in regional film publicity and promotion. She was previously the Film Series and Social Media Manager at the Houston Museum of African American Culture and co-directed the 2015 Houston African Film Festival.