This American Gothic Movie Review

This American Gothic
Documentary, 63 min
Directed by Sasha Waters Freyer
Hardacre: Saturday, August 2, 1:25pm; Landlocked: Friday, August 22, 5:30pm

In the director’s statement for This American Gothic—a documentary about Grant Wood’s painting and the people of Eldon, Iowa, where the austere house with the lavish window still stands—Sasha Waters Freyer says that she wants to bring attention to “marginalized groups” like the “four earnest, church-going, rural women” that her movie paints a portrait of. I grew up in an Iowa town even smaller than Eldon (pop. 998), so I can vouch for the authenticity of the portrait. I don’t think of the community-minded folk of the movie as marginal—they could have attended my wedding. But come to think of it, I don’t see those people portrayed in our larger culture except in stereotyped ways.

This American Gothic, like its subjects, is quiet, steady, and reliable, but by the end, you realize that you’ve gotten quite a lot: lessons in art history, culture, community, and the American character. Grant Wood’s paintings were, in their time, images of an Iowa being lost to modernization; in American Gothic he found an archetype of American life that was also as mysterious as Mona Lisa’s smile. Whatever you think of America, you tend to think of American Gothic.

Waters Freyer’s This American Gothic is about what is still standing in the small towns that are perennially dying and being resurrected in the heartland. My favorite thing about it is all the shots of Iowans just standing in front of things—like Grant Wood’s dentist and sister in front of the Eldon house. The one that really haunts me is of a fireman in front of the smoldering remains of what once was a home.