'So Late So Soon': Film Review

Courtesy of True/False Film Fest
The world in the evening.
3/5/2020

Chicago-based artists Jackie and Don Seiden deal with numerous inevitabilities in Daniel Hymanson's bittersweet doc portrait.

Living the art life means being constantly open to the muse. Amenable to the possibility that you might one day be inspired — as Chicago artist Jackie Seiden is in the opening scene of the bittersweet, True/False-premiering documentary So Late So Soon — to use dental floss to string up a cow figurine in the kitchen of your own home.

That house, where Jackie has lived for decades with fellow creative Don Seiden (her husband of half a century), is a quirky, colorful locale out of a Wes Anderson fantasia. The walls are painted bright whites, blues and pinks. Suitcases, dolls, plastic bags and other random objects are laid out in eye-catching symmetrical patterns, while a life-size rhinoceros that Don constructed out of welded steel, aluminum foil and duct tape hangs out in the couple's slightly overgrown garden.

Early on, director Daniel Hymanson films Jackie (his former art teacher, who he's known since he was 3 years old) in a diorama-like composition as she dances around the living room to Sade's "Smooth Operator." It's one of the few moments, appropriately so, where eccentricity is overemphasized. That '80s-era needle-drop aside, most of the 70-minute movie plays out sans any musical accompaniment. So we become attuned to the rather eerie ambient hum of the world Jackie and Don have created for themselves, an idiosyncratic life they're now struggling to maintain.

Getting old, as Jackie and Don would have it, is part of their overall project. More than once they talk about the impermanence of the materials they use. One day, their art will cease to be, as will they. That Zen pronouncement doesn't make the day-in/day-out drudgery of aging any easier. Stairs are harder to take. Tempers flare up much more quickly, in one case over a tube of toothpaste, in another over the couple's long-ago marriage ceremony when Don froze while speaking his vows.

The past occasionally intrudes via archival video and photographs, almost all shot by the couple themselves and presented without much in the way of context. It's really more about conjuring a mood. About revisiting auras and energies that have since been lost or weakened. Here we see camcorder footage of a dynamic Jackie gallivanting around a room with a group of children, her stamina seemingly boundless as she inspires her charges to follow their every artistic impulse. We also see a much younger Don in a local news report as he creates that foil-and-duct-tape rhino, flexing the materials with a vivacity that now eludes him.

Time is running out, but in many ways it has already passed the couple by. A scene in which Jackie visits a roller rink at which she used to be a staple is particularly sad. She sits on the sidelines, greeting well-wishers and staring regretfully into the middle distance, knowing full well that to step on the rink would be to tempt fatal injury. And late in the film, after Don nearly faints at home, the couple discusses what to do next (wait and see? go to the hospital?) in the devastatingly recognizable way of people trying to avoid a point of no return.

Hymanson embedded himself with the Seidens, on and off, for about five years, and the intimacy and trust he attained shines through. He's not an invisible presence (at one point, Jackie turns to camera to discuss an evasive mouse that's like a cheeping Moby Dick to her whimsy-prone Ahab). Yet it's clear he became an essential one — another vehicle through which this loving, complicated couple could artistically enshrine their lives. By all evidence, theirs is an existence that, if not completely full, came very close to it.

Featuring: Jackie and Don Seiden
With: 
James Clancy, Sarah Hymanson, Roberta Markbreit, Frank Neidenbach
Director-cinematographer: Daniel Hymanson
Editor: Isidore Bethel
Producers: Kellen Quinn, Josh Penn, Trace Henderson, Noah Stahl
Executive producers: Maida Lynn, Linda Dodwell, Jen Westphal, Joe Plummer, Michael Collins
Contributing producers: JD & Cynthia Henderson, Tap & Jean Johnson, Rebecca Segal
Associate producer: Isidore Bethel
Consulting editor: Mary Lampson
Consulting producers: Ben Bernstein, Michael Gottwald, Elizabeth Lodge Stepp
Composer: Zach Seman
Venue: True/False 2020
Sales: Cinetic Media, Jason Ishikawa (jason@cineticmedia.com)

70 minutes