As I’m driving down Interstate 95 to Waterville, it hits me: In mere minutes I’m going to be sitting across a table from Lori Singer, star of one of the most iconic films to grace the silver screen in the 1980s: “Footloose.”
Suddenly, the entire concept begins to feel a little surreal. I’ve seen the movie a number of times, and at the age of 31, I’ve grown to appreciate it for more than just an energetic, enjoyable dance movie, though it is certainly that as well. To me, “Footloose” is a film that has endured because of its messages about youth, authority (questioning it) and freedom.
It also strikes me that I’ll only be one degree away from Kevin Bacon.
With all that in mind, I’m even more eager to discuss Singer’s latest project, a documentary titled “God Knows Where I Am,” which was screened at this year’s Maine International Film Festival along with a full retrospective of her work, including “Footloose,” Alan Rudolph’s “Trouble In Mind,” and Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts.”
As she takes a seat amid a sparse post-lunch crowd at Mainely Brews, she radiates a thoughtful, kind and genuine presence that puts me at ease, and replaces that surreality with something very tangible and human. You can tell that this is the kind of actress who doesn’t just show up to work, but ensures her character is fully realized in her own mind, so that she can best connect with audiences.
“I just got here yesterday, but I love it,” Singer says right off when asked about Maine, although she’s still finding her way around the area. She’s staying in a cabin just outside of Waterville for a few days, and she has a sweet, picturesque view of either a lake or a massive pond, I can’t necessarily identify what or where as she shows me a few photos on her cellphone. But it’s a beautiful welcome to mid-Maine, and not all that far from the setting of “God Knows Where I Am.”
The documentary is a heartbreaking and challenging film about Linda Bishop, who was found dead in a vacant house in Concord, New Hampshire, in 2008, with only a journal left behind as a window into the mystery of her life. Singer provides the voice of Linda, reading excerpts from her journal, capturing her spirit in the final moments of her life.
“I became interested in this topic many years ago,” Singer says. “I read a book, ‘The Rights of Mental Patients’ by Bruce J. Ennis. [There’s a] fine line between reality and what we perceive as reality. Our reality. Now everyone’s individual perception of reality is sometimes subtly and sometimes vastly different.”
The film, directed by brothers Jedd and Todd Wider, works on a number of levels, first as a docu-mystery, luring you into the story with unanswered questions, then on a very personal and emotional level as we delve into Linda’s battle with mental illness, and ultimately as a conversation starter about how we, as a country, deal with cases such as Linda’s.
“The reason I think the film is so astounding … is a moment of beauty in someone’s life, which is actually the tragedy of her life. So [Jedd and Todd Wider] captured almost the essence of her life, the beauty, her wishes, her dreams, her poetry and her death, all in the same moment, wrapped up. And her anger … and misunderstanding.”
From the tragedy, Singer finds a hero in Linda’s sister, Joan, who was kept in the dark during key moments of Linda’s life, which set her on the path toward her demise. In Linda’s story, and through Joan’s fight, which she continues, Singer hopes that “God Knows Where I Am” can truly make a difference.
Not long after our often heavy conversation centered around “God Knows Where I Am,” I have to ask: What of “Footloose?”
“I’m very proud of the experience, very proud of working with Herb Ross, who was a genius and a tyrant,” she says. “We had a lot of dedication, a lot of spirit, a lot of craziness. That expression came out of something very real for me.”
She speaks similarly of the cast and crew’s “simpatico” on Alan Rudolph’s “Trouble In Mind” (embarrassingly unseen by me at the time), which also stars Keith Carradine and Kris Kristofferson. “Alan Rudolph creates a world that’s so beautiful, and yet, it’s a world that contains so many confusing, challenging, exciting, thrilling elements. And it seems to be Alan’s world. So we all inhabit Alan’s world. … And there’s tremendous irony in all his work, so you figure it out.”
She notes that there’s a screening that night at the Waterville Opera House that she’s attending, and with the fondness of which she speaks of the film, there’s absolutely no way I could miss it. Between “Trouble in Mind,” “God Knows Where I Am,” a “Footloose” refresher and a two-hour interview, I’ve basically spent the entire day hanging out with Lori Singer. And, you know, that’s pretty cool.
For information on the Maine International Film Festival, visit www.miff.org. For 140-character reviews of films screening at MIFF and other updates on the festival, follow Joel on Twitter: @JoelCrabtree.