Chameleon Street

Chameleon Street ★★★★

With no end goal, a con man examines all the institutions he doesn’t have access to from a cynical distance. It turns out the experts aren’t as smart as they seem. There’s such a strong willingness to buck any sort of pre established convention that gives a unique shape to the narrative structure, the humor, the visual style, and the antagonistic and sometimes unlikable behavior of the main character. All these aspects cohere and clash against each other to create a tone that can’t be replicated.

This won the grand jury prize at the Sundance film festival in 1990 and it’s hard to imagine that any movie that would be accepted in that festival now would be allowed to be this ill mannered and impolite without having some sort of moral justification for it. With Wendell B. Harris Jr playing the role of the director, screenwriter, and lead star, there’s an unmitigated cockiness to the whole affair that allows Harris to follow his interests, which leads to plenty of tonal shifts and strange idiosyncrasies that are well welcomed. This movie is more abrasive than films that are usually called abrasive, which probably caused it to not receive proper distribution. This is sad because Chameleon Street shows that Wendell B. Harris Jr. had the promise to become a individual figure within the landscape of American film.