Review: 'Socks On Fire' Part Poetry, Part Documentary

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday October 15, 2021

'Socks On Fire'
'Socks On Fire'  (Source:SQFF)

Poet and filmmaker Bo McGuire heads home to Alabama when a war erupts between his Aunt Sharon and pretty much the rest of his family over Sharon having tossed Bo's gay Uncle John out of the house their mother, Nanny, intended for John to inherit.

That's the situation's quick explanation, but it only scratches the surface of family dynamics that have been grinding away for decades. As Bo interviews parents, aunts, uncles, and other members of his extended family, he begins piecing together a fuller picture of how the two relatives he idolized in childhood came to be at such loggerheads. While he's at it, he reflects on generational conflict, homes haunted with memory and with the lingering presence of loved ones lost, and the corrosive effects of empty moralizing.

Aunt Sharon doesn't appear in the film; McGuire uses actors (including a drag performer) to portray her and other family members, especially as their own younger selves (which sometimes come face to face with their present-day counterparts). In narration that uses poetic imagery to good effect, McGuire provides a layered and nuanced account that focuses more on the personal and spiritual consequences of the feud (and its many root causes, some of which seem trivial on the surface) than on the legal or practical difficulties it prompts.

The film uses a few startling, maybe even outré, visuals in order to give force to McGuire's musings. The house in question resounds with the loss of Nanny, McGuire's grandmother; her prescription bottle hangs in the air. A rifle similarly hovers in the woods behind the house, personifying traumatic memories of a bullying uncle — the same man who courted Sharon when they were teenagers, then married her and (or so we are told) has controlled her ever since. The effects are primitive (you can see the strings tied to the rifle), but the visuals aren't there to imply literal visitations by supernatural entities; they're there, in all their lo-fi glory, to make a point.

That's pretty much McGuire's approach to the entire film, and he's happy not to try concealing it. In one scene, he reconstructs a Christmas morning when he gets what he most desires —†a Barbie doll — only, he explains in voiceover, to be shamed later on into secreting the toy away. In another, he directs a younger family member (playing McGuire as a child), explaining that the sequence they're filming is intended to feel like a weird dream.

The weirdness is hit or miss, but the camerawork and music are nothing less than cinematic. Tone poem, documentary, feature film, family epic... "Socks on Fire" is a little of all these things, but it also tosses us big, self-aware winks, inviting us to observe family and familial legend all at once.

"Socks on Fire" screens at the Seattle Queer Film Festival.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.