Eric Trules' ambitious and provocative documentary "The Poet and the Con" delves into the loving relationship between Trules, a prize-winning poet and a veritable Renaissance man in the performing arts, and his uncle, Harvey Rosenberg, an underworld enforcer and career criminal.
Since both are charismatic, highly articulate and reflective men, Trules speculates on the closeness of the creative and criminal impulses. Trules deliberately pushes this notion to the point of exasperating his parents and other uncle, who deny genetic patterns in the family.
You find yourself agreeing with Trules' father that his son is baiting them, but in doing so Trules creates a point of departure for considering Rosenberg's life and his own coming to terms with it. While uncle and nephew are clearly both men of drive and imagination, Trules moves away from genes and the fine line between what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior and works toward the more mature view of taking responsibility for the choices you make with your life. Rosenberg, in his vigorous early 60s, talks of the combination of poverty and materialistic family values and expectations that led him to be tempted into a life of crime; both men talk about the need of avoiding romanticizing each other.
At the time we meet these two men it's the early '90s and Rosenberg, some 15 years or so Trules' senior, is out of prison and has rehabilitated himself, overcoming his own alcoholism and going back to school to get a degree in substance abuse counseling. You get the sense that Trules has learned something about himself and his own drives in making a modest, highly personal black-and-white documentary about his uncle and their warm relationship that takes us through 1992.
Then right out of left field comes a series of unexpected, jarringly ironic developments that propels "The Poet and the Con" into a much deeper, far more harrowing film. In these later sequences, shot in color, Trules in effect has to ask his questions all over again, considering notions of family, morality, fate and mortality on a larger plane. If ever there was an instance of good coming out of evil, this film is it, for Trules, in a most caring, sensitive way, makes the most of a drastic turn of events to consider how love and anguish become inextricably intertwined within deeply felt family ties.
Trules is right about not romanticizing his uncle, or himself, but his film leaves us with the feeling that both men, like it or not, are romantics at heart.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: language, adult themes and situations.
'The Poet and the Con'
A Monarch Films release of a Poet production. Director-producer-editor Eric Trules. Cinematographer Arnie Sirlan. Additional direction (1991) Ed Couppee. Production assistant Neil Elliot. Music Ron Sures. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Exclusively at the Grande 4-Plex through Thursday, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown Los Angeles, (213) 617-0268.
Note: "The Poet and the Con" will also screen Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the James Bridges Theater in UCLA's Melnitz Hall. (310) 206-FILM.