Struts screens Dark Horse Candidate

“It’s okay to laugh,” filmmaker Liss Platt assured the audience before screening her documentary, Dark Horse Candidate. These reassuring words were important because, while extremely funny, the feature-length film offers an often uncomfortable and highly personal exploration of the relationship between Platt and her father.

Platt is working as the current artist-in-residence at Struts Gallery, where the film screening took place. She is also a multimedia artist who teaches as an associate professor at McMaster University.

While the father-daughter relationship is the subject of the film, interviews with Platt’s father were arranged under the pretense of documenting his unofficial bid for presidency of the United States. Dark Horse Candidate serves as an extension of the mail correspondence between Liss Platt and her father, which, until recently, had been their only mode of communication. Platt made use of interviews with her father and mother, original footage and a family film archive compiled by her uncle to present a particularly complex intergenerational narrative.

Liss Platt and father discuss difficult family history. Izzy Francolini/Argosy
Liss Platt and father discuss difficult family history. Izzy Francolini/Argosy

The film examines aspects of sexuality, class, mental health and metaphor as facets of the personal histories between Platt and her father. Platt’s parents divorced when she was six months old, and her father was absent for most of her life growing up. Without resentment for her mother, Platt describes her youth as being “radically unparented.”

Platt’s past is reflected in the film itself. In piecing together her father Henry’s life story, Platt reframes her own life experience in a new context.

The Dark Horse Candidate is I, L. Henry Platt, Jr.,” reads Henry Platt’s website, darkhorsecandidate.com. In Dark Horse Candidate, the audience learns of a man who was brought up in and later disenfranchised from the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant elite of Connecticut.

The film depicts Henry Platt’s mother and father as distant and alienating parents. They pulled their son out of university because of their disapproval of his wife, cut him almost totally out of his inheritance and institutionalized him at the inadequate Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital when he required treatment for his poor mental health. Neglected financially and emotionally by his wealthy parents for almost his entire adult life, Henry has nothing left to hold onto but the right-wing values of his parents’ social class.

Henry Platt’s political views stand in stark contrast to his actual life circumstance. He  worked a series of menial jobs as an adult before saving enough to buy a boarding house, which he now owns and operates. His ex-wife considers his impoverished tenants to be his “surrogate family.” He can provide and care for his tenants, whereas he never had the emotional capacity to do so with his own family.

All parties in the documentary, however, appear ultimately sympathetic to the complexities of Henry Platt’s life. Dark Horse Candidate is an exercise in mutual understanding and an attempt to repair a damaged relationship.

Platt’s earlier works, including both film and multimedia, can be viewed on her website at
humanities.mcmaster.ca/~plattl/.

Leo Gertler