There are two movies called Stevie, both very interesting.

The most recent (2002) is a powerful documentary made by Steve James about Stevie Fielding. The two had met in 1974, when Fielding was 11 and James was an idealistic young student at Southern Illinois University. James was Fielding's Big Brother for two years, after which he brought the relationship to an end with relief and guilt. He moved to Chicago to pursue his filmmaking career and made the wonderful documentary Hoop Dreams, released in 1994; the next year, still troubled by the past and perhaps seeking resolution, he returned to Pomona to visit Fielding, now a young man.

Fielding's story, which unfolds during this long movie filmed over five years, is a miserable one of abuse, neglect, and humiliation. He was illegitimate and as a child was subject to vicious beatings from his mother; when she married a man who was not his father she decided she didn't want him and dumped him off at her in-laws' house down the street. He grew up not knowing who his father was; his mother and step-grandmother feuded endlessly and still don't speak, and he and his half sister were subject to rages and beatings from their elders. He was extremely disruptive in school and eventually sent to a group home, where he was loved by his first foster parents but raped after they left. He bounced from foster home to foster home throughout southern Illinois, and ended up in a mental asylum for a while, where he was heavily medicated. Eventually he was released, and returned to his step-grandmother, where James finds him, sitting on the porch with Grandma.

Fielding has bad teeth and tattoos done by a friend who learned the art in prison; he suffers from serious impulse control and seems to have mental deficits, and it transpires that he has a long criminal record for a wide variety of offenses. His fiance, Tonya, appears to be mildly retarded herself and has a bad speech impediment. His half-sister treats him with a loving wariness, doling out his welfare cheques; there's a suggestion that Fielding had sexually abused her in the past, and her husband, who tolerates Fielding's erratic ways rather well, will not let the two be alone together.

Over the next five years James and his crew leave and return, during which Fielding faces his most serious offense yet: he has been charged with sexually molesting his eight-year-old cousin. Much of the film chronicles these charges ripping this dysfunctional family even further apart, as Fielding alternately shows skill at both defiant threats and blame-shifting; his mother struggles with her guilt about not caring properly for her children; his sister endures chronic pain from endometriosis and longs for a baby; while grandma sits on the porch, believing in Fielding's goodness and his mother's inherent evil.

This is not a happy family.

Meanwhile, James stands ineffecually on the sidelines, stirring up family discord in the name of "finding out what happened" and assuring Fielding once too often for comfort that he'll "be there" for him.

This is not an easy film to watch, and everything about it made me a bit uncomfortable: the pathetic screwed-up characters, the length (2 hours 20 minutes), the knowledge that he probably did assault a little girl once - a girl who, her mother claims, loved him passionately and is completely traumatized by what happened. The film ends just after Fielding is sentenced, and the viewer breathes a sigh of relief that the gritty but gripping experience is over - for us, at least, though for the people in the movie, it continues grimly on.

Highly recommended.

The older (1978) film is about the British poet and author Stevie Smith (Glenda Jackson), who died in 1971. The movie was adapted from a play by Hugh Whitmore, and like many movies so derived, feels it: it's very claustrophobic and character-driven.

Until she became famous late in life, Smith worked at a mundane office job and lived in a shabbily genteel house in Palmer's Green with her beloved "Lion Aunt" (played by Mona Washbourne). Much of the film takes place in the drawing room, where the aunt dozes in her armchair until it's time for afternoon sherry. Sepia flashbacks recall Smith's past, which included Freddy, a rather foolish young man with a tennis racquet to whom she was once engaged, only to break it off after they had sex once. The only other character to speak of is a kind of master of ceremonies, "The Man", who introduces the characters, comments on the story, and even recites some of Smith's writings. But the real star of the show is Jackson, perfectly cast as an aging artist reveling in her complex inner life while despairing of her dull outer life.

This one too is a bit slow, but lovely in its own way, and also recommended.