Without Air

Director: Neil Abramson
Screenwriters: Neil Abramson

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Without Air is the gritty and evocative slice-of-life tale of a young Memphis blues singer and stripper, Shay (Lauri Crook), as she struggles with her life and love amidst the ruinous degradation of her lifestyle. What makes the film so powerful is that Lauri Crook first lived this life, then amazingly recreated it for the film with the help of writer/director/cinematographer Neil Abramson. The result is a terribly intimate portrait of a woman under the influence of her own painful self-discovery.

Living with her junked-out boyfriend, Radio (Jack May), who buries his own pain in heart-rending Hendrix-like guitar riffs, Shay stumbles through the daily train wreck of her life. Like a modern-day Janis Joplin, the thing that allows Shay to hold on to hope is her deep, raspy, sweet-smoky voice, when, after nights of stripping, she lets loose with the blues. The odyssey is difficult, yet riveting, because the catharsis is so real. You just can’t fake the blues. Without Air’s unique psychological approach to the material and performances makes it the most Cassavetes-like film to come along in a long time. It the unique first feature of a talented director working with a very courageous cast. Without Air will leave you breathless and reeling.

— Lawrence Smith

Screening Details

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