Jeez, this is the second time in a few months that I’ve watched two current 4:3 movies in a row. I suppose this one justifies it with the VHS tape tie-in (though what can justify the VHS tapes), and The Lighthouse is set on a lighthouse so I’ll allow a taller ratio… Nightingale maybe just for the period setting, overall the weakest 4:3 justification of the bunch, and I just dug the look of The Mountain so it can take whatever ratio it wants. D’Ambrose said that he made each of his shorts to work out a different filmmaking problem, and it seems like he’s still working things out – he’s almost got a movie, but this felt more like an exercise. Of course then I watched the credits and changed my tune; this is obviously the latest high masterpiece from savvy executive producer Brandon Bentley.
Keith (left) with the disappeared David (Bingham Bryant of Spiral Jetty):
Somebody Up There Likes Me star Keith Poulson meets David, who is writing about a late, controversial political theorist, and gives Keith a job itemizing the videotapes from the theorist’s travels and describing their contents. “I rarely saw anyone in any of these recordings. Their importance was unclear.”
There’s a riot and murder or two, but the movie describes these in documents, maintaining its quiet, measured tone in the main action. A wordless art gallery scene worked for me, the talky panel on translation did not. “Do you think this is uninteresting?” was the first line I heard upon resuming the movie, after pausing to see if anything was happening in the news (D’Ambrose told Filmmaker that scene died in Berlin and he hoped the NYC in-crowd would find it funnier). On the plus side: the great Tallie Medel (The Unspeakable Act).
Style quirks: studio-audience applause over the first shots of actors… blackouts between scenes are video-green… small roles are filled out with a bunch of film critics I read… of course lotta close-ups on documents. Phil Coldiron does not appear, but wrote a major Cinema Scope article on D’Ambrose, which I can only partly follow.
Consistently clipped editing keeps the tone fluid: humor is in the cuts, and the film is never needlessly dour, deliberately refusing to dutifully find its way to a neatly summarizable Statement About The Zeitgeist.
I don’t think of Todd and Karen and most of the characters as “intellectuals” – I can’t take them seriously as thinkers, I think of them as part of a milieu … I’m grateful I didn’t end up calling the movie The Millennials, which was the original title.