completely whacky and without suspense, but seductive
William Jones's gorgeous and languidly-paced film Finished proceeds from a blatantly voyeuristic premise: a gay porn star destroys himself and a film-maker investigates why. Alan Lambert ¡ª humpy quebecois, voracious bottom, muscle-bound Snow White ¡ª at first seems to be the prisoner of a nasty illusion. He killed himself at age twenty-five to keep from getting old and losing his looks. This motive proves to be merely the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, as Jones (the director and narrator) eventually discovers his crackpot, messianic Marxism. A last letter, several friends, and a handful of videos point to a contradictory, volatile Alan Lambert, who was very likely manic-depressive. Not a pretty picture, and as if all of this baggage were not enough, Jones has the effrontery to show us very few of the things that we might expect from a hard-hitting essay about a troubled loner on the margins of the sex industry. There are no tearful talking heads, no shocking re-enactments, no lengthy excerpts of the suicide letter, and most pointedly, not a single glimpse of full frontal nudity. Finished gives us perfectly composed views of the Hollywood sign, waves crashing at the base of a cliff, snowy Montreal streets, ice in the St. Lawrence River, but we never see the obvious: male nudity. Jones has the audacity to make a film ostensibly about porn, while depriving us of the pleasure of seeing what we thought we paid for. By presenting unexpected visual material, Finished disrupts ordinary habits of consumption. What is at stake is nothing less than a rejection of the jejune truisms of gay liberation contained within (and limited by) gay consumerism. This polemical stance is entirely appropriate to the man at the center of the film. Alan Lambert's political convictions lead him to criticize the circulation of commodities and the alienation it produces, and yet paradoxically, he sold himself, becoming a commodity in the most direct way. Finished suggests that what Alan brought to an intolerable level of contradiction, many of us experience in our everyday lives. However many inadequacies we see in the consumer economy, we must still participate in it. It is possible to read the film (like the suicide that inspired it) as an act of revulsion to the gay marketing moment that so many have anxiously awaited. As a very personal response to the great steam roller of mainstream gay culture, Finished has an unnerving, hermetic atmosphere. Lambert is such a perfect cipher for the concerns of the film-maker that the whole story might just have been invented, though he assures us that this is not the case. The dual folly of Jones and Lambert recalls a line from that subcultural icon, Bruce La Bruce: "Utopian ideologies hatched in cold basement apartments on long, lonely nights never really stand up to the light of day." Jones does not correct Lambert's bizarre philosophy; he is too intent on revising his own discourse, and in the process, he reinvents his image of this enigmatic figure at every turn. In this sense, Finished is not so much about Alan Lambert, as it is about the ways in which he can be seen, talked about, and interpreted.
Somehow Jones seduces us completely with his voice, and having been seduced, we are ready for almost anything ¡ª shots of cloudy skies, a sequence of Meet John Doe, porn stills thrown out of focus a la Gerhard Richter ¡ª to appear on screen. Finished: the film bears a title redolent of bitter irony. The closest Jones comes to offering a definitive conclusion is a final reflection on the cinema's power to bestow illusory immortality on its subjects. At the end of the film, one is left with the impression that now that this document exists, Alan Lambert did not live in vain. His testament has been written, not out of piety, but out of a need to question and provoke. William Jones delivers his insights in a remarkable tone that never falters, with a skepticism that never quite gives way to hopelessness. His attitude, the malaise of an obsessive gay cinephile mixed with the righteous anger of a latter-day leftist, is ultimately what makes
Finished the odd triumph that it is, entirely mad and absolutely essential.
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