It's natural for anybody hungry for edgy film-making and in search of interesting young talent in the field to be excited by twenty-something firsttimer Chris Fuller's Loren Cass, a movie about dead end youth in St. Petersburg, Florida in the wake of the 1996 race riots. The film actually debuted in 2006 and 2007 at Dennis Hopper's CineVegas Film Festival, but is getting increased attention now that it has been picked up by Kino International. It opened July 24, 2009 at Cinema Village in New York -- over a decade from when young Fuller began work on it. (Datelines are a bit confusing, but he clearly began on it in some form in his teens.) Nathan Lee gave Loren Cass a rave in the NYTimes. Variety (which covers everything but looks for the commercially viable) earlier called Fuller "a genuinely original film-making talent." The Voice calls the film "radical" and "a powerfully unsettling debut." This film indeed shows ambition and talent and radical stylistic ideas about sound design, a passionate nihilism, and a mature approach to editing. But it's primarily a festival film, more notable for promise than for finished accomplishment. Raves tend to omit the point that it's numbing and unrewarding to watch, due to a lack of clarity in the sequences, a disjointedness created by the meandering, affectless plot-line, the collage technique in the overall composition, and repetitiveness and confusion in individual scenes.
The actors, some of them, show aggressive verve and energy, particularly Travis Maynard, who plays Jason , a skinhead musician with a penchant for piercings and chugging 40-oz beers. Kayla Tabish, who Fuller has said is the most talented, plays Nicole, the slutty night diner waitress who sleeps with anybody who expresses an interest, and has a more extended relationship with Cale, a garage mechanic played by Fuller himself under the pseudonym of Lewis Brogan, who rarely speaks a word.
There is no denying that the audio is used in an original way. Besides the original trumpet solos of St. Petersburg composer Jimmy Morey, musical choices for the background include Don Caballero, Billy Bragg, DJ Shadow, the punk rock band Propagandhi, Leftover Crack, Hüsker Dü, Choking Victim and Stiff Little Fingers. Sound design by Gary Bogges utilizes archival voice-overs including Charles Bukowski reading his poems and black radical commentator Omali Yeshitela exhorting his audience to see the Florida race riot/revolt as a brilliant revolutionary action. Such commentary fits with a few blurry street clips of the riots themselves, but is unrelated to the monosyllabic scenes between the film's handful of characters, and adds to a sense of anomie already markedly present in the scenes themselves, which linger on dead-end jobs, waiting by the roadside, wordless couplings, and driving in old American cars. Jason even lies down in the middle of the road waiting for his coworker to pick him up, a suicidal gesture softened by the fact that there appears to be no traffic on the road. Jason pops pills and imagines his own death in various forms, including going up in flames in an armchair. Fuller's editing skill reveals itself in how smoothly he slides from the mundane to the surreal.
Color is sometimes bright, sometimes drab, the 16 mm images by William Garcia not without art. A sketchy, desultory plot-line focuses on days put in at undefined jobs, nights of drinking, brawling, and sex. While it may not be so clear, film summaries indicate there is an assault on a black motorcyclist, just as there was by the cop James Knight who started the rioting on October 24, 1996 by killing Tyrone Lewis, a black man, mistakenly suspecting him of driving a stolen vehicle. In the film the assault leads to a series of roadside mêlées and nighttime rival gang encounters. Some inconsistencies in look make Nicole seem at one point to have morphed into somebody else, while two of the uniformly thin, hardscrabble young men (confusingly described in blurbs and reviews as "adolescents") occasionally look like the same person. Secondary characters merely have generic titles like The Suicide Kid, The Punk Kid, The Fight Kid, etc. These must be the marginal young deadbeats who get drunk in a truck bed and are hauled off in dead of night by police.
But there are mitigating factors that help explain the raves and the IFP Gotham Award for "Best Film Not Playing in a Theater Near You." There's no denying the passion behind Fuller's project and his commitment to being a fimmaker, given that he began working on this project when he was so very young.
Some writers have been outraged by inclusion of archival footage of a R. Bud Dwyer blowing his own brains out at a filmed 1987 press conference. This is a shocker, as is the deafening sequence of a hard core punk concert. Apparently the Dwyer death is not utterly gratuitous: he was a crony of Fuller's great-grandfather. It all contributes to a referenced sense of confusion and despair, evidently felt as appropriate to the violent upheaval of the St. Petersburg riots. But despite the historical reference and the moments of horror, violence, and disjunction, Fuller's detached camera and desultory action don't quite provide an satisfactory objective correlative for what's roils inside him and the viewer emerges frustrated. There's a lot going on here, but perhaps because of the lengthy gestation period, it doesn't come together. It's hard not to agree with Slant's Andrew Shenker: "Fuller leaves plenty of room for the viewer to create his own meaning, but in the end, it's not clear how much meaning the filmmaker has brought to the project himself."But the Austrian IMDb User was doubtless also right when he wrote, "Despite being far from perfect, this was the freshest film I've seen in quite a while."
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