Yeah, sometimes the scene could be better lit. And the characters say fuck too much. And cigarettes seem to have been the only ready prop to keep the actors’ hands busy.
But they never said they were making gauzy, slick movies. Blatantly Subtle, a New York Film collective founded by the affable, talented trio of Joe Leonard, Jill Frutkin and Sam Mestman, saw an impressive turnout last night for the premiere of three short digital movies: A Quarter-Life Love, How I Got Lost and Sell Out. I’m quite inspired not only by the sizeable film community they’ve managed to create, but also by the films themselves, which are personal, funny and moving.
A Quarter-Life Love, a relationship story told in reverse, from break-up to meeting, set the tone for hard-nosed philosophy that would continue through the rest of the program. After guy and gal unmeet cute, they go their separate ways to ponder the meaning of the end of four years of couplehood, aided along the way by a bevy of cameo therapists. Most memorable among the would-be Dr. Phils encountered by the love lorn Jace (Jace McLean) is a jaded clown, played with deadpan aplomb by Sid Williams. Jill (Jill Frutkin) meanwhile keeps her head above water thanks to the consolations of vapid art collector and her toy gay muscleman. It’s all slightly less absurd than you’d think. Frutkin impresses with the number of shades of pain she can wordlessly render, and with the comic contortions of her mouse of a voice.
In How I Got Lost, writer-director Joe Leonard marries his trademark poetic dialogue with some equally poetic images. Ostensibly a buddy story about two dudes who escape their hollow lives in New York City via a taxicab to anywhere, the guiding voice-over ensures that the story is always borne back ceaselessly into the past — a sad place where protagonist Jake (Kevin Kane, a brooding Sean Penn type) suffered an unspecified betrayal from the love of his life, and where his pal Andrew (a memorably zany Graham Hamilton) came to the realization that he would never please his distant father, no matter his success. The nostalgia is pungent, but never heavy-handed. Leonard has a clear voice which really resonates with me, but maybe it’s just ’cause we’re both displaced Midwesterners trying to carve out a niche in the big city.
Sell Out takes the subtext of the other films and puts it right up (snap, snap, snap) in yo’ face (girlfriend!). A funnel collecting two parallel lives — one involving corporate ennui and the other the classic casting couch dilemma, this film arrives in an unlikely place thanks to the collective existential ignorance of Clay Parks (Pete Karinen) and Tiffany Hatcher (Kate Dulcich). Clay is an ad exec who’s figured out the formula to arrive at the lowest common denominator every time and Tiffany is a model/would-be actress whose peers have inner monologues consisting solely of cricket sounds. After suffering the indignities of the workplace, they meet at a group blind date (a descent into conversation hell that Fellini might love) and hate each other instantly. The end of the night, however, finds them as good as alone on a rooftop in Brooklyn, desperately seeking for reasons to convince a jumper not to go through with it. That they don’t succeed in preventing the suicide is a measure of the movie’s integrity and also its pessimism. There is hope for Clay and Tiffany to get together, but there is little hope that they will find meaning. ‘Sell Out’ is both a put down and a command. Because when it comes to love, happiness means compromising your individuality for the sake of the relationship: for better but mostly for worse.