Monday, November 2, 2009

Jason goes to Docfest--Closing Night

Well, it took me to the penultimate film in the festival, but I finally found one I really didn't like, SPEAKING IN CODE. And I refuse to concede that the problem is I don't like techno music. It's because it lacks focus and is all over the map (literally, jumping from Boston to Europe and back with very little narrative). Director Amy Grill and her husband David are huge techno fans. In fact, they met and fell in love because of the music. And with that solid foundation, you know they're built to last.... Anyway, they're obsessed with techno, but there's really no scene in Boston, where they live. So they travel to Europe--especially Germany, to attend raves and interview their favorite DJ's. Modeselektor is becoming huge, while Wighnomy Brothers (who are already huge) might be breaking up over one members aversion to travel. Meanwhile David is busily working trying to create a techno scene in Boston, even getting some of his favorite bands (like Modeselektor) to play there. And as they're both more involved with their own projects--Amy with her documentary and David with setting up techno gigs--they start to drift apart. Soon the only time they talk is when Amy is interviewing David for the movie. And the conversations become more and more uncomfortable. When the subject of babies (and that David would rather make techno big in Boston than be a father) comes up, I couldn't help but whisper to my friend "this is not the conversation to have on camera." And as I alluded to, it jumps from Boston to various places in Europe so quickly I couldn't follow any sort of narrative. This film desperately needed some judicious editing. It could have gone all out and been the story of their dissolving marriage (the sort of brutally honest glimpses of true life that I love). Or it could have continued focusing on the music and it could have been the type of solid music documentary that Docfest usually specializes in and was sorely missing this year (the one exception in TRIMPIN, which is just as much about the art as the music). By not knowing which way to go--or by trying to have it both ways--it ends up failing on both sides.

By the way, I didn't see THE EARTH IS YOUNG, but I've been told by someone I trust that if I had, that would've been the stinker of the festival. As it is, for me, SPEAKING IN CODE was.

But no matter, the final film, CROPSEY was a perfect pre-Halloween ending. I didn't grow up on the east coast, or apparently I would've heard legends of Cropsey--a boogeyman character who kidnapped and murdered children. An escaped mental patient who had a hook hand or carried an axe (depending on the local version of the legend). Filmmaking couple Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman had both grown up with their own Cropsey legend, one specifically centered around the abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution on Staten Island. And then in 1987 the legend became true when Jennifer Schweiger went missing. She was thirteen years old, had Down Syndrome, and her body was eventually discovered. Eventually Andre Rand, a former Willowbrook orderly, was found, arrested, and convicted of the crime. And then the story gets really weird. See, it's not such an open and shut case, there are holes in it. Maybe a scared town just needed to find and punish its Cropsey. Maybe he did it and is a monster. Maybe he had accomplices who escaped. Or maybe he is innocent and is just placed in jail as a sacrifice to the fear gods. Oh yeah, and he's still there, he's still alive. The filmmakers try desperately to get an interview, but while waiting for that they interview locals and people involved with the case. And in doing so they weave a mystery that's scarier at each twist. Soon their Cropsey is being accused for all the missing children on the island, whether it makes sense or not. Whether or not he did it, the quickness of people to jump on him and blame him for everything is chilling.

You know, this movie had elements for which I've criticized other Docfest films. The filmmakers put themselves directly in the movie (SPEAKING IN CODE, AMERICAN ARTIFACT). They refuse to come to a firm conclusion one way or the other (WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS). But here it works. I don't know how to explain it other than it was shot and edited in a way that it didn't go off the rails as a result.

And that is the end of Docfest '09 (with a one week delay in finishing these reviews).
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