Monday, May 4, 2009

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 9

Starting another marathon weekend. If this post is up before Monday I'll be amazed.

Three movies last Friday night, starting with my new favorite thing ever, MY SUICIDE. Archie (I may have witnessed the emergence of a great star in Gabriel Sunday) is a self-proclaimed fucked-up teen. He lives in a detached guest house (not too subtle--he's detached from his family) where he obsesses over and makes movies. He excels in his high school film class, but is pretty much an awkward loser elsewhere. And he has a grand plan for his film class project--he's going to commit suicide on camera. Well, this earns him a lot of attention (perhaps that's the point. It's hard to tell if he's serious when he jokes about everything) from school officials, the cops, psychiatrists, (eventually) his parents, and (most importantly) the hot girl at school with whom he's obsessed. The fallout from his threat fuels a romance and a suicide pact (turns out she's a fucked-up teen, too).

But that's just the story, and I don't want to give away more. The amazing thing about the movie is the style. Or rather, styles. It's a pastiche of fast edits, movie references, genre jokes, and ironic winks to the audience that kept me enthralled and laughing through the whole movie, despite the somber subject. It is billed (as all of his short films) as "An Archie Mindfuck", and that's pretty appropriate. Off the top of my head, I recall references to DEER HUNTER, STAR WARS, THE MATRIX, APOCALYPSE NOW, TAXI DRIVER, ALICE IN WONDERLAND...and tons more I forget. This is a movie to watch and rewatch over and over and over again (when's the freakin' DVD out?)

All this is not to say it makes light of suicide. This was made very clear in the Q&A (BTW, it also stars Mariel Hemingway, who due to family history is a passionate suicide prevention advocate). At one point, director David Lee Miller had to point out that besides talking about suicide he also just wanted to make a "kick-ass movie." (I was the guy in the front cheering that comment). So although I don't know for sure if anyone has criticized the movie for making light of suicide, allow me to pre-defend against that claim. For me, a key scene is a montage of people echoing the line "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." The point is obvious--give the same ardent message over and over again, and your audience will tune you out or mock you (especially the cooler-than-thou youngsters). So you have to approach the audience first in a way that will engage them, otherwise you have no chance.

So then I moved (or actually stayed in the same theater) from a comedy about a kid who wants to die to a documentary about a guy trying desperately to stay alive. Pat Spurgeon, the subject of D TOUR, is the drummer for the indie rock band Rogue Wave (and he and director Jim Granato could compete for the Best White Guy's Afro award. I could compete too, but mine's more of a caveman mess than an afro). He's a musician to his core, steadfastly refusing his parent's advice to have a back up plan. And he only has one kidney, and it's failing. He's on a six year waiting list, and in the meantime he's on dialysis, specifically peritoneal (sp?) dialysis, which can be done at home through a tube inserted into his abdomen (wow! There's some footage there). No problem as long as he has a clean sterile environment. Then he insists on touring with the band. It's everything he's ever wanted, and his never give up, never die (even if the face of death) attitude and good humor dominates their D(ialysis) Tour (there are many jokes about his "d" bags). Jim Granato, a friend of Pat Spurgeon, had excellent access not just to the tour and interviews, but to attempts (ultimately successful) to find a donor for Pat directly (the first one, the wife of a bandmate, comes down to the last minute before a kidney stone prevents donation--a heartbreaking scene). An excellent movie of a man who's not only unafraid to face life, but unafraid to open his life for us to appreciate.

And then after a short Q&A, we had a mini-concert performance by Rogue Wave. Very cool.

And then the midnight movie was GRACE. Last year, I saw the short it's based on back at Another Hole in the Head last year. That short was really just a promo reel to get the feature made. The story of a stillborn baby coming to life and nursing has really been fleshed out. Madeline is 8 months pregnant. She and her husband have been trying for a while, with fertility drugs leading to a couple of miscarriages. She's a vegan who wants a natural birth with a midwife, but her mother-in-law is a big fan of hospitals. Driving home from a particularly tense dinner they get in an accident leaving Madeline alive but her husband and fetus dead. But she takes the baby to term anyway (director Paul Solet claims this really happens, which is fucked up), and a strange thing happens. After a horrible, traumatic bloody birth, the baby comes to life and starts nursing. Grace, her name is Grace. But Madeline is ill-equipped to be a single mom. Particularly when the baby prefers blood to milk and stinks so bad (even with a clean diaper) that she attracts flies. Add a meddling doctor and the mother-in-law, and things get pretty gross. Like a funny bone to the gut, there's some very dark humor that makes you want to wash yourself off after. It fulfilled all the promise of the short, and more.

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