Monday, August 16, 2004

Fringe Day 4, Part 2 - August 9, 2004, 10:00pm

The 7 Project
Red Dilemma
Intermedia Arts

Having had to help curate the two parts of Fast Fringe, I know how hard it can be to pull together a good show from disparate artists and elements. This show has a strong central premise, and it worked best when the filmmakers involved stuck to the concept. Some were more successful than others.

Of course this show also had its share of ups and downs, many of which I mentioned in another entry on this blog, and the most amusing of which were shared with the audience on introductory title cards projected on the screen prior to the first film in the series of seven.

The most successful entries were, not surprisingly I guess, the comedic ones. Of these, Pride was the best. The key to its success is that it was about a different kind of pride that the audience originally is led to believe. It looks like an expose of stage mothers at beauty pageants, pushing their girls to success. It's an amusing, and unflattering, set of portraits, until the film gets to the big reveal. Since the run is done, I can give it away without spoiling anyone's fun - the girls turn out to be guys, either in drag, or some stage of the pre/post op transexual conversion process. So we get not only motherly pride (which looked at first like vanity or competitiveness), but GLBT pride. Rather than feeling like these women and the event promoters are exploiting young ladies, we turn our opinion of them around a bit, realizing that they're embracing and even celebrating a group that society doesn't always accept or even wish to acknowledge. It's a sly little film and the best of the bunch.

Of the other comedic entries, Gluttony works the next best - the cautionary tale of a fat cop undone by his ceaseless appetite. Though the pansy stereotype of an aerobics instructor was a bit grating, the film didn't last long enough for it to really offend me. Besides, that character was still standing at the end of the story.

Anger was a last minute substitution, so it's really unfair to judge it by the same yardstick. It was an amusing little ditty about a guy being late for work once too often, also by Gene Landry, who brought Pride to the table, and is the curator of the event. It's lucky he had something ready in his bag of tricks.

The serious pieces worked less well for a couple of reasons - one, their storytelling was less skilled; two - their connections to the deadly sins they represented was a lot more tenuous and hard to figure out.

The one exception to this is Lust. It was an unsettling look at how a lonely guy's obsession with porn undid any possibility he had for a real, healthy relationship he truly desired. Though it had its amusing moments, too, it was ultimately quite sad. But it was also right on target with its connection to the subject.

Less successful were Greed, Envy and Sloth. Though they were all well shot - and Sloth was a particular standout in this regard, visually - each of them was a bit too much of a stretch to fit neatly into this group of sin themed films.

Greed was more about drug addiction than desire for either money, posessions or other people. Envy was a fuzzy bait and switch tale of two dueling reporters that needed a clearer story and a better payoff.

Sloth delivered a sucker punch of 9/11 footage at the end which I'm still conflicted about. On the one hand, I think the image of the top of one of the smoking towers plummeting out of sight beyond the bottom of the screen to its final destruction is compelling. But I just don't think the story that proceeded it earned the right to use that visual. It almost felt like cheating. Of course, 9/11 images are going to viscerally grab us. But they're someone else's images, or, perhaps more accurately, they belong to all of us and they're a tricky thing for any one artist to try and appropriate for their use. The story is of a guy so undone by his parents' deaths in the disaster that he spirals into drug use and inactivity, losing both job and girlfriend in the process. So there is some sloth in there but I don't see how it all connects. A friend of the filmmaker shared with me that the film was somehow also meant to be an indictment of the Bush administration's sitting on its hands as the danger approached. But that's a real stretch in my book. I didn't get any larger metaphorical meaning from the way the story was laid out. Though the visuals were beautiful, the story didn't hold together in the way I think the filmmaker intended. All I saw was a guy using his pain, and a national tragedy, to make excuses for his own checking out of everyday life and responsibility. Not a terribly compelling tale. The filmmaker is obviously gifted. Telling a coherent story which conveys the message he intended is the next level of accomplishment he needs to reach. Given his talent and determination, I have no doubt he will.

I applaud Gene Landry, both as filmmaker and curator, for bringing film back to the Fringe. If I had one suggestion, it would be to make sure that the filmmakers cleve more closely to the concept next time, and perhaps to work with writers as collaborators to better help them shape their stories. There's no shame in not being able to wear all the hats by yourself and it might make for a better product.

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