Friday, June 29, 2012

The Color Wheel

THE COLOR WHEEL            B                     
USA  (83 mi)  2011  d:  Alex Ross Perry               Official site

A misery-loves-company film where the venom feels as if laced with steroids, introducing two of the more atrociously unlikable leads who just happen to be the co-writers, Alex Ross Perry (the director, editor, lead actor, and producer) as Colin and Carlen Altman as JR, a brother and sister act that couldn’t be more uniquely despicable.  From the outset, this film is designed to alienate as many people as possible, to frustrate and completely alter one’s expectations through a theater of discomfort that reaches epic proportions of such absurd heights that one actually starts developing a begrudging respect for just how narcissistically unpleasant these two individuals really are.  Shot over 18 days on grainy 16 mm Black and White film by Sean Price Williams, working with as small a crew as possible, this is a throwback to a different kind of film, not really Mumblecore, which features aimless and often unemployed characters ambivalent about their seemingly non-existent future, which this most certainly is, but it’s more a cage match of blistering verbal assaults, highlighting a competitive sibling rivalry where one remains profoundly shocked at the depths one is willing to stoop to in order to insult and eviscerate the others character with viciously personal attacks.  This kind of take-no-prisoners mentality breaks new territory for brother and sister films, suggesting an inner rage and hostility heretofore unseen in movies.  One can think of the family dysfunction and outrageous dark comedy of Mark Waters directing Wendy MacLeod’s play The House of Yes (1997), where Parker Posey steals the show as a mentally challenged sister who dresses up as Jackie-O while she has incestuous relations with her brother (Josh Hamilton) as JFK.  But the stinging remarks of that film are both more comical and more tragically poignant, bearing little resemblance to this flamboyantly eccentric but more emotionally shallow effort. The real interest in this film lies in the audacious style-over-substance presentation, a free-for-all of anything goes for the sake of honesty, fuck the consequences, so to speak, almost exclusively shown through attack mode dialogue by two friendless characters who are obviously no threat to anyone but themselves, whose self-esteem apparently couldn’t be lower, whose only claim to fame is a kind of pathetic, mouse-that-roared, stream-of-conscious ability to hurl insults, but overall, outside the brash performances, one wonders what impact, if any, this film might have. 

Chosen by IndieWire (Indiewire's 2011 end-of-year poll for best undistributed film) and The Village Voice (New York Film Poll - Village Voice) as the best film of the year without a distributor, rejected by both Sundance and the South by Southwest Film Festivals, the tone of the film may remind viewers of Vince Gallo’s men-behaving-badly movies, BUFFALO ’66 (1998) and THE BROWN BUNNY (2003), where Gallo is one of the driving forces behind the film, also Philip Roth’s scathingly brutal literary portrayal of family life is a model for the dialogue heavy fireworks in the screenplay.  Despite the obvious discomfort factor, where characters bludgeon one another throughout, including others they meet along the way who may be even more screwed up than they are, this is a bare-bones project immersed in a sea of unpleasantness, but given a dark, comical edge.  The bookended opening and closing scenes suggest there are recurring elements of wish fulfillment, which are not only rejected but harshly denounced, leaving one with nothing else to do except offer equally bitter personal recriminations in response.  When life with his girlfriend is going nowhere, where she’s seen turning the pages of a magazine using boredom as a means of thwarting all sexual advances, Colin’s sister arrives out of nowhere asking for his help, turning this into a road movie through the turnpikes of the Northeast where each is soon confronted by the horrors of their pasts, namely each other, where they bicker endlessly about everything under the sun, but that’s not nearly as sad as JR having to confront her ex, a pompous college professor (Bob Byington, also a producer) with a near Warholian deluded sense of grandeur and sadistic self-importance, where his idea of feeling good about himself is stepping on the self-esteem of others, kicking them and stomping on them while they are down.  One wonders why anybody would put up with this nonsense, but the audience quickly realizes nobody else in the world can stand these two except each other, yet even their lives together are a constant stream of insults and fights. 

With John Bosch creating the original music and the sound design, there’s a blur of images streaming by as their road trip takes them through a series of diners, cheap motels, and thrift stores, where they’re forced to revisit shallow people they grew up with but have no interest in whatsoever, where JR in particular has to continually lie and exaggerate what she’s doing with her life in order to appear to be a success in their eyes, afraid to be seen as the pathetic loser she really is to feeble-minded former friends whose narrow view of the world hasn’t changed much since high school, who are now little more than ghosts from her past, completely disconnected from her life, unable to see her for who she is.  Why it should matter what they think is an open question, as it’s clear neither one of them has any intentions of ever seeing any of them again.  This sense of outright humiliation and self delusion runs throughout the film, where clearly they relish selfishly telling others how they hold them in complete contempt, but towards the end the focus shifts into a strange interior world where illusion begins receiving greater embellishment than reality, suggesting possible dreamlike effects.  With both collapsed on the sofa in a state of road weary exhaustion afterwards JR goes on a long, rambling monologue that starts out imagining innocently enough what her brother would do in a certain situation, probably make a fool out of himself, but her soliloquy becomes more and more autobiographical, eventually feeling intensely confessional, where it’s clear that while she’s talking about him, she’s interjecting thoughts and feelings about herself, where the two, at least for the moment, intersect, realizing they only have each other, becoming jointly intertwined in illicitly compromising incestual behavior that may or may not be real, as it all may be imagined, where the truth, hard as it is to decipher, never reveals itself when you’re constantly inventing a substitute version to replace your real self.  By the end of the film, it feels like delusion has taken over and reality has left the building.  Feeling a bit like Sartre’s theatrical play No Exit, one wonders what could be worse than the thought of never being able to see past your own view.   

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