IT'S GEEK TO
Lack of money, goes the paradox, can mean more creative
freedom. Or so it would seem, judging from such anomalies as Primer,
Shane Carruth's no-budget SF Sundance winner. It's an experimental film,
which is already enough to make half the boneheads calling themselves
"film critics" pan it. ("Waah! I want production values!" What happened,
did they stumble in here on the way to Ladder 49?)
picture plunges us into the middle of some very cryptic scenes involving
technogeeks discussing a project. Apparently we're looking at some twenty-something
engineers working in shirts and ties in a garage during their off-hours
on...what? A product of "science" that will hopefully free them from
their drudge day jobs, but for all the elliptical editing and overlapping
dialogue, it seems like ponderous and mystifying gibberish.
two guys come into almost-focus: the moody. intense Abe (David Sullivan),
and the dark, mercurial Aaron (Carruth). The thing they've invented
is some kind of sealed box with tubing attached, and by radically altering
the temperature of whatchimacallit, they accidentally breed a common
fungus at a rate a few thousands times faster than normal. Abe eventually
figures out that time is slower inside the box, which means that if
you could make the box big enough to fit people into, they could go
in, and then come out earlier in time than when they entered.
it's a time machine, which the two set up in an out-of-the-way storage
facility. First they go to a hotel and kill about six hours doing nothing,
so that there won't be any causality paradoxes. Then they go to the
storage locker, stay in for six hours, and come out six hours earlier
while their doubles are still in the hotel. This little trick is employed
in order to make a killing on the stock market, but then they start
to get more, shall we say, metaphysically involved. The temptation to
try to manipulate the timeline creates increasing convolutions, until
we end up in a very bad situation, with numerous doubles, double-crosses,
and boxes within boxes.
you feel stupid by now, it's because you don't realize that this is
a comedy -- an extremely dry, morbid, self- referential comedy, but
a comedy just the same. Carruth deliberately makes the story as hard
to understand as possible, using allusion, discontinuity, and buzzing
paranoia to keep things tense, while ratcheting the mind-fuck factor
up as far as it can go. This is where the bonehead critics really get
mad, because they want some straight science fiction movie that they
can grasp on the surface, but Carruth is interested in how it feels
to be in the middle of this time-space free fall where you really don't
know exactly what's happening, and that's what's scary, and funny.
said all that, I should point out that Primer could have been
better than it is, because Carruth cuts a few too many corners, particularly
in the matter of minor characters who should have been established by
more than a passing mention so that their later importance in the story
could register in the viewer's mind. Maybe if he'd had, say, fourteen
thousand bucks to spend instead of seven, the film would hit the solar
plexus the way it was meant to. As it is, the narrative leaps can be
frustrating, and the style too concentrated for its own good, but if
you sit back and let the film have its way with you without trying to
understand everything, you'll get to a kind of "this can't be happening"
dystopian dread that will make the experience worthwhile. (Believe me,
after the movie you'll spend some time puzzling over the details, until
you either take a pain reliever or decide to see the picture again.)
be willing to bet that a Hollywood remake, in the right hands, could
bring out the brain-exploding potential in the material to better effect
-- but you just might lose the giddy, almost nauseating off-kilter quality
that makes this fuzzy piece of 16-mil. effluvia so weirdly compelling.
Primer is gathering a rep as a film for geeks, but it's also
-- gasp -- an art film, and in the SF cinema world, that makes it practically
sui generis. Enjoy, or should I say -- don't.
rock and roll, the best and most influential bands are not always the
most successful. Take, for instance, The Ramones. In the mid-70s, when
endless solos and psychedelic concept albums were turning rock into
a boring, self-indulgent head trip, the New York band exploded onto
the scene with their incredibly loud, fast, simple, and danceable sound,
paving the way for the triumph of punk. But despite sticking it out
for twenty plus years, they never achieved the popularity or the profits
of groups such as the Clash and others, whom they influenced.
there's a documentary about The Ramones called End of the Century,
directed by Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields. And you couldn't ask for
a more in-depth look at the band and the unusual dynamic that held the
members together. It features extensive interviews with the four original
Ramones, and the three others who came later, along with great concert
footage and comments from fans, roadies, family, and other musicians.
singer Joey's story is that of a very insecure, compulsive loner who
gained a sense of self through the music. He died of cancer in 2001.
Dee Dee, the bass player and principal songwriter, was a lunatic and
a junkie (who OD'd shortly after the film was made), but he comes across
in the film as unusually insightful. Drummer Tommy was an organizer
and mediator type who seems like a voice of calmness and reason compared
to the others, but it is the guitarist Johnny, who died of cancer a
couple months ago, who makes the strongest impression. Amazingly smart
and dedicated, and legendary for his mean, agressive behavior -- Johnny
talks for the first time at length about The Ramones, and really gives
you a sense of the band's power and appeal.
film explores the many conflicts between the members -- Joey and Johnny
ended up hating each other's guts, even though they kept working together
for years, and the other guys also had their problems with drinking,
drugs, and one another. What makes End of the Century distinctive
is that it lets you in on all of this without either a holier-than-thou
attitude, or the usual one of dumb celebrity worship. This is the story
of a great rock band, told truly from the inside, so that you really
get a feel of what it was like, the good and the bad, and come away
understanding The Ramones better, while still appreciating the greatness
of the music.
©2004 Chris Dashiell