DW Mault on a pair of films dealing with the vitality and cruelty of youth…
The romance of narrative is perpetually at odds with reality; which is a problem that longs for an answer. That answer belongs in the idea that an emotional reality must be steeped in place and individuals, letting them organically seep into our consciousness so we don’t realise until it’s too late that we in fact are watching someone’s representation of a period of time.
Time is an essence quintessentially linked to cinema via the constructs of the self: our idea of ourselves and our surroundings are at once linked towards our relationship with our environment and those that exist there.
What do we talk about when we talk about time? Is it youth, the idea of a lost youth, an idea of the potential lost, or adventures to come? Cinema has often been accused with a fetishisation of youth and beauty, and with good cause, but with an aim at the end of this false avenue. That aim is an anti-nostalgia, a project that says we live and then die but life goes on; it’s a forceful admittance of our own futility.
Two films approach us like electricity, showing youth in all its nasty vicissitudes, its ecstasies of emotion that hits joyous heights and sudden violent relationship entanglements. The first to come our way is Adam Leon’s Gimme The Loot, which competed in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW. Shot for $65,000 on the streets of the Bronx, it follows Malcolm and Sofia’s McGuffinesque attempt to raise $500 so they can tag the home run apple of the NY Mets.
This is a film that cares not for this banality though, it’s about the streets, people, and two long hot days where the impatience of youth invites us to observe how cultures meet and dissect. It’s a film that looks like it was shot on grainy Super 16mm but wasn’t, a film that knows its place in the counter-cultural history of NY: residing halfway between Walter Hill’s The Warriors and Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.
Shooting on long lenses, a la Ken Loach, Leon allows the film to exist within the paradigm of its own making. We are invited through a closed door to see past the bluff and bluster of teenage braggadocio, to observe the tender emotions of the not yet formed adults and see them playing with the masks which in later life they will be forced to wear to survive those internal streets of the mind that they’ll want to escape but probably won’t.
Gimme The Loot is ultimately a film about friendship and certainty; the sense of purpose that the teenage mind sees everything through: black and white, always with the black and white. No compromise, for that entails empathy: the idea that everything matters more than anything else, a pure solipsism that we all know (and some of us have grew out of), but all these philosophical placements comes to the fore in our second film: Michel Gondry’s The We And The I.
Michel Gondry is a filmmaker I always liked the idea of rather than his films. Very much a conceptualist, he seemed ideally suited to shorts and music videos rather than full length features. His films are full of moments that never come alive, I’d rather have his ‘Swede’ version of Taxi Driver than the whole of Be Kind Rewind. He is a filmmaker capable of the unexpected though, for this I point you in the direction of both his documentary about his family, The Thorn In The Heart, and his young, dumb and full of cum anti-superhero film The Green Hornet.
The We And The I features a group of teenagers who ride the same bus route, and how their relationships change and evolve on the last day of school. It’s a modern day, urbanised Dazed And Confused, but it is perhaps more than that. It holds a mirror to the unholy mess of hormones and the potential for emotional violence within ourselves. Now though we can look and smile or cringe, depending on how your school days were for you: the best or worst of your life (I myself am very suspicious of anyone who says they were the best)…
The bus is Antonin Artaud’s Théâtre de la Cruauté in microcosm, but with the attention span of a goldfish, an idea in the flesh of the choice of goodness, and doing and being in that state while surrounded by the devil and angels of the mind that come to be our peers; of course we have the ideal of how we learn that sex and relationships can save us from ourselves and civilise a person thought lost, but also destroy and hurt, like when learning of the danger of fire and/or water. For this is where we are created to go forth and exist within the confines of a warped society. For the bus, we have the world and everything in it.
These two films are like echoes of each other, a call and response yelp from the narrow streets of Alphabet City. We now live in a world where the cultural revolution of Hip Hop has overtaken the world and become the dominant influence on the culture. What we can only liken to Castro and Che coming down from the hills in Cuba to overthrow Batista and bring in a post-revolutionary universe, well this is the world these teenagers find themselves in. Some sink, some swim; it’s all grist to the mill of selfhood’s burgeoning search for a feasible identity.
There is a sweetness here though in both films, and that sweetness is to do with the possibility of change; how in what seems like minor moments we are on a different path and that might be because of a glance, a kiss, a punch, a gift: all of these and none of them. So see these films and luxuriate in the idea of what is, what isn’t and what might have been; a moment of easy choices that seemed difficult only because there appeared only two choices: black or white?
Gimme The Loot screens at FACT from May 10th and The We And The I will be released later in the year