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Around the Bay …and… Passion Flower

February 16, 2013

Viewed Saturday, June 12 at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, along with Passion Flower (review following).

Around the Bay

aroundIf TS Eliot came back to life reincarnated as a filmmaker, he would be Alejandro Adams. This is what I wrote on my notepad halfway through this movie, and while I firmly believe this comparison, it also makes a review of his movies very difficult. How could you write a one page review of Eliot’s The Waste Land and make the average reader understand the greatness of the work? I missed this film when it played at Cinequest 2008, so I was very happy to have this second chance to see Adams’ first feature film.

Like The Waste Land, it is difficult to adequately review an Adams film without writing an entire 10 page essay. His films defy a one or two paragraph blurb; there is far too much going on, too much you have to figure out yourself. This is the beauty of his first two films; he will never tell you what is happening, and nothing will be explained to you. You are merely an observer in the film’s world and it is up to you to decide what the story is about. While this film had more of a beginning-middle-end configuration than did Canary, his second film, it is still just a section of time in the lives of these characters.

Around the Bay is a movie with four main characters: all four are protagonists of their own story, and antagonists in another. Such is real life. The four characters are all interrelated in some way: you have a father, a daughter and a son by two different ex-wives, and a girlfriend. The truth of this plot is that none of the four characters really know any of the others as they should, and they battle through the film trying, and failing, to understand each other. I could spend time explaining the intricacies of the plot, but the experience of watching the film is much more important than the details of the story.

Little snippets of scenes spliced here, there, and everywhere; some with jarring blackout cuts, some scenes and their dialogue simply overlapping each other. An unsettling puzzle of quiet scenes that ensure you will never know for sure what is coming next. Such a quiet movie with so little written dialogue, but it also contains so much noise; there is a constant stream of crickets or train noises drowning out everything else. Adams knows how to manipulate this minimalist use of sound to create a cacophony of unrest. If you took out all background sound and dialogue, and replaced it with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, you would still have the same experience watching this film.

Instead of written dialogue, many scenes are spent watching the characters sit silently; it is up to us to read their thoughts. This can frustrate the average moviegoer, but is also the beauty of Adams’ films; like a great poem, the viewer must interpret what is going on in the minds of the characters. This contributes to the feeling of being a voyeur into this world. At times the screen just goes silent – often when the character of the father is almost experiencing some emotion, as if he’s trying to use silence to drown it before it surfaces.

Will Alejandro ever get rich with his films? Probably not with this film, but I don’t think he cares. He is a true artist-slash-genius such as many literary authors who were never given the fame they deserved while alive. I predict his films will be taught in film school one day, but this does not mean the average viewer should forget his name. If you ever get your hands on a DVD of Around the Bay I suggest you set aside 96 minutes of quiet time to sit and observe the entire film in one viewing. When it is over you will be happy that you gave the film the attention it deserves.

I also saw the documentary film Passion Flower, by Jarrod Whaley.

passion flowerThis was a beautiful film about a woman with a double mastectomy who decides to get a passion flower tattooed around the area of her scars. The woman, Ann Law, is a dancer who has decided against being fitted with prostheses or submitting to reconstructive surgery. The entire film is set in the tattoo parlor, and Ann arrives with friends while chatting happily. Throughout the film she explains her story as tattoo artist Skip Cisto proceeds with the process. We see everything from the drawing being transferred to her skin, to the coloring in of the tattoo. Cisto treats Ann and her story with great respect, almost reverence, and appears to be aware of the part he is playing in this metamorphoses. Ann even chats happily about the rain outside. She says that the rain makes her glad she’s there in the parlor, that if it were sunny she would want to be playing outside. But of course the rain is also a symbol of rebirth, and it marks the transformation of Ann from cancer survivor to a work of art. When it is over she stands up and admires with the rest of us her perfectly smooth torso that is now a canvas for the passion flower. There is no cringing or wincing from anyone on film or in the audience as she displays her bare chest, just as there is no longer any sign of a scar. Her metamorphosis into a whole woman again is complete.

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