Saturday, March 16, 2013

Light and dark: three short films by Jeremiah Kipp

Let’s start with ‘Drool’. It’s an experimental four-minute movie shot in tactile black and white. It fixates on the body. Its aesthetic is intrinsically queasy. And it defies easy description. Here’s my best shot: imagine the massage scene in ‘Emmanuelle 2’ if Lars von Trier had challenged Brian Yuzna to remake it.

Welcome to the world of Jeremiah Kipp.

‘Drool’ is a film to be experienced, rather than simply watched and then discussed or reviewed under a conventional set of critical or intellectual parameters. It taps into a primal – even natal – part of the subconscious. It’s erotic in a way that challenges your perception of eroticism if you dwell on it for too long. And there’s a strange beauty inherent in the film even as it lives up to its title in the most unambiguous manner.

One more thing about ‘Drool’ – appropriately for a film that defies the structures and strictures of the reviewer’s so-called art – it doesn’t contain a syllable of dialogue.

Nor does ‘Crestfallen’, which is only slightly longer but packs a concentrated emotional punch, beginning with the biting irony of the title. Lo (Deneen Melody) is beyond crestfallen. She’s not even in the same league as dejected. In a swift rug-pull that transits from attractive young woman slipping off her robe to knife/vein/bathwater running red, Kipp plunges the viewer into the mental turmoil of Lo’s suicide attempt. The double betrayal that has brought her to this desperate act is a small masterclass in visual narrative and the editor’s art. Just a few shots, timed precisely and juxtaposed in a specific sequence, and we know all we need to about Lo’s state of mind and the pain she’s feeling. Melody’s poignantly expressive performance seals the deal.

Kipp’s evocation of Russ Penning’s script as a non-verbal experience – I almost used the description “purely visual”, but that would have done a disservice to Harry Manfredini’s elegant score – benefits immeasurably from Dominick Sivilli’s cinematography. Take these three shots:

That first image – window, light, woman – is strikingly beautiful. Light is key to Kipp’s work. Light is one of the hardest elements to capture artistically: prose doesn’t have a chance; the paintings of Edward Hopper come close; still photography and cinema have it within their grasp. And yet in so few pictures or films does light truly suffuse.

That second image: the knife assumes almost as much of the screen as Lo’s face (and doesn’t Deneen Melody just nail the emotion with that one look?); the positioning is precise, likewise the balance of light and shadow. In the third – perhaps the darkest moment in the film, Lo’s life quite literally in the balance – Kipp and Sivilli capture the darkness through the application of light.

‘Crestfallen’ is proof positive of Sivilli’s collaborative importance, but his talent was already on show in ‘Contact’, made two years earlier. An opening sequence, almost elegiac in its simplicity, has a retired couple tread warily (and indeed wearily) around something unsaid as the table is laid for a meal. Light spills into the frame from a window. Whatever is beyond is indeterminate. This single visual prompt accretes greater and greater meaning during the eleven minutes through which ‘Contact’ unfolds, and by the end the title itself has assumed extra layers of meaning.

Briefly – because once again I don’t want to spoil the emotional and immersive qualities of the work – ‘Contact’ concerns sex, drugs and reunion. Specifically, it’s about a monstrously bad trip – and I use the term “monstrous” advisedly. Kipp deals out some repellent imagery as Koreen (Zoë Daelman Chlanda)’s mind is opened not to the doors of perception but a tunnel of grotesquerie. But he takes a subtle and measured route to get there. Koreen and partner Westy (Robb Leigh Davis)’s journey to the wasteland fiefdom of Machiavellian dealer Rowan (Alan Rowe Kelly) is reminiscent of Tarkovsky (‘Stalker’ in particular), a desolate and ruined landscape providing a sociological commentary on the characters’ lives.

The closing scene brings the narrative full circle, in a scenario that could best be described as Mike Leigh gone metaphysical. Do the comparisons I’ve studded this review with make Kipp’s cinema sound derivative? Nothing could be further from the truth. Kipp – a talented director with the nous to surround himself with equally talented collaborators – is steadily building a body of work that confirms him as filmmaker with a voice and confidence that are his own.

For more information on Jeremiah Kipp, and to view the films discussed in this article, please visit his website here. I’ll be featuring a Q&A with him on The Agitation of the Mind next week.

No comments: