A student film pokes fun at student film.
Thursday, November 8, 2001
The videotape came delivered in a plain white cardboard sleeve. It could have been anything from scenes of a staid family reunion to a jujitsu training video to very, very dirty pornography.
The blank cover revealed nothing. I did know a little bit. I knew the film was short in length, it was made at CSUMB and it was about making a bomb.
Yes, a bomb.
Some kid at CSUMB actually had the nerve to make a movie about building a bomb. What stones! What are they teaching kids up there, anyway? Were their sports teams no longer the Otters? Had they now changed their name to the "Attas"? Sweet Jesus, just what we need--a local jihad of crazed sophomores from Modesto.
But no. Nothing of the sort is happening.
It''s just a short movie that might win a big prize. After watching the 18-minute piece of work from Ryan Wilcoxson of Monterey, I was left with two things: a bone-dry beer can and a list of questions about what I had just seen.
The movie has the feel of a mockumentary--think Spinal Tap--but when I asked Wilcoxson whether that''s what it is, he answered vaguely, "Well, sort of."
"The Making of: A-Bomb" isn''t some Strangelove spoof about modern war and mutual assured destruction. Not at all. As Wilcoxson tells it, "It''s a metaphor for the digital revolution."
Before the action starts in the film, a quote from director-author Michael Rabiger appears: "Looking ahead, the digital camera promises the rapidity, access and diversification from which a revolution will come."
The film opens with a shot of a youngish man, perhaps a college student, walking briskly down a hallway. Barking orders like a colonel, he declares, "This is an absolute mess. You follow me."
This character, Terrence Furthermore, is a caricature of a student filmmaker who has succumbed to the dark, revolutionary impulse we get glimmers of throughout the 18 minutes, and which finally manifests at the very end.
Without giving it away, Furthermore is somewhat self-destructive. "He knew exactly how it would end up. He was a traditional filmmaker and blew up his own paradigm," Wilcoxson explains. "His last film was about his first video."
Wilcoxson explains his angle on the digital filmmaking revolution by comparing it to orange juice concentrate. With orange juice concentrate, everything is right there in the can. You don''t have to own the grove or crush the oranges. Just add water.
With digital filmmaking, a guy with an idea and a couple hundred bucks can buy a camera and make a movie of his own, without having to deal with muck-a-muck movie moguls and domineering studios. Distribution is also much simpler: there''s no need to lug around reels when the Web is already strung around the globe.
"It puts the power of storytelling in everyone''s hands," Wilcoxson says.
In addition to delivering a sermon on digital democracy, Bomb pokes fun at film students. For instance, a short scene shows Furthermore being filmed and trying to introduce himself to viewers in a very earnest manner: "I''m Terrence Furthermore, independent film maker, re-inventor of modern cinema. Cut." He turns to the camera. "Is that pretentious?" In the end, he decides to call himself a "teledramatic artist."
The faux auteur is also given to speechifying to his cast and crew as if he''s General Patton trying to inspire his troops. "The most challenging thing about shooting concentrated film is letting go of convention!" Furthermore bellows.
In one especially mordant scene, the film mocks the ridiculousness of an unraveling student film project. Two actors, complaining about having no lines to deliver, are made to lie under a pile of crumpled-up newspapers while a crewmember tosses more wads of paper on the pile. Furthermore yells and berates his cast and crew about a static, simple scene with no dialogue. Wilcoxson says it''s about the bloated egos of some directors. "I am always worried about catching myself in that kind of a rant," he confesses.
To illustrate Wilcoxson''s movie concentrate idea, Furthermore shoots an actress and a mustachioed actor copulating. Almost immediately she begins to swell with pregnancy, like quick-rising dough. "Nine months in nine seconds!" Furthermore exults. "It doesn''t get any more concentrated than that!"
There is a chaotic feel to the movie that''s deliberate. Some of the actors were kept out of the loop to create genuine tension.
You might not be able to rent Wilcoxson''s film at the video store, but you might be hearing more about him. Bomb has been chosen as a finalist in the CSU Summer Arts Media Arts Festival this weekend in Northridge.
As for the director, Wilcoxson is hard to track down these days. He''s a producer for a local television station and has been spending his days shooting very short holiday ads all over the Central Coast. "Film concentrate," you might say.