Thursday, May 6, 2010

GRAVITY WAS EVERYWHERE BACK THEN from experimental artist Brent Green

You gotta love that title, which sounds like we might be in for something kinda sci-fi/fantasy.  But no.  Or maybe yes.  Sci-fi, perhaps not, but there is certainly an element of fantasy here -- at least in the minds of the real-life protagonists on which the film is based: Leonard Wood (possible relative of Ed?), a humble Kentucky hardware store clerk, and his wife Mary, who seem to have had only a passing and short-lived connection with reality as most of us know it.  There is also an element of fantasy, I am afraid, in the mind of movie-maker and artist Brent Green that he has created a film that might its place in a theatrical venue in which an audience actually forks over money to watch something they'll enjoy.

GRAVITY WAS EVERYWHERE BACK THEN -- I just love repeating that title, though what it has to do with the movie at hand, I cannot say -- is a film about Mr. and Mrs. Wood, who met oddly, lived frugally and died sadly (don't most of us) and whose memorial perhaps is this weird film.  Throughout the 1970s Leonard built a wacky habitat for his ailing wife Mary in the hope that its very wackiness would somehow cure her cancer.  Though the house itself was destroyed, Green, shown at right, seems to have gotten a glimpse of it and, via Wood's original drawings, recreated it (sort of), along with some of its furnishings, for this film.  He then hired actors to play Mr. and Mrs., wrote them some dialog and let them go at it.  All to the accompaniment of rather discordant music.

The result, done in some of the weirdest stop-motion photography I have ever seen, does nothing for anything except make the movie one, non-stop piece of jerky film-making that grows continually more difficult to watch.  The film is (I suppose, deliberately) scratchy, and seems to keep bouncing back and forth from very light to way-too-dark.  The soundtrack is even worse.  Not only does one have trouble seeing what is going on properly, it is even more difficult to hear what's being said.  Is the point here to be "artistic"? Obfuscatory?  Is this deliberate "distancing of the viewer"? Or is someone simply having us on?  No?  Well, maybe doing the film in this stop-motion manner was much less expensive for Green (who is shown in the two photos above) than simply filming his actors with a video camera. If so, then OK -- even if the results stink.  If not, and this is supposed to be "art," then fie on the filmmaker.

From the outset, Gravity is so home-made looking that it initially reminded TrustMovies of Flooding With Love for the Kid -- Zachary Oberzan's bizarre homage to First Blood.  Both are examples of DIY filmmaking, but the latter is infinitely more fun, if too lengthy (the best thing Gravity has going for it is its 75-minute running time). Occasionally there is an interesting moment.  The movie-maker refers to his subject and his home construction as "building toward god."  And there is a lovely scene of some very nice animation, shown in the still above, having to do with a flood and some fish in the street.  But because, perhaps, Green and his actors had not enough genuine connection to the Woods, they're unable to create characters. Instead, we get no more than a jumbled collection of odd facts.

The most interesting part of all this might be the religious aspect of the Woods' lives, as it is clear that they had a very bizarre notion of that big guy in the sky. Trust Movies himself comes from what he considers to be one of the most goofy, if not outright detrimental, religions of all time -- Christian Science -- which, had it become as popular as Judaism or Catholicism, could have wreaked untold havoc.   But it was simply too ridiculous (The material world does not exist? And you can't go to doctors? That'll never fly!) to catch on big-time. So he was primed to discover more about the Woods' definition of god and/or their belief system.  But we learn almost nothing here, either -- just more odd, disconnected "facts."

I have certainly seen enough movies of all types at this point to understand that with experimental film, the viewer must try to find some point of entry -- a way to engage with the filmmaker.  And it's not that Green won't supply these. Yet, as soon as you have entered, he begins pushing you away.  He seems to have chosen the oddest and least affecting manner in which to film his story.  Other than his animation, I could find no reason to stay involved.  For me the most moving moments came toward the film's conclusion, during the simple reading of a letter written by Wood to his wife, 13 years after her death.  Some loves, it seems, never die.  And some movies never take shape.

Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, a Nervous Films release (I should hope so: What could the box-office take possibly add up to here?), opens this Friday, May 7, at Manhattan's IFC Center, and will play daily at 3.30 and 7:30 pm.


Anonymous said...

Awww, I loved this film. Really, really loved it.

James van Maanen, said...

Well, good -- Anon! So tell me WHY you loved it. Get specific. That might make my readers give the film a shot, even though I didn't care for it. And I would think it will be out on DVD, or via some streaming source, eventually -- so that more people will be given the opportunity to view it.