Monday, January 19, 2015

Digital debut: New Orleans losers inhabit Eddie Jemison/Sean Richardson's KING OF HERRINGS

It has been awhile since any movie's rubbed me as thoroughly the wrong way as did this odd little film. I admit that tackling a story about four male losers and two of their women (a sister and wife) -- in which the leading loser is such a waste of time, not to mention verbiage -- has got to be a tricky endeavor. How far can you go in presenting your leading man as an all-stops-out asshole (or as he might put it, a cunt) before completely alienating your audience? Good question. For the answer, see -- if you dare -- KING OF HERRINGS.

The film's a group effort that is finally and mostly the product of one man -- Eddie Jemison (shown at left) who wrote, co-directed, co-produced and stars in the leading role -- at whose feet one can lay the praise or blame. I hope Mr. Jemison wears a size 15 shoe. Pace the late John Cassavetes whose black-and-white early American "art" movies Jemison has surely seen and here tries to ape, but it takes more than decent b/w cinematography and men behaving not just badly but ultra-stupidly to create something redeeming.

That cinematography and its editing, both by co-director Sean Richardson, is worth seeing -- though in the initial scene at a railway station, it takes awhile to get one's footing/viewing. Soon we're in a practically empty bar, watching our quartet of males, led by Jemison's character "Ditch," behaving in an irredeemably dumb way. As the movie goes along, this guy just gets worse and less believable with each scene.

OK: Maybe this is just "guys being guys." But there is a limit. Pushing the envelope is one thing, but Jemison rolls it into a ball, stomps on it and then sets it ablaze. Ditch's behavior is so thoroughly out of line in every way that you simply can't believe that the other three "friends" would tolerate him for more than a few minutes. These include the tall and lanky Gat (David Jensen, on poster at top and above, right), Artie aka The Professor (Joe Chrest, below, left) and Leon (Wayne Pére, below, right, and two photos above), the best-looking but also the shyest of the four, who is relegated to using a voice box in order to speak and be heard.

The women are played by Laura Lamson (below, right, and at bottom) as Ditch's wife, Mary, and Andrea Frankle (below, left), as his sister, Evie. Both do an excellent job, with Ms Lamson in particular able to create a whole character and space around herself via a quiet but insistent strength. This goes a long way in making the movie worth sitting through.

Jealousy, desire, shame, anger and mostly stupidity keep the ball rolling along here, but the movie's weakest link is its very tenuous hold on reality. None of these guys seem to have a job, save The Prof, who -- wait for it -- sells magazine subscriptions for a living. Granted we're in the New Orleans area, post-Katrina and the Gulf Oil Spill, but still, we've all got to earn our keep. How these guys even afford a meal is questionable.

The one character who at least has a job is the owner of the cafe (John Mese, above) in which the quartet hangs out. Some homoerotic stuff comes to the fore along the way in a particularly bizarre scene in which Ditch threatens Leon by helping him take a piss, complementing him on his cock in the process. At other times, you may find yourself wondering if these are gays simply pretending to be straight. There is finally a feeling here that this whole story and group of characters were created simply to give these particular performers, especially Mr. Jemison, the chance to go whole hog, all-stops-out, & "act" themselves silly. Unfortunately, they do.

King of Herrings, via Devolver, becomes available on Digital VOD this Tuesday, January 20, via outlets such as iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, VHX, Vimeo-on-Demand, Google Play, Gumroad, YouTube Rentals and elsewhere. 


John Mese said...

Can you print up and sign a few copies of this review for me? I want to hang it on my wall and give one to Eddie as a gift. Such an awesome review. Friggin' hilarious! Thanks, John Mese

James van Maanen said...

Gosh, John -- I actually don't know how to "print up" this review. It just exists in the cyber-space form that it takes here. Maybe you can do it. If so, feel free.

I know others have LOVED this movie, but I just ain't one of 'em. Anyway, onwards and upwards -- or at least sideways. I'll look forward to trying whatever else that you all -- individually or group-wise -- decide to do.