Wednesday, August 30, 2017

VOD debut for Michael J. Saul's short film collection, THE DAYDREAMER'S NOTEBOOK

The name Michael J. Saul was new to me, or so I imagined, when I sat down to view THE DAYDREAMER'S NOTEBOOK, a collection of short films that span a time frame of 36 years of movie-making. Turns out, however, that TrustMovies has indeed reviewed a film by Mr. Saul: his 2015 low-key pot-boiler, The Surface. I didn't much like that film, so I'm pleased to report that viewing a larger chunk of Mr. Saul's work proved a more interesting venture.

This filmmaker, shown at right, seems a good deal better with short films, and perhaps, the shorter the better. If that sounds like a "dig," I don't mean it to be, for what we see here in short form often proves rather lovely, suggestive and elusive. In one of his shortest, Nightcrawler, Saul recalls via narration and visuals, preparation for a fishing trip with his dad, which he evidently hated. The movie shows us why. Two others, Idol and Boat 14, return us to the image of a young man who was perhaps muse to Ms. Saul, David Allan Payne (below), seen in several of the films in this Notebook.

Saul uses slo-mo often, and often beautifully, especially in Euphoria (below and further below), an ode to longing and incipient sexuality that features three beautiful teens engaged in sexual behavior and fantasy, all in glowing black-and-white cinematography that incorporates dance, movement and even some special effects.

The filmmaker's introduction to this collections provides a bit of his history, along with school report cards that feature teachers' comments. We get but a glimpse of who he is/was, as he explains how important daydreaming became to his creative process.

Much of what we see here -- Cons, Idol, Boat 14 -- is archival, and some of the film decay we view may put you (unintentionally) in mind of the work of Bill Morrison, though the two filmmakers have not much else in common, I should think.

The Daydreamer's Notebook, though not overtly homosexual (The Surface gives you plenty of this), is certainly homoerotic. Yet perhaps the best of these shorts is something called Subterranea (above and below), in which Saul combines glorious nature images with sci-fi tropes to form something quite lovely and original. This one doubles as a memorial video to the late Steven M. Miller, who was Saul's collaborator and composer for 30 years, and whose music fills most of this Notebook.

The longest of the films included here -- The Cipher and the Boar (below and at bottom)-- proves the least interesting, though the most time is spent on it and in it (we even get look at the making of this one, together with  a visit to the "premiere" it had back in 1981). Shot on 16-mm, the would-be thriller/horror short tracks two boys (one of them the young Mr. Payne) who stumble upon the house of a very nasty taxidermist.

A kind of dark fairy tale of the Gingerbread House/Hansel & Gretel variety, the movie, told without dialog, is full of fraught, would-be terrifying images that eventually grow repetitive and tiresome. We get what's happening, but it takes too long to arrive. This is also Saul's lengthiest and most "narrative" short in the bunch, so, given my reaction to this one, as well as to his recent narrative film The Surface, I'd call the briefer, elliptical and more experimental work his stronger suit.

Already available for viewing via Amazon Instant Video, the collection arrived on VOD yesterday, August 29, on TLA Video, and will make its debut on Dekkoo, the new all-gay streaming site, sometime this fall.

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