A lot has changed in the four years since creating this site. Friends have been gained and lost, finances have increased nicely, I've taken on several new hobbies, purchased my first vehicle. Possibly the weirdest of all to me is the occasions when my writing here or on other sites such as Dread Central (Can't believe I'm allowed to post stuff there) nabs me an opportunity to cover an event. Such was the case last weekend when I was invited to check out the Threadbare Mitten Film Festival. It's gonna take me a couple posts to cover the whole thing properly but today I want to simply cover the grand prize winner.
Emory Wenden's Fantastical Autobiographical Museum is not the sort of film I'd usually go in for. The title alone makes me want to bash my skull against a brick wall in rhythm to death metal in the hopes of casting out whatever hipster demon put those words together. I'll admit I began referring to it as Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium. The trailer, only deepened my worries that it was geared toward the Wes Anderson crowed which made me shudder. Even so, the festival organizers assured me I should check it out, which did little to clear my fears as these folks are much easier on films than I am. Imagine my surprise then when this movie I was mostly dreading that aired at a goofy time on a Saturday afternoon in the back of an art gallery I generally avoid like the plague turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
The basic storyline is one that's fairly unique. A filmmaker receives mysterious packages in the mail intended for his apartment's previous tenant. Eventually the guy and his cameramen travel to meet the sender, a man named Emory Wenden who has converted his childhood home into a museum in which to better understand his life. The vast majority of this takes place in one long take as Emory guides the filmmakers from one room to another, each representing another element of life.
I was largely surprised at how well the film worked. A good deal of this is on the shoulders director/writer/star Devin Cameron whose performance as Emory proves to be pretty endearing. He's an odd character, but one you can't help but root for. He's a proper mix of eccentric yet nonthreatening. All the better is that during his long-winded theories about life and love, he frequently seems on the edge of bursting into tears, adding just the right amount of emotion to the proceedings.
As you can probably guess, this is a difficult movie to discuss in normal terms as it lacks both a traditional narrative, and normal scene structure. It almost comes across as the world's most elaborate vlog, a style that works for and against the movie at different times. Some sequences like the room of love are terrific and speak to the audience as a whole, while others like Emroy going on about philosophy and science on the front lawn come across as meandering and overdone. Sadly with the nature of a one shot film, these scenes can hardly be edited down or else the interplay between everything would be lost.
Before I get to my biggest gripe with the movie, I want to note I think it has some real potential to grow and find an audience. As I made painfully clear earlier, this is the sort of movie I usually roll my eyes at and ignore yet even I found an entertaining and worthwhile time to be had here. I've known others who would be far more open to this thing from the start and would likely embrace it as a little cult gem.
But what about that issue I mentioned? It's something I feel truly damages the film as a whole and could be holding it back from reaching greater acceptance. Near the end of the film, Emory takes the film crew down to his basement for the last few exhibits of his museum. First is a physical representation of his heart, a very touching if somewhat on the nose scene. Next is one of those bits that doesn't work as well, when we're treated to a mathematical equation for life. This bit drags on for two long and pales in comparison to the heart. Finally there's a small model of the house with mirrors around it representing an infinite universe of possibilities. This is where the emotional breakdown we've expected through the entire film finally happens, and since Emory is a likable guy it works, but that's it. Movie's over, with one of the most abrupt endings I've seen in some time.
Now don't get me wrong. An ambiguous and inconclusive ending to this sort of picture is probably more realistic, but that doesn't mean it's appropriate. If this were a more cold and sad story than I'd say sure, go with the sudden ending. Fact is, this is a mostly warm and fuzzy film so wrapping in such a fashion simply leaves a bad taste behind. Not to mention the story begins with a framing bit by the filmmakers which isn't resolved. So not only do we not know what becomes of Emory himself, we're left wondering how this experience effected the two men filming it. A story like this needs a proper conclusion, be it happy or sad in order to properly satisfy the viewer.
Luckily the director has a perfect opportunity to add on to this foundation. All he needs to do is get the band back together and finish the framing device. Maybe have the film crew try to reconnect with Emory months or years later. Maybe they succeed and find him living a happy existence. Perhaps Emory disappears Bid Time Return style. Maybe he never finds an answer to his problems but decides to keep living. Point is, there needs to be an actual conclusion, not just an ending.
I actually had the chance to speak with the director the night before the showing, though I neglected to take the opportunity. Partly because at the time I was dreading the film, but mainly because he was usually in a conversation to begin with and my mother raised me not to butt in. Even then I likely wouldn't have had much to say having not yet viewed the film though now I'd certainly like to ask a few tidbits about production and of course the sudden onset ending.
From the selection of films I saw over the weekend, I can see why the organizers awarded the grand prize to this. It's a rare treat of an indie flick that isn't totally buried up it's own ass with self importance and I could really see it gaining traction with folks less cold-hearted and judgmental than I. If you hear about it showing at a festival anywhere near you I'd suggest taking a peak.
I'll talk about the festival in more detail in an upcoming post, including some bits from a filmmaker I took the time to talk with. I'll also be writing up another post on the festivals horror offerings for Dread Central, I'll let you all know when that's finished. Right now I gotta re-edit and post this thing so my ass can get some sleep.