Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Monday, November 07, 2005

film

-- film -- reeling 2005: opencam

What would you do if you found out that almost everyone you'd had sex with in the past few weeks had been murdered?

We get an answer to that question, sort of, in OpenCam, the Tuesday night feature at Reeling 2005, written and directed by Robert Gaston.

We start out with Manny (Andrieu Thomas), young artist at large, wanking away -- below the camera -- while watching other people on the Washington Dick cam site. He's a regular there, so lots of others seem to know his screen name, JustWatching. While he's on the site, he gets a phone call from his best friend Maurice (pronounced "morris", and played by Ben Green), reminding him to come out to brunch with the gang. During brunch, the friends talk over this and that and the other, and we discover that Manny has been celibate since his latest relationship ended ... sort of. (What we discover fairly soon after that is that apparently, Manny has been lying like a dog to his friends, for no apparent reason whatsoever.) We meet Maurice, as well as Manny's other friends, photographer Chris (Christian Jones) and technogeek Conrad (J. Matthew Miller).

As written, Manny begins the film very subdued, with a very flat affect. He thought he had something with this guy who apparently dumped him without a word, before the film starts, and that he was so wrong is still bothering him. Additionally, he's been trying to get in to an art gallery show, and they've turned him down more than once. On top of that, he's had problems finding work, and he's been out of work long enough that it means he's starting to have money problems. He's understandably very depressed. This subdued approach, in some ways, seems like a dramatic mistake; it means that quite literally every other character in the beginning of the film is much more dynamic and memorable than he is, and you kind of wonder why we're following him around.

Things get briefly terribly exciting when Manny and hisMaurice are about to get simultaneously carjacked and gaybashed, and Maurice completely snaps. He gets the drop on one of the attackers and beats him so badly that Manny winds up having to hold Maurice back; we later hear that the attacker wound up with an internal brain hemorrhage, and it looks vaguely like Maurice might actually be charged with something ... but that storyline goes away, just completely disappears. (Structurally, we probably shouldn't have heard what happened with the attacker; it makes it seem as though the story's going to go off on a tangent when it doesn't.)

In any event, after the attack, policeman Ari Hamilton (Amir Darvish) and his partner come to the scene of the crime to take Manny's and Maurice's statements. Somehow, this ends up with Ari and Manny having a quickie in a little alleyway near the scene of the crime. (That also feels like something of a missed opportunity; it would have been interesting to see Hamilton's partner react to this little tryst, as it seems he -- and Maurice, for that matter -- could hardly have missed seeing them go off together, somehow.) Ari tries to connect with Manny afterward, but Manny is having none of that; it was a nice little encounter, and that's it.

We're following Manny around, as it turns out, because someone else is also following him, and killing off the people he's having sex with. Clearly, someone is obsessed with our boy Manny. (This leads to something of a structural problem, as one of the people who dies really shouldn't -- even following Manny around, there's no way the killer could know specifically about that guy -- and one of the people who doesn't, really should.) The rest of the film is about the highways and byways of the investigation -- about which I will say relatively little more, to avoid spoiling it -- and about Manny personally. As part of the investigation, Hamilton winds up having to stay with Manny as both bait and protection -- this is the sort of serial killer that would eventually focus in on his target, after all (and since there are no women whatsoever in this film, saying that the killer is a man doesn't give anything away). Given such close contact, Hamilton and Manny start opening up to one another, talking about their romantic pasts, and so forth. Hamilton, it turns out, has been out of the closet a very short time, which leads to all sorts of complications.

All of the actors play their parts very well. Andrieu Thomas and Ben Green have somewhat thankless roles -- Thomas has to make Manny interesting enough for us to care what's happening, despite getting fairly little help from the script early on, and Green has to deal with Maurice having some really quite spectacular mood swings (deservingly so, frankly, but it means that Maurice tends to be just a touch high-strung or savagely depressed or very angry pretty much all the time).

OpenCam is a very ... interesting little movie. In some ways, it's not quite there yet -- we apparently saw the second edit of it, and it's only been completed for just over a month. But still, definitely very enjoyable, and definitely recommended. It does have great whacking dollops of semi-explicit sex and nudity -- that said, it's clear that they're making a very very dedicated effort to keep Andrieu Thomas' tallywhacker off the screen, and given how sexually active Manny actually is, it just looks ridiculous a lot of the time. (That said, heaven knows there's no shortage of penises on OpenCam's screen. We see a great many of washingtondick.com's dicks.) (No such site, by the by, although the domain is reserved; if the domain was available when they were making the film, the producers may have missed a golden promotional opportunity.)

OpenCam does have some structural problems. As previously mentioned, there's the corpse that shouldn't be, and the noncorpse that should. Without giving anything away, part of the solution depends, rather strongly, on the viewer both not knowing some fairly technical things -- and I wouldn't expect most people to know these things, although I do have that specific type of knowledge myself -- and on not knowing how a modern police force would handle such things ... and that is problematic. The data Hamilton winds up with would almost certainly be handed over to a specific type of expert within the department, who would do pretty much what happens within the film, but much more quickly; in fact, once an expert in the film gets the necessary information, it seems to take only a day or two before they know what's going on. (That said, if the writer/director had just done a throwaway scene of having Hamilton approach a departmental expert, who could tell them that they were seriously backlogged, then that would give a reason for having Hamilton take his slow plodding approach to the information.) The ending is also a bit problematic. In the Q and A session after the film, the director explained why he had the characters end up the way they did, and it makes perfectly good sense, and I even think it's the right thing to happen ... but given the way he's been acting up to that point, there's no earthly reason why Hamilton would realize what was going on. We need a conversational epilogue between him and Manny so that we can see the reasoning.

Tell you what, though: if I were an ambitious writer/director with this material, I would hie me to LOGO just about immediately. And I would say to them, "OK, have a look at this. I'd like you to consider it as a series pilot. Yes, if you wanted to show OpenCam itself, we'd have to edit out most of the nudity, and the guys wanking their big dicks, maybe do a reshoot on a scene or two, but that's all manageable. Think of what you could do with this as a series centered on the Hamilton character. He's just out of the closet, he's got an ex-wife who's furious -- even though he didn't do anything while they were married -- he's got a daughter she's using as ammunition, he's got other relatives who probably are going to find out about him from his ex-wife and her brother. On top of that, he seems to be out at work, so you've got all those dynamics working for you. You've got an interesting, charismatic character, played by a handsome, charismatic actor, and you could seriously build a series around this guy. Maybe even keep Manny and Maurice around as friends and distractions. Do, say, 6-10 episodes a year, British style, keep 'em wanting more."

Seriously, there's a lot of potential with that character and that situation.

Posted by iain at 07:34 PM in category film