Revelation Film Festival – Day Four

We Are The Mods / Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee / When You’re Strange / Howl

No time for small talk today. The fourth day of Revelations revealed a quartet of films about potentially obscene outsiders and music-lovers. Hey, sounds kinda like the Perth-born patrons attending the festival!

We Are The Mods is a charming coming-of-age tale that wouldn’t be unwelcome during a Cameron Crowe marathon. Writer/director E.E. Cassidy makes his feature film debut with this tale of a teenage outsider named Sadie (Melia Renee) who falls for Mod-wannabe Nico (Mary Elise Hayden), as well as Nico’s escapist lifestyle (a swirl of Antonioni films, cocaine, and Vespas). Although occasionally predictable, the film is elevated by the lovely performances of Renee and Hayden. In fact, the latter looks and acts as if she fell right out of Warhol’s factory. Can we start placing bets on her imminent stardom?

Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee is the new film from the U.K.’s primo common-man chronicler Shane Meadows (This Is England, Dead Man’s Shoes). He decides to let the light in with his latest film, a sweetly funny mockumentary about a failed musician-turned-roadie (Paddy Considine) and his sidekick, real-life rapper Scor-Zay-Zee (playing a fictionalised version of himself). Closer in tone to A Mighty Wind and This Is Spinal Tap than Meadows’ earlier work, the film has a fair few number of hilarious sequences, and Considine proves himself to be as adept at playing the clown as he is at playing the serious lead. Le Donk is surprisingly heartfelt, but at only 70 minutes long, it’s over before it really begins. Combined with Meadows’ previous film Somers Town, it seems the director is entering a new age of intimate little dramadies. Over on the Twitter, @Rashasman said of Le Donk: “for something made so quickly & so loosely that’s got a lot more depth than you might think”.

I must admit, I’m not the biggest fan of The Doors. However, I must be in the minority. The Astor was buzzing with people eager to get into the 7:30 screening of the new doco When You’re Strange, directed by Tom DiCillo and narrated by Johnny Depp. Although an occasionally fawning assessment of the seminal band and its lizard-like frontman Jim Morrison, When You’re Strange does adequately contextualise the sensation that was The Doors. @DanMarsland had this to say: “Beautiful, kinetic doco about not just a band, but an era.”

The last big screening of the day was Howl, which was perhaps the first film of the fest that didn’t make me want to break out in appreciative finger snaps. Documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman deliver a biopic on famed beat poet Allen Ginsberg (James Franco), specifically depicting the inception of his masterwork Howl and Other Poems, as well as the 1957 obscenity trial following its publication. Now, it’s damn near impossible to make the act of writing interesting (with the possible exceptions of Barton Fink and Adaptation). Epstein and Friedman do their best, interspersing shots of Franco sitting at the typewriter with lengthy animated sequences and spirited readings at an underground nightclub. But overall, their efforts feel gimmicky. Frankly, the film seems devoid of content, and somewhat innocent despite Ginsberg’s incendiary poetry. I mean really, must we make the focal point of Ginsberg’s biopic a generic courtroom trial?

But Howl isn’t a complete failure. Franco gives an impressive turn as Ginsberg (even if he’s not given much to do), while Jon Hamm and David Strathairn are also great as dueling lawyers in the obscenity trial. Finally, Carter Burwell’s score is (as always) a brilliant compliment to its offbeat subject. In the end, you can’t hire a talented actor such as Franco, have him recite Ginsberg’s still-electrifying poetry and not get a somewhat entertaining final product.

Discuss: Feel free to share with us your feelings on the films you’ve caught at the festival so far!

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