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August 25, 2007

The Other Talkies

Karina Longworth beat me to the punch in writing a a closer look at three of the more under-publicized entries in the New Talkies series: Frank Ross' Quietly On By and Hohokam and Kentucker Audley's Team Picture haven't received the acclaim of Hannah Takes The Stairs or Quiet City, but neither have they had to weather the scrutiny or the hype. Watching them still feels a little bit like discovering some wonderful little secret.

Karina cites Ray Carney's notes on Hohokam from the Harvard Film Independent Week, in which he poses the question: "is this the future the characters in the other works have to look forward to?” Maybe, maybe not - the socio-economic disparity between the various character sets predicates a wide variety of potential downfalls - but in a less material sense it's certainly a possibility, and one that's very pointedly underscored by Joe Swanberg's cameo in the film.

Watching Hohokam again at the Dallas Video Festival a few weeks ago, I was struck with how deceptively deliberate it is; it's very nearly a testament against what's generally perceived as the effusive formalism of its genre. There's one moment in particular that I think speaks to this most explicitly. The camera tracks alongside a pretty young girl, unseen in the film before this point and never glimpsed again. She leaves her apartment and passes the main characters as they return to theirs. It's a momentary diversion, and its seemingly inexplicable inclusion speaks volumes about Ross' intentions with the film - intentions which are also reflected in the title itself. Most people going into Hohokam probably won't know what that word means, and I'm hesitant to provide the definition here, because looking it up after my first viewing was such a perfect capper to the film; it really sealed the deal, and turns a simple, intimate portrait into something rather epic.

Kentucker Audley's Team Picture isn't quite so austere in its intentions. Of all the films in the series, this one hews the closest to the casual twentysomething model co-opted by Andrew Bujalski in Funny Ha Ha and, especially, Mutual Appreciation, except that these particular twentysomethings occupy an overgrown corner of Memphis instead of the affluent city blocks of the East Coast. The setting is different, but the aimlessness ain't: "I'm a grown-up boy," says David (Andrew Nenninger, who also directed the film under the Audley pseudonym), without a hint of irony. This Southern Holden Caulfied seems, against the better judgement of his elders, to be retreating into a caricature of rural eccentricity; he speaks with a gentle, mumbling drawl and a vernacular that grows more complex as the film progresses; his outfit of choice is a pair of cut-offs, a hayseed hat and not much else. Early on, he quits his job working at his mom's boyfriend's sporting goods store to pursue his own interests, which sometimes include strumming the guitar and writing songs but mostly consist of lounging in the kiddie pool in the front yard.

team_picture.jpgAudley gets a lot of deadpan mileage out of David's mannerisms, and Team Picture certainly succeeds as a comedy (there's one subtle sight gag in particular that made me bust an unexpected gut). Beneath that lackadaisical surface, though, some familiar wheels are turning. Audely isn't making a film about characters who change, or grow, or follow any particular arc of development. Rather, like Bujalksi, he follows them to the point where they begin to realize that such change might be necessary, and it's there that the film finds its natural and fitting end. The synopsis of the film reads: "Two young artists fall in love with the wrong girls. Shucks!" The reason the girl David falls for in the film is wrong is because she has ambition - which, from another point of view, makes her the right girl, because she casts his own ambivalence in a slightly harsher light. Shucks, indeed.

Quietly On By and Team Picture both play at the IFC Center on August 30th, with Hohokam following on September 4th as an appropriate close to the New Talkies series. You can get tickets here.

One more note: at 62 minutes, Team Picture falls into the no-man's land of films that don't hit the feature length quota but are much too long to be shorts; Aaron Katz's Dance Party USA is similarly brief, and I think that, were they any longer, they'd run the risk of seeming slight or protracted (or both). There's something uniquely satisfying about an hour long film; as someone who holds as a goal the decimation of running time categorization, I'm excited to see these films accepted as the features they are.

Oh wait, I'm not quite done yet: Season 1 of Young American Bodies is playing at the IFC Center, too, but I want to mention Season 2, which recently wrapped up over at Nerve.com and which I finally got around to watching. Color me extra impressed - I liked Season 1, but this new material is, I think, some of Joe's best work yet. Particularly in the last two episodes, there are some moments of really inspired honesty that hit me in a way I didn't particularly expect. Ah, relationships!

Posted by David Lowery at August 25, 2007 03:35 PM


Great post. Curtis and I were just talking yesterday about how brilliant we think 'Hohokam' is. Curtis said he found himself comparing it to Dogme 95 films and decided he liked 'Hohokam' much better than anything they ever put out including 'Breaking the Waves.'

Posted by: James M. Johnston at August 27, 2007 12:07 AM