Review of "Beaches, Bellies & Psychos"

Friday, March 9, 2007

Written by Adam A. Donaldson

Last Tuesday, the e-bar saw a celebration of local cinema so fervent that you’d swear it was an informal Hollywood screening party. The name of the night’s retrospective was “Beaches, Bellies and Psychos” and the doers and supporters of the Guelph filmmaking scene came together to watch not only the completed works of first time filmmakers, but highly anticipated clips and trailers from other highly anticipated independent films made in the area. The evening also served as a fundraising endeavour for Ed Video Media Arts Centre, a local production house that helps members achieve their filmmaking goals.

The night started off with a selection of trailers including first looks at Reese Eveneshen’s Night of the Living Dead remake, Nick Montgomery’s haunted house flick Summoned and Angus McLellan’s Shakespeare inspired Lucerce. An added special treat was a scene from Four Aces, a romantic comedy shot in and around campus last summer; Thomas Gofton, the co-writer and co-star of the film, was the night’s emcee.

The first actual film to be shown was from Peter Szabo and was called A Day in the Life of a Psychopath. If Szabo’s name is familiar it’s because he was a producer of the well received documentary Change Now for the Future, which received much acclaim with a screening last summer and an encore at the Guelph Film Fest. Psychopath was a little bit of a departure though, but with definite leanings towards a very mater-of-fact style of direction that made the film a kind of nature film, but about a human. As the title implies, the camera follows the day long exploits of a psycho, just someone who’s not what you’d consider your typical psycho.

The unnamed protagonist goes about his day; he gets dressed, goes out to his car, stops for coffee, talks to people on the street and heads into the office. He’s personable enough with certainly no signs of any deep seated mental defect, but Szabo very gently massages into the scenery little hints of the characters true personality and then it explodes into full-blown scary violence. The greatness of the work between director and actor is that the warning signs are all there, but it’s a subjective choice whether you dismiss his behaviour as generally pompous or an indicator of something worse. The film’s underline message of the notion that we’re all a little bit psycho comes through loud and clear, but underneath is another added layer that says the line between eccentricity and downright lunacy is a fine one indeed.

The next item up for bids was Richard Higgins’ Life’s a Beach a more existential effort than purposeful narrative, but this leaves it wide open to whatever interpretation the viewer feels they can level against it. It starts with shots of calm water over which scroll entire quotations from the Book of Genesis and Jack Kerouac. After such a serene beginning, the film takes off at a frantic pace as we trace the highway journey to the Port Elgin area where the beach scenes were shot. The next several minutes are filled with typical snippets of beach life; sun, sail and swim and then it ends the only way it can with the tide washing away the words “Life’s a Beach” written in the sand.

Like I said, very open to interpretation. The rather word-centric opening leaves you bewildered as to whether “the beach” is a metaphor, for nirvana perhaps; that unattainable but ever persistently searched for state of bliss. Then, of course, the film turns much more literal and on the surface there isn’t a message anymore deep than a simple “Wish you were here”. You soon wonder though if you’re reading too much into the film or maybe it’s time to sit back and enjoy the sunny scenery and the, admittedly, pirated oldies soundtrack. Short, sweet and to the point, Higgins proves you can make the people think without making it look like you’re making them think.

The final screening was Mary Lalonde’s Raqs Sharqi: It’s No Hootchy Kootchy (whoops, my spell check just had a nervous collapse). That’s belly dancing to the layman or woman, but what’s quickly apparent is that a) the term doesn’t do the actual art justice and b) that Raqs Sharqi is another art form slammed with colonial labels that it’s still trying to overcome. It begins with a montage before delving deep into an anecdotal account of the beleaguered history of the dance, including the fact that it’s still a taboo to this day and surprisingly those taboos are most prevalent in the region it came from, the Middle East.

Lalonde interviews several dancers and mines a lot emotion out of the personal stories of some of them, especially the sadness they feel in having to occasionally hide from others what they consider a beautiful art form. They have to fight family members that don’t understand that what there doing is not scandalous as well as taking that fight to the public at large in order to rid the dance of apparent stigmata and stereotypes. Lalonde also succeeds at infusing great humour into the film, playing around with stock footage of belly dancers from old Hollywood films and Elvis impersonators. With style and wit, Lalonde turns the tables on the culture and effectively makes the case to look at a much maligned sector of the arts and turn the stereotypes on their head.

If you missed these shorts there’s more Guelph film to come in the future. The Eveneshen Night bows at the Bookshelf for two shows April 1st. Four Aces will screen at the Galaxy Cinema on Woodlawn Road April 26th. And look for the Sharp Cuts Independent film and music festival this fall on Homecoming weekend.

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