Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America (1997)

Douglas Buck deconstructs suburban ideals in three short films. Mitch Davis, founder of the Fantasia film festival, once wrote of this trilogy: "This is the sort of filmmaking the world needs more of- uncompromising honest works designed not to entertain an audience but to destroy them." In that sense these films work brilliantly. The grainy 16mm shots make them feel all the more raw.

The most notorious of these shorts is Cutting Moments. It revolves around a emotionally detached man and his wife. They have a son, Joey, who can be found in the front lawn placing his Power Rangers in sexual positions. The short is tightly constructed and there's some foreshadowing that takes places when we see the father clipping the hedges with hedge trimmers. There is one scene that takes place at a dinner table that defines the relationship between the man and his wife at this point. The wife reaches for a slice of bread, as does the husband. Their hands touch and the husband reacts by pulling his hand away, carving into his steak and taking a slice of bread later. No dialogue is used. In fact there is few uses of dialogue here which makes the atmosphere all the more palpable. The wife looks back at her wedding photo saying to herself "My God what have I done?" Things get to the point where brutal violence envelopes the couple and in a bizarre case of irony, they finally find an emotional connection. It contains some of the most gruesome imagery this horror fan has ever seen. Tom Savini does effects on this and he clearly shows
his skill as a makeup FX artist. Buck does in 25 minutes what most filmmakers strive for in 2 hours.

Home looks at the disintegration of the male psyche. The characters of Home are emotional vacuums. Powerless and derelict. "What have I done wrong?" the main character asks himself. It is a question that is directed at the audience in context of what we are being presented on screen in its startling final moments.

Prologue deals with a story spread over an entire town. A woman comes back home having lost both of her hands. Hooks are now in place of them. Along with this, we are introduced to a man and his elderly wife. An act of violence occurs and it shows how they are connected by it.

Family Portraits is a collection of shorts that chronicles suburban unrest that few filmmakers can pull off. You are able to understand where a particular character is in their live in a single scene without having any dialogue. In all, Douglas Buck is a true auteur. He knows how to shake up the viewer in 30 minutes or less and that is not an easy feat. I look forward to seeing how he can expand his vision in feature length form.


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