18 May, 2008

Split Screen Sadness (The Next Phenomenon)

I am Ellen Page ecstatic right now. She plays multi-dimensional female characters, who are never just bitchy, or manipulative, or slutty, or weak, or cut-throat, or cold, or any of the common stereotypes perpetuated in modern society.

She was amazing in her portrayal of Lillith in the Canadian drama Regenesis (a must watch). She's just such a talented actress, and how can you fail to enjoy a show where the major drama is the death of her friend/boyfriend who happens to be a clone? Intense.

Then we have Juno, which is just a perfect polaroid of a girl worth admiring because (not in spite) of her flaws, her humor, and her evident strength. People make mistakes, even intelligent young women, and it's nice to see an honest portrait with a bittersweet, happy ending.

Now there's The Tracey Fragments filmed in a split-screen style similar to Piet Mondrian's modern artwork. It's wonderfully avant-garde and clever, given weight by Ellen Page (who rarely disappears from the screen). It's also a gorgeously creepy, almost labyrinthine movie. There's a dramatic search for a missing brother, intersected by personal anecdotes and admissions a la livejournal (to put it bluntly, Tracey Burkowitz seems quite at home in a world of drama, populated by fictitious and semi-fictitious events and characters.) Tracey is deadly serious, but the movie does not seem to take itself very seriously, and this is a trait that's almost always in a film's favor. At the moment, the movie is only being shown in certain theatres in the United States (and unfortunately, mostly on the West Coast, blah). Still, you can enjoy the tightly wound, Broken Social Scene-filled soundtrack while you wait for the real deal.

"Horses" by Broken Social Scene starts the album with tension that could be cut by a butter knife. It's almost what I would call Gothic techno (Meg Lee Chin, Pigface), and it's an appropriate choice of music for a movie that is supposed to feel edgy. The lyrics are also fairly nonsensical, running parallel with the story-line. "Cut Up" by Duchess Says follows with a Nine Inch Nails meets Le Tigre aesthetic. Equal parts anger and energy, this song smashes along until it comes up against the FemBots' "Don't Want To Be Your Man". Talk about a Rolling Stones tribute, this song is chock-full of Southern rock lust and bombast; it rolls as it rocks. Rose Melberg adds a precious little tune - "Each New Day" - that nonetheless has a magnificently subtle melancholy that seeps through the lush piano. We return to Broken Social Scene for "Drop In The Mercury" which sounds increasingly like a coming storm, and is therefore most appropriately titled. "Who's Gonna Know Your Name (666)" by the FemBots rambles on after the storm, chugging away like a little blues train. "Gate Hearing!" by Slim Twig is as nonsensical a lyrical exploration as that of Wonderland, but with all of its whimsy it happens to also have the charms of the Queen of Hearts whose greatest precision is in lopping off heads. Deadly, as the English would say. "Oh Lord, My Heart" by the Deadly Snakes bangs out its folksy discord, and plays the straight man (or as straight as you can be in Mondrian-vision) to Slim Twig's neo-psychedelic day tripper. The album finishes with a trio of Broken Social Scene songs. "Hallmark" is a heartbeat with flourishes of harmonica; "Gone or Missing" brings to mind the bouncy flashes of a sunset as it sinks below the horizon; and, "Needle In the Head" is the final symphony of chaos that sums up the whole album. It's a strangely soothing trio, and an interesting end to the soundtrack of a movie that distorts the world in many ways.

In the end readers, the choice is really yours to embrace this odd little film and its equally odd soundtrack, or to send it into quick DVD obscurity, and (I have no doubt) cult status. Even if it sucks, it wins quite a few points for trying something different, and that cannot be denied.

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