Monday, May 29, 2006

First Date by Gary Huggins

FIRST DATE
Directed by Gary Huggins, USA, 2006, 20minutes
Source: First Date on Sundance

The black void of the film screen is interrupted with the all too familiar sound of an AOL instant message. The unique lexicon of the Internet rises onto the screen one line at a time.

kcmuscle: asl?
LuvOlder: 16 m KCK
Kcmuscle: cool
Kcmuscle: me 38yo 5’9” 160 7.5 uncut

Fade In. As the voiceless dialogue continues to flood the screen, the audience is made aware that we have entered in the middle of a sexual proposition between an older man, kcmuscle, and an underage boy. As the online discussion continues, the audience is privy to the distinction between kcmuscle’s reality and the one he weaves online. He claims to be at his office job, busy with paper work, yet through an overlapping montage we find him wandering aimlessly through the streets and playing arcade games. More important to the plot, kcmuscle claims to have a car that will surprise his young admirer, yet the next 15 minutes of the film finds kcmuscle desperately seeking, through any means possible, a vehicle to pick up his young conquest. Eventually, desperation drives kcmuscle to steal a car after his pleas to borrow a car from friends does not work.

Once he meets LuvOlder, the second and more impressive storyline of the short begins. Unlike the first half, which is overacted and overwritten, the second half delves into psychological realism as we understand what drives this predator, identify with his sexual identity crisis, and discover his troubled past. However, at the same time his actions, his lying, and his misguided reasoning repulse us. This, along with LuvOlder’s slow realization of what he has gotten himself into, is what is interesting to me.

The best scenes of the film are not the action packed sequences, but the subtle moments where kcmuscle’s authentic, disturbing character shines through and we are allowed to see the truth even when he does not. A great example of this is the awkward car ride when kcmuscle and LuvOlder meet in person. Through an extended close up of kcmuscle as he talks and drives, we somehow get into his psyche. The longer he talks, the more the audience is able to see through his lies and deceptions. Further, through LuvOlder’s quiet responses, we witness how the absence of dialogue and what is not said is just as crucial to our understanding of character’s inner thoughts. Again, this is echoed near the end of the piece when kcmuscle escorts LuvOlder back to his front steps yet neither mentions the cop beating. Instead, kcmuscle reiterates he’ll call, they’ll get together again soon, and he knows where LuvOlder lives now. These lines are delivered with an ambiguous tone that displays heartache, longing, and yet is still threatening. As LuvOlder awkwardly scuffles inside, avoiding eye contact with his lover, he delivers few lines of dialogue, yet his thoughts and feelings are apparent.

This movie climaxes with kcmuscle beating a policeman unconscious after the cop discovers him having sex in the stolen car with the kidnapped boy. Gary Huggins then treats his audience to an unexpected and subdued ending that is as intriguing as the novelty of the online banter at the onset of the film. This is a truly fascinating film, and a very timely one as well during an era of television news magazines’ intense focus on online predators.

10 comments:

Rhead said...
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Rhead said...

This film--freaked me out. Yes, JMR, the 17-year-old is squiggy, and in that annoying (and a little unwise to go out with the Meathead), but it was the collusion of pock-mocked ex-con, his unpredictable temper, his bully-tactics, and his irremediable flatness that freaked me out.

He's a threat, yes, but he's a stereotypical threat housed in a hardly redeemable consciousness that makes him all bad and all too flat as a character, so that hating him is easy and dismissing him even easier. He has depth in two things: one, his desperation to find a ride to pick up his date (but this is easily demonized as urgent libido, and therefore easily dismissed) and, two, the squigginess of his playmate, who is perhaps more pathetic than Meathead (it's just that he's vulnerable, and so elicits more concern).

Here's the redemption: film eschews any poetic justice. We want flatly evil character to get his in the end, but instead he gets chummy with cops and suffers no expected comeuppance. This maneuver continues a growing discomfort, and that refusal to tie up loose ends suggests that the filmmaker was moving in a very self-conscious way toward a very specific anxiety as irremediablel as the main character.

Christine said...

I agree, the ending was anticlimactic, which seem to say something about our expectations. With so many short stories and short films, like La Jetee, ending with big twists, the fact that this film doesn't is surprising in itself and a little refreshing. This man is so vile (and yeah definitely a flat character) that we want to see him meet his match, but the fact that he doesn't is dissapointing, but also real. This film reminded me of a short story in the New Yorker about a month ago. I'll try to find it.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to read that story - please post when you find the date.

Christine said...
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Christine said...
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Christine said...

The story is "An Afternoon" by William Trevor. It looks like it appeared in the May 1 issue of the New Yorker. www.newyorker.com/fiction/content/articles/060501fi_fiction

Jay said...

One thing that hasn't been noted about this short is the acting, particularly the fact that it is clearly based on improvisation rather than any manner of scripted dialogue. The result doesn't bode well in my humble opinion, particularly when measured against the shooting style in scenes such as the one between the protagonist and the agency worker(?) he's sitting across from, when he keeps insisting to the man that he needs a car. Here, in one long take, we see the frame swerve back and forth rapidly, from one speaker to the other: the man on the left speaks, the camera swerves leftward; the man on the right speaks, the camera swerves over there, and so on, and so on. The viewing experience is similar to watching a tennis match, with the players in side profile, making volley after volley, but never really making a "point." I thought components like this exposed the amateur nature of the production, representative of haphazard filmmaking as opposed to carefully calculated filmmaking craft.

Daniel C Hopkins said...

If you like this short film about pedophilia, which I know you don't, you would enjoy this independent feature called HARD CANDY, where a 14 year old girl befriends a 30 year old guy and things get suspensful after that. It will probably be out this fall on DVD.

Anonymous said...

http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/summer2006/features/25_faces6-10.php