Stars: Travis Mills and Bandit
We're into November, which means that Hallowe'en is over and I can happily apologise to anyone that I may have inadvertently traumatised with my Running Wild review for October. That was an infamous local picture, Detective Shaves, starring Travis Mills's razor-nicked testicles, so let's calm things down this month with a nice, happy, family friendly picture about, I dunno, how about puppies? That sound like a plan? Well, for all that Mills has an abiding passion for dark, edgy and experimental pieces, like The Blind Man, The French Spy or his latest feature, The Men Who Robbed the Bank, this plays better than each of those despite not being dark, edgy or experimental. In fact it's less of a movie and more of a personal video diary and, at fifteen minutes, it's also by far the longest Running Wild short that I've seen thus far. Making Detective Shaves may have been an important step for Mills, but I'm pretty sure that, in its own very different way, Boykin is too.
It's a documentary piece named for a breed of spaniel but, while boykins feature prominently, it really isn't about them. This isn't the sort of informative film that will explain that the boykin spaniel is the state dog of South Carolina, where they were bred to hunt wildfowl; it's more of a personal film about Travis himself, made at a point in his life which he clearly felt deserved to be marked firmly in time. As we soon discover, boykins enter his life in Mississippi, on a trip to spend time with family. It's hardly a holiday, as his uncle Pat had been hospitalised after suffering a heart attack and died soon afterwards. Pat kept boykins, one of whom, Angus, followed him to the grave, after being hit by a car. It's not hard to see how Mills could attach to the dogs at such an emotional time, especially as they're a particularly friendly breed. Whatever the psychological reasons behind the decision, he felt that he should adopt a boykin spaniel of his own and the majority of the film charts the progress of that task.
At its worst, this is catharsis masquerading as a film. A death, especially a death in the family, always serves as a reminder of mortality and a prompt for self-reevaluation. More than any other picture he's made thus far, including the brave and risky Detective Shaves, I wonder what Travis will think of this one when he sees it again a couple of decades from now. I have a feeling that he may find that it says far more about him than he realises or that perhaps he even knows about himself. I don't think there's much doubt that he's the key audience; it plays out very much like an open diary. I also wonder how far he identifies with the characteristics of the boykin spaniel, given that his film is named for the dog but is really about him. It may not have been deliberate that the final shot is phrased in a way that conflates the two. Filmmakers always put something of themselves into their work, even into fictional movies, but the Travis Mills in this film runs so deeply that only a long term therapist could tell how.