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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Ritz & Spitz (2013)

Director: Kirby Ann Witte
Stars: Terence Taggart, James Lawrence Sicard, Kelly O'Keefe and Batman
This film was an official selection at the Filmstock Arizona 2013 round of the revolving Filmstock film festival. Here's an index to my reviews of all selections.
While any film reviewed after SuperFuzz is going to find itself inevitably lacking in comparison, Ritz & Spitz is an intriguing short on its own merits. It's another comedy, though this one's live action (albeit with digital manipulations) and it runs three times as long. Like SuperFuzz, it avoids speech, except for one carefully placed word in the tradition of Silent Movie, but uses other sounds and even unintelligible dialogue for effect. This plays it more traditionally though, as it's also shot in black and white and it adds a score. The crisp visuals also make it feel a lot more modern than an old silent film, even with the focus being on a pair of magicians who fit the vaudeville era well. I wonder how this would have played as an homage to the longer, story based pieces that cinemagician Georges Méliès made a few years into the twentieth century. It would have needed suitable aging effects and a few more intertitles than it has, but that approach may have given it a little more oomph than it has.

Ritz and Spitz are stage magicians, but they're very different. Ritz lives up to his name, being slick and assured in his top hat, bow tie and cape. Terence Taggert has the flamboyant gestures down and looks like he inspires the confidence that the audience apparently has in him. How could a magician fail with a moustache like that? Spitz, on the other hand, can't hold a candle to him and probably couldn't afford one anyway if it wasn't a prop. He's a fundamentally lower class equivalent, appearing like nothing less than a scarecrow in ragged clothes, with tricks that are just as lacking. As Spitz, James Lawrence Sicard is embarrassed to be on the same stage as Ritz, but that could all be a deliberate contrast for a double act. Initially the script serves only to highlight their differences, Spitz sabotaging Ritz's tricks and failing in his own, while the effects are cheats; we don't even see Ritz slicing a watermelon in half with a sword to set up a trick. It's not long though before the real magic begins, as things start to get neatly surreal.

It's the surreality that makes this one work. While what we see could easily be read as a well rehearsed double act, it may just be that everything really does go off the rails in a maelstrom of catastrophe. I'm not sure which it's supposed to be, but it's not really important. What makes it so watchable is how far off the rails it ventures and how Ritz & Spitz attempt to salvage it. Surely it's no mistake that the chaos follows a white rabbit, which Ritz pulls out of his hat but Spitz loses inside his. Without this journey into the rabbit hole of surreality, it wouldn't have found Wonderland and would have ended up too long, too slow and too unlike the silent film it half wants to be. It does drag during the first half but the cinematic trickery gets better and better and the story gets wilder and wilder. The wilder it gets, the better it gets and the second half makes up for the first. At least David Kelly's score keeps us interested while we get there. As a sixteen minute short it's fun, but edited down into a twelve minute short it might be better.

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