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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

A Day on Bleaker Street (2013)

Director: Bill Wetherill
Stars: Raymond Scott, Jane Fendelman, Colleen Hartnett and Seth Gandrud
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
This film was an official selection at the Jerome Indie Music & Film Festival in Jerome, AZ in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
This film was a submission to one of the IFP Phoenix film challenges in the 2012-3 season. Here's an index to my reviews of 2012-3 submissions.
I'd wanted to watch A Day on Bleaker Street again for a long time. I saw it at the Phoenix Art Museum in April 2013 when it competed as part of the IFP Breakout Challenge, but was disappointed. At that time, I felt like the audience was being manipulated: set up to believe one thing after another, only to find them all false assumptions. However, the very last shot explained the point of it all, to highlight the old saying that 'the grass is always greener' and point out that whoever is on the other side of the fence might just believe exactly the same thing in return and for as excellent a reason. I knew that I needed to watch the film again with that knowledge, so that I could see it with fresh eyes. Fortunately, while the film lost out to Mission Control and The Face of Innocence for Best Picture, taking home only the Best Actor award for Seth Gandrud, it proved to have legs, playing a number of local festivals and being accepted on its own merits to the Phoenix Film Festival, where I finally got my repeat viewing and enjoyed it much more.

Three of the four cast members are multi-award winning names in the local film scene, so it comes as no surprise that they all provide strong performances here. The fourth is Raymond Scott, who quickly proves as the first person we see that he's up to acting alongside them. We're given no names, but IMDb tells us that he's Jim Morris and he's married to Marlene, probably for many years. Their body language suggests that life isn't going swimmingly, even if they have the traditional house in the suburbs. He doesn't want to get out of bed and clearly needs that splash of water to wake him up fully. He walks with some care as he goes through the morning routine. When his wife joins him, in the welcome form of Jane Fendelman, they only converse in sparse banalities and don't look at each other when they do. There's no physical contact between them whatsoever, so it ought to be safe to assume that they're only going through the motions. Then, as he takes a hose to the front garden, he sees what they used to be.
He sees this in the couple opposite, Anthony and Elise Colletta, who are also emerging from their house to face the morning. She's in a skimpy black slip that isn't hidden at all by her short and elegant gown and she's supping orange juice (or perhaps more) from a wine glass. He's hauling his golf clubs over to his Mustang. They're pretty young things, appropriately played by Colleen Hartnett and Seth Gandrud, who made it this far early on and have their whole lives in front of them. Jim can't help but feel that this insight is a reminder that he's getting old, his wife is getting old and their lives are mostly behind them now. Bleak Street may be a row over, but this is Bleaker Street and it's moments like this that echo that name to Jim. Of course, there's a lot more to this story and we discover that later when Anthony comes home to Elise. That section is shot very loosely, with handheld camera and jagged editing, at least until Elise passes out and the ripples in the piano we hear finally transition from stirring to soothing.

Looking back to that original IFP Breakout screening, I wasn't merely not seeing the point of the film until it was firmly presented, I was seeing the suggestion of a bunch of other red herrings which, for the most part, aren't really there. I must have brought some outside baggage into the screening that day, keeping pointers in my brain from whatever I had been watching earlier or just making inappropriate judgements on the fly about what I was seeing. Watching afresh, it's lot simpler and more focused than I recall and I wonder why I had problems reading it properly. Certainly there's a lot more to the stories of the Morrises and the Collettas, but this isn't that film; it's merely a reminder that, like my own personal experience of this picture, what we see isn't necessarily what's there. Bill Wetherill wrote, produced and directed and deserves much credit for doing so, as do Devin Berko for his camerawork and editing and Shari K Green for her script supervision. This one has legs for a good reason; I'll be seeing it again, I'm sure.

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