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Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Mutable Life of Oscar Clark (2013)

Director: Alex Thomas
Stars: Jaron Druyon, Jessalyn Carpino, James Hesapis, Clay Johnson and Jennifer Sandoval
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
One benefit I've found to watching the selections of Arizona shorts at the Phoenix Film Festival is that I'm able to discover films from further afield than just the Phoenix metropolitan area. While that's the hotbed of Arizona filmmaking, it's no monopoly and there's good and/or interesting work coming out of cities like Tucson and Flagstaff. This short film from the latter, successfully funded on Kickstarter to the degree that director Alex Thomas could pay his actors, is unlike anything else I've seen made in state and it remains refreshing today. In fact, it's both a complete story and a hint at what could be, as this is the only film in this particular Home Grown Shorts set that could easily be expanded into something bigger. There's a lot more life in this idea than what Thomas can give us in the short thirteen minutes that this film runs. Put simply, it tells of a character, the Oscar Clark of the title, who discovers that he's fictional when he meets his creator, who has written herself into his story. I love that idea.

I partly love that idea because I came up with it myself a couple of decades ago and wrote a story called The Sound of Shattering Glass, but it's a very different approach to a man meeting his maker. I didn't tie it to film, for a start, as Thomas does here. His take on the idea neatly creates conflict because films are rarely written by one person, this one being a great example, given that Thomas wrote it in collaboration with Clayton Johnson. While I hope they worked together amicably, that isn't often the case in Hollywood, where writers are hired and fired frequently before a project becomes what the studio execs want it to be. Kingdom of the Sun was a romantic musical comedy that, over six years, gradually transformed into The Emperor's New Groove, a wacky buddy flick, as far from the original as can comfortably be imagined. It's why authors are always very happy for Hollywood to option their books, because they get paid, but often cringe when they actually make the film adaptations, because they invariably aren't what they wrote.
Here, Kathryn Flint has written a touching romance between Oscar Clark and his significant other, Olivia, who does share his surname in the end credits even though he doesn't wear a wedding ring. The studio, on the other hand, turned it into a murder mystery, blowing up Olivia at the beginning of the picture and setting Oscar up for the crime. The two men in black he finds suddenly interrogating him under a sinister light found the C4 in his house, his fingerprints on the detonator and the life insurance policy on his wife. Why did he do it? How does he know? He wasn't involved. Why they're willing to torture him to force him into a confession when they have everything they need, I have no idea, but maybe it's because they're a pair of script doctors hired by the studio to mess with Kathryn's vision. Of all the films in the world, this is the one whose goofs can be most easily forgiven. For her part, Kathryn, unable to let go of her creations, writes herself into the script to save Oscar and Olivia and their relationship.

Alex Thomas calls himself 'a musician before anything else' and that's understandable because we hear his work before we ever see it, the accomplished score impossible to ignore as it's suitably overblown for anything but the Hollywood movie the fictional script doctors are keen to turn this into (there's a touch of genius in ironically casting co-writer Clayton Johnson as one of those script doctors, creating his real film by sabotaging someone else's fictional one). After the score, the effects are most notable, partly because there are so many of them, given that we leap around between location and location, aided by the sort of progressions and transitions we usually see in comic books. The final scene is great fun too and it segues cleverly into end credits that are as in your face as the score. Like other dark comic-infused effects-ridden action movies like, say, Sin City, the acting takes a back seat to the concept but it's decent enough, if not particularly notable. It's the concept that shines brightest and I'd love to see a feature version.

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