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Sunday, 3 May 2015

Vermillion (2013)

Director: Doug Bell
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
Surely the most beautifully crafted piece of video to come out of Arizona or pretty much anywhere else, Vermillion is certainly a whole lot of things. What it isn't is clear: it's not a story, however much the soft tones of Tim Stansell suggest that it will be in the opening narration. What it is is less clear, because it's so many different things at once that it's hard to figure out its primary reason for existing. It's a freeform piece of poetry, mixing the words of director Doug Bell with the startling visuals of Lee's Ferry, where the Colorado River separates Arizona and Utah. It's a test run of equipment, an exercise in composition and editing and a demo reel of technique: time lapse photography and slomo so slow that it can capture the wings of a hummingbird in flight, macro images and long shots so wide that it feels like they haul us into the frame, underwater and aerial footage, silhouettes and lens flare. You name it, it's here, to collate the appropriately named Kitchen Sink Studios collection of images of the architecture of man and of nature.

It's constructed with care all the way to the typography of the end credits and the title screen, composed with custom fonts created in house. The former contain admirable texture and the latter is less like a title card and more like the label of a whiskey bottle, emphasised by having it overlay what is probably river water in motion. This care is constant, every shot framed like a print advert; maybe the film isn't a single story but a hundred of them, one for every shot, the sort of distillations of emotion that we expect to see in TV commercials. I certainly wondered throughout what would find centre stage at the end: the Arizona flag, a bottle of Bud or a Detroit-built penis extension. In the end, it doesn't hawk anything except the expertise of Kitchen Sink Studios which, on the strength of these eight and a half minutes, ought to be in serious demand from companies with deep pockets. Film festivals usually program films that either tell a fictional story or document a real one. This is a rare exception, hard to categorise but easy on the eyes.
And while the visuals will stay with viewers the most, adding the stunning vistas of Glen Canyon to their holiday list, this isn't just eye candy. Sure, every shot is strong and some are truly stunning, like the trout fisherman in silhouette casting into the shimmer of the Colorado River, the mountain goat dancing up a crazy gradient or the drone soaring over the heads of the filmmakers to leap over a precipice, but there's more to making a film than pointing a camera, however capably pointed it happens to be. The score is a well chosen set of three supportive pieces of music, the free poetry in narration adds to the pastoral feel and the editing is superlative. Doug Bell and Brandon Barnard are responsible for the latter, which plays fast early on to ensure that we devour this as impressions, slower as it settles and eventually cuts to the escalating beat superbly. It's hard to imagine a better demo reel than this, but its impressionistic nature means that all its details are quickly forgotten. Unless you fly fish; then this might the best film ever.

Vermillion can be watched for free on Vimeo.

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