Sunday 17 June 2012

Doctor Glamour (2011)

Director: Andrew W Jones
Stars: Chris Shields, John Charles Meyer and Priscilla McEver
This film was an official selection at the 8th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my reviews of 2012 films.
By sheer coincidence I watched Doctor Glamour, starring John Charles Meyer, immediately after watching The Millennium Bug, staring John Charles Meyer. The latter was a fun feature but it was very dark, visually. Doctor Glamour was dark only thematically, at least for a while, but it never failed in being less than visually striking. What's more, The Millennium Bug was only one thing, even though it had a feature length to run with, while Doctor Glamour crams a number of shifts and changes, rather wild ones to boot, into a mere fourteen minute running time. The main one, when it shifts tone and mood utterly a short way in, is fun at home in private but really works in a theatre environment. It truly shocks theatre audiences into paying attention and that helps it to stick it in the mind when it finishes, pressuring you to return to it to see if you really saw what you think you saw. I've now seen it a few times and it gets better each time I see it.

It looks a lot better than you might expect a fourteen minute short to look from the beginning as some sort of fabulous steampunk airship lands in the grounds of Miskatonic University. It brings the smug Walter Gilman to study the subjects you might expect if you've read Lovecraft, from geometry and history to witchcraft and dimensions. Gilman is initially annoying as he dominates every subject with growing arrogance, but soon enough is dominated himself by a mere girl, Eve Walpurgis by name. Sure enough they fall for each other and so dominate together. Life is bliss. Then, as is prevalent in romances with connections to Miskatonic University, she's absconded to another dimension by some sort of tentacled elder god before he can even propose. Everything thus far, and the ensuing attempts by Gilman to find her, are entirely silent, or more accurately voiceless, but then he manages to summon Prof Jaroslav Gregory Glamour and all that changes.

Dr Glamour, you see, is the 'best transdimensional astronaut this side of Heaven or Hell'. He's a bizarre cross between Frank N Furter and Zaphod Beeblebrox, with more than a hint of Michael Jackson. He's a rock 'n' roll superhero whose every movement is a pose; Horatio Caine isn't in the same class. He has a techno glove o' love, you dig? And apparently just because it can, this picture transforms instantly from silent movie to rock opera, from Lovecraftian dread to comic book inspired graphics demo, from gothic sepia to hallucinatory colour. Unless you worked on the film, and perhaps not even then, this is not a shift you'll see coming. It's impossible to review the film without mentioning it though, because it's the most important thing about it, so I doubt it can be classified as a spoiler. There are other twists and turns of story in and amongst the songs and graphics work but you'll have to watch Doctor Glamour to find out about them.
To suggest that this film is a riot is being rather obvious, but it's a controlled riot: it feels like it does exactly what writer/director Andrew Jones aimed it to do. He's racked up a few shorts but he doesn't seem to have any intention to be traditional. I'd see that as a Good Thing and I'd very much like to see his other work. It did take a while for me to be won over to the approach he took to this film. Initially I enjoyed the early scenes so much that I felt sad when the tone shift arrived and whisked us off to somewhere else entirely. Everything at the Miskatonic is spot on: the CGI is effective, the editing is sharp and the darkness is palpable. Only with repeat viewings did I begin to appreciate how powerful that tone shift really is. Doctor Glamour played partway into a quality set of science fiction shorts at this year's International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and it was the most emphatic moment of the set by far. Everyone there immediately paid attention.

As good as Chris Shields and Priscilla McEver are as the starstruck lovers, and they are both very good indeed, the short is entitled Doctor Glamour for a reason. John Charles Meyer doesn't even appear until his co-leads are firmly established, yet he stamps his authority on the picture with every pelvic thrust and every facial expression. He's as different from the part he played in The Millennium Bug as could comfortably be imagined, but he's solid in both roles, suggesting that he's very much a talent to watch. He's been a busy man these last few years since his first film credit in 2008. Five years has seen him appear in nineteen movies, with five more in post prod, plus appearances on eleven TV shows. Beyond acting, he also produced both films mentioned plus a couple more. Whatever else Doctor Glamour ends up as, it's an emphatic demonstration of screen charisma for Meyer. He doesn't need a demo reel; he can just hand out DVDs of this.

I'm still trying to figure out what this short means to me. It's the easiest thing in the world to let it wash over you: the pace of the early scenes, the surreality of the later ones and, of course, the sheer effervescence of the whole thing. I initially compared it to the experience of gulping down a supersize energy drink with triple the normal sugar and caffeine. Your brain immediately shuts down in response and then frantically attempts to quantify what just happened to it. Yet maybe a rollercoaster is a better comparison, because you're likely to want to ride it again as soon as you get off your first run. The thing is that I don't do energy drinks or rollercoasters, so neither really work for me. Instead I ended up going back to the Lovecraftian themes that the film began with. Perhaps this is as close a translation of his work as I've seen, interpreted as Walter Gilman spiralling into insanity after reading De Vermis Mysteriis. That works for me. You dig?

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