Sunday 17 June 2012

Hollywood Forever (2011)

Director: Amy Ludwig
Stars: Brian Bogulski and Alana DiMaria
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.
Hollywood Forever is many things beyond just the title of this deceptively simple romantic time travel short. Most obviously, it's the name of the vintage store in Hollywood in which we, along with the lead character, spend the entire picture; it literally begins as Ben walks in and it ends when he walks out again. More substantially, it's the theme of the piece. The setting emphasises how styles are ever-changing, but the story emphasises that love never does. Ida, the salesgirl, conflates the two by explaining to Ben that the store 'hasn't changed in a really long time' and in doing so highlights that neither has the formula that has kept Hollywood synonymous with the movies. A little more subtly, it's even a hint to the film industry that Hollywood constantly needs to look both forward and backward. The character of Ida represents both of those views: her job has her living in her past but she's really from Ben's future.

What's more, it's a nod to first time writer/director Amy Ludwig's reasons for making this short film. She's apparently a thrift store devotee and, like many such people, she has a fondness for romance, not just in the modern meaning of the word that focuses only on love but also in the older meaning that speaks to adventure and imagination. She's a romantic, summed up well in one of Ben's lines of dialogue. His casual suggestion that simply changing clothes is enough to change time is more than a cosplayer's manifesto, it's a personal statement of individuality, a gentle reminder that we should all be whoever we want to be and the most freeing thing in the world is to simply allow that to happen. That feeling, close to my heart too, is what I took away from this film. We, the viewers, are personified in the character of Ida, whose last line is a very appropriate quote from classic Hollywood. She merely makes a decision to live it.

The story is less a plot and more a springboard for our minds, which is exactly what a science fiction short should be. Ben is an actor who has come to Hollywood to find work, so steps into Hollywood Forever to buy a suit he can audition in. Brian Bogulski, who plays Ben, does have one of those faces that transcend time, so it's not surprising to find that it was one of Ludwig's inspirations for the story. He's intriguingly somewhere between Vinnie Jones and George Raft and it would be fascinating to watch him in black and white, especially in a gangster movie or film noir. By contrast, Ida, the goth salesgirl, is already there. She's dressed entirely in black, which includes her make up, her only colour being the red in her tattoos and the gold in her nose ring. The two characters clash mildly for a little while until they realise that it's cultural not personal. You see, she's from 2009 and he's from 1948, and that's where our story really begins.

As a short film, this is pretty good and as a debut for Amy Ludwig, it's very promising. It's short but it has no real need to be longer. The story is basic but achieves everything that it aims to. It draws us in capably and leaves us wanting more, our minds happily conjuring up what happens next. The framework is simple, everything hung on two actors in one location, but those actors are solid and their dialogue is well written, if hardly surprising. While Brian Bogulski may have influenced the film, Alana DiMaria gets more substance to work with, so gets to shine brighter. After all, Ben only needs to open his mind a little between beginning and end but Ida gets a real story arc, gifted with both the opportunity to change and the decision making process to do so. The romance is sweet, albeit swift, and the Ruth Brown song is appropriate. The whole piece is as enjoyable as it's well made, those two attributes not always playing as well together as here.

That's not to say that it couldn't be better. There is notable attention to detail, but there could have been a good deal more. The biggest flaw in my eyes was in how often the camera gave us views out of the front window of Hollywood Forever, something that didn't gel particularly well with the progression of the story, the continually passing cars unwittingly undermining the idea that our characters are isolated in a timeless space. That's tough to avoid in a low budget short, especially given the geography of the store, but it's a problem nonetheless, one that adversely affects the lighting at a couple of points too. If only the fog that obscured the door in one scene could have obscured the front window throughout, but sadly that opportunity apparently wasn't viable. The good news is that the more romantic the viewer, the less likely they'll care and the more likely this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Amy Ludwig's future work.

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