Friday 2 November 2012

Night Train to Phoenix (2011)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Abraham Anene Ntonya and Carly Simone Fischer

Is it a new month already? Then it's time for another Travis Mills movie and November's is a noir-infused piece of poetry called Night Train to Phoenix that has an interesting history. First inspired by the title of an old Polish film called simply Night Train, then the movie itself, Mills discovered a whole world of night trains out there in culture, often tied to places because it's never the train that's important, it's the travellers, their destinations and their reasons. All trains go somewhere, just like all stories. To a creative mind, a train is possibility and a night train is dark possibility. Mills felt drawn to write about his own night train, to stake out his own little corner of this world, the only catch being that here in Phoenix we don't have one, we just have the light rail. But hey, that's what poetic license is for, right? So for a brief five minutes, Phoenix has its own night train and a brief glimpse into its own stories.

It's an interesting piece of two halves. The first has an unnamed black man, played by Abraham Anene Ntonya, ride the light rail, I mean the night train to Phoenix, and tell us why he's there. It's poetic, partly because of his soft and hypnotic voice, partly through Mills's blank verse and partly because it talks about a mysterious woman, one that spoke to him without words and led him to places he really didn't need to go. Perhaps it's always about a mysterious woman. Certainly the poem I wrote on a train, Seat 35 on the 18.02, was about one, given that she slept while I wrote and never knew I was there and I knew nothing about her other than what I saw. Perhaps that's also why this short took on noir tones, as mysterious women easily turn into femmes fatale. This femme fatale is free of both name and voice, as she never speaks, but she's played well by Carly Simone Fischer, who returned for a small role in Mills's first feature, The Big Something.

Halfway through, almost exactly, Ntonya's voice stops as the woman he rides the night train to find once more gets on. As if released from a spell, we follow him follow her as Brandon Reader's music kicks in and we wonder if it's all going to progress the way we think. It did for me, which suggests that Ntonya did exactly what he needed to with his voice, not merely telling a story but infusing it with the emotional cues to tell us what he may not even know he wants. I'm surprised that this is his only credit, as he does solid work here at a very free level, with only narration and body language, no dialogue. I have nothing against Fischer, who is suitably enticing, but this is Ntonya's film. Technically, it's amazingly loose, serving only to support him and his journey, Very few shots seem planned, though the footage feels capably edited. It's dreamlike, soothing and inexorable, deceptively simple but with cryptic meaning, like a vampire story without teeth.

Night Train to Phoenix is available to view for free on both Vimeo and YouTube.

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