Saturday 5 January 2013

The Memory Ride (2012)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Michael Hanelin, Colleen Hartnett, Michael Coleman and Kira Fredrickson

It's a new month and a new year so it's time for another Travis Mills movie. January's pick is The Memory Ride, which works well in a few ways as a companion piece to Shine Like Gold, the first Mills movie that I reviewed back in July. It's another slice of Americana, which swaps its setting of baseball and kids' trophies for one of classic cars and blondes. The story is about grief again and the way it's told is just as timeless, but it's handled with a little more grit this time out; it's all the more powerful for not playing quite so unashamedly in the pool of sentimentality. Most obviously, it's another film made for the annual IFP Beat the Clock Challenge, which saw Mills awarded Best Director, while The Memory Ride played runner up to UAT's Screaming in Silence for Best Picture. That's a clean reversal of 2011, when Shine Like Gold won Best Picture, beating out UAT's Covet. All four of these are superb, even before you factor in that they were made in under 48 hours.

I much prefer this one to Shine Like Gold, even though it's not as technically flawless. The camera isn't always quite as steady as it should be and a couple of shots, one in particular, really should have been longer, but those are the breaks when you're working with limitations. Beat the Clock submissions have to be between three and five minutes in length and that may well be a tougher restriction to work to than the required inclusion of a specific prop and line of dialogue. The latter are incorporated here perfectly. What makes this one work so well is its cleverly written parallel story, filled with archetypal characters brought superbly to life. Only one gets a name, but that's as it should be; these characters don't need them. If anything, Colleen Hartnett's character works better without one, named instead simply 'that blonde' or ''55 Chevy', spoken with a hint of long suppressed interest by Michael Hanelin, who plays the heart of the film.

That's Jerry, a down to earth mechanic working out of his home. He's clearly a decent and honest man but one with a painful past that he's keeping locked away inside a crate in an old car. 'What happened that you're so afraid of?' asks his young assistant, who realises that Jerry's living safely at the cost of being alone. In the film's required line of dialogue, he asks, 'Do you think it's worth it?' The reason this all comes up is that they've been repairing a '55 Chevy for a blonde, who may also be interested in Jerry. More particularly, it's because she sees another car when she comes to pick up hers: an old one, a '41, that contains that crate with all the things Jerry can't let go. 'She's beautiful,' says the blonde, seeing past the years that haven't treated it well, leaving it a rusted shell of a vehicle that doesn't even run. 'It's not for sale,' Jerry emphasises a little too strongly and that's what leads his assistant to the crate and to break its lock, the film's required prop.

It's easy to read levels into this story, because it's painted that well. Jerry and his '41 are clearly interchangeable from moment one, not just because they share a past but because they ought to share a future. The blonde's eyes are either on Jerry or the '41 and Hartnett's subtle eye flutter as she gives Jerry her number cements it. 'In case you change your mind,' she says, before bashfully adding, 'about the car.' When Jerry calls the '41 'just a pile of rust', he's talking about himself too, but of course both can be fixed up, with the right care and attention. Whether intended or not, I felt the archetypes ran deeper. Michael Hanelin grounds the whole film, Michael Coleman gives it character and life and Colleen Hartnett is the spark for change. They play out like metaphors for the country, its spirit and its future, all underpinned by a highly appropriate song, sung by Gregg Caraway in a Kris Kristoffersen sort of exquisitely broken voice.

I'm really happy that I chose The Memory Ride to start out 2013. It's a great film for a start, with depth and emotional impact far beyond what could reasonably be expected for something made in a mere 48 hours. Shine Like Gold was technically exquisite but it left me dry. I've watched this one half a dozen times already today and it's only getting better. It may well be the best Running Wild short I've seen thus far. It certainly kicked off a successful 2012 for Travis Mills and Michael Coleman, one that most filmmakers would be envious of, yet one that's likely to end up looking like a warm up compared to the ambitious schedule they've set for themselves: two features in the works and no less than 52 short films in 52 weeks. No doubt we'll see plenty of both Mills and Coleman in those, but we'll see Hanelin and Hartnett too: they were in a short called Friday Nights Alone and they'll be in one of those features, The Men Who Robbed the Bank. Here's to 2013!

The Memory Ride can be viewed for free on Vimeo.

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