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Tuesday 1 October 2013

Detective Shaves (2011)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Travis Mills and Lindsey Cork
Here's another Travis Mills review to kick off a new month; this time it's the one I've avoided watching for the longest time. I'd heard that Detective Shaves was not only one of his more experimental works, an edgy piece in more ways than one, but that the content was guaranteed to make any male viewer cringe. So, given that October is the month of Hallowe'en, I decided to take a walk on the wild side and avoid it no longer. Now I can't help but wonder that if the Arizona film community threw a Hallowe'en party, someone would dare to show up dressed as Travis's testicles, because those are apparently the stars of the show. Those and a razor blade. Now you can see how edgy this one is and I haven't even begun to talk about the story yet. Of course, I'm still trying to figure that one out, because this is one of his periodic stream of consciousness pieces that may or may not make any sense at all outside the world of dream, and if it does, perhaps that's only to him on a very personal level.

I know Mills as a filmmaker, surely Arizona's most prolific, but apparently that's not his only ambition; my discovery here wasn't merely what's dangling between his legs but that he also writes prose and this short film seems to have sprung from one of his compositions. There's a blog called Stark Naked Pen that was highly active throughout 2011 but has sat idle ever since. Among other pieces by other writers, including Running Wild co-founder Gus Edwards, who directed their next feature, Black Eros, Mills channeled his thoughts in expressionistic shadows through the role of the Detective, clearly an alter ego. Given his fondness for film noir and classic detective fiction, he's presumably searching for the sort of persona under which Tom Waits suffered romantically for so long, abstracted through the beat poets who he sees as the literary equivalent of the French New Wave, shaking up the status quo with provocative material that may find a meaning through influence if not through substance.

Trying to understand this film has to assume that sort of framework. I doubt there's any clear meaning to grasp, in the way that Martin Scorsese's The Big Shave supposedly carries. That leapt to mind here because of its title and its experimental approach, in which a man shaves his chin in a bathroom, but continues on in increasingly bloody fashion to shave away his skin as well as his stubble. It supposedly served as a metaphor for America's involvement in Vietnam, but I doubt Mills is extending that to Iraq or Afghanistan. He also thankfully stops short of mangled flesh, though there are quite a few nicks on show that presumably weren't there before filming began. The obvious valid comparison turns out to be La Jetée, the 1962 science fiction short from experimental French filmmaker Chris Marker that was such an influence on Terry Gilliam that he fashioned Twelve Monkeys around its ideas. The reason is that both La Jetée and Detective Shaves are told through still images explained by narration.

The difference is that La Jetée had a story, a complex and involved one at that, but Detective Shaves is more of a prose poem. Its narration follows the same track as the story at Stark Naked Pen but with differences here and there. What's shared is his profession as a detective, the post-coital setting with a naked companion, the pose she has him adopt like a Greek statue, the testicle shaving action and the last line: 'Are there any men left in the world?' If there's meaning to be found here, it's presumably in that line, as if Mills is eagerly adopting the time honoured persona of the hardboiled detective but realising how impossible their shared proficiency in the sack really is. Read a Mike Hammer novel and figure out how he could conquer that many dames without the benefit of blue pills. Trying to emulate such achievements in reality would surely end in tears. Maybe the point here is to highlight the tough detective in a position of submission, utterly under the control of a woman.

Certainly that's what the reality must have been here. On paper, Mills was in charge: as the director, producer and leading man. However that's an woman with a razor blade to his testicles, Lindsey Cork, who had also appeared in Running Wild's The Middle Toe of the Right Foot. The other credited name also belongs to a woman, Cara Nicole, who epitomises feminine power given that she's well known in the Arizona cosplaying scene as AZ Power Girl. Unlike The Detective's Lover, where she was the one stripping off as the title character to share the screen with a detective, she's behind the camera here, responsible for all those still photographs. It's interesting that when Mills decides to get naked for the camera, he shared the room with two women, one just as unclothed as him, but to explore precisely no sexual content while being extremely trusting and submissive. While the most obvious things on screen are his testicles, the most obvious off screen are his cojones in being willing to do this.

Detective Shaves can be watched for free at Vimeo.
The Detective Shaves can be read for free at Stark Naked Pen.

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