Sunday 23 March 2014

Picture Show at the End of the World (2009)

Director: David Rusanow
Stars: Peter Barron and Hannah Jones
This film was an official selection at the 7th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2011. Here's an index to my reviews of 2011 films.
I wasn't quite as sold on Picture Show at the End of the World as the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival judges in 2011, who picked this as the Best Sci-Fi Short Film of the festival. That isn't to say I didn't like it, because I liked it rather a lot. It's an interesting little picture that speaks as much to what cinema means to we audience members as any science fiction concept. In fact, if this wasn't set in the sort of post-apocalyptic landscape that dominated the Sci-Fi Shorts A block, it might not even be seen as a science fiction film at all. Perhaps the setting in time might qualify it too, as its concentration on the silent era of cinema and the costumes and music conjured up to evoke that age suggest that this particular apocalypse took place in the past rather than the future, an alternate 1920s where movies never found a voice and 35mm film was never replaced. It's disturbing to imagine this world in which the last 90 years worth of motion pictures would never be made.

It begins stylishly with a dusty old car sputtering along some sort of manmade canal until it peters out. The driver, BK, is in a gas mask, while his passenger, Pandora, covers her mouth with a makeshift fan. Otherwise they wear formal attire, as if they might be on their way to the opera rather than to search the wasteland in an increasingly desperate attempt to find one working movie theatre that can screen the reel of film they carry around with them like a prized possession. The desperation springs from the young lady being in bad shape; Pandora is weak and coughs up blood. I'd suggest that she might have TB if this wasn't a science fiction movie; here I presume she's afflicted with whatever calamity ravaged the planet. In an interesting approach that deliberately mirrors the era of cinema that the film reprises, BK and Pandora never speak, for reasons which become apparent later, but few of the other survivors they encounter during their quest have any lines either.
As Norma Desmond famously said in Sunset Boulevard, 'We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!' Peter Barron, who plays BK, fits that epithet perfectly. He might not look like a silent screen idol, but he has the sort of face that was designed for movies. He has that classic chiselled visage so required of British leading men in romantic comedies but with a dark edge that suggests that if you met him in the street you might wonder if you've ever seen him play James Bond. He's actually an Australian actor, as this is an Australian film, but Hollywood's inability to place accents lends him strong potential for a future in a lot bigger picture than this. He's kept mildly busy racking up roles here and there, but doesn't seem to have made his mark yet. Of course, on the basis of this film alone, I have no idea what he sounds like. His co-star, Hannah Jones, debuted here, which isn't surprising. She's fair as Pandora and certainly fits the part, as vague Louise Brooks lookalike, but she doesn't carry the sort of depth that Barron does.

The key name behind Picture Show at the End of the World is that of David Rusanow, which is all over the credits like a rash. He wrote and directed, for a start, but he also edited the film and its sound and provided its visual effects. Bizarrely he didn't shoot the film, given that most of his credits were earned for cinematography; he handed that role here to Graeme McMahon. IMDb lists this as Rusanow's third short film as a director and it's an assured piece that would fit well in anyone's portfolio. My problems with it mostly tied to its middle , which felt hollow and inconsequential. What we see is decent enough and the cast and crew did their jobs well, but I had a strong feeling that the middle ten minutes could have been anything. I visualised a stack of parallel universes where the beginning and end of this film remain identical, while the middle is unrecognisably different. Yet none lose the overriding drive of the piece, which is contained in its bookends. Would this be better as a five minute film or as a feature?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Hal

Thanks for the nice and honest review of my film. When you make something like this with no budget and an idea you want to get across, the only thing you can hope for is that someone actually sees it. That was a long time ago but I've been slowly working on a version of the film that I'm happy with. So here's a link to the Directors Cut if you ever feel like viewing the film again. It's 6 years old now but there's still sequences I'm really proud of.


David Rusanow