Wednesday, April 28, 2010
[blog.mtviggy.com] The first thing to notice about the debut film from the frontman of Mars Volta is its sound. The camera lurches into a gritty, grimy motel room — its windows hung with scarlet curtains — and the feeling of dread we’re getting isn’t from these details alone, it’s from the static fuzzing in from the TV set. Left out on high volume, this is the sonic texture Lopez zooms in on — a crisp metaphor for the static in all human relationships, and certainly the static between his protagonist, Barlam, and the prostitute who led him here.
Of course Omar Rodriguez-Lopez tells his story in sound. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in El Paso, Texasa he made a name for himself in the music scene as a hugely prolific creative force. With 35 albums to his name, he started off in At the Drive-In — the late ’90s post hardcore kids known for their plethora of afros — then fronted the hugely successful prog rock outfit Mars Volta, while somehow still pursuing his solo work. It seems that in the midst of all that he found time to write, direct, and produce three films — of which The Sentimental Engine Slayer is the first to get a major release. (It counts among its producers John Frusciante — yes, that John Frusciante!)
This is a film as much about the colors, textures, and sounds of Lopez’s native El Paso as it is a coming-of-age tale, loosely based on his own childhood. Protagonist Barlam, a grocery bagger obsessed with making models of cars and inept with women, is based on a younger Lopez (and played by himself, with his siblings as other cast members).
At heart, this is a typical coming-0f-age story: Barlam loses his virginity, messes around with drugs, and becomes less jaded about his relationship with his abusive sister. Somewhere between Trainspotting and Memento, the editing is slice-and-dice throughout the story — zooming between coherent scenes and cliche dream sequences so quickly that the audience is thrown off course. The only suspense is based on confusion; We care less about what’s going to happen next than knowing what in god’s name is happening now. That feels a bit thick and student film-y.
But there’s nothing unrefined about the look and feel of this film, which works on its own as a mood piece. To see the city of El Paso through the eyes of its native son is to see in close-up, in technicolor, and at full-saturation. We are struck by the home young Omar grows up in — its violet and green walls studded with crosses. We salivate over the cars — splashy 1967 Mercury Cougars — which zoom over the desert hills, are embraced by the neon of signs they reflect. Omar’s sister, played deftly by Tatiana Velazquez, is a femme fatale in leopard-skin chemises, her huge bug-eye sunglasses making her femininity even more alien to her confused younger brother. Oh, the fashion! One gets the sense that Lopez got every hipster in El Paso to turn out to be an extra.
READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE.
Posted by Dan Goldin at 11:54 PM