Harry saw RED, WHITE & BLUE break a woman's brain at SXSW!
At its last screening at SXSW, I checked out a film called RED, WHITE & BLUE. In the interest of full disclosure - this is a film that carries an Executive Producer Credit by Tim League, my partner in most every event I throw. That said - I've never had a problem telling Tim when something he's done didn't work. That's not the case with RED, WHITE & BLUE.
This is a very dark film. In many ways, far more disturbing than SERBIAN FILM, which I saw right after this screening of RED, WHITE & BLUE. The film is shot in a very matter of fact manner that follows a young attractive woman that is possibly on one of the saddest existences imaginable in Austin, Texas.
Now most of you know how much I love Austin. One can look at all the various statistics about the city, the places in different LISTS of best places to live... and none of that really touches just how much I love Austin. There's a really fun spirit to the city, I love that the city doesn't feel sad in the ways that so many cities in this country have become. I like the weirdness of it. The vitality of it. The types of stores, restaurants, museums, libraries, music, beer and mostly the film watching paradise that it is. What RED, WHITE & BLUE gave me was a peek at just how fucking sucky my fair city could be - if your situation was just that.
Since SXSW - I've been digesting this film. Thinking about it, a lot. In particular, the post-film Q&A was one of the most "Holy Shit, What The Fuck Is Happening, This Is A Crazy Thing Out Of GERALDO" experiences I've had in quite some time. But then, there's been a lot of little weird things happening in the lives of various friends that managed to shake my grasp of Happy Austin reality. Those are very personal stories, so I won't go into them, but frankly... RED, WHITE & BLUE kind of helped me appreciate my existence here in Austin better and realize just how amazingly lucky I am.
The lead character of the film is Erica, who was played perfectly by Amanda Fuller. The film begins rather starkly following Erica on a couple of days in her normal existence. She lives in a rather horrible room that she's given for simply picking up around the larger property and cleaning the place. We watch her go to a few bars to be picked up by strangers, fuck (rather graphically), then promptly leave. We see one guy that insists on her or him having a condom - so she just leaves. We see her picked up by a band for a gangbang. Older men, younger me, well ta do types and just club crawler types as well.
At the same time - we're beginning to know this creepy looking guy that is noticing Erica... making overtures at Erica, but that Erica seems to not be interested in, played by the fantastic Noah Taylor. Now - these are characters living a very limited existence. You don't get the sense that they go to films, watch tv, read books, have computers, celphones... anything. I refer to them as 4 wallers - they stare at their four walls, go out and drink, with the most limited of lifestyle maintaining jobs. Noah's NATE works at a Hardware Store. We know that he used to work at one before he had gone into the Army. We also learn that the CIA apparently wants to recruit Nate for his talents. We also learn that Nate used to torture animals & kill them as a kid. Nate is all kinds of fucking creepy.
Erica on the other hand, we learn less about for the majority of the film. We do know that she was abused at an impossible young age - that she has HIV, and she fucks as many men unprotected as she can in a given day, everyday. But for some odd reason... she develops a connection with NATE. They have a friendship begin to form. Maybe more, but never sex.
We also begin to follow the life of one of the guys in the Band that Erica fucked. His mother is dying of some form of cancer, she's in pain, bald - and the kind of existence that we wish didn't exist for anyone. She's sweet, loving and really sad. This is Franki, played by Marc Senter. He discovers he has HIV. Turns out one of his bandmates also has HIV - but the one bandmate that didn't fuck Erica doesn't. They begin searching clubs looking for Erica. Hitting club after club in Austin, looking and leaving. Looking and leaving. By this time, Erica & Nate sleep holding one another - and we get the idea that Erica isn't going out on the prowl - but she did go out for a drink. The band gets her and rather forcibly take her away. Nate was in the bathroom. Finds her gone. Finds a credit card and something of Erica's in the parking lot. And he's going to find Erica, because... he wasn't crazy. He really is being recruited by the CIA for the darkest most horrifying inhumane evil shit that we all wanna hope our government doesn't really do, but we all kinda believe it does.
I won't spoil the remainder of the film - it isn't happy, it is extremely violent - and there's one scene involving the bound family of one of the bandmates who unfortunately lost his credit card in the struggle. Including his young daughter (under age 8) that is rather horrifying.
The frankness, the matter-of-factness of RED, WHITE & BLUE keeps the film from ever seeming to be exploitive... it just feels oddly honest. The film didn't have walkouts - the film is absolutely captivating and I will watch it again and show to select folks I know - but I do feel it is appropriate to warn you about the film.
There was a lady at our screening. She remained seated and didn't seem to cause any disturbance that I noticed during the physical screening of RED, WHITE & BLUE - but after the film... when Tim League, director Simon Rumley, Amanda Fuller and Marc Senter took the stage. Things changed.
As the filmmakers took the stage, basking in a very strong applause - all a bit tipsy after having returned from the High Ball's refreshing refreshers during the screening. Very much a party mode. Tim started off with a nice cordial question to his Director - but before Simon could answer a woman shouts out from the audience, "Excuse me, before you get to that, I have a question and I really don't want to sit here through anymore of this than I have to. So may I'm going to ask my question, because there's something I simply must know!"
The audience was a bit taken aback, Tim had this curious whimsical look of curiousity upon his face - so he told the lady to go ahead. But I had that, "This is a fucking insane person" klaxon siren searing through my skull at this moment. The woman then explodes in a screaming, foul-mouthed, accusatory, weeping, holier-than-thou condemnation of the filmmaker's very existence that ends with, "What did you intend for an audience to get out of this experience?"
Throughout the screaming woman's display there was nervous laughter, boos and exclamations from the audience for the woman to shut up. Tim attempts to begin to answer, but the woman keeps screaming at him, he returns by screaming back at the woman - she again screams that she wants to know what the director wanted the audience to get out of the film.
Simon replies, simply, "PASSION"
The woman begins breaking down - starts screaming "FUCK YOU" at the filmmakers - Tim screams at the lady, "No, FUCK YOU LADY!" the audience begins to cheer, The Lady Begins Going Nuts - Tim tells the Theater Manager to remove the woman. She is bouncing off the walls looney - And... yeah.
It was extraordinary to watch a film RIP SOMEONE'S BRAIN OUT AND MAKE IT GO COO COO FOR COCOA PUFFS, but that's exactly what happened at the last screening of RED, WHITE & BLUE at the Alamo Drafthouse South at SXSW 2010. It was the most visceral and distubing reaction to a movie that I have ever seen. I've heard stories of movies that broke peoples' brains, but I've never actually seen one do it.
So beware. RED, WHITE & BLUE can possibly break your brain. Is your brain strong enough? Your psyche healthy enough? Because if it is, there is an extremely powerful and emotional film experience there for you to see. It is a brutal experience, but what I took from the film was the feeling of how lucky I was to not live in anyway the lives of the people on screen. I had a similar reaction to LEAVING LAS VEGAS when I first saw it. It made me appreciate my ability to have fun drinking without it becoming a death sentence.
I've spent the last 20 years in Austin, enjoying everything it has to offer without ever experiencing the trauma that this film put out there. Before it turned violent, just the way Erica, Nate and Franki lived - I'm so lucky. And that's an amazing feeling for a film to give one, an appreciation for one's own life. Like I said though, this isn't for everyone - but it is a very strong film filled with powerful performances and an engrossing story.
This was a very low budget independent film - but in particular I highly recommend it for the Festival circuit and to Video labels that handle quality hard independent films. Sadly, I don't believe there's a Distributor of Theatrical Content that would know how to handle this film. Though frankly, that is how to see it. Keep an eye out for the film at Festivals or my DVD column for your chance to break your brain. Since this was in a packed 140 seat auditorium, I'd say the odds are 1 in 140 that this film could break your brain.