Three Shorts by James Devereaux
For a while now, I’ve been following the exploits of a youngish actor on Twitter who goes by the name of @ejamesdevereaux and frequently checking out his regular weekly column of tips for actors at his website, The Great Acting Blog (click here to go there instead). I know that this intense (yeah, you need to read some of those blogs) and talented guy also writes stuff and is a founding member of The Drifting Clouds Cinema Group (click here to go there instead), which screens independent movies in need of recognition by the general public at large. I don’t know how big those screenings are but, from what I can gether... they do their bit.
What I didn’t know is that Devereaux has also directed some short movies and when he invited me to take a look at them on Youtube it was with a rush of interest tempered with trepidation that I “virtually wandered” over to Youtube to take a look at them... after all, I’d been following this guy for a while now on Twitter and he’d become quite a cornerstone in my little “timeline family”. And we’d had a few discussions (yeah, well I call them arguments but, whatever) about our shared love of “art house” movies and my general unwillingness to marginalise those kinds of movies by labelling them as such.
I needn’t have worried too much though, it turns out. I watched his movies and I was quite taken with them. There are three I’ve seen... My Little Grapefruit, Romantic Rebellion and Strangers. As far as I know they were all written by Mr. Devereaux and Romantic Rebellion and Strangers also feature him in lead roles.
At first glance these films ticked all the general check boxes with some of the influences of the director as I’d gathered what they were from his writings and tweetings. There’s a Hal Harley flavour to all three, especially strong in My Little Grapefruit, which does nothing to detract from the incidents happening on screen. And these shorts are about incidents... you won’t find any full blown stories with easy narrative resolution here. Like I wrote about another film last week, any real narrative thrust is brought to the onscreen events by the viewers interpretation. These are not stories... they are little views of details from peoples lives from which information can be gleaned but never resolved into a neat little package having the closure demanded by modern Hollywood blockbusters. Something tells me Devereaux is about as far away from wanting closure in his movies as one can get.
Take My Little Grapefruit, for example, which tells of a new female, French tenant in a lodgings (played by Magda Merkova) who is moving in to the place, sharing with a guy played by John Giles... the pacing is definitely Hartley with broad and almost static shots with a Rifle-style soundtrack but there is also a direct wire into the plays of Harold Pinter. The acting style and delivery is saying as much when nothing is being spoken as when the dialogue is in full flow. At first I thought that perhaps Giles acting was a little naive or amateur but then I realised that it wasn’t the acting at all... it’s actually pretty good but it was too subtle for me to pick up on at first (yeah, well I don’t do subtle, me). It hit me quite soon that the guy was just acting the part of someone who is very childlike and on-the-surface. I’m a bit behind in my blog writing of late and I’m kinda glad I am because it’s given this one film in particular a chance to filter through my brain a little and realise there’s much more going on beneath the surface of this character than I at first thought.
All the way through this one, this character extols his own virtues by using the same phrases of negativity about “the English” while rejecting them but when he later goes out to buy some books to impress the new tenant (including the same bloody copies of Camus’ The Outsider and Sartre’s Nausea that I read at college, all those many years ago) it’s clear that he probably shares more than just a few of the typical English stereotypically perceived traits than he would like. It wasn’t until a few days later, when thinking about this film on a bus journey to work, that I realised the character was just repeating phrases that he’d heard levelled at him by the previous tenant. Or is he. I don’t know and it’s probably not important... but I reckon if he’s reading this then the director might like to pop on the comments section at some point and explain himself? If he feels he wants it to be explained.
Other influences abound in the second of the shorts I watched... at first I thought the Devereaux character, from the way he was dressed and the “frivolity” of his personality was a nod to Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard’s Breathless but as soon as a second character came into it I realised it was inspired by Jim Jarmusch’s shorts (which were later collected and augmented for a feature length compilation) Coffee and Cigarettes. This ones all about the acting style. Devereaux’ character is one of those people who says something false (I assumed) and then compounds it with larger lies but in a humorous way as an attempt at getting to know someone. But that good old Jarmuschian “gap” between people in the way that their ownership of their own style of their language (even when it’s the same language) is just always there to get in the way and screw things up. This is a joyous little short movie to watch.
Strangers was my least favourite of the three but, to be honest, it’s still pretty good. A man with a hat (who seems to like the dimple created in his hat as it is echoed by another prop in the movie in an almost fetishistic manner) is in pretty much the same style of outfit as Alain Deloin in Le Samourai. Again, there are long, pitched pauses in the dialogue and a little “Kapow” moment when the two protagonists first lock eyes. It then jumps from black and white to colour for a sequence which is almost pure, early Hartley in rhythm and farcical form and this makes a “crash, bang, wallop” kind of contrast with the pacing in the monochrome sections. I’m hoping the writer/director doesn’t mind me comparing him with some of his heroes... it doesn’t derogatise his very serious pursuit of his arts (writing, acting, directing) and may be as much my own inability to express his work on its virtues as opposed to comparing and contrasting his stylistic influences.
All in all, I’d say these three shorts are very well written, very sound pieces of art (yeah, he’ll like that but it’s true... so shoot me) and, perhaps as importantly, they are also very entertaining pieces and worth clicking on the links below if you want a diverting, charming but not necessarily unchallenging 25 minutes or so...
My Little Grapefruit - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaVn_ziF_ZE
Romantic Rebellion - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_pFbYTBYtI
Stranger - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9M5LOpIUcA