Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Bass Ackwards

    Linas Phillips proves the importance of cinematography and music to the art of film with his first non-documentary feature, Bass Ackwards.
    After an ill-fated affair with a married woman, Linas (played by Phillips himself) gets a (literally) shit job on an alpaca farm, where he discovers and falls in love with a lemon - a VW bus that has had its middle third removed and then welded back together. Deciding that he needs to move back in with his parents in Boston, Linas takes the strange looking vehicle and sets off from Seattle for a trip across the country. this cross-continental excursion forms the heart of the story; the random encounters he has with strangers on his way East bring a genuine spontaneity to the film.
    Shot by Sean Porter, the film looks singularly gorgeous; it was filmed on a micro-budget by a skeleton crew, but you would never know that to behold it. The camera is always handheld yet never unsteady or nauseating, as is too often the case with films in the so-called 'mumblecore' genre, which Bass Ackwards is akin to in many ways. If Lynn Shelton's Humpday had been shot this beautifully and deliberately, it would have had more going for it than just acting; it would have been a complete film.
   And there is no reason why films of such a small production magnitude and loose style cannot look so good. Film is not just about the writing, or the acting, or the cinematography; it is a marriage of all these elements. the best films bang on all these cylinders, creating an indefinable harmony on the screen that can only be called cinema.
    Another essential element that adds to Bass Ackwards' greatness is the original music by Lori Goldston and Tara Jane O'Neil. it is composed mostly of contemplative, spacious acoustic hooks, with the occasional dollop of gentle electric guitar added for good measure. Not merely obligatory or thrown together, the score is a robust, living and breathing creature that comes along for the ride and acts almost as Linas' sonic mood ring.
    The look and sound of Bass Ackwards together successfully create a  dreamlike blanket of tone that would not exist without either of these things. The writing and acting can be brilliant and affecting (and in this film, they both certainly are), but they cannot stand alone and do not a film make.

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