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Moriarty Sneaks A Peek At Adam Rifkin’s LOOK!

Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here. Adam Rifkin’s an odd bird. I remember the first time I ever heard his name. He got some press for a film he wrote and directed at the age of 21 called NEVER ON TUESDAY, and I hated him on general principal. I was seventeen at the time, and I resented anyone who made a film that young. When I saw NEVER ON TUESDAY, I dismissed it completely because it wasn’t brilliant and amazing, and I figured anyone making a film at that age had to be brilliant and amazing or what was the goddamn point? And it’s funny... that’s all it takes sometimes for a film nerd to harbor a grudge against a filmmaker. For years afterwards, I had a knee-jerk reaction to Adam Rifkin’s name, and I did my best to hate his work. When you’re in that late-teens/early-twenties stage of being a film geek, you can be insufferable, and I was capable of nursing an irrational predjudice as well as any talkbacker working today. And then I saw NIGHT AT THE GOLDEN EAGLE. I forget how I got talked into the screening room, but for some reason, I agreed to check out a film he wrote and directed... and I ended up loving it. This was a few years after DETROIT ROCK CITY (which I enjoyed), but even so, I was taken aback by just how much I thought GOLDEN EAGLE was a major picture for a minor budget. By that time, Rifkin was developing a reputation as a studio assignment guy as a writer, and it looked like he was taking all his studio money and turning into the freedom to go direct tiny indie films that he actually cared about, which is what a lot of people talk about but few actually do. And just as I was finding this new admiration for the guy... just as it felt like he was really starting to develop his voice as a filmmaker... he vanished again. It’s been six years since NIGHT AT THE GOLDEN EAGLE first screened, and in that time, Rifkin’s been fairly invisible. He’s been writing scripts for various studios, but he hasn’t directed anything. Then earlier this year, his caveman comedy HOMO ERECTUS started screening in a few places. And now, finally, he’s made another film that lives up to the promise of GOLDEN EAGLE with the provocative, experimental LOOK, which opened this weekend in limited release. This is a great example of what you can do with not a lot of money as long as you’re willing to think outside the box. Even with that very first film of his that I saw back in 1988, Rifkin’s always exhibited a keen understanding of how to use the budget he has instead of trying to make a bigger film than he could at any given moment. One of the surest ways to make your low-budget film look like shit is by overreaching with it. If people made movies that took advantage of a small budget instead of struggling against it, then they’d be better off, and so many of the smartest indie guys are the ones who figure that out. Here, Rifkin uses a gimmick to set the rules for the film, and in doing so, he sets himself free to try all sorts of different things dramatically, stylistically, and tonally. The film’s basic conceit is that every American appears on-camera as many as 170 times a day right now thanks to surveillance cameras in public places, and since that’s true, Rifkin took that as a jumping-off point. The entire film is “captured” footage, one camera after another, and even though it sounds impossible to construct a narrative from that at first, Rifkin makes it work. He uses it as a way to tell a sprawling interconnected multicharacter story, the type that Altman was always so fond of, and I like how he keeps the connections between the storylines tenuous at first. Very gradually, he starts to draw the various story threads together, and the film reveals itself to be much darker and more pessimistic than it seems at first. Hell, the way it starts, Rifkin immediately indulged his inner voyeur by taking us into a changing room with two giggly teenage girls who get fairly naked while having an inane conversation. It looks like it’s going to be a cheap excuse to see things we “shouldn’t see,” but Rifkin has something else in mind. Ultimately, this is a film about the way we live knowing that we are always being watched. I hate the idea of being on camera without knowing it, but the way I deal with it is by shutting that out. If I thought about it, I’d be self-conscious all the time. Instead, I just accept that the fabric of the world has changed and I don’t look for the cameras anymore. I know that they’re hidden in the ATM and at traffic lights and in stores and mounted in police cars... I get it. But until you see how seamless Rifkin’s storytelling is, and how little he cheats, you don’t really understand. Giuseppe Andrews is probably the most recognizable face in the film, but Rifkin gets good work out of his whole cast. Because they’re mostly unknown to me, it helped sell the reality of the piece overall, and by the end of the film, I stopped thinking about it as a gimmick. I just bought it. I think Rifkin and his cinematographer Scott Billups and Ron Forsythe manage to pull off the challenge they set for themselves, and the editing by Martin Apelbaum manages to sell the reality of the idea without ever sacrificing certain narrative requirements. I guess what impressed me most is how easy it would have been to just make this a one-note gimmick, and instead, Rifkin’s tapped into the essential uneasiness of our times and created a unique indie film that deserves your attention, even amidst the Oscar/holiday season. And, yes, I know that there are many people right now who are trying to pull off the “real” thing in films, whether it’s CLOVERFIELD or S&MAN or THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES, and I know that it can annoy the shit out of some audiences who spend more time worrying about what is or isn’t real than they spend watching the film. Seems like a sucker’s game to me. I’ll make it easy for you. None of it’s real. The very act of pointing a camera at something introduces certain elements of unreality, and if all you care about while watching is what the “reality” is, then you might just as well not bother. Rifkin’s not trying to fool anyone here. He’s just using this idea as a way of experimenting with how you tell your story to the audience. If he didn’t have a good story to tell, it wouldn’t matter, and in this case, he did. Check it out. I’ve got an early day of striking tomorrow, and a ton of screenings coming up this week, but I’ll have at least one more piece for you later tonight.

Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 17, 2007, 2:12 a.m. CST


    by BrightEyes

    Ledger rocks as Joker

  • Dec. 17, 2007, 3:33 a.m. CST


    by Pipple

    at my penis

  • Dec. 17, 2007, 3:52 a.m. CST


    by supersize

  • Dec. 17, 2007, 4 a.m. CST

    I always liked Never On Tuesday...

    by Sledge Hammer

    It was like one of John Hughes better 80's era teen flicks, only on acid. Slight, but lots of fun. And Claudia Christian was greatin it, not to mention pretty damn hot.

  • Dec. 17, 2007, 4:14 a.m. CST

    "The entire film is “captured” footage"

    by Tourist

    Not to shit on his parade (cause I really liked The Dark Backward...That is his, right?) or anything, but jesus. This concept is now about as original as someone announcing an animated film...In 3D! It doesn't even matter how good or bad it is, being last in a race just makes it hard to generate any enthusiasm for it. Especially if his last film was Night At The Golden Eagle, which was pretty bad for a movie, and not so bad for DTV trash.

  • Dec. 17, 2007, 4:18 a.m. CST

    Caught on camera 170 times a day on average

    by DirkD13"

    Not bad, the estimate for UK residents is 300 times a day!!! Also I love The Chase and Detroit Rock City, so Rifkin's ok in my book.

  • Dec. 17, 2007, 5:20 a.m. CST

    lol that's why I named it Mcweeny

    by Pipple

  • Dec. 17, 2007, 6:03 a.m. CST

    Facinating concept.

    by Yeti

    Be interesting to see. And Moriarty's review sort of blows any credability shows like "The Hills" have (if they ever had any) right out of the water.

  • Dec. 17, 2007, 1:57 p.m. CST

    i have much love...

    by cp

    ...for THE DARK BACKWARD. your review of NIGHT AT THE GOLDEN EAGLE made me buy the dvd mori. this sounds original, thanks for the heads-up.