Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Donovan Slacks

Director Kivmars Bowling experiments with form and narrative while paying homage to silent film, early talkies, and contemporary cinema in this story of a fragile-boned rabble-rouser who leads a group of fishermen in a revolution against an oppressive government.

Donovan Slacks lives his life in fear. And for good reason, too – he’s been conditioned to believe that something, or everything, is wrong with him. His doctor tells him that he’s depressed. His therapist tells him that his life is out of order and that he’ll soon fall apart. And Donovan’s mother convinced him that he has a soft head due to a bone condition. So he wears an old pilot’s cap everywhere he goes, checks himself into a Sea Bathing Hospital, and asks for the doctors to cure him. All he gets, unfortunately, is more discouraging diagnoses from the staff.

Donovan’s terrified of life, but he can’t help but want more from it. He’s intrigued when he stumbles across a fisherman’s union that is embroiled in a bitter taxing dispute with the government. Somehow Donovan inadvertently is chosen to be their official spokesperson – his bowtie and collared shirt gives him an authoritative look, and he impresses the fishermen by using words like “desist.” He’s afraid of standing up to the government, but this fear, unlike his others, is not irrational. The government relies on a constant threat of force, hinting that violence awaits around every corner. Donovan hatches a plan to appease both sides, but his idea may end up causing more harm than good.

Donovan Slacks is not just an engaging narrative, but it’s also a celebration and concoction of cinematic forms. The first half of the film is shot like a silent film, complete with an accompanying piano score. However, it’s shot in color looks like old film stock from the 50s that would have been used for home movies.. The “silent film” portion uses a few contemporary filmmaking techniques that weren’t so prevalent in the 1920s – more close-ups, a diversity of angles, and quicker cuts to name a few. This is a mix of just about everything.

About halfway through the movie, Donovan makes the transition from silent film to “talkie” (which is fitting – Slacks takes place in 1928, just as the silent film era was giving way to the sound era). The transition is certainly not arbitrary. Donovan suddenly learns to talk, in a matter of speaking, after a great revolution – he’s been lied to all of his life, and now he can finally hear the truth.

The analysis of language, both as a tool and a weapon, is what makes this movie so rich and layered. Strangely enough, Donovan Slacks feels like the antithesis of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi classic, language is incapable of expressing anything. The characters are inarticulate, and what they say is trite and vapid. But Donovan Slacks is about finding your voice – literally. It’s about learning to speak up for yourself, and speak out about injustices – once again, quite literally. It’s about the power of language to communicate truth. Where Kubrick didn’t see language as capable of keeping up with technology and progress, Bowling sees language as its own form of progress. Once Donovan learns to speak, he’s become fully human.

But, ultimately, language fails and betrays Donovan and his friends. Once the characters in Slacks gain their voice, the oppression from the dominant ideology becomes even more stifling. The government officials can speak, too, and they’re going to make sure that theirs is the last word heard. Ironically, the government was all “talk” during the silent portion. It wasn’t until they had the option of using a voice, of creating a dialogue between opposing parties, that they escalated their violence to a new level.

Kivmars Bowling’s had a difficult time securing financing for his eccentric debut film, but Slacks has proven to be a hit on the festival circuit. The AIFF is one of nearly a dozen international film festivals that have chosen Donovan Slacks as an official selection.

Bowling has crafted a hefty, thought-provoking film that’s going to be open to a multitude of different interpretations. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale about overmedication, or a critique of psychoanalysis. It’s a coming-of-age story, and an inspiring fairy tale about the need for political dissent. It’s a love story, a social problem film, and a morality tale. But I think ultimately this is a celebration of the communal power of the cinema. It’s a dissection of filmmaking as a process and film as a medium. Slacks is a hodgepodge of styles and movements and aesthetics, but somehow Bowling blends everything together in a way that feels entirely natural – it’s wholly original yet somehow perfectly authentic. Its elements are so well-conceived that they integrate seamlessly yet stand out on their own. Donovan Slacks is a really great film for true film lovers.

Donovan Slacks is playing on Sunday, April 20th at 6:00 p.m. and Thursday, April 24th at 10:00 p.m. at The Screening Room.

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1 comment:

Mia said...

Donovan Slacks is WAY better than Fabian Pants!
LOL! A terrific film everyone should see!