Lo-Fi Genre Buster Delivers Cinematic Shake
It’s rare for a new American movie to feel truly alive with possibilities from start to finish. So many of the logistical, economic and technological decisions that go into making a film in the United States are designed to stifle the artistic vision in favor of audience accessibility. Which means something infinitely weird and fractured like Slow machine feels all the more essential, an eccentric celluloid shape-shifting lever shot in 16mm that playfully upends the tropes of narrative storytelling.
Paul Felten and Joe DeNardo’s low-fi genre buster follows Stephanie (Stephanie Hayes), a Swedish experimental theater actress based in Brooklyn who meets a mysterious government agent named Gerard (Scott Sheperd). Instead of being thrown into a world of intrigue and clandestine operations, Stephanie must endure the occasional seductions and clumsy theorizations of Gerard, much of which revolves around her invisible fiancé’s thesis on narrative archetypes in the story. pornography.
Their interactions are mostly depicted in flashbacks, penetrating different moments in time when Stephanie, now sporting a Southern accent, retreated to musician Eleanor’s (Eleanor Friedberger) upstate farm to escape Return. of flame that Gerard has created in his life. In doing so, Slow machine weaves a subversive web of overlapping narratives that are constantly in conflict, each shaped by music and performances that vibrate with kinetic energy.
At the heart of it all is a freewheeling sense of fantasy that allows the characters to Slow machine embrace the coincidences and bitter jealousies of life without being unbearably terrible. Despite his violent tendencies and epic mood swings, Gerard speaks like a charming shmuck version of Bogart, a little too eager to erase the norms of societal boundaries to make a personal connection. At one point, he even describes himself as “emotionally promiscuous.”
Hayes’ chameleon-like performance is even more impressive as she effortlessly adapts to any situation. Apparently every moment she is dealing with a different predator, like her aggressively gruesome roommates or the unwanted advances of a hipster who loves the poetry of William Blake, her “back in college man”.
But the key scene of Slow machine has to be where Chloë Sevigny (playing herself) recounts a mysterious and memorable audition involving an unfinished script presented to her by an anonymous writer. The anticipation in her voice as she reflects on the serpentine process mirrors that of an artist poised to be reborn through an incomplete and incomplete cinematic process.
Somehow Felton and DeNardo did just that with Slow machine, denying any sort of enclosure or overarching context in order to reach a deeper truth about the stories we tell in order to rekindle our passions for life. Or more specifically, being at peace with the chaos this world brings, both in real life and in the art we choose to spend hours obsessed with. The film’s brilliant final scene involving a Zoom bedtime story with no real direction or conclusion is entirely symbolic of that sentiment.
If American cinema is ever going to transcend the mundane, shapeless superhero fantasies that have occupied so much mental and physical space over the past decade, more films like Slow machine will be necessary to get us out of our collective complacency. For the curious and eager, it’s a nice reminder of what it’s like to be properly strangled by an unexpected cinematic shake.
Slow machine opens Friday June 4 on Projectr.tv.