Directed by Alexander Bakshaev
Independent filmmaking. Love it or hate it, there are some real shitty pieces out there, there are some real great pieces out there, there’s even some that became art movements like the cinema of transgression or the Troma flicks, some directors even become superstars in their own rights like Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, Nick Zedd, Richard Kern, Shane Medows and John Waters to keep a long list short.
There will always be bolder, more daring, more visionary directors working in this field than in the major studios because these people don’t compromise with their vision.
With a dark past in cinema studies and diverse film & TV schools I’ve seen quite a lot of short movies within the realm of independent artfuck pretentious bollocks, or in other words The Film School Exam Movie. I even wrote, shot, edited and won an award with one myself. A shitty little piece filled with pretentious bullshit philosophical ideas and a complete shock gorefest climax. But even though I hate that little 16min bastard these days due to it being a showcase of faults and flaws, I had the best damned time of my life making that little runt. That’s the power of independent filmmaking – you don’t hesitate, you don’t question, just get rolling and work your magic.
Independent productions are the raw essence of creative filmmaking – getting YOUR idea and YOUR vision on that friggin’ screen, and the guys and gals who do, will always have my outmost respect, because instead of moaning and complaining about ”bad” movies that they have seen they get off their asses, write, shoot, edit and create some fucking art.
I recently received a few DVD's with short independent movies from a few different sources and will give them all the proper attention and viewing that they demand in due time. So after randomly deciding which to start with, I slipped in Alexander Bakshaev’s Naked Trip into the player and settled down to see what was in store...
Two minutes later I was hooked. A movie that starts with a dedication to both Jess Franco and Jean-Luc Godard before going into its title sequence and then cutting to a shot of a swastika flag with the opening line of dialogue ”Cinema is dead, that’s why I don’t mind doing Exploitation. It allows to draw money from a medium that has not been used to its full potential for a long time.” heard on the audio track is absolutely going to have me interested in seeing just where the heck this is going to go.
Naked Trip sees Jason Impey as George Eastman (either a reference to the creator of photographic processing techniques or the Italian actor – your decision, it’s still all very Meta as it usually is in Indie films.) as a struggling independent filmmaker who has a few problems at hand. He desperately wants’ to get his latest movie in the air, but he owns money to a dodgy investor who’s given him a 24 hour time limit to return the funds after a cast porn star blew the budget on coke, his American friend distributor won’t handle his latest flick, and he decides to head off to my old bit of home, The North, with his lead actress and possibly only real friend Sarah [Jennifer Louise Newland], to meet up with a second producer with hopes of financing his latest epic The Vow of Chastity to clear up his debts and get back on his feet before the menacing investors get their hands on him.
Naked Trip is a moody little piece shot in black and white with a few 8mm segments for furnish and style. The film holds a kind of quasi-documentary tone that probably comes out of the lives of the screenwriters (Bakshaev under the pen name Mathis Vogel together with Jason Impey) and their experiences of making independent movies for several years. Because there’s no way that you can write that kind of dialogue without actually have been there in one way or another, and the golden rule of writing comes to mind, Write what you know and make it real. Which Bakshaev obviously has done, hence a lot of great dialogue in the film even if it is a bit on the cliché side now and again. But if there’s one thing that can break a movie completely – which happens a lot in independent cinema, and quite often in larger productions too – it’s the shit acting that comes with the low budget movies. More than often indie features are cast with the filmmaker’s family, mates and friends of friends who don’t really give a damn about the director’s vision, they just want to say that they have been in a movie and that’s about it. But the acting in Naked Trip is highly impressive, as Impey and Newland give some great performances as the two lead characters. Even the supporting cast bring credibility to their characters, and I use the word characters because that’s what they are – real believable characters that hold a credibility that is rare in really independent - independent shoestring budget movies of this kind. In many indie flicks, actors are usually just goons that simply blurt out lines without any real feelings for what they are supposed to be projecting. That’s often due to shitty directing, a crap script and shallow characters.
I am sincerely impressed by Bakshaev’s Naked Trip for several reasons; directing actors can be a pain in the ass, especially if they don’t invest in their characters, and to get them to invest in their characters and bring them to life, the script has to have motivation, depth and reason. Naked Trip gives the impression to have all of these qualities, and I’m sure that the script does deliver all those qualities. Characters are honest and real, the cinematography is a mixed bag of classic film school exam movie-ish style and angles, obvious Jess Franco homage’s, and some splendid scenes which indicate Bakshaev’s feeling for composition, balance and framing which are pure delights to watch. Pacing is excellent throughout the movie; there is hardly any dead space at all in the movie, which creates a great flow together with that hand held camera work.
Now if you want to pick the bones and complain about shit, then I’d guess that Bakshaev has probably heard, or will hear people complain that the movie lacks a real climactic ending within the teachings of movie structure guru’s like Joseph Campbell, Christopher Vogler and Syd Field. They are all big on structure, cause - effect, and staying safe on their predesigned paths of narrative – and all demand a grand final confrontation as the movie enters the final act. Well in Bakshaev’s defence, the movie ends exactly where it has to. There’s no need for a climactic final “shootout” between Eastman and the investors who want his hide in return, because if you lack that ending, then you are missing the main story of this impressive little piece. The movie is per say about Eastman, the exploitative, unsympathetic bastard who only thinks of himself and his troubles, but the real story is to be found in the character development of Eastman.
Yes, Character Development - one of the key ingredients to making a successful movie.
The Eastman character has been true to his traits all along, he’s an obnoxious, selfish bastard who will screw his friends over in the blink of an eye to get his movies made, that’s why he has investors chasing him, distributors throwing his films back at him, forcing him to flee up North to secure a new deal. So as the movie drives forth towards that goal – securing the new deal, paying off the investors, getting back on his feet – it obviously builds anticipation for that final climax, but like I said, that’s not where the movie is and rules are laid down only so that they can be broken, which is exactly what Bakshaev does with his movie. Instead of choosing strict formula, he brings the movie to a climax with the change in Eastman’s persona, which is fine. I don’t really need to know what happens when the investors catch up with him, I don’t need to see what happens up North, if he actually closes the deal on the new film, I don’t need to see where Eastman’s future takes him, because he just changed character and by doing so he automatically becomes an empathetic character. I wish him well, because he changed his ways, and an open ending leaves more for me to work with after the movie ends. Mentally I can see him fall to rock bottom, or clear his obstacles all depending on how much I was paying attention to that change of character.
It’s also fair to argue that the climactic final confrontation according to classic structure is in that last moment where Eastman shaves his head in the hotel; peeling off the outer skin of that former self, he takes on a new persona after the insight the “messenger” brought with him in the ride to the hotel. After realising that he can’t have the only one person who actually cares about him, he finally changes his ways and releases Sarah from the project, as he needs to clear up his own mess by his own hand. While he is shaving his head there’s a subliminal image of Sarah, which could be interpreted as an angelic image just like the messenger claimed – an image of salvation, or an erotic image – representing Eastman’s repressed feelings and lusts. If it where the later, then it just strengthens the argument that Eastman has changed, instead of trying to get intimate with Sarah he tenderly lays down and spoons her. For once Eastman actually becomes an empathetic character, he matures, develops as a person – and on the beach tells Sarah to go back home, he can’t exploit her desire to star in a movie and let’s her go. The final battle, is as you see, Eastman confronting Eastman.
With that said I have to discuss the main problem I have with the movie. The Ending, or rather the tail endings, as the movie is dead from the final scene between Sarah and Eastman on the beach. There’s really no need for the short scene with Eastman being blown by the prostitute only to later engage in a conflict of moral values. It really doesn’t bring anything to the film and merely feels just like the opening title sequence – a quick fix of semi erotica to show that there’s some edge bookending the movie. But it feels out of place, and obviously Bakshaev’s talents lie elsewhere. Neither does it add anything to the character change at the end, as we already know that he’s changed even if it’s in a small way. Neither does it indicate that Eastman has returned to his former self, as he reacts so strong to the question if he ever could shoot child pornography. It’s an unfortunate choice, but one of those choices that may have seemed so important in the script that it had to be added. Keep in mind that you always make three movies, the one you write, the one you shoot, and the one you edit. Somewhere along that line there are several darlings that must be killed off and tossed to the floor. But even big budget studio movies have problems with where to draw the line and end a movie so I will just ignore those two additions and won’t consider them as part of the narrative.
The opening dedication to Jean-Luc Godard and Jess Franco makes sense, the movie definitely has a Godard feeling to it, stylish Nouvelle Vague, black and white cinematography, black suit-white shirt-black tie style of Godard (yeah they belong to Godard not Tarantino), the megalomaniac and constantly smoking lead character, suave jazz on the soundtrack mixed up with contemporary beats, jump cuts and scenes that don’t really make sense but bring some great what the hell moments to the film. It’s in one of these scenes where you will find Bakshaev’s cameo in what I call the “messenger” the guy who declares that Sarah is a “Lovely Angel”, which opens Eastman’s eyes and later activates his final shift in character. And you don’t watch a movie like this to bitch about small minor technical problems, as that’s not what the movie is about. Leave the complaining to the knobs that only dream of making movies and keep it away from the one’s that actually do make films. In my mind I see the sometimes shaky camerawork as part of that dedication to Franco, because god knows Franco shot some really rough films through the years, and there are a few scenes where the “flaws” almost feel deliberate within the dedication to Franco sphere.
Another thing that I frequently find missing from most indie flicks is the attention to details, or at least the right sort of details, the ones that connect dots within the narrative, as many of them want to make such an impression that nothing really intertwines throughout, and only becomes a race to showcase tricks and gimmicks. As you may recall I earlier mentioned that Nazi swastika flag in opening. Well it comes back later to mind fuck the audience in a splendid little scene. As George and Sarah take a break from their road trip, the swastika flag freaks out Sarah when she finds it in the car. Eastman calmly pronounces that the flag doesn’t mean anything, but is rather a way of catching the attention of the audience. There are a few similar moments where previous dialogue and images come back in a new light, and it’s fine details like that which make this movie such a tight little feature that comes with my highest recommendation.
Naked Trip has awoken my interest in the future works of Alex Bakshaev, and I will be looking forward to see where he’s going to take us the next time. There’s no arguing that the guy has the cinematographic, visual and directorial skills needed, so if he keeps his screenwriting at this level there’s a new name to keep an eye on out there in Indieland.
Black/White Non-anamorphic 1.78:1
English Dialogue 2.0 stereo.
Making of and Trailers for other independent shorts released through J.I. Productions.