Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Fantasia ’13: Go Down Death
came from Brooklyn (a warehouse in Greenpoint to be exact), but it is set in a
fantasy world unconstrained by narrative logic.
There is little employment in this shunned village, yet young Butler
holds down a multitude of jobs, including grave-digging. He will be busy. Life is indeed poor, nasty, brutish, and
short, but words hold great significance in Aaron Schimberg’s Go Down Death (trailer here), which screens
tomorrow during the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival.
is Jonathan Mallory Sinus’s world. The
celebrated poet not only created the sickly village, he also lives there as a character. Sinus is the one who amputated both his legs
for his own existential satisfaction. Disease and suffering are commonplace in
this environment, as Butler soon learns—sort of. It is hard to put much stock in his doctor’s
diagnoses, given his shape-shifting and his stalker-like behavior.
of the men inside the hamlet spend their time playing cards and frequenting the
working women upstairs, while two soldiers tromp through the surrounding forest
like characters in a Beckett play. It
might not sound like much of an existence, but most everyone seems to find it preferable
to the dreaded Gomorrah-like Big City.
not to be confused with Spencer Williams’ morality tale, Go Down Death is essentially Hell’s sketch comedy show, stringing
together macabre vignettes that share common characters and settings, but do
not form a very cohesive storyline. Sometimes
they work and sometimes they just peter out, like post-1990’s SNL sketches. At least, Schimberg maintains a thoroughly
and distinctly weird vibe nearly the whole way through, as if H.P. Lovecraft
took over as the show-runner for The Andy
Griffith Show. Unfortunately, he
eventually breaks from his carefully constructed universe with a disappointingly
flat bit of hipsterism.
Down is not the sort
of film that serves as a willing showcase for the talents of its cast. Instead of tapping into their deep emotional reserves,
they simply mold themselves to fit Schimberg’s creepy tableaux. Nevertheless, the quality of Rayvin Disla’s
work as Butler comes through all the murky stylization quite clearly. Sammy Mena also conveys the pathos of the
outsider in a rather bold performance as Rosenthal, one of the gamblers, who
has a rather complicated pseudo-romantic relationship with the club singer,
Milda. Although underwritten by conventional
film standards, she is one of the few apparently humane figures in this world,
played with a good measure of sensitivity by Simone Xi.
Wearing its love for its love for Tod Browning’s
Freaks on its sleeve, Down freely mixes horror and surreal
tragedy. Arguably, the key ingredient is Jimmy Lee Phelan’s timeless, otherworldly
black-and-white cinematography. Yet, when it finally seems to get somewhere,
viewers will wonder why it bothered. The
results are a wildly mixed bag—albeit one that is obviously the product of some
considerable combined talents.
Recommended for those who favor style over substance, Go Down Death screens tomorrow (8/5) at
the J.A. De Seve Theatre as part of this year’s Fantasia Festival.
Labels: Fantasia '13