. . . that he didn't, didn't already have."
Watching David Redmon and Ashley Sabin's new documentary, Invisible Girlfriend, a film they just exhibited at the 12th Annual Magnolia Film Festival in Starkville, Mississippi where it won the Ron Tibbett Award for Excellence, I kept thinking about Dorothy's surreal journey to Oz--even before the introduction of life down on the farm, witches and tin men, and, of course the discovery of the great, but nonexistent, Oz himself, here embodied by virgin martyr, Joan of Arc, the incorporeal sweetheart of the title (her golden statue, pictured left, in New Orleans' Place de France).
I happen to also be a mad fan of the Southern Gothic literary tradition, and this film is rife with the stuff--specifically, the supernatural, mental disease and the grotesque--a trio of subjects that in some filmmakers' hands could be downright disastrous, particularly when it's clear that your subject is showing and teaching you way more than you were ever prepared for and, in fact, you might be a little scared of where this journey will lead you.
Yet, the intrepid Sabin and Redmon, as I've noted before, unmitigatedly open themselves up to the rich, loamy textures of human life and drama that make most of us run in the other direction or, at the very least, flat out ignore. Their company is called Carnivalesque, after all, where they make and distribute films that tell stories "united by a raw, startling sensibility of disruption and celebration, where excess and transgression percolate in everyday life." So, I guess it's no accident they keep finding story after story, character after character, out of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Their protagonist, Charles' heart and soul yearns for some kind of meaningful connection with his past, present and future. They met Charles while making their film Kamp Katrina a few years back and re-visit him in his home in rural Monroe, Louisiana, several hundred miles from the Big Easy, where he resides, not altogether comfortably, with his bewildered parents and two of his kids (the young boy is a heart breaker, in every possible way). Charles is medicated and under the watchful eyes of physicians who find in him an interesting specimen, guinea-pigging him to see what happens when they mix this medication with that, this one with that one, and on and on and on. His thoughts on his diagnosed illness and attendant treatment alone are worth the price of admission, excerpts of which should be printed on every bottle of psychotropic meds that get put out on the market. (Don't get me started on the medical establishment-pharma companies' relationship, please. Moore just scratched the surface.)
Sabin and Redmon (pictured) accompany Charles, riding hell-for-leather on his Romper Room-red bicycle, all the way to New Orleans, again, a journey of several hundred miles. And like Dorothy, our hero meets unbelievable, but very real, characters along the way, all with some wisdom to impart, stories to share and their own kind of encouragement when they recognize a kindred spirit of this fire-and-brimstone lifestyle--the kindness of strangers, indeed, arises in the most unexpected of places. And Charles, too, is wise in the ways of children, "damaged" adults and idiots savants, and never, ever flinches away from blood, guts, disfigurement, and most importantly, death. He can even tell a proselytizing born-again to fuck off in the most gracious and polite way. Very Southern.
The footage represents an accompanying visual palette that is startling in its intensity and violent beauty, an optical trope that offsets the desperate love that Charles sets off on his journey to find. Their cinematic eye excels in the subtle art of visual exposition knowing that God is, always, in the details. And the ending, oh man, the ending. You would probably roll your eyes if you saw this in a fiction film because it's just way too woeful and wretched and fateful for words. But it is there before us and we know viscerally when the news is delivered that it is all too harrowingly real.
This is also the first time I've seen the delightful end credit of "Ideas unabashedly taken and inspired by." More filmmakers should fess up. Sabin and Redmon's list includes Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Medicine for Melancholy, Me and My Brother, Low and Behold (which Carnivalesque distributes), Billy the Kid and Easy Rider. I'm sure you already know this, but you're way too smart for Hollywood, kids.
I'm off soon for my own surreal adventure in the hinterlands of Missouri. See you on the other side of True/False, ya'll.