The Long and the Tall of It.
review of "Strike Me Silly"
or THE DEVIL AND MR.BELL
or Mr.Bell Always Rings Twice.

GS: "What is your film about Brett?"
BB: "I don't think about them, I just make them".

Screened recently at the MacKensie Art Gallery was this cute and but not so cuddly film by one of Regina's most interesting filmmakers (careful, if you have too much potential, you may suddenly find yourself interesting.) I remember when Brett began this film. He was filled to the brim with optimism. He figured he could shoot it quickly, post it quickly, and premier it later the
same year. I don't bring this up to chastise him for being naive or for not working hard enough. In fact, this attitude entering the project was part of the whole key to its success (it was the problems of the "real world" which slowed it down.). Back a few years when many of us were in high school or early university, we (and in we, I mean filmmakers who entered the business due to a
long time interest in making films and the eventual one to eleven years in film school) used to get together with a video camera or a super 8 or whatever and knock out yet another "great epic" over the course of a few days. Perhaps they were not so "great" but they established a process of filmmaking which was as much a social bonding experience as it was an act of creation. In the end
there would be a film and some keen memories. Too much of that spirit of creating gets lost with the responsibility of adulthood (luckily this age seems to be constantly rising due to the decreasing potential for the real world to offer anything worth selling out for). I suppose the "cooler" kids had beach parties, sex, drugs and flash photography. Ten years later, their stories don't seem any more interesting than ours. It seems that now it's cool to be someone who used to have been a nerd, even when that entailed carrying memories of bowling, wearing Halloween costumes and working for your dad. This film is essentially nerdish in nature. The only discontinuity from pure nerdishness is that the main character appears to have a wife/girlfriend. Her role is small, but still
the largest female role in the film. (When I chided Brett for his lack of strong female characters, his rational/defenses too lame to even print here - still a nerd after all). Douglas Coupland says nerds have taken over the world, but it's too uncool to listen to him anymore. What do we do now that "cool" and "nerd", once binary opposites, have collided?

But anyway, from talking to Brett I have discovered that it was his intention to recapture that enthusiasm and fun of his teen films. Inspired by Marc LaFoy and Angelos Hatzitolios's"Hand of Evil", Brett hoped to use his years of experience (he's not 18 anymore) to escalate the viewing experience of the weekend knockoff buddy bonding film from "interesting, I guess you had to be there" to "Cool, I wish I was there". In this, Brett succeeds. The film tells the tale of a night in hell, complete with pitchfork wielding devil. The stage; a bowling alley. Kevin Alerdice plays a newcomer to the lanes. Although uncomfortable, he is quickly accepted as one of their own by the eccentric staff and regulars. However, when a man dressed as the devil (James Whittingham) enters and refuses to follow established rules of conformity (non-threatening, non- visible, non-confrontational) he must be overcome. This film walks the fence of being absolutely predictable and constantly surprising. Damn it, it was fun to watch; the performances were all exemplary, the visuals, the sound, the editing, all finely done.

The film ends with a traditional Hollywood ending -- that's right, it's got CLOSURE! ***Chester is the pin boy, he suffers with the wood, he stands the fallen soldiers back up and puts things right. Thank you Chester, and all the other pin boys where ever you are.*** Brett is not alone in his wariness of traditional narrative. We've come to believe Hollywood has 'soiled' all known narrative styles, thus forcing 'higher-thinking' independent filmmakers to use narrative structures which are commonly aimed at dis-pleasing the audience. That route had no benefits for Brett, as he found with his previous film "Fred". Personally, I don't think the making of film that people would like is such a bad idea.

Brett shares my interest in the old sitcoms which contained some peculiar element of mysticism such as "My Favorite Martian", "The Munsers" or "My Mother the Car". He described"Strike Me Silly" as being about the loss of innocence. We want to believe that the devil dresses in velour but in the same way, we want to believe the devil to secretly have a heart of gold. We've got to outgrow our myths one at a time. Brett cast all his old friends in the roles, writing their parts for them. I asked Brett if this was a new beginning with this group of people; would we see a series of films with this repertoire of performers? or is it the last hurrah, a celebration of the past so as to move on to the future? Brett told me that the original working title for the film was "The Last Time Around". Too bad, these people are funny together. But I guess reunions are not unheard of...

 

Gerald Saul 2005