The Long and the Tall of It.
review by Gerald Saul.

Jason Britski's "You Would Make A Good Lawyer" combines formalistic techniques with 'artifacts' from Britski's past photofinishing career to create a rich filmic metaphor. Informed by works by Vancouver A-G canon David Rimmer, this is Britski’s third formal film study.

What struck me first about this new film was the colour. With his first two works being made in black-and-white, it seemed as if Britski was seeking to demonstrate his ability to exploit the power of colour. He did this with a vengeance. The vibrant hues resonate off the screen. The blue of the sky, as seen behind the hand-held title transparencies, seduces us with memories of summer. This impossible blue, which can only be the Saskatchewan sky, is shattered by the image of a savage tiger, its caged world cloaked in a magical tungsten glow. Danger and peace, art and violence, animal and machine; their natures separated by their extreme positions in the colour spectrum.

The stage is set from the first shot where the title of is printed on a transparancy and displayed within a picture frame held by a hand within the frame. Frames within frames, our eyes become accustomed to the divisive selection of what movies allow us to, or prevent us from, seeing.

The caged tiger is the principle image in the film, recurring to create multiple metaphoric layers. The footage has no context and is only shown through reproduction. Time and place are indistinguishable and irrelevant. It seems to be simply "tiger in cage". As this tiger repeatedly circles behind its bars, the steel grid of its cage slowly becomes forefronted in our eyes. The rectangles become frames within the frame, subdividing the image into a Muybridgeian study. Nature has fallen under the scrutiny of the machine, but to what end?

It could be that the tiger is Britski’s representation of himself. In this case, he sees himself as caged but wanting to be free, wanting to break the confines of the frame (formal filmmaking) and to work with more organic film styles (as shown by hands holding a strip of manipulated film up to the sun). As the film draws to an end, the image of the tiger ceases to move. The apparatus has turned the tiger into a mere image of a tiger - frozen, powerless, lifeless. If the supposition of “Britski equals tiger” is correct, then this film implies that formal filmmaking is a self defeating act.

However, on second viewing I begin to ponder the film’s title. Who speaks the words: “you would make a good lawyer”. They seem like advice from a parent or other well meaning elder. It is likely that Britski is addressing a choice that he was given, a path he did not take. With this alternative supposition, the tiger becomes the lawyer, the viral master of the modern jungle. Britski has caged this choice, but it continues to linger in the background of his life. The frame, at one moment early in the film, recedes into the background. Britski uses the optical printer to force the tiger to shrink into the past. Resilient, the tiger attempts to defeat the filmmaker with his own tools. Multiple times, and with increasing magnitude, the film jumps out of control, freeing itself from its loop in a manic stream of indistinguishable blurs. This is to no avail. While the black and orange striped barrister valiantly threatens to upset the film process, the flickering and strobing results only in reinforcing the pleasure of our viewing. As the frame slowly gains control, the tiger can move no more. Ending as a shadow of its previous self, the beast is subdued - but not erased.
In contrast to the “hot” orange-tinged image of the tiger, the other footage offers cool blue backgrounds. These images suggest aspects of the course Britski’s life DID take. Hands (assumably the filmmaker’s own) enter the shot to show us various objects including old photos, colour test cards and pay stubs. While the pay stub does not linger in the frame long enough to read, it is apparent to most people that it is not a stub belonging to a lawyer. Backstory, not included in the film text itself, tells me that these objects refer to Britski’s years of unsatisfying labour in photofinishing. This job was a stepping stone in the path towards being a filmmaker.

In many ways, the film reveals to us Britski’s own self image and, in particular, the uncertainty he has about the rough road taken. He shows us his shadow. Like the tiger at the end of the film, it is only a pale reflection of the real. Even as filmmaker, he does not present himself as whole. The image of the shadow also jumps, fragmenting himself further. Both self and technology remain precarious and uncertain.

Gerald Saul 2005