Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Look": from Adam Lifkin, links personal "Southland" stories through surveillance cameras


Look”, directed and written by Adam Rifkin (2007, from Libertated Artists, Vitigraph and Anchor Bay/Starz),  is an interesting “experiment” of telling interconnected stories captured through surveillance cameras scattered around Los Angeles.  As with films of this sort (ranging from “Crash” to “13 Conversations about One Thing” and even “5 Lines”, about the DC Metro) connections among the characters, often hostile, start to emerge.  The film won the “Cinevegas Jury Prize”.

Visually, the effect is similar to Dogme filmmaking, with handheld and lots of odd closeups.
The characters include a womanizing department store manager, a nerdy convenience store clerk trying to launch an amateur “rock god” career,  a gay (but traditionally married-with-kids) trial lawyer, a high school teacher, and two sociopaths on the prowl.  

The most likeable character turns out to be the clerk Willie Gaines (Giuseppe Andrews), whose alert actions catch the criminals, leading to a climax crash on the Santa Monica Freeway (which was shut down one hour to film this sequence).  Earlier, Willie entertains himself and a sidekick, whom he tries to train to do his job so he can go out, with his synthesizer board.

The most tragic part of the story concerns the teacher. There is a brutal scene where the LAPD comes to school and handcuffs him in the hallway, at least not in front of students.  Later, the surveillance video will show that the female student “came on to him”, after she had gotten a bad grade.  But in California, the age of consent is 18 and the minimum sentence actually served is usually at least ten years.  The gay lawyer explains all of this in a scene where the lawyer really has a hard time being his advocate.  But the lawyer (an his partner) turn out to be the other reasonably admirable characters in a film where most people behave badly when they forget they are being watched.  

This episode, involving the arrest and impending prosecution of the male high school English teacher, hits closer to home.  In 2005, an incident a little bit like this happened at a school where I had intermittently worked as a substitute teacher.  At the same time, I had posted a screenplay for a short film (called “The Sub”) where a male teacher is tempted by a male student and winds up getting arrested in school in a scene similar to what happens in this film! This led to a big “blow up” at the school.

In fact, the teacher has told the student that he had written a screenplay, but because "nobody buys them" she wouldn't have heard of it.  The female student wants to act in it. 

There are also some scenes that depict sexual harassment in the workplace, in this film a retail environment.  In 1998, someone in another department was fired for that reason from the company where I worked.  It seems that some men really don't know how to draw the line. 

The actual opening of the film is quite startling. Two women, in a retail dressing area, are shown quite explicitly, in a lesbian context -- but that aspect of the story doesn't go anywhere.  

The sequences with the psychopaths are horrifying enough. They include the demise of a policeman (who is overpowered at a routine stop), and the kidnapping of two women who are left to suffocate in a trunk in a mall.  (I had reviewed a film a while back called “Trunk”). 

This is a gritty and gripping film.

The DVD has a “Behind the Scenes” featurette (25 minutes), and a lot of deleted and modified scenes and outtakes. 

Anchor Bay’s site is here


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