Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"The Singing Forest": Early supernatural feature by Jorge Ameer is too "amateurish" to work

The Singing Forest” is an “earlier” gay film by Jorge Ameer, that also tries to put forth an intriguing situation and premise with some supernatural overturns.  I had reviewed “The House of Adam” (March 12, 2012) before.  But this 2003 film (rather brief at 67 minutes) seems haphazard by comparison, and doesn’t draw me in.  Part of the problem is the technical quality of the DVD transfer;  the definition and detail is not up to even normal industry standards.  (As a caveat, I add that many films and high-definition television sometimes run into problems with getting skin tones right.  But the overall and resolution just look low and “cheap”.)  Another problem is the splicing and editing of the sections of the story.   From the best of my recollection, the technical work in his later films is much better. With this film, I even wondered, does he want the film to look unpolished?  Campiness is not effective with this kind of material. 
The film opens with a middle aged man vomiting into a toilet, a younger man comforting him, and sweet classical music playing.  Ameer likes to open his films with a key scene from the middle, but here the effect is simply offensive.   

But then Ameer goes back to the beginning, presenting his story in sections, starting with “The Visit” and offers his protagonist, Christopher (Jon Sherrin) as an alcoholic, getting lectured to shape up by a sympathetic boss.  Chris goes to visit his daughter Destiny (Erin Leigh Price) and meets her fiancée or boyfriend Jo (Eric Morris) whom Chris believes he knew in a past life.  Chris tries to draw Jo into discussions about reincarnation, and soon Chris tells the story of his past life with a lover during the Holocaust (who of course is now Jo).   The film continues with another section called “The Connection” (there is a disco by that name in Berlin, Germany; I’ve been to it), and a finale called “Reality v. Fantasty”, which Ameer says always has three viewpoints (following like Clive Barker).   Chris tells the story of the Nazi roundups (and he mixes up “Jews” with pink triangles at one point) and mentions Paragraph 175 (which itself it the title of a 2002 documentary by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman). The “purging” scene returns, and the men grow closer.  At the end, there is a wedding, but it’s not so clear who the partners are.
I suppose that meeting someone who was a lover in a past life could be an interesting premise, but it would have to do a better job of hooking the viewer.  You could do this with dreams, too – if you’re Christopher Nolan. Directors like David Lynch know how hook you quickly with possibilities like these. Remember how Lynch makes "Twin Peaks" work. 

The soundtrack uses classical and pop music rather haphazardly.  We hear some Schubert Rosamunde, the Adagietto of the Mahler Fifth, and the love theme from the Tchaikovsky Pathetique. 

My disappointment with this Netflix rental is underlined by the fact that his later feature is a favorite of mine, compared to “Judas Kiss”, “Old Joy”, even “Bugcrush”.
The DVD has four short films, which don’t need much explanation, other than that there is some homage to old fashioned ideas of “what homosexuals do”, from a half century ago. The films are “Uninhibited”, “Misguided Piss” (that has old-fashioned possibilities), “My Straight Boyfriend”, and “Popcorn and Coke”.  The third of these anticipates Ameer’s later collection of shorts (involving straight men desired by gay men) which has much more substance (see March 6, 2012) than these do.  Again, there is some rogue classical music (like the Elgar Pomp and Circumstance).   
The DVD also contains a campy and bloated “Reel Bio” of Mr. Ameer, showcasing his work with fuzzy images, the point of which I don’t get.

Picture: High Heels Race, Washington DC, Halloween 2013. 

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