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Spin offs are hard to do

SHREDDER

I saw a movie called “Shredder” several months ago. It is an independent film made by a friend of mine, Cody Clarke. I am one of the few people who have seen the film, and of the people who have seen it, one of the few who are qualified to blog about it.

The film defies many conventional techniques in a manner that is stubborn and ritualistic. I would compare it to something like “Brown Bunny”, if only because I know Clarke adores that movie, and I can’t stand it. Our varying reactions to that film indicate a love-it or hate-it degree of separation with no place for discussion in the middle. Either the film succeeds wildly or fails miserably.

And that is what Clarke is going for here. There’s no interest on his part in going straight for middle of the road. Your reaction will be based on an absolute love for what he’s doing, or complete unmitigated hatred. In either case it’s good to have his email address handy to tell him what you thought of it.

In my amazing ability for objective analysis I’ll share why someone could hate the film, and then reasons why someone could love it with equal fervor.

Before I do that I should probably go through the plot outline, if only briefly. An anonymous posting on IMDB indicates the film is centrally focused on “Travis, a High School senior who has fallen out of love with writing comedy songs on guitar and in love with practicing heavy metal. Through a fly-on-the-wall filmmaking approach in which static shots are utilized exclusively, we follow Travis’ ups and downs with friends, love interests, and his instrument.”

I would say that is a fairly accurate description of the film, so kudos to “Anonymous” for posting that. I don’t think the plot is open to a lot of different interpretations, either. That description is verifiable and there isn’t a lot of ambiguity about it.

So stylistically, Clarke is not going for David Lynch territory, although Clarke and Lynch share a similarity. Both of their first films were shot in black and white. Clarke may have shot his in color first, and then transferred it to black and white, but with digital filmmaking today, you can do whatever you like and nobody will hold it against you. So don’t worry about it, Cody. If it’s black and white it’s easy to convince me you shot it that way first.

Before we get too far into this, let’s get one thing straight first. There is no mention of anyone named Shredder in the film. You can coast on advertising your film as a spin off of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for only so long before Shredder must make an appearance. I haven’t read any interviews with Clarke that confirms nor denies this is a TMNT spin off. But if you are a TMNT fan, proceed at your own risk.

However, a guitar does make an appearance. Often guitar players in heavy metal bands like to “shred”, or play on their guitar very quickly, so that might be a more accurate indication of what the title is referring to.

The main character Travis (Cody Clarke) spends some time shredding, albeit rather slowly. An observer could hardly call it shredding. There is not much heavy metal music found in the film, either. So heavy metal fans may watch the film with a heavy heart, too.

But there is music. Some of it is quite good, too. There is a sequence in the middle of the film where Travis invites his friends to play songs. Just like in the film “Sex and the City”, where a plot is interrupted by a shopping sequence, here there is a plot interrupted by people playing music. It’s intimate, and feels like some of your friends came over just to belt a couple tunes before you finished watching your movie.

I think where haters and lovers will differ on the film has everything to do with style. The plot is mercilessly slow. The camera is mercilessly still. The sound is mercilessly quiet. The photography is mercilessly black and white. The actors are mercilessly unaware there is a camera recording them. Those are the building blocks of a contained little movie that will try your patience, but also reward a close viewing.

Because despite how minimalist, and “fly on the wall” the film is, Travis is a character we’re trying to figure out for 87 minutes. His pillow talk conversations with his girlfriend are ones I think viewers can relate to. Beneath his empty words and casual, laissez faire demeanor, is a guy afraid of taking any risks with his life. He’s comfortable sitting in his apartment with the windows shut, and getting reprimanded by his mom. If Travis wore a blanket all the time, and grew a huge beard, it would be a similar lifestyle to the one Osama bin Laden was enjoying in that compound for so long. I don’t know if bid Laden was practicing how to shred, and I don’t think his mom was around, but his wives sure were. I bet once in awhile they poked their head in his room and told him to keep it down so their 25 kids wouldn’t wake up.

Comparing Travis to bin Laden might be a reach. But there is a fine line between a high school kid practicing on his guitar alone in his New York City bedroom, and a jihadist in the making. Just give him a reason. His boredom is a good foundation.

Because Clarke is the main actor in the film, and he directed the film in his home state of New York City, allow me to be the first critic who compares Clarke to Woody Allen. Clarke intends to make one film every year, like Allen. I want this comparison to be true. Because I want Clarke to marry his step daughter, and I want Clarke to make solid, memorable films about New York for years to come.

Cody has posted a link to his movie, which you can watch here:

http://www.codyclarke.com/shredder/

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