On Aug. 25, the Arkansas Cinema Society will present Jordan Mears' "New West" as part of its Filmmaker Spotlight series. If you're interested in what is going on in the Arkansas film community you might check it out. A ticket will cost you $10, and the movie runs about 45 minutes. The screening starts at 7:30 p.m. and there's a Q&A with Mears and members of the cast and crew after the show.
So you're out by 9 p.m. or so -- you could still get supper and think about what you've just seen.
I saw "New West" a couple of weeks ago; it's good for Mears and company and for the vitality of the local film scene. Lots of people start movies; very few actually finish them, and very few of those "finished" movies ever get played on a big screen before paying customers in a real theater. So congratulations all around.
I like the audacity of "New West." It is a slight and filthy thing that I imagine was a lot of fun to make. It's sort of Quentin Tarantino meets Bojack Horseman without any of the existential blather, a self-consciously low-budget bloody murder comedy that embraces both its literal and intellectual poverty. It has no aspirations beyond amusing its makers and its audience, in that order.
"New West" is an inside joke, and like all inside jokes it has the potential to be divisive. Many people will not like it.
If you do like it, it will likely be because you are seeing around the sides of the movie and enjoying the spirit and the cast and crew involved.
LIKE 'A BOUT DE SOUFFLE'
Not to get too heavy-handed about what is an adorable but imminently forgettable little film, but watching it made me think about Jean-Luc Godard when he got the opportunity to make "A bout de souffle," the movie we know as "Breathless."
Godard was not the first Cahiers du Cinema critic who got a chance to make his own movie; that honor went to Godard's friend and rival Francois Truffaut who, in 1959, made the deeply autobiographical and obviously heartfelt character study "The 400 Blows."
Godard, perhaps realizing he couldn't possibly make a film as honest and affecting as "The 400 Blows," chose to go in the other direction and make a superficial film about tissue-thin characters who couldn't care less about their own fates. If you want to know what "Breathless" is about, all you need to watch is the first scene, where a petty thief steals the Oldsmobile belonging to an American military officer.
To be obvious about it, "Breathless" is about a French punk (Godard) who hijacks an American vehicle -- the film noir gangster movie -- and takes it on a joyride. That's all it is -- a demonstration of how little you need to make a movie. ("A girl and a gun," Godard famously opined.)
A HORSE MASK AND GUNS
With "New West," it's a horse mask and a bunch of guns, plus some cheap but entertaining CGI-enhanced shootouts.
I hesitate to get too much into what plot there is, but here's what I took away: Trigger (co-writer Coty Greenwood), Gene (played as a young cowboy by Zach Keast and as a broken-down reprobate by Matt Jordan) and a horse were once partners in crime, robbing banks and kidnapping and doing murders.
Then they became a popular singing duo. Then they split up, with Trigger going on to wealth and fame and drugs and sex as a leading Los Angeles-based producer, and Gene slipping down, playing small-town venues with a toy facsimile of trigger in hand.
After one particularly uninspired gig, Gene is gunned down by a trio of silent black-suited assassins in Dia de los Muertos masks. Trigger attends his funeral and is drawn into a revenge scheme hatched by the heretofore unmentioned third member of their old outlaw gang.
Everyone involved is quite aware of how silly this is, and most of the humor in this sometimes very funny film derives from the barrage of unhinged profanity unleashed by the characters. Greenwood as Trigger is especially good at swearing, and whether or not it's an intentional homage, it's a lagniappe that he sounds quite a lot like Will Arnett as the Bojack Horseman character when he delivers them.
WHITE WATER TAVERN
Local audiences will recognize the White Water Tavern, which plays a dive with an unprintable name, and possibly a few other landmarks, but aside from the license plates on the cars and a framed state flag in the background of one scene, there's no Arkansas-signifying going on here. Which suggests that perhaps the filmmakers have aspirations of wider distribution, not an impossible ask in these days of streaming services begging for content. (I wouldn't be surprised if "New West" lands on Netflix and develops something of a cult following.)
All that said, I'm not sure "New West" wouldn't have been as effective as a 23-minute short. There are a couple of really good ideas -- the physical humor, especially the gags involving the latex horse mask, is pretty good. There are no stiff wooden performances like you sometimes see when filmmakers are obliged to wrangle their friends and family to fill out a cast.
All the technical aspects of the film are top-notch, including the music (contributed by co-writer and co-star Greenwood). While you could argue that the writing -- almost always the weakest link in productions of this type -- is lazy, the movie's lack of discipline and scattershot approach is also probably the biggest source of its charm.
It's like you're listening to a story being made up in real time by a precocious potty-mouthed 6-year-old who has spent an unnerving amount of time with his pervy uncle's back issues of Guns and Ammo and Penthouse. In a way, it's really cute. In another way, really disturbing. In other words, real cinema.
Put that on your DVD box, Mr. Mears.