Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Reuben, Jan 9, 2010.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Feb 12, 1998
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    Loren Cass

    Studio: Kino International
    Rated: NR
    Film Length: 83 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    Audio: English DD 2.0 mono
    Subtitles: None
    MSRP: $24.95
    Package: Keepcase
    Insert: Kino promotional
    Theatrical Release Date: July 24, 2009 (NYC)
    DVD Release Date: Jan. 5, 2010


    Loren Cass is the kind of art film that will put some viewers to sleep, infuriate others, make many go “Huh?”, and yet linger in the mind like a weird dream you can’t shake. I had all these reactions at one point or another. After playing film festivals for several years, the film was finally given a limited (very limited) theatrical release by Kino International and has now appeared on DVD in a presentation that defines “bare bones”. The DVD is like making a pilgrimage to one of those obscure art house cinemas where the projection isn’t the best, the seats are in disrepair, and the atmosphere is seedy, but people still go because the place shows stuff that no one else has.

    The Film:

    Loren Cass doesn’t have a plot, but it has a definite mood. The time, as we are told by one of the many voices in the soundtrack’s babel of troubled and unidentified speakers, is 1997, and the place is St. Petersburg, Florida. It gradually becomes clear that something terrible has happened. (The film was inspired by the 1996 riot that erupted in St. Petersburg after a white policeman shot and killed a black teenager during a traffic stop, the circumstances of which were hotly disputed. However, these events are never specifically referenced.)

    The film has several main characters. Nicole (Kayla Tabish, one of the film’s producers) is a teenage blond with no apparent emotion in her expression. She’s given to casual sex with patrons at the coffee shop where she’s a waitress. Cale (Lewis Brogan, a pseudonym for writer-director Chris Fuller) is a fellow high school student and also a mechanic to whom Kayla brings her car for repair. Cale, in turn, hangs out with another student, Jason (Travis Maynard), a taciturn spectre covered with tattoos and piercings whose bedroom has newspapers plastered all over the walls and ceiling. Cale prowls St. Petersburg by day and by night, although it’s not clear whether he looking for something or just keeps moving out of habit. Sometimes he gets into fights, and it’s always with someone African-American.

    Writer-director Fuller introduces each of these characters with the kind of cool, formal precision you’d expect in a film by someone like Michael Haneke. Then he follows each of them to the local high school, where everything appears to be empty and deserted, except for one stall in the men’s room where someone is slowly and methodically filling each chamber of a revolver. We never do learn who that someone is. Loren Cass is not the kind of film where the gun in the first act must go off in the third.

    I suspect it would be possible, after multiple viewings, to construct (or maybe intuit) a narrative involving Nicole, Cale and Jason, because the film has a consistency and sense of purpose that you can feel at every moment, just as David Lynch’s films seem all-of-a-piece even when you can’t quite say what’s happening. (In fact, the various parental figures in Nicole’s and Jason’s household are posed with a stilted irrelevance that seems right out of Lynch’s Blue Velvet.) But a film like Loren Cass bypasses narrative in the same way that poetry does. Writer-director Fuller (who has said in interviews that he doesn’t believe in “exposition”) seems to be aiming at something both more intellectual and more visceral than a conventional story: a kind of landscape of despair and desolation, both inner and outer, through which we watch the three main characters wander and occasionally cross paths with other lost souls.

    There are distractions – sex, alcohol, violence, music – but no escape, other than death. One character calmly drives a car to the edge of a bridge and casually jumps. The film also uses footage from the infamous televised suicide of Pennsylvania politician R. Budd Dwyer, because, among other things, media is a constant and essential part of the blasted landscape these characters inhabit.

    The soundtrack is as much a collage as the imagery: a clash of music, interior monologue, poetry, press conferences from unidentified sources (but often clearly referencing racial clashes), and ambient noise. Fuller will sometimes (maddeningly) fade the screen to black, while some disconnected piece of dialogue plays. It’s the visual equivalent of dropping out the soundtrack and leaving only silence, and it’s a risky choice. Either you lose the audience completely, or they lean forward and start paying even closer attention. (I did some of both.)

    According to IMDb, the house where Jack Kerouac died is featured in the film. I’ll have to take their word for it, but if that’s the case, it’s an appropriate reference. If there were a new Beat Generation and a contemporary Allen Ginsberg were to write “Howl”, it would probably look something like Loren Cass.


    Loren Cass was shot on 16mm film (with one sequence appearing to be on videotape), but there is no excuse for Kino’s decision to release it on DVD in a 1.85:1 letterboxed transfer without 16:9 enhancement. We’re not demanding an expensive high-definition transfer here; we’re talking about utilizing basic DVD technology to make the most of the available NTSC resolution that most people now have on their 16:9 sets. In a world where many PC-based software packages have the ability to format a DVD image for 16:9, there is simply no reason for a DVD ever again to be released in standard letterbox.

    As grateful as I am to Kino for providing HTF with a review copy of Loren Cass, I think it’s important that I convey this message to anyone from Kino who may be reading. The constituency that reads these reviews cares very much about technical quality. If you don’t take that seriously, you will lose sales, no matter how groundbreaking or significant the film you are releasing and no matter how well the transfer has otherwise been handled.

    And in fact the transfer is remarkably good, given both the 16mm source and the depleted resolution of a non-enhanced transfer. Even though much of the film takes place at night, the black levels are solid enough, and the detail is sufficiently delineated, that you can always make out what’s happening. Features, expressions and events are all distinct. But they could have been better.

    Colors appeared generally muted and washed out on my 72" screen, and at first I thought that was deliberate. Then I remembered a print review that talked about the film’s bright colors, and I looked at scenes on my computer monitor and was reminded how the weaknesses of video mastering become more evident as screen size increases. The colors in Loren Cass are vivid and distinct at small screen sizes, but realistically so, which is to say that the color has not been pumped up artificially beyond the intensity it would have in everday life. But since the resolution on the disc is so poor, the colors pale as the screen size increases. Here again, Kino’s failure to provide 16:9 enhancement damages the home viewing experience.


    The mono soundtrack is encoded as DD 2.0 at 192kp/ps. Nothing on the DVD jacket states that the track is mono, but I am judging it as such from the fact that it collapses to the center speaker. The track is frequently harsh and sharp, but that seems to be by design, as a way of getting your attention. Much of what’s on the soundtrack doesn’t match what’s on screen. You get disembodied voiceovers, interior monologues, fragments of press conferences. At times the screen fades to black so that you’re forced to focus on the words. It’s a carefully edited soundtrack designed to be as unsettling as the often jarring images.

    Special Features:

    None. This is unfortunate, because Fuller has given press interviews and is clearly not reluctant to talk about his approach to filmmaking, his influences or the lengthy gestation of this particular project. (He will not, however, explain the film’s title.) It appears likely that he would have been more than willing to record a commentary, and with today’s technology that could have been done with a Mac or home PC and submitted over the internet.

    In Conclusion:

    With most films, a reviewer’s task is straightforward: Summarize enough of the narrative, without spoilers, to convey a general impression of what the film is about. (Determining what a film is actually about is a lot tougher than it seems, and if you don’t believe me, look at the volumes being written in the Movies area about Avatar, which has one of the most square-jawed, traditional, even trite narratives in recent film history.)

    Films like Loren Cass that dispense with narrative sometimes feel like a dare, as if the filmmaker were saying, “Either experience my work, or skip it, but don’t let some intermediary package it for you.” Of course, then the reviewer is likely to get some smart-ass (and I’ve had them with other art film reviews) saying, “Eh, you don’t have a clue what it’s about!” Well, for the record, I do. And I’m happy to talk more about Loren Cass with anyone who’s seen it.

    Equipment used for this review:

    Denon 955 DVD player
    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display
    Lexicon MC-8
    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
    SVS SB12-Plus sub

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