Bent

| July 12, 2004

I honestly enjoy watching amateur film and video. Always have. There’s this inherent freshness to the work of artists who have newly uncovered their creative voices. Sometimes, the general lack of experience can lead to interesting storytelling choices. It seems that while Hollywood is busy trying to duplicate the next best thing, the indie and amateur scenes are busy discovering the next big thing. It’s because of my fondness for the small film and small filmmaker that I hate to a give a less than favorable review to Bent, an anthology of short films that falls short of its pretentious, but earnest efforts.
Director/Writer Jason Santo, and his cohorts at Mindscape Entertainment, put together this 3 disc box-set of shorts that intends to thread together explorations of people and the paths they choose. Some of the titles included (I’ve had access to only 2 of the 3 advanced copies of Bent) include Time Heals All Wounds, a Twilight Zone inspired tale of two friends locked in time while trying to unlock the secret behind lost love. Again, another time warped tale, involves a man haunted by his deja vu like memories. More Than Money’s Worth tackles that old romantic comedy standard, the woman-hired-to-woo-lovelorn-friend. This time the action is centered in the world of collegiate golf. Aftermath tries to explore the ramifications of a deadly high school shooting on a group of friends. Here Comes Your Man, an exploitive tome of a man who willfully spreads HIV. An experimental piece The Dinner joins two couples on a seemingly normal weekend visit that appears ripe with adulterous mischief. And the busy-titled In The Sky With No Angels, a lonely woman is contacted by an old high school classmate who reveals some vital secrets to her.
It’s unquestionable that Santo genuinely loves being a filmmaker. He speaks with great enthusiasm (in the DVD-extra interviews and in his online journals) about working with his cast and crew, and about the fun they have on their shoots. He gleefully conveys the awe he feels when his words are spoken on the screen. With widened eyes he gushes about the rush he gets trying out new video technology. But, in all his musings, one element is missing. Santo almost never talks about storytelling. He seems so wrapped up in the idea of being a filmmaker, and all the fun stuff that it entails, that he never gets around to talking about the passion involved in telling a good story. And good filmmaking is good storytelling.
What it all amounts to is Santo is really just an idea man. He likes the idea of being a filmmaker, he likes playing with ideas in his head, and he revels in the idea of putting them onto tape. The problem is Santo is so in love with the idea of all of his ideas that he fails to focus on turning an idea into a fully realized story. The end result is that the box set of Bent turns out to be merely a cataloguing of underdeveloped ideas more than a collection of articulate stories.
This is quite evident right off the bat with the short video essays on water that link all of his shorts together into one package. The idea to link his chronicles of life to the journey of water through streams and rivers until finally reaching its destination in the ocean is not that big a stretch, but it can work if done with some sincere effort. But Santo fails to style these essays into more genuine and thoughtful observations, instead relying upon redundant generalities such as “…just as we are controlled by our emotions, so to is the ocean controlled by an unseen force, or — just as the sun will melt the snow away, so does our fa├žade wash away to reveal our true inner selves.”
The real problem, though, with the water motif is, as a collection of films, Bent is not full of lucid observations on life and the travels of man. The films included are more of a collection of gimmick-driven ideas inspired by the likes of Tales From the Crypt.
Most all of these simple tales fail to move past their token beginnings to become fully realized stories. Aftermath comes off more as an outsiders rant on all of the violence witnessed on TV, rather than an emotional insider’s look at a personal and violent incident. The Dinner is merely an excuse for a lesbian love scene, setup by faux “experimental” b/w suspense gimmickry. And Here Comes Your Man tells the controversial story of a man willfully spreading HIV as if it were a late night horror movie, instead being harsh social commentary. All of these stories are ripe for the picking, but Santo never digs too deeply under the surface to explore the humanity of these situations.
Only in More Than Money’s Worth does he demonstrate any skill for storytelling. Though, not original by any stretch, Money takes its time to build a story arc and allows space for the characters to show some development.
By my estimations, Santo has been making films for close to 10 years, and I’m afraid his storytelling skills haven’t caught up to his years of filmmaking experience. For this I had to give this box set low marks. I also took into account that the DVD is out on the consumer market, so if he’s asking film fans to support his pleasures, then he’ll need to get more serious and do some serious work on putting out more worthy products. Hopefully we will see better stuff from him in the future. He is certainly putting in an impressive effort.

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