Incident at Bridgeville
by Ben Beard
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The first movie to be featured in our humble little column falls under the “no-budget” category, most likely shot on weekends by friends and friends of friends. Shot on a home video camera, An Incident at Bridgeville follows an ambitious science fiction storyline, replete with killer androids, while asking big questions like, Why do governments exist? What does marriage mean? And, Is there such a thing as true love? All while an annoying, seemingly omnipotent filmmaker shoots a documentary about the various characters living in the small town.
The story begins with Sam and Emily a troubled married couple. Down on his luck and struggling with both his business and his wife, Sam at the movie’s beginning is withdrawing from his wife. Meanwhile, Emily wants more intimacy from Sam, looking for meaning out of their relationship. He’s distant, non-committal, and self-absorbed. She’s bitchy, demanding, controlling, and insistent. Their relationship seems on the verge of falling apart.
At the same time, Molly Bowers, a waitress at the corner café, suffers over the death of her husband. Her grieving appears to entail lounging around in a silk chemise and doing excessive makeup. Then a bald, naked man appears at her door. Bowers, as any single woman would do, invites the naked man to live with her. His name turns out to be William and ‘s an alien from the planet Demison. This leads me to my first rule of filmmaking. We’ll call this rule Lucas’s Law: Don’t use stupid names. Look up planets in astronomy books, copy from old sci fi writers, anything, but do not use stupid names.
Emily’s friend, Megan, keeps a Real World-esque video diary. Megan has moved back to Bridgeville after being dumped by her meanie boyfriend in California , where she was an important scientist. Heartbroken, Megan is looking for answers as to why she’s feeling so much pain.
Sam and Emily’s relationship takes a turn for the worse when Sam meets an alien femme fatale named Cindy who claims to be from, you guessed it, the planet Demison. As Cindy begins seducing Sam, the self-professed alien explains that a Doctor Dorn, who works nearby, is working on a race of killer cyborgs. Cindy convinces Sam that Dorn needs to be killed.
William, the bald naked man, talking like Starman crossed with Rain Man, stares at Molly and asks questions like, “This is food?” and Molly soon falls in love with him. But William is on a life-threatening mission of his own, “to fulfill his destiny” and to “eliminate evil from the earth.” As the various characters fall in and out of love, the movie ends with a strange, almost comedic, apocalyptic turn.
And if all of this sounds exciting, well, it should be. Save for the fact that all of the action, all of the drama, everything really, occurs off-camera. The result is a convoluted, static film that breaks the fundamental rule of show, don’t tell. By filtering all of the myriad confrontations, scheming, fighting, and despair through the interviews of the documentary filmmaker, the movie dilutes any chance at real drama. The Russian filmmaker Tarkovsky is fast-paced compared to this. Even worse, the interviewer’s obnoxious country accent and vaguely metaphysical questions come off as campy. The movie’s silly political statements and endless platitudes are another reminder that what constitutes a good film first and foremost is drama.
Rule number two: the best parts of the film must be on screen. Don’t talk about events. Show them.
From the first shot, the movie looks muddled. Even taking into account the cheap cameras, the compositions are weak. Perhaps it’s impossible with this level of camera. But it’s a series of tripod shots. There is no action. The camera never moves. So this brings us to rule number three. If you don’t have any equipment, invent. Movies were from the beginning a study of movement and light. Strap the camera to a shopping cart and there’s your tracking shot. Hang it from the ceiling, shoot from the roof, from a ladder, spin that baby on a makeshift crane. Attach it to the actor’s shoulders with a harness.
An Incident at Bridgeville is an ambitious film and those involved should get some credit for the attempt. It’s also overly complicated, humorless, and tiresome. Writer-director Jason Sibert attempts to construct a meditation on love and the human condition, a science fiction drama about the human soul, but instead, through pregnant pauses and rambling monologues, delivers a slow film too-long by half.
This brings us to our fourth and fifth laws of independent filmmaking. Both are absolute. Rule Number four, which henceforth shall be called Kane’s Law: the weaker the conceit, the shorter the film must be. Or, if it ain’t Citizen Kane, lock that baby in under 90 minutes. In this case, the film should have been under an hour. If the Twilight Zone can do it, so can you.
Rule number five: Fight within your weight class. Alien invasions, cyborg attacks, etcetera - these are the tropes of bad drive-in films and big budget Hollywood . The lower the budget, the simpler the story should be. Spinning out yarns you can’t show and can’t afford makes for bad storytelling.
I kept wondering how much better the film would have been if the entire movie had been confined to one apartment.
Ben Beard is writer and critic living in the Midwest.
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