JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Phantom Images (Director/Writer: Matthew Doyle) - October 31, 2011

Phantom Images

4.5 4.5
73 min.

Life initiates art

How fascinating, within hours of one another, to view two films created from a singular point of view. An Injury to One (trying to fulfill the remainder of the oft-quoted union adage: is an injury to all) is Travis Wilkerson’s view of the life, times and death of radical labour organizer Frank Little that suffers from a decided lack of contrasting voices. Matthew Doyle’s Phantom Images “dramatic essay” examines a filmmaker’s life through a covey of scenes from his final screenplay: a production that will never see the light of cinematic day due to loss of funding and whose director/writer is in the advanced ravages of pancreatic cancer so unlikely to oversee the final cut even if a financial angel can be found. While the former has much historical value, it can’t overcome the lopsided narrative; the latter is a frequently brilliant success because its author has no qualms about putting himself under the fictional microscope using the wide array of characters to make his points without slipping into a staged lecture where gay life in the 21st century steps into the limelight.

Doyle’s technique follows filmmaker Darwin King (Rob Moretti gives a well-nuanced performance as the dying artist who even in his 40’s wonders if he’s already “outlived my creative self”) who turns the camera on himself to reflect on a variety of issues ranging from war, fidelity, guilt of being alive, racism and ethics to set up the next “scene” of his last gasp work, American Personae, which is being rehearsed by an unsuspecting cast—unaware that the cameras will never roll on the fruits of their labours.

Reinforcing the notion of self, what little music there is consists of chestnuts from the classical, solo piano repertoire, notably Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Satie. Realizing that today’s youthful “queerdom” is much different than in his day, the writer has a trio of black men take on much of the situational load. Isaiah (Barron A. Myers delights the screen with every appearance whether dutifully hetero or teetering over the edge of honesty) seems to be a lazy NYC actor who only consents to take more auditions when Celia (Nike Rubin) gives him extra special attention on their private casting couch. Ex-marine, costume designer, artist wannabe Wesley (Samuel Encarnacion is another find destined for future assignments on either side of the sexual divide) senses Isaiah’s dilemma, which may well be resolved at the next private fitting of his pink-triangle concentration camp garb. Playing King’s/Doyle’s alter ego, Rasheeq, Elizay Pierre-Louis Jr. is an ideally angry young man—equally capable of being tossed out of class for branding a colleague “an arrogant Jew” or readily submitting to scar-making bondage with a bitter daddy (Stephen Taylor) that just likes to “play with my toys.”

By journey’s end, it’s abundantly clear that having survived the HIV/AIDS epidemic (only to be stricken with another form of cancer …), King has grave concerns as to how the larger gay community since the late ‘90s has been considerably calmed down and lured into the notion of heterosexual bliss—just with different equipment. Striving to have the same lifestyle (monogamy, marriage, home, picket fence, etc.) as the breeders has also sucked the creative drive of the 10% of the population that dreams of going for their fitting and ending up hot, sweaty and satiated on a different sort of cutting room floor.

Very happy to report that by cobbling together such an imaginative commentary on the state of lavender now, Doyle has conclusively disproved his hero’s thesis. Can’t wait for another installment: if only the money comes through! JWR

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