JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Don't Change the Subject (Director: Mike Stutz) - May 5, 2012

Don't Change the Subject

4 4
98 min.

Artful dance of premeditated death

It’s hard to imagine anyone not having been affected by suicide. Those who have successfully offed themselves top the list. Yet the legions of “survivors” (i.e., failed attempts) and those who have either discovered (in person: What could be more harrowing?) or lost a relative, friend or lover are left with a host of conflicting emotions, interests and attitudes.

For filmmaker Mike Stutz—who has no shortage of real-life death examples (notably discovering his dying then dead mom at the tender age of 12)—perpetual pain is largely masked by dark humour.

In this cathartic film, the weakest moments stem from Stutz joking through tragedy and attempting to forge an “everyman” link to self-inflicted death. Happily, at times magically, the finest frames of this generous length documentary are laced with art-most-creative: music, dance, theatre and animation very assuredly temper the trauma of lost souls—if only those who have prematurely made their exit from planet Earth had held on for one more curtain call.

In my own experience, the most startling death (hanging) seemed to have found its source in a love triangle without any chance for resolution. Back in that day (mid ‘70s)—even as I struggled with my own uncertainties of identity—I had a far repressed fantasy of having a place in the realm of unthinkable love. Daniel’s sudden departure served as an early warning sign that telling too much truth might be scarier than quietly existing as the person others want you to be (or so you think …).

For Stutz, his compilation of artistic expressions fire on all cylinders. Charlie Recksieck’s mallet-rich (a kinder, gentler Danse Macabre; the snippet form Fauré’s haunting Pavane is most welcome), guitar-informed score is a wonderful aural tonic to the frequent interviews with those who “failed,” those around them and various professionals trying to make sense of it all.

Danielle Peig’s uncompromising choreography (marvellous in its “franaticism” and “zappy” electronic soundscape) set to the text of successful suicides’ autopsy reports is only trumped by the beautifully honest from the oh-so-young-yet-mature dancers notably Jordan Johnson).

For theatre buffs, the re-enactment of Stutz’s horrific discovery positively soars on the second take when the gender bending roles are reversed (cross-reference below).

Finally, Patrick Horvath’s deftly minimal, black-and-white animation—inventively dealing with unstoppable tears and truncated body parts—speaks silent volumes for all who choose to hear.

A film that has uneven moments, it will reward anyone who has ever felt the guilt of a newly lost life and wondered, “What should I have done differently?” JWR

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Director - Mike Stutz
Choreographer - Danielle Peig
Producers - Matt Ima, Fiona Walsh
Director of Photography - Jay Lafayette
Art Direction - Britt Woods
Editor - Gail Yasunaga
Original Music - Charlie Recksieck
Animator - Patrick Horvath
Cross-reference(s): Please click on the image link(s) below
for related work: