Spanning 1981 to 2017, this collection of shorts from Michael J. Saul (cross-reference below) is a fascinating study of the filmmaker’s development, imagination and ability to turn unabashed daydreams into cinematic reality. Largely told without dialogue, the camera’s voice is heard louder than anyone’s—the role of music also becomes a vital component in the storytelling. A backdrop of nature sets many of the scenes and a covey of up angles in the various forests are at one with dreaming with eyes wide open.
Collecting worms for a fishing trip is most easily done at night, armed with a flashlight while scouring a well-soaked lawn. But for an impressionable boy, the creepy crawlers fuel some scary moments while trying to sleep after the nocturnal harvest.
Those who have ever fantasized about (or participated in) a sexual threesome (two men and a woman, in this instance) will thrill to heavenly bodies coupling or tripling in various ways in glorious black and white while being metaphorically supported by soaring trees.
The film is most certainly balletic in scope with the actors (Lindsay Marquino, Vince Perez, Rob Westin) moving with the greatest of ease, entirely in sync and sympathy with Frederick Bayani Mabalot’s score (notably the sliding strings underpinning a wee bit of bondage). The inevitable moments of conflict add another level of vérité.
Clearly Saul is experimenting with all manner of film techniques, resulting in—at times—deliberately murky images and some wonderful infusions of colour (especially green and pink). Stephen Miller’s metallic-hued music ideally supports the vision of a young man’s journey from mundane shaving to a flashing, slow-motion grin that is a welcome contrast to the varying frames.
Constructed around a literal mirror image between the camera and it’s radiant subject (David Allen Payne’s alluring visage, curly locks and buff torso will cause hearts of all sexes to flutter), the notion of worshipping at the throne of beauty is creatively explored. Both men prove they’re certainly ready for their close-up.
Boat 14, (2004)
With a look and feel of Henry Scott Tuke’s “Boys Bathing” paintings, the innocence, joy and sense of fun from two young men are captured and celebrated to a T. The splash party is a hoot, and the timely appearance of a dragonfly most definitely supports doing what comes naturally.
Saul’s most recent production is a loving tribute to composer Miller’s far-reaching soundscape as the filmmaker creates a universe that speaks to magical spheres, blissfully unaware of creatures and sun “stars” that dazzle the eye with every ray. The work of Lars von Tier (Melancholia) and Ron Fricke’s Samsara (cross-references below) readily come to mind.
Employing a sprinkling of love letters as the only evidence of human beings is a deft touch that is at one with Saul’s love of those around him, then and now.
The Cipher and the Boar, 1981—reconstructed 2017
The earliest film and the longest of the set is notable for Saul’s ability to simultaneously bring all of the elements of filmmaking into a comprehensive whole, that—ever engagingly—asks more questions than it answers. Two brothers must find their own way in an increasingly dangerous world after Papa brutally leaves the planet.
Told again in black and white (and originally in 16 mm film), Saul’s camerawork far anticipates the hand-held jitters of The Blair Witch Project and steadily builds suspense as the boys’ world becomes—in every sense of the word—darker with every step of the way.
A wonderful symbol (and brilliantly realized given the special effects available to Saul at the time), is a bare-chested guardian angel whose appearances offer hope and a splash of colour on many planes.
Do enjoy the trip and be thankful that one of the original cast members saved the reconstructive day by still having a copy of the original VHS tape.
Beginning filmmakers should go to school on this set of “let’s see what I can do” productions. Film buffs should plan a viewing to marvel at singular work and the development of one artist’s craft. JWR