“Who’s going to want to see a film about me? … It’s hell and gone from glamourous.”
—Talia Baca, prostitute, mother, addict
Faux documentaries cheat both reality and fiction. Without any tip off, viewers can be led down many incredible paths as history is, apparently, captured (It’s All Gone Pete Tong, cross-reference below) or a tragic life shared with the rest of the world. In short side of nothing, director/writer Phil Garcia, like the oft-used technique of the “play within the play,” has his documentary crew turn the camera on themselves once their principal subject’s strangled remains turn up under a blanket in the desert.
And he very nearly pulls off a major success. Ironically, Garcia soars in the telling of Talia’s (Brooke ‘Mikey’ Anderson, who grabs our attention faster than her tricks and compels us to stay long after the main event) crack-and-cum tale only to merely sail through filmmaker Anna Corrin’s (Katherine Wendt, ready and able if a touch light plumbing the emotional depths) pre-murder obsession, post-death chore of salvaging the truncated project.
The first half of the film contains a gritty depiction of Talia’s life both on the streets (urging the johns to finish quickly then pay up faster) and at home, relaxing with drugs, the boyfriend (Alex Quattlander as Kevin comes across too sweet in the happy moments to really convince on the other side of light) and a wide-eyed child (Raymond Carrion) whose own addiction to video games removes him from the out-of-control lives of his wayward guardians.
Cheryl Christensen’s camera is purposely challenged by a shortage of bulbs, but the murky result successfully adds verisimilitude to the hazy views of the subjects. People come and go: Super Dave (Jeremy Longoria) pops in for either some “supplies” or a quickie with Kevin in the kitchen; Gail, Talia’s on-the-road-to-rehab mother (played with real familial burn by Robin McDonald) roars in for a shouting match that can’t fail to resonate with any children who have ever crossed the line of their parents’ expectations.
When Talia abandon’s the back alley for pornography, the misery and mayhem seem to have a chance of abating. Under the careful tutelage of skin-flick Madam Rebecca (Carre Provance, managing to look as damp as her customers), the neophyte star is talked out of her school jumper and into a five-star solo session that is marvellously “seen” through the reaction shots of the director and crew.
But before you can say “in for the close up,” Kevin loses his paper route and Talia’s forced again into the musky back seats of the nation (the “Tag You’re It” T-shirt is a nice touch).
Soon the mystery’s afoot. Anna picks up the sleazy trail of her friend/subject’s death and follows it right through to a candidacy announcement for the Governor of Arizona (Sandy Durko is a most convincing slimer). Throughout this extended search, the clues are delivered by on-film interviews with those who were near Talia for her final command performance. Sadly, without Anderson on the screen, the mini-sleuthumentary soon loses steam. We miss Talia more than her friends and colleagues.
There are some great moments—entrapment of the rich and powerful is always fun, but the pace and tone dwindle until the prequel moments both tidy up the finish and remind us once again what was lost.
Garcia has shown courage, skill and perseverance in pulling this project together. This production has so much to say about the notion of what drives people to deadly, disastrous choices, that his next commentary on the human condition will be eagerly awaited. JWR