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Fotopoulos likes his low-rent Hopper compositions harshly lit and underscored by a persistent drone. Back Against the Wall's anonymous atmosphere, pointless conversations, and recurring set-ups hold the promise of sex (or at least violence). But the movie is all about unreleased tension. Shannon's other activities include playing chess and listening to the complaints of his no-neck friend (Ernie E. Frantz). When Mulcahy, who apparently works in a strip club, models a series of little nighties for Shannon, he scarcely looks up from his book to acknowledge her. While the viewer patiently waits to discover if the movie is Shannon's long crack-up or just a prolonged slow-burn, Fotopoulos fastidiously maps a little corner of hellbrutal depression is mocked by the wind-up clown sitting on Shannon's night table.
Once Mulcahy leaves Shannon for a marginally livelier, more appropriate sleazemeister, the film's tone shifts first to the blandly inane and then the cumulatively insane. Mulcahy's new boyfriend is a would-be pornographer in hock to the mobhe gets beat up but won't tell her why. This fatal association leads to an extravagantly long scene on what could be the set of a porn film (half a dozen women making up, snorting coke, and sitting around in costume). The eventual payoff is far more grotesque. Mulcahy meets her depressing fateor is it a happy ending?in a No Exit motel room with Frantz.
Anthology's mini-retro includes two other Fotopoulos features. The ritualistic Migrating Forms (1999) opens with a baleful sound blast and a stroboscopic flicker. When it appears, the pockmarked image suggests Videodrome's sinister signal transmitting from the apartment in Eraserhead: A woman enters a barren room and sits at the table opposite a barely responsive man. The desultory, mumbled conversation is a prelude to their going to bed. Anti-erotic in the extreme, this bread-and-water sexual transactionobserved by a pet cat in extreme close-upforms the basis for a kind of structural film loop in which the woman keeps returning (always in the same dress) as a pustule on her back grows ever larger. Ultimately, her partner discovers a corresponding growth on his shoulder, and before long there are dead bugs all over the bathroom.
Back Against the Wall
Written and directed by James Fotopoulos
Anthology Film Archives
Through March 18
Something of a departure, at least in terms of material, Fotopoulos's recent Christabelshot in color (on video and 16mm)is inspired by the Samuel Coleridge poem of vampire seduction. A mist of dissolving faces and superimposed female nudes wafts through the winter woods. The images are often barely decipherable; the recited poem dissolves into an overlapping incantatory sound mix. This low-grade hallucination plays like a nervous breakdownwhich is certainly one way to interpret Coleridge's account of the innocent Christabel's sexual possession by the daemonic Geraldine.
Fotopoulos is applying his method to art rather than exploitation. The effects can be beautiful (the landscape bathed in a red gold haze) and even eerie (as when one woman's face is superimposed on the other's torso). Despite the potentially lurid material, the filmmaker remains withholding. He refuses to dramatize what Camille Paglia approvingly called the poem's "blatant lesbian pornography," or indeed, to even acknowledge it.
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