Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Film Appreciation - Big Dumb Moon Face

This week in Film Apprecation, Jay Burleson goes split screen as he takes in Ellen Page and The Tracey Fragments.

 The Tracey Fragments (2007)
Directed by Bruce McDonald
Starring Ellen Page, Maxweel McCabe-Lokos, Ari Cohen, and Slim Twig

This film is based on a book by Maureen Medved and directed by Bruce McDonald, who has directed a few episodes of the widely popular TV show Degrassi: The Next Generation.  Tracey Fragments is anything but an episode of that show.

Edited together with over five images on the screen at once, the film features many fragments from the main character, Tracey, on screen together. It's stylishly shot and edited and includes some scenes that were taped on low-end cameras or perhaps filmed off a TV set. Sometimes the same images are just repeated with different parts of them cropped out, and other times its a complete assault of various images. I saw this film back in 2008 and was highly impressed with the style and took a lot from it in terms of how I approached some of my own work.

The movie is based around 15-year-old Tracey Berkowitz and her story, which mainly revolves around things that happened after her little brother, Sonny, vanished without a trace. Ellen Page plays Tracey and gives a stellar performance. Like a lot of her very early work, she's completely fearless here; it's sometimes very hard to watch but overall very rewarding. I love Page in Juno, but her performance in Fragments is of a completely different vein. Her earlier works are raw and meatier, this is no exception, and it works very well.

Like my mention of Last Days, this isn't a film that everyone is going to love, but it's definitely one that I appreciate a lot. It seems that director Bruce McDonald took the split screen route to keep things fresh and to not let the film be completely dreary, since it deals with some rather depressing elements. He's also stated that they wanted to play around with how memories work, what's going on in our head, what these memories might look like. I really enjoy this angle and its a nice touch to funnel all of that through a teenager.

The Tracey Fragments also applied an interesting touch to post production. After the film was complete they put the 14 days of rushes on their website for download and let anyone in the world edit the footage however they saw fit, but no split screen. McDonald stated that the footage could be edited together as a feature film or used to promote your own band. This is a really neat concept and I wish I had been aware of it years ago. The website is now defunct, but the footage is still out there if you want some editing practice. Considering how the final film looked, I think this was an ingenious way to draw attention to the project, and I applaud the filmmakers for taking that approach.

The editors of this film deserve a lot of the credit as well. The film was shot in only 14 days but took over 9 months to edit, and it's easy to see why. The film editors traveled to a lot of the film festival screenings just to see how the film played, and Bruce McDonald says this is uncommon as usually just the director and a few actors attend these screenings. So here's a big congrats to editors Jeremiah Munce and Gareth C. Scales.

I think this film, while not a highly known work now, will end up being a huge cult classic in the years to come. It'll be remembered as one of Page's best works as a teenager and will be adored by fans of avant-garde filmmaking. I think that if true, it will be the perfect status for a film so oddly unique and enjoyable.

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