By: Bill Arceneaux (Three Beers) –
A collage of beauty from a pile of anarchy. Dash-cam cinema at its most arcless, but not without charm and serendipity. A treasure trove turned into sensationalistic and cultural happenings. What would America produce?
Cameras are everywhere. On our phones, on buildings, on traffic lights, and yes, even on cars. These artificial eyes, potentially always on and never blinking, offer few and far between subjectivity when it comes to what they capture. Pointed in one direction, they are merely static, recording with raw objectivity and as a matter of factness. There’s something wonderful about that. Wonderful and awfully lonely, to be oh so blank in observation. Observation without context is just evidence of something happening. With context, you have a story. Then, things become interesting. But within a series of static shots, is this still possible?
The Road Movie is a found footage assembly of real dashcam moments, captured in the ever so glorious country of Russia. Glorious is used here without irony and is a strictly genuine notion, as the car insurance happenstance of putting a camera on ones dash has produced incredibly powerful and thrilling sequences, punctuated by brilliant attitudes and commentary. It’s not so much a movie as it is a punk musical/music video of smash bang action, anger, coincidence, and the joy of living. Amazing how such extreme footage can express such grand emotions and ideas.
Unfortunately, this exercise in “real” drama is pretty one dimensional. There is complexity of serendipity, where individual moments lend to the unbelievable – what plays on the radio matches what occurs in front of the car or when the driver nearly misses disaster – but it’s all at the service of now. There is no forward momentum or progression of overall story, as there really is no overall story. If there is one, it would be that extraordinary things happen all the time, and here’s the proof. Ultimately, that issue of the objective camera comes into the script/editing, making the whole more static than it should’ve been. Disappointing over titillating, though maybe expecting something akin to porn is a mistake. A vastly wrong-headed one.
It’s the classic thrill picture, with gags strewn throughout to hold our attention, but without the story to grab our hearts. Underwhelming, to say the least, for what is a thrill without a story? There has to be a story, even a short one. The Road Movie might just be post-story cinema, where things happen without the need of a writer or writing team. It’s all in the editing, the assemblage. And yet, to this trained eye, the all that should’ve been is little in the long run. Without arc but with character, you have personality without conscience. Without heart. Without soul. An IMAX screening would be breathtaking visually, but utterly meaningless in the end. Why not just watch World’s Wildest Videos on TV instead?
If all that exists here is the image, then The Road Movie really makes us – the audience – work overtime to find something to latch onto. A purpose or even an idea. Does a movie really need one or both? Roger Ebert once said that, sometimes, a film can just be a film. Be a story, and nothing more. But what happens when you remove the big story? You get a vignette of multiple tales, a small window into another world, that is as resonant as it is fleeting. Individual sequences have allure and action, wonder and life, but leave as soon as they started, moving on to something new. Much like the adrenaline felt by the drivers/riders, The Road Movie comes in waves, making us delirious and exhausted all the same. It induces chemical responses in such a unfiltered manner, that it suggests this might be the meaning of it all. To create an internal roller coaster of feeling. A thrill picture for sure, but with the mindset of a Schlaaang Super Seat (from Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie). Everything/anything is possible, but not necessarily awesome. That’s The Road Movie. That’s post-story cinema. And it’s here. To stay?
The Road Movie (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for each instance of pure, unadulterated road rage
Take a Drink: if this makes you want to visit Russia anytime soon
Do a Shot: knowing that, no matter what, Putin wins.