Jul '02 [Home]

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Review: Bobby G. Can't Swim
Written and directed by John-Luke Montias

The Nashville Independent Film Festival (06/05-09)
by John Gosslee

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Bobby G. Can't Swim
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Hit Man

Roughed up early for a street culture offense, he accepts his due with a crooked smile; gets razzed for it by his trashcan homies: "I heard you was flat on your…" Word spreads quickly through his 15-watt, 11th-Ave circuit, a bedraggled fringe on the apron of Hell's Kitchen.

He's got one shirt he carries more than wears, bunks with his Latina girlfriend on a single bed she turns tricks on in the afternoon. Never idle, he works his sunlit, riverview coke rounds on foot with con man openness and Irish pluck. Never arrogant, when he strikes the kilo deal with wide-eyed Wall Street fidgets in a darkened bar, we share the excitement he disguises, but hunch fretfully as he leaps into the deep end of the pool.

Arrangements proceed smoothly. Coco, his family-man supplier, hooks him up with Astro, sullen and bejeweled, who produces the big-time goods. But the nervous Wall Streeters have escrowed the cash: no laundry, no tickie. Dauntless, he persuades Astro, and tucks the package under his shirt. He can't risk asking him for cab fare.


Bobby G. is marked for misfortune. We know this about him, like we know it about Fast Eddie Felson or Rizzo, Terry Malloy or Harry Fabian (The Hustler, Midnight Cowboy, On the Waterfront, Night and the City). By the time we meet them, they have already thrived on it as few of us could. What fascinates an audience after that recognition is made is the irony that reshapes the new threat to life into an intimately lived experience. By a process in which fluke triggers imagination, will confronts vagary and truthful narrative distills into poetic axiom.

With his winning way, he's no loser, though he is out of his depth. Fact is, Bobby G. can't sink. Like Stephen Daedalus, he is, more accurately, out of his element.

All my brothers, my brothers-in-law, they're always telling me what a good-hearted guy I am. You don't get to be good-hearted by accident. You get kicked around long enough, you get to be a real professor of pain.
(Marty, 1955)

Bobby G.'s hardest lesson in pain (and loneliness) comes in a sea-change wave of remorse. He heaves up his guts and, with them, his demons. He has always relied on his girl, his sidewalk buddies; when most tested, he returns their love—and the kindness of strangers—many times over.

In his own element at last, he floats, redeemed, escaping, fallen. But, then, his wings would have melted anyway in the Puerto Rican sun.

With this award-winning independent film, writer John-Luke Montias distills a truthful narrative on the lush, big-budget order of Atlantic City into poetic Hudson axiom, and peoples it with richly realized and memorable denizens of the purgatorial urban allegory.

Montias has won well-deserved recognition for his own frame-for-frame dominance as Bobby G., a performance that marks him, much as Arizona Dream marked Vincent Gallo, as a young actor capable of delivering to audiences, literary or otherwise 'ivory-tower' who ignore the silly spitballs of Damon and Afleck, the righteous rock through the window the young De Niro once did.


Bobby G. Can't Swim. (Color. Running time: 89 mins.) Produced by Gill Holland and Michael Pilgram. Distributed by Gabriel Film Group. Several showings daily at the Quad 13 (btw 5th/6th) until 7/11. Details, trailers, and other background at www.bobbygcantswim.com

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The Nashville Independent Film Festival (06/05-09)

NIFF, NIFF, Hurrah! … or … Like NIFF with Your Tea?
by John Gosslee

Arriving at one o'clock on Wednesday, June 5, I attended the children's screening of international shorts. Childish imagery and thought is more empathic and malleable than our refined adult understanding. The kids responded to every frame with predictable surprise and gratitude. The last film, whether they realized it or not, had them singing the close and swaying as the lights came on.

After lunch, I checked out Maangamizi: The Ancient One, an epic African film dealing with insanity, art, and family reconciliation. A long film and worth the surprise ending, it is definitely one to add to the catalogue of need-to-see movies for spiritual value; Maangamizi offers an array of sacred values. During its showing, the distributor of the Czech film, Little Otik, was sitting two seats down from me. I eagerly awaited Saturday night's premiere and, while watching it, knew that my thoughts about the twisted maternal feelings and Pinocchio clichés that filled the screen had been worth the four-day wait. I really had to tear myself away to attend the roof party.

How Harry Became A Tree, a superb story of father, son, son's wife, and town seducer set in Ireland, stole my attention for two hours. (It made me wait to use the restroom.) Dealing with issues of jealousy, respect, bartering, and transmutation into an actual tree, I enjoyed each uncompromising character and disliked the interpretation of hard-headedness. Directed by Serbian Goran Paskaljevik, it undoubtedly will be the easiest to find at the rental shop due to its cast [Colm Meaney, Cillian Murphy, Adrian Dunbar].

I sped a mile across town to a party at the Film Workers Club, whose main source of income is all those Army commercials. After a few glasses of red wine, I heard the horses gallop back to the theatre to catch my favorite films. Short films convey information in a time-constrained and therefore concentrated manner and can portray much more meaning than traditional features—which are often more about the acting than the moral.

"Brave New Shorts" was the title of these perfectly shaped and major-studio quality pieces that conveyed the artisanship of minds at liberty. These films—and there are assuredly more like them—are good enough to be watched individually. Theatres should show short films during lunch time for the avid seeker who is bored with the work day and in the evening for couples who have a few places to go, but lag time in between. With a $2 to $4 admission, I would rather see one of those and go about my life than obligate myself to a non-interactive screen for over an hour.

The next day's films were less rewarding, with the premiering Vanderbilt documentary, Partners Of The Heart, about a young Black janitor whose brilliant intelligence was used by a white doctor in the thirties and how, together, they created modern heart surgery possibilities.

Sister Helen, a documentary, was one of my favorites of the entire festival as she routed out the demons of drug use and saved the souls of sinners. A Catholic nun who ran a recovery clinic in the Bronx and took people off the street, Sister Helen was inspirational in her love. This striking commentary on a possible future saint—if she can have three miracles attributed to her after her death and her body hasn't decayed in a hundred years —is a must-see for anyone with the slightest philanthropic inclination.

The only other film of the evening was American Saint which now had two stars in the title. The main character was trying to get a part playing Kerouac in a Milos Forman movie. Watching his quest for this experience gave me some insights into what the Beat movement was about. Overall though, this film—with the intricate dialogue of live dead poets of the era, and someone from that era playing a major supporting role—was a boring and a misused excuse for time spent on a piece of videotape.

Friday brought more shorts, more explosions of simple, attainable ideas highlighted in each story. "Tennessee Film Night" offered two exquisite examples of mid-budget fifteen-minute mainstream shorts by Ghostwater Productions in Knoxville. I was surprised, to say the least, that they had enough vision to match sounds and images so perfectly with standard shots that I wept at the end of the first one. These films' themes were eternal love in an understandable male and female form and with facing one's fears.

"Short Observations" was a grouping of mature, lighthearted expressions that softly sang to the laughter of each in the audience. Salinidad (Salad Days) jaunted with a concise humor as it culled life and death into the cosmic union of restaurant foods. After life apart, perhaps since time began, a betrothed fish and some salad meet coincidentally and find happiness together in a fat man's blood vessels.

Friday evening brought a party in one of Music Row's largest and most established publishing companies, Rive Droite/Right Bank Music. I had the pleasure of meeting the producer of The Slaughter Rule which, like the Hollywood The Slaughter House Rules, is about football. It presents the producer's story of growing up in small-town Montana where a modified six-man version of the game is played. Popular sports are not my forté and I chose to view Little Otik instead.

Little Otik maintained subliminal sexual imagery while stating obvious sexual disorders like pedophilia. It also included psychotic disorders. In her desire to have a child with her husband, a barren lady becomes attached to a wooden doll. The husband accepts this behavior and, while discouraging it, falls prey. Everyone has to see this film. It's especially worth seeking out for those who like exploring the strange and surreal, well served up, from a safe distance.

Sunday was the awards ceremony, which displayed Gary Schwartz's stop motion film that he shot in the Frist Auditorium during the festival. I stopped by at his invitation and watched what he had accomplished with the commission of the festival. It was not stunning, but time consuming and well worth watching for thirty-one seconds.

John Waters, who made Pecker, and other films that were not half as expressive or allegorical, sped through a thoroughly recited presentation as if he was trying to get it over with. The theatre was full and people laughed as Waters, in a suit and neon orange sandals, animated his words and body. Interesting, but unfair to the people who paid fifty dollars a ticket, it is a good thing the festival threw in the after party on the twentieth floor of the Sun Trust Bank building where the Nashville City Club functions.

I enjoyed the selections of the films and think that next year the planning committee should play the good films at different times instead of simultaneously. The event itself was intelligently organized with an 86-page booklet in streaming sky silver and galaxy black noting all sponsors and relevant events. Each evening party was delectable and had mostly gracious, if not always talented, musical entertainment.

Other cities have film festivals and it looks more and more like others will follow soon, but it will take time to tell whether they can bolster an independent film festival for five years and keep the pace for twenty more. The Nashville Independent Film Festival just completed its thirty-third year and, with the same management, will continue to draw larger crowds from surrounding states.

Regrettably, many of the films do not have sufficient distribution, making them nearly impossible to find. Many of these films were actively participating with the audience, provoking sentiments and uncovering buried emotions. The thing I liked most about the festival was the desire of the people of Nashville to view stories that entered our realm of contact and opportunity briefly.

The Nashville Independent Film Festival also granted inspiration and encouragement to our local film industry. Next year I hope to see a line of more elitist-artistic films from the Tennessee area that will have a categorical international appeal.

Web Resources: Maangamizi: The Ancient One | Little Otik | How Harry Became a Tree | American Saint | Sister Helen