REVIEW... REVIEW... REVIEW... REVIEW... REVIEW... Spout Mavens Disc #15 (and likely, the last): More Shoes... REVIEW... REVIEW... REVIEW... REVIEW...

More Shoes
Director: Lee Kazimir
Cinema 4 Rating: 6

I've been asked to recommend a film either at the top or bottom of this post, which isn't actually a review, though many people still insist on referring to these pieces I construct as reviews. All the same, I have also been asked to place the word "review" into the title. It was rough going, trying to find the exact spot to place that (used erroneously here) noun, but I hope I have at least been able to follow through properly by some small measure on that count.

As for that recommendation... well... let me ask you one small question: Do I know you? Apart from one other person here on Spout, The Working Dead, I don’t personally know any of you. Yes, a handful of people on here have left some very nice comments regarding my writing, and I am sure some of them would make great friends, but I still can’t know someone from just a quick comment or two. It makes it hard to recommend anything if one does not personally know those to whom one is speaking. That the reader can ascertain elements of my personality from my writing is readily apparent, since my style is of a more personal nature, talking about how films affect me more often than actually reviewing them. In the broad sense, though, this is not necessarily true of most “reviewers” or “critics,” who often shoot for a bland sameness in their acceptable styles. Regardless of style or intent, the reader still has it all up on the writer, including myself. They can scan through any number of my posts and get a fairly accurate picture of my emotional range, my psychological bearing, and my critical eye (which, more often than not, one will find those eyes closed). They can read my writing for a short while and get a decent summary of my being. They can determine whether they want to listen to my railings any further, and whether to accept my judgment, good or ill, of the film in discussion.

That’s all fine and well, but while it seems that such a relationship is one on one for the reader – reader meets writer – in fact, it is the complete opposite for the writer. The writer, presumably reaching out to a vast audience, most often has to tailor his words for that entire audience. In doing so, whether he is recommending the object of his review to his readers or not, he is in fact, doing them a disservice unless he is careful to couch his recommendation (or lack of one) in qualifiers: “this is the sort of film this sort of person, or such and such a type of people, would enjoy,” etc. But most critics do not take this extra step. They assume that whole goose-and-gander maxim thing holds true for the critic and their prospective audience: heed my words, you will love/hate this movie, no matter who you are!

Since I only write for myself, and mainly as a therapeutic means, I don’t worry about “recommendations.” Flat out, I don’t do them. I especially don’t since the Eraserhead and Motorama incidents of many years past, in which I didn’t actually recommend those films to anybody, I just suggested to my more or less captive and bored audiences that we watch them, and I have received endless harangues from the less adventurous amongst my friends ever since. The misunderstanding comes from their blanket need to be entertained -- and only entertained -- by movies. This runs counter to my need (though there is still an entertainment factor at play in my heart) to see films that are at least interesting, if not outright mind-expanding. I will not go into details about those films – this is not the time and place – but rest assured that they definitely made me start being far more careful about what films I show or even recommend to individuals. When people in the office ask me to recommend a movie, I generally ask, “What do you like?” If they answer “Oh, I just love Pretty Woman!” or some such other pap (which has happened more than once, I am afraid), I am likely to respond, “Hmm, sorry. Can’t help you.” (I hold back on what I would like to add to that statement: “It’s too late for you…you can’t be helped.”) It’s not that I can’t back up my words or my opinions; I just don’t want to have to hear those people whine once they climb down the other side of the Rik Recommendation Mountain. The world is now made up of people who believe that their time is Oh So Very Precious – the “I can’t believe I wasted 90 minutes of my life on that film” contingent, when they all, to a person, are just as likely to turn right around in an instant for ten straight hours of Nintendo or a night of being soused with their brain-dead buddies. That’s fine – to each his own – but don’t hit me with your personal prejudices concerning films, and your own insecurities with personal time management, when you have asked my opinion in the first place.

Because this has happened time and again, unless I know someone extremely well, I do not recommend any films to anybody. My mother, my father, stepparents, brothers, the Working Dead, Raw Meat, Egg of the Dead – these are people, and their individual artistic tastes and boundaries, that I understand and know fairly well, and I can launch into recommending a film to them with a certain assurance that they will at least give me a measured opinion of their own on its excellence or lack thereof. I am not afraid to recommend titles to them, because I know them. In some cases, too well.

You, generic reader, I don’t know. So, outside of the film which I am purportedly supposed to be discussing here – More Shoes, a first-person documentary about the travels of a would-be filmmaker who definitely takes an offhand recommendation a tad too far, and when I say “too far”, I mean roughly 4000 miles in that direction of limits past the stretching point – outside of the film at hand, I cannot offer up a recommendation to you. What if I were to go all loopy and go, “Wow, the guy in this movie travels across part of the world in search of his artistic sensibilities as a director, so, since he travels, I recommend RV with Robin Williams!” For all I know, you aren’t the type who enjoys overproduced but under-thought hack comedy by people who should all clearly know better, and since you trusted my notion to recommend this film to you, you are going to be pissed off at me. You will be less likely to pay attention to one of my posts the next time around, and all because I told you that “you’d be sure to enjoy this if you enjoyed that.” Making recommendations is a dangerous game if played improperly, and everyone – even the self-aware – does play it improperly. And if both sides are crazy to begin with, no one can ever win. And, of course, there is the chance that I would recommend a really crappy film to everyone on purpose, because that is the sort of guy I am sometimes.

So, in the interest of this “review” still containing some form of recommendation in it, why not do an end-around and concentrate on the film at hand. Would I recommend More Shoes to you? I certainly liked large portions of it, even if it is not completely engrossing and a little too laid back in its approach. I will, perhaps, even watch the film again at some undefined point in the future, regardless of whether I would then have to put up with the director/star’s choice of hideous footwear. In fact, before I watched it again, I would re-title my copy of the film Better Shoes instead of More Shoes, because surely he would have benefited from some well-designed walking shoes rather than the usual slacker’s choice of ugly Birkenstock-style gear.

More Shoes is a film by Lee Kazimir, a young man with a certain small amount of filmmaking experience before this film takes place, who takes the recommendation of a legendarily crazy but brilliant film director, and decides to walk across Europe in search of his filmmaking soul. Werner Herzog once recommended that aspiring filmmakers forego the classroom experience of film school and “make a journey alone, on foot, for a distance of 5,000 kilometers, let's say from Madrid to Kiev.” Herzog, in his usual manner, proffers this advice to any within earshot, and most people will smile, shake their heads and go, “Oh, that Werner! There he goes again,” and then move on. Not Kazimir. He literalizes Herzog’s offhand statement, and hits the road on foot, and not just by making an epic journey on foot, but by actually duplicating the starting and stopping point of Herzog’s tossed-off, imaginary excursion. It's the sort of idea for a film that gets publicity from the sheer audacity of it, and a more cynical person than I would probably point out with a sharper finger that maybe the true impulse behind it was publicity, to get the director noticed and nothing more. There might be a little of that here, but I think its more the approach of a man who is a little frustrated and lost in his would-be talent, and desperate to find if he belongs anywhere, doing anything.

To me, it’s a foolhardy though impressive ambition that drives Kazimir, but my chief problem with such an attempt is that, in my estimation, even if one decided to brave the rigors of such a trip, Herzog was not talking about actually filming such a journey. He was basically suggesting one surefire means in which a novice artist could gain life experience on a massive level before embarking on their filmic career. A travel of considerable size, of perhaps thousands of miles through historic towns and decaying society, would certainly afford the aspiring filmmaker ample opportunity to gain such experience. His life would be threatened on occasion, he would perhaps fall in love or at least lust a number of times, he would see the best and worst of humankind, and he would be given a true sense of man’s place within the construct of nature on this trip. All of the ingredients needed to allow the artistic self to merge with the more physical aspects are readily available for the hapless soul embarking on such a journey. Herzog does suggest his “Madrid to Kiev” trip specifically for an aspiring filmmaker, but he never suggests that such a filmmaker should bring a movie camera along with him down the road. And, really, such a task -- almost a spirit quest, in a way -- would serve the same purpose for a writer, painter or architect as well. Since Kazimir goes into his trip with film experience, it’s no surprise that his survey does take the form of a video, rather than a book, statue or mural. But I still think that such a journey of discovery would be best taken by using the memory directly, not capturing it on a series of tapes.

But, I don't fault Kazimir from wishing to use his particular focus on capturing his journey. While he may doubt whether he wants to continue working in film, and uses this experience more as a litmus test regarding his artistic ambitions, he really has no choice but to film it. After all, if he doesn’t, there is no record of it. While he would perhaps be better suited to simply backpack across Europe like many thousands of other kids of his relative age, if one is a filmmaker, why not film it?

My mother was recently in town, and she brought along her new digital camera, with which she proceeded to take hundreds of pictures while she stayed in Anaheim. She is on an epic journey herself -- by fifth-wheeler, not by foot -- on the first real vacation she has taken in twenty years or so. Naturally, she wants to capture everything she can on film. But there is no actual artistic impulse involved, at least none that is apparent to her own child. It is merely another person doing what we all do through life: collecting keepsakes, mementos, souvenirs... whether through a purchase from a gift counter or through the lens of a camera, we all tend to do this when we travel. In this sense, what Kazimir has collected on his travels on his camera matters no more than the photos taken by a 62-year old mother on a seriously long road trip that zigzags back and forth across the U.S.

In fact, if anything, in the same way that no one wants to be trapped on a couch while a relative makes them look at photo album after photo album of blasts from that relative's past, where every third person in each photo has to be explained at great length for the (usually stiffly posed) photos to make any sense at all, so too can More Shoes seem a bit like a chore at times. We are basically shown scene after scene, with little in the way of explanation, and with what little explanation we are given sometimes ruining what little suspense does build up along the way. At times, I wish there were no narration at all, and would prefer to almost just bump along silently through the film, enjoying each turn around the corner on my own judgment. But, at other times, I wanted to know more about the people I met in Kazimir's video journal, and the narration would fail me in that regard.

And still, I never lost full interest in his journey across a multitude of countries. There is enough here to sustain one between Madrid and Kiev, even if Kazimir himself starts to lose faith in his abilities along the way. This viewer really did start to feel for him, even if Kazimir brought it all on himself. I'm one of those "I need a vacation from vacation" folks, so I couldn't even begin to imagine what Kazimir was feeling in the waning moments of his walk. Or maybe I could, since he decided to film all of it, instead of just keeping it to himself. Like a collection of snapshots that really require a livelier narrator than someone's 82 year-old aunt to be more than just mildly interesting.

So, would I recommend More Shoes? Damn it. I’ve already told you – I don’t know you… but here's a recommendation I can give to everyone: Don't Follow Recommendations. Make your journey through the history of the cinema a more organic one. Start out trying twenty films from every single genre, no matter how much you think they are going to suck. Watch a film because one actor is in it, and then choose another actor in that film, and watch your next film with that actor in it, and so on. Open a film guide, drop your finger in, and then watch the collected works of whatever director the tip of your widdle nubbin lands upon. Do what I have done twice in my life and watch a thousand films in one calendar year (that's averaging just under two and three-quarters films a day, and its actually easier to do than one might think). Pick a book on a specific genre of film and then attempt to watch every film in alphabetical order. Or do what I do currently, and just check out any film that catches your fancy. Don't over-think it... just watch, try to enjoy yourself, and well after the film is done, ponder on how watching that film affected you, good or bad. Never... ever... worry about how much money a movie made at the box office. Unless you are a movie producer, box office means nada... And most of all, I recommend that you don't listen to strangers. Listen to people that you know, respect or trust. Value their opinions, even if you don't agree with them, and try to understand their point of view even if it skews 180 degrees away from yours. If they liked a film and you didn't, discuss it with them and find out what it is in their life that makes them be so incorrect -- er, I mean, different.

So, there you go. A recommendation section in this non-review that has "Review" in the title I am sorry that it isn't actually a film recommendation, but if one is required, I recommend everyone watch Nightdreams, directed by F.X. Pope. It's hard to find, but it has Wall of Voodoo performing a genuinely spooky version of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire while lipstick lesbian cowgirls act badly on purpose, and yet still manage to act badly for real. It's the greatest scene ever filmed, and I am only half joking.

What's that? You don't enjoy hardcore flicks, even if Nightdreams is a relatively big-budget attempt at genre crossover, with some very interestingly staged, surreal sequences, including one involving a housewife becoming intimately involved with a giant Cream of Wheat box while a piece of toast plays Old Man River on a saxophone?

Well, that's the way it is with recommendations: you never know what you are going to get, especially if you don't know the person doing the recommending. You don't know me and I don't know you...

...and now I probably never will. Goodbye, Spout...

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