Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Here's the plot: two bullied school friends make a fiction film in which they, as a pair of Guy Ritchie geezer hitmen, move into town and knock off the bullies (the Dirties of the title). The video angers the bullies even more and the bullying gets stepped up. One of the pair, Owen, eventually follows one of Matt's incessant plans to get the attention of a girl at school. It works. As Owen and Chrissy get closer Owen drifts from the frenetic Matt whose plans to actually carry out a Columbine style shooting, taking only the bullies come closer to realisation. The rest is spoilers.

Then again, the plot is not this film's purpose. That there is debate over whether to call it a found footage film or a documentary-style piece or a fiction film that uses the found footage genre as a gimmick is telling. For starters the camera operator is not a character with more presence than his function. He is named (Jared) and we see his hand take some proffered popcorn at one point and Matt is constantly consulting him without waiting for the responses. But he is not Heather from Blair Witch or Andrew from Chronicle, he's just the guy behind the camera.

Fine, so ... Well, we see things that he couldn't have taken if he's the only camera there. There is a scene where Matt is placing extra cameras around the setting but the scene they're meant to cover includes vision that they couldn't have recorded. Is the entire thing a blend of the footage that Jared took for them (which we see on the boys' computers and at school) and further footage he took to fulfil the found footage genre? Is there a point at which the increasingly solo Matt is just imagining the camera there and a non digetic one has taken over? Without these questions we have a passable teen social drama with some interesting character work and dialogue along the way.

With the questions in mind (and there are many more possible) there is a remaining one of the extent of the purpose of the entity called The Dirties is. There is genuine cleverness but so much of it (depending on how much you think there is) that the danger that your tolerance will shut down and write the entire exercise off as a great vat of toss suitable only for the festival circuit and better luck next time, guys.

For me the clue is the cinephilia of the two boys that peppers the dialogue and actions throughout. Titles like Irreversible and Royal Tenenbaums are namechecked. Matt's room is papered with movie posters. References to their own quoting in the video footage are nearly constant. The makers of The Dirties, whose names are similar or identical to the makers of the video called The Dirties within the film called The Dirties, know that you know the refs. So, is that it, future Columbines and Sandy Hooks will be so indistinguishable from the notion of them as self-aware irony told in gigabytes on Youtube? Is all this just a snub at the choose-your-own-adventure generation that became these guys' parents?

For me the presaged end credits (given as instructions to someone behind or beyond the camera) do a lot to draw a line. The sequence begins with a series of by lines done in the formats of famous films like Dr Strangelove, Psycho, Anatomy of a Murder, Star Wars and Back to the Future etc. This has a pleasing look and allows a spot the title/director game but it also poignantly serves to state the obvious: this filmmaker is aware of monumental cinema but can only emulate it. The originality on screen is a handful of crumbs rather than any newly baked goodness and the credit sequence reminds me of Salieri (in his Amadeus incarnation) who could see the genius in Mozart's music but not reproduce it. So is it like Kubrick does Elephant? Too many notes, my dear Mozart, too many notes.

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