Static

Static ★★★½

The only reason I hadn't seen Static earlier is because I just found out it existed a week and a half ago.

And that's a fact I'm sure must have delighted co-screenwriter/director/disowner Mark Romanek, who really goes out of his way to pretend that Static never really happened. But, just like shining a blacklight app at the stains on the walls of a Motel 6, there's traces of evidence around to prove it happened.

Static is...weird. Quietly, procedurally, confidently weird. Much more of a character study than a traditional narrative film. It's the tale of a pleasant young man named Ernie Blick (Keith Gordon) and his day to day life living alone in the desert, molding crucifixes by day and playing inventor by night. He collects the factory defect Jesus' (Jesuses? Jeezi?) where he's nailed up in the fetal or upside down and makes a menagerie of them above his bed. He eats the same meal at the same diner every day, never misses a sunset, and hangs outside hotels with his paranoid, doomsday foretelling Uncle Frank (Bob Gunton). But most importantly, Ernie works night after night on his secret invention, collecting strewn garbage from around town and constantly updating his blueprints, promising everyone how it's "an invention that will change the world...and make people happy."

Everything is accelerated when Ernie is fired from the crucifixion factory while at the same time his childhood friend Julia (Amanda Plummer) comes back into town for a visit. It seems like all his effort has paid off and he's finally ready to unveil the fruit of his labor that he's poured 2 years of hard work into...

But I should stop there. Because this is one of those films that you could easily sum up entirety with 2 sentences of description. But I'd be a real boner biting bastard to gleefully and willfully spoil the whole thing for you like I'm Roger Ebert or something..

Even though I won't do it, because I think watching it with as little knowledge as possible helps let the darkness seep in the deepest, this isn't a film where knowing what the invention is or where the plot goes completely ruins the experience. The heart of it all is a bleak and tragic character study of an isolated loner's ill-conceived attempts to make friends and fit in. Something Romanek conveyed very well in his 2002 "debut" flick One Hour Photo, and you get more of the same here. Yes, he's younger and clumsier here, but the point is still very much driven home.

He shoots his picture the way a magician enacts a card trick, with subtle nuances buried around bigger, crazier distractions. He counts on you keeping your eye on the supposed lunatic uncle, his creature from the black lagoon twins, or the jealous waitress at the diner and not really putting too much stock into our reasonable enough and humble narrator. But if you keep your focus on Ernie it's really sad to see that there isn't much change in him at all. Instead, the outward kindness and good intentions that seemed innocent and likeable 20 minutes ago now bubble up and froth with repressed anger and isolated self assurance. To the people around him he's a nutcase. But the movie puts you in his eyes as a frustrated wanna be do-gooder aching to heel the pain of others due to the damage that he's suffered himself.

As you can probably picture, watching a flick with a kinda/sorta/maybe crazy protagonist is a bit of a strange experience. I got a pretty heavy "Nothing Lasts Forever" type of vibe from it. It feels so self assured about...something. But at the same time I don't think it touches on any one thing long enough to lock itself in as a comment on religion, or the media, or identity. But the one thing I do think it absolutely nails is the feeling of severe social disconnect and it has Gordon's performance to thank for that.

I looked high and low to get a conclusive reason why Romanek dislikes this film so much, but all I was able to find was an interview he gave where, when asked about Static, he said:

"For me it seemed premature. Like I had an opportunity to make a film before I felt I had much to say or knew what I was really doing as a filmmaker, so I just find it this sort of embarrassing bit of juvenilia. I find it is embarrassing, but I know that some people connected with it and I don’t mean to discount that fact. I just wish it would go away…"

And I guess that's really all that needs to be said on the matter, that he views it as his film school and he doesn't think it represents him as a filmmaker. But count me in the group that thinks Static is better than even HE thinks it is. So spread the word on this one. Tel your friends. 50,000 Static fans can't be wrong.