My partner, Jake Barningham, is an avant garde film and video maker. He’s constantly on the prowl for new ways to express himself visually. Most recently it has been creating videos with his cell phone camera. I really like the idea of using something so accessible and widely used like a cell phone to create art. Aside from its artistic possibilities, the cost effective nature of using a camera phone makes it possible for everyone to make movies without relying on the bloated corporate Hollywood production structure.
However, the flip side of that coin is one that I have very mixed feelings about: actually watching movies on your cell phone, iPod, or generic electronic apparatus. In the age of the digital copy and rising movie theater ticket prices, more and more people are opting to watch movies on inferior viewing devices to save time and money. In my opinion, movies are divine entities that deserve as much respect as humanly possible. Cinema is prayer. So, watching a movie on a cell phone or iPod that’s compressed, pixelated, and choppy just doesn’t work for me.
Enter Sally Potter. The British feminist filmmaker of such films as Orlando and Yes recently made the first movie that’s actually designed to be watched on your cell phone. The film in question, Rage, is an incredibly intimate exploration of some of the minds behind the fashion industry. Using fourteen different actors, including Lily Cole, Eddie Izzard, Steve Buscemi, Judi Dench, Adriana Barraza, Jude Law, and several others, Potter, in the guise of a silent, unseen student blogger named Michelangelo, films their diverse characters one on one with a cell phone and nothing but a moody, ever-changing colored screen behind them. By using what Potter calls “barefoot filmmaking,” she strips all of these larger than life personalities down to their naked emotions and exposes their vulnerabilities. Rage, like many great movies have done in the past, has turned my preconceived notions of cinema on their head.
At the beginning of fashion week, a famous model accidentally pulls an Isadora Duncan and dies on the runway. This sends the cast of characters into a tailspin of emotions and the atmosphere grows even more intense and hazy when another model is shot and killed on the catwalk. Unable to speak about their feelings with the people around them, the central fourteen characters, which includes Law as a beautiful transsexual model, Buscemi as the neorealism-hungry fashion photographer, and a bunch of corporate bigwigs and marketing executives, begin using Michelangelo’s filmic environment as if it were a confessional. Tears flow, anger swells, and light bulbs flash as ideas spring to life in front of Michelangelo’s camera.
At a solid one hundred minutes, Rage’s several one-sided conversations are genuinely captivating and engrossing. Ranging from deeply personal melodrama to exploring an immigrant worker’s role in the fashion world, the constantly shifting political agendas are bewildering and even exciting. Though I haven’t had the pleasure of watching the movie on my cell phone yet, viewing it on DVD with my home theater system granted me one of my best movie watching experiences in quite sometime. Potter, who took out a second mortgage on her home to pay for the movie, has quite possibly revolutionized the cinema industry with a single film. If Rage does well in the long run, who knows how long it will be before cell phone movies become the norm? The Hollywood industry is all but terrified of incorporating more digital cinema into their structure, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how they’ll react to something so simple and cheap becoming so accessible.
In any case, I highly suggest you check out Rage and support Sally Potter’s maverick feminist filmmaking in any way you can. It was one of the best films of 2009, and I guarantee you’ve never seen anything quite like it before.