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Dead Time (2005)
Director: Jason Wilcox

review by Paul Higson

"Time slide, place to hide, nudge reality, foresight, mind's eye, magic imagery."

This is going to be difficult for me to review, because I've already written it up and lost all 800 words. I hate to repeat myself, find it an agony, once I have emptied the mental shelves of what I need to say I relax and lay trust in the captured text as closure. And so, it is with great irony that Jason Wilcox's second feature film, Dead Time, is one of the two films that I poured words after only to have them vanish in an electronic snarl up.

Granted, artistes have themes and revisit them throughout their body of work, and Dead Time has much tiresomely in common with his first feature, The Box. I am not going to rummage for subtext in a film that renders me this disinterested, it's a 20-minute idea of a fantasy ménage-a-trois, the second girl the libido of the first, et cetera, that has been prolonged to an unnecessary 102 minutes. Wilcox is too enamoured by others, Nicolas Roeg, Maya Deren, Stephen Dwoskin, nodding repeatedly to each. Past experimental filmmakers have given recognition to their inspirers in their films and there is precedence, of course there is, but they were more often than not bad filmmakers. Kuchar and Haynes don't get off the hook either. Pastiche is easy and homage a piece of piss... true invention is the real gift.

Wilcox has improved as a cameraman, his woodlands are a sodden green, and the natural light is a welcome life giver, invading a room, or dusk falling upon a bathing scene. The mixed emotions the failing daylight hints at, as the characters meander country, ruins and shore, the dying day and the promised tomorrow, are something that the director might like to identify and play with. Sadly, there is little else here to recommend. The story now, an authoress, Orna (Julia Rhodes), and her partner Jack (Mark Knightley), take residence in a house by the sea while she finishes her latest writing project. It is suggested that the spot is remote in that the mobile reception is problematic, but this is unconvincing as the audio reveals the voices of holidaymakers and a constant stream of traffic in the vicinity. A girl, Marissa Marceda (Stamatina Papamichali), seemingly walks out of the sea, introduces herself to Orna and joins them in the house, where, in lieu of Orna's refusals, she takes Orna's place in Mark's bed. Orna takes umbrage but does nothing to allay the indiscretion and the past, present and future meet in murder, suicide and shrieks in the night.

You cannot say that director, writer, producer, cameraman and editor Wilcox isn't an auteur. Dead Time was made with the three actors and a crew of two, the make-up designer Nathalie Harris the only other 'technician' accompanying them on their seaside sojourn and the film's closing credits. The film screamed for the input of others, particularly in post-production to instruct Wilcox what to excise and how to rescue the sound. Dead Time does not have anyone of the strikingly crooked beauty of Arlette Monkewitz (the star of Wilcox's first feature) to retain this viewer's interest. Anticipating a rebuke from the maker, a telling off that I should not rate a film on the looks of a single actress, if long legs and general attractiveness isn't important why cast handsome people in the first place. Wilcox, then again, might agree with me. In its coyness the second film tramples on the director's dreams of transgression. It is a film about sex with no nudity, whereas the first film had no such shyness. I cannot imagine that he did not request it, and a true underground filmmaker would hurt at the sexual honesty that is removed by any delicacy of the performers. It hints that there is not the same faith in the director, people put in extra in the first film and one imagines the disappointment in the resulting film was unanimous. When he asked of his performers in his first film he was in a stronger position of not having evidence that he could fail. The performances here are given as a favour, on deferred payment, in the promise of a starring role in a feature length film for their curriculum vitae and not out of a shared artistic vision. He is compromised, as such.

The performers fail to excite. Papamichali has the swivel hips of someone who once got on a catwalk and never found her way back off it. Her pronounced sashay becomes more comical than the courted for sexy.

The sound and editing are a major problem. The car boot took only the one camera and tripod so the scenes are flatly shot, the camera is fixed and there is little pace-setting editing within a scene. Great big blocks of film are jammed together and the audio changes noticeably, one shot opening with a birdsong that vanishes at the shot's end. Elsewhere, the thrum of the traffic, or is it whirr on the camera, changes from cut to cut. The screech in the night is cranked high and does rake the spine. It certainly went through my dog, and each time the shriek came, the little chap looked at me accusingly, like I had created the sound just to hurt his ears. It is a pity so little else in the film is as effective as that scream. The director's only challenge on this film seems to be environmental and he has braved a greater number of exteriors filming with a smaller, indeed with no, crew. Unlike other directors who learn in a series of shorts, Wilcox is doing it in feature films and I don't believe this is going to get him to the standard he is targeting sooner than a series of shorts might.

You won't find Deren in the choreography though her beloved Haiti is kindled in movements that evoke the zombie. The ambling on the beach and through locations also brings to mind Jean Rollin, though with none of that director's quirkiness. The final scene, a suicide on the bed, is a direct crib from the Dwoskin's Moment, and at the same time an insult, as it, inadvertently perhaps, implies an answer to Moment, whereas Dwoskin wanted the viewers to individually conclude the source of the woman's condition. The sooner that Wilcox quits picking at the celluloid cadavers of his heroes, the sooner that he will find his own vision. Stop thinking like an experimental filmmaker, Jason! Find a story, tell it, film it and let a style and a vision seep from it naturally.

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