Day 2 at Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival features a “Bizarre Block” of short films, but that title could easily be given to the features as well, which is saying a lot because PUFF is a generally bizarre festival all around. We were treated to two features and four shorts throughout the night, each of which was uniquely and utterly insane.
The night kicked off with director Mitzi Peirone’s Braid, a sort of nightmarish play on Alice In Wonderland that I enjoyed a great deal but was left a bit at a distance from. The premise is killer – two women, artists of some kind, flee the police and ditch a stash of drugs they planned to make a hefty profit on, seemingly to be used to escape the life they lead. Needing a new, quick profit and means of escape, they decide to visit a childhood friend, Daphne, who is a recluse living in a giant manor that just so happens to have a safe full of valuables inside. The only problem is, Daphne was a troubled child and spent most, if not all of her time, living in an imagined world, and playing a “game” there. Once you’re inside, you are part of the game and you must play if you want stay there. Through a combination of drugs, Daphne’s imagination, and a variety of mental illnesses, we take a tripped-out ride through Daphne’s home with our heroes, which Peirone visualizes through excellent set design, costuming, and a variety of simple but effective special FX. Ultimately, the movie was so narratively loose that I had trouble following along with both the actual details of events and their metaphor. If it had stuck the landing on either side of that equation a little better, I’d probably be a bit more effusive right now. That said, I did really enjoy this movie and it’s precisely the kind of movie I’d show you to be like “this is what you can see at PUFF.” A perfectly bizarre start to a bizarre day.
Braid was paired with Ethan Landry’s short film Portal Fuel which I enjoyed a great deal. Seemingly about a man’s attempts to time travel using a portal of some kind, Landry is able to convey the idea of something supernatural without major FX shots, instead using striking, simple images that it seems he was able to capture naturally. I was impressed with his ability to create a distinct atmosphere and draw an interesting performance out of his lead as well.
Following Braid was the Bizarre Block of short films, which this year featured two shorts that are on the longer side of short (we might as well call them mediums you guys, come on), The Longneck Goodbye, directed by Creighton Satterfield, and The Most Beautiful Railway, directed by Christopher Tauber. The Longneck Goodbye was easily the most bizarre thing I saw all day, and Satterfield was there to charmingly, self-deprecatingly, and hilariously explain how it came together. Shot in black-and-white on 16mm (I think twice, if I understood him correctly, as his original DP went mad and destroyed what had already been shot to that point), it tells the story of a man who discovers a “longneck” dinosaur in his trash and starts an unlikely friendship with this creature that helps him overcome his loneliness, and I think come out of the closet, though it’s a bit unclear on this point. Did I mention that Longneck is a man in a green unitard wearing a stuffed dinosaur head that is rotoscoped into the movie? I have no idea what to tell you about this movie except that it’s undeniably entertaining and worth your time, if for no other reason than to listen to an audience recoil as they debate whether they’re about to see longneck give the character a blowjob (which you don’t, but the fact that the movie even makes you question whether you’re about to have to see that is remarkable and worth noting).
If The Longneck Goodbye was the most bizarre thing I’ve seen so far this weekend, The Most Beautiful Railway was the most fun. Conceived as an homage to Slow TV, which is apparently an old television series where you simply watch scenic train routes from the POV of the front of a moving train, Tauber’s movie starts in such an innocuous place and builds to such a thrilling and hilarious end that I haven’t been able to stop talking about it. I don’t want to spoil it for any readers so I recommend you seek this one out, but it is exactly what I’ve just described – the POV of a train in Germany as it moves from one stop to another. But as it progresses, and you start searching the frame, you’ll find there’s a narrative occurring in the world that the train is passing through, one that, from a technical standpoint, is amazingly pulled off. If I understood Tauber correctly, it truly is one take that we’re watching, albeit broken up between a couple different angles, making the timing of everything seemingly impossible and thus seemingly natural. It’s a pretty awesome feat, and a totally mesmerizing watch. I would’ve watched the train footage in and of itself and been totally engrossed by it, the added layer of genre and drama makes it that much more delicious. I really loved this movie, and it wouldn’t surprise me if someone eventually attempts to make a feature version of this concept in some way.
Day 2 closed out with BC Glassberg’s Derelicts which I was surprised to find I enjoyed a whole hell of a lot. Inspired by both home invasion films and the sleaze of exploitation (think Fight for Your Life and you’re somewhere in the arena of what’s going on here), this is an utterly tasteless but wildly entertaining black comedy about dysfunctional families and their Thanksgiving traditions. There’s a directorial sensibility here that really elevated the material for me and made it super fun to watch, highlighting performance in a way that adds just a hint of depth that’s needed to keep something this crass watchable, and tightly edited with some creative flair in the visual storytelling. It’s punctuated with a handful of effective and gleeful moments of gore, features one of the best costume designs I’ve ever seen, and reaches a conclusion that was both surprising and cathartic for me. It’s certainly trigger-warning worthy (we had at least one walk-out during our screening) so take my enthusiasm as you will, but I had way more fun with this than I expected to.
Derelicts was paired with the extremely fun and effective short film Don’t, directed by Matthew Gilpin. On its face, it’s a similar movie to Portal Fuel in that it’s about one man traveling through time to meet himself, but the focus here is more on the man than the setting and atmosphere as it was in Portal Fuel. Don’t is about a man who finds himself traveling back in time during the moments of his death to warn himself of that impending death, only to get stuck in an endless cycle of death. Death, death, death. And it’s fun and funny!
Day 2 of PUFF was indeed bizarre, and that’s exactly why I love coming to this festival every year. These are the movies I wouldn’t see otherwise that I’m eternally grateful to have seen. And I’ve got two more full days to look forward to. I can’t fucking wait.