Of filmmakers favoring the epic long take, Kevin Jerome Everson is among the most demanding: Viewers must meet him significantly more than halfway, though they'll be rewarded for doing so.
Composed of 10 16mm black-and-white shots, most of extremely long duration, and filmed in various locations along the titular Great Lake — including his Mansfield, Ohio, hometown — Everson's Erie captures the quotidian and every-so-often revelatory experiences of working-class African-Americans via a singularly oblique and challenging realism. The film's opening shows two men draping a tattered billboard with a hip new Volkswagen ad; later we're dropped into the middle of a conversation among local automobile plant workers discussing the hard-bitten politics and ergonomics of their work. There's a commentary being made about concealed and unappreciated labor, and elsewhere Everson extends the critique by reflecting on his own craft. In between the two shots is a 10-minute tableau of a young girl silently focusing on a candle — Everson's version of preparing viewers for his subtle documentary strategies by sharpening their observational skills.
What Everson forces us to observe in Erie — which makes its West Coast premiere Monday night at REDCAT — is process, whether frustratingly incomplete (a man painfully tries to open a car door with a wire and screwdriver, and we never see him succeed) or joyfully creative (in a studio, the camera moves back and forth from the practice session of a piano player and vocalist to the intense movements of hip-hop dancers). His concern is for moment-to-moment interactions and pleasures — thus an orderly's careful arrangement of medical instruments or a young girl's unselfconscious thrill as she passes near Niagara Falls is as important as any biographical information we might glean about these characters. In this sense Erie's abstraction of context is illuminating rather than alienating, creating a detailed community portrait that repositions the frame that surrounds it.
On Sunday, Los Angeles FilmForum reveals another side of Everson with To Do Better…, a program of films from his past prolific decade. A good portion of the shorts aim for the caustic rather than the poetically soothing. In found-footage piece Playing Dead a bloodied young man describes to a television reporter how he had to lay absolutely immobile to survive an unprovoked attack by a group of armed men. As soon as one even begins to imagine this nightmare the film ends, blowing through the conscious like a tornado. Meanwhile, the almost tangibly grainy Undefeated and Ninety-Three revel in the small ecstasies of existence: a man shadowboxing by the side of the road as his friend fixes their car, and a nonagenarian blowing out the candles on his birthday cake in super-slo-mo. Longer works include Company Line, a half-hour documentary about the migratory history and current disenfranchisement of Mansfield's black citizens, and Old Cat, a single 10-minute shot of two men paddling silently around a lake, the two films individually representing the twining documentary and formalist strands of Erie.
TO DO BETTER … : FILMS BY KEVIN JEROME EVERSON | Sun., Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m. | L.A. Filmforum at the Egyptian Theatre | 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. | lafilmforum.org
ERIE BY KEVIN JEROME EVERSON | Mon., Oct. 4, 8:30 p.m. | REDCAT | 631 W. 2nd St., dwntwn. | redcat.org