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NewCityNet That's A Wrap!

By Ray Pride

JUNE 21, 1999:  Todd Verow made one of the more unpleasant viewing experiences of my life, a 16mm feature based on Dennis Cooper's "Frisk." After making the festival circuit (and then having a small theatrical release) with his controversial literalization of Cooper's perverse but dreamy prose, Verow made an interesting choice: to turn to low-budget video.

While not-disinterested parties like Peter Broderick of Next Wave Films make pronouncements like "'The Celebration' was the 'Birth of a Nation' of digital video," the 32-year-old Verow's goal of finishing ten features by the end of 2000 will be a worthy one. (Number six and seven are currently in production.) The last release from Verow and production partner Jim Dwyer was "Little Shots of Happiness," a tolerable no-budget story of a woman (Bonnie Dickenson), bored with her day job, who takes her fantasy role-playing a little too far. But there are campier extremes in "Shucking the Curve"'s story of Suzanne, a young art student (Dickenson again) who moves to New York's Lower East Side and finds herself in a world of speedfreaks and club kids and bisexual gigolos.

Where Atom Egoyan used the look of television soap operas ironically in his film "Family Viewing," "Shucking the Curve" leaps right into the video vocabulary with the élan of the best wronged-daughter catfighter on "The Jerry Springer Show." Verow sees video as "the synthesis of reality" and his current work as "fictional narratives that feel real because they are shot documentary-style... in a globally human language." Verow often shoots with only himself as crew, with only the digital camera, and his hand-held esthetic won't be to all tastes. But it doesn't have to be - a point lost when even George Lucas' spokespersons tout their own use of digital technology to attain creative "freedom."

There are a handful of filmmakers, such as Raul Ruiz and R. W. Fassbinder, who have been insanely prolific (while often working with tolerant European state financing systems). But who has tried to spin out five features in a recent year? Even if the films fall short, the process for a filmmaker should be endlessly instructive. Verow tells me, "I learn something new from each project, and that is something I think is really lacking in the independent film world, everyone is so concerned with selling their film that they have no chance to grow as filmmakers and improve their craft."

Several of the best classical American directors had a chance to work for an extended period without notice, churning out material for a while before getting Quentin Tarantino-style hype. Dozens of shorter silents by the likes of Howard Hawks and John Ford have been lost for decades. But what's the chance to learn in a feature-length format without mortgaging your best uncle's house, your credit rating and usually your creative impulse on the first go? "Shucking" is ragtag, but often hilarious, working with Warholian deadpan at a speedier pace. (And I've grown fond of the immediacy of Dickenson's performances for Verow.)

Beyond setting a procedural example for future filmmakers who want to work with a kind of "artistic control" unheard of on even a $100,000 budget, Verow and co. are great phrasemakers. While the progress of their world is charted at length on their website (www.bangorfilms.com), the company also festoons their flyers with phrases such as "Art +'morality'=Propaganda" and "Independent film is dead. Long live the underground!" I like that language.

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