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Peter T Chattaway

Man without a Name

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Talk about blasts from the past. Today I got an e-mail from Don Knodel, a guy I used to perform with in tons of church skits and plays; way back when I was in high school, I looked up to and envied the guy because he was already an active member of the local film industry.

Anyway, turns out he's got a feature film premiering at the Ridge Theatre in Vancouver on Sunday, March 13 -- that's over a month away, but I'm intrigued. It's called Man without a Name and he describes it as "Bob Hope meets Alfred Hitchcock". The site for the film has trailers and stuff, so if anybody happens to be in the Vancouver area that day, perhaps we could meet up there.

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So ... was anybody else there today?

Like I say, Don Knodel is an old friend/acquaintance of mine, and on one level, I am very happy to see that he has finally made a feature film of his own. Interestingly, he shot it in late 2001, and the finished film is copyrighted 2003, and he has spent the intervening years shopping it around and trying to secure some sort of distribution for it -- but he says he has been told that the only indie films that sell are horror flicks, action movies (which are too expensive), and pornos, so he's going to make his next movie a horror film.

I do like some things in this film, especially the music (by Christopher Nickel), which is much, much better than the music for any low-budget privately-made film has a right to be. (It SOUNDS orchestral, but apparently it was done with some sort of relatively new sampling technique, so it was all done on a computer, but with recorded samplings of real live instruments.) And I am impressed by some of the technical challenges Don was able to pull off, such as the cow stampede. (I was also tickled to see that part of it was shot at Timberline Ranch, which is where I shot part of my student film 'The Great Borscht Kidnapping' in late 1989.)

But there are some things that didn't quite work for me, either. A friend of mine who attended the screening said the line that stood out for him was when one character said, "What happens next," and the other replied, "I don't know" -- he said that seemed to sum up the film's plotting. The line that jumped out for ME was "We'll keep everything superficial."

The film is very much an exercise in genre, but it doesn't really DO anything with the genre -- it feels like a study in mechanics by someone who is more of a mechanic's apprentice than a mechanic himself. One could argue that Don's character offsets this by lending the film a somewhat campy air -- his character is the one modelled after Bob Hope, right down to the way he has been made up -- but instead of lending a humorous element to the Hitchcockian innocent-man-framed-for-murder intrigue (which is something Bob Hope himself did in films like My Favorite Brunette), what comes across is an apprentice-mechanic's approximation of Bob Hope's quirks and tics. So what we have is a pseudo-Hope put inside a pseudo-Hitchcock film, and the combination doesn't work -- not least because some of the other actors, including the film's leading lady, are actually ACTING and delivering their lines as if they were real people. So there's a real tonal disconnect between the lead characters.

Also, the "MacGuffin" that this film uses turns out to be a rather serious, practically sermonistic thing involving a fictitious version of the IMF. (Other stray bits of dialogue, like "Doing the right thing is always better than...", get that way too, but I wonder if I would have the same reaction to them if I did NOT know that Don writes church plays.) And once the film has made its point, there, the story keeps on going, even introducing a brand new bad-guy who exists largely so we can laugh at how stupid it is that some people pronounce the French name Guy as though it rhymed with "pie". So, there are some structural problems there, too.

Still, it's better than I expected, and I wish Don well in his future ventures (as well as in his efforts to get this film exhibited and distributed) ...

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