CIFF: F*ckload of Scotch Tape, by Aaron Pinkston
Chicago-based filmmaker Julian Grant certainly gets points for trying. His film, F*ckload of Scotch Tape is as weird a film as I’ve ever seen. The film is a ridiculous mishmash of film genres and stylings — though mostly a hard-boiled neo-noir, it also apes paranoid drug films, psychological horror, old-school monster sci-fi and even the melancholic musical. Yes, I said musical. Needless to say, it has a bit of a “throw everything to the wall and see what sticks” sort of feel — giving the film’s title a nice double-meaning, as it is a specific line of dialogue, but also the construction of the film. As typical with this approach, all of the pieces don’t quite fit together, but it wouldn’t be the film it is without them.
Stylistically, the film is also all over the place. Over the course of about 80 minutes, we get black and white flashbacks, slo-mo shots, text-on-screen, multiple frames of action, and more editing oddities. The flashy style is much less impactful than the films grimy tone, which has a “I don’t give a shit about what you think” type of attitude. There are many moments that are tough to watch because of their violence and representation of homosexuals. The basic plotline follows a young man named Benji, who has been taken under the wing of some sort of crime lord, and told to do a job of kidnapping an important person’s son. When things don’t go as planned, Benji flews town for the Midwest, but his past comes back to haunt him, as tends to happen. Over the course of the film, he comes across a gay subculture that are represented as extremely violent deviants. I’m not trying to say that the portrayal of homosexuals is wrong in any way, but it was cringeworthy for me. Then again, the entire world displayed in F*ckload of Scotch Tape is psychotic at the very least.
Easily the most perplexing thing about the film are the number of musical numbers that seem to try and give the film some sort of emotional presence. For the most part, the musical numbers all have the same sound, a bluesy, Bon Iver-type style. Given the balls-out mentality of the film, the musical numbers did nothing but slow the film down to a grind, a great disservice. The songs are all well-written and I wouldn’t mind listening to them outside of the film, but in the moment, most of the sequences just didn’t work for me. Strangely, the music is quite well-produced (I could go so far as over-produced), which completely sticks out for a film that is anything but clean. Each of the songs is “sung” by Benji, all produced by a single artist. I used the quotation marks because it is quite obvious that the actor on screen is lip-synching the tracks — obviously, this is typical for any musical film, but I could never get the sense that they were in the actor’s voice (which they weren’t). What’s worse, the songs don’t seem to be from the character’s voice — a brooding, violent kid who only displays any sort of introspection during these songs.
At some point I asked myself whether the musical sequences were supposed to be funny in their sincerity — some of the songs really bummed me out in how sad and heartfelt they are. I could certainly see them playing comically in a large group setting, but not consistently so. Other than that, the film does have a nice wit and there are quite a few wonderful turns of phrase displayed mostly in the ever-present voice-over narration. The film was adapted from a number of hard-boiled stories of St. Louis author Jed Ayres. I would definitely be interesting in reading some of his work, because the words in the film help give an energy beyond the film’s approach.
Is F*ckload of Scotch Tape incredibly successful? I’d say no, but there are some things going for it. Julian Grant’s choices sometimes made me scratch my head, but you can see what he’s trying to accomplish — making a balls-to-the-wall, dirty piece of art that is sure to offend some and enthrall others. It’s an interesting little experiment, and when it is at its best it quite indescribable. At its worst, it’s something like you’ve never seen before.