Mapping the Obscure: James Fotopoulos Review | Cine-File


Mapping the Obscure: James Fotopoulos (American Independent Revivals/Special Events)

Facets Cinémathèque – Showtimes listed below

Over the next two weekends, Chicago cinephiles will have the rare opportunity to see several of James Fotopoulos’ films with the prolific underground filmmaker in person. This weekend, his first two feature films, ZERO (1997, 142 min, DVD Projection; Friday, 11pm) and MIGRATING FORMS (1999, 80 min, DVD Projection; Saturday, 11pm), as well as another early feature, BACK AGAINST THE WALL (2002, 94 min, DVD Projection; Sunday, 9pm), screen at Facets Cinémathèque. The Illinois-born director will also participate in an intimate conversation with Cine-File Managing Editor Patrick Friel and a dinner event preceding the screening of BACK AGAINST THE WALL, on Saturday at 9pm and Sunday at 7pm, respectively. Described in an interview with critic Rick Curnutte as being one of a select group of “real” independent filmmakers—a misnomer often used to describe low-budget but still Hollywood-adjacent spectacles, often as laden with stars as they are lacking in funds—Fotopoulos is certainly an auteur who makes up in artistic integrity what he forgoes in mainstream appeal. His earliest feature, the two-and-a-half hour ZERO, shot in color rather than black and white like the other two, utilizes a sense of perverse naiveté to ironic effect, the subject matter and its resplendent eeriness benefiting from the director’s then greenness. “People have said ZERO is juvenile—badly acted and so on,” he said in an interview with Other Cinema. “The type of people in ZERO are juvenile and their sexual obsession with the forbidden is like a time bomb. There is no healthy human interaction with that behaviour. It is self-destructive. Some of them may be intelligent, but not emotionally mature. So these people are not reasonable, which an audience wants. And this nightmarish existence has to be translated into film. So the film must mirror those emotions.” Made soon after ZERO, when Fotopoulos was still in his early 20s, MIGRATING FORMS won the Best Feature award at the New York Underground Film Festival in 2000. It evokes Chantal Akerman in its use of a fixed camera to observe the bizarre activities happening within the frame; in the film, a man and a woman have casual sex, the woman infecting the man with a mysterious growth obliquely depicted during their passionless trysts. It’s Tarkovsky-esque in how it explores “empty sexuality and its psychic and physical consequences,” eschewing coy symbolism for something altogether more organic and disconcerting. BACK AGAINST THE WALL divides one woman’s questionable love life into three parts, “a triptych of personal destruction,” as Fotopoulos himself refers to it. Perhaps the most disturbing of the three, its noirish grotesqueness is nonetheless appealing, his distinct sensibilities garnering comparisons to Davids Lynch and Cronenberg. His formal aptitude, however, elevates the violent absurdity from shocking to mesmeric, a rare quality that makes even the most off-putting of his films worthy of consideration. Kathleen Sachs

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