Experimental Reviews

Mixed Movie (2019) – 1.5 stars

Director: Vasco Diogo

Cast: Vasco Diogo

Running time: 10mins

Every independent filmmaker is faced with budgetary limitations, it goes with the territory. Like it or not, if you have big ideas to build a movie from the ground up, you are going to face monetary constraints in some shape – and the way you adapt to those constraints is often the make-or-break factor in making a great low-budget film.

Over the last two seasons of Indy Film Library reviews, we have seen a great number of filmmakers who have successfully straddled the gap between ambition and material means seamlessly – proving that you can deliver something emotionally impactful and technically polished on a shoe-string, sometimes without even leaving your own house! Perrine Liévois’ 30 minute meditation on the nightmarish world of insomnia remains one of my favourite submissions for that reason – Saturation seeing the filmmaker effortlessly scaling her goals to fit all the feverish terrors of sleeplessness within two rooms of an apartment.

With that being said, we have also seen filmmakers routinely fail to modify their expectations according to the cash, talents and materials they have available. Rolf Gunnar Hjalmarsson’s protracted collection of bizarre, outlandish, and yet inexorably tedious musings in Bardo is a chief example of what happens when someone decides that whether they have the technology and talent or not, they are going to create a lengthy ‘fever dream’ which heavily depends on visual effects beyond their ability to deliver. The end result was so poor it was hard to fathom how it could have been a serious attempt – the attitude that “yeah, that’ll do, slam it through Windows Movie Maker and no-one will notice” seemed so ‘terminally lazy’ that it led me to heavily imply that the director was “taking the Mick.”

Vasco Diogo is a director I have reviewed before – and favourably at that – so I feel I can conclusively rule out his being a feckless timewaster. What is perhaps sadder than that is that his second effort, Mixed Movie, is basically the antithesis of his excellent first effort Walkscape. It is a shrieking step back from his earlier effort, serving as a timely reminder that just because a filmmaker can deliver once, there is no perfect formula that means they are guaranteed to do so again.

Walkscape took us on a wonderful, abstract walk through the life-cycle of consciousness – utilising minimalistic editing techniques and basic filters to adapt visuals from a trip through a city, fading in and out of focus as our eyes ‘age’ throughout the film. It might not have been entirely original in that premise, or delivered especially stunning visuals due to its nuts-and-bolts effects, but its simplicity allows for an elevated yet accessible journey into our subconscious – knowingly adapted to the financial and technical challenges Diogo faced as an independent experimental filmmaker.

The chief problem with Mixed Movie is that it does not have this same understanding. Instead, it is almost 10 minutes of low-resolution clips seemingly ripped from YouTube, and placed in front of poor quality stock images alongside clip art animations Diogo did not produce himself. I can infer this from the fact Diogo has credited himself as a ‘writer’ for a film with no dialogue or story, but not for the digital images of dancing frogs or zigzagging shark fins which repeatedly adorn the screen. The animations are often hard to spot, as there is not a sharp enough contrast between them and their background, while the public domain video clips are thrown slapdash around the screen, complete with little thought for how they will fit the image. To this end, one butterfly makes a particularly terrifying entrance, seemingly materialising from the door to another dimension, as it flutters out from behind a flat edge in the middle of an immaculate blue sky. If you are going to use a clip to this end, you need to either put the seam of the image at the edge of the screen, or next to some kind of object in the foreground, such as a tree.

These segments are interspersed with what appears to be iPhone footage of the director messing about with Snapchat filters to make himself look like an old woman, a living Van Gogh painting, and at one point a lion. While experimental cinema does not necessarily need a narrative, it is hard to find much of anything here. In such an insubstantial environment, it is hard not to tune out altogether.

The one thing that will help keep viewers awake, if not invested, is Helder Filipe Gonçalves’ hammering, clanging soundtrack. It’s hard not to feel that Gonçalves’ audio vista of twisted metal, thumping drums and strange, distorted noises from the natural world is wasted on this particular film – surely deserving more than to serve as wallpaper for someone messing about with random imagery on a Windows XP editing suite.

Maybe 15 years ago, this might have cut the mustard – at least in terms of surprising lay viewers with what are now simple editing techniques to graft digital and real-world images together. Now, though, if you are looking to build an experimental film around animation, and you want to surprise people, weird them out or make them thing, you have to go so much further than this. In the age of amateur animation dominated by artists like Extraweg or those featured in the Trippy compilation series from Bred, a horde of realistic, yet impossible, mind-bending visuals are easily in reach for anyone with an internet connection and time to kill. The only level on which Mixed Movie might be able to compete with that is the soundtrack – but beyond that, the film has more in common with the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink style of rummage-store animation roundly mocked in Red Letter Media’s review of The Amazing Bulk.

In his director’s statement, Diogo states, “I consider myself a beginning artist with a beginner’s mind. Most of the time I don’t know exactly what I’m doing…” I appreciate that there are challenges to taking up filmmaking, starting from scratch, and honing a self-taught skill-set – Lord knows I found that out the hard way myself. With that being said, as a fledgling filmmaker, you need to be aware of your limitations – and failing that, you need to be able to take it in-stride when someone suggests you have failed to do so. Diogo is still trying to find his own cinematic language, that much is clear, but I would like to advise him, whatever that ends up being, it should not be this.

Vasco Diogo bills himself as a fledgling director, starting to make his way in the world of effects-driven experimental film. I hope he does not take this particular review too closely to heart on that basis. His other work has showed a huge amount of potential – but on this occasion, a lack of willingness to align his ambitions with limitations in budget or skills means his lack of experience has been badly exposed.

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