Posted by Richard Harland Smith on September 13, 2012
Tonight, the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, CA, will host the official premiere of Jim Akin’s AFTER THE TRIUMPH OF YOUR BIRTH (2012). This lyrical, dreamlike, loopy, pained, provocative, questioning, and altogether brilliant independent film screens at 7:30pm, followed by a live set courtesy of the film’s costar/producer Maria McKee (of Lone Justice fame) and her band. I hope anyone within walking or driving distance of the Aero will make it tonight to see the kind of indie pic that hardly ever gets made anymore.
Filmed in and around downtown Los Angeles and points east and west but set for the most part within the wounded head and heartspace of its ragged dramatis personae, AFTER THE TRIUMPH OF YOUR BIRTH attends the pilgrimage of Eli (Tom Dunne), whose fortieth birthday and diminished prospects “halfway to the infinite dirt nap” have compelled him to hoof it from his refuge in the Southern California desert to the ocean, one hundred miles away. Splitting itself between excoriating inner monologue and tart two-handers as Eli encounters a wealth of colorful characters from his point of origin to his final destination, Akin’s screenplay paints a portrait of a certain artistic So-Cal demographic, whose show of pulp toughness and fierce independence masks a gnawing need for justification, validation, and love.
I can’t remember the last time I was so thrilled by a movie trailer — not thrilled by the manipulative slam-bang/rollercoaster ride that the standard Hollywood preview has become post Spielberg-Lucas but in the promise of something different, something that doesn’t mistake an adrenaline surge for a pulse. Yet even as I savor the film’s freshness, I love how it reminds me of my post-college moviegoing at the York Square Cinema in New Haven and the Angelika in New York, where I saw such rarities as Alan Rudolph’s CHOOSE ME (1984), Jim Jarmush’s DOWN BY LAW (1986), Christian Faber’s BAIL JUMPER (1990) and Richard Linklater’s SLACKER (1991). What these films have in common is an interest in the lives of people, the very wellspring from which the arts and humanities rise. That being said, AFTER THE TRIUMPH OF YOUR BIRTH eschews the This Is Real, Damnit preciousness of such critical darlings as WINTER’S BONE (2010), which truck Hollywood actors into a rural setting for presumed instant verisimilitude, offering instead a highly stylized but no less genuine perspective on life as we know it, filtered through the mouthpiece of characters we may or may not have met.
Constructed around a latticework of personal manifestos (“Our best relationships are based on benevolent, balanced, reciprocal use.“), anthracite attitudes of stoic resignation (“Even before we’re pushed out of mama, we get a rating… Make peace with your rating, it’ll all be over soon.”) and admissions of spiritual despair (“You know what they say about dreams. Without them, we can relax.”) stitched together by a throughline of confessional original songs, Akin’s screenplay leaves itself open to the charge of pretentiousness but the film understands that pretense is as integral to the human psyche as hope and faith. AFTER THE TRIUMPH OF YOUR BIRTH is filled with characters who make a good show of survival and wear their wounds proudly, it understands and empathizes with them while also hanging their self-centered exhortations to air, to be challenged by others, and turned back on them, returning them to center, to the hope, however slim, of renewal and reawakening.
Closer kin to Kent MacKenzie’s THE EXILES (1961) than Robert Altman’s SHORT CUTS (1993), AFTER THE TRIUMPH OF YOUR BIRTH nonetheless benefits from the vivid, chancy performances of a winning ensemble, headed by Dunne, whose unconventional, as-is handsomeness would rate five minutes of screen time in a big budget Hollywood joint. Though the film offers many a fresh face, some are familiar — chiefly Maria McKee as a lonely music teacher who finds a balm from heartsickness in mentoring/mothering a latchkey kid (Dean Ogle), Maria Doyle Kennedy (the hated Vera Bates of DOWNTON ABBEY) as a life coach with some tough truths about our expectations for love, and LA-based magician and oddball Rob Zabrecky (the cape-wearing vampire in Audi’s 2012 Super Bowl spot) as the Answer Man, a shade who haunts our hero, brandishing a blade but proving himself more of a threat as a conduit to futility and surrender. Also making a good impression are newcomers Tessa Ferrer (as a would-be novelist who literally prostitutes herself for her art) and Burlesque dancer Kristina Nekiya as a woman of mystery whose come-hither stare and bewitching mien compensate (or try to) for a pair of useless legs. Also, look fast for Irish actress Bronagh Gallagher, of THE COMMITMENTS and PULP FICTION fame, as a suspect soothsayer lying supine in the street to speak her peace.
The real star of the show here is, of course, Los Angeles itself: the storefront churches, the dive bars, the strip joints, the lonely cafeterias, the theaters, the urban gardens tucked in under humming power lines, the sun-baked locomotive yards and the graffiti-slashed bridges, overpasses, connectors and back alleys that, in most studio super-productions, tend to be hidden behind the honeywagons. These haunted, forgotten locales are photographed here by Akin (acting as his own cinematographer, and editor, and score composer, and session musician) with love and a painterly attention to detail that reminds us of why movies matter, particularly the ones that encourage us to be quiet, to watch, and to listen.
I’ve been living with AFTER THE TRIUMPH OF YOUR BIRTH for a month now and have revisited it a number of times and thought about it a lot. It has colored the way I now listen to people as they tell me their stories, thoughts, and secrets. Please get over to the Aero tonight at 7:30 and see this film on the big screen before it goes to video-on-demand. It deserves to be seen big. Aero insider David Moninger promises that tonight’s showing will be “the greatest show the Aero has ever run.”
Aero Theater, 1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA – (323) 466-3456
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