Review: 'Creative Control'

Director, star and co-writer Benjamin Dickinson's Creative Control, a hilarious black and white, widescreen comic fable hits its mark every time.
APPED OUT: Director, star and co-writer Benjamin Dickinson loses himself in his work, quite literally, in 'Creative Control.'

Once people lived lives of quiet desperation, as per the Thoreau quote. Now they're noisy and desperate—trapped in a gabble of voices, advertising and text messages, working 90 hours a week and masturbating to electronic phantoms for the other 10 hours.

Director, star and co-writer (with Micah Bloomberg) Benjamin Dickinson's Creative Control, a hilarious black and white, widescreen comic fable of a marketer's crack up, hits its mark every time. It's not easy to make a satire like this without crankiness, or to bring a new talent to the buckshotting of that sitting duck known as Nouveau Brooklyn, where "Namaste" is the Tibetan word for "fuck you." Dickinson's opus is as chic as a Kubrick film, even on its modest budget.

Brooklyn in the very near future: after 7 years with the Homunculus Agency (a name worthy of S.J. Perelman) David finally has creative control over a project. He's working on Augmenta, Google Glass-like VR spectacles. He's been sold on the idea of musician-hyphenate Reggie Watts as the roly-poly figure who can draw out the insanely cool VR spectacles' potential to the average buyer. "We may have a new form of art here!" a marketer burbles.

But David is swallowing handfuls of the Lucky Charms-cereal shaped tablets of the panic medicine Phalinex, and washing it down with liquor. And he's fixated on Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen), the live-in girlfriend of his buddy Wim (Dan Gill) a fashion photographer who conducts himself with the nastiness of David Hemmings in Blow-Up. Wim is cheating. He texts David snapshots of the body parts of the model he's sleeping with.

David's own live-in Juliette (Nora Zehetner) faces a troubled career as a yoga instructor. The punishing scenes of this discipline give a physical side to a film in which so much of the action is occurring in the mind. Distracted and unhappy with Juliette, David uses Augmenta glasses to create electronic reveries of Sophie. Just as Jennifer Jason Leigh in Anolmalisa had the only distinct voice, the phantom Sophie is the only character in the film that is in color.

The semi-imaginary romance relieves the utter waste of time and talent in David's life. On the set of a Phalinex commercial the agency is producing, an executive complains about an actor: "How do we know this guy is supposed to be a pilot?" In response, David shouts, "He's wearing a pilot uniform and he's in a cockpit!"

It isn't easy for a director to extract themselves from a farce, but Dickinson expertly turns this around—leaving Zehetner's wide, dark and innocent eyes to carry the ending. I've wanted her to get bigger parts, ever since she played the film noir temptress in Rian Johnson's Brick (2006). She uses a high, questioning, inexpressive voice for the role; she's quite a ravisher, and yet she's a full character. She has a dinner confrontation with David about the toxicity of the communication devices he's peddling, technology that requires African colton mined with child slave labor. It's the conversation that anyone in this valley, anyone who makes real money, that is, has brushed aside at some point in their lives.

Juliette has just enough decency to almost save David's sinking ship, even if she uses her own self-delusion to make it happen. But self-delusion is the subject of this movie—the deliberate blinkering caused by snapping on these plastic spectacles, the consorting with digital homunculi. (In alchemical terms, "homunculus" is the word for a figment a magician can bring to life.)

Comedy directors really ought to use more classical music, as Terry Zwigoff does, to contrast the grandeur of human potential with the mucky situations that tangle our feet daily. Composer Drazen Bosnjak includes a great deal of baroque. Purcell's trumpets complement the blaring car horns on the street, and Vivaldi and Bach—as well as '80s proto-industrial music by Alan Vega, of the band Suicide. There's genuine idealism here, and genuine romance, and Creative Control isn't sour or cold. In these invasive times, the fantasy of relocation to some faraway mountain top off the grid is pure and not to be mocked.

Creative Control
R; 97 Mins.
Camera 3, San Jose

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