Thursday, October 2, 2014

Film Review: Getting Go: the Go Doc Project

Those of us who scour the film world for a decent gay-themed film are often frustrated. Many factors contribute to this. Most often, American-made films are a particular crap-shoot. If they have attained decent financial backing, their filmmakers end up bowing to the preferences of fat-cat producers who turn it into a replica of what they know sells and makes back the money with a profit: this usually means a cheesy goof-ball comedy. I think that competent filmmakers who want to make a great gay-themed film walk a fine line too often - at least in America - no doubt struggling to put together something with some quality and still appease the moolah gods.

Going the indie route can result in a little more creative freedom, but also comes with the challenge of raising funding; even if you can afford in the end to make the film the way you want to, and get everyone paid for their work, the real cost afterward of marketing it means that many a decent film never makes it in front of most people's eyes. Film-making is a tough world, but in the gay genre, it's near-impossible.

One has to admire Cory Krueckeberg, director/writer of Getting Go: the Go Doc Project, a film that hit Netflix just recently. I watched it a few nights ago. It was an interesting experience. Apparently, according to an interview Krueckeberg gave to Andrew Darley for Polari Magazine online, Krueckeberg set out to make a film that "didn't look cheap" with a budget of a mere $10,000. A scary prospect to be sure, but Krueckeberg thought outside the box: he figured that he could make a film about a guy making a documentary, shoot the whole thing with hand-held cameras, and depend upon a few good performances and a good story to sell it. I'd say he pretty much succeeded.

It is amusing to see how many of the customer reviews on Netflix call the film a "documentary". Obviously there are a lot of people who don't know the definition of a documentary, or maybe they really are that ignorant of film-making. Hard to tell. At any rate, the reviews are all over the board, although the overall average earns the film a four stars so far. One must, as always, look hard at these reviews and read between the lines; some will watch it too critically because they are gay and perhaps too familiar with the NYC night life, some will watch it too critically because they aren't gay and don't get it, some will be jolted by the R+ sex scene (which is beautifully done).

Make no mistake, this is not a documentary film; it's a feature film. The story involves Doc, a desperately lonely college student, not so conflicted about his sexuality as he is about figuring out how to go about finding a relationship. Because he lacks the social skills and maturity, not to mention the balls, to go out and find one, he depends upon an anonymous internet following, for whom he occasionally jacks off online and with whom he shares his most intimate thoughts.  As a joke, he emails his favorite idol obsession, a go-go boy who works the NYC gay clubs, about doing a documentary. To Doc's surprise and horror, the boy responds, and the momentum begins: Doc can neither walk away nor muster the nerve to confess his ruse.  It gets more complicated when the go-go boy expresses a romantic interest in Doc.

Matthew Camp.  Photo copyright Daniel Jack Lyons, 2014
Every moment of the film is shot through Doc's documentary eyes. It is occasionally grainy, frequently badly-lit, providing just enough of an amateurish feel to keep the viewer inside Doc's head and experience. The script is passable; I think that the filmmaker was trying to strike a balance, perhaps, between scripted lines and natural spontaneous conversation between the actors. It's an interesting approach but it makes for some terribly bland dialog in places. Added to this is the filmmaker's obsession with Warhol's realism phase - three minutes of someone eating is three minutes of pure torture. When Warhol did it, it was new and innovative. In 2014 it is damned annoying, breaks the pacing of the plot, and sticks out like a sore thumb. Some serious cutting in the editing room would have improved the film overall.

However, aside from these issues, Getting Go is a moving piece of work.  Much of this is due to the story itself and the performances of the two leads (the only speaking actors in the film). Doc is played by young, but veteran, actor Tanner Cohen, and quite competently.  The challenge of a film like this is that the entire film rides on the lead being engaging and likable immediately, and Cohen is easily that. Moreover, he knows acting and it shows. In this role, in which Doc starts out jacking off and then deceiving an innocent person into being filmed in private moments of life, a less talented and trained actor could have created an odious character and destroyed the film. But the viewer can't help but like Doc - with all his faults, his vulnerability is near-heartbreaking, throughout the film.  Newcomer to the screen but not to the go-go scene is former go-go dancer,more recently artist and perfumer, Matthew Camp. He was already a well-known heartthrob in the NYC gay world, and his performance in the film is spot on - a combination of scripted lines and his musings on his own life. While a few exchanges feel a bit awkward, he does create a character, and it is a believable one. His charm and looks make up for any misstep.

Tanner Cohen 
The story leads the viewer intimately into a unique relationship between a pair of characters who are ultimately lonely in their own ways - Doc in his inexperience and under-confidence, and Go in his isolation in the limited world of gay nightlife, one with which he isn't all that comfortable, it turns out. I have to be honest, I struggled to stay with this film in the first half-hour - the pacing was so messy, the dialog so dry, that I prayed it would have a point in the end.  And it did, in spades. I have to mention also, that having come to know many of the young men that work in exotic dancing / burlesque / gay porn, the character of Go and his view on life, attitude, and experiences, felt very true to me. Their often becoming involved with someone outside the sex industry, being lonely in their own unique ways even as they are adored by fans, being very free-spirited, sensual, and creative people, is exactly what I would expect.

I would greatly encourage everyone to read the interview with the filmmaker at Polari, after watching the film. Various interviews with the two leads can also be found online.  I am not one to be comfortable with star ratings for films - a viewing experience is intensely personal - but if I focus on technical aspects I would give it a 4/5, because its innovation and heart - not to mention the performances (particularly that of Cohen) - far outweigh any problems.

Interview with Krueckeberg for Polaris (Andrew Darley) :

Tanner Cohen (Doc) is on Twitter at @tarzancohen

Matthew Camp (Go) is on Twitter at @MatthewCampNYC