Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Friday, November 9, 2007


       Cinema, as a medium of artistic endeavor, is only possible as the result of technology made available within the last century or so. Other arts, such as painting or sculpture, certainly have their own tools and technologies; but they’re readily available in the immediate environment -- at least in their most primitive forms. To make a movie, though, you need some some fairly sophisticated hardware to pull it off -- even at the most unsophisticated level; and the apparatus needed to do this is necessary through every stage of the filmmaking process. Most obviously, in the initial ‘shooting’ of the film, but also in the assembly of said footage -- in the editing. The most significant recent development in editing technology is the advent of so-called non-linear editing systems -- computer-based hardware/software ‘solutions’ that allow the assembly and processing of film and/or video footage -- like AVID’s Media Composer or Apple’s Final Cut Pro. In terms of using the capabilities of this technology to its’ utmost, I have to say that I have yet to see a more trailblazing example than Bruce McDonald’s The Tracey Fragments.

       Based on the novel of the same name by Maureen Medved, The Tracey Fragments tells the story of 15 year old Tracey Berkowitz (Ellen Page). She’s going through that angst-y adolescent period -- a bit of a pariah at her high school, at odds with her dysfunctional family, and totally ‘crushing’ on the dreamy new boy at her school, a teen-aged Bob Dylan clone she refers to as ‘Billy Zero’. One day, her much younger brother Sonny goes missing; frustrated by her parents increasingly hostile treatment towards her -- and their near-complete emotional breakdown over their vanished son -- Tracey sets herself an impossible task: to seek out Sonny on her own, despite an approaching, and life-threateningly frigid blizzard. As straightforward as this synopsis sounds, the story unfolds in a stream-of-consciousness, fragmented style (hence the title, I suppose) that makes all this a little less clear-cut than I’m presenting it here. Tracey’s search is all mixed up with her own perspectives -- her very personal dreams, desires, and fantasies -- and the plot, such as it is, kind of leaks out through the edges of all that. While I think all the flash and cinematic wizardry used to tell this tale overwhelms it a bit (perhaps intentionally so, though), it was inevitable that someone would try to tell a story this way -- now that it’s possible to do so.

       As a person who makes his living as an editor myself, what struck me about The Tracey Fragments is how difficult -- probably impossible -- it would be to make this film before the advent of NLE’s (non-linear editing systems). The movies extensive use of optical effects -- P-I-P (multiple frames within the screen), images that move in relation to one another while on screen, shifting borders around and between objects -- all of this has been possible since the early days of film. But the ability to see that possibility while in the midst of the editing process -- to actually know how it’ll look to have six or seven images on-screen at the same time, all moving in relation to one another -- that’s something that’s only been possible within the last dozen years or so; since AVID released its’ first products.
       Working directly with film, on a flatbed editor like a Steenbeck, all of the information related to those kinds of effects are just marked on the workprint with a grease-pencil -- if you want to actually see what that dissolve or wipe will look like, you have to go through the time-consuming -- and expensive -- task of getting the lab to ‘print’ that sequence; and all the while they're handling your one and only, all-too-fragile negative, to make these tests. With an NLE, all the film footage is transferred to video, converted to a kind of moving-image computer file, and from there you can play with it to your heart’s content -- and see it all there, in real-time...        well, truth be told, most likely after a lengthy render -- but the point is you can actually see what you’re doing while you’re doing it -- and that opens up a whole new world of possibilities in cinematic storytelling.

       The Tracey Fragments is in limited release right now in Canada (its country of origin), and is playing the festival circuit here in the States -- most likely, it’ll find a U.S. distributor soon and get a wider release sometime later this year or early next. What you can see of the The Tracey Fragments right now is on its’ website, which also makes an intriguing offer. Under the RE-FRAGMENTED Tab, is a link which will start a download of all the footage utilized in the film to the users' computer. The site encourages interested parties to do this, and re-edit the film as they see fit, -- and then submit the re-mix to the films producers’ to evaluate. One winning entry will receive a copy of Final Cut Studio 2 -- and have their cut included on the forthcoming DVD of the film. Unfortunately, this contest is only open to Canadian citizens -- so they won’t be seeing a re-cut from me anytime soon...

Next post -- 11/16/07


Paula said...

Sounds amazing! I feel compelled to point out that the plot is almost exactly that of Welcome to the Dollhouse, but it sounds like this isn't played for uncomfortable laughs...

grigorss said...

Yeah, there are some similarities between this and Dollhouse -- but the latter is a bit more driven by said plot, and this is very much a character study, more "in the head" of the lead. So they don't "feel" like the same kind of film -- or at least didn't to me.

Also yes, not so much played for laughs (although there's certainly some humor in Tracey's observations of the world around her)

I just realized that I somehow got through this entire write-up without mentioning the fact that Ellen Page gives another in an ongoing series of amazing performances -- so young, so talented... so cute (I can write that with relatively little shame, now that she's actually of age)