(An experimental article as published in The Scene, Jan. 2014)
Within the confines of the film Bullet Collector, teen angst is a strange and violently crooked world unto itself. A curious, ultra indie effort bred in Mother Russia (native title 'Sobiratel pul'), this film marks a flawed yet highly noteworthy feature bow for Alexander Vartanov, following stints toiling in and around television and stage productions . This director has openly cited the cinematic legacy of long beloved French new waver François Truffaut (in great particular, The 400 Blows, a work that receives rather explicit homage here) as a primary source of influence on his yarn spinning approach. One may be hard pressed to overlook the shades of fellow countrymen filmmakers embedded in the texture and rhythm of Bullet Collector as well (i.e. Andrei Tarkovsky, Grigory Chukhray).
Bullet Collector gives the adventurous viewer bold (and often quite brutal) insight into the passing everyday turmoil that is the waking life of a perpetually put upon youth, never officially named in the film and played by Ruslan Nazarenko, and the unique process he develops in order to soldier on. Between a cold, defeatist vibe at home care an emotionally bankrupt mother and conflict prone stepfather and an arguably worse environment at school and in the city streets, this poor soul must stick to the markedly fairer comforts of his imagination which at least provides him with a sense of purpose in the role of budding 'bullet collector' (yes, that odd title has a tangible meaning). You see, inside the framework of this anonymous child's mind, there is an abstract war of wills between collectives suggested to be heroic (the 'Bullet Collectors') and villainous (the 'Wood Borers') who trade bloody stand offs in strict juxtaposition to the harsh truths unfolding around him.
The potency that fuels this odd slice of monochromatic cinematic experimentation comes far more from the director's method of image composing and the corralling together of some remarkable ideas than just sticking to a convenient 'woe is me' type of t.v. movie level character study. Bullet Collector feels more accurate when it chooses to unfold its given saga in more of a brooding, even horrific light.
Vartanov divides the overall body of his unusual domestic dilemma into two distinct halves (like a kind of avaunt guarde 'Full Metal Jacket', albeit focusing on a rather scaled down form of combat) the first hour being fractured into drifting, largely unpredictable fragments that attempt to flesh out themes and shades of the protagonist's problematic existence. In said segmentations (ten in total, bearing titles like 'Father', 'Dagger', 'Debt, 'The Road' etc...) the viewer is fitted with the duty of properly assembling a coherent take on the main lad's background and upbringing coupled with sketches that work to detail this kid's none too smooth interaction with a pretty lass (who actually is permitted a name 'Vika', a blatant anomaly in the film for some reason) and a heady variety of violent altercations with local gangs of mechanically vicious delinquents. Finally, following a succession of these increasingly chaotic situations this lithe, blond ne'er do well finds himself smack in the nucleus of, the choice is made to have him shifted away to a reform school hell pit and the film reconfigures itself to become a far more linear, though no less aggressive and troubling, prison escape attempt melodrama. The kid aligns himself with a fitful company of other misfit types, mostly the kind that are repeatedly singled out for predictable abuse, and sets forth to hatch an effective scheme in which they are able to burst from the draining, oppressive walls of this 'establishment' and make their ways to brighter pastures. The film refuses to play out its final beats en route to a chipper denouement, preferring instead to play witness to their free fall away from one another and, especially in the case of the central youth so besotted with evacuating his given reality, a complete decent into a vast open body of water that may (or may not) spell the literal end of a much troubled mortal role.
Bullet Collector works as a mostly dead on depiction of extensive mental improvisation and (eventually) clear cut delirium as a means to survive a truly desolate end. The picture is rendered through stark cinematography that reveals its collection of potentially mundane daily life set pieces more as an engrossing Grand Guignol of painful challenges that the story's chief hero (to use the term with a bit of abstraction) must endure, overcome and ultimately escape in an improved form, or not. To be sure, the pace of Bullet Collector may lag some at times, the film runs a tad overlong, but that does precious little to diffuse its' genuine level of power. The plight of this boy is never reduced to cheap, simple to digest sentiment as the film favors a wholly gory series of visual visitations (i.e. one downtrodden specter who strangles himself with his own intestines) to help or hinder (the purpose is never completely sharp here) his progress through each passing day.
Bullet Collector is a strong piece of film for the sake of pure art and should satiate the needs of those who crave the brave and apart from conventional in their cinematic diet. Available on DVD from an interesting company named Artsploitation Films whose aim is to transcend safe boundaries in cinema and one glane at their budding catalog of releases (check artsploitationfilms.com to see for your own damn self) and one can easily believe in them. Bullet Collector is accompanied by a 25 minute making of piece (in color for a nice bit of alternate perspective), a short deleted scene, audition footage and a somewhat helpful booklet with ample insights from director Vartanov who does his darndest to clarify his intentions. Give it a chance, won't you?
Also along the path of different things for 'different' people is the spare yet informative documentary that goes by the name of Free Radicals, A History of Experimental Film. Here, we are presented with a bit of a crash course on the basics and key participants of the underground film movement that sought to separate itself from the confines of strict, commercial narrative storytelling in order to lay emphasis on the value and power of the image itself. The film seems to be a labor of love for its' heavily enthusiastic creator, director Pip Chodorov, and with obvious reason as the film makes blatant early on. Chodorov's pop, Stephan, was a would be avaunt gaurde filmmaker and documentarian and it seems Pip was raised in the embrace of a natural, creativity driven household that involved copious group screenings and related discussions. Pip does well within his tightly kept 82 minute running time to provide the uninitiated with many key points of interest (both historic and current) in relation to the founding and continued nurturing of the world of expressive celluloid manipulation.
Free Radicals works between clips of various works and interviews detailing by direct example the way established voices in this strange variant of the cinema found fulfillment by scratching, looping, spitting, spastically editing and painting on strips of film to craft dense and hitherto unforeseen realms to be projected before any (usually limited) gathering they could wrangle together. Some of the major names in this so-called movement, living and not, are given time to share insight, theory and asides into what first lured them and what maintained their drive to continue making these rebellious and consistently under loved little contributions to the motion picture universe. Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Hans Richter, Robert Breer and Ken Jacobs are all granted a fair share in this micro-epic and yes, even ol' Andy Warhol finds himself slotted into the mix.
The film holds a majority focus on many of the current and more recent facets of this sub-genre and never fully conveys the impression that it ever intends to be a end all, beat all historical chronicle of said subject matter (after all, there is no mention of turn of the century trail blazers like Georges Méliès and his ilk) and that hardly matters. What Free Radicals achieves is the worthy status as a sort of engaging primer on the matter, it could work wonders to pique interest and lead certain odd duck tastes to seek out the sprawling body of works that the mentioned individuals have given forth thus far. The Criterion Collection (forever a valued source for moi) itself has two fat collections of Stan Brakhage's mammoth output as well as a package of stuff from related artist Hollis Frampton (a name not mentioned in this film) that more than do the trick. I found each of the aforementioned films at the Appleton Public Library (bless 'em), so it doesn't even have to cost you to make the effort. Dig into it, pronto.
Free Radicals : A History of Experimental Film can also be tracked down at kinolorber.com