Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Review: Turn Me On, Dead Man
One of the most perplexing things about seeing the trailer and reading the advance promotion for this short film was the question of how they were going to tell the story of the sudden death of a member of a rock band at the peak of their popularity and the subsequent cover up in just 22 minutes. After seeing the film, I was impressed at how much ground they were able to cover in such a short amount of time.
Director Adam Blake Carver uses an effective technique of alternating between black and white and color to tell the story. With the exception of the first scene where the band's manager arrives to tell the three band members about the death of Blake, their popular bass player, all black and white scenes indicate the time when Blake is alive and all color scenes indicate the time when the band is carrying on with a replacement. This little trick is not only used effectively, but it also shows some insight into Beatles history when you think about the stark black and white "Revolver" cover versus the lavish color of "Sgt. Pepper" and "Magical Mystery Tour."
The band itself depicted in the film is not the Beatles, I think. I don't remember a band name ever being mentioned in the film. On some mock newsreel footage (that includes a couple extremely quick images of the Beatles) the four band members, who share some resemblance to the Fabs are simply referred to as Blake (Paul), John (Guess Who), Charlie (George) and Ryland (Ringo). The band members are played by Joe Reegan, David Moscow, Luke Edwards and Brian Ruppenkamp.
The original music in the film, written by Logan Metz and Lincoln Mendell and performed by the Bumblebees is based on the styles of the time period represented (1964-1968). The song snippets are adequate, but not quite up to the level of the Rutles. One song has a Beatles "Wooh" as in "She Loves You" and the John character sings in a nasal voice.
Producer and Co-Writer Tyler Knell explained, "In making the film, we realized early on that we had no interest in trying to be 100% accurate, because we knew we never would be able to break through those constraints and tell the story the way we wanted to tell it. Therefore, you’ll find that we took creative liberties wherever we could afford them."
This was a wise decision. The characters make no attempt to speak with a phony Liverpool accent and aspects of the chronology are slightly different from Beatles history so that the story can be told more effectively. In fact, Adele, a Yoko-like character played by Kalia Pamela is annoying the other members of the band in the studio as early as 1966 and contributing to the riff between Blake and John that precedes the car accident. So, apparently PID is Yoko's fault too. Yoko haters will also be pleased to hear that Adele has to use facial expressions alone to wreak havoc as she does not make a single utterance in the whole film. I hope this doesn't negatively impact Kalia Pamela's chances of playing the lead role in a movie based on the life of Alanis Morissette.
I don't think the "creative liberties" will be a problem for Beatles fans who watch this film. The main problem seems to be the attempts to be more like the Beatles. If they are going to have American accents, why put them in silly looking Beatle wigs? Why try to mimic the exact words from Beatles press conferences when the band is clearly not the Beatles? I also did not get why the surviving members of the band were told that they would honor their tour commitments immediately after a news clip reported that the band had decided to give up touring. It almost seemed like the decision to not worry about accuracy was made halfway into the shooting of the film.
Despite its flaws, "Turn Me On Dead Man" is worth having in the dark fringes of any Beatles collection. There is one aspect of the film that possibly unintentionally mirrors the contradictory and ambiguous nature of Beatles conspiracy theories. Remember when I told you that black and white means Blake is alive and color means that Blake is dead? Well there is one scene in the movie that occurs twice, once in black and white and once in color. Also just before his tragic death, Blake picks up a young woman in distress near a Volkswagon that has its emergency flashers on. The scene in the film is in black and white, but for some reason the trailer has only the flashers in color. Isn't that a lovely clue for the PID person who pays attention to fine detail and seeks to find a sinister meaning?
Coming soon: A closer look at Rotten Apple 76.