Saturday, January 18, 2014

Slamdance ’14: Elliot

Did the recent death of Tom Laughlin leave a vacancy for Elliot “White Lightning” Scott to become the next white, working class martial arts star? No, absolutely not.  Although he aspires to be the Nova Scotian Chuck Norris, Scott’s barely there career is only headed in one direction—due south. Viewers will understand why after watching Jaret Belliveau & Matthew Bauckman’s documentary Elliot (trailer here), which premiered yesterday at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival.

With two scruffy DIY martial arts flicks under his belt, Scott is trying to complete his most ambitious project to date, a beatdown entitled Blood Fight.  Unfortunately, the production has been plagued by problems that initially do seem to be entirely his fault.  Nevertheless, Linda Lum, his increasingly impatient girlfriend-slash-producer is clearly starting to have doubts about his action movie dreams and pretty much every other aspect of their relationship.

Frankly, Barney Fife had better moves than moves than Scott, but for a while viewers will try to see him as noble dreamer, like an Ed Wood or Mark Borchardt, whose ambitions exceed their talents.  However, this is not American Movie. While in China with his acupuncture class, Scott lets his yellow fever run rampant.  Aspects of his not so carefully constructed backstory then start to unravel. In fact, by the time the documentary enters the third act, Belliveau and Bauckman have pretty clearly turned against their subject, which becomes quite a sight to behold.

Things get so in-your-face uncomfortable, you have to wonder if it is all an extended meta-joke in the tradition of I’m Still Here.  Either way, it is dramatic stuff and a not inconsiderable feat of filmmaking, shot on location in both Nova Scotia and China. There is also a lot of humor in the film, mostly derived from Scott’s sheer brazenness and lack of self awareness.

Scott’s martial arts might be laughably amateurish (an underwhelmed Shaolin monk is obviously tempted to beat him like a drum and we sort of wish he would), but Belliveau & Bauckman practice a decidedly nimble form of cinematic jujitsu. Not exactly a film for martial art purists, Elliot is sort of like Kung Fu reality programming.  Right now, the late legendary Sir Run Run Shaw is probably looking down on Scott and thinking “kid, you stink.”  Yet, it is all undeniably compelling.  Although it screens as part of Slamdance’s Doc Features section, it could be comfortably programmed elsewhere as a midnight movie. Recommended for anyone open to a bit of Canadian bizarreness, Elliot screens again this Monday (1/20) as part of this year’s Slamdance in Park City.