Sunday, January 09, 2011

Ferrara at AFA: Happy Life

It looks like “Recovery Summer” passed over the techno specialty record shops, just like the rest of the nation’s economy. Feeling the financial pinch, an aging DJ plans to throw an old school rave to raise money for his ailing store in Michael M. Bilandic’s Happy Life (trailer here), which Anthology Film Archives has unofficially side-barred into the Abel Ferrara in the 21st Century series, since the filmmaker served as the project’s executive producer.

Keith is a true believer. He will argue passionately about the deeper sociological significance of early 90’s techno-house-whatever music and the original rave scene it fueled. Unfortunately, those glory days are gone. Kids want rap now rather than trance and Keith’s plan to wait for the world to revolve back to him does not seem to be working. Attempting a Hail Mary pass, he signs DJ Liquids, a not-so rehabbed superstar from the era gone by, to play his fundraiser-happening. At least he is finally doing something. In fact, Keith’s preparations give him an opportunity to problematically put the moves on a seventeen year-old drop-out who haunts the stoops of the neighborhood with her slacker friends.

Bilandic and his cinematographer Sean Price Williams both worked at the late lamented Kim’s Video on St. Marks. They really capture the right look and feel of the formerly funky East Village. Visually though, Happy is deliberately grungy to the point of distraction. In fact, Williams is probably better represented by his striking work on Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo and Beijing Taxi.

While there is no need to belabor the point, the real problem with Happy is the evidently unprofessional cast. Stand-up comedian Tom McCaffrey delivers deadpan sarcasm rather effectively, but he is essentially out to sea in the film’s more dramatic moments. Still, he fairs somewhat better than many of the supporting players.

Without Ferrara’s imprimatur, it is doubtful hardly anyone would give Happy a second look. Those who know their way around City record stores will want to like the potentially endearing story, but the film is just not professional grade. It screens this coming Tuesday (1/11) as an official selection of Newfilmmakers NY and unofficially as part of the ongoing Abel Ferrara retrospective, which continues through January 18th at Anthology Film Archives.