Jan 13, 2024
Dane Clarke II, Andy Charles, Isaac Nevrla,
Photocopy (2023) is no ordinary psychological thriller. Clocking in at under 13 minutes, one would expect a short film about a lone photographer to be more mellow, perhaps even meandering; but this New York-set exploration of one man’s mental decline packs a strong punch. It’s unashamedly stylish and disorienting, though always engaging, and patiently incorporates surreal ideas into the mix as it progresses. Our protagonist (played by Dane Clarke II in a mostly silent performance) wanders the streets in search of that perfect shot but starts to spot a figure that peculiarly resembles himself.
Writer-director Mike Klubeck is telling a formally inventive story with his unique style of direction, guiding the viewer through varying modes of spectatorship and perspective. One can draw a lot of comparisons to Michelangelo Antonioni’s seminal neo-noir Blow-Up (1966) which centers around a photographer who believes he’s discovered evidence of a murder via one of his photographs -- later reimagined as Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981) -- however, unlike Antonioni’s polarising pastiche, Photocopy encourages an emotional engagement. The piece takes sharp and unexpected turns, not just in terms of plot but style as well: from subjective storytelling to metaphorical storytelling; from a transcendental approach to being fully abstract... Yet the protagonist always remains the empathetic center.
The cinematography is hypnotic. Shot on film (or seemingly so), most of the piece is filled with a luscious grain; and yet it also feels contemporary. A lot of this is due to the setting and the technology we see on screen (of course); however, it’s also due to the film’s occasional fluctuation to purely digital looking footage – mostly when our protagonist is looking through the viewfinder of his camera, which is another way the filmmaker plays with perspective. The look also encourages a satisfying metatextual reading of the film, as if it is our lead character (shooting on film) who is constructing the images we’re seeing and viewing his own life through fragments of his own art. Needless to say, it’s a fascinating, layered little movie.
Unfortunately, there are a couple moments where the illusion is broken; the magic trick revealed! - and it comes in the cursed form of digital warp stabilisation. A nitpick, since this short is mostly outstanding, but those few moments of digital distortion risk taking the audience out of the experience. But only briefly. Within any other film not as visually joyous as Photocopy, it wouldn’t be so jarring. Simply because the style is so uniquely vintage, the sudden presence of modern tampering reveals itself so unflatteringly – though perhaps this is yet another opportunity to whole-heartedly indulge in a metatextual reading of the work, an anachronistic individual confronted by the distractions of modern technology, for instance!
It remains near impeccable despite this. Any problems are present for less than a couple seconds, and one only need watch the film to feel fully immersed in a brave style and drawn in by an unconventional story. With a concept that’s seemingly simple, yet holds themes and ideas far more complex, it embraces being a bold enigma of a film.