Static ★½

Happy New Year! 

Diving headfirst into the shallow end of 2021, Richard and I got a belated note from Santa saying our darling friend RivoliPalace asked that we watch and review this film for Christmas. Well, always the procrastinator, I made it a priority for our New Year’s viewing. Thank you, Rivoli, for your friendship and always-positive spirit in 2020—you make it feel like Christmas all year long. I wish I could say I love Static as much as I love you, but I hope my thoughts on the film won’t hurt your feelings, as I would much rather you regale us any day of the week with your storied and manifold experiences.

Director and co-writer Mark Romanek’s feature debut, Static, is an independent exercise in radical self-delusion and maladaptive grief set to the soundtrack of some pretty cool new wave deep cuts. I can scarcely feel guilt for my antipathy toward this work, as Romanek himself later disowned the film outright and categorized it as an “embarrassing bit of juvenilia,” admitting, “I just wish it would go away.”

Despite its million dollar budget, the movie manages to look discourteously threadbare and two-dimensional—the wide-open, dingy, flat desert backdrop mimics the empty, hollow interiors and spartan set dressing. Some of the outdoor footage aspires to a pseudo-no wave aesthetic extrapolated to the wasteland of small-town Arizona where the film is set.

The turgid, plodding story—while opening with an obviously disenchanted Amanda Plummer as the keyboardist for LA punk band The Plugz and her unceremonious departure back to her hometown—actually centers around co-writer and star Keith Gordon as the gauche but arrogant Ernie Blick, a recently-unemployed townie and self-professed inventor who obliquely boasts ad nauseam about the importance and preeminence of his super-secret-invention-no-one-can-see-yet-or-even-know-what-it-does-but-trust-it-will-make-people-happy-not-sad ™️. When it’s [finally] time to reveal his life-altering creation, Ernie unveils a computer monitor, a radio unit affixed with a small satellite and a handheld keypad—which combined is supposedly a closed-circuit television that has accessed video surveillance of Heaven. Though merely a screen obscured with static, Ernie is ferocious in his delusional defense of the contraption’s functionality.

The catalyst for the project is Ernie’s shock and grief from losing his parents in a car accident two years prior. But what should be a natural grieving process is perverted by egomania into an obsessive desire to defy physics by materializing the metaphysical. Ernie’s dissociation from reality and fragile superiority complex are not only perilous to himself, but to anyone impressionable enough to humor his dangerous espousal of the spiritual being verified by the scientific. He is simply a less influential but no less corrupt and zealous surrogate for evangelical superstars who fleece hoards of believers by peddling potions, prayers and healing hands of salvation. 

Though I scarcely doubt it was Romanek’s intent, Ernie and his paranoid, doomsday preacher cousin, Frank (armed with a trove of fully-automatic weapons, gas masks and hazmat suits), are a cautionary tale against the ease with which faith can be poisoned by desperation and misunderstanding, weaponized and used as a banner for a multitude of ills. It is an eerie precursor to the rise of the alt-right’s vitriolic religiopolitical presence in forums such as 4chan, the emergence of mutated hate groups like QAnon, neo-Nazi factions and the Westboro Baptist Church (among other religious hate groups). And though mild by comparison, Ernie’s self-absorption, defensive and aggressive outbursts at the slightest provocation or opposition, his need for control and belief in his own experience and superiority is at the very least noxiously self-indulgent but certainly smacks of the groundwork laid by many harmful right-wing, reactionary groups. 

On a more positive note, there were some choice needle-drops from Brian Eno, The The, Japan, OMD, Johnny Cash and the aforementioned The Plugz.

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