The Color Wheel ★★★★½

Screened this in November for a freshman college students I was invited to speak about the history of cinephilia and its formations in the contemporary era. I was asked to show a film, and this sprang to mind (my original plan was Hong, but that only works I feel if you see about three of them). Firstly for Perry’s own background as a cinephile, secondly for its fetishzation of both black and white as well as film (grain storm FTW!), and thirdly for the fact that it was a cause célèbre of a younger generation of critic (Marsh, Lanthier, Sicinski). Watching it again, however, I noticed one of perhaps the more essential points to Perry’s work is, and that is the film stands in some very strong contrasts to both “independent cinema” but even the so-called Mumblecore approach. Cinephilia history is fueled with oppositional tracks – surrealist cinema is opposition to theater, the Euro New Wave in opposition to literary adaptation mode, slow cinema in opposition to hyper-continuity. It seems to me that The Color Wheel in some ways stands in opposition to its own contemporaries. Here we get a series of clichés: the Great American Road Trip, the “finding yourself in your 20s” ethos, the redemptive hometown return, and the antagonistic familial relationship. Perry makes these feel free and original because he’s willing to let scenes play to extremes and then violently shift against them. Scenes like the motel night will almost reach a moment of pathos before Perry pulls it right back into the film’s more overly comic tone. He constantly plays with the incest theme throughout (“All couples must kiss;” the bathroom scene), but breaks subtext into text in the film’s only elongated take (surreal dream, perhaps? It’s irrelevant). In doing so, Perry comes damningly close to essentially finding the same Truths About Life that you might find in another 2000s independent film except for one major difference: the characters never realize them (it's all one big loop), making the cliché seem vibrantly fresh under his hands. Despite having obvious signifiers all around, what makes The Color Wheel so unique is that it never defines itself into any particular subcategory. It’s also really funny, and perhaps the closest a film has come to matching the comic sickness of Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky.

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