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Jamie Travis is hailed in his native Canada as an independent film director with a unique, precise and thoroughly engaging vision. His five short films- ‘Why the Anderson Children Didn’t Come to Dinner’ (2003), ‘Patterns Trilogy’ (2005/2006) and ‘The Saddest Boy in the World’ (2006) – all premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The films went on to international festival success, winning a clutch of awards. They’re unsettling, beautiful and compelling, says Stewart Who?
Patterns Trilogy features 3 short films which incrementally add meaning as they progress. Rather like a David Lynch film, the unease and tension stems from the viewer’s mind trying to make sense of a seemingly illogical scenario.
Pieces are missing from the jigsaw…and it’s disturbing. All three films feature a boy and a girl whose relationship to each other is hard to fathom. Are they lovers? Have they met? Are they dreaming? They’re never in the same frame together and seem to be on different planets when talking to each other, though it turns out they’re both lovers and neighbours.
The soundtrack is sheer horror- heaps of violins and accelerating tension and the design is incredibly stylised, with spooky pastels and era-defining patterns ranging from ‘50s futurism to ‘70s pseudo-psychedelia.
It’s hard to tell when and where the action is set, merely adding to the nightmarish mood. In addition to being creepy, compulsive and unsettling, the films are hugely amusing. The third film in the Patterns Trilogy is a musical, taking the story of doomed lovers to a whole other level. The fact that the songs are delivered with trip-hoppish moodiness, like Portishead meets the Divine Comedy, well, it’s very inspired and hysterically funny.
While the Patterns Trilogy has aspects of experimental, film festival oddness, Why the Anderson Children Didn’t Come to Dinner boasts a linear, digestible narrative. Such conventions are small comfort when faced with the unhinged grimness within.
If the film were an equation, it might be Hollywood Americana x Brothers Grimm + LSD = Jamie Travis. In case you were wondering, that’s a good thing. The Anderson children are Chester, Eliza and Godfrey who’re all a little bit Victorian, a touch Partridge Family and blatantly quite disturbed.
Existing in their lonely worlds, these kids are only unified by their meals, which are grotesque feasts of meat served by their scary, neurotic and brittle mother. Travis manages to stay the dark side of camp, maintaining a balancing act on a high wire of cartoonish absurdity and dark horror.
Lack of love
The Saddest Boy in the World is the most recent creation from Jamie Travis and arguably his best. The film concerns Timothy Higgins (Benjamin B. Smith), a nine-year-old boy who seems to experience an abundance of bad luck and a complete lack of love.
In one hilariously bleak sequence, his dog runs away and while putting up ‘Lost’ posters in the neighbourhood, he gets abducted.
When his kidnappers grow bored of him, they bring him back to the same street, where his little posters have been defaced with the word ‘faggot’.
The film looks stunning, with hyper-real colours and ultra-styled sets, creating a slick, visual feast that’s like eating marshmallows and drinking crème de menthe while listening to Marilyn Manson and wearing a clown outfit- sweet but quite sinister.
The ICA hosted a Q & A with Travis, who was self deprecating, witty and interesting. When asked how he managed to cast quite young children in such disturbing films, he blamed the pushy parents who had no qualms regarding casting their kids in films which explore suicide, depression, abduction, abuse and psychosis.
He revealed that his next film would explore emerging sexuality in a boys’ choir. Travis wryly commented that parents baulked at that prospect. Suicide, abuse and mania are fine, homosexuality- not so fine.
Benjamin B. Smith, the young actor who starred in The Saddest Boy in the World had to spend nearly a whole day with a noose round his neck and wound up with rope burns.
Travis made the first Patterns film on no budget while at film school. He managed to sell it to Canadian television and with the money he made from that, he was able to finance the next two instalments.
He admitted to being in therapy, likened the Q+A session to spontaneous public counselling and claimed that he’s unaware of how autobiographical the films are until after they’re made.
Referring to Patterns, Travis highlighted a scene when the girl has a strange phone conversation in the bath where she describes a dream to the caller, then hangs up, calling him a ‘pervert’. He readily confessed that such dislocated weirdness sums up a pattern in his relationships.
It proved unexpected evening of laughter, darkness and the pleasure of being disturbed. Keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment from the excellent Jamie Travis.
First Published March09/TheHospitalClub.com