There’s something definitely original about the scattershot editing collage techniques of THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS (2007), getting a belated US DVD release after a year in Canada and the broken film festival scene. Director Bruce MacDonald delves unashamedly into the trick bags of JULIEN DONKEY BOY and MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, with every little fragment unreservedly depicting sext teen mental illness, teen girl in danger angst, familial breakdown with a father always one step from physical abuse and all that other groovy stuff that’s been done before a dozen times… but not this way!
The divine Ellen Page looks here like she’s trying to be a mix of Bree from Klute and DeWayne from the documentary, STREETWISE. Mentally ill kids run through fields and we see a lot of Page wrapped in her shower curtain on the bus – talking to the camera in morose cutter girl poetry prose. The whole film has the feeling of a collage and poetry chapbook one’s friend might make, the sort where their sick unconscious screams at your from behind the morose drawings and symbolism: “Get thee to a therapist.” But one can’t ever get these girls to listen to therapists, they’re too downy and cuddled up in their madness. And the shrinks are all one-note passive aggressive imbeciles, as is the one here (a passive aggressive old transvestite).
The problem is TRACEY FRAGMENTS can’t let go of the “abused child” cliche lexicon long enough to dwell on Tracey’s perverse desire for her own illness. A much more brave and fearless breakdown can be seen in JOSHUA, where Vera Farmiga fondly paints red boots on herself with her own blood. You don’t see that sick joy in Page’s performance because she’s too like a young Jane Fonda, too sincere to see the true glory and godliness that lies in insincerity, the layers revealed when you pull back from your own position. Fonda couldn’t pull back, but it was okay because she blazed so insanely upon her own position that layers were revealed in the sheer wattage; she made humorlessness sexy in THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY, and she made her KLUTE prostitute painfully open, like that friend who uses their brilliance in the service of self-limiting rationalization. Page hasn’t quite made the grade; she basks in indie blankness and it works because her face is so flawless and empty.
But the editng is really the star and in its way this film is the anorexic poetess chapbook version of MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA. The dialogue and monologues are terirble though – the dreams of academics slumming in the teenage squalor and wrong decisions they never had or made. Tracey’s narration (her last name is Berkowitz, like the serial killer!) includes lines like: ‘”Tracy Berkowitz… Tracy Zeroitz… Tracy Forty Belowitz…”, and then there’s the cover version of Patti Smith’s “Horses,” wherein the singer imitates every inflection from Smith’s recording to a montage of Tracey running and split screened in with real horses– and a laughing black man in a bowler hat on the bus to signify alienation and urban hostility, Taxi Driver style.. and a cracked-out dude who hangs on her all skeevy-like named Lance from Toronto. And the colored girls sing “Doo de doo de doo…”
It’s one of those films where the chips are stacked so much against the heroine that you suspect the contest is rigged. If we’re supposed to see all this social persecution as Tracy’s own twisted fantasy, then don’t keep rubbing it in our faces like we’re supposed to have these insane AND JUSTICE FOR ALL/CUCKOO’S NEST knee-jerks about the man keeping us down. It’s unfair to ask for it both ways, and our director and writer and actress can’t see the humor in the fantasizing about high school tauntings (“No tits” is the student’s cry, which doesn’t seem quite realistic). We see her led by a creepy crackhead who promises to find her brother, and when he gets in a barfight instead of fleeing while she has the chance she waves her agape mouth and horrified eyes around like she’s waiting for the director’s signal and the director’s gone to the bathroom. There’s some nice shots of a crane machine in the bar though, for all the crane fans out there!
(For the sake of brevity, this rant is continued on my Acidemic Blog.)
Karina Longworth writes a good bit about the release/distribution problems hitting the FRAGMENTS here.
For a genuinely bizarre film about a fucked up chick in Canada, can I steer you towards the underseen PUNCH? (that link is to a review I wrote in 2004).
Read another of my diatribes about Page, this one on HARD CANDY, here.)