What do vampires, Hollywood melodramas, porn films, the countdown of golden oldies, and drives down the highway with Mick Jagger on the radio have in common? Casual Relations knows.
The words above are those of Boston University professor and evangelist of of independent cinema, Ray Carney. Neither Carney nor Casual Relations full explains what they mean. On first glance, Casual Relations is a confusing assortment of puzzle pieces, few of which appear to connect.
I have never found Rappaport’s films to be easily engaged. There is a both a subtly and a secrecy inherent in his films. One that a younger version of myself would scoff at for being pretentious or poorly constructed.
Presently, I still must struggle with Casual Relations, but it took me many viewing of other Rappaport films, such as Scenic Route and Chain Letters, to see what was really going on. If there is an in-road to understanding Casual Relations, or better yet ‘feeling’, what Rappaport is striving towards, that key comes in one harsh and naked scene. A photographer attempts to take naked pictures of a young model while screaming at his wife and child off screen. Outside of the vulgarity, the real humor and sadness, comes from a man torn the reality of his family and the fantasy before his camera.
This coexistence of reality and fantasy share equal space across the entire film. Each vignette explores real human desires, but in such unconventional terms that the whole film takes on the feelings of an experimental farce. Early images of blue skies and clouds, accented with high pitch tones and later imagery of iron bridgework with similar sounds feel as if they could have come from a Michael Snow film . While the static camera and the limited action of scenes where a woman watches television all day or another stares at the wall could be right at home in Warhol’s oeuvre.
However, Rappaport has more of a sense of humor than Snow or Warhol. He also have more interest in human psychology and in particular, the strange obsessions and dreams that drive us all. He also stealthily hints that our dreams and obsessions may be intertwined. This notion connected lives is continued in later works by Rappaport, but here a germination of this idea is presented. A picture above a bed gives insight into one woman’s recurring nightmares, while the porno film that another woman stars transforms into a man’s imaginative stimulation. Again and again Rappaport slyly connects dots bringing seemingly unconnected vignettes together.
As much as I can first find it aggravating, I ultimately admire Rappaport for his understatement. It would be wrong to say he uses red herrings or deception, but he is constantly presenting scenes that are never quite what they appear to be. A better analogy might be that of a man with a mask. The mask hides the man’s face, but all men choose their masks. The man’s choice of a mask says something about who he is at the same time it hides his physical appearance.
Rappaport is constantly putting masks on his work, that hide their true intent. This makes his work is difficult to grasp. My first impression of his films is always a toss up between genius and incompetency. With subsequent viewing and a willful redirection of my own mind, or perhaps a removal of some inner mask, I am able to feel for his films. They hide behind masks because what lies underneath, our true feelings, dreams, obsessions, they are all raw and vulnerable.
It will take many subsequent viewings at many stages in my life before I can even begin to understand Casual Relations.