Wild Tigers I Have Known Review
The subject of a lonely, confused, socially outcast adolescent coming to terms with their sexual identity is a common one in independent cinema, the outsider status compounded when the teen in question is becoming aware of same-sex attraction. The age of the young protagonist, with all his or her associated awkwardness and inarticulacy, can make this a difficult subject to hold a viewer’s interest and sympathy while at the same time doing justice to the complexity of emotions and fantasies that come with an experimentation of the sensations brought about by new and inexplicable feelings.
A popular subject moreover with first-time filmmakers, there is always the danger that the film will slip into self-indulgence, and the opening scene in Wild Tigers I Have Known of a young adolescent furiously masturbating to an abstract slow-motion image of wrestlers grappling with each other, does seem to portend such an eventuality. Executive produced by Gus Van Sant and showing influences in experimental gay cinema that certainly seem to include Kenneth Anger and Derek Jarman, such a judgement might well remain the case as far as many viewers are concerned, but director Cam Archer manages to use unconventional techniques and imagery to represent the unique view of a confused 13 year-old boy.
Living alone with his mother (Fairuza Balk) and with no guidance from a paternal role-model, Logan (Malcolm Stumpf) is finding adolescence difficult. A solitary boy, he doesn’t feel like he fits in and he is picked on and bullied by older boys at school. Even the one friend he has, Joey (Max Paradise), is starting to find Logan’s experimenting with make-up and wigs a bit, well... unusual. Logan has a tendency to dream, and several images become connected in his vivid imagination and mastubatory fantasies, and the scare of a mountain lion loose on the school campus becomes intertwined with the feelings he has for an impossibly cool older boy he has seen called Rodeo (Patrick White). To Logan’s surprise, Rodeo finds him interesting and agrees to show him a place in the woods where the lions can be found. With the school on high alert after an earlier incident with the lions, Logan knows that the message of “one false move and you become the prey” applies equally to how he must approach Rodeo with his feelings. Adopting a female persona called Leah, Logan initiates a telephone relationship with Rodeo in an attempt to understand what the older boy really wants, as well as work out what his own feelings are.
The fusion of imagery is characteristic of how Cam Archer manages to convey the complexity of unutterable emotions of hurt, pain, longing, fragility, vulnerability and confusion of a thirteen year-old, as well as the growing awareness of the beauty and wonder of a world that is being opened up to him – the two are frustratingly, but deliciously intertwined. The film makes tremendous use of colourful, beautifully shot sequences, blending contrasting images together in this way as a means to effectively capture these sensations, never relying on conventional exposition through dialogue, narration or diary entries. All of those are used, but sparingly, more often allowing the images to create their own impressions on the viewer. Such a method can be overused and will certainly recall Jonathan Caouette’s indulgences (although nonetheless effective for it) in Tarnation, but Archer uses them unpretentiously, in a manner that is evocative and easy for anyone to relate to.
There comes a point however where “Leah” has to deliver on her promises and Wild Tigers I Have Known also has to live up to the thin narrative thread that intersperses all these flights of fancy. And it does. Not unlike Stand By Me, which is certainly evoked here in imagery and in the looking up to older boys and wanting to be like them (there is even mention of a dead boy here who also undoubtedly went off the rails by following an unconventional path), the real story in Wild Tigers I Have Known is a metaphorical one of exploration and self-discovery and Archer treats it with equal poignancy, sensitivity and humour.
Wild Tigers I Have Known is released in the UK by Soda Pictures. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is Region 2 encoded.
Other than the fact that the image is not anamorphically enhanced, the transfer here is simply superb. The 1.78:1 aspect ratio is preserved, the image remains stable and handles the extreme saturation of the colour well with good levels of detail remaining visible. There are no marks, flaws or digital transfer issues of any kind.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is also as it should be. Dialogue, sounds and music are all well mixed and comes across clearly and effectively.
There are no subtitles on the release. Dialogue is English language.
Short Film: Beholden (13:31)
Co-written with Cam Archer (who also contributes to editing and the music), Aaron Platt’s 2004 short film in an experimental work that layers images, impressions and voice-overs to depict a case of child-abduction as an alien abduction. It’s tough going. The film is presented letterboxed at 1.66:1.
Godly Boyish (21:08)
Cam Archer’s 2004 short film is similar to the main feature here in theme and treatment, based around another boy trying to find a way to express his feelings for another boy, his longing with religious fervour turning into a desire to form a death pact in which they can always be together. Again there is lyricism in the imagery (photographed by Aaron Platt), but unfortunately in this case there is too much narration voice-over of diary entry readings and embarrassing poetic expression read and acted badly. With trippy music and looped echoing voices, the whole thing has the feel of a pretentious, self-indulgent art-school piece.
The filmmakers provide a music video for Emily Jane White’s song ‘Wild Tigers I Have Known’.
Theatrical Trailer (2:15)
The theatrical trailer has a deliberately hyperbolic voice-over, which doesn’t quite hit the right note, but the imagery certainly makes the film look intriguing.
It’s all too easy – as some of the short films included here show - for experimental filmmaking to become self-indulgent and fall into its own trappings, but in his first feature film Wild Tigers I have Known, Cam Archer manages to harness those techniques into the lyrical exploration of sensations, creating an impressionistic landscape that evocatively recreates the sense of vulnerability, longing and passion aroused in a young adolescent. Soda have put together a nice package for the film here which, although it isn’t anamorphically enhanced, sports a fine transfer and a considered selection of relevant extra features.