Momma’s Man director Azazel Jacobs stars alongside director Gerardo Naranjo in his 2005 second US indie feature, lovingly brought to region-free DVD by Benten Films.
Watching Azazel Jacobs’ The GoodTimesKid, I was reminded of a phrase in the last film released by Benten Films, Team Picture, that seemed to sum up the simple philosophy not only of the filmmaker Kentucker Audley, but also of much of US independent filmmaking – “Do you like enjoyment?” It’s a simple philosophy, but one it seems people have forgotten, and it’s this notion that comes around time and time again in American independent and mumblecore films. And if, as they say, mumblecore is dead and indie filmmaking is short of ideas and has turned to navel-gazing, at least that idea is one worth reiterating. American filmmaking seems to have stagnated and forgotten what it means to have fun, to have a good time, to break away from the restrictions of standard automatic plotting, and just take the time to rediscover the freedom and simplicity of what filmmaking is about.
The GoodTimesKid (the clue is in the title) is another of those films. It’s about people living in the margins, unable to integrate into a society they cannot relate to, their lives consequently lacking drive and direction. Rodolfo Cano is one of those people, or rather Rodolfo Cano is two of those people. One (Azazel Jacob) has decided to throw it all in and has enlisted in the army – the other (Gerardo Naranjo) is the one who has mistakenly been sent the joining-up letter. Rodolfo (Naranjo), living on a houseboat, decides he’d better sort it out and goes down to the US Army recruitment office. There he encounters the other Rodolfo (Jacob), angry at the world, angry with life, angry at his own lack of purpose, an anger that isn’t satisfied by his life with his girlfriend (Sara Diaz). On his last day of freedom, on his birthday, having gone through the formalities at the recruitment office, he goes off on a drinking binge, while Rodolfo (Naranjo), who has followed him home, tries to break the news to his uncomprehending girlfriend.
The story then, somewhat typically for a small indie film, is based on the old boy-meets-girl premise. It also, to be sure, relies heavily on the old chestnut of mixed identities, but The GoodTimesKid does more than just play the situation out for the resultant confusion and hilarity that ensues. It’s not so much about mixed identities, as about identity itself – although both are played out to their logical conclusions and, it has to be said, to perfection. And what the film so brilliantly succeeds in expressing is the capturing of a moment, the crystallisation of a defining moment in the lives of all its characters, over the course of a single night. The scent of freedom is in the air, or at least change, and change is what each of the characters desperately need.
When he first encounters his namesake and realises that there is another Rodolfo Cano out there living another life, Rodolfo (Naranjo) is forced to consider his own. It’s a glimpse into an alternative life, and in some ways, it holds up a mirror for him to reflect on himself. He is both fascinated and horrified at what he sees, but feels compelled to follow through on Rodolfo’s (Jacobs) footsteps to see where it would take him. But it’s not just the two men who have reached a crisis point. Diaz is just as lonely and confused, looking for something or someone to provide her with that direction, and she likewise follows the new path that is presented by the new Rodolfo. “Let’s go away from here”, she says to Rodolfo (Naranjo) when he takes her back to his houseboat at the harbour, “we can just leave and never come back”. “We could”, mumbles Rodolfo, “but the engine doesn’t work”.
The idea is simple and it’s expressed simply in The GoodTimesKid. It’s about looking for opportunities, grasping opportunities, breaking out of the rut, taking at what life has to offer and making the most of it. And what is marvellous about the film and why it is so successful in getting this idea across, is that it brings this whole simple philosophy – the one I mentioned in the introduction about liking enjoyment – and embraces it within the making of the film itself. Somewhat appropriately shooting on left-over short-ends of 35mm stock stolen from a Mexican film lab, Jacobs makes the most of what has been others have thrown away and puts them towards a useful purpose. Every moment consequently is a sheer delight, doing its best to shake up all those depresso filmmakers who have done it all before and all you depresso cinemagoers out there who have seen it all before, and maybe remind you what the joy of making films and the joy of watching films is all about.
The GoodTimesKid is released in the USA by Benten Films, their first release since joining up with Watchmaker Films. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc is in NTSC format and region-free.
Anyone who has ever seen a Benten Films release will know what to expect here, every one of the label’s releases being given the best possible transfers with every care taken to assemble a wonderful package as a whole. Sure, there are a few white specks that appear in one or two places here, but it would be wrong to suggest that the transfer is anything else than the best it could possibly be on Standard Definition. It helps that The GoodTimesKid was shot on 35mm, one that captures tone, detail and colouration marvellously, even in darker scenes, but it also helps that the transfer is made with the full involvement of the filmmakers and a distributor who strives to ensure that nothing less than perfect is good enough.
Likewise, there is nothing to seriously fault with the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, which is as good as the low-budget recording allows it to be. In one or two places, it can be difficult to make out what Gerardo Naranjo is saying beneath his accent in one or two places (Naranjo jokingly admitting in the commentary that he can concentrate on speaking English or acting, but not both at the same time), but character and authenticity is more important than diction here, and for the main part of the film, the soundtrack is just fine.
For anyone with any problems making out dialogue however, Benten have kindly included full optional English subtitles in a nice white font.
Again, you can always rely on Benten to pack their releases with informative, relevant and often unusual extra features. In keeping with the fun element as well as being informative, the Commentary features director Azazel Jacobs and his co-stars Gerardo Naranjo and Sara Diaz. It’s mostly screen-specific, each of them relating anecdotes, impressions and observations about each scene, but it’s entertaining throughout.
Into the unusual category, there is The Whirled (19:25), a short film by the director’s father Ken Jacobs, compiled from several experimental underground pieces filmed between 1956-63, mainly involving a lot of dressing up and larking around. Reportedly an inspiration for The GoodTimesKid, I don’t see the connection myself other than it being in the spirit of the piece. A short film by Azazel Jacobs, Let’s Get Started (3:01) starring Sara Diaz however has the same, uh… freewheeling qualities.
Some Deleted Scenes (5:10) show a Diaz dance outtake, the footage used for the TV soap and one genuine deleted scene where Rodolfo returns home during the house-party for his birthday. Rounding out the extras is a Photo Gallery (7:05) slideshow of 85 stills, mostly behind-the-scenes with some shots of script and notes, and a Trailer (3:49) made-up entirely and unusually from the clapperboard cuts of each scene, where hand-claps make do for the broken slate.
A booklet contains some observations on the film and its unclassifiable brilliance by Glenn Kenny. No arguments there.
Listed as one of the 10 writer/directors to watch by MovieMaker magazine in 2008, Azazel Jacobs has succeeded in breaking through to the mainstream while retaining his indie roots with Momma’s Man even securing UK distribution earlier this year, but the talent is clearly evident in this his second feature from 2005. The GoodTimesKid is light, entertaining and quite brilliant, remaining true to US indie ethos and themes, as much as in its delightful storytelling, as in its making. It’s good to see another release from Benten Films, and it’s great to see that their ethos hasn’t altered either, presenting the film well on DVD with plentiful and original extra features.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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