Tropics Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Keep the Lights On
"Keep the Lights On" has the rare distinction of being so authentic it is almost beyond reproach. Like life, it builds slowly in subtle motions and the rise and fall of its characters revolve around each other as satellites, both soft and desperate.
The film concerns a shiftless documentary filmmaker, Erik (Thure Lindhardt) and his co-dependent relationship with the anal and self-absorbed Paul (Zachary Booth). When we first meet Erik in the late 1990s, he is at an artists' retreat, using the phone for anonymous sex. His face is sleepy but wired. He wears loose and baggy clothes. Erik is part Van Gogh and part predator which makes him all bohemian wolf, without direction except for the nocturnal.
One night Erik's telephone leads him to the dark apartment of the boyish and delicate-faced Paul, who reminds one of a young Anthony Perkins. He is halting and tentative, but on the other hand he can be curt, severe, and just a bit deadly. Erik soon falls hard for the rigid Paul, who takes the heaps of Erik's affection with a stoic passivity. Paul is in the closet and hetero appearances mean everything to him. Paul reminds one of an unbending business pen that never strays from its linear path. Paul is also addicted to crack and cannot let go intimately without being high.
A push me-pull you love soon develops. The story is clearly told from Erik's perspective who outwardly strives to keep his passion and worry at bay, but his nonchalant detachment gives way to a volatile cacophony within his spirit. When nervous, Erik frequently makes retching noises and practices hitting himself with metal kitchenware.
Loving Paul is toxic but giving him up is unthinkable.
Erik goes into a scarlet land of limbo, walking the streets and clubs in search of sensual pacification. He meets various characters along the way including the formidable narcissistic body-worshipper Russ (Sebastian La Cause) and a dedicated painter Igor (Miguel del Toro). We feel for Erik as his heart is tortured and tugged upon and he is as familiar as a friend. In style and content, given its claustrophobic wanderings on urban streets, the film echoes the equally excellent "Weekend" which played at The Tropic last year.
In its bright palette, "Keep the Lights On" registers upon our emotional chakras: when a room is bathed in warm yellows, we know Erik is safe, but a dark gray tone signals the return of Paul's crack addiction. The film smartly recognizes that the world of the flesh is a painterly one. During the opening credits, a bestiary of male nudes done by the artist Boris Torres spins across our eyes. Like the documentary on the Mapplethorpian photographer Avery Willard that Erik works on, flesh is both a vision and a vexation that Erik hopes to reach. Lost in an abstract millennium, gay life in the 1990s is a nostalgic concept filled with bygone leather and quaint exuberant raves, becoming a long ago Holiday.
But when Erik crosses the street, he is fully part of the present. "Keep the Lights On" is organic and moving. It is a lively portrait that chronicles want and aversion, flesh and frisson and ultimately poses a caution regarding our muscle-driven, visually based culture.
Write Ian at email@example.com