Memories are a tricky thing. They’re persistently elusive. And even if you can identify every specific detail present in your mind, it’s nearly impossible to be sure that your memory is the accurate reflection of events and not shaped by who you are and your own subjective, unique experience.
Dinolion’s new feature film/long-form music video debut for Rashomon, named after “the Rashomon effect” first conveyed by the 1951 Akira Kurasowa film of the same name and presented this past Saturday at an intimate screening at BETA Theater on Houston’s eastside, emphatically embodies this notion in groundbreaking fashion.
Helmed by Jeromy Barber and co-creators Traci Lavois Thiebaud and James Templeton, Rashomon binds together the stories of 14 individual characters, book-ended by title cards featuring each character’s name, as they are all drawn to a strange, half-completed home in the middle of the night, some for nefarious ends, and some as innocent victims.
Each character’s arc is accompanied by a song from a Houston-based band or artist, and it is structured in such a way that each artist’s segment functions as it’s own cohesive story, anchored by it’s particular character, but also as a part of the larger composite.
The film’s first character is probably its most conspicuous: The Medium, played by Peter Zama. Reminiscent of something like the Alchemist of Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, The Medium is a mysterious individual of perhaps dubious intent. Set to Merel & Tony and the Woe Woe Woes’ “Bones & Feathers,” a peculiar ceremony between him and the lifeless body of “The Dead Girl” that first takes place in this chapter is the centerpiece of the film’s unsettling narrative.
At this point, one is immediately struck by the ways in which the film makes use of a dominating contrast of colors in set lighting, seemingly meant to evoke specific moods or themes associated with many of the characters or the moments they find themselves in.
A hazy yellow often accompanies moments of youthfulness or innocence. Meanwhile a blood red evokes fear or even anger, while blue seems to carry an aura of mysteriousness or confusion. Littered in are also vibrant touches of green and purple and white and fluorescent.
The next video is noteworthy not only for it’s initial display of the film’s talented younger performers, featuring Noa Smith as The Child, but also for the first appearance ofJeromy Barber, one of the projects architects. The video is the contribution of the Mustn’ts, of which Barber is a part of, and in it they perform their beautiful song “Yellow Dog,” an ode to the nostalgia of simpler times.
Not to be outdone by its equally dope visual counterpart, the music present in the film is easily one of the most impressive showcases of Houston sound ever compiled.
The Landlord, played by Sara Royer, features Pitter Patter’s “Graveyard,” an absolute percussive extravaganza, while The Mother, played by Pam Green, showcases Miears’ haunting emotional ballad, “Cycle.”
Following those comes “Desire” by The Wheel Workers on The Contractor, played by Lou Stainbeck, and “Greed” by Two Star Symphony on The Father, played by Richard Lyders, both of which epitomized the feeling characterized by the film’s title of unique and divergent perspectives on the situation unfolding on-screen.
However, it’s the films second half that really dazzles. Opening with The Lover, played brilliantly by Ashley Cid, the segment is a riot made all the more boisterous by “Lemon Stand,” Danna’s anthem of the virtues of self-awareness.
If it helps you glean a sense of the palpable fervor rattling the room around this time, my friend, who convinced herself to tag along even while rocking a 100-degree fever for fear of missing out on something incredible, whispered to me, “Okay, this is cool as fuck.”
Perhaps the best performances in the film come from the show’s next two segments, The Good Friend and The Security Guard. The former sees Shu Kinouchi’s character go to great lengths to take care of his clearly less interested acquaintance, The Squatter, who has seemingly just had intercourse with Cid’s character. It’s set to King Finn’s “Elaborate Rouse.”
The latter features Candice D’Meza’s hilarious portrayal of the blissfully unaware — or perhaps not so unaware — Security Guard as she guards the exterior of the abandoned house. The video’s backing track, “Sorry,” by Guilla, is a fitting selection for the comical but potentially sinister presence.
Throughout the story, each character seems most drawn to the film’s thinly psychedelic locale by a moment of ephemeral connection to The Dead Girl, the person at the center of the feature conflict. The scene will cut sharply to a flash of the girl’s face before match cutting to a similar extreme close-up of the character featured in that scene’s chapter, like in the case of D’Meza’s whimsical confoundment as she’s struck by it while walking down the sidewalk.
The final five chapters are my personal favorites, featuring some of the best sonic and cinematic work I’ve seen in Houston in recent memory, beginning with The Assistant, the inauspicious femme aide, and in this case protector, to The Medium played by Marcus Pontello.
The section contains some of the slickest character blocking and movement of the already fantastically choreographed film, and seeing LIMB’s James Templeton (the second project architect) on live drums again for his segment’s track, “Daphne,” was a rowdy bonus.
Next up were two chapters highlighted by the presence of two of the baddest women in Houston art: final Dinolion mastermind Traci Lavois Thiebaud performing her sharply pointed piece, “Funny Girl,” to accompany The Squatter, played by Hannah Hank Jove, and Whit’s Madison Whitaker performing her reality-bending and fiercely technical track, “My Bee,” alongside The Daughter, played by Jennifer Free.
On display here as well was some devilish make-up design, with Thiebaud sporting deep black freckles across her face — amplifying the expressiveness of her already powerfully emotive close-ups — and Whitaker wearing a dagger of white eyeliner so sharp it might have cut the vinyl the film was projected onto if she wasn’t careful.
The film’s final two sections were ferocious. The Nanny, played by Alice Belen, and set to football, etc.’s “Try Out,” was a rallying cry for feeling confident in who you are. It fit appropriately alongside Belen’s conflicted persona. The Dead Girl, played by Abilene Smith and featuring Black Kite’s absolutely destructive glitch-bass banger, “Wanting,” rounds out the film succinctly. It’s a track that tells of the ways the fantasies we build of our lives can often deceive us .
It is hard not to understate the level of detail to which the filmmakers went to enhance the multifaceted but cogent narrative-experience taking place on screen.
While the base diegesis has an obvious interwoven quality through the linked stories of the characters within it, even the higher meta-film of the artists themselves performing in the house played alongside the fictional tale is constructed in such a way to evoke that same quality, with shots of one artist containing the performance of another unfolding quietly but purposefully in the background, increasingly blurring the line between fiction and reality.
To be sure, Rashomon was one of the most novel and innovative projects I have had the pleasure of witnessing in a long time — a sentiment to which most present seemed to agree given the standing ovation it received upon completion from the packed house, which burst out of the rafters and rocked the walls of the small warehouse space BETA resides in. It has invariably rocketed down the gauntlet for future Houston cinema.