Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 13 minutes
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Ray (Spence Decker) seems to have that whole “Beat” thing down. He pounds out his gloomy, nihilistic diatribes in a sparsely furnished, noirish-lit room, decorated with a manual typewriter, stacks of books and crumpled false starts littering the floor. He wears the artsy goatee, rumpled, loose fitting clothes and retro-stylish horn-rimmed geek glasses of a beat-era writer. One smoking cigarette is no sooner out than a replacement dangles from lips pursed in concentration over the typewriter’s hammering keys. Ray can do angst.
Only one thing ruins this carefully crafted image; his loving, wholesome and winsome blond beauty of a girlfriend, Rose (Andie Tecec). It’s only appropriate, then, that when his beautiful Achilles Heel asks Ray to set aside the doom and instead express his feelings for her by writing a simple love poem, it causes him, much to his considerable surprise and consternation, more angst than writing about all the world’s problems combined. Busted when a foolish attempt to plagiarize Lord Byron fails — Japhy (Sy Richardson), the owner of the diner where Rose works recognizes the ripped off sonnet right away — Ray finds himself banished from Rose’s life until he can write her a love poem of her own.
Such is the simple but compelling set-up of Fredrick E. Johnson’s charming short film “beat.” While this is a clever exploitation of America’s continuing fascination with such “beat” writers as Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsburg, it thankfully doesn’t de-evolve into a parody piece. Instead, “beat.” uses the movement’s stereotypes as a backdrop against which it can spin a new angle on a vintage theme: speaking from the heart. While Tecec is perfectly cast as the sweet and innocent Rose, Decker appears to be a little too fresh-faced to pass as a hard-living, wise beyond his years writer of that era. Fortunately, his performance makes up for most of that shortcoming and the art design and compelling B&W photography cover the rest of it. Johnson has the good sense not to wuss out and betray the movement’s angst for the sake of a sweet ending. That he manages to pull off just such an ending nonetheless is one last cause for kudos. Everyone snap your fingers.
Posted on July 4, 2000 in Reviews by Merle Bertrand
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