By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! (2012), the exuberantly experimental seventy-three minute debut feature from director Mike Messier, is a riveting example of cinema as an extension of the stage. It is also an exceptional exhibition of the power of minimalism on-screen. This tightly wrought, meticulously paced and carefully fashioned opus arranges only the four title personalities in a mesmerizingly abyss-like room. Such is an element that is an impeccable symbol for this tale. It is one which describes the creative process, in its own nature, splendidly. This is handled in a manner that tells us that the events we are witnessing are taking place within the mind of author Sid (a powerful and captivating performance by Lawrence O’ Leary) himself. The claustrophobic chamber where this entire labor love unfolds is darkened to the point that we can only see what is immediately in front of us. This refreshing sparseness is punctuated by keeping the limit of props to a few chairs and a typewriter. Such is with the exception of one eye-popping scene. This particular segment is an enactment of what occurs inside the play itself which Sid is laboring away at throughout the production. It has been given the heading of “Blasphemer”. This portion showcases a colorful opposition to the hauntingly alluring black and white cinematography, courtesy of Tim Labonte, visible throughout this spectacular opus. Furthermore, Labonte’s editing is equally crisp, seamless and impressive throughout. These mechanisms makes the spell Messier’s successful attempt puts on its observers all the more wholly immersive and remarkable.
Messier documents the self-detesting Sid. He is at a place in his career where he is established, yet not well known enough to hire folks to etch his masterpieces for him. This he states in one frank and potent mid-production moment. He communicates with three fictional characters. The aforementioned entities he has brought to existence through the process of penning his most recent composition. These individuals are: Blood! (a well-honed performance by Jamie Tennille), Sugar! (in a rounded and magnificent turn from Stacey Forbes Iwanicki) and a variation of Sid!’s younger self, Ace! (a terrific representation from Adam Buxbaum). The bulk of the endeavor gets its introspective nature from focusing in on the many arguments, agreements and contemplative discussions all of those involved have with one another. Fantasy and reality get wonderfully blurred here. This as some of the bits seem to elude to bits that could either be from the story Sid is bringing to fruition. They also victoriously operate as well as a glimpse into Sid’s own existence and delusions. Messier configures these components in a manner that also leaves the onlookers to wonder if maybe what occurs herein could be a result of all these ingredients mixed together as one solitary agent. Enigmas such as these make the sum of this enterprise all the more striking.
Adding to the literary qualities already visibly sewn into the fabric of the narrative is four titled sections that occur at differing intervals throughout the presentation. There is one reserved for each person Messier presents us. They appear like chapters in Sid’s grand chronicle of auteurship. Blood!’s bit starts the proceedings with “The Salt in My Wounds.” Sugar! has a turn entitled: “The Girl I Never Met”. Sid!’s is dubbed: “My Broken Mirror”. Ace!’s is saved for the climactic instances of the endeavor. It has the moniker of “My Second Chance”. The aforementioned personage also has a lengthy, but undeniably rousing, monologue near the finale. This is a transcendent illustration of all the attributes which make those who dominate Messier’s undertaking stand out as unique, conflicted personalities. It also signifies Messier’s own intentions.
These come across on-screen in a self-referential nature. We see this most expressly when Sid addresses the watchers, much in the manner of Shakespeare, and says, “This is my attempt at a low-budget, character-driven, psychological drama.” This is noted in quips such as, “I am not a prophet. I’m a filmmaker!” Such adds far more depth to an already profound and envy-inducing display. We also sense how the opinions, primarily that of Sid, appear to be connected to Messier’s own sentiments. This attachment is foreseeable in the fact that Messier himself, whose behind the lens approach here is stunning and natural throughout, said the piece started as an “inspired compilation of my past poems, un-produced plays and unfinished screenplays.”
Yet, the effort, released through A man and His Camera and Stand Still Pictures, never feels constrained by the sparse materials Messier utilizes. In fact, it makes the sum of this tour de force all the more daring, liberating and hypnotic. This is as much a product of the honest, yet respectable to the theatrical roots of the piece as it is Messier’s brilliantly constructed and endlessly layered script. Assisting matters is the rhythmic, eloquent, often cryptic and introspective dialogue Messier delivers to his cast. This trait rings with an undeniable poetry. It heightens this same stirring sensibility which reverberates from all of the picture’s various technical and thematic angles. Moreover, it never gives into repeating itself in conversation or situation, as an affair which uses so little to state so much may be apt to do. Instead, every sequence is staggeringly, breathtakingly new. This is true in both the subject matter. It is just as noticeable in the personal revelations, which seem to arrive quickly and unexpectedly, it hands out to its awe-struck spectators.
What also joins stalwartly to the exertion’s credit is that Messier is unafraid to paint all of the intriguing entities he builds here as flawed. Moreover, it opens with a piece that draws us immediately into the private world of Sid and his creations. Such is executed through a pitch perfect collection of expository monologues from all involved. It ends on an equally meditative note. The commencing and concluding credits arrangements, which involve Sid’s typewriter, are imaginatively woven and appropriately low-key. They also fit the atmosphere of this reflective spectacle, with slight splashes of effective humor to pepper the proceedings, tremendously well.
Lawrence O’ Leary and Nathanael Tronerud’s music is spectacular and similarly form fitting. Stephanie Carey, Bonnie Griffin, Candice Laviree and Payal Patel provide superb make-up. Graphic designer AJ Paglia contributes solidly to the art department. William Boroteck and Labonte, who is also credited as a camera operator, orchestrate wonderful demonstrations of sound. The production design from Horacio Lertora and Melissa Mastrangelo is wonderful. It all equates a grand example of craftsmanship that makes the product all the more admirable. These essentials mix together with glorious results.
Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! is meant to challenge and confront its audience. It also has passages of astounding vulnerability. Messier has given us an artistic triumph. Yet, we are consistently blown-away by the dimension, scope despite its limitations and variety at hand. This will also prove undeniably relatable to those of us who find ourselves taking up the same torch Sid does here endlessly. Such occurs as we sit down at our own personal instruments of writing. From here, we push ourselves through the often beautiful and equally painful struggle to produce quality material. Besides being a work for those who make stanzas and prose their life’s calling, this is a silver screen journey for fans of art house wonders, authors and fellow motion-picture creators. It is also intended for those of us who appreciate the performance form brought to a fresh medium. Yet, one would be hard pressed not to find something about any of these personalities Messier has erected that do not ring true to a wide-ranging group with interests of unimaginable range. Of all the things Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! brilliantly accomplishes, this may be one of its most massive victories. There’s imagination, experience, as well as genuine heart here. In a narrative landscape where antagonists leave the forefront and genuine ground-breaking too often gets tossed aside for cartoonish effects. In these cases we receive the equivalent of two hours of multi-million dollar explosions. The frequency with which this transpires makes an exertion like this is all the more welcome. Messier has evoked a tour de force; a reminder of why we find ourselves returning to the movies. There is a catharsis connecting Messier to the viewer which, sadly, is often given the cold shoulder nowadays. Such makes this all the more immediate, necessary and mandatory for the serious-minded photoplay patron.
You can be informed about the character of Blood! here.
You can learn about the character of Sugar! here.
You can find out about Sid! here.
Information regarding Ace! is here.
Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! will be screening at The Arctic Playhouse in Rhode Island on July 16th, 2016 at 8 p.m. You can buy tickets for the screening here.