2007. Aaron Katz
Here’s where I’m coming from with this movie. Aaron Katz is maybe my best friend in the world and I love him to death. I (sometimes) served as still photographer on the movie and so I’m technically a member of the crew. I read the script, spent time on set, watched the rough cut and have now seen the final version three times. I mention all of this only because it’s worth taking into consideration when you read the rest of the review. Why bother even writing one and trying to be objective you ask? Well, I one day hope to be embedded in this industry enough that it’s harder for me to see a film that doesn’t involve someone I know than one that does so I may as well get used to it.
Quiet City is a beautiful film, strikingly shot by Andrew Reed that shows a remarkable amount of growth and maturity in almost every respect over Katz’s first film Dance Party, USA. He clearly has a gift for seeing beauty in the mundane and his ability to capture mood and emotion on screen is especially frustrating given how young and relatively inexperienced he is. He seems to know exactly when to end a scene and move on to the next or the precise moment that a scene can be enhanced by adding bits of Keegan DeWitt’s sparse score. He also cast his film well, with Erin Fisher and Cris Lankenau providing just the right amount of chemistry for their characters.
I only feel that the film falls short in comparison to the ideas approached by Dance Party, USA. I understand that to some extent, it was Katz’s intention to have this film be “about” nothing and I am not fundamentally opposed to that idea. In fact, if it was really just “about” two people meeting and seeing how conversation can change a person’s motivations for hanging out from circumstance to desire, then I’d be ready to call the film a masterpiece. But I think it slightly misses the mark on that front and instead chooses to deliberately not show the moments that dictate what kept the characters together from scene to scene, which left me a little frustrated. I found this to particularly be the case the first time I watched the film, but now that I’ve seen it three times, it’s beginning to bother me less and less.
I think the ideal way to view this film is more of a “tone poem” than anything else. Believe me, I hate the phrase “tone poem” as much as you or anyone, but if the shoe fits. . . The strengths and the beauty of the film are so undeniable and so visceral that the narrative nitpicking is not worth it in the long run and if you let yourself be taken by the journey, you will feel richly satisfied in the end. The more I thought about the plot, the more questions I had like, “If Jamie and Robin are close enough to have their conversation at the end of the party, why couldn’t she just call her in the first place?”, but to dwell on them would be doing myself a disservice. And I don’t think I’m suggesting you cut the movie extra slack, only that you look at it from a different perspective.
I think the reason that Dance Party USA may be more successful to me on a plot-point/payoff scale, is that it was largely performed as scripted while Quiet City incorporated mostly improvisation. Katz is equally as gifted a writer as a director, if not more so, and with improv he has to be careful who he entrusts to take the reigns of his stories because few actors can craft a scene as well as he can himself.
The bottom line is that I think Katz has made two extremely interesting and richly promising features in less than two years, all before his 26th birthday and has made himself a force to be reckoned with in the future of independent film. I feel like Dance Party USA tackles more “ideas” in it’s content and delivers on them with a few phenomenal scenes and writing, but I think Quiet City is the work of a better filmmaker. He still hasn’t made his best work, but it’s lucky for us all that he’s out there and getting to it, slowly but surely.