There are two sides to every story, and things in Open Five are and are not what they seem. Jake Rabinbach of Jump Back Jake and Francis and the Lights plays Jake Rabinbach, of Jump Back Jake, and Kentucker Audley plays Kentucker Audley, maker of films, "poor ones" ... The first twenty-five minutes unfurl like a dream. Opening scene: Jake and Lucy (Shannon Esper) reconnect on a New York fire escape. Jake wants Lucy to come stay for a while down south; his ex-girlfriend (Amy Seimetz) is in the process of packing up her stuff and hauling out of his house. "You make it sound magic in Memphis," says Lucy, hardly believing she in turn's buying into the fact that she buys into her frontman's baby-voiced non-implorations. In the distance of the spiral-frame, the blinking skein of Manhattan. A few cuts and a zoom, the words "ex-girlfriend-free house", and we're in Memphis. (cont'd below...)
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Women in love hear what they want to; certain boys tell them what they want to hear. Open Five is Rabinbach and Audley casting a spell both within and via the film-world's atmosphere of Southern gothic, and by way of the material film itself whose strange rhythms and restarts figure as the components of this spell. (In the end credits, a title signifies Audley as the director of the film, and another title notes the film is "created by" Audley and Rabinbach.) The trouble on Lucy's horizon is underscored by the jump from the NYC night-realm to the slightly blown-out day exterior of Seimetz saying her goodbye to Jake, who has by now apparently arrived back in Memphis. But rather than present the dissolution of Jake's bond with Lucy (or the other way around) as the climactic event, the film airs the crisis at the twenty-minute mark following an extended scene at the appropriately named Lamplighter. All the characters go to sleep, and when they wake up the next morning, things settle down. That is to say, the scenario settles into a binary rhythm of calm/crisis dictated by the vagaries of Jake's narcissism. Stop, restart, crisis, pause, so on.
Lucy and her friend Rose (Genevieve Angelson), two loopy broads, Rose even more the naïve than Lucy, are beamed Brigitte et Brigitte-like into a world that awaited their arrival with lethargy — ginger-ale cans busting up at potshots; Jake's sloppy para-nudist tramp through the summer swelter, like some visual embodiment of Dylan's "It's All Good"... an image which returns in the film's final quarter after the NYC chicks have been sent back on a plane. Unsolicited advice to female readers: Beware of any guy whose idea of happiness involves hanging out with his dog.
That is: the type Seimetz's character totally seems to at least flirt with buying into later in the picture in a bull-session with Kentucker: "I don't think all men romanticize wanting to be alone. It's just, artistic-type men. ... I think that actually Jake even moreso romanticizes the idea of being alone? because he wants so desperately to be an artistic type? and he like, is like, is very creative but not an artistic type if that makes sense?"
Audley supplies in three or four shots the jump-back!story of this character Jake: he gets by cleaning houses, his office the band-van that sports a WFMU badge. (Go here to pledge. Nearly an hour in to Open Five, JBJ's sitting around listening to Scharpling & Wurster / Philly Boy Roy do their thing on The Best Show.)
Put differently, this is what Audley's serving: a double-helping of New York career actresses, egos easily blown-up gorged on mysterious matters of attraction ("Do you think you'll end up with an actor?" "I feel like — ...unavoidable. I don't see how I could not." Sorry, Jake.) then punctured before next week's new adventure — wandering through the Stax Museum like fairy-tale sisters — musing on the perils of kissing your opposite lead in a project (echoes of Swanberg's incredible Alexander the Last, which also features Seimetz who, P.S., is given the floor there, and who, P.P.S., has a fifty-year career ahead of her) — browsing at a thrift-store babbling about becoming a screenwriter ("or playwright"), all in earshot of a black local with ergot-dye setting that's carrying on its own dialogue with Rose's hairsprayed coiffure and Lucy's Pocahontas get-up... a dialogue neither girl overhears.
Jake's sotto voce: conveying how reasonable, how earnest, are his intentions. A darkness, stoic and smooth, all predatory undertones and conniving calculation. Rabinbach's character's an 'intense' guy emitting like it's space-radiation one bad fucking vibe. You know things are off to a bad start when he delays on telling Lucy, freshly arrived since the prophetic fire-escape vortex that she doesn't have to sleep on the air-mattress and that it's "not a big deal" if she sleeps in his room, the pitch of his voice while speaking the line rising gratingly without leveling-off, as though he's siphoning helium out of his ass. (This escalating tone-scale sincerity-thing creeps back into his speech at the end of the movie when he's trying to get back with the Seimetz-ex.) Once Lucy hits the sack, Jake gets out of bed to smoke a bowl in the kitchen.
Later in the movie: "What do you want to do?" "I don't know, I don't, want to be here..." "I can see that. — It's not so bad, c'mon."
Jake's references to his "lifestyle" (first brought up during the monologue about his blood pressure) are his equivalent of using Walter Ulbricht as an example to win an argument. Afterward, his off-handed mentioning to Lucy in not-arguments-but-'discussions' that her resistance "makes him sad" and "hurts his feelings" is just the Stasi-icing on the berliner.
By contrast: cross-cut with Kentucker and Rose fooling around. She asks him to stop (things moving fast for the New York girl in Memphis! — she should read Sanctuary), and the picture goes into this sincerely tender section where Kentucker pours out some wine into two pint-glasses, eyeballing them to ensure they're equal. Cut to a chat that marks Kentucker-character as a wholly different breed than Jake-character: "Tell me about yourself." It's really nice. "I grew up in Switzerland." "You didn't?" "I did." (The "You didn't?", btw, isn't played as a "You didn't!")
Yes, there's a fair measure of loveliness. Kentucker on the loss of his father. Exultant yuletide hush of light at Graceland vigil. Neon angels roaming the strip. Jake performing at the jukejoint, the crowd stepping, twirling. Even the bittersweet restarts of Lucy and Jake let's-try-this-again'ing.
The tourist and the native. Just as French girls visiting America ask if you can take them to see a "real" gospel choir, Lucy and Rose are game for the Baptist megachurch, where the minister resembles Ice-T. Its service is the open and welcoming sort, for which you can choose or decline to don your funeral shoes; a place where even Kentucker and Jake get transformed into tourists. Says Jake: "It's a singin'-and-dancin' church. You'll get the whole experience, you'll get the Saturday-night-Sunday-morning, the whole,... that's Memphis right there. You fuck up on Saturday, and you repent on Sunday."
No word on whether Lucy and Rose made it to Arkansas; that's where "you go over to get liquor by the drink."
Open Five: a road-movie that stays put, or: a moving picture about perspective and context, about stay-the-course v. come-and-go, about permanence v. dilettanting. It tests the tragic-romantic tension between the flash-in-the-pan things that seem serious for all of three months, and inescapable tradition mingled with blood-history — the accorded vibrations are what propel story and life. In other words a real record: a film 'cut' like a 45: so light, but so heavy.
*Originally published via Cinemasparagus Aug. 14th, 2010.