Review of Barry Doupé’s Ponytail

From Uptown Magazine April 22, 2010:

One person’s pain…
Barry Doupé’s Ponytail is like having your hair pulled — it could be torture, but it might be just what you like

One person’s pain…Barry Doupé’s Ponytail seems achingly familiar and completely inexplicable; a dream forgotten the moment you awake. His feature-length 3D animation begins with a montage of eerie scenes: a tape deck stutters vaguely threatening phrases, a telephone handset is left off the hook, a sleeping boy’s naked body is bathed in pulsing blue light, bugs swarm over the corpses of a shark, dog and rabbit, their ribs and entrails exposed. The feeling is uncanny and sinister. When a character finally speaks, over four minutes in, her story does nothing to clarify the situation but arouses new images — a man in bikini underwear the colour of a Band-Aid.

Ennui, heavy and paralysing, permeates the film. The characters stumble though their lives with noodle-like arms and stiff-legged zombie gaits, hopeless, angry and sexed up. Their skin is dirty, their clothes torn and features smeared, as if they’ve been through a violent trauma. The glitches in Doupé’s computer graphics are more than a clever sampling of a now-retro look; the tortured inner lives of his characters are externalized in their fragmented and battered appearance and stilted German speech.

Ponytail manages to be engaging, despite its slow pace. This is partly because of Doupé’s penetrating script. Characters’ musings about their empty and meaningless lives are full of self-pity, bitterness and poetry — a housewife stares at a tap and asks it, “Running water, what are you running from?”

Cinematic conventions are used to great effect by Doupé to create dramatic tension. A dark chord implies danger while the camera inches steadily closer to the action, as if drawing close to reveal the churning emotion masked by the stiff computer graphics and ‘speakable text’ voices. This heightened sense of drama around nothing is perhaps funniest in a scene that takes place in a parking lot. Two men are crossing it; as they pass, one hails the other, “Hey, Gary!” The other looks at him, then walks past him, “I’m not Gary.” Fans of video art will recognize this banal exchange invested with unsettling implications lifted from a Stan Douglas monodrama.

Doupé’s work is often compared to video games. Unlike the juice-less stories of cutscenes, Doupé’s film oozes with melodrama (a farm girl who must choose between her lover and her oppressive, ailing father), intrigue (a girl named Jennifer is missing) and raw perversion (a man scours a toilet seat with his tongue). The fact that characters may change appearance or names throughout the story alludes to the compound identities one develops when inhabiting an avatar. “Who is Jennifer?” a character named Jennifer asks — a moment of existential confusion.

A scene of a calf trying to catch its own tail is iconic, telegraphing the frustration viewers may experience trying to catch the tail of Doupé’s narrative. The connections are tenuous and inconclusive, making Ponytail infinitely watchable. Doupé’s nightmarish depiction of the tedium of a middle-class suburban lifestyle screens Friday night at the Park Theatre as part of Plastic Paper.

– Sandee Moore

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~ by cineflyer on May 6, 2010.

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