LorenCassArguably one of the most interesting independent films of the 00s, a severely bleak and uncompromising yet impressively visualized depiction of despair and desperation in an American suburb.  LOREN CASS was made by 21-year-old Chris Fuller, who wrote, directed, edited and starred in the film.  Lensed in St. Petersburg, Florida on 16mm film stock, it was released to the festival circuit in 2007, where it received a strong response, and got a 2009 theatrical release courtesy of Kino International–with a reception that was about what you’d expect (which is to say quite muted, although the three or four people who saw the film appear to have quite liked it).

The pic takes place, as we’re informed by an early voice-over, “back in 1997,” a year after St. Petersburg was torn apart by riots.  Headlining are a trio of Caucasian layabouts: Nicole (Kayla Tabish), a pretty blonde waitress, Jason (Travis Maynard), a poetry writing skinhead, and Cale (Chris Fuller), a hotheaded mechanic.  There appears to be a severe shortage of available women in this community, as Nicole ends up stringing along several guys, Cale among them.

Jason and Cale spend their days laying around and getting into fights with people of color, and their nights getting drunk and robbing houses.  Sudden bursts of anger are common, as is much aimless wandering and laying around.  Among the noteworthy happenings: a punk who hangs out with Jason gets arrested for public intoxication, Jason is severely beaten by a group of black and Hispanic men, a nondescript young man seen at a party attended by Nicole and Cale commits suicide by jumping off a bridge, and Jason carves the name Loren Cass into one of his arms.

The emphasis throughout is on realism, and the proceedings are nothing if not realistic in their depiction of suburban desperation.  Close attention is paid to the characters’ mundane activities (digging through dumpsters, getting drunk in the back of a pick-up, etc.) while the action sequences are presented in a deliberately offhand, enigmatic manner (such as an early fight scene visualized entirely through a car window that obscures most of the action).  There’s also a definite hint of Harmony Korine’s GUMMO in the film’s highly eccentric construction, with one of Korine’s cast members, Jacob Reynolds, appearing as the bridge-jumper.

Visually it’s presented largely in wide shots that tend to favor empty spaces and strikingly drab, featureless scenery, although there are also poetic moments that befit Jason’s scribblings.  Foremost among the latter is bit in which Cale takes Nicole for a “ride” in the back of a city bus, which initially seems like a joke but turns into something far more resonant and lyrical, and a surreal moment in which Jason is seen burning to a crisp while watching television.

Equally noteworthy is the soundtrack, which alternates political speeches and Jason’s freeform poetry.  This ties in with Fuller’s habit of intercutting snippets of verite footage–rioting, a punk band in concert and, most controversially, the 1987 on-camera suicide of congressman R. Budd Dwyer (shown in its entirety)–with the drama.  Those snippets are the only concrete indication of the real-life strife that occurred in St. Petersburg, and, as it turns out, they’re more than enough! 

Vital Statistics

Kino International/Jonesing Pictures

Director/Screenwriter/Editor: Chris Fuller
Producers: Frank Craft, Chris Fuller, Kayla Tabish
Cinematography: William Garcia
Cast: Kayla Tabish, Travis Maynard, “Lewis Brogan” (Chris Fuller), Jacob Reynolds, Mike Glausier, Din Thomas, Matthew Bistok, John Holmstrom, Rob Shepard, Donna Gilbert, Peter Wallace, Jeff Hatch, R. Budd Dwyer