“Hip Priest” is, quite honestly, an incredible short film. In it we follow a day or two in the life of a (you guessed it) hip priest (Gerard McNamee) who walks among the commoners in New York City. By commoners I mean the daytime drunks, ne’er do wells and city park denizens who play chess and dominoes all day while concealing their liquor in brown paper bags and Styrofoam cups. The priest gives help and companionship to the forgotten of the city but at the same time, he’s one of them.
Rarely without a cigarette in his lips, the priest is unshaven and walks with the ambling grace of an aged hipster. His suit is baggy, unkempt. His pant legs too short, his socks pulled too far down. If it wasn’t for his white collar and the respect he commands from those who know him, we’d never think he was a man of the cloth. But then again, maybe he isn’t and is just helping where needed.
Much like the dichotomies presented in “Hip Priest,” I think there’s also two ways you can look at the film itself. Presented in glossy black and white, this film is highly stylized. Director Gregg de Domenico and editor Gerald Zecker Jr. aren’t afraid of the slow motion shot set to a killer soundtrack and shots like that will be loved or thought of as overdone and derivative. I land on the positive side as I loved the choices in the way the film looks, what is said (or read) by the priest and especially the soundtrack. Early in the film the priest ambles over to a bar with “Hip Priest,” a kick-ass track by The Fall playing in the background. Later he hits up a dirty punk rock bar in slo-mo while Joy Division blares in the background. While the dichotomy of a priest doing these things onscreen is clear, viewers can also be split. You can either give yourself over to the highly stylized film or think it’s pretentious bullshit. I went with the former and I’m glad I did.
As you might guess, “Hip Priest” really won me over. I really dug the priest character and would watch Gerard McNamee act again in a heartbeat. He has the worn-down look of a drunk but a style and sense of humor about him that knows more than he lets on about the world he lives in. It’s a fantastic performance. I also loved the way the filmmakers would cram in philosophy from Alan Watts near lyrics by The Who. Later, Henry Miller’s words come forth from the priest’s mouth as he reads aloud to a little boy. I loved the mash-ups that were going on all set against a truly fine eye for direction. Again, some may be put off by the confidence shown here as this film is highly stylized, but to dismiss it without seeing the simplicity involved is a big misstep. “Hip Priest” is a simple tale told in a really interesting way. If you take the time to get to know the priest, you too will be more apt to throw some love into the collection plate so he can buy drinks for the drunks at the bar.
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