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By Jeremy Knox | January 24, 2014

Okay… okay… wait a minute. How in the heck was Rough Trade picked for the “experimental” category at Slamdance? True, it has no dialogue, which is sort of quirky, but that doesn’t make it experimental. Maybe I’m the crazy one here, wouldn’t be the first time, but shouldn’t making something experimental imply a weird or novel or unexpected way to tell a story? By its very definition it means that film is taking a stylistic gamble to see it’ll pay off. I’m not seeing many risks being taken here. This short is downright… and I hate to say because the filmmakers will hate me for it… but it’s downright mainstream at times.

Take the story for example. The film’s own IMDb summary reads:

“The Stud spends his nights hustling neon-lit streets. He gets picked up by a john with a fetish for branding and begins to realize it’s not just another night on the town. When the john invites him to join a cult, the Stud must decide to go back to the street or start a new life in leather.”

This, for better or for worse, describes our film nicely. The problem is that this is not a particularly original or particularly complex or particularly interesting story. In fact I’m willing to bet that every single person reading this could imagine a movie in their head using that plot and come out with something just as good as this film. I mean, come on… “Bad boy being recruited by even worse people to commit acts of violence.” This is as common of a trope as “Country girl comes to the big city to make a name for herself in show business.”

However, the problem I’m having here goes beyond that. I’ve reviewed the other shorts in the experimental category, and I could have said the similar-ish things about the ones that I liked as well. So, it’s more than not “fitting” within the category, and it’s more than the story being a bit simple or well worn. Those would be ridiculous reasons to dislike a movie anyway. No, this dislike comes from a more primal place.

Wait… First, let me praise it a little before I go on. It’s just not fair to trash someone’s work without showing that I could see some good in it as well. So here goes:

Rough Trade is well shot and acted. It’s done with a certain style in a professional manner. It doesn’t look or feel cheap, not once. The cast all perform excellently. It’s also fairly fast paced and it doesn’t lag. The visuals at least catch your eye, and the sound does provide for a nice thick atmosphere at times.

So this film has some not insignificant qualities going for it. Yet, even as I say this, it grates the hell out of me. I think it’s because the filmmakers are going for a hardcore art/porn thing, and those never work. The movies that are made that way always end up too smutty to be good art, and too artistic to be good smut.

Rough Trade, with its running time of less than twenty minutes, is probably the best version of the art/porn concept possible. The smut is greatly reduced and I can see the art a lot more clearly. It still doesn’t quite work, but it works a hell of lot better than it would have if it had been ninety minutes long. So it’s got that going for it.

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