This review was originally published on March 11, 2012…
Bill and Turner Ross’s Tchoupitoulas is an immersive experience, which is to say that the best way to really get in with this film is to allow yourself to take on the role of the camera, as if you’re just another person in the crowd (albeit one that can float and check out anything you want). It’s almost experimental in its narrative, and is definitely flirting with the narrative-documentary hybrid form, as it follows three brothers as they wander the streets of New Orleans one night.
As the brothers experience the various celebrations and festivities, eventually missing their ferry home and forced to spend even more time out on the street, the youngest of the trio shares his thoughts on life via voiceover while the camera shows us their adventures, or breaks off to give us a glimpse of other characters or events going on the same night. Throughout it all, we’re presented with imagery and sounds that represent New Orleans, from street buskers to burlesque shows and everything in-between.
It’s almost stream-of-consciousness in its delivery, and I feel that the best way to experience this film would be in a theater, where the screen and sound can surround and envelop you. It would be too easy to watch this on TV and just allow yourself to keep it at a distance, which would ultimately result in a disconnect that could leave one with the opinion that the film is pointless or even boring. Honestly, if you don’t actively engage, you’ll be missing out, so it is a risk that the filmmakers are taking with this style.
Which is where I found myself; when I allowed myself to be drawn into it, I was hooked and had a blast. When my short attention span got the best of me, I wanted more from the film. And with an 80-minutes-or-so running time, it’s a lot to ask for an audience to stay actively involved. That’s not so much a criticism of the film as it is a modern audience, but I do feel, again, that it is a risk the filmmakers are taking. And while there is a universality to the events and celebrations on screen, I do think the audience for this film is a special type. But for those that embrace it, Tchoupitoulas will truly be a work of art.