I Used to Be Darker Screen 18 articles

I Used to Be Darker

2013

I Used to Be Darker Poster
  • Porterfield tries to simultaneously respect and represent his characters' loneliness by filming them as a part of their environment. Close-ups are used sparingly, and characters are often not visually foregrounded (they're like pieces of furniture, only mobile, and sentient). That over-protective style is sometimes exciting and beguiling, as in a concert scene where the two girls disappear into a crowd. But it's also often distracting since it pushes viewers back, and keeps them at arm's length.

  • There's little of the formal daring that made Porterfield's previous efforts feel fresh, and while the characters are still carefully crafted and the space they inhabit still artfully presented, there's the definite sense that more could have been done with this material... One thing that grounds and differentiates the film is the musical performances, which feature songs played in their entirety, the camera lingering patiently at the periphery.

  • Campbell and Gross have an exceedingly natural rapport that seems more lived than acted, and the film is especially good whenever it ventures out, doc-like, into the Baltimore music scene that means so much to these characters. Less successful are the sour interactions between Kim and Bill, since nonactors Taylor and Oldham are asked to shoulder several sharp turns of emotion—notably in a lengthy confrontation ruled by alcohol and heartache—that they can’t believably convey.

  • Scripted like a series of chronological snapshots seen from a slight distance, the film exhibits a contemplative quiet and attentiveness to detail that enhances its issues of regret, bitterness, and confusion, many of which are rooted in thorny parent-child relations. Meanwhile, Porterfield uses music as a vehicle for evocative emotional expression, be it a heavy metal band's chaotic din or Kim's final ballad of wistful yearning.

  • Punctuated by lengthy musical performances from the leads (both Ms. Taylor and Mr. Oldham are professional musicians) and other Baltimore bands, “I Used to Be Darker” frequently sublimates its thorny emotions into song. These interludes are a welcome disruption to the film’s soporific atmosphere, adding energy and focus to a story woefully lacking in detail and exposition.

  • Performances can be sub-functional, which makes for rough going (I'm much more into Putty Hill's off-camera director-to-subject interrogations), but the mapping Baltimore neighborhood-by-neighborhood project is still on track.

  • Porterfield strikes me as a serious filmmaker whose tuned into both mood and dialogue without having to sell a false set of ideals or feeling compelled to follow any sort of set of principles of how stories should be told or what have you, and god damn his use of an in media res drop of the first line of the credits after an off-screen sound is genuinely clever and touching.

  • The father who has put his musical aspirations aside in favor of family life, versus the mother who refuses to give up, give in, or give out, form a kind of force field, calling on an unseen but palpable history which is personal, generational, and geographical -- as uniquely American a story as Linklater's "Before" films (which are all the more so by highlighting French sensibility).

  • The many scenes of musical performance, especially a few done in tensely thoughtful long takes, are reminiscent of Pedro Costa’s films (such as “Ne Change Rien”). Porterfield joins his characters in making sense of their lives with their art.

  • I see Darker as a major leap forward for Porterfield. For one thing, he now has the confidence to frame far more spatially complex shots than in his previous two features.

  • The visual design of the film, executed by Porterfield's steady cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier with his signature clarity and poise, usually works against movie-movie imagery. Even its one romantic interlude happens pretty much in the dark. Everything is geared towards a subtlety, a hushed ambience that allows the viewer to hear the characters think.

  • What this tender indie lacks in incident, it makes up for with a wealth of sentiment. While divorce dramas tend to run on the bitter bons mot exchanged between their warring lovers, here’s one in which the pregnant silences speak as loudly as the toxic words.

  • The pseudo-documentary strain is just the half of it; watched closely, the films reveal a rigorously formal sensibility that’s obsessive, fetishistic (someday someone will write a study of Porterfield’s work called “The Girls in Their Denim Shorts”), and increasingly, thrillingly complicated.

  • The film represents another step forward for Porterfield, an expansion of his methods and refinement of his abilities. More so than in Porterfield’s previous films, including his debut Hamilton, sound plays a crucial role in I Used to Be Darker. The purely diegetic soundtrack, punctuated by a series of musical performances by Bill and Kim, provides naturalistic accompaniment to Porterfield’s restrained, almost bashful imagery.

  • Bolstered by Jeremy Saulnier’s exquisitely washed-out, intermittently warm but for the most part hauntingly cold cinematography, I Used To Be Darker is at once of a thematic piece with Porterfield’s previous two features and a stylistic step in an exciting and enigmatic new direction. For now, it suffices to say that few filmmakers are getting at the substance of contemporary life as effectively.

  • Porterfield's continuing aversion to cinematic glossiness – natural light is favored, regardless of whether or not it provides flattering illumination, and shooting locations appear to have been kept the way they were when found – results in an intimate panorama of suburban banality, the textures of which feel at once specific to this Baltimore district and true to any middle-class neighborhood anywhere in the country in the past decade.

  • Almost as beguiling as Putty Hill, though Death as dramatic glue is missing and the penchant for young girls in their scanties slightly less justified (Porterfield's compassionate gaze has a rogue streak of borderline-pervy). The overall urge is towards community, which is why separation - the breakdown of the couple's relationship - gnaws at the movie...

  • In I Used to Be Darker, Oldham and Taylor (both professional musicians offscreen) sing their own their songs; thus instead of teenagers searching for music that complements their feelings [as in Putty Hill], we have middle-aged musicians—not just the characters, but also the actors—dredging things up from the inside out.

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