Go Down Death (Factory 25, NR)

film Go-down-death-smEverything about Go Down Death screams “director’s first film,” a characteristic that may be a draw for some viewers, but a warning for others to give it a miss.




film Go-down-death

Aaron Schimberg’s Go Down Death will strike some viewers as a very peculiar film—if it even qualifies under the common understanding of that term beyond the fact that it is meant to be projected on a screen before an audience. For others, it will seem entirely old hat, an imitation of a particular avant-garde style that is no longer very avant at all, except perhaps in comparison to Hollywood blockbusters and other conventional, narrative-based films.

Go Down Death, shot in black and white, consists of a number of separate scenes with recurring characters, set in an unspecified location that feels like the set of an early Hollywood Western with several other locations mixed in. Men play poker and enjoy the delights of a bordello, but mostly they talk and talk, occasionally singing (badly) or putting their pants back on. Then it gets really meta and shifts to a dinner party attended by a bunch of hipsters (the type for whom this film may well be intended) who engage in yet more talking. To say that Go Down Death feels more like fragments of a play than a completed film would be understating the case, but that very impression may be meant as a commentary on the history of cinema or the unreality of our lives, or something deep like that.

Schimberg’s chief talent seems to be in creating interesting visuals, and he does produce some striking images in this film. On the other hand, he’s certainly not interested in creating any kind of traditional narrative, and the fact that you can put one together based on the hints he provides says more about the human propensity to create stories out of just about any raw material than it does any intent of the filmmaker. Schimberg is also not interested in honoring the continuity conventions of Hollywood, and in fact draws attention to the artificiality of the world he creates on the screen by such time-honored, in-your-face devices as choppy editing, fake sources, and deadpan, nonprofessional acting.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this in the abstract, but the basic problem is that it’s hard to sustain interest in a film that serves primarily to communicate someone else’s belief in their own cleverness. It’s also hard to sustain interest in the work of someone who enjoys making of show of defying cinematic conventions without producing anything of interest to replace them. Everything about Go Down Death screams “director’s first film,” a characteristic that may be a draw for some viewers, but a warning for others to give it a miss.

And yet, in the long tail of non-blockbuster filmmaking, there’s probably an audience that will appreciate this film. I personally don’t think it’s worth your time (if you want to see the same thing done better, watch some Guy Maddin films instead), but that’s what makes for horse racing. I should also note that I watched a streaming version of Go Down Death on my computer, and because this film relies so much on its visuals, it may be substantially more effective when viewed on the big screen. | Sarah Boslaugh

Go Down Death will be screened as part of the Webster University Film Series July 3-8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Winifred Moore Auditorium (470 E. Lockwood Ave., St. Louis, MO 63119). Tickets are $6 for the general public; $5 for seniors, Webster alumni, and students from other schools; $4 for Webster staff and faculty; and free for Webster students with proper I.D. Tickets are available from the cashier before each screening; to learn about other options, contact the Film Series office 314-246-7525. The Film Series can only accept cash or checks.

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