Wild Tigers I Have Known (IFC Films, NR)

film_tiger_smThough most audiences are hardly stranger to the coming-of-age trend in cinema, Wild Tigers I Have Known is something a bit different.

 

 

 

 

Taking knowing cues from Kenneth Anger and Derek Jarman, queer experimental filmmakers of the past, Cam Archer's debut film depicts a fragmented portrait of a young boy's self-discovery. Logan (Malcolm Stumpf) is thirteen and stands as a fascinating contradiction of appearance. He's waifish, androgynous, and youthful but with the voice of a boy several years his senior and the confidence and lack of self-consciousness that one wouldn't expect of a boy his age. He's in the later years of junior high and spends most of his time alone, as his single mother (Fairuza Balk) works more than she spends time with her son. Logan forms a crush on an older boy (Patrick White), who shares Logan's tendencies of self-sufficiency and curiosity. As we learn from a television news program, the threat of wild tigers invading the school campus looms over their days, even resulting in a ludicrous school assembly where students are taught how to react when encountering one of these animals. Though most audiences are hardly stranger to the coming-of-age trend in cinema, Wild Tigers I Have Known is something a bit different.

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Archer's nods to both Jarman and Anger might have been frustrating or painfully evident, but his references are not blind or even unjust. Thematically, Wild Tigers I Have Known shares more in common with Anger's Fireworks, a sometimes nightmarish depiction of youthful desire and awakening, yet visually, the film's lush imagery more closely lends itself to Jarman's fragmented, opulent vision. Archer's knowledge of these comparisons becomes fully explicit when the school's principal introduces the Tolerance Statue, strikingly reminiscent of the iconic Christmas tree in Fireworks. With such inspirations, it's refreshing to see that Archer's preoccupation isn't pretentious or patronizing. Instead, his tone is more reminiscent of something like Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin, a film beaming with discovery, both of the self and of the protagonist's perceivable world.

Some of the film's finer moments occur with Logan's interactions with the few adults in his life. As his mother, Balk, probably best known as the young Dorothy in Return to Oz or the teenage witch with a taste for devilish power in The Craft, only has about four scenes in the film, but all are completely worthwhile. As a woman, she looks no different than she did ten years ago as a high school goth chick, which makes her relationship with Logan appear that much closer. A scene where Balk lovingly cleans Logan's make-up off his face, giving advice about the perils of youth and school, is both beautiful and tender. To cineastes, it's hard not to recall Balk's role as a young girl of similar desires and ambitions in Allison Anders' Gas Food Lodging, even dressing up with a wig to unsuccessfully woo the boy of her dreams. It's not hard to imagine Balk's role here as the continuation of the one in Gas Food Lodging, a girl who knows all-too-well the anguish of youth and unrequited first love. Logan also has a few good moments with the school's counselor (Kim Dickens), though I was a bit disappointed to hear that punk goddess Lydia Lunch's character was cut from the final film. Ultimately, Wild Tigers I Have Known shows Archer's promise as a filmmaker, a 24-year-old who wears his influences on his sleeve without the obnoxiousness you might expect from such renowned taste in inspiration. | Joe Bowman

Wild Tigers I Have Known will screen at the Winifred-Moore Auditorium on the campus of Webster University at 8 p.m. on the evenings of May 18, 19, and 20. Visit http://www.webster.edu/filmseries for more information.

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