Written by Various.
This article consists mainly of the transcript of an email discussion between myself and a number of other people, the impetus for which was a deeply, deeply strange two-minute internet trailer for a film called After Last Season.
When I first watched the trailer (stumbling across it at road dog productions) it reduced me to fits of mad laughter and gasps of total disbelief; after a few days and many, many more viewings I am still not very far past that initial reaction. However, the following debate with a number of friends to whom I introduced the video has allowed me to understand a little better what makes this piece of cultural detritus quite so extraordinary - and quite so extraordinarily odd.
Due to the way it allows filmmakers to bypass conventional forms of exhibition and promotion, the internet also allows for almost total anonymity, a fact that brings with it the potential for even more confusion than normal about the intentions behind artworks. Intention is an issue that is not much discussed nowadays, often assumed to be a passé critical concept. Yet it is in fact something that we implicitly take into account when we encounter virtually any work of art: we assume, to take an exaggerated example, that it would make no sense to approach and evaluate Singin’ in the Rain as if it were attempting to be film noir, since we believe its creators intended it to be a musical. We are always making assumptions about what a work is and is not intended to be and, furthermore, about what this means for the appropriate conceptual frameworks we should bring to a viewing of it. This is how we are able to position ourselves in relation to the artwork and the conventions it uses: it is how work out where we stand.
The ever-present importance of assumptions about intention comes sharply into focus when we are faced with something whose intentions we can’t divine. The state of utter, hilarious, incredulous confusion that my friends and I found ourselves in after watching this trailer was essentially caused by our inability to grasp what its makers were meaning to do.
The following, then, might be seen simultaneously as an exercise in the difficulties of discussing intention, a case study in how an internet phenomenon can grow, and a record of how very silly things can get when we are faced with something we don’t immediately feel we understand…
Okay - who says that my hours trawling Youtube and blogs are wasted when I occasionally stumble over something like this...!?
What you are about to see is quite simply the strangest trailer I have ever encountered. It’s for a movie called After Last Season, and it is just incredibly, mind-meltingly... Oh, I don't even know. I just want to share it with people. I should say now that it's for an apparently REAL film. It's caused a bit of a stir on a few blogs.
Like Trapped in the Closet, this does something very strange to me that I can't put my finger on - suffice to say though that it has caused me to erupt in laughter four successive times in a very quiet library, whilst simultaneously unnerving me to my core. Immediately discussion on blogs has turned to the question of intention, irony, and Andy Kaufman, which just goes to show how inescapable such issues are when we are faced with something like this.
Enjoy - preferably repeatedly, because I think that its brilliance really starts to crystallise on the second or third viewing. Please pass it on to whoever you think has a similar penchant for such things.
Jesus, I really don't know what to say to that....
Okay, okay... I do have a few things to say.
Firstly, my initial reaction was that the trailer was just a piss-take; however, I now believe that it might be some kind of extensive joke. A lot of effort has been put into it... It's on IMDb, and quite a few of the actors have been in other things.
Secondly, have you seen the poster? I can only find a small .GIF, but it's still pretty weird.
Lastly check out the website, especially the "About" section and the three clips under "Videos". Very, very odd - particularly the second one (here).
One of the guys here reckons it might be some form of viral, which isn't a bad shout. Whatever it is, someone has a very distinct purpose in mind. It's certainly not just a shit film. Might be a high-concept art-type thing, but i'm betting on it being something else. Either a joke, or at the very least something that's deliberately disorientating.
The web site itself is actually quite well put-together, and that just doesn't square with something that appears to be so shoddy. There are typos on some of the pages, and the text sounds like it was written by a retard.
I think I agree - I can't see it just being a shit 'conventional' film, as listed on IMDB (as a thriller). The question is, I reckon, whether it's:
1) an 'arty' film a la Lynch, and they're just fucking it up
2) an 'arty' film a la something even stranger (and more comic) that they're getting exactly right
3) an 'ironic' film dedicated to being as incompetent and strange as possible
4) something beyond all previous categories of humankind
There's also the possibility that it could be just intended as a trailer or viral (and a hilarious website) with intentions ranging across 2 and 4 (I don't think the makers of option 1 would just do a trailer).
Whatever it is though, it's perfect, and it's the tiny particulars of the trailer that make it so wonderful ("My uncle stayed in the area, last...year?"/ the massive delay between the last two bits of credits AND the music!).
As a linked aside, I think the image of the CGI girl in the room that cuts away just as the image gets interesting (i.e.: just as the hand comes through the wall), is particularly interesting in this regard, since it is one of the most obvious moments that suggests that there are more exciting moments which have been left out of the trailer.
Thanks for linking to this, James. It is certainly one of the strangest trailers I've seen.
A few thoughts:
1 - Despite looking like a terrible shot-on-video failure (that would struggle to get a straight to dvd release) it tells us that it will be in theatres in June. Also, it is on Apple's Movie Trailers site meaning it looks to be not only legitimate but also a relatively high profile release.
2 - There's an interview with the director on Knox Road which suggests the film had a budget of $5million, which it obviously didn't: here.
3 - All the things you guys have already mentioned (good website but bizarre 'about' section & even worse clips).
I would guess that this is a viral intended to get people talking about the film (just like we are) and that there is a great deal of irony/self-awareness on behalf of the filmmakers.
One last thing - it actually reminds me of some of Hal Hartley's later films (the awkward dialogue and arch delivery especially).
I have now watched and rewatched the trailer and viewed the three “clips” over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
My initial reaction was, “This CAN’T be real”. My second reaction was, “CAN this be real?” My third reaction was, “This CAN’T be real”. My current position is that this is a truly masterful hoax. It is too PERFECTLY imperfect. As Rick said, it so perfectly focuses on the most mundane non-trailer-like elements that I can’t believe that any human alive today could think this trailer acceptable.
So bad was the sound, I only realised on my fourth or fifth viewing that the woman’s response to a (still virtually inaudible) comment contained a dramatic point: “He mailed them to me a couple of weeks before the day he was stabbed”. A (presumably) major plot point was fluffed, but fluffed in a very interesting way. So perfectly, so precisely deadpan that it is almost undetectable in its ironic intent. This is irony that has covered it tracks so well we are genuinely unsure of the intentions of its creator(s).
The world of the film/clips seem entirely unironic. The performances are naturalistic in the extreme - so extreme that they appear, from a cinematic point of view (our expectations of what cinematic performance is and should be), to be incompetent. The delivery of lines is so perfectly, so openly, so naturalistically incompetent. This is not an overt performance of incompetence (as, for example, in Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place), it seems to be pitched so perfectly as to appear entirely genuine. Nor, I feel, is the camerawork/lighting/sets etc overtly drawing attention to a deliberate incompetence - yet it somehow manages to look and BE incompetent.
Might I also ask - do the actors/participants even know of the purpose of the scenes in which they are taking part? I feel the urge to say their performances are so wholly innocent of pretence that they might not have known the intent of the director… Their performances are so, SO low-key (that, along with “innocent”, is the best phrase I can think of at the moment) that it is hauntingly convincing that they are sincere. They are not hamming it up at all, nor are they so competent as to be overly-sincere. They do not exude an air of pretence or self-consciousness, their performances don’t feel like ironic performances - they simply ARE. (Or, conversely, simply are NOT.)
To sum up, this can ONLY be two things:
1) A film so terrible, so unknowingly and completely incompetent that it beggers all critical comprehension.
2) A masterpiece of irony that is so perfectly, so beautifully executed that the effect it has on the viewer is exactly that as if it were real.
I have just one further thing to add to the discussion: on IMDb, the film is listed as a thriller, but on the Apple trailers site it's listed as a comedy. It's hard not to read this as a big clue.
I have a nasty feeling that I might get vaguely obsessed with trying to discover exactly what this is... Either way, it's a wonderfully odd discovery.
Personally, my favourite moment is the one-second shot that pops up at 1m 09s. So strange!
I also find something fascinating about the nature of the 'clips' (again with the apostrophes"), in that the word 'clip' suggests that these are extracts from something larger. Obviously it's entirely likely that this is the case (and the disembodied hand and the feeling that we are seeing irrelevant bits of scenes certainly suggest that this is the case), but what if they are not? There is a slight possibility that this trailer is simply constructed from a few snippets of specially recorded dilogue which doesn't extend beyond the frame of the trailor. Watching the footage again from that angle makes everything even more bizarre; we are already baffled because the clips are taken out of context but what if there was no context to start with?
Apologies for sending out yet another email on this, but I've just noticed something:
There are actually TWO trailers on the net.... and they both feature exactly the same footage, but in a different order.
Again, I can't think of any real reason to do this - apart from deliberately confusing people. Interestingly, this also highlights the seemingly arbitrary arrangement of the scenes. Many Hollywood trailers opt to loosely follow the plot of the films they follow, but that certainly doesn't seem to be the case here.
1. I was just about to post about the two trailers. As Neon says, there can surely be no real reason for this - EXCEPT deliberate arbitrariness. Incidentally, there is also another version of the trailer on youtube that intercuts it with Joaquin Phoenix rapping (here, thus linking it with ANOTHER piece of culture from this year that people aren't sure whether to take as real or fake! - but is this the filmmakers doing this, or a "fan"!?). It's certainly not unheard of for people to mash up unrelated internet "memes", in fact it's very common (e.g.: Christian Bale and dentist boy), but I'm not sure that this one is big enough yet to get that kind of treatment (it's still in the low hundreds for viewings on all its Youtube incarnations, despite the blog attention - which is weird in itself). Maybe it's people unconnected to the project intentionally contributing to the weird mystery around it - and in a comparably and appropriately strange way...???
2. The film’s apparent production company, Index Square, has a blank website that only links to the trailer (here) - this smells fishy, though the makers of independent feature films do often set up a company for one film alone, so.......?!! Incidentally, if Index Square is a fake company, how fucking brilliant is the name?! It combines that mundanity and strangeness that the film itself does so well, and somehow I fall about laughing at the way it 3/4-underlines itself on the graphic at the start of the trailer.
4. Does all this talk of seriousness vs comedy blind us to the very thing that the trailer might actually be doing perfectly, which is combining the two!? As a number of people have said, there is something genuinely unnerving about the trailer, and I don't think it's ONLY down to the fact that we're unsure how it's addressing us. I think it actually manages to almost work on the level that Lynch sometimes does - by making us concerned through lack of explanation, uncertainty - hinting that SOMETHING IS WRONG, even if we don't know what. Of course, it's also making me laugh like a bastard, but maybe that's all part of how it throws us off balance - the comedy being found where comedy shouldn't be is maybe part of the SOMETHING that is wrong (Lynch uses this technique too). Imagine if there was a whole film made in this vein! It would be INCREDIBLE and would probably fuck me up for days.
5. This video is an interesting sign of the cultural moment we're in because (a) irony has reached such an all-pervasive status in popular culture that we can't imagine it NOT being employed in something like this, yet (b) it has become so potentially subtle that we're not sure when it's being used; (c) we assume the makers of any film to be so familiar with the conventions of filmmaking that ineptitude on this scale doesn't seem plausible (unlike, say, Ed Wood?), (d) advertising has reached the level of insidiousness that it's entirely possible this is a very clever viral ploy.
6. This reminds me of INLAND EMPIRE in the sense that the confusion it causes seems so intimately wrapped up with the "content": both films seem to be playing on genres (mystery, horror, science fiction) that are absolutely about the meeting of the rational and the irrational, and as such their own tension between rationality and irrationality - and that which they cause in us - comes across as (to me at least) brilliantly effective.
7. If I am bordering on giving this trailer a ridiculous degree of credit by over-interpreting it (see 6!) then this too suggests something else about it: it relies not just on tensions between rational/irrational, comedy/seriousness, but also between banality and profundity. I would say that it wouldn't be as interesting if it didn't somehow hint (a little like Trapped in the Closet) that it is trying to say something MEANINGFUL. Partly through its should-be-metaphorical title, partly through its incoherence unavoidably seeming like it could be taken from 'art cinema', partly through it's wonderfully, wonderfully poker-faced tagline ("The end of a season...is the beginning of a new one" - ACTUALLY a potentially philosophical truth, if you want to pursue it, but of course also bollocks!), and partly through its hints of the supernatural and the psychological, the trailer is suggestive of something... SOMETHING, but also of nothing. The fact that it maybe (probably DOES) means nothing is also key to the impact though, and is being suggested again and again by the sheer banality of the dialogue, the acting, the sets... This is also a source of the comedy - as in Garth Marenghi, Ed Wood and Trapped in the Closet, delusions of grandeur are always potentially hilarious (though often poignant too).
8. If I was to do proper justice to a textual analysis of this trailer, going through all the minute reasons why it's wonderful and their multiple potential meanings, I think it would probably take me at least six months.
Yes there are some Hal Hartley similarities present, definitely. Maybe also because the main (?) actor looks a lot like about all Hartley's characters. And yes, it also reminds me to an extent of Lynch, not in the least because the woman resembles Naomi Watts. And what about the title? Last Season? A season of what? Film, Tv? There is surely some metatextuality there?
NB: "CGI" is fantastic btw. It looks more like a 1990s version of Sims than like an alternate reality or a dream or whatever.
After reading the notes on the website, im convinced this is the work not of someone with a sense of irony, but of someone who is a fool. "and other talented people"? Awsome stuff.
For posterity, I thought I would collect the few comments that have been posted about the different versions of the video on Youtube (below). It's really confusing me how each of them can have such a low number of viewings when it's been blogged about to a fair extent... Maybe everyone's watching it on Apple, but you'd still expect more than a couple of hundred views, I think... Maybe I'm just getting paranoid now! Anyway:
mattegel: wtf is this shit?
DocTurner: This can't be real.
mukherjee101: I don't understand! Apparently this movie had over a 5 million dollar budget for special effects, but I could've made this in week for under 5 dollars. Please tell me that the actual movie is better quality than this.
sooperd00p : word...can anyone tell me what the story is for this movie?
Saviorself06 : This trailer has destroyed the little faith I had in digital filmmaking and movies altogether. It is incredibly confusing, badly written, poorly executed, badly acted, and most importantly not funny. Who puts up the money for these? Great filmmakers die like dogs while film school jerk offs make shitty after shitty after shitty "movies". FILM is FILM. Film is MOVIES. DIGITAL? DIGITAL IS DIGITAL. Digital sucks balls and so do film school kids who make bad movies.
(And for the one with Joaquin Phoenix...)
RoboCopOnAcid: This is THE most important piece of cinema of this generation.
lrodhall : I KNOW huh?!
xorry0: It's about the ending of a season, and the beginning of a new one.
winebubbles: I don't really understand this at all.. What is this movie about?
I'm with RobocopOnAcid.
Hold the press, some more news has just come in. It seems that one of the actresses (Casey McDougal) has a blog in which she writes:
"Otherwise, I am getting ready for my top secret project, which I am just about ready to let you all know about…! We are “working” on it this Thursday with some wonderful people. Let me put it this way…the surprise will be unleashed April 1st, 2009. That’s not too much longer to wait, right? Right." (here.)
The plot thickens...
I'm curious, though it could be something else couldn't it? If it is indeed ALS, and they're planning on doing something with it on April 1st (not July 4th, as stated in the trailer - maybe it's not the release, but something else!?), that would seem to be a fairly strong hint that the whole thing is intended as comedy, wouldn't it...
First of all, thanks for introducing me to such an astonishingly strange and genuinely puzzling thing James. I watched it so much last night my mind went soft.
In contrast with a lot of people writing about this in forums etc. I really really want this to be a viral campaign or somesuch, but I'm afraid that it might just be a real film after all.
The two versions of the trailer suggest random re-orderings a la some kind of cut-up technique. Perhaps the whole thing is an improvisatory experiment, the end product of which is either a film or just a trailer for a non-existent film.
To pursue the viral/hoax possibility:
We can agree that the film it purports to be a trailer of seems bad and possibly non-sensical. Whether this is intentional or not is in question. But maybe we should also question how related to the actual film the trailer is. The cardboard MRI scanner is so flipping shoddy that the filmmakers, and the film itself, can't possibly be putting it forward as a realistic stand in (especially with a 5 million dollar budget), so maybe it is supposed to be fake within the world of the film also, which then leads me to question the veracity of what anyone is saying or doing within the trailer. Perhaps the trailer is for a bad film within the film, or perhaps there is some other logical reason for an added layer of performance and artificiality within the film world. Is it possible that the trailer footage fills in some ancillary aspect of the world created by the film, without actually being included within the film itself, something like the intricate, deep and dense viral campaign that preceded Cloverfield (which was also intentionally obscure and puzzling and provoked a similar mystery-solving impulse). Like the newspapers that report the events of Donnie Darko, or the ads for Slusho! the Japanese deep sea goo+soda drink from Cloverfield. Maybe, for a simplistic example, its a trailer for a film that's being made within the film that we never get to see. The trailer then colours in a little piece of the film world outside of, and weirdly, before the film. The genuinely strange, unnerving and provocatively puzzling nature of the trailer both is and isn't a cheat then, one that successfully creates a buzz around the film because it seems like it can't possibly be like this! when actually it isn't like this at all, but is justifiably linked.
The names themselves seem like clues in some sort of puzzle - Mark Region (a pseudonym arrived at in a similar fashion to mark twain?), Index Square, Multiple Visuals, Activating Keys, Prorolis Corporation, scream out for you to try and connect them to something else...
Ok I'm willing to accept that I'm going quite far out on a limb with that, but that's what I really want it to be, even though my reason tells me its probably just a trailer for either a very clever or a very stupid film.
Strangely, the feel of it reminds me of Shane Carruth's Primer (similarly low-budget but with weird sci-fi shit going on - in this case a low-tech time machine built in a garage), as well as Cronenberg's early films, especially Crimes of the Future (weird experiments in a very white suspicious corporation compound). Also the acting style isn't too far removed out of an Andrew Bujalski film.
Finally, the trailer itself is indeed a masterwork of creepy suggestion. There's something a little bit occult and scary about it - the end of one season and the beginning of another? That's sounds pretty ominous and hexagonal to me....
I found the audition tapes of actor Jason Kulas as a bitter cop (not for this film) here, which suggests that the acting within the trailer may well be genuine.
You're definitely right that the 'top secret project' could be something completely unrelated but it is certainly fun trying to track down more information - clues! - to shed light on the wonder that is After Last Season.
As Michael suggests, I could also see it being a viral for another film (where this is a 'bad' film within the film) kinda similar to the material circulating before Cloverfield arrived.
Oh, and I did a little more detective work to find the contact details for Mark Region, the film's director:
REGION, MARK (firstname.lastname@example.org); INDEX SQUARE INC.; P.O. BOX 182; TEWKSBURY, Massachusetts 01876; United States
This forum thread suggests that the filmmaker's real name is Sean Chheang Chhun, and that he previously made a 33 minute film called Medium Waves the tag-line of which was 'A Murder Has Occurred in a Quiet Town.' Sounds in a similar vein to his current opus, and even evokes 'A Woman in Trouble.' The production company was called 'Sphereplane' - it gets deeper and deeper... (here).
Which reminds me - the website synopsis is written in such an inhuman, strangely formal style - it makes me think that the people making do indeed know what they're doing. It's like a precise, but emotionless translation, an effort that produces that Lynchian effect of suggesting an inhuman intelligence, or an unnerving innocence and formality, as in the banal sentences of the rabbits in INLAND EMPIRE.
Anyhoo, perhaps it'll all become clear tomorrow...
Ok, so I've tracked down some further information (does this count as stalking?) which suggests that Index Square is a company registered in Massachusetts in 2007 with Mark Region as President, Treasurer, Secretary, Vice President and Director (here).
Perhaps this is genuine after all?
Now that I've read through that thread on metafilter which Michael linked to I'm actually fairly convinced that the director's real name is Sean Chheang Chhun. They were using similar detection methods (whois.com, pipl.com, etc.) but were one step ahead by cross-referencing the info through the US Copyright database. It seems he has made a similar film before entitled Medium Waves, as Michael pointed out, which suggests that it all may be genuine. So perhaps not a viral after all -- or else they've put a lot of work into this!
Definitely evokes those issues of naive/deliberate camp you were discussing in regards to Trapped in the Closet, James, although I think I may be disappointed if it turns out not to be deliberate!
1 - I don't understand why people on that thread Michael linked to (who have devoted almost as many words to ALS as us!) are jumping to the conclusion that just because they have found out the director's real name and that he's a jobbing, if unsuccessful, filmmaker this means that the film is thus "real" (by which they seem to mean just unintentionally bad). I think it's undeniable that even if this IS a "real" film, the organisation of the trailer points to a controlling presence that is concerned with doing something other than making a "conventional film" - as in, say, a fairly straightforward sci fi movie. Unless: are we countenancing the possibility that this is indeed a trailer for a bad moderately "conventional" film, but that it has been chopped up into a crazy order for the sole purpose of creating the kind of internet buzz it has done!?
2 - Michael, your idea about this being potentially a film-within-a-film is really interesting (like a Be Kind Rewind "swede"): I hadn't thought of that. That would make its aesthetics, as you say, "bad within the world of the film" - which does seem plausible given how crazy the sets are, as you point out. There does seem NO POSSIBLE WAY that the MRI scanner can be intended to be taken as passing for an actual MRI scanner, or that we're not intended not to see that the walls are papered and taped over, surely?? So this would make this part of a strategy for something along the lines of Halo's I Love Bees (which I only just learnt about via that forum discussion). This might seem plausible, except that...
3 - Although there's clearly a fair amount of discussion out there about this, it doesn't seem quite popular enough to have been pushed to the extent that something of the the I Love Bees variety surely would be, I don't feel. I'm still totally bemused, for example, by how low the viewings on Youtube are: we're not THAT cutting edge are we!? Is it possible for youtube posters to cap the number of views that are displayed, or something? I suppose it's early days yet - maybe that's just it.
4 - Although I am certainly interested in what the hell this turns out to be, I've realised that the question interests me less than this moment of uncertainty itself, and the fact that we've all been thrown into such a tizzy by what essentially comes down to two minutes worth of the strange misusing of certain aesthetic conventions! Whatever it turns out to be, I will always love and admire this trailer for what it is in and of itself.
Well, it seems that the "top secret project" the actress from ALS was hyping up was actually just a web-based talk show she's setting up with a friend of hers!!! (see here)
So: the mystery continues...!
This article was published on April 02, 2009.
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