Using the last bit of film stock they could buy, Raya Martin and Mark Peranson strive to make “The Last Film.” A document to the death of film as a material medium, La ultima pelcula strives to capture life in its banalities. Trash on the side of the road, a man working, and throngs of people surrounding a Mayan temple.
The death of film is connected to the death of this once great civilization. And the civilization’s end of calendar takes place at the same time of the film, marking a potential end of the world. And perhaps it is the end of the world as we know it. A dimension of that world is dying. The death of film is the death of worlds. Celluloid once served as a gateway into many realms.
But perhaps that’s a bit too melodramatic. What’s being lost is more of an aesthetic. The idea of film still exists, it just now exists in the digital realm. The softness and warmness of film stock replaced with the sharp realism of digital. Film is more impressionist, more artistic. And yet, even this film must bow to the throne of digital as many of its shots are digital to make more efficient use of the rare film stock.
Alex Ross Perry, the director of Queen of Earth, is the fictional visionary of this final film. He muses that unlike works of art hanging in museums that his film won’t last. And yet that’s a piece of himself. He can’t seem to separate himself from his work. Art used to be a hobby, something people did in their spare time. In the modern world it’s a career and an identity.
As the closest thing to a protagonist the film has, Alex is an arrogant, pretentious, conceited and insufferable man. He has these grandiose ideas of what his film will be despite its subject matter being pedantic and plain. He thinks it will change the lives of anyone who sees it, his film were surely be the pinnacle of cinema. He’s full of himself to the point that it’s humorous.
And yet as much as he has ambitions for his film, he can’t help but admit it falls into the trappings of all documentaries: artifice. The biggest issue is that people behave differently on camera. He can only capture people honestly if they do not know they are being filmed. And he admits his own role as performer, simply another artifice in the machine. But what is cinema if not artifice?
Religion breaks into this comedic pretension. The visit the Mayan temples, which are the ruins of paganism, the origins of religion. Their culture is dead and so is our culture also doomed to die.. Contrast this with the recurring image of baby Jesus and the cross, symbols of birth and resurrection, representing a world of eternal and everlasting life. Time, space and material all meet at the cross, the infinite connecting with the finite.
As a film, it’s a fantastic companion piece to The Forbidden Room. Where The Forbidden Room looks back through the history of cinema, this film gazes into a bleak future where celuloid cinema dies and is replaced by digital filmmaking. As the material changes, so does the spiritual. The universe now weaves in a new strand to replace the frayed, dying strand of the old. Film is dead. Long live film!
© 2016 James Blake Ewing