Wild Tigers I Have Known
2006Director: Cam Archer
Cast: Malcolm Stumpf, Patrick White, Max Paradise
DITOR'S NOTE: Many of the elements of the above review were based, or taken directly, on Slant Magazine's review of the same movie. As a result, the writer has been fired from the site.
A curious, offbeat and generally sensitive film, Cam Archer’s highly experimental debut, Wild Tigers I Have Known, is the heralding tale of a kid who has a plethora of developing adolescent emotions, but absolutely no idea where to release them, or who to express them to. With his large, ever-peering eyes, unkempt hair, and skinny, fragile frame, thirteen-year-old outcast Logan (Malcolm Stumpf, turning in a performance light-years away from his 2000 role in The Next Best Thing) is not the easiest person with whom to identify.
Archer’s overly-mellow screenplay bestows Logan with the orientation of homosexuality; something that Logan himself never quite comes to understand (but everyone around him apparently does; a strange choice). Logan desires to be loved, and that is all he desires, as illustrated in a scene in which the young boy scribes "I Want To Be Loved" on his shirtless torso with a container of bright red lipstick. Unfortunately, he fosters all of this newfound agitation inward rather than seeking explanation from his elders, and in the most artsy-fartsy manner possible, decides to write "I Am A Broken <3" on his chest (trust me, there are only two chest-drawing scenes, one more and I would have cringed). In all this antic indie preciousness, Archer strays from what could have been more than an emphatically avant-garde affair that unfairly undercuts its own portrait of evolving pubescence with all-too-eclectic symbolism and lightweight ethics.
In its subject matter, the film warrants comparison with David Gordon Green’s masterful George Washington, essentially because it attempts to do almost the same thing: present an incredibly oddball main character (both teenagers, in this case) and through an equally erratic series of events, prove this alien youth to be an un-abstract, totally relatable hero. Green makes it seem effortless, thanks to his evocative screenplay, superb cast of non-professional actors, and the brilliant cinematography of Tim Orr. Archer’s film spends too much time establishing reasons for Logan’s upcoming realizations and not enough time stressing his detachment from his peers. Like the spaced-out love child of Greg Araki’s genius Mysterious Skin and Asia Argento’s dreary The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (but without their respective finesse and lunacy), Archer's first full-length feature is fixated on the anxiety, self-doubt, and confusion of growing up.
It is very elegantly photographed, however, hinting that producer Gus Van Sant provided some much-needed visual assistance to the novice filmmaker. Opening with a shot of an old video of clashing wrestlers (accompanied by an ominous wall of electronic sounds) that quickly devolves into an array of strange, shifting shapes, Archer’s valuation is a mixture of angelic, masturbatory, and animal imagery with a psychosexual curve. The central motif (the film's title notwithstanding) is the mountain lion, many of which parade around the area surrounding Logan's Santa Cruz, California high school and with whom Logan—believing the creatures are feared simply because they are misunderstood—intimately identifies. But honestly, Logan, like many lonely children, feels the way he does about these creatures because, oftentimes, adolescents find that they love things because they are, well, things.
Logan does not have to vie for the affection of the lion; he believes it cares for him because he cares for it. Sexual identity construction is the primary goal of each of the film's characters, whether via Logan’s friend Joey's hilarious "Ways to Be Cool" list (the answers: motorcycles, "Hollywood," and online relationships) or Logan's eventual creation of a female alter ego named Leah that he uses over the phone to lure man-crush Rodeo to a lion cave rendezvous. Tapping into the hope conferred by youth's aptitude for reinvention, Archer finds clumsy beauty in Logan's cross-dressing confrontation of Rodeo's girlfriend, his awkward failures at seduction, and his climactic communion with his naturally allied spirits (the lions). His visual style lends the proceedings a fairytale-like feel, edging Logan’s adventures closer to the status of a storybook more than a real-life advisory.
While adjusted to the disorientation that coincides with kids' entry into the unnerving realm of adult desire, Archer's cinematic “coming out” (pun intended) lacks a healthy, necessary measure of maturity; every time Logan begins using his body as a billboard, his dreadful mother (Fairuza Balk) shows up to break down his confidence, or telephone-filtered narration flows over the action, the tone veering away from hallucinatory intensity and toward aggravating arrogance. In its ultimately-lacking-substance quest to draw emotional sincerity from mannered stylization, the film comes across as the work of a director who—similar to his flowering, bewildered protagonist—is still engaged in a process of self-discovery and definition.
By: Mike LeChevallier
Published on: 2006-04-27