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The Duke Watches “Nothing So Strange”

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There are films in this world what are doing nothing more radical than demanding the respect of the viewer. Films what question us, the humble folks on the sofa, films what make us think, and what fuel conversations for a good few days afterwards.

And then we forget all about those films, those gallant examples of their medium which, whilst being intellectually and aesthetically pleasing, perhaps breaking any number of rules and conventions before our very eyes, leave us cold when the credits roll.

Nothing So Strange – “A New Film About The Assassination Of Bill Gates”, is such a work. Easy to admire it certainly is, but it is also, sadly, almost impossible to love.

Adopting the ever-so-cutting-edge-back-in-the-fifties approach of the “mockumentary”, the film begins with a spot of the old assassinating. Bill Gates (played by Steve Sires, who in fact worked as a double for the man himself, until the release of this film) steps onto a stage holding one of those big cheques what folks like to give to charities now and again. A shot rings out, he grabs his side and falls to his knees. Then his head spits a load of the skull across the stage. Bill Gates is dead.

From such a gleefully antagonistic opening, we could go anywhere. What, pray tell, might Brian Flemming do with such an arresting introduction? Might he use this as the basis to expose and dissect any number of Gate’s real-life foibles and corruptions, actions which have led to this fictional bullet-bouncing? Might he ask questions about monopolies and what-not, how other companies are being marginalized or devoured by the gargantuan Microsoft Corporation?

No. What he wants to do is make a film about folks seek to uncover who the assassin is. The fact that the victim was Bill Gates is pure stunt-writing. It could just as easily have been Jay Leno, or David Letterman, or Ice-T, and the plot need be altered not one iota.

In an episode of Chris Morris’ fantastically vicious Brass Eye, he interrupted proceedings to bring us a fake newscast. British TV personality Clive Anderson had, it was revealed, just been assassinated by Noel Edmonds, another Brit TV Fave. The reporters went out to social gatherings and questioned other celebrities, none of them aware that they were being most heinously wound the fuck up, regarding this diabolical act of celebrity skull-smashing.

It lasted no more than two minutes, and it was hilarious.

Nothing So Strange lasts an hour and 16 minutes longer than that, but rather than being witty or insightful or challenging for the duration, it quickly and depressingly runs out of ideas. It has one joke, which it repeats ad nauseaum over and over and over and over.

I mean, there’s only so many times that chicken can cross the road before you wanna run the motherfucker down in a tank.

Certainly the film is plausible. It’s not that far from the fetched to imagine such a situation occurring, and a cover-up stemming from it all. The authorities, y’see, don’t want you to know who really shot this fella what made the Flight Simulators or whatever.

Also, the aesthetics of the piece are incredibly convincing, utilizing the news graphics and the CG Reconstructions and what not. If you tuned in ten minutes late, you wouldn’t have a clue it was a spoof. I mean, it’s not like Bill Gates has much to do with anything after the titles.

Also, The Citizens For Truth outfit what Nothing So Strange concerns itself with actually bring to mind the fringe parties in Life Of Brian, constantly sniping at one another and dissenting and so on instead of focusing on the issues at hand. Of course, Life Of Brian had other ideas, too, and jokes also, most of them very, very funny.

The characters and events in Nothing So Strange, though, with the possible exception of hardcore-conspiracy theorist David James, are crushingly dull to watch. They don’t have subtleties or comedic timing, they just spout fictional statistics, never leaving an impression of any substantial import. It’s convincing, but in the words of, I believe, Aristotle, “So the hell what?”

The irony is that, had this been presented as a conventional thriller type deal, it might actually have proved a much more satisfying film. The documentary stylistics present the “action” in a manner which demands our attention, and yet the onscreen malarkey is so unspectacular you wonder why anyone would bother shooting it.

It’s not that I expected to see the cannibals or the Hellboy’s or nothing running about the place, but the script is so dry you’re liable to get a craving for the Pepsi just listening to it.

But, however, there’s a thing to be discussed. (As The Crying Game will no doubt have taught you, there is always a “thing” hidden away somewhere amidst it all) The thing is, y’see, the passion what went into the creation of Nothing So Strange is on evidence throughout. And not just in the hour and 18 minutes of screentime, but on the web, even, in the shape of The Citizens For Truth Website, for example, which led indirectly to the crash of the South Korean Stock Market, after a confused news reporter caught wind of the very-convincing Bill Gates Is Dead theme of things.

This “web-universe” is arguably more interesting than the film. After all, the online presence was assisted by those fellas at Haxan Films, the ones what brought us Attack Of The Blair Witch or whatever, no strangers to online marketing themselves.

Then there’s the fact that several of the key scenes were filmed at actual events, with none but those involved in the production having any idea that the antics were staged. At one point David James interrupts a police-conference of some kind, at another the Citizens For Truth make an impassioned (and nonsensical) speech at a political rally, the spectators cheering and applauding the demands for “truth” from the LAPD.

But all these stunts and all this marketing and what not mean not a damn thing if the film can’t stand on its own outside of it. If this shows up on telly or something, they’re not gonna interrupt it every five minutes to say, “By the way, the website was really convincing, is what” or “those motherfuckers didn’t even know this was a film. Imagine how ridiculous they feel, like when Ali G says a funny question to Buzz Aldrin or some shit.”

For that kind of information, you would imagine you’d need a DVD Commentary, which, thankfully, is included on the disc of this very flick.

For the first ten minutes, the commentary is excellent. Director Brian Flemming worked as a DVD Critic at a time (by the way, The Duke would like to point out that DVD Critics are, in fact, the scum of all earth and should be hunted down and torched, but sent free DVD’s also), and proceeds to mock directors who waste the yack-track by saying stuff like, “And now we see so-and-so reaching down for a bottle of beer” or “this is such-and-such going to the store, where, you’ll see, he gets some soda. Oh look. That’s the soda right there. He’s just gonna pay for it now.” You know the typea crap I refer to.

Unfortunately, Flemming goes on to conduct a commentary which is, I believe, at least 78% more pointless than those mocked hitherto. Crushingly, he decides that the thing to do would be to call in the actors and have them “play their part” and so on, like it was all “real”. So we get what amounts to two phone calls playing over the film, in which the “characters” talk a load of horseshit about “yeah, I liked the documentary” or “no, I didn’t like that bit” and so on.

Even when Spinal Tap did that, it still annoyed the hell out of The Duke, and they were funny, man.

A film with such an amazing behind-the-scenes tale deserves a commentary what discusses such nonsense. In case these folks don’t know, we’re pretty sure that this is all, y’know, “fictional“.

Imagine if “Dr. Spock” provided the sole commentary on a Wrath Of Khan disc. You’d spit your coffee or whatever beverage you were drinking right across the room. You wanna hear the stories, man, you don’t want this fella yacking about “Yeah… um…. I didn’t like the movie cause it portrayed me in a bad light.”

Fucking hell, Nimoy, you try that shit and I’ll slap you good, man.

I honestly can’t see a reason for watching this a second time. I would buy it, but purely because it’s an interesting example of internet / film convergence, and being a pretentious kinda motherfucker I’d like to have it in the house just in case Richard Dyer or somebody needs a copy for to talk to the students.

But it suffers so badly from “so what?” syndrome, you can feel the apathy dripping from your very bones as yet another rambling conspiracy is unraveled, one what has no bearing on nothing or nobody. It doesn’t matter that it looks authentic, it plainly isn’t, and nor is it the least bit interesting.

When we go to the cinema we suspend our disbelief, and even though it’s some shit like Austin Powers – Pet Detective or whatever, we get emotionally involved.

Nothing So Strange, however, suffers because it so constantly attempts to underline it’s credibility that it simply reminds us of the falseness of it all. It’s impossible to feel attached to these people, because whilst the actors are fantastic throughout, the characters are the kinda people you end up sitting next to at weddings and then falling out with the rest of your family on account of, cause they seated you beside these monotonous boring wretches.

There’s no tension, no sense of drama, no memorable scenes (excepting one at the beginning, which involves Mr James and his diorama) and nothing to latch onto emotionally.

Still, the marketing is fantastic, the care and attention to detail is stunning, the respect for the folks what like the flick is heart-warming (the web-site, NothingSoStrange.com offers a wealth of extras that they couldn’t fit onto DVD), and the determinedly independent spirit is inspiring. For example, Nothing So Strange is the first-ever “open-source” film. Whilst the finished work is copyrighted, the raw material is not, so folks like The Duke who thought it was a wasted opportunity can grab all the footage and make their own version, without having to pay a cent in royalties.

So like I said, it is entirely admirable, and definitely demanding of respect, but try as I might, I just couldn’t like it.

Sorry folks.

The Duke resides at Mondo Irlando

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