Friday, October 12, 2012

Seeking Is Suffering: "Seeking Wellness: Suffering Through Four Movements" (2008)

This "conceptual video cycle" is quite an attention-getter, full of nightmarish imagery and pitch black dark comedy...or at least I thought so.

Writer/director Daniel Schneidkraut divides the film into four seemingly unrelated sections. The first section (entitled "Cup of Friendship, Shrine of Scars") forces the viewer to watch security camera footage of a hospital where two men break in to steal drugs, and rape and murder patients and staff in the process. Schneidkraut maddeningly shows us six different sections of the clinic for just a few seconds at a time, and it seems like an eternity to go through the cycle from the front desk, two different patients' rooms, a physical therapy room, a break room, and the pharmacy. The violence is chilling, as is this horrifying opening segment.

Then we are thrown into "Daddy's Time." We watch some boring slides taken back in the 1960's, and listen as a father (Charles Hubbell) drones on about the Christmas scenes to his children. The man hits on one slide of a forgotten great-uncle, and launches into a story of molestation by the man, all while the viewer must look at the photograph. The cut to the father and two of the most miserable-looking children (Aidan Sigel-Bruse and Piper Sigel-Bruse) to ever grace the screen is jarring. The father has the terrified looking kids open Christmas presents, and the entire episode is pathetic and sad until dad opens up the last present he gave to himself, which helps explain their silence.

Next up is...Part Four? During "Final Project," we listen to a student (Kamela Koehler) drone on and on about advertising messages in a long segment that will have every college grad in the country encounter deja vu. The next student (Bethany Ford) talks about self-inflicted destruction and harm, and shows a video of...Part Three, "Malignant Love".

In the video, we meet a young man identified as Patient 12 (Brian Hesser). The patient has broken up with his girlfriend (or at least someone he loved, but who may not have loved him), and decides to get her back. Instead of committing suicide, he wants to give himself cancer and have her nurse him through the disease. He begins sleeping under power lines, chain smoking, sun burning himself, and eats lead paint. Part Four, "Final Project," returns as we see what happens to Patient 12, and the classroom's bizarre behavior toward the man.

Schneidkraut's film is technically excellent. The picture is crystal clear, and the sound was expertly recorded. His directing style usually consisted of very very long takes, which does heighten some of the performances (especially Hubbell's). Impatient viewers may be turned off by this device, especially the long surgery scene, but I found it interesting. I think the film maker was trying to make a statement about the dark side of human nature, but I observed how lonely the characters are. Their collective lack of emotional contact with others is disturbing, and when they do speak or interact, it leads to violence and mayhem. The title is a mystery, although the term "suffering" might be used as a verb to those who don't get into experimental film making.

I am recommending "Seeking Wellness: Suffering Through Four Movements" basically because I have never seen anything like it before, even when I watch experimental films. One of the dedicatees is Stan Brakhage, the godfather of experimentalism, and Schneidkraut pays tribute to the man without copying him. This is not a perfect film, I thought the opening segment drained me of too much emotion to find the rest of the stories that shocking. Some of the "Malignant Love" and "Final Project" scenes do run too long. However, Daniel Schneidkraut has created a disturbing exercise for the viewer, and this will certainly make you think long after it is over. (* * * *) out of five stars.