The Strange Cinema: “Buzzard” Review

One of the final shots of Joel Portrykus’ Buzzard showcases the protagonist of the film, Marty Jackitansky (Joshua Burge), running straight down an avenue of streets; Potrykus shoots the scene from a side-panned angle, giving the background the appearance of a film reel quickly slipping. Potrykus’ camera focuses on Jackitansky’s swinging legs, furthering the scene’s momentum, before switching to a close-up of Jackitansky’s grinning face—a grin that at this point, the audience can’t help but share. Buzzard is an absurd film and may begin slow but the lolling of events throughout the film are worth it if not for this one scene.

Marty Jackitansky is a temp working at First National Bank and spends his time performing petty scams in order to get on by. Jackitansky closes his checking account only to immediately open a new one for the $50 bonus included, company orders the most expensive office supplies so he can return them in person for cash and finally, deposits checks made out to First National Bank customers, which are falsely signed out to himself. This last scam puts Jackitansky in trouble with the law and with only one friend, Derek (Joel Portrykus) who’s also his fellow employee, Marty first decides to hide out in Derek’s basement before making the bigger move to Detroit after being scammed himself by a convenience store clerk.

Buzzard is a film which places style  over substance, foregrounding itself in horror films, old school gaming, and metal music, in order to create its  own visual aesthetic. Jackitansky is portrayed as a certain stereotype of fans of these hobbies and shots of his own apartment decorated with Nightmare on Elm Street posters, comic book stands adorned with “Tales of the Crypt” series, in combination with his own frenzied metal music which plays on the diegetic level, mirror the images and cultural response to Tsutomu Miyazaki’s—otherwise known as the “Otaku Killer”—apartment.

While Jackitansky isn’t strictly an otaku—anime does not play a role in the film, although the presence of Japanese culture is seen, Jackitansky and Derek play the Sega Genesis and NES, and Derek has a Matrix Revolutions poster in his basement, a film series which in turn was influenced by Ghost in the Shell—Jackitansky is still a reflection of how society views people from this type of sub-culture. He is eyed suspiciously in the public places, although for good reason, and Portrykus uses this to his advantage to make fun of revolutionary dreamers in a similar manner to Godard in La Chinoise. Jackitansky attempts to shift the blame of his troubles from himself to the society around him but his empty cry is only greeted by an objective violence which brings him back to the reality of things—he’s a loser.

When it comes to aesthetics, in keeping in line with the theme of metal music, watching Buzzard is similar to listening to a sludge metal album. The images and the way the narrative is constructed as well as executed emit a thick, heavy, and drab atmosphere, turning Buzzard’s setting into an ideological urban wasteland. It is due to the setting then, that the reality of Buzzard’s imagery become hard to discern but from this confusion Buzzard reveals its adornment of absurdity. In an intertextual cinematic dialogue, Buzzard is most comparable to Rick Alverson’s 2012 film The Comedy, which saw Tim Heidecker of absurd comedy fame, playing a character who also drifted through life in an absurd and ironic rebellion.

With Buzzard only being his second film, Joel Portrykus and his crew display a budding talent for film. One that can only be perfected by practice and while Portrykus has shown his ability to work with limited funding, as the director’s fame grows, one can only be excited and hopeful for what he has to offer with more freedom available.

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