Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 05/23/03 09:28:41

1 stars (Total Crap)

SCREENED AT THE 2003 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: How many student films have you seen? OK, then you can’t judge me when I can’t see the inherent “art” in a film like Marathon. Call me woefully traditional or hopelessly uncouth, but watching a movie like Marathon is like having root canal on your ballsack. For women, too. Do I need to go further than I just did? I can. I can go further into the depths of pain and frustration associated with only viewing half of this film. I can go further than no reviewer ever has before, but on the off-chance that I just don’t “get” or “appreciate” a cinematic “achievement” such as this, I’ll scale it back and just hint at what’s it like. For someone like me.

You will never know the exquisite pain of the man who goes home alone.” So said Jason Lee in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky. Don’t expect such wit here nor that of a flavored skyscape, since this is a black-and-white film with little-to-no dialogue. The student film theory beginning to take its shape. I’d be willing to go the extra mile and call Marathon a near-silent experiment, except that its predominant character is not the wandering maven with an obsessive hobby, but the noise of the world around her. Noise that would normally prove a detriment to anyone trying to complete nearly 80 crossword puzzles in 24 hours.

That’s right boys and girls. There’s your plot in all its glory. It was fascinating to me as I read about it in the festival guide which made it seem like a documentary. If Steven Zaillian can make chess exciting (Searching for Bobby Fischer) and a documentarian can turn a spelling bee into a nailbiter (Spellbound), surely crossword puzzles are an untapped resource. They are universal timekillers, they’re fun and they can reveal in an instant how smart or dumb you are. Maybe a movie about said puzzles reveals whether you have the mind of an artiste with a panache for cinema verite and using depth of field to spice up your sex life or just one full of marshmallow fluff that mistakes semi-silent black-and-white films for deafness and color blindness.

Figure that out as you watch Gretchen (Sara Paul), an attractive, yet lonely New Yorker with a yearly tradition handed down by mom (with her sad voice filling up the answering machine) to work over as many puzzles in a single day as inhumanly possible. Her personal record is 77 and today is the day she plans to break it. Some people may find it cute that she has her own little stamp and stickers to number each one she completes. Others may liken it to an obsessive-compulsive disorder which is something to look into when it relates to just a hobby.

Why even revolve a story around puzzles if you’re not going to allow the audience a chance to solve them? Perhaps that immediately tips off my aversion to non-narrative storytelling, but Koyaanisqatsi this ain’t. The spectator sport/game show factor probably wasn’t what filmmaker Amir Naderi had in mind, but doesn’t he want us involved at all? Get us inside the mind of this individual to feel her anguish and try to understand it. Don’t show us a clue for 5-Across and then cut to her writing in the answer for 36-Down. How does she even know if she’s getting all the answers right in the first place? There’s no joy here (for her or us) as she stamps and numbers them like a chore was just done on her workdesk. Can due credit be given if under the clue for pretentious student-like musings she puts “C-O-N-T-E-S-T-S” as opposed to “M-A-R-A-T-H-O-N “?

The horror. The horror. I mean, the noise, the N-O-I-S-E! Gretchen makes her way to the subways of NY, full of disturbance and then comes to the sage-like revelation that her apartment might be a better place for isolation. Oh, but I get it, she’s always isolated. She’s a lonely soul. Noise makes her feel a part of something. But this film could have been 7-minutes long and part of my Film Techniques I class and I would have got that. I didn’t need her falling way behind on her quest, revving up her bike tires and turning on every major appliance in the house. But we will never know the exquisite pain of this woman who goes home alone. There are better ways to feel like you’re a part of this world. One of them is to not run this marathon.

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