Ex doesn't mark any spot where Judge Gordon Sullivan wants to be.
No morals, no future.
Punk has to be one of the most malleable words in the English language, even since it somewhat unified into a style in the late 1970s. For some it means the scuzzed-out pop of the Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady, for others the fashion-conscious Sex Pistols, and for still more the three-chord onslaught of the Ramones. That's just 1977. As punk spread and morphed into hardcore, West Coast, pop-punk, mall-punk, and a hundred other blink-and-you'll-miss-'em subgenres, it generally became synonymous with a certain do-it-yourself ethic or anti-authoritarian nihilism. Sid Vicious became the poster child for the later group, his drug-addicted, self-harming burnout a perfect example of punk poetry. Taken to its logical conclusion, this brand of "punk" privileges living a fast, violent life until the world beats you down. The Belgian flick Ex-Drummer gives viewers a peek into this lifestyle, and unsurprisingly it's not a pretty picture. Whether taken as a document of the punk lifestyle or as a pitch-black comedy, Ex-Drummer does very little to ingratiate itself with viewers.
Dries (Dries Van Hegen) is a writer who is asked to join a newly-formed punk band who christen themselves the Feminists. Made up of a deaf guitarist, a woman-hating (and beating) lead singer, and a gay bass player from a family of lunatics. Dries joins them, hoping to find something of interest in their sordid lifestyle. Naturally, once he shows up, everything starts to go wrong before ending in a predictably violent bloodbath.
I'll give Ex-Drummer some credit: not every film I watch has a graphic homosexual rape scene in it. Really, that's the best thing I can say for the film—it works in a kind of carnival sideshow way, where you and some of your strong-stomached buddies can get together, pop this disc in, and spend 90 minutes going "did he really just do that?" That's where Ex-Drummer's appeal ends. There's no attempt at characterization beyond the deformities that make the band members unique, and the plot is one little sordid episode after another. None of these episodes is particularly new, although the extent to which they're taken is often impressive.
Okay, I lied a bit up there; Ex-Drummer has one other thing going for it: director Koen Mortimer knows how to move his camera around to create interesting compositions. Occasionally I was able to forget that I was watching a bunch of despicable human being doing stupid things and simple admire the interesting angles and editing tricks Moritmer uses to tell his story. The only problem is that these techniques are obviously meant to disorient the viewer, making the experience more "punk." There's a guy who walks on his ceiling, so he's upside down, but no one else is. Parts of the film play in reverse, and overall the film looks like it's been dragged throughout the gutter outside a punk club after a show. It's obvious these are meant to "shock" and "alienate" the viewer. Guess what? They succeed. In fact, they succeed so well that after the first five minutes I was so alienated I no longer cared about anything or anyone on screen. Used more sparingly, in service of a story worth telling, they might prove to be much more effective.
Despite the problems with Ex-Drummer, one thing I can't complain about is this DVD package. Tartan has given the film a solid presentation, starting with the video. Obviously shot on a lower budget and given a gritty look, Ex-Drummer doesn't suffer from any obvious compression or authoring problems, so all the ugliness is there intentionally. The audio isn't quite as good, but dialogue is clearly audible and the times when the music seems to break up a bit to suit the mood of the film. English subtitles are available and are easy to read. Extras include the film's trailers (both cut and uncut), a making of, and music videos. Although these give a decent picture of the world of Ex-Drummer, a more philosophical defense of the film, as well as some more connection to the punk world of Belgium might have been nice.
Ex-Drummer makes me wonder about the I feel the same way about nihilism: if life is so darn pointless and violent, then why go out of your way to make a film about it, since it obviously doesn't matter. That's pretty much where Ex-Drummer finds itself. If the message is "We're all going to die," then there's no point in watching it. If it's trying to make darkly comic fun of this position, then the point is lost in between all the violence and excess.
Ex-Drummer should be an ex-movie. Guilty.
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