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Case Number 26792: Small Claims Court

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Semi Colin

Shelter Island // 2012 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 4th, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan really does think in stick figures.

The Charge

"Delicately expose the blurry boundaries between eroticism and art"

The Case

Konrad Lorenz won the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his work in imprinting. He contended that animals (including humans) are primed to learn certain behaviors at certain times in our development. The most famous of these situations include examples like a flock of young geese imprinting on a ping-pong ball because at the right age that was what they were presented with (their mother having died), following it around and treating it like they would any mother goose. Building on the work, some people contend that imprinting explains a lot of adult human sexual preference; with all the hormones flooding the average human body during puberty, we're ripe for "imprinting" sexual preference. So, the person on whom we have a crush at that age can set the tone for life. For some people that's fine, they develop a minor preference for tall blondes, or something similar. For others, though, the transition to adult sexuality is fraught, often because of social pressure and shame. It seems like many people who grow up to be illustrators of the erotic suffer from this difficult, perhaps R. Crumb most famously. From the revelations contained in Semi Colin, artist Colin Murray suffers from imprints of shame and loathing in his childhood. While it makes for some interesting erotic art, it doesn't make for a very good documentary.

Semi Colin purports to be a documentary on famed erotic artist Colin Murray. We get a peek into his daily life, including his drawing, while in voiceover he tells us about life, his work, and what it means to make erotic art.

There are two huge problems with Semi Colin, whether you are a fan of Colin Murray's art or not. The first is the form of this documentary. We watch as Murray goes through a day. That means the first 5 minutes of the film are a static shot of him sleeping. I'm not kidding, nor exaggerating. The camera sits there while an old guy lies in bed, apparently sleeping. We don't know his name, what he's dreaming of, or anything. Then he finally speaks, says maybe three sentences, and then it's another 5 minutes of silently watching an old guy go about his day. Of course, some of that day includes making very nice art. That's wonderful, but we don't get a view of it that means anything; he could be drawing Disney cartoons or pornographic doodles best left to a bathroom stall. Because we don't get any privileged access to what he's drawing, it's hard to care. That pattern continues for much of the film, though Murray does say a bit more as the film progresses.

The other problem with Murray is what he says. Though the box art claims the documentary will be "stimulating the intellect," Murray's observations are kind of juvenile and tedious. His own story is all too common—his parents didn't approve of his erotic urges, so he sublimated them by making naughty drawings. It's a near-universal urge (as bathroom graffiti will attest), and there's nothing particular unique about Murray's experience with it. Except, of course, that he didn't stop and instead went on to publish acclaimed erotic art. That's great, except we don't get to see nearly enough of the art to justify listening to his tired pronouncements about sex. If you're already a fan of Murray, then revealing the man behind the art is no good, because he's just another guy like the rest of us. There's no great mind behind the drawings, able to penetrate the mysterious of sex and eros. Murray's just another guy who can draw, putting his fantasies on paper. Based on what he says in this documentary, he should speak less and draw more.

I admire Semi Colin for trying to do something new—heaven knows we don't need another bland talking-heads-interspersed-with-drawings-style documentary about a famous comics creator. I get that. In principle, Semi Colin could have been fascinating, but it just doesn't work. The compositions themselves can be nice to look at—though I didn't particularly enjoy watching Murray sleep, the framing was interesting. The film's music track is also excellent, which made Murray's occasional pronouncements all the more frustrating for interrupting the music.

The DVD itself is pretty solid. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is fine, with decent detail and fine colors. When Murray is interviewed he's often alone in a chair that's set in a pool of shadows, and black levels seem nice and deep. The Dolby Digital stereo track keeps the voiceover clear and well-balanced with the excellent score. Extras include a commentary by the director, a gallery of Murray's illustrations, and a music montage.

Semi Colin promises to be an engaging documentary on an illustrator of erotic art. Instead, it's a visually beautiful, but ultimately boring look at an old guy who doesn't have much to offer beyond his art. Hardcore fans of Colin Murray might enjoy this peek behind the curtain, but everybody else should probably skip Semi Colin.

The Verdict


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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Shelter Island
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (CC)
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Montage
• Gallery


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