During the production of Mallrats Kevin Smith was introduced to Malcolm Ingram, a Canadian journalist for Film Threat Magazine. Ingram and his friend Matt Gissing had scripted a micro-budget feature called Drawing Flies, and Smith agreed to produce it, as well as calling on a number of his usual players to star in the picture. I don't know if Mallrats was in theaters or not when Drawing Flies was being shot, but the film feels like a natural retreat after the financial failure of that movie: although Smith only produced, Flies has the same spirit as his debut feature, of friends banding together to realize someone's idea. It's not a particularly great film, with Ingram and Gissing ultimately failing to clarify their thematic points, but it has a good cast and a likable shaggy-dog feel.
Donner (Jason Lee), his girlfriend Cassidy (Carmen Llwelyn), Jake (Martin Brooks), his girlfriend Meg (Renee Humphrey), and Az (Jason Mewes) are in financial trouble. All but Jake were denied financial aid and are struggling to find jobs. In need of rent, they convince Jake to buy some beer kegs so they can throw a rent party, but the kegs are stolen out of Az's van, effectively putting Jake in the same boat and sending Donner into an existential funk. When he snaps out of it, he's got a great idea: why not go on a hiking / camping expedition to a relative's cabin in the woods. A change of scenery ought to solve all of their problems...right?
Much like Stranger Than Paradise or, you know, Clerks., Drawing Flies is casual with the development of its story and conflict. In one of the introductions, Smith and Mosier compare it to Dazed and Confused, but even that has more of a traditional narrative. The point of the experience is less about the characters' arcs or plot developments than the general atmosphere of hanging out with the characters and soaking in the experience of their lives. Style-wise, Ingram and Gissing's writing lacks the spark that made many indie filmmakers stand out in a crowd of films made in the mid-'90s, but at least the more casual nature of Flies feels natural. Although there are minor asides about "Scooby-Doo" and "The Six Million Dollar Man", there's no attempt to ape Smith's tendency to dissect pop culture, which is pleasing.
Without an emphasis on the cadence or tone of the writing, the characters' journey into the woods feels like a preview of mumblecore movies, as if the basic core of scenes were there, but the details were worked out between the actors and directors in the moment. It's a testament to the cast's naturalism, a nice surprise given many of them haven't done much outside of View Askew productions. Brooks, in particular, has some special ability to become the glue in many scenes, creating good chemistry with Humphrey and a rivalry with Mewes. It's nice to watch a small production that doesn't feel as if it were made simply so the filmmakers could do something bigger: nobody goes out of their way to show off or chew up the scenery.
Unfortunately, despite a clearer premise, Donner sort of disappears into the background once the characters get out into the woods, which is odd considering the film clearly suggests that he's meant to be the protagonist. Maybe it's a gambit to keep the audience from thinking about Donner's unsurprising revelation, but Ingram and Gissing don't gain much by turning their focus to a bizarre scene of grown men in diapers pretending to be babies in a field. One could argue that taking Donner's crisis seriously would result in a more conventional movie about maturity and focus, but the film's closing scene ends up making Flies feel like a lark without a point of view on the state of frustration the rest of the movie is built on.
Drawing Flies takes its cues from the Clerks. 10th Anniversary Edition DVD, with a plain black cover with white typewriter text on it. Unlike the inspiration, this one bears a large "Kevin Smith's Smodcast Pictures Presents" banner at the top, with two photos of Smith in red, and there are white flies on the artwork as well. The back cover strays a little farther, adding coffee stain brown and a color photograph of Mosier to the mix. The disc comes in a standard non-eco Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
For a micro-budget 16mm film, Drawing Flies is blessed with a fairly impressive 1.66:1 1080p AVC presentation. Although the print is marked with lines and speckles throughout, this is almost certainly as clear and stable as it has ever looked. Within the limitations of 16mm film, detail is quite strong -- in a medium shot, for instance, one can easily pick out the hands on Lee's watch or the texture of his clothing. Contrast may be a touch pushed, with daytime scenes looking slightly too bright and nighttime scenes suffering from a little bit of black crush, but this grainy, film-like presentation is a wonderful preservation of the film's natural look.
Sound-wise, Drawing Flies also probably takes a step forward with this DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track, but the limitations of the the original audio are more severe than the picture. Echo and fuzziness are the two biggest culprits -- for instance, parts of Lee's early conversation about "Scooby-Doo" are hard to understand. The louder the delivery of the dialogue, the more distorted it can sound, whether that's just the dialogue itself or the environment (another example: a scene on a bridge over a noisy river). Luckily, only a few moments are really problematic, with most of the film just bearing a slightly hollow, "underwater" feel. Music can sometimes sound flat and a bit distant, but on the whole it's crisper and better-defined than the dialogue, as is Lee's brief voice-over narration. Obviously, the Blu-Ray can only present what's available, and for all I know, the DVD could've sounded worse, so this is acceptable. On the other hand, I can and will complain about Horizon's decision not to include any captions or subtitles to help cover the rougher patches.
Some of the extras on this new "Anniversary Edition" are ported from the DVD, namely the two audio commentaries (the first with Ingram and Gissing, the second with Ingram, Gissing, Smith, Lee, Mewes, Humphrey, and Llywelyn), a reel of deleted scenes and outtakes (11:01), and an introduction by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier. The original introduction and deleted scenes remain in standard definition, but all of the new extras are presented in HD.
First up is a new introduction (3:13) by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. Unsurprisingly, Smith does most of the talking, explaining a little about the history of Drawing Flies, explains why the Blu-Ray came to be, and the cast. Next, Mewes and co-director Matt Gissing sit down for interviews (11:28, 2:44), which look back at Drawing Flies. Considering how short Gissing's "interview" is (clearly meant to be an introduction at some point), it's no surprise that Mewes' comments are more interesting, discussing how Drawing Flies convinced him to become an actor, the experience of working in Canada, how Flies compared to Mallrats, and the appeal of its simple plot. The disc rounds out with a photo gallery, and two trailers, for Malcolm Ingram's documentary Bear Nation, and Jay and Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie.
Although Kevin Smith's recent antics have brought down my love for View Askew content (a feeling I might share with Ingram, who apparently moved on from Smith and is conspicuously absent from the new extras), Drawing Flies would still be more of a pleasant curiosity than a must-own movie. Then again, the disc represents a solid upgrade in PQ without losing any of the extras, as well as including some minor new ones, so I'll give it a light recommendation.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.