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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Four Eyed Monsters
Four Eyed Monsters
Other // Unrated // April 28, 2007
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Foureyedmonsters]
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted April 26, 2007 | E-mail the Author
C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
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THE MOVIE:

If you've ever wanted to know more about the people who spend a lot of time on internet community sites and write extensive online diaries (or maybe even write DVD reviews), then Four Eyed Monsters is the movie for you. The result of an extensive relationship experiment by writers, directors, and stars Susan Buice and Arin Crumley, Four Eyed Monsters is an autobiographical narrative constructed around the couple meeting online and striking up a real, in-person relationship. A screwed-up relationship that ironically comes across as not very real when recereated and re-enacted on film, but apparently real nonetheless.

I might as well cut to the chase: Four Eyed Monsters is a maddeningly annoying film. Self-absorbed and self-conscious, it pretty much puts every negative thing that internet detractors say is wrong with the world wide web into a seventy-minute narrative and forces the audience to indulge it. Reliving their own lives, Susan and Arin come across as more obsessed with capturing their every burp and fart than they are at actually figuring out what it is they are allegedly discovering about relationships. (Though, thankfully, they spare us their own bodily functions in favor of a montage of animals going to the bathroom. Huzzah!)

As the story goes, Arin contacted Susan while trolling community pages and contacting girls he thought looked hot in their photos. It says something about his constipated personality that this is the depth of his ability to reach out to others, and it says just as much about Susan that she actually wrote him back. She proposes an actual meeting, but Arin is too chicken to actually talk to her, so he follows her with his camera instead. He takes pictures of Susan and e-mails them to her, informing her that he's stalking her. Susan finds this intriguing and proposes another meeting. Deciding they will have an anti-date, they meet and do not talk. They only write notes to one another. If they can't have the safety glass of a computer screen between them, they will create new barriers.

From there, their relationship becomes an evolving experiment of finding different ways to communicate and how far they can go without ever really breaking out of the box. Through text messages, art, and videotaped monologues, they learn about one another by letting their narcissism run wild. Why bother to actually engage with someone who will let you spend uninterrupted hours talking about yourself? Isn't that all we really want anyway?

There are maybe five minutes of Four Eyed Monsters that comes across as real. After Susan goes to Vermont to be an artist in residence at an out-of-the-way studio, when the pair has just started trading video letters, they really start talking. They demand answers from one another, and then they have to explain why they want those answers. For once, they are really communicating. But that honesty quickly disappears, and we fall back into the same pretensions that occupy the other sixty-five minutes.

Combining semi-documentary DV footage, animation, and various other film techniques (let me stress that this movie is not a documentary, it's a fiction-tinged do-over), Four Eyed Monsters is bloated with style. Every shot has been designed to death, creating the same barrier between film and viewer that exists between Susan and Arin. The artfulness is a feint. It's a pretentious dodge to try to dazzle us with the technical skills of the filmmaker so we don't notice how banal the rest of it is. I once had an American Literature professor whose main criticism of the Beat Generation was that they made the mistake of thinking that just because it happened to them, it made an interesting story. This will be the epitaph on the gravestone of the first round of internet artists. Four Eyed Monsters is a living example of the statement. This film may represent the truth for Crumley and Buice, but it's still their responsibility as artists to try to figure out how to best share that truth with the rest of us, how it speaks of the wider human experience and not just about the people behind it. (For instance, check Justin D. Hilliard's Wednesday for a film that makes better work of turning fact to fiction.) Life doesn't create narratives, writers make narratives out of life. It's a critical line, and it's razor thin, but you have to know when "what actually happened" gets in the way of the story. Four Eyed Monsters is too busy gazing at itself to see that line, and so it stays over there, and I suggest most viewers stay over here.

Don't get me wrong. Buice and Crumley are both very talented people who show a lot of technical skill, but I don't think Four Eyed Monsters has provided the best showcase for that skill. If in the future they work on a project that demands a little more restraint, a little more self-editing, I'd be more than willing to check it out. The whole video memoir thing just isn't for me. Your mileage may vary. In one sense, Four Eyed Monsters reminded me of Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation, another film that paraded technique as insight in order to excuse the sordid love affair between the director and his camera lens. Taking that into account, if you liked Tarnation, then you might like Four Eyed Monsters, and you can decide I'm full of crap and you and I can agree to disagree.

THE DVD

Video:
The film has been put on DVD as a widescreen transfer. The picture is super. Nice colors, exceptional clarity, a really well-done DVD.

Sound:
There is only one audio mix (and no subtitles or closed captioning), but it, too, is well done. Everything is clear and easy to hear.

Extras:
As if the main feature doesn't feel self-absorbed enough, what the bonus features reveal is that the DVD format is a perfect one for those who compulsively chronicle their own lives. Eight video podcasts form a mini-documentary about the making of Four Eyed Monsters, effectively serving the demand for filmmakers to peel back the curtain and expose the innerworkings of a movie as DVD bonus features. The story of the backstage drama is actually more interesting than the movie itself, and the podcasts detail how a collaborative experiment between two people became a collaboration amongst a group of actors who all then wanted to make a grab for as much credit as they could get. As fascinating as this story is, it also becomes extremely obnoxious. It takes pretentious people to make something as up its own butt as Four Eyed Monsters, and the participants irritated me as much as they irritated each other.

After the podcasts (which I believe are still ongoing on the film's website, and the last episode here even ends on a cliffhanger), there is another hour of "News Updates." These are more focused blogs about being on the road, going to festivals, etc., sharing the experience of taking an independent film out on the circuit. Other updates look at the editing process and the sacrifices made to get such an ambitious project to its completion. Indie filmmakers should take note: some of these segments could serve as a pretty good tutorial for how to market a movie using online resources. We even see a short videocast using Second Life. Connected to these segments is a short collage of video and audio comments fans of the film have left at the foureyedmonsters.com website.

The usual promotional elements are included, including trailers and an electronic press kit, along with lists of awards, where the movie was reviewed, and a guide to the music in the various elements of the film and podcasts. There are also two short pieces promoting the concept of Net Neutrality, a campaign to keep government regulation off the internet.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Nearly every second of Four Eyed Monsters frustrated and maddened me. A self-obsessed offshoot of an internet film project, it's too caught up in its own narcissism to communicate much of anything to its audience. Ironically, it's also about two people who are too enamored of seeing their own image reflected back at them to ever really communicate with each other. Physician, heal thyself. And readers, Skip It.

Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.

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