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F Word, The
Joe Pace (Josh Hamilton) is a fringe disc jockey on a low-rated NYC talk station on its way out; Joe's candid show has run up nearly a million dollars in FCC fines, so he's preparing to do his last show. It just so happens to fall during the 2004 Republican convention, so Joe decides to grab a handheld mic and wireless transmitter and take to the streets, mixing it up with protestors and Manhattanites at several demonstrations, outside the convention, and at points in-between.
The resulting film, The F-Word, is a hodgepodge of real and documentary, actors and passerby, and if this sounds familiar, it's because of its admitted resemblance to not only the seminal 1969 film Medium Cool, but at least two other films in the Cool mode that were shot at the 2004 convention (Conventioneers and This Revolution). There was apparently some parallel thinking happening in indie film circles that summer.
At any rate, the loose, semi-improvised F-Word feels like the passion project it surely was. Shot on a micro-budget (a mere five thousand dollars, according to the audio commentary) with a pair of digital video cameras, it has some rough edges but is undeniably fascinating, thanks primarily to the ingenuity of its cinematographers and the considerable charm of its leading man (Hamilton is one of our most underrated young actors, as chiefly evidenced by his star turn in one of this reviewer's favorite 90s sleepers, Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming).
The handheld cinematography works without going overboard; this isn't one of those independent films where the operators jangle the damn thing all over the place just to make it seem "real". The filmmakers have the foresight to save up those kind of moments, so when the demonstrations actually do get out of hand, the film has an effective, you-are-there immediacy.
Director Jed Weintrob and editor Philip Jackson keep things moving along at a tight clip; the film runs a brisk 76 minutes and isn't a moment too short, as political grandstanding and soapboxing can wear out their welcome very quickly. It's a polemic, sure, but Weintrob has the good sense to hit-and-run its political points, and very little of the scripted discourse feels like mouth-piecing. The filmmakers' primary aesthetic error is the decision to occasionally pop the image into black and white or a faux-animation filter, which feels unmotivated and distracting, as if they were afraid that the audience would get lost in the words so they had to do something fancy with the picture. It's unnecessary, and calls undue attention to itself.
Considering its low-budget origins, The F-Word doesn't look half-bad; it's digital video, yes, and comes with all of the drawbacks of the format, but I've certainly seen uglier transfers. As with other digital doc-style features, the image only gets really shoddy in under-lit nighttime situations.
Dialogue is crisp and clarity is never an issue, although some of the early radio chatter is somewhat over-modulated (it's so deliberately placed, right at the top of his show, that it seems like it must be on purpose, though for what purpose is unclear). The 5.1 mix is mostly concentrated in the center channels, with surround only occasionally popping up in crowd scenes. Again, considering how much of this audio was captured on-the-fly (and how dialogue-driven the story is), the film actually sounds pretty good.
Extras are minimal but fairly interesting. First and foremost is the informative Cast and Crew Audio Commentary led by director Weintrob and featuring Hamilton and an assemblage of producers, photographers, and the like. The story behind the film's making is an interesting one, so there's some valuable information here, especially as we're guided through who the actors and non-actors are (with sometimes surprising results). Weintrob is an interesting filmmaker, and the track is populated enough to stay lively.
Also included are nine Additional Scenes, available with or without commentary. The only one whose presence is really missed is a brief scene featuring actor Sean Gullette (Pi). The rest are entertaining enough but not essential, particularly since part of the film's strength is its brevity.
The extras are filled out by a Theatrical Trailer that doesn't sell the picture very well.
The F-Word was probably a hard sell to begin with, and is even more so now, as this DVD re-release four years after the events portrayed make it more of a historical document than the of-the-moment report from the frontlines that the filmmakers were striving for. On the other hand, with another historical (and divisive) election on the immediate horizon, it's as good a time as any to revisit the little powder keg that came to the Big Apple that summer. The F-Word is occasionally sloppy and far from subtle (at the end, it fades to black and then brings up a title card of the First Amendment), but it's a smart and scrappy little indie nonetheless. Rent It.
Jason lives in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU.