Aremarkable talent and distinctive sensibility are evident in Dan McCormack’s directorial debut, “Minotaur,” an intelligent meditation on the nature and effects of celebrity in American popular culture. The intellectual intent, demanding artistry and ambiguous tone of this short feature present a marketing challenge in its likely round of fests, arthouses and midnight shows.
The puzzling, often cryptic story traces the meteoric rise and fall of the Minotaur (Michael Faella), a popular singer in the mold of Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra late in their careers. Episodic, non-linear and self-reflective, pic follows the Minotaur as he looks back on his childhood, rise to superstardom in the 1950s, concert performances to multitudes of fans, drug addiction, self-absorption and his tragic demise in the 1970s.
It is to McCormack’s credit, as writer and director, that the tone of his complex meditation is not easily decipherable. On the surface, pic has the air of classic camp, but as the peculiar tale unfolds, it assumes a dark, even Gothic, mood.
“Minotaur’s” major achievement is in finding the pertinent visual strategy to match its narrative. The first scene, which is as visually stunning as it is emotionally disturbing, sets the ambience of the work. Sitting in his living-room swimming pool, shaped like a huge champagne glass, Minotaur is “socializing” with the sexy Cindy (Holley Chant). She is mumbling and giggling in the water when he suddenly strangles her, in an obsessive, out-of-control, drug-induced frenzy.
Faella gives a disturbing performance in the demanding role of the fat, bald, unattractive singer. The rest of the ensemble just play secondary roles, sort of signposts along the character’s torturous road.
Beautifully shot by Dan Gillham and subtly edited by Martin Hunter, “Minotaur” is an art film par excellence. Special kudos go to Michael Krantz and Martha Rutan Faye, whose wonderfully stylized sets are designed in bold, formal compositions that heighten the tale’s sordid elements. Nothing is casual about the movie, whose text and subtext are extraordinarily dense for a running time of 55 minutes. Intelligent and provocative, “Minotaur” is a film that assumes the same qualities in its audience.