Review: ‘Rhythm Thief’

No-budget New York item gets stronger as it moves confidently forward, weaving together the lives of some very desperate Lower East Siders before reaching a quietly devastating close.

No-budget New York item gets stronger as it moves confidently forward, weaving together the lives of some very desperate Lower East Siders before reaching a quietly devastating close.

You couldn’t ask for a more marginal existence than that of Simon (impressive Jason Andrews), a tightly wound hustler who ekes out a living by sneakily recording underground bands and selling the dubs. Mostly, he wants to be left alone in his virtually empty flat, although he’s frequently pestered by sexy g.f. Cyd (Kimberly Flynn) who won’t take the hint, admiring street dude Fuller (Kevin Corrigan) who wants to be Simon’s “prototype” and a pathetic junkie called Shayme (Sean Haggerty) who keeps crowding onto his corner. Then there are those leather-metal band members hot on his trail.

Much of the harsh-contrast black-and-white pic studies the emptiness of Simon’s low-rent life, with his meditative bouts of eating peanut butter and ignoring the phone interrupted by the darkly funny aggressions of his neighbors — he spends a lot of time cleaning up plaster dust from overhead shotgun blasts.

This routine is seriously up-ended by the arrival of a strange young woman (Eddie Daniels) from his Long Island hometown. Turns out, she was in the same mental hospital as Simon’s mother — she even has some of ma’s poetry written on her arms — and her presence releases long-suppressed feelings of abandonment. The pair heads out to Far Rockaway for a seaside respite, but Simon’s self-loathing and quirky code of honor drag him back to the city, with unhappy results.

Helmer Matthew Harrison shot the pic in 11 days, and it has appropriately slapdash energy without sacrificing the more layered rewards of a thoughtful script (although lenser Howard Krupa could let his camera rest a little longer on grungily enigmatic subjects). The results are considerably tighter than such readily comparable, improv-heavy efforts as “Laws of Gravity” and “Amongst Friends.” All-pro cast helps, as does super-hip score, combining hip-hop, reggae and alternative tunes in a tension-building soundtrack. Pic’s 16mm lensing will pose initial problems, but timely transfer could bring “Rhythm” to selected urban auds.

Rhythm Thief

Production

A Film Crash (New York) production. Produced by Jonathan Starch. Directed, edited by Matthew Harrison. Screenplay, Harrison, Christopher Grimm.

Crew

Camera (b&w), Howard Krupa; music, Danny Brenner, Hugh O'Donovan, John L. Horn, Kevin Okurland; art direction, Daniel Fisher, costume design, Nina Canter; sound, Charles Hunt; associate producers, Pier Paolo Piccoli, Trula and Gary Marcus; casting, Meredith Jacobson. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (non-competing), Sept. 3, 1994. (Also in Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Jason Andrews, Eddie Daniels, Kimberly Flynn, Kevin Corrigan, Sean Haggerty, Mark Alfred, Paul Rodriguez, Cynthia Sley.

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