×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Memphis’

Willis Earl Beal gives a magnetic performance as a flailing musician in Tim Sutton's digressive, daringly experimental film.

With:

Willis Earl Beal, Lopaka Thomas, Constance Brantley, Devonte Hull, John Gary Williams, Larry Dodson.

Vibrantly shot on location in the titular Tennessee city, “Memphis,” the second film from Brooklyn-based writer-director Tim Sutton (“Pavillion”), is a digressive, daringly experimental study of a flailing musician, magnetically played by accomplished bluesman and poet Willis Earl Beal. Supported by a grant from the Venice Biennale College (the movie premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year), Sutton’s eye-popping, patience-testing pic reflects European and American verite sensibilities far more than the bulk of Stateside indie fare. The result poses a serious challenge to theatrical distribution and even to U.S. festival favor, but adventurous music-film lovers will appreciate Sutton’s stylistic transgressions.

In the eccentric, dreamlike pic, Beal plays Willis, a moody Memphis musician who believes he has supernatural powers but seems to have little control over what has become a creative slump. As Willis wanders Memphis, Sutton acts more as a documentarian than a narrative storyteller, trailing the character as he visits a strip club and a gospel church in between long stretches of simply walking the streets. Emblematic of the film’s preference for pictorial beauty over plot development is an unforgettable scene of Willis laying down tracks in a studio, his face bathed in blue light.

Cinematographer Chris Dapkins, with the help of editor Seth Bomse’s poetically driven assembly, captures the aura of working-class Memphis through shots designed to set a meditative mood rather than adhere to protagonist-driven convention. Long, impressionistic sequences of young boys riding bikes, a one-legged man walking with crutches, and strippers plying their trade discourage the audience from interpreting the film as fiction, which is bound to frustrate and annoy a great many viewers and excite a relative few.

Beal’s aptly meandering blues score helps maintain the film’s sense of mystery and give it license to bounce in and out of various Memphis locations. Supporting actors, including Stax label veterans Larry Dodson and John Gary Williams, are spotty but entirely in keeping with Sutton’s bid for authenticity over artifice. On balance, the tech package of the modestly budgeted pic is adequate.

Film Review: 'Memphis'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 22, 2014. (Also in Venice Film Festival — Biennale College, Cinema.) Running time: 82 MIN.

Production:

A Biennale di Venezia presentation of a Visitfilms production. Produced by John Baker. Co-producer, Alexandra Byer.

Crew:

Directed, written by Tim Sutton. Camera (color, HD), Chris Dapkins; editor, Seth Bomse; music, Willis Earl Beal; music supervisor, Bianca Grimshaw; production design, Bart Mangrum; costume designer, Jami Villers; sound, Micah Bloomberg; sound designer, Bomse; casting, Eleonore Hendricks.

With:

Willis Earl Beal, Lopaka Thomas, Constance Brantley, Devonte Hull, John Gary Williams, Larry Dodson.

More Film

  • Cannes Placeholder Red Carpet

    Cannes: KKR and Atwater to Launch Library Pictures, Boost Local-Language Film

    Local-language film making is to get a fillip through the launch of Library Pictures international. The company is backed by a consortium of investors led by media investment firm Atwater Capital and a newly formed Germany-based media company established by KKR. The new firm is intended as a content financing entity to support industry-leading filmmakers [...]

  • After21_0020.ARW

    Sequel to Independent Movie Hit 'After' Launches in Cannes

    “After,” the highest grossing independent film of the year so far, is set to return with a sequel, with stars Josephine Langford and Hero Fiennes Tiffin reprising their roles. Voltage Pictures is selling the new pic in Cannes. The first film, which had a reported production budget of $14 million, grossed more than $50 million [...]

  • Liam Gallagher and Son shopping at

    Cannes: Screen Media Buys 'Liam Gallagher: As It Was' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Screen Media has acquired North American rights to Charlie Lightening and Gavin Fitzgerald’s feature documentary “Liam Gallagher: As It Was.” The film follows the former Oasis frontman as he finds himself on the periphery of the rock ‘n’ roll world after years spent at the white hot center of the music world. Screen Media will [...]

  • La Casa de Papel Netflix

    Madrid Region Booms as an International Production Hub

    Madrid is booming as never before in its 125-year film history; arguably, no other European site is currently transforming so quickly into a global production hub. A 20-minute drive north of the Spanish capital, a large white-concrete hanger has been built beside the Madrid-Burgos motorway, at the entrance to Tres Cantos, a well-heeled satellite village and industrial [...]

  • Emirati Comedy

    Cannes: Stuart Ford's AGC Takes World Sales on Emirati Comedy 'Rashid and Rajab'

    Stuart Ford’s AGC International sales arm has taken global distribution rights outside the Middle East to Dubai-set concept comedy “Rashid and Rajab” which will be hitting movie theaters in the region starting in June. The deal between the film’s production company Image Nation Abu Dhabi and AGC, which have a close rapport, was signed in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content