September 8th, 2019
After writing yesterday about seeing Booksmart earlier this summer, and being one of only two people in the theater for a 10:00am Saturday morning screening, earlier today I remembered another film that I saw in theaters under similar circumstances, in January of 2018: Dim the Fluorescents. In that instance, I saw the film on a Friday night at the Cinema Village on East 12th Street, and was the only person in the theater. A day later, I wrote the piece below.
- Isaac Myers III
Sometimes a minor character asks a film’s most important question. Such is the case with Dim the Fluorescents, Daniel Warth’s first full-length film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival, and stars Naomi Skwarna, who plays Lillian, a screenwriter with an accountant for a dad, who takes an ironic yet noticeably genuine degree of pleasure in separating her business expenses from her personal, and her roommate, Audrey (Claire Armstrong), an actress who can’t quite get that auditioning thing right, and perhaps as a back-up plan, serves as Lillian’s on again and off again muse.
Neither Lillian nor Audrey asks, “What’s the point of it all?”, instead, that sentiment is reserved for Hannan (Hannan Younis); one of Audrey’s friends, who has moved back home to Toronto, where the film is set, to work within the casting industry, and live with her parents. We first meet Hannan at a casting party that Lillian and Audrey have snuck their way into. Eventually, as Audrey’s and Lillian’s patience with the crowd and the stories they tell each other about the creative process wears thin, Hannan and Audrey are sitting on a couch in the middle of the failing soiree. Sitting beside Audrey, Hannan recounts how during a recent performance (Younis, like Armstrong, is also an actress playing an actress) she made a woman who was seated in the front row break down into incessant tears and fervent grief. “I’m not even sure it was a good thing,” Hannan says, to which Audrey replies, “Your performance made a woman cry! That means something.”
On a Friday in early January I saw the film at the Cinema Village on East Twelfth Street in Manhattan. It was a late show that started at 11:00pm, but even so, I was surprised that no one else was in the theater, save the gentleman who sat perhaps eight rows behind me, and a few feet above me, in the projection booth. All the better. Dim the Fluorescents is a movie fit to be seen alone.
While the plot is intriguing enough: a playwright and an actress share a friendship and an apartment in Toronto, and while looking for their big break, decide that corporations who need help with their HR presentations can serve as a platform for their work, and provide an audience to boot; the colors and styling of the film caught my attention first. Lillian wears her jet black hair more often than not tied up behind her for no other reason, I’m guessing, than to show off her collection of blazers and suit jackets. A light blue that’s not too Miami Vice, but not too North Carolina Tar Heels either; a tweed herringbone brown that’s cross-stitched with speckles of orange and yellow; and even the black one, which matches her glasses, says that she is, in the same vein as the film, a woman worth paying attention to.
The soundtrack and cinematography paces the film in a manner that suggests that there’s still plenty of time for Lillian and Audrey to get to wherever it is that they’re trying to go. Downtown Toronto is shot with a certain forlornness, with the camera often looking directly up at a perfectly rectangular building for extended shots, as a flowing but still somewhat stiff jazz carries on in the background.
But even so, “What’s the point of it all?” As with all existential crisis-induced questions, the answer matters less than the question itself. As Lillian and Audrey gain momentum with their corporate productions, eventually they land a gig at one of the city’s most coveted ballrooms, where they can expect an audience of approximately three-hundred employees, or people. The topic that the company’s HR department has asked them to cover is simple enough: “Leadership in Times of Crisis and Change.” Lillian prepares the script, and Audrey practices a certain walk that the “employee” who she’ll be playing; Charlotte, a woman in her mid-thirties with a drinking problem who gets confronted by her boss (who of course, is played by Lillian) will rely on to try to mask her drinking problem.
Yet as they prepare for the ballroom show, and inch closer and closer to tackling with candor what it takes to lead in times of crisis and change, their friendship begins to unravel. And as I sat in the theater alone, on the brink of finding out whether the unraveling would be duly raveled back together again, it wasn’t until after I walked out of the theater and into the unseasonably warm January night and moved across East Twelfth Street, thoroughly inspired, that I thought of and was comforted again by Hannan’s question.
22 East 12th Street
11:00am & 11:00pm.