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Zack Mosley [Film Festival 10.15.12] Canada comedy

Camera Shy has a high concept that will make any screenwriter want to commit ritual suicide for not thinking of it first.

Larry Coyle (Nicolas Wright, finding the sweet spot between guileless and unscrupulous) is a corrupt politician who attracts a very unusual type of stalker: a teleporting cameraman (DOP Brian Johnson) that only he can see. We, the audience, watch the film through the perspective of the cameraman's footage, meaning the teleports are actually cuts to new angles. But Larry is too bewildered to understand his predicament at first. He is literally caught with his pants down, fucking his assistant in a seedy motel room, when he notices the cameraman for the first time. He attempts to chase the interloper off, assuming he is a member of the press. But when the cameraman teleports out of his grasp, Larry realizes he is not dealing with any ordinary paparazzi.

Larry tries just about everything you can think of to rid himself of his unwanted follower. Physical assault. A doctor. A psychologist. The psychologist diagnoses him with Clapstock Syndrome (which doesn't turn up on Google, although it's possible I'm misremembering the name), a rare condition that causes its sufferers to imagine they are being followed by some sort of moral watchdog. In the middle ages, it was priests. Today, it's the media. Clapstock Syndrome offers a psychological explanation, but no cure. Until Larry has an (I'm about to get into what overly fussy types might consider SPOILERS) epiphany: he is *in a movie*. All of a sudden there is a perceptible jump in production value, from documentary-style realism (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation") to glossy cinematography and an over-the-top musical score. Encouraged by the revelatory tone of the music that only he can hear, Larry picks up a copy of Screenwriting for Dummies and attempts to outline a happy ending. Things do not go as planned.

Hollywood loves this type of thing. Just refer to films like Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, and Click. But this is not a Hollywood movie (until the remake). This is a $300,000 Vancouver/Richmond based indie. Director Mark Sawers and screenwriter Doug Barber did exactly what any filmmaker with limited resources should do: write a very clever script. The story is brimming with smart meta touches, riffing on traditional screenwriting structure with Kaufmanesque self-reflexivity. Camera Shy is a case study in the observer effect (sometimes mistaken as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, but let's not get quantum here): the act of observing alters the nature of that which is being observed. On its most basic level, the film is a playful distillation of narrative and character arc. We (mostly) watch movies to see characters learn and change, so if you find yourself in a movie, you may have to learn and change in order to bring about the conclusion. "Movies about movies" are tricky ground, but there are very few missteps here. The humor is pitch black, and had me laughing constantly.

It's encouraging to see a local indie that's this good. I always try to see a few Vancouver specials every year, but I'm rarely impressed. Most Vancouver cinema (most Canadian cinema, for that matter) is too crude, too bland, too limited in subject matter to the Kitsilano yoga pants crowd to make any impact elsewhere. That said, Camera Shy does have a political subplot that feels ripped from the headlines of The Vancouver Sun. Much of the humor is native to the Lower Mainland. One example: on the strength of his family values, Larry is asked by the Conservative Alliance to replace a South Vancouver MP recently outed as a lesbian. But his wife leaves with their Vietnamese orphans when he can't provide a backyard swimming pool. These specific touches end up being a large part of the charm, and the story is universal enough to sustain the domestic jokes.

I go to film festivals in order to discover surprise gems like Camera Shy. I only saw it on a whim, but it eked its way into my Top 10. It charms you into looking past its faults. The low budget does poke through the facade at times, and some of the technical aspects are a bit rough around the edges. When it shifts into crime thriller mode and puts the comedy on the backburner, it feels slightly more amateurish. This is not a perfect film, but it's fighting well above its weight class. I hope someone, somewhere, has the good sense to give this team a real budget for their next project.

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Wernerempire (9 years ago) Reply

It's "Klapstock Syndrome", the German word for the sticks of the slate that synch at the opening of a "take".


Zack Mosley (9 years ago) Reply

Ahh, that makes sense. Good catch.


Doug Barber (9 years ago) Reply

I think Werner's having some fun with you. Although his spelling is correct, it's also the maiden surname of the wife of someone the director knows. Great review!


rek (9 years ago) Reply

The film is listed as Klapstock Syndrome on the Telefilm Canada site, so perhaps it was the original name as well.

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