Sunday, January 17, 2021

David C. Jones | Caught

musical chairs

by Douglas Messerli

David C. Jones (screenwriter and director) Caught / 2008 [10 minutes]

Canadian director David C. Jones’ short film Caught is a narrative without spoken dialogue set in 1948. The story is told entirely through songs, composed by Kevin McLardy with lyrics by the director that attempt to imitate popular songs of the era.

    After a short introductory orchestral piece, “School Daze” which is visually accompanied by students in a high school hall making out, teasing, and menacing one another, the typical terrors of a main high school hall lined with lockers just before the first class bell has rung. A banner strung along the corridor reads: “Class of ’48. Let’s make it great!”

      Suddenly the scene shifts as a boy new to the school (Brian Hayashi) is seen being introduced to some of his fellow students outside the school building, while a different song, “New Kid” (sung by Tomoko Uryu and Hayashi, the latter who, in fact, is the “new kid” the song is about) drops into position in our imaginary juke box. 

                       ....I met the new kid in town

                       He made me happy

                       Oh so happy

                       But I never even knew his name.    

                       What a shame!

       The scene begins with clips of various students, although we do get a longer glimpse of Adam (Joshua James), and soon, as the lyrics change, we realize that despite the vocal being sung by a woman, it reflects the feelings of that boy, as the camera focuses on the interchange between actors Hayashi and James.  

                       Then one day when we’re alone

                       Just me and him

                       Then he told me, yeh he told me

                       His name was Jim.

       We soon see them walking beside a river together, hamming it up with girls in the school yard, playing darts, and finally with Jim laying upon a bed while Adam talks to him from the floor—the music having changed to the instrumental “Frazzle.”

        The boys argue and mock wrestle, a father briefly entering the room to tell them, evidently, to quiet down and go to bed. Obviously, they are sharing a “sleep over” night. Before we can even adjust to their change into pajamas, a new recording evidently has fallen onto the turntable from the record stack, “Games We Play” (also sung by Tomoko Uryu accompanied by the director Jones):

                       When we were kids long ago

                       There were games that we played

                       They seemed when laughing so happy and gay

                       O but baby, those were old days.

         Adam and Jim wrestle, the former lays out on the bed flat with an open pajama top, while the other is shown spread out face down without his top.

                       Now that we’re older

                       I’m feeling much bolder

                       They’re so many different games we play.

                       O but baby, I’m winnin’ today.

       While we hear the lyrics we observe Jim’s hands caressing Adam’s stomach as they gradually move down into his friend’s pants. The next moment they are both under the covers on the bed, kissing gently at first but quickly intensifying, as the music picks up in tempo:

                        Red rover, red rover, won’t you come over!


       From the look on Jim’s face Adam is obviously providing his buddy with a blow job, which is soon after reciprocated.

       So has this little musical version of the dozens of films, feature and short, about coming sexually of age seem to come to a joyful end. But subtly something else happens, unrecognized by Adam, as immediately after sex, Jim pushes his friend away and Adam, rising from the bed to go the bathroom, accidently steps on a sharp object, returning to the bed to be ignored by his friend. Even the film’s frame seems briefly to break down, catching on fire.

       The next morning Adam sits at the family breakfast table and walks down the very same school hall of the first scene absolutely, as the cliche goes, “beaming with joy.” A new song has dropped (sung by the composer McLardy) :

                        Good morning!

                        It’s going to be a great day for me today

                        with you by my side.

                        The sun is shining of my face.

                        I think I’ve finally found my place

                        with you as my bride. 

But almost instantly we recognize that the faces of his school fellows and even the school faculty are saying something quite the opposite, most of the people passing Adam with expressions of rejection and disdain, some violently pushing him as they pass, one mouthing what is clearly the word “fag!” We see Jim attentively standing with a girl before giving her a long kiss. Obviously, he has spread the word throughout the school about what happened, likely spinning it to suggest his own complete innocence in whatever he has described as occurring between them.

       Shunned, totally crestfallen, with his foot hurting even worse because of what he has stepped on during the night, Adam stumbles outside, sitting in pain and isolation under a tree—until he spots a girl, evidently the same one who in the first scene had briefly put her arms around his neck as she passed. The boy hurries over to her, kissing her over and over again as if the act he might blot out all the hate he has just suffered.

       In that scene, however, this formerly “cute” flick has suddenly transformed into something else, which if not exactly misogynistic expresses the views of a misogamist. For suddenly we see a gray-haired man in his late 50s or early 60s (Doug Cameron) sitting at a home desk, leafing through a scrapbook of photographs. He directly faces a handsome younger black man working on his patio at whom he stares with obvious pleasure if not lust. A woman, presumably his wife—one imagines it is the same girl upon whose face he planted all those kisses long ago—appears behind, quietly gathering up the scrapbooks and spiriting them off to some shelf or drawer elsewhere. The narrative seems to blame her as much as the homophobia of the school yard of 1948 as having “caught” or even trapped this apparently gay man in a lifetime of sexual “normalcy.”

      Admittedly, in 1948 anyone exposed as being gay were left few alternatives: either deny it or face social and parental rejection and even possible arrest. But suggesting the woman who our character used to help create a lie is the villain of the piece, or even to implicate that our metaphoric Adam has been saddled with sexual orthodoxy simply because of one joyously gay night that ended badly is an idea difficult to accept—even if we know it has happened numerous times with thousands of men in our culture having come to terms with their sexuality after marriage as exemplified in the film Making Love (1982) or more comically expressed by a wife’s later lesbian coming out in Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979), themes again explored by both sexes in later works by Todd Haynes and others. However, if the flaw is in the society, it is the individual who ultimately must be blamed for lack of courage. The wife has not “caught” our hero by her desires, but it is he who has been caught in his own lies to her and himself.

Los Angeles, January 17, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (January 2021). 

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