Review by Sean Boelman
While there have been plenty of documentaries about alternative art, few have taken such a deep and distinctive dive into the medium as Steve Balestreri and Maxime Lachaud’s debut feature Texas Trip - A Carnival of Ghosts. Like if Frank Sidebottom and Joe Bob Briggs teamed up to make an avant garde video essay about creative expression, this is a truly unique audiovisual experience.
The main focus of the film is on a group of underground artists who specialize in performing noise music while experimenting with the form and creating idiosyncratic on-stage personas for themselves. With their documentary, Balestreri and Lachaud have found a dark and underexposed subset of the music scene, bringing it to the public in an alluring way.
However, there’s more to this movie than the average music documentary. Although the subjects of the film are musicians, this is a very poetic ode to creativity in general. The filmmakers tie in a discussion of exploitation cinema of the days of drive-in to supplement these artists’ approach to their creative process.
Admittedly, a lot is happening in this movie, and yet with the sprawling narrative structure it takes, it still feels very meditative. While the title would suggest otherwise, this is no average travelogue. It would almost be fitting if the title were referring to a trip in the hallucinatory sense, as that’s the type of visual style it exhibits.
If the film does fall flat in one area, it’s in the use of its subjects. It’s understandable why there is some layer of distance between themselves and the audience — that is what their performances are built around, after all — but the chaotic nature of the movie becomes a bit overwhelming at times and could have been helped by streamlining it.
The single most impressive aspect about this film is its soundscape, which is absolutely haunting. Obviously, a great deal of the sounds come from the subjects’ unusual music, but Balestreri and Lachaud also use the background noise of many shots in a way that is unsettling yet beautiful.
The visuals complement the sound of the movie quite well. There is a hypnotic style to the film, with surreal and nightmarish imagery used throughout, albeit with an unexpected charm to it. Some of the shots are bright and colorful, while others are filled with shadows. In a movie full of dichotomies, this juxtaposition works extremely well.
Texas Trip - A Carnival of Ghosts is a pretty mind-blowing documentary. Although not everyone will be attuned to its bizarre wavelength, those who are fascinated by the darker side of creativity will find this to be a captivating watch.
Texas Trip - A Carnival of Ghosts screens on demand (geoblocked to Canada) as a part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 20-September 2.
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