CIFF 2014: ‘Buzzard’ is slacker cinema at its ugliest and most honest

Buzzard

Buzzard
Directed by Joel Potrykus
Written by Joel Potrykus
USA, 2014

During a post-film Q&A, director Joel Potrykus was asked by young man in the audience what one could do to live a life like Martin Jackitansky, the protagonist, if you could call him that, of Potrykus’ film Buzzard. Jackitansky, played by a volatile Joshua Burge, has a crappy job that he slacks on and steals from but never gets in trouble. He spends his time playing video games, and executing low level scams for free junk food. The inquiring audience member just had to know if he too could live the dream life for the realistically unambitious cog, grinding away in the corporate consumerist badlands of middle America. Though Potrykus gave an honest answer that most of Jackitansky’s traits and scams were autobiographical, it’s probably a safer bet that most of us are already living the Buzzard life, we’re just not on film so it’s not nearly as exciting.

Martin Jackitansky isn’t really someone to aspire to be, he’s a tragic and sad figure that you want to call the cops on almost as much as you want to see him stick it to the man. While it’s easy to believe Jackitansky should just grow up and take responsibility for his actions, the reality of his situation is more complicated than that. It would be like telling a homeless person to get a job. Martin is a junk human produced by junk culture, who is stuck in that middle ground of enjoying that lie and realizing he’s under the thumb of oppressive consumerism. His guilt for wanting to have his cake and eat it too manifests itself in violent outbursts and mostly empty threats because he doesn’t know any better way to deal with it.

In Buzzard, Joel Potrykus shows us the face of the real 99%. It’s not the guy camping in the park reading Noam Chomsky and Emma Goldman, fighting for the right to have a bourgois job that will allow them to consume at a respectable, non-GMO level. No, it’s this pale, malnourished, big eyed scavenger who’s scraping by with no idea how to escape other than partaking in schemes and fantasies of freedom. Joshua Burge plays the role perfectly, teetering on the razor blade. Will he cry and hide? Will he slice open your face? Either is a possibility at any given moment. Burge lends Martin a dimensionality of vulnerability and confusion. His actions aren’t the products of what an actor thinks would be really cool in a movie, but out of primal impulses with no thought to consequence. When a bank manager says something that annoys Martin, the slight twitch in his eye is funny not because it’s a comedic affectation, but because it’s a truthful reaction in that moment, and there’s nothing funnier than the truth.

Potrykus’ film shows that there are voices in the film-making community with something vital and personal to say, and can say it without a budget or a studio’s permission – and these are the films that need support. Buzzard is more than a Midwestern white male fantasy – it’s a mirror to the mangled heart of contemporary culture, and a temporary reprise of punk ideology that we should hurry up and enjoy before it eventually becomes co-opted again, and mass reproduced in Los Angeles glitter factories until the profit runs dry.

 

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