Wednesday, October 12, 2016

An Indie's Indie

Film: Tangerine
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I was in a unique position coming at the latest crop of films from the 1001 Movies list this year. I’d seen and reviewed seven of the 10 new films already, and had also seen the seven longest films of the ten. That meant for an easier completion this year, even if two of the films I hadn’t seen were foreign, and thus subtitled. My original goal was to save Tangerine for last, it being the shortest of the three remaining films. However, I had to return Son of Saul to the library before I had a chance to watch it, meaning that if I wanted to finish by the end of the month, I needed to watch Tangerine today.

This is nothing if not a unique film and vision. Famously, Tangerine was filmed on three iPhone 5s with an $8 app, not something typically thought of as being real cinema. I think that’s at least part of the point. If nothing else, it’s a solid reminder that there are options open to any of us. Someone with the will and the vision can make a movie anywhere and using just about anything. The success of Tangerine as a narrative, then, is almost secondary to its actual existence. Even if it fails completely, it’s still kind of a success.

Tangerine is the story of Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgendered prostitute just released from 28 days in jail. It’s Christmas Eve and she’s looking for her pimp/boyfriend Chester (James Ransone). Her friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), another transgendered prostitute, tells her that for the last few weeks, Chester has been hooking up with a woman whose name starts with D. This sends Sin-Dee over the edge. For much of the running time, Sin-Dee’s quest is to track down the mystery woman and then confront Chester.

The mystery woman turns out to be another of Chester’s prostitutes named Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan), who Sin-Dee finds at a motel/brothel. Sin-Dee drags her out and the two go looking for Chester. Meanwhile, Alexandra invites people to a performance she is giving that night, asking everyone to be there.

Interspersed in all of this is the story of a cab driver named Razmik (Karren Karagulian), who frequently trolls the area the transgendered prostitutes work in. Razmik is married and has a young daughter, and also has a near constant desire for same-sex contact. In short, he likes to pay to be allowed to service the prostitutes orally. Razmik’s mother-in-law (Alla Tumanian) is suspicious of her son-in-law, and eventually goes hunting for him when he disappears on Christmas Eve after learning from Alexandra that Sin-Dee is out of jail.

Sin-Dee and Dinah, despite apparently fighting for the affections of the same pimp, eventually reach a sort of truce that involves them smoking meth together at Alexandra’s show. Eventually, everyone shows up at the same donut shop, and there are confrontations, accusations, and recriminations to go around.

I get why Tangerine was added to the 1001 Movies list. The actual creation of the film is unique enough that it’s something of a milestone. The real question is whether or not it’s any good. And here, I’m pretty torn. I don’t know if I think that Tangerine is worth watching beyond its unique development. I can say without question that the characters drive me crazy. I don’t generally like people who talk incessantly, and in Tangerine, someone is always talking. Frequently, more than one person is talking, almost always at high volume and almost always at high speed. It’s infuriating to me on a simple communication level. I’m constantly overwhelmed by the people I’m watching here.

I think ultimately that Tangerine is going to be one of those movies that I end up respecting a lot more than I actually like. There isn’t a great deal to recommend it. The characters are annoying at best, terrible at worst. And, the damn thing was shot on iPhones, and it looks it. I get that it’s interesting to make a movie this way, and to create something like this opens the door for amateur and indie filmmakers the world over. That’s a good thing. I just wish there was more here to like.

Why to watch Tangerine: It’s unique, if nothing else.
Why not to watch: iPhone cinematography.


  1. I completely agree, this is a film I'll respect more than actually liking. It's an interesting experiment, but I didn't really find that much worth digging into. Baker's previous film, Starlet, is a much better flick.

    1. As an experiment, and as a reminder that people like me don't have an excuse any more to not pursue various artistic enterprises, I think it's potentially important. I even get why it was added to the book.

      But I'll probably never like it.

  2. I love this movie.

    It's partly because I used to live in Hollywood and I used to hang out on these streets and I used to see people like this all the time.

    But I think it's a damned interesting film quite apart from the memories it brings back or the way it was made.

    1. I think there's something there, but it's more of a curiosity to me than anything else.