Bill and Turner Ross are the type of filmmaking duo that emerged from a childhood obsession with the power of the camera to capture a singular worldview, to put an audience into ones shoes and show them the things you see just as you see them. Though the brothers have grown significantly since their boyhood, their film Tchoupitoulas possesses that distinct touch of naiveté, seeking not to recount a narrative or voice some socio-political commentary, but to impress upon the audience a vision of New Orleans from the perspective of the overlooked many that make the city run.
Over the opening shot, the voice of the young boy, whose escapades through the city provide the framing device for the piece, admits “I don’t usually dream, but last night I did.” This short remark serves as a sort of prologue for the pseudo-documentary, warning those audience members expecting a more traditional movie-going experience that they are in for a strange show. For all the other folks, the ensuing 88 minutes are trance inducing, utterly devoid of substance, yet mystically carnivalesque. As the boy explores the many murky alleys and two-bit dive-bars of the town, descending deeper and deeper into the dream, the scenes becomes more surreal; We meet lonesome show girls, carousing transvestites and a clown dancing to an accordion in the wee hours of the morning, all captured beautifully by the delightfully saturated footage that comprises the film.
Unsurprisingly, the Ross brothers claimed that they sought to create a film that “immerses itself into New Orleans” a feat oft attempted and rarely accomplished. While they do at times fall prey to many of the trappings common to the Art-House canon (abstract interludes of poorly focused camera shots, for example), their unconventional technique characterizes an important essence of the city: unpredictability. And while Tchoupitoulas may not be suited to the full-length, big-screen, wide-release that so aptly suits other films, it is certainly worth the time for anyone with an open mind. 3/5 Stars. -Will Mullany