Off The Shelf: The Process Trilogy
Cinema continually gives birth to ingenuity. Since Méliès crafted A Trip To The Moon in 1902 and cemented the future of film, auteurs and creators have found a way to reinvent the craft time and time again finding new definitions for perfection. For every Méliès that paves the way, there is a D.W. Griffith that finds the destination. And on and on it goes. As technology grows, so does its masters. Invention paves way to reinvention. Of course, mentioning two of the most iconic creators of film has written me into a bit of a hole when it comes to discussing The Process Trilogy, but my point is simply to allude to the obvious. The Process Trilogy is a reinvention of filmmaking. Whether or not that is a good or bad thing we will discuss in a moment, but as it stands now, the concept alone is yet another reinvention of the rules of film. And while it may not have the legacy of something like A Trip To The Moon (what film does?), it is certainly exciting to see a new idea unfold.
The conceit behind The Process Trilogy is intriguing enough to entice the average moviegoer. The idea here is essentially that the audience will answer a series of questions before screening, and the answers will predetermine slight variables within the film. Your viewing experience may differ from mine with music changes, visual alterations, and even slide title changes throughout. The concept is a unique hook that fits soundly beside the recent choose your own adventure stories that Netflix has indulged in. Of course The Process Trilogy is far more modest, and therefore the algorithm doesn’t quite adjust as drastically as one may be hoping. However, I am thrilled to report that the core narrative within The Process Trilogy is still one worth investing in.
Changes aside, The Process Trilogy follows 3 (mostly) silent vignettes that each bare thematic resemblance to one another despite having entirely separate stories. Each is roughly seven minutes, making for a fairly effortless runtime. In each film, the narrator appears in blank slides (think dialogue in an old school Chaplin film) with various levels of omniscient objectivity presiding over the characters onscreen. At times, the narrator appears as the inner thoughts. While other times, the slide cards establish meta omniscience and occasionally even existentialism. Surprisingly, this allows the slide cards to be the most interesting character within The Process Trilogy, establishing the world(s) and themes in constant rhythm with the visual stories. By the time the third act twist rears its head, the audience will find themselves thinking in a situation that otherwise would seem nothing but laughable. That’s not to say The Process Trilogy isn’t ‘funny’, of course. Whether intentional or not, this is a film made to evoke emotion through imagery. And it’s undoubtably at its best when that imagery bares a strong connection to the primary themes at work.
So lets discuss those primary themes. Of course, orders may be interchangeable depending on the algorithm in The Process Trilogy, so for this portion of the review I will have to speak solely to my experience. The first short in my sequence revolved around a man (known in the film as ‘x’) as he suffers from crippling insomnia. His counterpart (‘y’, played by the same actor) appears, seemingly representative of his demons that keep him from sleep (or perhaps from wanting to sleep). As I stated before, this is simply my experience with The Process Trilogy. My logical association to each of the storylines may not be the artistic intent of the filmmakers, but for this aspect fo the review, it doesn’t necessarily matter. My overarching point is simply that the through-line of The Process Trilogy, in my mind, is strong simply because the logical tethers between the shorts has significant meaning. In the second short, we see a female painter attempting to breakthrough her creative blocks to achieve what she knows can be impactful. And in the third vignette, we follow a couple each wearing clown makeup to symbolize the lie that pervades their inner lives: they lack happiness because they lack connection. As each fights internally for the other’s affection, we see the makeup strip away to show ethereal dreams of what the two could be if they were truly happy. But in reality they sit side by side yet still feel miles apart. It’s in this short where we get the narrator’s reveal, which I will leave unspoiled in this review. But the important takeaway from each film is the consistent urging from the narrator at the end of each short: “We’ll try again tomorrow”. The existentialism within these words bares more weight as the film persists. We’ll try to sleep again tomorrow. We’ll try to create again tomorrow. We’ll try to love again tomorrow. Yet the bleak visual aesthetic of The Process Trilogy tells us everything we need to know. We’re doomed to this life of monotonous hope. The ‘Process’ is simply our ability to cope with these internal struggles.
The biggest praise of The Process Trilogy is its ability to tether its shorts into one cohesive narrative. Within each short, there’s plenty visual tactics to appreciate. The fluctuating use of color in the Insomniac storyline allows for the aesthetic to establish the juxtaposition between X and Y. The camera embodying the POV of the painting in the artist storyline allows us to see the unique intricacies of the struggle from a perspective of detachment, making the failure all the more tragic. And as I’ve already aforementioned, the clown world allows for a symbolic metaphor that feels accessible in the abstract context of The Process Trilogy. With (what I imagine to be) a modest budget, Chew Boy Productions boasts a fine understanding of artistic ingenuity that made the surrealist films of the late 60’s so impactful.
In terms of drawbacks, there’s few worth mentioning. As I already stated, the concept behind the algorithm for which the film is based doesn’t feel like it has a lot of agency to necessarily control the outcome. As a result, The conceit behind The Process Trilogy feels more of a gimmick than a driving force behind the structure. That being said, I can (presumably) attribute this largely to the small budget behind The Process Trilogy. Who’s to say the film couldn’t change drastically depending on finances? However, the core structure of the sequences that I witnessed feel so complete and wholesome that it’s hard to imagine them having the same impact with a different assembly. Undoubtably, the filmmakers deserve the opportunity to test the limits of their obviously impressive idea.
Title cards mediate the narrative here, but that doesn’t mean they’re always necessary. The frequency at which the slides appear feels heavy handed. At times, it felt distracting for the card to overstate the inner thoughts of the characters or the abstract existentialism rather than simply letting the visuals speak for themselves. This is all (ironically) a drawn-out way of stating that The Process Trilogy is slightly overwritten. While dealing with surrealism, it feels understandable that the filmmakers wanted context to be as proportionate as possible to not allow for the film to become too abstract, but The Process Trilogy carries weight in its thematic visuals, not necessarily in its pacing. I often found myself praying for longer sequences to grow attached to the characters onscreen rather than continually getting sucked out to have the title cards tell me about what I was seeing. As is usually the case with shorts, the characters are understandably underdeveloped. Often times, they appear more as ideas than people, and as a result The Process Trilogy can feel more distant than necessary. Of course, you could attribute this to paying homage to the surrealist influences of the film, but the emotional weight of the ending hinges upon some connection to the performances. But the only connection I walked away from was to the themes themselves, leaving me to wish for a feature length version of The Process Trilogy where characters have the full potential to be characters. Often times, the direction resorts to showcase actors exhibit some idea of an emotion or basic action in an attempt to provoke the emotional response of the audience. As a result, I felt wildly detached from moments, such as a character eating aggressively, because it felt simply like eating for the sake of eating.
All that being said, The Process Trilogy is well worth your time. An important viewing experience calls for aggressive criticism, but I’m only hard on this film because I appreciate so much of what they’re trying to do here. Algorithm or no, The Process Trilogy has a poignant story to tell with a visual style that pays tribute to a classic era of filmmaking that isn’t often seen today. If this is ChewBoy Productions Trip To The Moon, I very much look forward to watching this team collaborate on their next project in the hopes that it will be bigger and even more deliberate. If I can bet money on one thing, their next work will be nothing if not unique. 8/10
To my understanding, the film is screening in the UK as of now. If you’re like me, and you’re in the states, keep a look out for this team and be sure to catch The Process Trilogy if they get some sort of distribution.