Richard Myers’ AKRAN has its world’s premier at midnight Saturday, and that may be the single most important event in this year’s Chicago Film Festival. AKRAN is a work of over-powering originality, forcing us to rethink our ideas about the film experience. In my opinion, it is the most influential film since Godard’s early work. That is not to say it’s altogether successful; movies so original and daring can’t afford to be merely successful. They have to push farther than that, to try dangerous things, to dare failure. On a fundamental level, all of Godard’s films are failures—but there is no greater director now at work.
I mention Godard with Myers, not because AKRAN resembles anything by Godard, but because I think it will be influential in the same way. It doesn’t introduce new techniques so much as take the techniques that have recently been evolving, and fulfill them. This, at last, is the underground film that explains (by the very texture of its making) what the underground has been moving toward. I believe it will become the reference point for personal filmmakers of the 1970’s.
AKRAN’S greatest strength, in fact, is that it’s such a totally personal film. It is so personal, so embarrassingly honest at times, that it makes commercial ‘personal’ films like Easy Rider seem evasive. AKRAN lays it on the line: the director’s fears, dreams, desires, erotic fantasies and erotic guilts. Nostalgic memories of the simplicity of childhood, uneasy dreads about the current state of his life.
Myers’ method has been to bring together thousands of images, held together by an autobiographical device, an infinitely evocative sound track and extraordinary electronic music by Fred Coulter. There is also a narrative; even though it seems not to, the film tells a story. But it tells it in the same way that James Joyce told the story of Leopold Bloom: by dealing as much with the events in Bloom’s subconscious as with his external, visible life.
The story involves a young man who lives in Akron, Ohio. His memory contains countless images, having to do with the tilt of a woman’s head, or the fleeting expression on a face, or the way a man once walked across a street. This is the way we really do remember; memory doesn’t operate as a continuous narrative (and that is the fallacy in conventional movie flashbacks). Again and again in AKRAN, the precise angle of a smile, the fleeting movement of an eye, tells us more about memory than all the linear histories ever written.
The memories belong to the protagonist (played by Robert Ohlrich), and are shared by his girl (played by Pat Myers, the director’s wife). Their present life is filled not only with memories of the past, but with a complex of secondhand images, mostly from the media and with their daily experiences. But I find I cannot describe these experiences very satisfactorily in a review of this length; the movie has to be seen. The events in it do not just occur, one after another; they occur because of the way they flow into each other.
This has something to do with Myers’ filming and editing technique. He uses most of the devices common in the underground: freeze frames, multiple printing of the same image, the selection of just a few feet here—and here—and here—from a continuous strip of film. These are correlated with the sound track (and the sound in AKRAN participates as fully with the image as in any other film I can recall). A texture is established; for long minutes at a time we are completely inside the film’s experience.
The film’s concerns are radically contemporary; it is about the preoccupations of this generation. But it is never simple-minded. It considers Vietnam, for example, as the subject of thoughts in our minds. Most movies consider Vietnam in words. That is, they take a political position. Myers doesn’t; he uses the images we carry around about it. Thoughts are not words. This same ambiguity is present in the film’s consideration of sex. Myers doesn’t make an obvious statement about a sexually liberated community. He evokes the ways in which we are not liberated; the ways in which pornography and guilt are equal partners with ‘liberation.’ There is much more to be said about AKRAN, but let me close with this. It is so good, so inventive, so radically original, that it may even be flatly rejected by the audience Saturday night. It is beyond our previous experience.”
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
Few films have succeeded so well in revealing the inherent beauty and meaning in each moment of life and its relatedness to a larger drama within. The total fabric of the protagonist’s fears, desires, erotic fantasies, erotic guilts, nostalgia and his final confrontation with present day reality in America creates a film powerful for its honesty as well as its visual beauty. Myers is obviously one of the strongest directors to emerge from the independent film movement.”
David Bienstock, Film Curator Whitney Museum of American Art
The current movie in the Whitney Museum’s New American Filmmakers series is AKRAN, by Richard Myers, who lives and works in Ohio—Akron, of course. AKRAN which is a work of ambition and great technical virtuosity, runs for almost two hours and features a cast of, I do believe, hundreds, along with the public and private places, the street corners and back lots of the city that in some degree is, or helps create, the subject of the film. AKRAN is a kind of subjective biography—which is the same time meant to be universal pretty much to the degree to which it is also subjective. In this, AKRAN resembles much recent narrative work, and, in film, the early semi-autobiographical movies of Jerry Sklimowski ... The film’s mode is personal confession —not so much of conscience as of consciousness. The film’s means are highly unusual, and in technique AKRAN must represent something of a tour de force. With a sound track mix consisting of more or less patterned noise along with snatches of monologue in the air or via tape or television (but almost no ordinary dialogue) and with an overpowering visual style that takes its start in sequences consisting wholly of stop shots. AKRAN leaves no doubt about the range and intensity of its ambitions ... AKRAN achieves a density of image, mixing memory with desire, that does more to validate the poetry of the recollected commonplace than anything else I have seen in recent movies ... there is enough going on in AKRAN to command anyone’s attention. And much of that is lovely and wonderfully difficult, with a regard for strange nuances that is one of the pleasures of the movies.”
Roger Greenspun, New York Times
It is to Myers’ credit that AKRAN succeeds as frequently as it does considering the complexity of the methods he employs to tell at times a startlingly honest story. It works because it is much more than an exercise in razzle-dazzle cutting and filming, though many will find it difficult to grasp the significance of the bits and snatches of thoughts that rush along the jarring but nevertheless cohesive course. The film’s soundtrack is every bit as daring as its visual aspects. Fred Coulter’s imaginative electronic music is in complete accord with both isolated sentences and words as well as repeated patter. Everything manages to blend into a complete experience that may be considered outrageous by some and painfully meaningful to others. But one thing is for sure, AKRAN is an important film that could well have a major influence upon the pix of the next decade.”