On the evening of November 12th, 2012, my friend Charlette and I headed over to attend a screening of Marc Dickerson’s latest film Raptor at PHILAMOCA as part of Shooting Wall’s series Views From The Underground. This particular film was of significant interest to me for two reasons. First that I have known Marc for ten years, and have grown as a filmmaker with him. Secondly, because I wanted to share with Charlette (who has been the creative consultant on my last four films) a piece of the Philadelphia film scene. To put it in as few words as I can, the screening was a success.
Raptor (2012) follows a distinct thread of thematic similarities with many of Marc Dickerson’s previous films. Like Stromboli (2011), King Jeron (2009) and Puppy Whistle (2008) the protagonist of Raptor, Raptor (Robert Malone), is an egomaniac whose blind self-admiration and idolization prevents him from connecting with the reality that surrounds him. Instead, Raptor lapses in and out of fantasies, with minimal consideration for how his behavior affects the people around him.
This flirtation with fantasy as reality is also manifest in Dickerson’s choice of locations. Following the visual logic of the film, the entire narrative is restricted to a suburban housing development in “any town USA”. At the conclusion of the films opening song, Raptor ventures off to see his manager Burt (Christian Alsis). We see Raptor cut across a lawn, then the film cuts to Burt’s secretary Amy (Nicole Acevedo) sitting outside of one of the suburban houses. To reinforce the claustrophobia of the film’s location, Dickerson not only clearly indicates that Raptor’s band Sound Dungeon is a garage band in the first visual of the film, but in Nina’s (Liz Taddei) dialogue. This makes Raptor’s illusions of grandeur insurmountable.
Luckily, Dickerson articulates Raptor’s fantasy world visually during the film’s musical numbers. Dickerson waits for these moments to trade upon the audiences’ exaggerated suspension of disbelief, a staple of the American movie musical. This tactic, along with the number of close ups, sides the audience completely with Raptor, no matter how obnoxious or absurd he becomes.
The sympathetic portrait of Raptor is accompanied by a thematic allusion that is the product of all the film’s various components, the adolescent fantasy. Raptor is essentially an eighteen-year-old boy who refuses to give up his delusions about his musical talent, his financial position, or his worth to the general community. The same behavior Raptor exhibits is the behavior that Marc Dickerson aims to lampoon.
The scrutiny of the human ego in the film Raptor is made more audacious because of the film community in which the film was produced. Philadelphia is a hot bed of egotistical would-be filmmakers who apply their trade to insignificant and self-indulgent projects. It’s these moviemakers Dickerson is “bashing”, and in turn, asking the audience to “bash” with him. It then comes as no surprise that this film was screened at Scenes From The Underground. If you’ve read Shooting Wall’s zine you’re familiar with their anti-authoritarian rhetoric and their distrust of film studios and collectives. Their agenda, and Dickerson’s coincide nicely.
But to examine the weightier ramifications of Raptor alone would be to neglect the primary function of any Marc Dickerson film, to entertain. Dickerson, along with his brother Dan, are more committed to making the audience laugh while subverting their expectations than any filmmakers I have ever met. Raptor embraces its non-existent budget, uses it to its advantage and assumes the naïve role of the best Ed Wood movies. Dickerson’s love of camp and his showy style sugar coat his film’s bitter message, disguising it as homage to the cult classic B-Movies of the seventies and eighties. Superficially, Dickerson entertains, and more often than not, his subversion goes unnoticed by most of his audiences.