AN APPRECIATION OF JOSH BURTON’S DEBUT FILM, THE DEAD TRUTH
Just as beauty belongs within the beholder, so does art finds position and residence in the eye. In Josh Burton’s debut short film THE DEAD TRUTH, both are achieved through a combination of ambition and sincere effort. Written, directed, produced, filmed, edited and starring Josh Burton as triplet brothers confronting the issues and emotions that beset them all, after their mother’s funeral, this fifteen minute film is an uncanny statement on both the aims of the individual when confronted with a sizeable industry as well as a statement on what the dreams of every actor, writer and creator should be.
By combining the various roles necessary to the production of films, Burton has demonstrated a masterly hold on technique and compassion, fusing the most charged of human experiences, with the most demanding of tasks. As the three brothers, each informed by a distinct personality move through a process of grief, recrimination and a concluding revelation, Burton the director of film allows them equal space to establish themselves. As an editor he provides effective juxtaposition of shots and therefore atmosphere, and his choices as a writer enable this one room setting to echo the confinement and perhaps sense of ensnarement that we all may face when having to deal with the great inevitability of death, in terms of what it leaves us with and where it leads us to.
The visual experience of watching the film is an extremely credible one and we are able to inhabit the space in a sensual and sub-textual way, alongside the characters, making us as viewers what all film goers should no doubt be; participants in the action and in the actions of the emotions or situation at play. We are encouraged to take a side or find a sympathy, only for that sympathy to be displaced and refocused. Burton as actor, allows for that crucial element in an actor’s repertoire, freedom from likeability and the need for adoration, while still finding moments in which these desperate characters can find areas fit for compassion. Communication and connection are set up and then shattered by constant overturns of information and reaction. Eye-lines are wonderfully consistent and it is true that you could quite easily spend one watching of the film, praising its technical intelligence – but only after you have followed the unwinding story at play.
There could be different shades of characterisation employed and perhaps further nuances, along with flashbacks or outside footage of some of the situations mentioned, but these maybe for another film, one that continues this and extends the story. But that is not the point. The film captures a situation and a series of possible developments, just as a photograph of a flower may catch the unfiolding of its petals. As a premiere project, the film’s power is undeniable.
Today’s filmmakers have a lot more control over technical innovations than previous generations, even if only in terms of accessibility. The wonder is, for an old pen, paper and Steenbeck man like myself, that it is now possible to make films of this stamp in a reasonably affordable way. I admire the time taken and the expertise with the laptop, just as I still wonder at the emergence of those early innovations in Meliere, Chaplin and Keaton. Film does possess a particular magic, even in its simplest forms, as I myself experienced in celluloid pieces I have made, when cutting from a corridor to another room, through the edit of a closing door. But here there is dazzle and flash in a believable and subdued fashion. The film feels organic rather than composed. This is not about an actor drawing attention to himself, but everything to do with a new artist attempting to tell his story. There is an argument that everyone who wants to act should at one time write and direct, for that is how you find out about these crucially connected areas of expertise and yes, of course, many do. But few with the intelligence and integrity shown here. I every much applaud the effort shown and encourage you to do likewise when the film is released.
Indeed, we are always keen to praise occasional examples of the multi/dual role approach, such as Brian Hegeland’s recent LEGEND, featuring Tom Hardy’s portrayal of the Kray twins, but that was a high budget project, possessed of so called star power, and the performances there were tightly maintained and controlled. Burton has gone out on a limb here – or perhaps twelve limbs – to make something bold and brash, filling his modest space with distinct characteristics and preoccupations. The film becomes an essay on grief in this regard, an exercise in character. While I’m sure Burton’s aim is to capture reality, what I feel he does here to a sizeable degree, is to extend it. He allows us as participants to sympathise with his solo approach and asks us what we would do if we had the same drive and commitment that he has.
There is a fine Brian Eno quote about backing vocals in records being the song’s invitation to the listener to sing. So it is here, with this approach. With the ideas and aims of one man so clearly displayed what can we add to the action and story we are being asked to take part in? How much information can we take in and at what rate and what is it exactly that we can or can’t see? One thing is clear, with only man to watch we are all brought to listen, having to pay close attention to everything we are told. A transformation is shown (the root of all drama) as one actor undergoes all these changes, doing his utmost to achieve what each actor should: submersion in the sense of change and/or separation and what that transformation can give to us.
What truth is still out there for us (beyond the X-Files) to grasp? This film asks this question expertly and is a young man’s challenge to us to find out. It is an important first step on what I suspect will be an equally important career, but it is also a provocation: How much effort do you put into the art you make and expect? If your answer is the same as what is shown in this film, I applaud you. If the commercial sector operated at the same level of intensity we would have a constantly evolving culture and not one half frozen by celebrity, albeit with a bubbling and at times aggressive sub-culture beneath it. Instead, we would all be part of a thriving ocean of transmogrification, one that both attacked the beach at the same time as reshaping and preserving it. We can only hope that this is what the future will bring to us all as practitioners and audiences and that projects like this one are part of a fresh and spectacular wave that re-invogrates the shores of perception and achievement. In this short film Josh Burton has started to ring his bright changes. Which one of you will swim with him and which one of you will hear first?
David Erdos 4/12/16