Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 06, 2018 4:24 pm 
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Location: California/NYC

You had to be there

Peaceful atmosphere and authentic location take precedence over event in Daniel Peddle's calm and beautiful second feature, a mood piece set in the environs of a North Carolina island in summertime. Conflict is tamped down: that's the beauty of it, because Peddle feels no obligation to create drama. It's an important day for Moss (former Calvin Klein model Mitchell Slaggert of scary movie Wish Upon): his eighteenth birthday. There's not much around to do, but it becomes memorable for him when a canoe ride takes him to get high with his stoner-weed dealer buddy Blaze (Dorian Cobb) and then, to make it "the best day of my life" - Moss' voice-overs to himself also don't mostly say much - he comes upon a lady camper, passing through.

Like Moss' mother, who died giving birth to him, she is called Mary (Christine Marzano); dhe's in her thirties, and she's got mushrooms. And an introduction to sex. Peddle doesn't feel compelled to recreate a "trip" or chronicle the lovemaking. The water, the shoreline and the woods are trip enough, and Mary and Moss rambling through them. He swims, she watches. She adores his chiseled features and hunky body and he loves being with her.

While this idyll proceeds, we go back to Moss' dad (Billy Ray Suggs). He's an artist, and he makes and sells driftwood carvings. They live in a little frame house set back in the woods. Left by himself, he putters around peacefully. He tidies up the mess Moss left in his room and the kitchen, but there's no anger in it. Then he does some things with wood.

There is not much to this. But another element is the place indicated by gatherings of cabins and trailers visited by Blaze on a bike ride, a hardware shop, convenience store, and little restaurant. The places and the people are authentic, as is the easy, friendly mood among the people. Everything seems perfect, even Blaze's little covered raft. Some life. Slaggert may be inexplicably handsome and buff for somebody who grew up in the woods, but he has an easy, "Aw shucks" quality that fits in with all the rest. Moss' dad never loses his calm even when Moss doesn't come home that night, nor is he upset when Moss tells him about his elderly mother, living alone in a bigger house not far away.

The only trouble is that neither the action nor the dialogue nor the directing take us enough beyond the surfaces. The place seems more individual than the people. But in the event, the beautiful scenery and the atmosphere are almost enough. This approach, though dramatically unsatisfying, is also unusual and a lesson for urban or suburban people in how peaceful and gentle a way of life might be. Daniel Peddle, who studied anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and attended graduate film school at New York University, is from the woods of rural North Carolina himself, and has done three documentaries and one previous feature. They show an interest in the South and in living off the grid and in creating mood rather than telling a story. His sense of place and ability to weave beautiful images are impeccable. His other role has been that of casting director/model sieve for fashion designers - hence his discovery of Mitchell Slaggert - with a specialty of finding models off the street. He considers himself a literary person, a poet, and rooted in the earth, as well as a fashion person who loves making films - and he has exhibited his watercolors. We can look for interesting things to come from Daniel Peddle.

Moss, 81 mins., debuted at the LA Film Festival, the Balinale, and RiverRun. Distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures, opened in New York (Cinema Village) and Los Angeles July 6, 2018.


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