In 2002, Arin Crumley and Susan Buice met on an Internet dating service. Crumley hatched the idea that the two struggling artists would communicate solely through “notes, pics, music and videos.” When they had sex for the first time, they had never spoken to one another, though they had exchanged plenty of post-it notes. A year later, they quit their jobs, went deeply into debt, and made a feature film about their peculiar relationship. It’s called Four Eyed Monsters — Crumley’s term for romantic couples.
The film was accepted by the Slamdance Film Festival and premiered there in January 2005. It has since been seen at 18 festivals. Unable to find a distributor, Crumley and Buice have distributed it themselves. People vote on their website, and if there are at least 150 votes in a city, they arrange for it to be shown there. There are showings in six cities during September. In New York, it will be seen every Thursday in September at the IFC Film Center, 323 Sixth Avenue at West Fourth Street. A friend and I saw it last week.
Without Crumley’s “no speaking” rule, there would be nothing worth watching about the relationship of two New York twenty-somethings. That, and the couple’s very dark sense of humor, make Four Eyed Monsters compelling viewing. Crumley and Buice are so insecure that it would take years on an analyst’s couch to work out their inner demons. But they are able to laugh about themselves and their artistic alienation, without which the film would be an overly precious exercise in navel-gazing.
The film also has an under-current of what one audience-member called meta-narrative. It’s a film about two people who decide to make a film about their relationship, and the film they make is the one you’re watching. Crumley and Buice do a compelling job of dramatizing the early days of their relationship, cleverly mixing animation and live action. Some of the film is a re-creation of past events, and other parts are the actual videos and e-mails that they exchanged while they were dating. It’s no small feat to re-tell your own story, and then act it out too, without boring the audience. Crumley and Buice have managed it.
Early on — it might actually be the first date — their relationship hits a snag that would probably stop 99% of relationships dead in their tracks. That it doesn’t is attributable to two factors. Buice has never created anything on her own that she is happy with. And Crumley wants to get laid regularly, something he has never done before meeting Buice. What begins as a romantic relationship turns into a cottage industry. A series of video podcasts available on their website is partly, made in the film’s same edgy style, blurs the line between soap opera and marketing.
My friend, who is romantic at heart, pointed out that we never see an actual romance. “Do they even hold hands?” she asked? No, they don’t. It is entirely commercial. The relationship and the product have become one. We disagreed on which of the two leads is more appealing. My friend found Buice chilly and sterile, while I had the same reaction to Crumley. While both share the directing, producing, editing, acting and writing credit, it appeared to both of us that Crumley is the artistic mastermind. The no-talking rule, without which there would be no film, was his idea. When it wore out its welcome with her, he insisted on continuing it.
Crumley and Buice attended the screening and took questions afterwards. There’s a small coterie of groupies following their appearances. Someone in the audience wanted to ask whether the couple are still together (there were Internet rumors of a split), but he couldn’t just come out and ask it. Buice finally rescued him, and said they still live in Williamsburg, and sleep together on a twin mattress. Another audience member congratulated them on giving a better answer than they did last time (whenver that was).
Crumley said that we’d seen a new cut of the film, including an improved ending. Some people in the audience thought it still needed work, while others advised them to leave it alone. Buice suggested that perhaps the time was coming to “stick a fork in it,” but Crumley suggested that the tweaking might continue. Do they have another great project in them? Their website links to a short film that Buice did by herself. It’s awful.
Four Eyed Monsters, however, is a clever experimental film, and well worth checking out.