In the Blog
Putting together the puzzle of Tracey Berkowitz
Yes, this is my third post regarding a movie starring Ellen Page, but stay with me on this.
The Tracey Fragments has a fairly simple premise: take a fifteen-year-old girl who’s tormented at school, shackled with an ineffectual psychiatrist, and living with a family barely held together with emotional duct tape. Then rip the tape off and see what happens. One day, Tracey’s kid brother goes missing, and like all teenagers teetering on the brink of emotional collapse, she takes the one action that makes sense: she runs away from home and towards Winnipeg in the hopes that she’ll find her brother. From that basic foundation, McDonald spins a complex multi-tracked narrative, told largely through an almost-literal kaleidoscope of images that serves as the film’s calling card. Nearly every scene in the film consists of multiple video images, arranged and re-arranged in often-hasty compositions designed to put the viewer inside Tracey’s cluttered, mile-a-minute mind.
It’s complex, challenging, and at times overwhelming, and as a result The Tracey Fragments will probably put off a lot of people—even people who have been fans of McDonald’s work in the past. But if you can embrace the concept, The Tracey Fragments makes for compelling viewing; having seen it once, I want to watch it again to see if the pieces make more sense the second time around. It also helps that some of my favourite people are involved in this film: McDonald’s Highway 61 and Dance Me Outside are two of my favourite Canadian films, and Ellen Page continues to impress in every movie I’ve seen her in. Elizabeth Powell from the Montreal band Land of Talk also provides a vital piece of the film’s soundtrack, singing on top of a Broken Social Scene cover of Patti Smith’s “Land.” Any film that manages to combine Liz Powell and Patti Smith immediately gets my love. (Vancouver-area singer-songwriter Rose Melburg also contributes a track, but this is a post about movies, not music, so I’ll stop there.)
There’s another reason why you might be interested in The Tracey Fragments, even if you end up hating the film itself. Back when The Tracey Fragments was released in Canada, McDonald and company also announced a contest called Tracey: Re-Fragmented. The idea was to see what people could do with the movie’s footage. Towards that end, the movie’s website released a gold mine for budding film editors, including all the raw footage from the four-week shoot, the Final Cut Pro project files, and the full Broken Social Scene-produced soundtrack to the film. McDonald explains:
The Tracey Fragments is a film that fully embraces experimentation and teamwork. I wanted to find out if that experience exists on the Internet and give others the chance to experiment and play with some beautifully shot footage of a world class actress in a free form environment. I hope people make their own feature films, short films, rock videos, trailers, experimental films and personal manifestos out of The Tracey Fragments.
The contest ended at the end of January, sadly, so you won’t be able to get in on the prize pack, which included a Final Cut Pro software bundle. But the prize seems almost secondary when you think about what’s really being offered here: a chance for anyone who fancies themselves a movie editor to play with all the footage from a feature film. Released under a Creative Commons license, McDonald has basically given everyone the freedom to do whatever they like with the footage, so long as you aren’t doing it for commercial purposes and offer your own final product for other people to cut up and remix. Even if all you do is download the footage and watch through some of the clips, you’ll get a really cool sneak peek at the nuts and bolts of filmmaking.
Problem is, the download links on the website stopped working when the contest ended. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still get your hands on the footage. Everything was distributed via Bittorrent, and as all good techies know, torrents never truly die—they just become harder to find. So if you have dreams of one day becoming a film editor and you can download 16 gigabytes of raw footage, and you don’t mind having to deal with intermittently slow torrents and ZIP files that are hard to open on a Windows PC (Macs are apparently fine), have at it. Or, if you’d rather see what other people have come up with, take a look at the Tracey Fragments site or wait until the Canadian DVD comes out sometime this year.