Park City — In his sophomore feature, filmmaker J.R. Hughto crafts a narrative of discomfiting obsession, where recorded audio cues and clues prove more impactful than actual conversations. While the film’s characters — featuring Klaus Kinski’s granddaughter Sonja — push up against the boundaries of transgressive behavior, Diamond on Vinyl never crosses into genre territory. That choice may prove decisive, since VOD or small-scale theatrical release appear most appropriate to the film’s intimate scale.
In the wake of accepting Henry’s (Brian McGuire) marriage proposal, his girlfriend Beth (Nina Millin) discovers while snooping on his digital recorder that he’s been recording their sexual activities, but is more upset by the revelation of his repeatedly rehearsed proposals, full of doubts about whether he actually loves her and wants to get married.
Irate and distraught, she tells Henry he can move his things out of her place and flees their celebratory hotel room, breaking down in her car, where she’s unexpectedly comforted by passerby Charlie (Sonja Kinski). Beth reveals her reservations about her boyfriend and asks Charlie to return the hotel key to his room. Intrigued, Charlie confronts Henry about his recording activities and offers to stop by the room later and enact a conversation with him, intimating her interest in roleplaying and fantasy.
A part-time model and photographer for a softcore Suicide Girls-type website, Charlie’s predilection for voyeurism isn’t yet as pronounced as Henry’s — his penchant for secretly recording the conversations of coworkers and strangers appears far riskier than Charlie’s nascent curiosity. At her suggestion, the two begin a series of recording sessions in nondescript hotel rooms, at first focused on Henry’s attempts to convince Beth to take him back — with Charlie voicing his girlfriend’s role — then gradually drifting into vaguely menacing and suggestive territory as they discuss and then enact scenarios involving sexual situations and threatening confrontations with strangers.
As Charlie’s insidious attempts at seduction become more overt, Henry’s forced to confront his commitment to Beth and his own intimacy issues, but distinguishing their relationship from his imagined world of fantasy conversations and audio recordings makes it difficult for Henry to discern where his loyalties lie.
Hughto’s tautly wound script largely dispenses with expositional backstory to lay bare the lack of trust central to Beth and Henry’s relationship. Similarly, little is made of Charlie’s odd and immediate interest in Henry’s obsession with documenting his voyeuristic activities, since as a photographer her character shares a similar perspective.
Tall and lanky, McGuire is all nervous angles, cannily portraying Henry’s restless energy and drive. Though hardly an ingénue, Kinski brings both an inquisitive guilelessness and a determined quest for control to her role. Hughto weds his filmmaking technique to the narrative’s spine, working with sound designer Ugo Derouard to create a complex and often unsettling soundscape.
Overlapping conversations, dialogue lip-synched to recorded conversations and a vaguely ominous soundtrack constantly question the reliability of the visuals onscreen, shot primarily handheld with a roving camera that pointlessly probes at the characters’ cryptic and tumultuous motivations.
Venue: Slamdance Film Festival, Beyond Showcase
Production company: Independent Movie Supply Co.
Cast: Brian McGuire, Sonja Kinski, Nina Millin, Jessica Golden, Jeff Doucette
Director/screenwriter: J.R. Hughto
Producer: J.R. Hughto
Director of photography: Ki Jin Kim
Editor: Apolonia Panagopoulos
Sales: J.R. Hughto
No rating, 94 minutes