A Walk in the Park: Rome Review

A Walk in the Park - film still
A frustrating, deliberately obscure film about a young man with a mother complex is a confused narrative and stylistic experiment

Historic indie filmmaker Amos Poe dissects the mind of a manic-depressive New Yorker.

Historic New York indie filmmaker Amos Poe, who led the No Wave cinema movement of the 1970s, remains painfully faithful to his experimental vision in A Walk in the Park, ostensibly the dissection of what ails a sort-of schizophrenic New Yorker hooked on prescription drugs, doctors and his mother. Presumably a documentary about one Brian Fass (who is credited as a cinematographer), it contains re-enacted and fantasy scenes played by actors Michael Laurence and Dorothy Frey, which put Brian’s entire personality, if not his existence, in doubt. The confusion created by this oddball entry, injected with nonstop low-tech special effects, and the tedium generated by its structure, will assure that few outside the very dedicated are likely to see it. It premiered in the Rome Film Festival’s XXI sidebar.

Styling itself as “a psychedelic journey back to the womb” and dubbed by its protagonist Brian “a rebirth,” the film can only be defined this way by a stretch of the imagination. True, uptown Brian is a mess and he does seem to get better at one point, going for the titular walk in Central Park and then, abruptly, climbing a mountain. But the film seems more like back to the creative womb for its downtown filmmaker: an affectionate salute to the spirit of the old East Village in its heyday, when Patti Smith (who sings White Rabbit twice) ruled and when quoting Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allan Poe, Hitchcock and Samuel Fuller was tres cool.

The problem for most viewers will be getting interested in Brian. He narrates his life with his face blacked out for privacy, and he may be manic-depressive, but he is certainly a bore. More info pours in from interviews with his peppy roommate Adam and his chatty doctor, who was also the physician of his late mother Alice Fass. The clinical picture that emerges is not pretty: an over-nurturing mother who cripples Brian emotionally (it’s all her fault, of course); repressed resentment; absurd quantities of medication.  

Is it documentary or mockumentary? In his childhood photos and home movies, Brian, his younger brother Lyle and their parents all look perfectly normal and happy. It’s only Brian the narrator who tells us Mom loved him and hated Lyle. This is confirmed by his pill-pushing doctor who adds some corroborating if highly improbable details, such as the fact that Alice disinherited Lyle and left her whole nest egg of $1.3 million to her favorite son Brian, thus allowing him to live as a couch potato for the rest of his life in a spectacular apartment overlooking Central Park.  

Of course, there’s a recording of teenage Lyle shouting that he wants to kill his mother, who disapproves of his smoking pot. Where did this recording come from, anyway?  Even more suspicious is the existence of Brian’s angelic roommate Adam Davids (credited as an executive producer), who cheerfully spends years trying to coax Brian out of the doldrums because he’s “a roommate and a friend.” Or maybe Brian and Adam are real film-world acquaintances of Poe's.

In the end, the film’s main problem isn’t its deliberate obscurity but its grating insistence that one be interested in a droning, depressed man.  Making it more of an uphill slog are the visuals, constantly cluttered with outdated special effects including multiple screen images, overlapping soundtracks, typewritten words spelling themselves out on screen, and so on, not to mention old movie footage of the most obvious sort (Psycho, Shock Corridor.)  In short, a downer.


Venue: Rome Film Festival (XXI section), Nov. 10, 2012

Production companies: New Oz Productions, Lunchbox Pictures

Cast: Michael Laurence, Dorothy Frey
Director: Amos Poe
Screenwriter: Amos Poe
Producer: Nicole Nelch
Executive producer: Victor Syrmis, Adam Davids
Directors of photography: Brian Fass, Christophe Kerebel, Anthony Jacobs, Patrik Andersson
Production designer: Loretta Mugnai
Costumes: Loretta Mugnai
Music: Hayley Moss
Editor: Jett Strauss
No rating, 96 minutes.