'MOOP' ('Matter Out of Place'): Film Review

MOOP Still 2 - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Arin Crumley
A dumpster fire at Burning Man.

Arin Crumley's much-delayed follow-up to 2005's 'Four Eyed Monsters' goes with the flow at Burning Man.

An innocent bystander to Arin Crumley's MOOP might describe the quasi-love story, filmed at Burning Man with non-professional actors who seem to make things up as they go, as an "experimental film." But judging from reporting on the project's decade-plus history, in which a 2008 shoot was followed by years of reshoots and conflicts over permission to film, it may be only as "experimental" as a dinner made by freegans from what they found in an already picked-over dumpster: At some point, these ingredients were supposed to be food; now, you'll be brave to make it to the end of the meal. Fans of Four Eyed Monsters, the 2005 Slamdance film that Crumley made with Susan Buice, may be inspired to track this train wreck down online; likewise for those so enthusiastic about the annual pyrotechnic event they'll leave their artistic judgment at the door. Few will find the effort worthwhile.

Crumley's Monsters collaborator Buice is one of a handful of people who, according to confusing opening titles, play themselves in a "reenactment" of the week in which the film's presumed protagonist Tarynn O will meet her boyfriend Tristyn. But it takes most of the film's running time to deduce that the shaggy idealist Tarynn hooks up with here is actually named Roger (Roger Ingraham); Tristyn, it seems, is the cardboard cutout Tarynn made to represent her idealized fantasy boyfriend.

That cardboard, voiceless man is just about as fully realized a character as Tarynn, Buice's unnamed character, or the boyfriend Buice has brought to the desert. Roger, who gets much of the film's attention, is a more recognizable type: Good looking in a young-Beck kind of way, he talks to himself a lot, intensely saying things like "stay committed to purity and the path of celibacy." He's a virgin who flinches at physical contact, which makes him an oddball amid Burning Man hedonism, and he only engages with Tarynn when a mime (of course there's a mime here) steals his hat and places it on her.

(About that hedonistic scene: Crumley films a great many topless women, and digitally places tiny sparklers over their nipples as if to give them pasties. He also blurs or otherwise obscures their faces, thus giving himself permission to use their images, and those of male revelers, without consent.)

Given the utter incoherence of the main characters' comings and goings, the pic's main point of interest is its documentation of Burning Man's many oversized art projects. MOOP gets a lot of free production value from these giant structures. But viewers curious about what goes on every summer in Black Rock City can find documentaries that show more, provide much more context, and are unencumbered by this project's flailing, half-hearted narrative. Crumley has described the process of making MOOP (originally called Matter Out of Place) as one in which Burning Man's lawyers, creative disputes and physical hurdles kept him from producing something that satisfied his collaborators. But based on the evidence onscreen here, there's no reason to believe this shoot-from-the-hip production would have yielded anything worth watching, even under ideal circumstances.

Production company: Kjax
Distributor: Arena Cinelounge
Cast: Susan Buice, Josh Steinbauer, Tarynn O , Roger Ingraham
Director-screenwriter-director of photography-editor: Arin Crumley
Producers: Arin Crumley, Christie Strong, Isis Masoud
Executive producers: Karl Jacob
Costume designer: Jennifer Fein

69 minutes