Hiding the Quarter Note | The Local
Jazz music combines syncopated rhythm and improvisation, deliberate distortion and the undoing of a well-known melody. Sometimes hard to follow, it’s always unique and different to each listener. If jazz were a movie it might alternate between a breakneck pace and gentle lulls, an abstracted story line, and a cast of characters with an intense emotional pitch. It might look something like “The Local,” a film that depicts the seedy underworld of the Brooklyn drug trade.
The movie tells the story of Noname, a drug mule who barely survives the everyday trials of his desolate existence. When he is offered a large payout to rescue Claire, a heroin addict held by the militant gang that Noname works for, he believes he has found a path to salvation. The film’s tagline, “You can change your lot in life” suggests that the heart of the story lies in this transcendent message. But the story is much more elusive than that. While it incorporates some of the familiar elements of its genre—drugs, violence, sex, redemption—the film is a tune unique unto itself.
Before making films, Dan Eberle came to New York City ten years ago as a jazz musician. After playing the jazz guitar professionally for a time, he switched gears and began writing manuscripts, turning the third one into “The Local.” On making the transition from a musician to a film maker, Eberle asserts that “the compositional skills that you acquire as a musician and particularly an improvising musician are absolutely transferable.” He established his film making chops in 2006, winning the Best Feature Award for his film “JailCity” at the Avignon/New York City Film Festival. But “The Local” is the first film (he also made Vicissitude in 2005) that has brought him a distribution deal. Eberle attributes this to the fact that it’s the closest thing he’s done to a genre film.
The film captures its fair share of drug deals and fight scenes, some of which reach a gruesome crescendo. Yet there is an artfulness throughout that provides respite from Noname’s hellish journey. Filmed in New York City, Brooklyn’s Flatbush, Red Hook and Williamsburg provide bold imagery and the dull but comforting sound of the subway train. In addition to a moving soundtrack, ambient sound and a barely perceptible gong score absorb the visual blows. The film’s intensity is heightened but also counterbalanced by the space that fills the dialogue. At times silence allows tension to mount. At other points, it gives the viewer space to catch up with the onscreen emotional intensity.
Female characters in “The Local” provide both a stillness and vulnerability that contrast with the ferocity of often-crazed men. Throughout the film, Claire is seen lying naked on the couch. The only emblem of her former life is a pair of red Jimmy Choo high heels. When a baby girl winds up at the drug lair, an instinct arises in Claire and she displays some signs of her own will. The third female character is Anne Thompson, an elderly woman who gets a delivery from Noname. Although brief, her scenes are powerful. While she’s new to the big screen, she’s no novice to performing. Her role is played by Janet Panetta, a veteran of American Ballet Theatre and founder of the Panetta Movement Center in Manhattan. While casting the role of Anne, Eberle was looking for someone, “who was a really distinguished older lady but would still be really sexy and just have this kind of irrefutable wisdom and appeal.” When Noname comes to Thompsons’ apartment to drop off her weed, she is wise and provocative, flirting with the handsome delivery boy, but also offering sage advice and genuine interest. Panetta is a natural on screen, in no small measure, a product of her career as a dancer. She declares, “I was known as a dramatic dancer. I was trained to never add any external flourish to a movement or a character, to always find an innate truth in the role. The job is to bring that out of the role, not superimpose anything on it. It’s about authenticity, and that is the same in good acting.”
Eberle jokes that as a jazz musician he was more of a “dictator,” but making films requires “more collaboration than anything I’ve ever done.” Drawing from the local talent pool, the entire and crew are from New York City with the exception of a Canadian fight director and one British actor. An important element this musician turned writer turned filmmaker brings to his work is a sense of himself as an audience member.
He claims that you don’t have to understand a film to appreciate it as long as it illustrates some type of a human experience that people can relate to in their own way. Just as a good piece of jazz is often a reinterpretation, a solid film takes a familiar scenario and hides “the quarter note as they say, so that you can almost imagine all this other stuff going on.”
By Lauren Brown
The Local came out on DVD, Netflix, and Amazon on October 20th.