Film

One Hour Photo (2002)

Cynthia Fuchs

Neatly, ominously, the film composes a bleak vision of Sy's consumption of and by his culture.


One Hour Photo

Director: Mark Romanek
Cast: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole, Eriq La Salle
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Fox Searchlight
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-08-23

"These snapshots are their little stands against the flow of time." Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) knows something of what he speaks. For some 20 years, he's been working the Phototek counter down at the SavMart, meticulously calibrating the processor so all the colors on all customers' pictures turn out just right. Day after day, hour after hour, he turns bits of film into memories, to be gazed on, framed, kept.

But even as Sy seems to admire people who take these "little stands," he also despises them. Partly, his confusion stems from his own sense of lack, visible in his every shot in Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo. Sy lives a life devoid of hues, his pale orange hair just a shade darker than his sallow skin, his polyester shirts and dreary sans-a-belt slacks blending into his white-off-white apartment. He's a timid, lonely guy, and his situation is about to become even more dismal. You know this much because the first scene in One Hour Photo puts Sy at the cop station, being photographed and questioned by Detective Van der Zee (Eriq La Salle, whose character is named for the Harlem Renaissance photographer). The rest of the film flashes back to show just how Sy gets to this dire point.

Sy's journey begins at the photo counter, that is, with his fretful need for unambiguous order. His fascination with images has more to do with their constructedness than what they might reveal. As he says, people don't take pictures of tragedy, of "something they want to forget"; they take pictures of "the happy moments of [their] lives." Sy doesn't take many pictures of his own.

He does, however, take them from others. Not only does he poke through flea market bins in search of snapshots he can pass off as his own relatives, he also takes pictures from work. Specifically, he takes them from the Yorkins (read: "your kin"), whose photos he's been developing every week since before 9-year-old Jake (Dylan Smith) was born. Every time Nina (Connie Nielsen, finally in a role that exercises her range) drops off a roll of film, Sy develops an extra set of prints, and takes it home for his very own. His tv room wall is covered with the Yorkins' history, images of Jake, Nina, and Will (Alias's Michael Vartan) at their happiest: in the pool, on the slopes, at Christmas, Halloween, and birthday parties. These photographs, pulsing with bright greens, vivid reds, sunshiny yellows, provide Sy with glimpses of what he's missing. He imagines himself inside the pictures, Uncle Sy, posing all-smiles with Jake, mom, and dad.

This sort of insinuation is surely alarming, and you can guess the stalker plot that's coming (also alarming, for what it's worth: whenever Nina and Jake step into the SavMart, he charges off down the aisles alone, so, when asked, she says only, "Oh, he's around somewhere"). But the film doesn't pound that point right off. For a while, it's so wrapped up in Sy's view that you take this view as a "correct" version of what's happening. The breaks from his perspective are not so dramatic or singular as A Beautiful Mind's big change-up, but such departures sneak up on you. So, when Sy lets himself into the Yorkins' home, dons Will's sweatshirt, grabs a beer and starts watching tv with the dog, the film gets you settled with him, and when the doorknob turns, you're suddenly feeling anxious that he's going to be found out.

Such moments are clearly manipulative, setting you alongside the odious, deviant character (though, as Sy is only wanting what he believes everyone else has, his "deviance" is premised on his dedication to a mainstream ideal). While this device isn't new, it works cleverly here, because it's not only events that signify the workings of Sy's mind, but the composition of these events -- and in many cases, non-events, as threat builds, then dissipates. This attention to composition (visual, but also audio, as Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek's score is carefully attuned to each shift of shade and frame) speaks to One Hour Photo's keen thematic interests. It is, after all, a movie about compositions, the deliberate structuring of environments and relationships: families, communities, and individual psyches.

That Sy pursues his own projections and compositions so doggedly makes him an evident threat (and he finds himself investigated by a police department division called "Threat Management," not so unlike Sy, concerned with preserving order). Just what he threatens may be less manifest. He wants the family to stay together, to protect the child; and a little scene where he walks him partway home following a soccer game (which his parents do not attend) is unnerving in all sorts of ways, not least Sy's friendly hand on the boy's shoulder.

Though he's fanatical about keeping the Yorkins together, he's also easily distracted. When Sy discovers that the Yorkins are not so faultless as he expects them to be, based on their idyllic vacation and party photos, he's peeved and, uh-oh, decides to take action. Here, the plotting gets increasingly awkward: you see a snippet of a fight between Will and Nina (in typically gendered terms: she accuses him of "neglect"; he calls out her material grasping, her desire for a life that looks like "pictures in a magazine," including outfits by Dolce & Gabbana and Jil Sander; little boy listens from his bedroom). While it seems to come out of nowhere, it also suggests that maybe you've been taking Sy's view a little too seriously to this point.

A convenient collision of occurrences sends Sy into a panic. Just as he discovers infidelity in "his" wholesome family (and his sense of ownership, or entitlement, allows him to feel responsible), his boss, Bill (Gary Cole), learns that Sy has been making extra photos for nine years and fires him. The careful order Sy's worked so rigorously to maintain slips away. And his decision to restore it is as psychotic as you might expect, his "why-I'm-so-screwed-up" explanation to Van der Zee as formally tidy as the shrink's summation in Psycho.

But aside from these plot contrivances, and aside from Williams' continuing campaign to remake himself as the Anti-Patch-Adams (clearly, not a bad ambition), One Hour Photo deftly conveys a certain, and significant, creepiness. And it's not just standard stalker-cam or plinky piano creepiness. It's more insidious, premised on Sy's longing -- okay, his rage -- for order, modeled on photos from catalogues and magazines, and more directly, on the happy family images that photo counters use to promote their services, images that ask, "Don't you want these memories to be yours?" (And worse, "If they're not yours, what's wrong with you?")

All these issues come at you in a kind of dense-pack form. And that makes sense. Before coming to film, Romanek worked for years directing some extraordinary music videos (including Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," Madonna's "Bedtime Story," Macy Gray's "I Try," Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" etc.). It's quite apparent that he and his crew -- DP Jeff Cronenweth, Production Designer Tom Foden, and Costume Designer Arianne Phillips -- have worked together in the past, as they've devised an assortment of cues at once abstract, visceral, and unmistakable. Neatly, ominously, the film composes a bleak vision of Sy's consumption of and by his culture.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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