Nathan Silver’s Stinking Heaven (2015)

March 16, 2016 | By


Before I post a trio of giallo reviews, here’s a review of the provocatively titled Stinking Heaven (2015), Nathan Silver’s improvised drama / pitch black comedy about a suburban commune’s slow disintegration when a newcomer is admitted into their homestead.

I fully admit what grabbed my attention was the title, followed by the film’s highly unusual look: Silver and cinematographer Adam Ginsberg chose to film their drama using a vintage Ikegami tube video camera.

I’m a big supporter of using vintage gear in film and music where it suits the subject matter, and when the artist(s) are able to extrapolate a distinct aesthetic that goes against the grain of familiar crisp digital images and sounds.

Vinyl fans can attest to the warmness of analogue platters, needles, and tube amps, and there’s a similar correlation between the pastel colours of tube cameras (especially Saticon tubes) and a warmth that radiates from the resulting images… at least when there’s no hot spots that blow out details on reflective surfaces, including human faces.

Stinking Heaven is available to rent / buy (via Vimeo and iTunes) in digital format, and as a limited VHS tape release, but it’s worth catching on the big screen as there’s something pleasing in being among several paying voyeurs in a dark room, observing the disintegration of really terrible people on a big screen.

That’s the nomenclature used by Deragh Campbell, the film’s co-star who participated in a post-screening Q&A at MDFF’s Monday March 14th screening at the Royal Cinema, and many of the production details in the review I’ve referenced from that exchange.

I asked if it was challenging to perform under the extra lights needed to capture strong colours and details with the film’s camera, and apparently much of the lighting was practical – the bigger issue was a mass of cables to avoid, and the fact cinematographer Ginsberg was so close to the camera filming in the standard 1.33:1 ratio that he wasn’t able to catch peripheral action during the improvised filming.

That’s not a negative, because like a documentary cameraman, you have to be quick to hone in on central action, work the camera with accuracy and react instantly to new information, and have the imagination to get coverage that will work during the final edit. With one camera trained on the actors for lengthy takes, there’s both a documentary element added to the film’s aesthetic, as well as the freedom to let the lens glide across faces and actions, rack focusing in and out.

Certainly within the analogue realm, loosening the focus creates soft, pleasing colour halos and blobs which have their own distinct beauty. These observations are admittedly more typical of what I tend to write about at Big Head Amusements in terms of vintage cameras, analogue gear, and my own tube-based documentary, BSV 1172, but I think they contextualize the film’s aesthetics.

(Those curious of what the aforementioned ‘hot spots’ in exterior shots look like can see examples in garden footage I shot using a smaller JVC ENG tube camera. The soft pastel colours on faces can also be seen in a related camera test that’s similarly archived on my Vimeo channel.)

Coming very shortly is a trio of giallo reviews.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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