Ben Popik, Chioke Nassor, Joel Clark, Adam Conover, David Segal and Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Chioke Nassor, Joel Clark, Adam Conover, David Segal and Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Winner of the Audience Award at Dances With Films, Best Documentary at LA New Wave and Best Director at LA New Wave, The Exquisite Corpse Project takes everything you think you know about cinema, comedy, friendship, filmmaking and creative expression and somehow turns it into a film that is simultaneously a comedy, a documentary, a heist flick, a psycho-sexual thriller, a buddy flick, an experimental flick, occasionally a bad flick and always a captivating flick that you just find yourself gawking at thinking "I have no idea how this works, but it works."
From 2002-2009, the web-based comedy group Olde English was at the top of its game. They had 25,000 daily unique visitors to their website, a wildly popular live show at the UCB Theatre in New York City and a financially successful gig producing comedy videos for Turner.
But, the business of comedy can destroy even the heartiest creative spirit, and by 2009 the creative juices weren't flowing as smoothly as Olde English struggled under the weight of trying to move from a web-based comedy sensation to television. Finally, the group disbanded.
Ben Popik, with the help of writers Joel Clark and Chioke Nassor, reunited the group in 2009 for one final project - The Exquisite Corpse Project, a project that challenged the five assembled writers to each write fifteen pages of a movie having only seen the previous author's final five pages of their section. The five writers agreed to the project on one condition - if they wrote the movie, Popik had to agree to make the film. Period.
The resulting film The Exquisite Corpse Project is one of the more successful examples of an experimental film project that you could ever find with elements that seem wildly disparate in tone and intention somehow weaving together to create a documentary that is both laugh out loud funny and a surprisingly insightful journey into the creative process, friendship and quite a bit more.
As The Exquisite Corpse Project gets started, it's hard not to think about Best Worst Movie, a rather delightful doc from a couple years back that somehow managed to weave together one of the worst films ever made, Troll 2, into an enlightening and entertaining documentary that experienced quite a bit of success on the festival circuit. This film is far funnier than that film, but it's sensibility is much the same as it takes an uneven and erratic cinematic collaboration and takes the process that created it and the characters who constructed it and turns it all into a documentary that simultaneously makes you adore the characters and, perhaps, more than a little grateful that they decided to go their own separate ways.
As absurd as the concept may sound, The Exquisite Corpse Project is actually a remarkably cohesive project that puts on full display the best and the worst that Olde English has to offer. We see the fractures in the group's chemistry, the personality conflicts, the creative differences, the one-upsmanship, the "fuck you" moments and the occasional bouts of pettiness that can cause any creative collaboration to erupt. Yet, we also see a strong camaraderie, a seemingly nature sense of comic chemistry, a loyal and an appreciation for one another along with, especially evident in the final product, a comedy collective with a pretty amazing chemistry and a creative cohesion that has resulted from their years of collaboration.
For a lower budgeted indie production, the camera work in the film is quite solid with the exception of one admittedly intentional "fuck you" scene in the finished film project. Likewise, the film has both a natural doc feeling that illustrates a lot of the obstacles facing independent filmmakers while, for the most part, successfully overcoming them.
Having experienced early fest success, The Exquisite Corpse Project is in the midst of submitting to additional festivals and hoping for an extensive run in fall 2012. For more information on the film, visit the film's website listed in the credits to the left of this review.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic