Dallas — When the final episode of Mad Men ended recently, longime viewers wanted to know what happened. What did the ending mean? The populace reacted the same when The Sopranos went black eight years ago. Even when that sitcom about nothing ended way back in 1998, many people were left wondering. That’s it? It’s over?
Because ambiguity is unfulfilling. We American moviegoers like our time invested to be rewarded. We’re accustomed to the three-act play (really, more often two- or one-act these days). Everything has a beginning, middle and end. That’s why another Avengers movie will gross another few billion worldwide this summer. We buy a ticket and popcorn, sit down and watch, and leave fulfilled knowing it was three hours well spent.
But, of course, that’s not for everyone. Some folks just like to watch a film about the worst stand-up comedian on the planet, who doubles down on that by being a hollow shell of a man when not on stage.
That’s what film festivals are for. And that’s exactly what The Oak Cliff Film Festival has on tap Friday night at 9 p.m. with Entertainment, a film about Neil Hamburger’s perplexing conundrum of existence. On stage, he’s a stand-up full of crude non sequiturs with plenty of rage for hecklers. Off stage, he’s crippled by insecurity to the point of only having bizarre interactions with others that border on delusion.
Gregg Turkington wrote the script for Entertainment with Tim Heidecker and Rick Alverson, bringing to the big screen a character he’s played for two decades now. Immediately after Turkington finished filming his role in Alverson’s OCFF2013 award-winning The Comedy, the two began bouncing around ideas for a movie about Hamburger’s inability to cope, especially when he’s not performing his brand of non-comedy.
Turkington fielded other offers over the years to showcase Neil Hamburger’s talents in a film. But it never seemed to be the right fit, as the producers often wanted to put Hamburger in a strange setting and just let the wackiness and hilarity ensue, à la Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat.
“For a long time, people have come to me with ideas about a movie,” Turkington said by phone earlier this week. “But I’m really glad I waited until this opportunity came along with Rick. Just from a pure artist standpoint … we enjoy the same kind of art films. I knew we could make the film we wanted to make, which we’re also fully aware is not for everyone. Of course, it’s a miracle to get anything made nowadays that’s not a commercial for Mountain Dew.”
And that’s why OCFF is a perfect place to show this film that doesn’t fit into the predictably boring constructs of so much of current cinema.
“Part of the reason I booked Neil as our first night is it feels like an entrance fee,” OCFF founder Jason Reimer says. “For those that ‘get it’ they’ll likely be fans of the theater and what we do throughout the year. For those that don’t, at least we know where we stand. There are other things they might be in to. Independent film mingles with what most people would call subversive art all the time so our supporters love it when [Hamburger] comes to town.”
Turkington and Alverson have adeptly followed up The Comedy, which had Heideceker’s lead character on a meandering journey to nowhere that didn’t have a beginning, middle and end, and left the audience asking: That’s it? It’s over?
Entertainment promises even more of the same, with a bizarre scene in a stall in a rest stop bathroom with Michael Cera that sounds either captivating or repulsing—or both. What does it mean? Who knows? And that’s the beauty of art for art’s sake.
Turkington expects an open and receptive crowd Friday for the movie and the Neil Hamburger stand-up set that follows.
“I love the Texas Theatre, and I’ve had some really good crowds in Dallas over the years,” he says. “I know a lot of people get so caught up in Austin being cool, but there is something special about these Dallas crowds.”
» Entertainment screens at 9 p.m. Friday, June 12 at the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. A performance by Neil Hamburger follows.
» This year's Oak Cliff Film Festival boasts nearly two dozen feature length programs and five blocks of short films, with an overarching theme of DIY and No-Wave aesthetics, plus an emphasis on music-related documentaries. Badges are $175, and single ticket admission for most films is $10. (More information and a complete festival schedule are available here.)
» TheaterJones is co-hosting the Filmmaker Happy Hour, 5-7 p.m. on Friday, June 12 at the Turner House in the Winnetka Heights neighbhor of Oak Cliff, at 401 N. Rosemont Ave. Come by for some cocktails, croquet, snacks and ticket giveaways.