Nightlife: Journey into the Abyss
I have an ambiguous relationship with the concerns of youth. For, youth is obsessed with its own subjectivity, with its emotion and its experience, which it imagines irreproducible. It would like nothing better than to make a monument of its inconsequential life - its local bars, its music, its sojourns beneath freeway overpasses. In short, youth would like nothing better than to live forever. Do I agree with this? Do I wish to spend my most fertile and potentially productive years pining after eternal life? I prefer eternal ideas.

And yet.

Last week, I condemned the cinematic vampire for pandering to precisely those destructive fantasies of youth that I have just briefly outlined. This week, I indulged in said fantasies by watching Nightlife, a documentary about vampires and young people in Austin, Texas. Moreover, I was plied with two free glasses of wine, and an energy drink. And I enjoyed it. Such is the glamorous life of an NYC film critic!

In Nightlife, Austin celebrity Avi Hartman is a ladykiller - literally. Look out, ladies...

Nightlife is mostly a documentary about our fondest memories of our hometowns. They are not memories of our families, or our provincial schools, or even that dumb girl or boy we liked. No. They are memories of our Nightlife, as it was back then: debating metaphysics in a strip mall parking lot, wandering around fields behind a housing development, traipsing through a deserted downtown with our embarrassing friends, looking for vampires. Nightlife is at its best when it forgoes cheap jokes in favor of actually documenting the incoherent dreams of our youth. There is more than enough humor in them - and drama, and mystery.

Fortunately, Nightlife also features real vampires. M. Jones, a more hard-hearted critic than I, has stated that the movie would have been better if it were about people who merely thought they were vampires. I say that is missing the point. The movie's conflict hinges on the implicit parallels it establishes between two different kinds of "unlife": those who are alienated from society for supernatural reasons, and those who are alienated from it for the most mundane reasons of all.

As we mature, we adjust our personalities to accommodate the harsh reality of existence. We toil, hoping to leave behind us a legacy greater than ourselves. Yet, our toil warps us. Behind the scientist, the family man - or the movie critic - our "true selves" are unknowable. The vampires in Nightlife, presumably immortal, are not subject to the same constraints. And so, their "true selves" blossom unchecked. Because they do not have anything to lose, their motives are pure. They are existential heroes.

What do I mean by this? Well, one of them is basically a LARP participant. Another happens to be the famous comedian and metalworker, Avi Hartman.

The vampires thus have a great deal in common with a gang of local youths who are so far gone in their pathetic lives that they, too, have nothing to lose. They are youths who understand the role playing inherent in all of existence. Who are our surrogates. And who, paradoxically, wish the vampires dead.

This kinship between hunter and hunted explains what happens when the two groups finally confront one another. The vampires, whose condition predisposes them to amoral murder, should have slaughtered the wimpy teens (or, rather, Austinites in their twenties). But they hesitate. And nothing really happens. Such are the not-so-glamorous lives of the nocturnal, liminal beings of time and memory!

Nightlife gets three out of five stars.


Posted by xerxes on Mon, 07 Apr 2008 11:39:22 -0400 -- permanent link

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