A tortured artist makes for a tortured audience in Jennifer DeLia’s psychological drama Billy Bates. The film explores the world of the titular character “Billy Bates” (James Wirt) and his destructive ways of creating artwork. Dealing with parental issues and inner demons, 33-year-old Billy finds that his only creative outlet is through art.
Through interviews and documentary-like footage, Billy delves into his psyche as he reflects on his past at the opening of his art gallery. The audience learns about his deep, dark past and present to piece together what made him a successful contemporary artist. He recalls memories of an insane asylum, underground parties, his love life (including cringe-worthy scenes of sex and masturbation), and all the different layers/dimensions of his hyperactive mind. Brooding artist Billy meets his match, beautiful singer “Kaia,” (Savannah Welch) at a “Do-Drop-In” and invites her back to his art studio apartment where they hit it off immediately. As the film progresses, however, Billy’s anguish deepens (along with the viewer) so much that it pushes Kaia to the edge.
Wirt gives a convincing performance as Billy (who endures freak outs, meltdowns, and outbursts) as does actress (and the film’s composer) Savannah Welch – a successful singer/songwriter for “The Trishas.” But like many female characters in film, Kaia is simply there to “fix” Billy and connect with him in mysterious ways. Neither character is interesting enough to make you care.
Although the story about self-loathing is mediocre, it’s visually interesting with the production team having built Billy Bates’ studio mural on a 360-degree set. His studio apartment, filled with splashes of color and strung lights, gives the audience something to focus on as the narrative drags. The cinematography and camerawork (albeit shaky) are prominent and somewhat artistic, from the establishing shots of Billy on a rooftop surrounded by gloomy skies to the easing in on his apartment through a fish eye lens. Visually, the film is impressive, but the psychological troubles of a struggling artist are mindless, uninteresting, and difficult to watch. DeLia unfortunately chooses style over substance, neither of which is particularly fascinating.
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (12/15/14)
Top Photo and Bottom Photo: James Wirt as struggling artist “Billy Bates
Photo Cred: Poverty Row Entertainment
Q: Does Billy Bates pass the Bechdel Test?