The StRand: Venice
James Morrison has the role of Ian, a Venice Beach cop.
The Strand is an independent series relying on mainly unknown faces to weave a series of stories about the inhabitants of Venice Beach CA. The six episodes flow into one another unlike the traditional series we’re used to seeing on television. The first episode was close to 45 minutes while others are in the 16-20 minute range which is jarring to those used to the timed network shows that are plotted to the clock. The storylines weave over around and through each other contrasting the different lives, but at the same time highlighting the similarities between these strangers and friends who live in the same town, are in each others lives, but not necessarily a part of them.
The filmmakers used a minimalist approach to production that has both pros and cons. Using a small production crew, minimal lighting, and a collection of largely unknown faces working with improvisational techniques, the feel of the series is more documentary or home video than a scripted series and lends both an in your face attitude and a voyeuristic feel to the series. At times the characters are right in your face, while at other times, you feel almost like a fly on the wall watching something unfold. The pacing ranges from almost frenetic to slow and lingering at times. The images are sometimes crystal clear while at other times are slightly grainy, which is partially explained in the filmmaker’s journals, one of the producers roamed the neighborhood with a handheld camera trying to catch as much real life as possible and they used it in the finished film.
The technique works to great advantage, only falling short with the occasional dropped dialogue, which was missed by the microphone. While annoying, it makes it feel very real, like you are in the middle of the conversation and missed it because you turned your head, the moment passes and you never do remember to go back and ask what that word was.
Venice itself provides a backdrop of endless summer sunshine, a collection of kitschy and old fashioned beach stands selling everything from shoes and sunglasses to the barkers doing magic tricks in wheeled carts. Like any colorful community, it becomes a silent character in the background providing a feel and energy that you won’t find in any other place. It also has a timeless feel, almost as if while the rest of the world passes in its moca latte fueled buzz, the same vendors will be working the same stretch of boardwalk for the next hundred years. As much as things change, here, they’re in a bubble protected from the outside world.
The human characters, and they are all characters, are varied. The haves and have not’s mingle and wind their way through each others lives. Desperation and contentment battle each other on the streets and on the home front.
The familiar faces include Katherine Helmond playing an aging movie star who no one remembers other than a young Columbian man searching for a mother he hasn’t seen in 10 years. She lives in a twilight zone between reality and the fantasy world where nothing’s changed since her husband passed. James Morrison is a beach cop trying to deal with his grief over losing his wife 5 months earlier and his daughter who’s having an equally hard time.
The less familiar faces round out a cast that includes a group of skateboarding kids drifting through their time in Venice, stealing mini-bikes and purses for sport and breaking into abandoned properties to smoke weed. A woman in a lifeless marriage who walks out on her husband opening the door into the world that is right on her doorstep, but she’s only ever seen through the viewfinder of her camera.
As a viewer, I was definitely left wanting to see more. I wanted to see if Helmond’s widow ends up in a retirement home, if Morrison’s cop comes to grips with his wife’s death or flounders on and loses his daughter. Does the wife go home? When does the beach party end? If we go back in 10 years will the punks stealing mini-bikes for kicks still be living 10 to a house boarding daily and smoking weed? The Strand lets you feel that if you wandered through the neighborhood, you’d find the characters living their lives.
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