Slamdance 2013 Review: DIAMOND ON VINYL Strikes A Provocative Groove

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation and Brian de Palma's Blow Out are two films in the American cinematic canon that present to their audiences worlds of conspiracy and voyeurism through the provocative role of the audiophile. No less important or enticing, these films are, however, now decades old, taking place well before the digital revolution and our new state of DIY. So what happens when digital brings a new found intimacy to the voyeuristic landscape? J.R. Hughto's second feature Diamond on Vinyl proves to be a most suitable, and thought-provoking playback of these themes, a SoCal-set Noir that effortlessly weaves genre into a naturalistic story of a man who is just trying to gain some semblance of a normal life.

The premise goes down like this: When Beth (Nina Mullin) discovers that her fiancee Henry (Brian McGuire) recorded an intimate moment between them, she asks for some space, leaving him dumbstruck at the hotel they just celebrated their engagement at. Beth's chance meeting with a young photographer named Charlie (Sonja Kinski) results in the girl striking up a friendship with the lonely Henry.   

As Henry, McGuire is at times the P.I., the provocateur, the villain and the victim. Kinski, in turn, is the femme fatale; electric and alluring as she is gentle. Others can confide in her easily and yet how can she reveal herself to them? The level of sympathy we begin to carry for both of them goes far deeper than the archetype swapping that initially occurs. Furthermore, Millin as Beth brings a certain fractured humanity to the proceedings, acting as a touchstone of sorts for both Henry and Charlie as they push and pull away from each other -- as well as Beth.

Feeling much like the fourth character is Henry's hand-held audio recorder. Unlike the more cumbersome equipment found in The Conversation, Henry's device is small and mobile enough to feel like a direct extension of the man, acting as well as some sort of otherworldly being; calling, beckoning to him to explore. Henry's recordings of what he deems to be 'normal people' combined with his fascination for a set of old records that feature simple, domestic interactions (which were used as a sort of low-rent home security system back in the day) are his tools in constructing a world that he can understand and live in without anxiety. By playing back these recordings he finds the confidence then to rehearse a conversation before he has it. For Charlie, role playing is a game as much as it is a way of life; as a way to survive. The scenes where Henry and Charlie "rehearse" are some of the film's most riveting with both actors playing off of each other's vulnerabilities to often startling effect. In this world, the roles of provocateur and voyeur, subject and victim dissolve into the murkiest of waters. All that remains is the conspiracy of the self... and of the other.

Hughto and cinematographer Ki Jin Kim invert the high-contrast shadows so latent in the DNA of the genre with the intense white blow-out of the SoCal sun. As is so often said: "I am blind in the dark." Perhaps in Diamond On Vinyl the analogous is then: "I am blinded by the light". Ugo Derouard's rich sound design acts as a brooding, atmospheric counterpoint to this visual lattice work, etching the abstract inner monologues of these characters as they construct and deconstruct their identities almost in the blink of an eye.

If anything, Diamond On Vinyl provokes in its premise, but as with any good noir, this is just scratching the surface. At its core Hughto's film challenges and uproots the perceptions and roles deemed fit for society, giving us an intimate, ultimately empathetic, but no less easy to handle character study. Buoyed by McGuire and Kinski's superb performances, Diamond On Vinyl is surely a highlight of this year's Slamdance.          
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