“You’re just multitasking me like another device.”
— Erin to Paul
Our affectionate tribute week to the resumé of Mark L. Lester brings us to this exquisite techno-noir: the feature film debut of Jason Lester, the son of director Mark L. Lester and producer Dana Dubovsky.
Now, before you think producing their son’s film is a case of film-family nepotism: Jason is a prolific music video director in his own right (Ryan Beatty, Fall Out Boy, Jess McCartney) who earned his bones courtesy of a BFA with Honors in Film Production from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. You’ve seen lots of movies by Tisch grads — more than you realize. But in the B&S About Movies universe: Tisch blessed us with the likes of David Dobkin (Jackie Chan’s Shanghai Knights, Peter M. Lenkov’s hit underground comic book, R.I.P.D . . . but we always bow to David for giving us Clint Howard in Ice Cream Man), Matty Rich (Straight Out of Brooklyn; who infamously dropped out of the prestigious school), and Spike Lee (who graduated and wowed us with his debut, Do the Right Thing), Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers), and Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation).
As I watched High Resolution, I was once again reminded of Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962), his trilogy-statement regarding the alienation of man in the modern world; each dealt with the failure of the self and their relationships. Jason Lester’s feature film debut — as with Elisa Fuksas’s The App — is a not-for-everyone, i.e., mainstream, philosophical statement on the existential condition regarding the dangers of man’s prolonged technological exposure that leads to negative cognitive, psychosocial, and psychological effects on one’s psyche.
Unlike in the Antonioni-verse, our coming-of-age young writers, Paul (the fantastic Justin Chon of ABC-TV’s Deception) and Erin (the amazing Ellie Bamber of the BBC’s The Trail of Christine Keeler), don’t eschew physical contact in their on-and-off-again Eros-confused relationship — but they do love their drugs and their spiritually-empty exoticism fueled by an endless stream of parties attended by like-minded materialists; all narcissists who quantify their personal identities via technology. In this world, Paul Chen (a loose, semi-autobiographical Tao Lin, the author of the film’s source material) and Erin are selfish 21st century technonauts who think their personal lives are larger than the lives of others. And to that point: they decide to chronicle their new romance and create a laptop-filmed documentary. For in today’s Kardashian-driven digital epoch: one’s identity is based not on quantitative-quality accomplishments, but in one’s cybercloud virality.
High Resolution is a novel-to-screen adaptation that (in this reviewer’s opinion) was born out of Jason’s father, Mark, eschewing mainstream Hollywood after the failure of his should-have-been box office blockbuster Showdown in Little Tokyo, a 1991 actioner starring the can’t-missing-casting of Dolph Lungren and Brandon Lee. After that film’s dust-up over editorial control, Mark L. Lester began to self-finance and distribute his own movies to retain creative controls. Without the prolific, self-producing vision of Jason’s parents, this whirlwind adaptation of Taipei — the critically-acclaimed and award-winning sixth book/third novel by American novelist Tao Lin that serves as the basis for the film — would have never, ever, been greenlighted by a major studio.
Well, regardless of thread comments who name-drop the analogous novel addiction-journeys (in the case of Lin: the addiction is not only chemical, but digital) of Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero (1985), Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City (1984), and and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting (1993), Jason Lester’s novel-to-screen adapation of Tao Lin’s Taipei is highly-stylized, i.e, “arty,” courtesy of his parents’ hands-off producing approach. When you hit that big red streaming button, do not expect a Tinseltown-commercialized adaptation of Taipei that reminds of the respective 1987, 1988, and 1996 films born from those youth-disillusioned novels: High Resolution is a (very welcomed) limited-release, Miramax-styled reminder of the art house cinema ’90s. (Comment-reviews failed to mention Hurbet Selby, Jr.’s 1978 novel Requiem for a Dream turned into a same-titled Darren Aronofsky film (2000) — but that was an “arty” film distributed by mini-major Artisan Entertainment that suffered a low-box office turnout.)
Jason Lester is a filmmaker who realizes a director’s vision is only as sharp as the production team he recruits. To that end: the crack production design by April Lasky, the cinematography by Daniel Katz, and sound by the team of Robert Dehn and Caroline Anderson beautifully complements Jason Lester’s interpretative read of Tao Lin’s novel: a film not only of story (or one of “non-story,” as some commenters have stated; but those threaders are not considering the emptiness of Lester’s protagonists who act as their own antagonists and create their own faux-filled lives) but of sight, color, and sound. Lester is a writer and director who expertly understands that film, at its core, is a visual medium. It’s an art form based in “showing” and not “telling”; for film is 90% visual and 10% dialog (and the stage is the reverse). Images tell the story though props, an actor’s body language and, most importantly: that your actors are not skilled in the craft of acting—but “being.”
And High Resolution is a story of “being.” And the question we are left asking: Who do you want to be?
High Resolution currently airs as a Showtime exclusive and streams on Amazon Prime.