It's not easy reviewing
a student film. On the one hand, there's this temptation to
say, "A for effort!" because they did it for love, not money,
and because I really fucking wanted people to say that to me
every time I tried super hard and fell short. Nobody ever did,
though, and so I stopped trying and took up telling other people
Even if it's a student
film, though, I'm out twenty damn bucks for two tickets (Mrs.
Filthy chose this one). Hell, I buy a lot of shit from schools
around here and usually two sawbucks go a long way. That gets
four haircuts at the cosmetology institute. Or five, if you
let the blind girl do it. I can buy forty minutes of massage
at the Golden Touch Oriental Institute for the same dough. Twenty
if I want "full release." I decline and say, "Stick around.
I'll do that part myself." My point is, if I pay full price,
I'll get my money's worth in the review.
Beetle Queen Conquers
Tokyo is a student film, directed by Jessica Oreck when
she was one year removed from film school. So, it isn't technically
a student film. Close enough, though, in technique and intent.
Oreck shot her movie on digital on a skimpy budget provided
by her parents and following her own interest in bugs. It's
not a movie you're likely to find anywhere. I saw it on a college
campus, with about eight other people. The director was in attendance
to make awkward jokes about the small turnout and answer questions
from the sort of people who see micro-artsy movies in rundown
There is no plot
and little narrative to Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo,
a documentary about how the Japanese are bug crazy. It shows
shops that sell beetles for hundreds of dollars. There are kits
for catching and keeping bugs, and video games where you can
virtually catch dragonflies. People gather in fields to photograph
and watch fireflies, while others set up floodlights at night
to attract bugs. The narration is mostly in Japanese with English
subtitles. I have no idea why since the movie is targeted for
an American audience and the woman is explaining the role of
insects, Zen, Buddhism and rock gardens in Japanese culture.
There are many lovely translated quotes, I guess, but they rarely
make a cohesive thesis. The use of Japanese and the choice are
more representative of a person's first brush with an exotic
culture than they are of a strong statement.
When people aren't
interacting with bugs, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is
made up of artsy shots of Japanese culture. There are parades,
people milling about, loads and loads of lights, blurry shots
zipping through bamboo, twisting roadways and trains full of
people. There may be an attempt to generate an analogy between
all of this activity and the life of bugs, but it isn't consistent
or cleverly done. Actually, these scenes are less interesting
than about a hundred documentaries about Japan. Here, it doesn't
rise above a sense of that giddy first encounter with a culture,
and the movie gave me a sense of Oreck's excitement in discovering
it more than a way for me to admire or marvel at it.
There are loads of
bug porn, which may be exciting to entomologists. Bug porn,
though, is also readily available on the National Geographic
Channel and documentaries narrated by Richard Attenborrough.
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo was done on a shoestring
budget with low-tech equipment and, while that's really cool
for indie rock bands and mumblecore shit, it's a serious problem
when you're trying to do macro filming of moths emerging from
chrysalids or cutter ants marching on logs. Really expensive,
high-tech, superspeed cameras and a crapload of time to wait
for just right the shot pay off. This movie has neither and
instead delivers a first-timer's mediocre attempts.
The biggest problem
with Oreck's movie is the lack of focus. One could make some
sort of shitty, poetic argument that it flits about like a bug.
That would be pretty fucking lame, though. Rather, this is formless.
Its main point is that Japan likes bugs a lot. That is not supported
well because the flick takes such a narrow perspective that
I didn't know if bugs were huge with all Japanese or just with
the people Oreck chose to follow. Hell, I could film a Star
Trek convention and tell the rest of the world the U.S.
was batshit insane for everything Kirk. It wouldn't be true,
though. Thank God.
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyohas to say could be done quickly
with a scene of a kid buying a $60 beetle. That alone tells
you they have a different attitude in Japan. Then, maybe a narrative
could follow the people who catch the bugs, why they do it,
whether it's for money or love, whether there is an underbelly,
whether there is a competitive nature among the collectors or
buyers to have the biggest and best. What's the most anyone
ever paid for a bug? Some of these are lightly touched on, but
not in a way that explains them. The scenes are more like what
Oreck could conveniently compile, not chase hard to get.
Beetle Queen Conquers
Tokyo could have been interesting, but it's not. It's long,
shapeless and feels like the student film it is. If you see
it at a festival or for free, tell Ms. Oreck, "Good job," and
pat her on the back. But don't pay ten bucks. Two fingers.
to tell Filthy Something?