“Showboy” is a “faction” in the vernacular of its filmmakers – producer Jason Buchtel, co-director Lindy Heymann and co-director and star Christian Taylor – which means, curiously enough, that they deliberately blended fact and fiction in the making of the film. It’s perhaps the first project of its kind… and in its inventive concepts it proves fascinating, particularly if you research the filmmaking prior to watching the movie (and this review qualifies). And yet like all pioneering attempts at art, “Showboy” proves to be, in its experimental floundering, almost entirely entertainment-deficient in hindsight.
The “plot” follows Christian Taylor, a writer on HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” through the eyes of a British television crew interested in documenting his career. In the first few scenes, however, he is abruptly fired by SFU Executive Producer Alan Ball. Rather than admit failure, he shuffles off to Las Vegas, telling the TV crew that he’s researching a new script about life as a Vegas showboy. The real truth is that Taylor isn’t researching the story… he’s attempting to live it, fulfilling a life-long dream of dancing on the stage. We follow his erratic progress from strip-mall dancing to casino mock-acting as he attempts to forge a career out of barely mediocre talent, bumping into celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and Siegfried & Roy along the path.
The real truth… that’s an interesting phrase to use when discussing “Showboy.” The real truth is that Taylor WAS a writer on SFU, but was not fired by Alan Ball on screen – that’s a mock-up. Oops… except he WAS fired a year later (he’s currently a writer on the new ABC drama “Lost” from JJ Abrams). And he really didn’t pursue the career of a Vegas Showboy. Oops… except he DID audition for acting parts, telling agents and directors that the film crew was following him around to document the attempt of a writer to become a performer.
In fact, every person in the film plays themselves, half in the joke and half out of it. To that end, this is perhaps the first DVD in history that requires listening to the commentary to fully appreciate the film – Buchtel, Heymann and Taylor walk you through which parts are real and which are (partly) staged. The concept is dramatically different, and you realize without fail as you follow the piece through to its conclusion that you’re experiencing a fascinating new type of filmmaking.
Regretfully, it’s only the filmmaking that’s fascinating. Taylor might be a capable writer, but he’s a droll personality who in this film walks through the motions of dance classes and auditions with all the magnetism of mashed potatoes. And while it’s clear this is a staged reality, it’s not clear that it’s performed tongue-in-cheek; Taylor is not only lifeless in his performance, he’s also wretched in his lack of self. His affectations could be forgiven if they were acted - it’s too easy to believe that the Taylor we see on film is the real one, using this film project to manipulate his co-stars and audiences for abject, ridiculous purposes. Even if this were not the case, it remains the responsibility of the filmmakers to either provide a captivating subject… or proof, however surreptitious or anecdotal, that we are not merely watching a masturbatory exercise in fact.
Therein lay the cause of my increasing detachment as I watched “Showboy,” and the dangers inherent in ambiguous mockery: without clarity of intent, there can be no assemblage of purpose. And without purpose, filmmakers are left exploiting the medium (and its audience, and their wallets) in a vain quest to reach questionable – and apparently private – goals. Personally, I don’t see the point in financing films that allow filmmakers to explore their lack of talent, wrapping their creative superficialities in the fog of equivocal make-believe so that we might not think badly of their floundering. “Showboy” is the artistic equivalent of an neophyte painter standing atop a ladder and throwing colors haphazardly onto a canvas, and then hanging his art next to Jackson Pollock’s at the Institute of Contemporary Art: working in a medium of genius does not automatically make you one.