Writer/ director, Morgan Hamilton-Lee could be one of the most transgressive filmmakers working today. No other filmmaker has intentionally rejected the idea of long held filmmaking morĕs like Morgan Hamilton-Lee has over his career. That is why I was so interested in watching the latest adaptation of the Falling Apart / Moving Forward short story. Falling Apart (The Web Series) is a change in Hamilton-Lee's auteur aesthetic and might leave his devoted fan base a bit confused of what to make of it. This also goes for newer fans of Hamilton-Lee's work who aren't as familiar with his experimental nature. In order to properly review the series, one must be given context to Hamilton-Lee's intellectual motives that has give his work its trademark flare.
The Web Series Origin
Falling Apart (The Web Series) is the third adaptation of a short story by his sister, Cecelia Hamilton-Lee. A simple story about a family with secrets involving the death of their mother from cancer. There is also a plot line that involves revenge and mistaken identity that is too convoluted to properly explain in this review, but I digress. This short story was first adapted by Morgan Hamilton-Lee in 2013 as a 40ish minute short film that premiered in Santa Rosa, California's 3rd Street cinema, titled Moving Forward. The trailer is a very accurate representation of the bizarre film which I could only describe as being the most experimental film I had seen at that time. No other filmmaker came close to the style and story structure that expressed such a punk rock attitude toward filmmaking conventions as Hamilton-Lee. What sprouted from that film was the work of an auteur in the making. Even if a misunderstood one. Many critics of the film lambasted it for its low quality and glaring continuity problems, which include costume changes mid scene, hair changes mid dialogue, and even missing actors in scenes themselves. The problem with these early assessments is they ignore the controlled subversive tactics used by Hamilton-Lee to create the shock and bewilderment in his audience. The decisions made in Moving Forward were not done through careless ignorance but a deliberate ballet of extremist subversion.
In Hamilton-Lee's second adaptation of the story, re-titled Falling Apart, he expanded the run time to feature length. The same story, same characters, same location, and even most scenes were shot for shot the same. The real difference came in what can only be called Hamilton-Lee-ian subversion unleashed. After the many many criticisms against his radical new vision of cinema in Moving Forward, Hamilton-Lee decided to double down in his experimentation. Falling Apart's rebellion of any filmic expectations astounded me to the core on first viewing to the point that it stuck with me for days. His radical approach innovated a different experience to moviegoers. The intricacies of Falling Apart’s many plot lines is so intense and complex that it pushes the audience to its limits of understanding. The overstimulating nature can come across as convoluted and messy but that is Hamilton-Lee's exact intent.
Hamilton-Lee-ian Subversion™ Movement
The climax of Falling Apart is enough to be praised by any cinephile as pure genius in subversive cinema. The film’s subplot that we're lead to believe will end in a vengeful murder is cut out of the film entirely. The film has no ending but just more loose ends and last minute twists that creates such a strong sense of loss and hopelessness that stays long after the film's ending credits. Even in Moving Forward the film has an attack on the family by the mild tempered villain(T-Rod) at the end. However, even in Falling Apart, that scene of the attack is only shown through audio over a title card saying "One Month Later". In Falling Apart, the role of T-Rod is ramped up to comic book villain status to build the sense of danger, only to be completely subverted with a non ending. The audience is left to reflect on the time spent watching this film and realize that they gained nothing but despair for their own expectation of resolution or consistent logic.
Much like the works of Lars Von Trier and Jean Luc-Godard, Hamilton-Lee strives to subvert almost every film convention to the point that it could be classified as self sabotage. Similar to the erotic sabotage films of Godard during the late 60’s. See Contempt and Weekend as examples. He creates a new movement of its own. Hamilton-Lee-ian subversion™ cinema. Similar to Lars Von Trier’s film The Five Obstructions, where Von Trier instructed the experimental filmmaker Jørgen Leth to recreate his famous short film The Perfect Human five separate times with different obstructions in each new version. An experiment that Hamilton-Lee has taken to its extreme with these three remakes in the span of five years. This movement has taken off and bridges quality divide between amatuer filmmakers on youtuber and the Hollywood industry. Morgan Hamilton-Lee's vision for a revolution in film made him a pioneer of his craft. Hamilton-Lee has even been recognized for his contributions to the arts by being voted "Best Indy Filmmaker in Sonoma County" by the North Bay Bohemian.
Review of Falling Apart (The Web Series)
The first episode is a stroke of brilliance since most of Hamilton-Lee's trademarks aren't there in the first episode at all. Characters have lives in the story, the house seems lived in and visually interesting, audio is consistent, the scenes are lit, and the plot is understandable. For a Hamilton-Lee-ian fan like myself, I was disappointed by this rejection of his trademark style. How could an auteur like Morgan Hamilton-Lee play into these standard filming practices? How could he betray his fans? What may have been a hindrance for Hamilton-Lee to create a third attempt of Falling Apart and expand his style is the audience expectation for his stylistic subversion. We expect characters wandering their home with no lives. We expect characters to change hairstyles and clothes in between shots. We expect for a nearly incomprehensible plot. We expect for all of this and that is why Hamilton-Lee did not deliver it. Pure genius!
In this first episode we're viewing a standard family drama. Just like most shows and films of its kind, it is a tad dull at times but mysterious enough to keep watching to know what the hell is supposed to be the point of interest. On its surface, the recurring plotlines of the mother dying of cancer and mistaken identity has intentionally always been secondary to showcasing the subversive techniques. However, the pilot episode is presented as the most mainstream version of the story. Done with more standard filmmaking, the story in its own is not interesting on its own but leaves room for Hamiliton-Lee to slowly build up to another one of his master tricks in audience manipulation. Is the mother alive? Is she a dream? Is she the dad in disguise? The options are limitless in the hands of Hamilton-Lee but for now I'm left wanted more of the style that made him a trailblazer in the first place. Since this has been presented as more of a standardized drama I can only review it as such for a the time being.
The first episode may play better as the first part before a commercial break since I don't know what the stakes are involved by the end of the episodes. The cop-in-training brother is giving hints of instability and has the most promise for future episodes while the character of Cooper and her boyfriend could get into some heavy and relevant topics like rape and consensual incest which would be extremely fascinating to see Hamilton-Lee handle the subject matter. The technical side is consistent for a Hamilton-Lee show, aside from some ADR that has the actual actor in it that is supposed to be in the scene.
It was nice to see some of the same actors come back to reprise their roles. Triston Winn (the second Riley) even makes a cameo as a misogynist. A character I hope to see in future episodes and hopefully a spin-off series. The new additions to the usual Hamilton-Lee-ian stable of actors makes for a diverse cast of personality types and acting experiences that has any number of possibilities to use them. Or abuse them!
When it comes to reviewing a Morgan Hamilton-Lee there is almost no right way to do so. His films transcend ratings, categorization, and quality. However, the first episode to his series falls more in line with something familiar in terms of other works but because of his history of subverting expectations, I can only assume this is an elaborate ploy to raise another level of expectations that he intends to sabotage by the show's end. This may be the most important and relevant show about modern day social politics going on today and is something to keep watching. That is why I give this episode 5/5 Quacks.