Loren Cass (Not rated, probably R) (83 min.) — St. Petersburg's Chris Fuller is living an independent filmmaker's dream these days, with a distribution deal for his debut, Loren Cass, that led to representation by Creative Artists Agency, among Hollywood's top talent agencies. One result is a limited engagement for Loren Cass at the Beach Theatre, in St. Pete Beach, where Fuller can display his talent for home folks.
Nobody in the movie is named Loren Cass. The name is never mentioned, a clue to Fuller's abstract, impressionist style that, honestly, some moviegoers won't appreciate. Without a conventional story arc, Loren Cass isn't easy viewing for mainstream audiences. Fuller creates the visual equivalent of a primal scream, an expression of youthful anguish inspired by — yet never directly referring to — the 1996 racial disturbances in St. Petersburg.
Fuller was a teenager at the time, sensitive to tension on the streets that didn't necessarily stem from racial conflict.
Disturbances ignited by the shooting of an African-American man by a St. Petersburg police officer put everyone on edge, including Fuller's peers. Loren Cass portrays a nihilistic subculture ready to mosh, brawl, get high and maybe find love, at a time that feels like anything could abruptly end.
There's no plot, really, just episodes largely without dialogue, occasionally interrupted by sonic counterpoints: protesting speech, a hard-core punk band at the State Theatre, and evocative ambient noise. Most characters are white, beaten down by random violence and indifference. Parents are nowhere to be found. The city is depicted as a landscape of strip malls and parking lots where dreams go to die.
One teen leaps off the Sunshine Skyway, and Fuller immediately cuts to grisly footage of Pennsylvania politician R. Budd Dwyer committing suicide on live television because, as Fuller told the St. Petersburg Times: "That's the only image that made me feel the way people should feel when a kid jumps off a bridge."
Loren Cass is a brain-jangler without concrete answers or any obvious moral to the nonstory; Fuller prefers that we figure it out for ourselves. But it is a striking effort, more adventurously vague than moviegoers typically experience. With two more screenplays being shopped around by CAA, Fuller is poised to become Florida's pre-eminent avant-garde filmmaker, challenging viewers to keep up. B+
Steve Persall, Times film critic