Directed by Charles Poekel
December 3-9 at MoMA
“They all end up on the curb eventually.” The melancholy of the holiday season in New York, so often an undercurrent of beloved media (and memories), is the explicit subject of Christmas, Again, a mood piece centered around a lonely man selling Christmas trees on the wintry, emptying sidewalks of Greenpoint.
The microindie filmmaker and performer Kentucker Audley has the paradoxical gift of being able to project recessiveness, and he leans into the passive (mumbly?) side of protagonist Noel, in his fifth season of coming down from Upstate in his trailer to work twelve-hour shifts advising on the merits of Douglas and Foster firs, decorating wreaths, sweeping up pine needles, sawing down tree trunks, wrapping sold trees in baling wire, upselling tree stands and lights… As writer-director Charles Poekel explained to this publication in spring, he bought his own tree stand to research the film, finally using it as a shooting location in his fourth year of ownership. The movie’s depiction of labor isn’t rhythmic and methodical, in the way of a “detail-oriented” indie deep-dive into an unfamiliar milieu, but casual and familiar, and fitting for Noel, who’s got an Advent calendar full of painkillers, stands under the shower at the Y for a long time after swimming sluggish laps, and seems quietly determined to sleep through his first holiday season after an alluded-to break-up. A little fillip of drama enters his life in the form of a girl, passed-out drunk, he brings inside from a park bench (she’s played by Hannah Gross, who in Nathan Silver’s upcoming Stinking Heaven demonstrates her ability to make a splash in far choppier emotional waters). Mostly, though, the film is content to take an urban-service-worker’s-eye-view into the lives of others. Noel sells trees to Bluetooth Guy and Locavore Girl, sees couples push down potential sidewalk squabbles or anticipate tender moments; and on deliveries he visits apartments preparing for holiday-card family Christmas or boozy Friendsmas.
Christmans, Again’s slices of life are sliced very thin indeed—this is down partly to a tone that deemphasizes any potential for overemphatic interactions, and perhaps partly as well to the glancing editing, courtesy nonfiction fillmaker Robert Greene. Greene’s frequent off-camera collaborator (and former Mondo Kim’s colleague) Sean Price Williams shot the film, on 16mm; Williams is the current moment’s undisputed camera laureate of retro-styled, fine-grained NYC cinema, and shooting in tight quarters, he gets so close that what obtains most about the film are its textures: the faux-wood-paneled walls of Noel’s trailer and the vinyl siding of North Brooklyn row houses, the scratchy plaid of Audley’s work shirt and the bristles of his mustache. The movie feels like a pine branch on the skin—when a rare long shot takes in 1 World Trade Center shimmering over the outer-boro low rises, it’s jarring, like a spaceship from a bigger, brighter, busier alien world.