One of the big stories out of Cannes this last week was the opposing viewpoints between Pedro Almodovar and Will Smith on wether Netflix, or any digital viewing platform for that matter, is ruining the film industry. It’s an interesting argument that deserves discussion, but it’s hard to argue against digital platforms when they’re helping bring back older, little seen films and introducing them to a wider audience.
Take for example Burning Annie, director Van Flesher’s film that made the festival rounds back in 2004. Long story short, the film lost its chance at distribution, but now more than a decade later is available for your viewing pleasure on all digital HD platforms. If you want the fascinating, more detailed story, MovieMaker Magazine has a terrific piece where co-writer Randy Mack provides the inside scoop.
The less you know about this gem of a film going in the better, but review etiquette mandates I give you some form of synopsis. Gary Lundry stars as Max, an anxious college student who strongly identifies with Woody Allen’s landmark film, Annie Hall. He believes strongly in the ultimate messages and worldview presented in the master director’s Oscar-winning film, though it is hard to say if he’s really better off for it. Max meets a girl, a Annie Hall type, if you will, and things get messy. This isn’t a story about one guy learning about life, though. Burning Annie boasts a great ensemble of supporting cast members, many of whom you’ll likely recognize. My personal favorite “hey, it’s that guy” moment was seeing Mad Men’s Jay Paulson, but I fell in love with so many other characters. Max’s performance in particular is pitch-perfect. You can tell he’s pulling from Woody Allen, but it never feels like an impersonation.
When I said that this film was out for your viewing pleasure, I mean just that. Burning Annie is a thoughtful, humorous, and mature college-set coming of age tale. It flaunts its influences on its sleeve and happily pays homage to its heroes, but Burning Annie also carves its own place in the cinematic landscape, feeling wholly original and exciting. The opening moments of the film are contagiously energetic, with multiple locations seamlessly edited together through narration, breaking of the fourth wall, and snappy writing. The film is clearly shot in the early 2000’s, but like all great movies still feels timeless despite the passing of time.
There’s a scene early on in the film (pictured above) where Max bemoans watching Annie Hall on a small TV in the library with headphones, but ultimately he still ends up taking away something new from that viewing though. Digital platforms aren’t the end of cinema, but another branch of it. Thanks to digital platforms, I could watch this movie with a smile on my face. It was a bittersweet smile, though. Burning Annie isn’t perfect in the way that many first films aren’t, but it’s such a wonderful film. It shows searing, passionate talent that should have been given the opportunity to create more movies. Thankfully, we have the chance to finally see this work of art.