Taking an everyday event like journeying to work and turning it into a magical and mesmerising adventure through a land both recognisable and dreamlike, Bradley Tangonan’s High Rider is a drug-fuelled fairytale for Generation X. Transporting us on a hazy pilgrimage, as our stoned, skateboarding protagonist glides to work, Tangonan’s film impresses by feeling both grounded in reality and floating in the realms of fantasy.
As a journalist, you’re taught that putting the most important (and interesting) part of your article at the beginning is the ideal way to grip your reader and ensure they read they rest of your story. For a film, I guess this is what a synopsis is for! Hooking us in with his description of a ‘an eerie tropical fairy tale about a skater girl and the strange characters she encounters in the streets of Hawaii’, Tangonan’s film had us intrigued before we’d even clicked play. Narratively, High Rider serves up exactly what it synopsis suggests (with a fair few surprises along the way) and under close scrutiny its story could probably be described as slight (it is literally the tale of a young girl getting stoned and riding her skateboard to work). However, despite this relatively simple A-to-B premise, Tangonan’s film still manages to feel like it takes you on an epic voyage through the chemically altered mindscape of its protagonist and it’s this unexpected journey that is the films most pleasing and rewarding feature.
Eager to find out the aims of his film, Short of the Week spoke to director Tangonan about developing his storyline and creating his unusual universe – “The film blurs the line between reality and imagination. It opens with a mundane situation and begins to depart from the everyday in increments until the rider finds herself in a surreal world filled with larger-than-life characters. My hope is that the viewer is swept up in this journey and is able to experience the dread and thrill that the rider experiences. I started with the wave scene, which has been bouncing around in my mind for a long time. I knew it could be a visually compelling moment but I felt that it had the potential to be emotionally impactful as well. So I set out to write a story that culminates in the tarp wave as a cathartic conclusion to an arduous journey. The music and slow-motion are hypnotic, casting a spell that allows you to accept each new fantastical turn in the story. Dialogue could easily have broken this spell, so I elected to keep the story purely visual.”
Complimenting the dreamlike qualities of its narrative, Tangonan and his crew filmed his short using a DJI Ronin stabilizer unit, attached to an Easy Rig support system and shot from a golf cart. The director revealing that they adopted this approach as it gave “the flexibility to select vantage points and shot styles that fit each narrative moment while keeping the camera movement fluid”. It was a clever-move from the director – the smooth fluidity of the camera work aesthetic perfectly suits the story and only magnitudes the fuzzy feel of High Rider.
Spending most of his time focused on client work, Tangonan admits to having “a few ideas for short films” he’s currently playing with – but for now if you want to see more of his work and keep track of what he does next, you can find him on Vimeo or check out his website.
As a little extra – the director was keen to point out the ‘easter eggs’ in the opening of the film which allude to what’s about to come – now I could list them all here – but wouldn’t it be better if you spot them yourself (there are 4 in total and all come in the first minute – let us know in the comments if you spot any!)