A modern-day silent film, but with little of the nostalgia that usually entails, Philip Burgers, along with his co-writer and director, Kitao Sakurai, have made a Buster Keaton film for our diverse, multi-cultural age. Filled with confusion, joy, comedy, and violence, the film is a wordless odyssey through humanity, and serves as a wonderful showcase for the physical comedic talent of Burgers.
Burgers stars as Phil, whom, in a series of astonishing long-takes, wanders the world (ok L.A.) encountering scenarios that range from heart-warming to terrifying. On the run from two thugs pursuing him, the film is intentionally dislocating—Phil’s circumstances are not explained, nor are the surreal cultural vignettes that he finds himself in the midst of. We are as lost as Phil therefore, who stumbles through much of the film in pantomimed confusion. Though Phil does not speak, there are words in the film, yet they arrive rapidly, and in many different languages, and are intentionally left untranslated, so as to experience the film from the same innocent perspective of our protagonist.
It is an avant garde approach to both narrative and comedy, but The Passage is far from difficult—its absurdism is frequently fun! But, mostly, the film is preoccupied with sensation—its use of long takes provide immersion, and it’s lack of exposition trains its audience to get lost in present moment. The bet is that the charm of Burgers, the absurdity of the script, and the lovely photography, presented in the old standard 1.33 ratio, overcome an audience’s desire for narrative development, and it is a gamble that, despite the TV half-hour runtime, largely pays off.
The duo of Burgers and Sakurai are both predisposed to this kind of experimental approach—Burgers, an alum of the French clown school(!) Ecole Philippe Gaulier, has been a unique comedy voice for several years, earning best comedy show at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2012. Sakurai, to his credit, has been a director and executive producer on Adult Swim’s influential Eric Andre Show, famous for its absurdist approach to comedy.
With that TV runtime, and being produced by Abso lutely, the company behind The Eric Andre Show as well as the brilliant Nathan For You, The Passage has been billed as “pilot” and has seamlessly toured the festival-circuit in both emerging TV sidebars, and short film programs. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in its TV section, won prizes at SeriesFest and the New York Television Festival, but also picked up Jury prizes at Nashville and Aspen Shortsfest, qualifying it for Oscar consideration as a short film. Though it could be expanded to series easily, the film works fine as a stand-alone, and we’re happy to feature it in our collection of shorts.
The Passage came to us via Super Deluxe, a content and talent incubator for Turner Media, which has been fostering fascinating work over the past few years. A go-to for emerging comedy voices, alums like Zane Rubin & Dean Fleischer-Camp have created projects for Super Deluxe, but apart from comedy it has also supported more serious fare, such as the Sundance-featured documentary short Bayard & Me. In a nifty piece of corporate synergy, Philip and Kitao will also have The Passage on Turner’s Film Struck SVOD platform starting today, and introduce a playlist of classic films that inspired their work.
Of course corporate support has its downsides, as the past month has seen the announcements that, in the wake of Turner being acquired by telecom giant AT&T, both Super Deluxe and Film Struck will be shut down. The release of The Passage today is therefore through TBS Digital, and thus takes on an elegiac feel as it marks the last release from Super Deluxe’s slate. R.I.P Super Deluxe! You’ll be missed Film Struck! The Passage’s open-ending will keep alive hope that Abso lutely will succeed in finding a new partner, and that The Passage might yet find its way to series.