Richard Green’s 7 Year ZigZag
While Richard Green served as executive producer on the Jack Nance documentary I Don’t Know Jack and appears in Mulholland Drive as the Magician, 7 Year ZigZag is his own film—a work he wrote, directed, and starred in. It tells the (apparently at least semi-autobiographical) tale of “Nick” (Green), an artist/hippie of the sixties who dreams of making a feature film titled The Doomsayer, in which a man tries to warn about the coming end of the world but is ignored. Probably over-wrought and preachy (based on the sparse information presented in ZigZag), Doomsayer attracts little interest. Nick realizes that the only way to make this film is to make another film that’s a big success, thus giving him some clout in the movie industry. It’s the time of Saturday Night Fever, so he decides to incorporate music into his next project—not disco music, in which he has no interest, but thirties swing.
The film will be called The Next Step and be about a group of people trying to raise funds to open a swing club. Several times the film is close to production, but each time something happens, sometimes at the last minute. Nick decides that the way to get the film rolling is to sell the music first, so he heads to Europe, where jazz is having a revival, and hopes to gather a following there, allowing him to make The Next Step, which, if successful, will then allow him to make The Doomsayer.
7 Year ZigZag becomes a story about the determination of an artist to overcome obstacles (and there are many more than those mentioned in our brief synopsis; in fact, the film’s title is a clue) and follow his drive to create the art that speaks to his soul. This is, of course, not a unique theme (see, for instance, Amadeus and The Whole Wide World for a couple of excellent examples). What sets Green’s film apart is the form, described in the movie poster as “a film in rhyme and swing.” Green narrates the film in a rap-like rhyme. At first we thought that there was no way this could be maintained throughout a feature-length film without becoming tedious. And yet Green pulls it off, not only because of the quality of his voice (viewers of his performance in Mulholland Drive will need no convincing here), but because, on the whole, he makes the rhyme sound natural. Except for an occasional forced line, there were long stretches where we didn’t even notice the rhyme per se, because the rhythm, the beat, of the narration took center stage (along with, of course, the story that is being told through the narration). In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine the film being done any other way.
As for the swing music, we’ll admit to having next to no knowledge (or interest) in it before hand. It’s all the more credit to Green, then, that we came away enjoying the soundtrack immensely. While not every song struck a chord with us, there were lots of songs that we thought were great. If Green were able to win us over to the sounds, we can only imagine how a swing fan would respond to the work.
We should also mention that the Next Step sequences that Nick is writing are presented in a fascinating black-and-white style that appears to combine film and animation. It’s hard to describe, but essentially the faces are photographed (and altered), and the clothes look animated (rotoscoped, or the like). Something like that. You have to see it to understand how well it all works together.
7 Year ZigZag is a treat from beginning to end. We approached it with some trepidation (for us, “a film in rhyme and swing” served more as a warning than an enticement) and came away eager to see it again. Green has shown himself to be not only an accomplished musician, but also an exceptional filmmaker. If you’re a swing fan, you’ll definitely want to see this film. If you’re not, you’ll enjoy the film for its cinematic inventiveness—and by the end you’ll be a swing fan, too.
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