Combining rough, stark urban locations and Wild West themes and characters, The West Side dreamily evokes a black and white netherworld with one foot in the familiar and one foot in the never-been-seen.
As “written, produced, directed, shot, edited, and designed by” former MTV-ers Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman (who claim they did even more work than that), the planned twelve-part series possesses a unique if overwrought look, freely borrowing from the films of Sergio Leone in tough guy melodrama while going old school with beautiful B&W photography, all on a miniscule budget.
The West Side exemplifies true independent filmmaking in creating art from virtually no money, something the site’s blog makes even more noteworthy in providing a terrific account of these underdog filmmakers’ technical trials and practical tribulations. For that, it’s worth rooting for, but actually viewing it is another matter. Because this is one slooooooooow series, drawing out like taffy what would typically be a fairly compact story.
###As of April 2008 there have been three episodes containing the following action: a stranger with gun ready at hip, Qasim (Damian Washington), finds a drink at a local bar. He buys a bottle with a diamond, then watches as the honest barkeep (Ronnie Giles) is intimidated into giving over his money for “protection” by a goon (Omar Gonzalez).
Qasim, ever the good guy, shoots the goon in the back; two sympathetic gunslingers offer to hide the body, while one of them, Idris (Nicholas Job), suggests Qasim and he team up to rid the town of the organized crime lord, Magner (Lionel Pina). Meanwhile, the barkeep is picked up by Magner and forced into confessing Idris’ involvement. (Hmmm…that may read like a lot, but trust me, it isn’t.)
Simple and straightforward, but what exists so far of The West Side unfolds over approximately twenty-one collective minutes, an absolute lifetime in the world of film, even when it’s episodic. The idea is to emphasize atmosphere and mood with lengthy, artfully composed shots of urban wastelands, tersely worded deadpan conversations accented with well-placed pauses, and an overall languorous pace.
Aside from the guns and the outlaw scarves the desolate locations are our only visual clues to The West Side’s Westerness, and Bilsborrow-Koo and Lieberman try to find the appropriate generic “feel” to match their environments. But this is at the expense of narrative thrust, not so much because it takes so long to get to point A to point B, but because the story’s conventionality makes one wait ages only to arrive at an obvious destination.
It may ultimately take the completion of the series to find out whether The West Side develops into something wholly original, but a quarter of the way through it’s just good-looking pastiche without that extra enticement that can make a neo-Western something special.