February 2nd, 2014 13:46 EST
Shane Ryan, Caught Between Arthouse and Controversy
By Michael Haberfelner
It was a crime fit to shock the nation when back in 2009, in St. Martins, Missouri, 15 year old Alyssa Bustamante brutally murdered 9 year old Elizabeth Olten, without provocation, just to know what it would feel like, as she later allegedly explained. As gruesome as this murder was, as every murder is, it was of course above everything a crime tailor-made for the media, as it had clearly cut out good and evil and sparked (understandably) strong feeling. After all, on one hand there is this innocent girl who has undoubtedly not deserved what has happened to her, and on the other, there`s this teenage girl, who was a bit of an outcast, a bit weird, who posted weird photos of herself " in short, she could be easily portrayed as a monster.
Now the crime if of course inexcusable, but nobody of the media wondered for a minute what could drive a 15 year old to commit such a heinous crime or if her depressions and suicidal tendencies could have something to do with it " or what`s the story about her cutting herself?
Well, filmmaker Shane Ryan asked these questions, as he has gone through some experiences similar to Alyssa`s in his own life (apart from the murder of course), and he has distilled his answers into a film called My Name is A by anonymous. The film, though seen by only a few so far (and by none of its detractors), suffered immediate media backlash, because how dare it distort the widely accepted narrative, take the side of Alyssa (which it didn`t) or justify or downplay the murder (which it clearly didn`t).
The movie itself though is nothing its detractors make it out to be, it`s a non-linear cinematic allegory on social neglect, teenage wastelands and the like, getting into the heads of four girls (who could all be Alyssa) and seeing them not only commit the ultimate act of cruelty but also go through the trials and tribulations their life/fate has forced upon them. And it`s a fascinating experience, a sad, lyrical and hauntingly atmospheric film that must appear anything but controversial to the level-headed mind " but amidst media-driven heated discussions, nobody seemed to have the urge to stop long enough and appreciate My Name is A by anonymous for what it is, an unjudgemental commentary as well as a beautiful work of art.
Shane Ryan is no stranger to controversy though, not since he first attracted attention to himself with the Amateur Porn Star Killer-movies. These films pretty much all followed the same plotline: Brandon (Shane Ryan himself) travels the country with his camcorder, picking up pretty girls here and there who simply get turned on by being on camera, and who spontaneously agree to have sex with him while being filmed. But of course, Brandon is a ruthless killer who invariably kills his amateur porn stars (hence the title).
Now the title Amateur Porn Star Killer alone was already provocative enough to spark controversy on one hand, and have him labeled as a grindhouse/sexploitation director on the other " but on closer inspection, and despite glimpses of explicit sexual acts in films 2 and 3, these films are no more sleazefests (and certainly no more misogynistic) than many pieces of Hollywood mainstream erotica. They just dare to call things by their names, but if you`re able to see beyond the sex and nudity you`ll find them to be very pure pieces of suspense in the Hitchcockian sense of the word.
And even though all three films of the series follow the same formula, one can quite simply see the evolution of Shane Ryan as a filmmaker: While the first one sets the tone, number two vastly improves upon it as Ryan found a better handle on the dynamics of the story. With the third film though the formula feels already overdone a little, but the whole film is done in one continuous take, and despite being mostly improvised it never loses the audience`s interest " and that is an accomplishment all by itself.
As far as misogyny goes " the fact that Shane Ryan got together with Kai Lanette after the shoot of Amateur Porn Star Killer 2 should give you an idea of his attitude towards women, and the fact that he didn`t feel too comfortable with having an actual porn star (Regan Reece) in Amateur Porn Star Killer 3 as his amateur porn star should shine a light on his sincerity as an artist rather than a porn peddler (though he`s always quick to jump to Ms Reece`s defense, with whom he has worked on a few other less sex-oriented things since).
Shane Ryan followed the Amateur Porn Star Killer-series with a very beautiful, very lyrical film about perfect love gone wrong, and about how this throws a young girl`s life into turmoil, including rape, unwanted pregnancy, prostitution, homelessness and the like, all told in front of the backdrop of a decaying town that mirrors the protagonists` states of mind. I repeat, the film is nothing short of beautiful, a piece of micro-budget poetry if there ever was one but since it had the wrong title " Warning!!! Pedophile Released " for a crowd that`s quick to jump to conclusions, it got panned before review and it`s not about a pedophile even but a guy who has the bad luck of falling in love with a vastly underage girl, and even though the two decide to wait, he gets jailed for it for years on false suspicion, upon which her life spins completely out of control (as depicted above). And when he`s finally released and she, now of age, is still waiting for him, he`s less than sure how to handle the situation, breaking her heart even more than his arrest did
As of now, it shouldn`t be long until My Name is A by anonymous will get its well-deserved DVD and maybe even theatrical release, while Shane Ryan is already in post production of his next movie, The Owl in Echo Park, a film about a cop whose life spirals downhill starring Hollywood character actor Kevin Gage (Heat, Con Air) that will hopefully stay clear of fabricated controversy and finally present him as the wonderful filmmaker he is to the size of audience he deserves. Sure, not everything is fair in life, but one can hope, right?
Further reading on Shane Ryan: