Blurring Man, Elmer Experiences One Sick Burn

Blurring Man is an hilarious, well-made and very human movie. It’s quite difficult to categorize. It’s an adventure story for sure. It is a thoughtful cross-cultural exploration – the story of a free-spirited man living in the moment, pores wide open, ready for anything. It is also a lighthearted parody of an extremely popular Yanqui cultural phenomenon. It surely is a Very Large Post Hippie Festival in the Remote Desert that is fabulous, ridiculous, positive, exploitive, empowering, silly, hypocritical, and life-changing in equal measure.

In Blurring Man, a Hispanic day laborer hooks up with some colorful L. A. characters and is spirited off to this uniquely American festival. This unlikely journey is paralleled throughout the movie by the dangerous adventures of the protagonist escaping war torn El Salvador – risking life and limb to eventually cross the border into the open opportunity available, or at least advertised, for him in Estados Unidos. The juxtaposition of these two Campbellian journeys is what makes the tale.

The hero of the piece, Elmer embraces this now iconic American Very Large Post Hippie Festival in the Remote Desert enthusiastically, immersing himself in experience. His journey parallels that of the typical middle-class caucasian American that is the target audience for the event. After decades of entertaining (some say enlightning, some say deluding) Silicon Valley kids, old hippies, young ravers, Mom & Dad, tourists, well healed survivalists, the Hollywood elite, political figures, the occasional criminal, as well as a few hand-to-mouth stagehand/roust-a-bout types, this festival has developed several particular types of experiences, experiences that so many attendees share – so many and so often that they have become clichés finally:

  • There is the initial shock and astonishment and often unbridaled joy at the incredible large scale art.
  • The hedonistic yet playful social structure and the seemingly pure (and well-advertised) non-commercial nature of the event opens eyes.
  • Very intense and genuine human interactions with random people along the way are common.
  • Sensual episodes, potentially threatening stable relationships back home, occur more than at your average swingers conclave.
  • There are the occasional instances of unsolicited psychotropic episodes.
  • Then there is a point of overwhelming strangeness that begins to alienate a bit.
  • Assault by nature in the guise of a massive overwhelming dust storm can almost be guaranteed.
  • Many who attend eventually (until they retreat into their well appointed recreational vehicles) reach a point of exhaustion and stress due to the extreme nature of the experience.
  • There are the penultimate and then the ultimate performance/rituals, fully embracing the hedonistic primordial nature of these communal spasms involving powerful archetypes and fire.
  • The participants finally head for home, some energized, some ecstatic, some defeated and disillusioned, all exhausted and all with a lot to think about. Quite the experience!

Elmer inhabits these archetypal involvements just as so many other attendees do, the difference being his viewpoint and strong identification with his cultural experience as an El Salvadoran.

Elmer is ultimately very much himself after the journey, with a better understanding of the nature and culture of his new Country.

There are thematically divergent and often humorous interludes throughout the movie, including one where the owners of the event threaten the filmmaker for daring to tread on their trademarks and “intellectual property”. Very funny.

I saw the first draft of the movie when filmmaker Matt Boman showed it to me a year and a half ago at my retrospective art show in Oakland. That earlier version of the film was funny, whimsical and good-natured and had considerably less material critical of the event than the finished version (which you can access through this post). Matt evidently got a cease and desist and was expected to abandon his film which he had been working on for several years. The threat compelled this young, and clever filmmaker to develop a singular and I think brilliant tactic in order to finish and present his film with less chance of existential legal repercussions for his movie.

I must say such a large and thoroughly successful ongoing cultural phenomenon (and corporation, both private originally, and later nonprofit) should be able to take a joke, a little good-natured ribbing and some pointed criticism as well. As Charlie Sheen said so emphatically and successfully: “Winning, WINNING!!”.

Well, this Very Large Post Hippie Festival in the Remote Desert has been winning for decades. So let’s hope they’re good natured enough to let a young, enthusiastic and brilliant filmmaker show his take on their thing without facing unpleasant and poor sportsman like repercussions.

I’m going to guess it would’ve probably been better for that organization to have let Matt run with that original, less critical version. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the movie!

John Law
John Law