By: Laurel Gladden Published online: Friday, January 18, 2013 Appeared in: Pasateimpo
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documentary works best if you toss
aside sticky questions of veracity and
continuity and just let it wash over you, like a dream.
Directed by brothers Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV,
Tchoupitoulas (named after a busy New Orleans
street) follows Bryan, Kentrell, and William Zanders
— along with their dog Buttercup — as they spend
an evening wandering the streets of the Big Easy. In
between encounters with characters and glimpses
inside various venues, William shares random
thoughts and observations and the Rosses blur and
swirl the streetlights, creating hypnotic moments of
colorful abstraction. Not rated. 80 minutes. Center
for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe.
Tchoupitoulas, dreamlike documentary, not rated,
Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
While you’re sitting in the dark theater watching this brief, mesmerizing
film, your mind might wander. You might start thinking about a childhood
adventure, a vacation in New Orleans, the first time you spent a night away
from home, or a time you got lost in a strange city. Your inclination to day-
dream won’t be because the film is boring, though. It just may lull you into
a reverie with its serene, dreamlike quality; jewel-like colors and blurry
lights; easy, natural pacing; and musical rhythms.
Directed by brothers Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV, Tchoupitoulas (named
after a busy New Orleans street, pronounced chop-a-tool-us) follows
Bryan, Kentrell, and William Zanders, who live in the Algiers neighbor-
hood, across the Mississippi River. One day, at sunset, they take their dog
Buttercup and hop on the ferry to spend an evening wandering the streets
of the Big Easy. Like three Cinderellas, they remind one another that the
last ferry home is at midnight. The fact that they miss the boat (that’s not a
spoiler, really) doesn’t serve as a plot point so much as a device to give the
boys additional hours to explore their one-of-a-kind city.
As we follow them around, we encounter all sorts of characters: scraggly-
looking drunkards, motor-mouthed oyster shuckers, strippers, drag queens,
sidewalk evangelists, fire twirlers, and musicians, from rappers to buskers to
elderly bluesmen. The brothers also meander through darker, less-populated
avenues, where William gets some tips on playing the flute from a young
woman dressed as a fairy and a heavily intoxicated dude tries to convince a
woman to go home with him.
In between street scenes and glimpses inside various venues are hypnotic
moments of abstraction, during which clever William, in voice-over, shares
random thoughts, dreams, and observations and the Rosses blur and swirl
the streetlights. You feel like you’re looking through a giant kaleidoscope.
The boys’ banter is sometimes indecipherable, but that’s OK. It has a
bouncy, impromptu rhythm that echoes the jazz filling the streets.
Some of the scenes are clearly spontaneous, while others feel somewhat
staged. You wonder if the boys missed their ferry accidentally or if the Rosses
orchestrated the whole thing. When the brothers sneak onto a spooky
old riverboat, was the idea theirs or the Rosses’? Were they really in any
danger, with the camera crew following them?
Though the film is edited to suggest that the boys’ adventure takes place
during a single night, the events were actually filmed over a nine-month
period. That doesn’t really matter, though. The Rosses were clearly intent
on capturing the feel of a night spent stumbling around New Orleans; they
certainly succeeded, so who cares if they distilled the best of nine months
into less than 90 minutes? Tchoupitoulas works best if you toss aside sticky
questions of veracity and continuity and just let the film wash over you
like a dream.