When most “normal” people want to work through a dark time of their life, they might write a book or journal. They might talk about it with a confidant or therapist. They might pray and meditate. Woody Harrelson writes, directs, produces, and stars in a single take feature film streamed live into theaters, and based on what he calls one of the worst nights of his life.
After some confusion at the box office – I was apparently the only member of the press covering the film event at this particular theater – I settled into my reclining seat. A handful of other curious movie-goers were scattered throughout the room. Some behind the scenes interviews with Woody and the crew was playing on the screen in anticipation of the main event, scheduled to go live at 9 PM EST. It would be two in the morning in London where filming was to take place, streaming live into over 500 theaters across the country.
Right on schedule (more or less) the title card comes up. “Too much of this is true…” it says. And we’re off.
Woody is just taking his bow at the end of a theater production in London to an entirely less than enthusiastic audience. Unhappy with where he is in his career, a night depressed about why he seems stuck in a rut of doing dramas he doesn’t enjoy seems like a bad place to be. It’s about to get much worse, however, when he realizes the paparazzi have documented an earlier indiscretion of his involving three women who may or may not have been prostitutes. Desperate to salvage his marriage and get through the night unscathed he ends up on a whirlwind tour of London involving middle eastern royalty, a gypsy, drunken escapades, fights among friends, an incident in a taxi cab, and a run in with the law. And we’re are along for the ride.
With a cast of thirty, twenty four locations, rides in multiple vehicles, and thousands of moving parts, this was no small undertaking. Technically it’s not the first time this has been done – two years ago an art project film My One Demand, was the first live streamed film, also done as one continuous shot. It was a much smaller undertaking, however, mixing a documentary aspect into storytelling and allowing the audience to take part in plot decisions along the way, with little dialogue other than a narrator. Not to diminish their accomplishment, but Lost in London was an entirely different beast. With a final running time of somewhere around 100 minutes it felt like a fully realized feature film. And that is just one of the miracles of this movie – it doesn’t just feel like a gimmick or experiment. It’s a legitimately good film. A tragic episode told in a darkly comedic way, it’s also an incredibly raw and vulnerable performance as Harrelson brutally showcases one of his worst moments. Don’t let that turn you off though, thinking it’s purely an avant garde soul baring episode. It’s truly entertaining, delightfully funny at times, and completely fascinating. And we haven’t even gotten into the technical marvels.
Given the nature of this performance/film, there were hundreds of things that could have gone wrong. Other than a moment where it sounded like someone ran into a microphone, I detected no technical glitches. The sound, in fact, was fantastic given the circumstances. I have seen fully polished finished products that had harder to understand dialogue than this, which seems like a miracle to me. Noisy car rides, echoing stairways, energetic clubs, and general city noises all threaten the actors’ ability to be heard clearly, but they always are. The camerawork was amazing. Shaky at times, given the handheld nature, but always on point and deftly choreographed. The whole film is one single take with one camera from beginning to end, no tricks, and no redo’s.
The lighting, on the other hand, is not the greatest. Shooting with a handheld camera at night without elaborate sets will do that to you. It’s one thing that, if this is released in a home video format, should probably be tweaked in post production. Once again, though, knowing just how much work is done to films in post – color correction, etc. – it is a triumph that it works as well as it does without the benefit of any of that.
The camera cuts to black. The exhausted actors and crew can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s over and done. Complete without any significant errors as far as I am able to tell. The people in the theater buzz about what they’ve just not only seen, but been a part of to some extent, in the same way you experience a play unfold in front of you on a stage. I hear people lamenting that they only just happened to hear about this that morning and that there should have been more done to promote it. It is now nearing midnight and the late show time certainly had something to do with the lackluster turnout and I suspect that other timezones fared better. But it’s true – even I had heard very little about the show and it is a shame more wasn’t done to get the word out because it was a truly fun experience. Not the future of film making, but a worthwhile and impressive endeavor.
True to the schedule and colorful logo that has been on the screen, a few moments later the live Q&A begins. With questions from the host as well as a few culled from current tweets from the audiences, a bleary-eyed Harrelson and company celebrate and dissect what just happened. Were there any errors? Turns out one crucial scene was ad-libbed and extended as an actor was chased down and reminded – “you’re supposed to be in this scene!” To everyone’s credit, I didn’t notice, though I saw a few on twitter who seemed to have caught on.
It’s films like this that perhaps shouldn’t be repeated, (and Harrelson himself emphasized that during the Q&A) but push the art in new directions. I’m glad to have seen Lost in London: Live.
Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film
Brother Hamster did not screen this film
My rating: Four out of five hats
As of now, I am unaware of any encore presentations or planned home media releases of Lost in London.