Early into the DVD's excellent commentary track, writer-director Duncan Roy drops the bomb some viewers may not have known: that "aka" is based on his own life. After becoming a filmmaker, Roy's film school training and prior shorts had motivated a British TV station to suggest a dramatization of the notorious events that led to Roy being incarcerated at age twenty-three, for credit card fraud.
Made on a ridiculously low budget, Roy and his core group of rotating crew members shot in France, Morocco and England, using Digital Betacam and no artificial light. From a no-budget standpoint, "aka" is fascinating for its effective docu-drama look that employs existing light and practicals (actual location lighting). From a creative angle, it's also an interesting experiment for Roy's decision to use a triptych format - three separate panels, side by side, recalling the Polyvision format of Abel Gance's 1927 opus, "Napoleon." The DVD contains both a single screen version, and the original triptych version that went out theatrically. In both cases, the transfer is excellent, and the stereo mix is vibrantly clear.
Roy's commentary is an excellent autobiographical chronicle of the five year period he telescoped into one for the film story, and he amusingly separates not only fact from fiction, but recalls events that were simply too outrageous for the movie; not because they were sexually explicit, but their inherent absurdity would've destroyed audience trust. Sex and nudity do play a vital role in the film, but the sexual abuse that occurred during his childhood is carefully handled, and the gay relations and affections among friends and lovers are non-exploitive, and humanistic.
Roy also offers some inspiration for indie filmmakers, as the guerilla-style shooting (largely financed by the director) is pretty attractive; even with four cinematographers, the film has a look that frequently belies its no-budget status. The restriction to natural/existing light does create some harsh contrasts, but the colour balance and compositions are very good.
The director also discusses his use of the three panel system, and that's where viewers may have some difficulty. The original 1.66:1 images appear slightly stretched to create a widescreen triptych, and the use of alternate takes and angles side-by-side is very jarring; either you notice the deliberate continuity gaps that unfortunately spotlight the film's technical aspects, or you process them as stylistic extravagances which broaden the emotional and visual scope of multiple characters within a scene. The single-screen version, which Roy admits he 'cobbled together' for mainstream viewers, is a lot easier on the eyes, but it lacks some noteworthy shots and runs 11 minutes shorter.
Unlike "Timecode," Mike Figgis' awkward four-panel experiment, "aka" is more successful as a multiple-screen experience, and the directional use of sound - from left speaker, to center, to right - helps the audience figure out what panel Roy deems the most vital at any single moment. For the triptych version and Roy's commentary alone, this DVD is worth a peek.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan