Clean, Shaven (1993)
By: Mr Intolerance on November 12, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Criterion Collection (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced). English 1.0. English Subtitles. 79 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Lodge Kerrigan
Starring: Peter Greene, Robert Albert, Megan Owen, Molly Castelloe, Jennifer MacDonald
Writer: Lodge Kerrigan
Music: Hahn Rowe
Country: USA
Disconnected, disjointed, disconcerting – Clean, Shaven is a trip though the most paranoid, schizophrenic mind you've seen on film. This isn't mental illness through the Hollywood glamour veneer of the likes of Se7en or The Silence of the Lambs, this is a glimpse into the world of a soul suffering a living nightmare. Seriously, to watch this film is to feel nauseous, if not positively ill. And, at times, scared. The audio blend, which is meant to represent that of mentally ill Peter Winter, is difficult to take; a battery of confusing kaleidoscopic sounds; a barrage of confusion.

Our protagonist (you couldn't even grace him with the term "anti-hero", let alone "hero") Peter is a morally questionable character – did he kill that little girl with the soccer ball or not? Is he together and evil, or is he totally loop-de-loop and beyond responsibility? The sound and images work together to provide us with the picture of a fella who seems to be utterly off-chops and really out there where the trains don't run, yet we can't hate him – despite despicable actions we think he's committed, because he's obviously burdened with a dreadful psychological problem. At the same time, you can't sympathise with him – the repellent nature of said acts make such an act itself impossible. As an audience we end up stuck in a kind of moral quagmire in the dark, never quite sure which way to turn, and unable to move even when we try.

When I was at Uni, a buddy of mine was diagnosed with schizophrenia – his girlfriend dumped him and he simply lost whatever part of the plot he'd ever had. He wouldn't take the medication prescribed for him, and he went on a whole bunch of herbal remedies, which had fuck all affect. I had to watch this friend of mine totally disintegrate before my eyes. This film had the same kind of effect as watching that all-too-real deterioration. This friend of mine just simply drifted out of the real, the concrete, becoming alarmingly like the character of Peter – while it might be testimony to this actor's skill in this case, it disturbed me greatly for its verite. I never found out what happened to that friend of mine – he simply vanished off the map. That was over ten years ago. The fact that these kind of people are out there is depressing for one, alarming for another reason – if Peter actually is the killer.

Don't look for a narrative here – there's no such beast. This is the tale of a few days in Peter's life, after release from some kind of institution, trying to track down his fostered out daughter, no more, no less. The basic idea behind this film is more one of style than substance; I'm not saying it lacks substance, but the way the story is told is more important than the story itself. The director is trying to transmit (successfully, I think) what the experience of schizophrenia must be like. And the parts of the film where we aren't inside Peter's mind (say for example, when we're following the cop who's out for Peter's hide) do tend to come off as being almost tangential to the action.

The whole thing is character driven; whether it's Peter's blind, unfocussed rage and confusion, the cop's sense of futile despair or the mother's quiet apathy – the acting powers this film. With a lesser cast, this film would completely tank, and while there are no big stars, the actors we've got do an extraordinary job of making this nothing less than a tour-de-force.

The world of Clean, Shaven is an existentialist's worst nightmare – a bleak, pitiless void: cold, unfeeling, barren of even the least sympathy for the various characters dwelling within – this makes the world of Jean-Paul Sartre's uber-depressing novel of grimness and squalor Nausea look like Romper Room.
Video
Clean Shaven is presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio with 16X9 enhancement. It looks a little dirty at times, but the faults lie with the source material.
Audio
Presented in mono. Clean, Shaven's audo is Evil. I mean, there is a certain je nais se quoi about Clean, Shaven which blows you out of the water. It's a nasty piece of work. I felt utterly un-nerved watching this film.
Extra Features
There's an audio explanation – as to why the film sounds like it does (and this is bogus, as you've got to go online to access the fucker – providing a link doesn't exactly count as a special feature to me) – as well as an audio commentary (I'm never sure what to look for in these; if they're too "filmy" I get bored, and yet with a film like this, you shouldn't be waiting for stories of cocaine parties and hookers), the trailer and that's about that. Oh, and a nice booklet with a moderately interesting essay by Dennis Lim.
The Verdict
An abject nose-dive into one man's private hell, Clean, Shaven is possibly the most depressing cinema experience imaginable. I actually dreaded having to watch it with the director commentary, because I didn't want to endure it again – which I guess is testimony to its power. A caustic experience, and one not soon forgotten. This is true horror.
Movie Score
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