Traumatic Optimism

Here’s a thought: let’s throw a humble musician in a situation where he can no longer move, advance, or even thrive… and then watch him conform and make the best of his surroundings. That is exactly what the protagonist in Odysseus’ Gambit accomplished.

The director of this short film creates a sense of chronological order through using black text on a white background, representing the order of a chess match and relating it to life. The story begins at the beginning of the game, and the beginning of the match with “Setting up chess, eh?” This part of the video relates to him starting up his day, he even mentions how coffee is a  regular part of his morning routine. The black text on a white background creates a grungy tone that builds off of the city scenery. The chess is a motif found all along the film, from beginning until stalemate; chess, telling his story from the start of his American adventure until now.

Opening with a man dragging a box of possessions, followed by short quick clips of the city of Manhattan, creates a first impression and sets the scene: a homeless man living on the streets of a major city. When the game of chess is introduced, there begins to be a several shots of close up chess pieces with a blurry background while the protagonist talks about the particular move or strategy he uses. There is a mix of shots of him doing daily activities alone (walking, sitting, eating) and shots of him connecting with strangers and familiar people on the sidewalk. There is almost always a shadow on the side of his face, adding to the rough, bare environment he is exposed to day-by-day. This raw feeling is instilled by the shadows, the strong hues, and the dramatic close ups the director employs. The appropriation of the black and white film about Cambodian babies being kidnapped provokes the heart and builds the credibility of this man’s struggle, being forced from his home and dropped in this unfortunate lifestyle. The layering of sounds and the blending of the antique sounding voice into his original song (with the lyrics “I don’t know why, I used to cry..”) – to where the sound and video abruptly stops and cuts to the next scene. He then states that he never chose this lifestyle, pounding away at the fact that this guy is extremely lovable.

The ending of this film takes the edgy yet comfortable tone that has been set already, and twists it into displaying how this man’s life is actually terrible. The sound stops except for heavy slowed breathing with extreme close ups of his face, eyes, nose and mouth, mashing short clips of black and white war scenes in between – making the audience believe that this man also deals with post traumatic stress disorders, explaining his seizures.

Is this a real person’s life, or just crafted for the big screen? Camerawork does wonders at distorting reality and blurring the lines between fantasy and fact. In making an archive, is it not dangerous to believe everything heard in a documentary? How can a source be truly trustworthy and credible without pointing to another questionable source? What made this story so believable? I certainly could see this man as a real, humble person, struggling along the streets of Manhattan.



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