You’ll Know His Name

January 4, 2016

Written by Capt McNeely

Georgia Division ZADF Twitter: @ZADF_ORG

You’ll Know My Name   Drama 2010  Not Rated 

Directed, Written & Produced by Joe Raffa

Starring: Joe Raffa, David J. Bonner, Alexander Mandell, Mianna Saxton, Chuck Connors, Tommy Sztubinksi, Brian Gallagher, Davy Raphaley, Nicole Cinaglia   Website: YKMN

Cynema is not about reviews. While a critical look is often afforded to specific films, this is not about whether a film is “good” or “bad.” It’s about how they are MADE.

My previous entries looked at wide ranges from Jurassic World to Halloween III.This is a look at a young filmmaker who has taken risks and made a film that is outside the realm of what is popular or what studios are developing. Joe Raffa is anti-Cynema because he does what few others are doing: he takes real risks.

Thanks to the digital revolution, anyone with a camcorder and computer thinks they’re a filmmaker. Shooting your video and putting it up in ten minute bites online does not make you a professional. With that  said, sitting in film school studying Hitchcock, Scorsese, and a bevy of films does not make you a professional, a filmmaker…or a critic. Whereas twenty years ago there were maybe hundreds of critics in this country, there are now thousands as scores of people now believe their opinion trumps their experience.

A then 21 year old director, writer, producer and actor Joe Raffa sent a message to anyone who fits the above description. He updated the American Western in a film best pitched as: “High Noon in the Jersey Suburbs.” Raffa’s anti-hero, Nick takes hard swipes at his own generation as well as the film’s villainous heavy, Mike Santo. This is a statement on this Internet generation of kids– a generation once stripped of their awesome technology and social media, doesn’t have a lot to say.  Raffa’s is a lost generation knocking about the wastelands of a decaying American Dream feeling entitled, lost and pissed off.

Leaving Temple University film school after one semester at the age of 19; Raffa took the balance of his college savings and embarked on an aggressive fundraising campaign to raise the thirty thousand dollar budget. Capitalizing on his connections in the Philadelphia acting and filmmaking community; he collected a talented cast and crew of unknowns. Together, they made a film that serves a message as an important as “Rebel Without A Cause” or “Over the Edge” to a generation of film goers.

It’s the Seinfeld of dramas because like the generation it skewers, it’s about nothing.

The Internet is glutted with the shaky cam, “found footage” style films that have spread like a virus. This virus infects prospective filmmakers–creating delusions that their thousand dollar film will rake in millions like the completely hyped and calculated  “Paranormal Activity”. Raffa saves us from one more of these films. He could have taken the easy route and churned out yet another zombie or slasher movie. Zombie movies are plentiful for one reason: they’re easy to make. And that’s Raffa’s generation: looking for the easy route. Why move out of the house when you can stay at home? Why buy a cell phone when your doting, overprotective folks will pay for your plan to make sure they know where you are every moment when you don’t pick up, why buy a car when you can bum rides with others?

I was recently asked why so many millennials are so dependent and self-entitled. Who did this to them? Why were they allowed to grow up as such pussified, over sensitive whiners? Who gets the blame? Bret Easton Ellis has an answer here. I am Generation X, and my response to the person who asked me this question: Generation X is at fault. Why? Because we had nothing that defined us, so we focused the definition of ourselves in our children. It’s not the one size fits all answer our generation likes, but it is part of it.

What defined Generation X? Nothing. Except ourselves.

I was born at the tail end of the 60s. The Beatles were three years from splitting and Vietnam was about to go really hot. The Civil Rights Movement, The Women’s Movement and the Sexual Revolution were in full swing. By the 1980s I was a teenager and the after party was on. Aside from Reagan declaring “Morning Again In America” and the Iran Hostages coming home, I don’t remember any true defining political or social cause for my generation. What was there? The AIDS epidemic brought about open discussion of gay rights, but The Gulf War was still a few years off and even that was a blink on the radar as compared to Vietnam. Aside from “No Blood For Oil” protests, the war did not split the nation like Vietnam.

The hippies before us turned into yuppies. Generation X got its MTV and the digital revolution. We Wang Chung’d for awhile. We were told our future was so bright, we needed shades (see what I did there?). However we had nothing to channel any real human interest. Then we had kids. We had nothing to give them. So, we focused on them. We tried to continue the party by reliving our childhood and realizing our failed dreams through them…keeping them close to us to preserve our own identities.

Generation X tired to make something out of nothing and in the end, it’s all pretty empty.

Generation X made its millennial offspring afraid of everything because that keeps them in need of us. We know better because we were told that. Our Baby Boomer parents fought to carve out a Brave New World, and we had no idea what to do with it. The materialism and consumerism of the 80s was passed on. Free Love and Freedom became file sharing and open source. The millennials became an odd hybrid of hippie and yuppie DNA. Generation X tired to make something out of nothing and in the end, it’s all pretty empty.

Raffa’s character, Nick, is that Gen X product. Nick is a kid living in an upscale suburban McMansion, driving a nice Honda Civic, whipping out his cell phone like Gary Cooper’s six shooter and hanging with the usual assortment of babes and bros…they never seem to work and perpetually hang in the homes other people’s money paid for. In fact, the only one who seems to be gainfully employed is Nick’s buddy who is a small time drug dealer.

What’s Nick’s problem? Why is he so angry? He wants us to believe it’s because his beautiful girlfriend, the deliciously fey Mianna Saxton, (perhaps even the love of his life and the one who absconded with his virginity) cheated on him. The time Nick invests plotting retaliation against local tyrant and psychopath Mike Santo (who also has lots of money and doesn’t seem to have a job) he could have found a decent job and actually started down a new path doing something with his life. What a silly idea, why do such things when you’re on mommy and daddy’s medical plan and they’ll clean up the mess after the showdown? This is a collection of poor little white kids who think the minor discomforts of this upper middle class life are major ordeals.

Raffa has created an unlikable anti-hero in Nick. We know what’s coming and so does he, but can we really get behind him? Is this impending showdown over a girl? He tells her no. Is it over honor? Pride? Just what is this kid proud of? The car his parents bought him? The house his parents allow him to live in? Just what does this kid have that he could be so proud of? The only two people that seem to understand the stupidity of it all are Nick’s younger brother (who serves as a quasi Greek chorus) and Nick’s drug dealing pal, who just might be the only one who has something to lose if killed in the coming fight with Mike and his gang.

Few of these characters are likable. All are basically losers, which is exactly what Raffa wanted in penning his script. This is a message to all those kids years out of high school still doing the same thing–going nowhere and buying the freshmen beer. Few, if any of YKMN’s characters generate real sympathy, save for local burnout Tommy Tongues; and even he’s just a dumb bastard who doesn’t know any better. There’s the bickering high school couple bonded by sex who can be counted on to fight at every party and then use one of the spare bedrooms to make up. A drug dealer and a aimless pretty boy wannabe fighter exchange quips, giving a hint that these two guys just might be better than the crowd they’re hanging with but don’t have the ambition to break free. We have Nick’s brother who casts his fate with his sibling and yet just might be the only one who truly gets out one day. The only one who seems to know what’s going on, but who also succumbed to a local fate is Nick’s cop uncle. He is Generation X….who tried to embrace a cause but is  just as trapped in suburbia as the kids he busts.

He is essentially the only adult Raffa allows us to see and get to know because in this generation’s world, adults are not seen or heard, just depended on.

Unlike the overrated and pretentious “Juno”, Raffa’s characters talk and sound like real kids. The dialogue is realistic, rough and sharp without the overindulgent snarkyness of “Juno’s” “oh aren’t we just so cool and hip with everything we say” dialogue. This is how kids talk and if you think they don’t you’re not around kids.

The film’s plot rises and falls on pure teen angst. For anyone who has suspected their significant other of infidelity, Raffa synthesizes those feelings in a palpable scene involving a car conversation and cell phone that is sheer genius in the purity of its editing.

This is a film built on ideas and passion. Not a “will this sell” mindset.

The unsung heroes are the crew that Raffa assembled. Crisp, primary colors resonate through cinematographer Charlie Anderson’s lens, bringing a picture quality that rightly shames the best of wannabe filmmakers on YouTube. Sound design, lighting and production values betray low budget filmmaking. The film clearly shows low budget doesn’t mean it has to look like it. Music is effectively used through an electric guitar rift that evokes Clint Eastwood and Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. Raffa avoids the mistake of many first time filmmakers by trusting in his story and letting his characters give us our emotional cues rather than a bombastic soundtrack.

A lesser director would have strewn his film with excessive nudity and violence in a “look what I can do” style of manner. Instead, Raffa relies on implied sexual tension using the Hitchcockian device of “less is more” and allows his film to end not with a bang, but a whimper…which is a perfect summary of a generation more than happy to fade away than burn out. Burning out requires ambition.

YKMN is a classic, an instant home run from a young filmmaker who could have easily been sending a warning to all those wannabe filmmakers sporting their Best Buy HD camcorders when choosing the name of his film. Anyone reading this who thinks their “tribute” to “Paranormal Activity” or George A. Romero is the next blockbuster, take time to get your hands on YKMN.

It is a message of hope from a lost generation that was led astray. Raffa, as a filmmaker, is one to help people into the light.

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