Start, the new movie by local performance troupe Sylli G in connivance with art prankster tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, is an epic action thriller. Well, it's more an extra-low-budget, postmodern parody of one. With undertones of political satire. Whose first scene depicts button-eyed sock-puppets plotting world domination.
The 76-minute movie, which premieres at the July 8 edition of the Film Kitchen series, has not one but several notably flawed "heroes." One is "Gorgamesh," the sock-puppets' own bullying champion. (He's a big sock-puppet.) Then there's Dag Hammerskull, a sort of all-purpose do-gooder in a tall pyramidal hat, who wields a giant pepper-mill like a staff of office and promises "silk trousers for all"; plucky Brexskelren Ethetal, off on a Frodo-like quest to aid her entomological cult; Megalo, a self-styled Napoleon whose scant four robed followers conspire to ditch him; and Prostheseus, a fast-talking hipster android designed specifically to slay the Minotaur, but who's mostly scheming to advance his career.
Start is the fourth film by Sylli G, some of whose members live out of town, and whose previous work includes a slasher comedy titled Dead & Breakfast. Key members include Kelly Stiles and Morgan Cahn, who conceived of Start with Tent. Improvising early and often, they shot it last fall, with everybody performing and taking turns running camera; Tent, a film and video veteran, edited.
Because much of Start's charm is its home-movie feel -- the costumes are thrift-store, if not bottom-drawer, stuff -- audiences might well forgive occasional technical lapses, such as dodgy sound recording. And save for Matthu Stull's slick turn as the comically unctuous Prostheseus, the acting is typically more enthused than skillful.
But such Monty Python and the Holy Grail silliness as a guinea-pig oracle and a menacing giant owl isn't the film's only attraction. In fact, Start boasts a fascinating array of shooting locations, from somebody's funky living room to local museum displays cleverly shot to supply atmosphere and even additional characters. The Western Pennsylvania History Center and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's invertebrate zoology lab (both are workplaces of cast members) make cameos, as do the Dale Chilhuly glass show, at Phipps Conservatory; the upper Allegheny River; Allegheny Cemetery; and even -- briefly -- Paris.
Meanwhile, memorable individual sequences include Prostheseus's strangely hypnotic slo-mo stalking of the Minotaur. Moreover, as Start progresses, a sixth plot line develops, introducing both a deus ex machina and the movie-within-a-movie phenomenon sometimes called narrative "nesting."
It all makes sense (more or less) when you consider the productive tension between Sylli G's propensity for genre spoofs and Tent's experimental background. "I'm more interested in the nesting in the movie than I am in the conventional plot elements," he says.
Start 8 p.m. Tue., July 8 (7 p.m. reception). Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., N. Oakland. $4. 412-681-5449, x231 or www.filmkitchenpgh.org