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Actor Martinez – Review


Release Date: 15th April 2016 - Tribeca Film Festival
Director: Nathan Silver - Mike Ott
Writer: Nathan Silver - Mike Ott
Cast: Lindsay Burdge - Arthur Martinez - Nathan Silver - Mike Ott - Kenneth Berba - Rae Radke



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Posted May 5, 2016 by

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Actor Martinez Review:

Tribeca Film Festival 2016

If I had a commissioning editor and I returned from the Tribeca Film Festival with just one review, that of the film, ‘Actor Martinez’, words would be exchanged. ‘Actor Martinez’ is not so much a film-within-a-film as a non-film-within-a-non-film. Jafar Panahi, the Iranian film director under house arrest, might look at it (through a smuggled copy) and ask, ‘why didn’t I think of this?’ His second thought would be:  ‘and you couldn’t have smuggled in ‘Captain America: Civil War?’ You can see the marquee: ‘Arthur Martinez is Actor Martinez’ and think – what?

‘Actor Martinez’ is the first collaboration between directors Nathan Silver (‘Stinking Heaven’) and Mike Ott (‘Littlerock’). It might be the only one, so cherish it while you can. They thought it would be a good idea to indulge their friend Arthur Martinez’s fantasy of being a movie star.  They weren’t going to turn him into one but instead put his vanity front and centre. Martinez doesn’t really act or play a role. He complains when he isn’t overselling his skills as an IT repair guy. The film is about the absurdity of demanding leading man status. He can’t even manage a sex scene.

Some films offer you a theme park ride. This is like being stuck in traffic, wanting to honk your horn in a no-honking zone – they exist, I’ve seen them – and feeling an intense desire to use a mobile device even though it is illegal. As star vehicles go, this is a Zimmer frame.

Yet the film has something to say about the indie no-budget scene. We have had plenty of films about Hollywood. We’ve seen backstage stories about Broadway musicals. We’ve also has Chris Smith’s seminal documentary ‘American Movie’ about the making of Mark Borchardt’s  low-budget horror film ‘Coven’ (totally worth a viewing). We’ve not had a film about the young and not-so-young women and men who are trying to find the right shoe to put their foot in the door.

Arthur Martinez, a short balding guy who might vie for the parts that Burt Young used to get if the role of Rocky Balboa’s brother-in-law was still available, doesn’t have a clearly marketable quality. He doesn’t have to be good-looking. He just has to do what he does with distinction. Silver and Ott don’t give him a role. They film him, occasionally suggesting ideas for scenes. There is no narrative. Martinez isn’t playing a character arc, rather a flat-line. What we see is the possibility of a story, when Silver and Ott, who appear on screen as themselves, cast Lindsay Burdge as Arthur’s girlfriend. They describe her as a ‘name’. Burdge, who can seen in Karyn Kusama’s ‘The Invitation (also totally worth a viewing) disagrees.

Up until this point, we see Martinez mixing it at a Denver Film Society party – a gathering of people who want to take part in movies. They end up in training scenarios for the emergency services, playing difficult-to-calm-down people. (I wonder if there is a waiting list.) We catch Arthur on call, likening himself to a CPR man for mechanical devices. (Me – I just hit them.) The best character in the film is a would-be comedian who continues eating whilst telling a joke. He says he has Asperger’s but I’m sure it was string beans.

When Lindsay is cast (playing herself – sort-of), the film becomes an exploration of male-female relationships as a definer of the self. You show your best side when you’re being seductive, apparently. Silver and Ott decide to give him a sex scene. It does not go well. It makes you appreciate that you cannot just point a camera at one person attempting to disrobe another.

There is a dramatic development which is to say the film cannot be finished in a conventional sense. In the final scene, a flashback, we see Arthur, Silver, Ott and Burdge around a table. Only Arthur is speaking. When he stops, no one says a word. Then he starts again. It’s amazing how the simplest direction can be effective. The finale is the nearest the film comes to entertainment. ‘Actor Martinez’ re-defines a lot of things: low-budget movie-making, the vanity project, a film in which nothing is said (literally), the importance of artifice in art, what constitutes a bad date movie. I hope couples don’t go to see ‘Actor Martinez’ – you don’t want to be the one who said, ‘I chose that.’ It made the audience at the Rotterdam Film Festival (where it premiered in January) really angry.


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Larry Oliver
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