“I mean, look, you played in a club… you got people paying you and paying to come see you sing in a club. I mean… that’s something.”– Dinah
An orchestrated version of Toyland plays as the titles pass. A conscious song choice? Alexandra (Mya Taylor) later sings Toyalnd in a scene that seems reminiscent of Annie Hall (1977) on stage singing It had to be you. It’s enchanting, taking Tangerine on a new level as we see Alexandra not struggle for her identity, as often seen with such films, but instead, strive for her dream.
Little girl and boy land.
While you dwell within it.
You are ever happy there.”
It begins in California. Sin-Dee and Alexandra sit at Donut Time. The shop at the corner of Highland and Santa Monica Boulevard plays host to many of the films principal scenes, and straight away, as in the screenwriters rule-book, we enter at the right point of action.
The exposition is a little heavy handed at times, but the film is quirky, funny and at times light, so it works in the same way as the self-aware ‘Mr. DNA Sequence’ of Jurassic Park (1993). Christmas-eve is mentioned nine times throughout, and opening the film is Sin-Dee: “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch.” So it is on Christmas-eve where Sin-Dee finds out that her boyfriend and pimp has been with another woman. It sends her on a rampage. The plot begins; and for just over a day, we witness the contrasting lives of a family and of a community.
Tangerine is an Indie film. Self-conscious at times, but not self-aware. It is its own entity. Its own cinematic rival as far as LGBT cinema or a Christmas film goes. Human and authentic in its approach, dealing with the struggles of a transgender sex worker and the illusory life of an Armenian cab-driver. Confrontation drives a search-plot. Bare-boned, with no clear pay-off or deadline. Chaos barely settles. Conflicts are forever present- the filmic deity.
It can be easy to say Tangerine is somewhat ambiguous in its plotting; but that doesn’t degrade the film. If anything, transgender identity plays second to a chase plot. It normalises transgender life. Vivacity and pathos entwined. Tangerine shows these women within a community. They have goals and regrets, loves and friendships. They deal with hate as much as they deal with love. At times, Tangerine could become farce, and yet it doesn’t. Baker and Bergoch keep it somewhat old-fashioned- a coined term throughout various reviewing of the film.
In terms of cinematography, Baker, along with Radium Cheung did something unheard of and showcased in at Sundance. With the use of an iPhone 5, an $8 app (Filmic Pro) and anamorphic lens adapters, the film impressed both on the technical front and with plot alike.
Coming to play in widescreen 2:35.1 and in high-contrast colour, it looks just as one would expect from the Arri Alexa XT (Brooklyn, 2015 & Spotlight, 2015) or the Red Epic Dragon (Room, 2015). The film is colour-drenched. Reality is almost stripped away, but the documentary feel of handheld brings it back together in such a way that it feels beautifully raw.
“We staged our actors with existing light on locations, to some degree, and I turned those existing lights on and off selectively.“- Radium Cheung, HKSC
May Taylor made history at the 31st Film Independent Spirit Awards earlier this February, becoming the first Transgender to win at the awards. Winning for best supporting actress, and earning a standing ovation, Taylor’s speech becomes ever more pressing today .
Whether Tangerine will become a cult movie, is partly down to sociological changes; but what can be said for certain, is that it is both a real and tragic, yet alluring piece of cinema.