Drag and anarchy: Samuel Kay Forrest's 'HipBeat'

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday March 1, 2022
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Samuel Kay Forrest in his film 'HipBeat'
Samuel Kay Forrest in his film 'HipBeat'

Samuel Kay Forrest's new film HipBeat is well-intentioned even as it leaves a few unanswered questions. Forrest, who wrote the film as well as directed it, also stars as Angus, a young radical political activist from Ireland now living in Berlin. What Angus' activism entails is never quite made clear. He seems to spend a lot of time spray painting the word HipBeat on walls all over town.

Angus is on a journey of self-discovery. He's trying to figure out who he is. He claims not to be gay, yet in one sequence he's seen going down on another young man. Angus also likes to wear his girlfriend's dresses. Does he want to be a drag queen? Is he trans? These questions are never answered.

During one lengthy sequence, Angus chats backstage with a friendly drag queen. The drag queen gets the film's best moment when she beautifully lip-syncs to a recording of Maya Angelou reciting her poem, "Phenomenal Woman."

Some of the film seems amateurish. When Angus confers with the drag queen, the dialogue feels improvised and unscripted. The scene runs on too long. This has the opposite effect of making the scene feel 'real.'

The same thing happens when Angus' girlfriend walks in on him just as he's trying on one of her dresses. The camera stays on them as they talk, and talk, and talk. Again, the seemingly unscripted dialogue and the scene's overlong running time works against the film. What should have been a revelatory scene becomes nothing more than an annoying bore.

Another scene which runs on too long features Angus meeting up with an old friend who he hasn't seen in a number of years. They talk about free love as the young man encourages Angus to be himself and to follow his heart. As before, the scene runs much longer than it should have which renders the scene's emotional impact meaningless.

Strangely, the audience is never told who this young man is or how he and Angus know each other. All we find out is that Angus once stole a book from the young man, a deed that the young man appears to find perfectly acceptable.

The film does offer some fascinating looks inside the queer scene in Berlin. Angus frequents many of the city's queer clubs, where drugs are made readily available and where people are free to have sex with whomever they choose. Boys dance with girls. Boys kiss each other. Girls flirt with each other, sometimes also indulging in kisses. Berlin is clearly a free and open city, where the Weimar Republic lives anew.

Berlin, as photographed by Forrest, is quite beautiful to look at. The clubs are appropriately dark and colorful and the streets and abandoned buildings where Angus sprays his graffiti have an almost Gothic feel to them. Berlin as seen in HipBeat is a place where the sun never shines, making the city seem ghostly and spectral.

Forrest is not without talent. He's good at creating a moody atmosphere which makes HipBeat fascinating to watch, flaws and all. But the auteur needs to learn how to edit himself so that scenes don't run longer than they need to.

HipBeat is now streaming on You Tube, Google Play and Amazon Prime.

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