Tracey Re-Fragmented

You can make a better Tracey Fragments

If you (like me) saw Bruce McDonald's new film, The Tracey Fragments, at the Toronto International Film Festival, then you (like me) might also be of the opinion that the film sucked. We can get into critical responses on McDonald's film, which opens today at the Royal, in a minute - but for the time being, let it never be said that McDonald isn't giving the naysayers the ultimate opportunity to do him one better.

To coincide with the nation-wide release of the highly experimental Tracey Fragments (which stars hottie Haligonian up-and-comer Ellen Page), McDonald has made the complete collection of raw footage from the shooting of the film available on the Tracey Fragments web site, The challenge? Do with the film what you will.

The project is called Tracey Re-Fragmented, and like the film itself, it's a journey into the continued plasticity and destructability of the filmed (and/or videotaped) image in the YouTube Decade.

The Tracey Fragments premiered at this year's TIFF with quite a bit of attendant hubbub, largely due to the presence of Page, who was completing a hat trick of performances at the festival and earning herself some media darling status. Fragments' title is literal - the film is composed almost entirely of fragmented multi-window images that play on screen simultaneously in a kind of endless visual kaleidoscope, representing the fractured and often contradictory mental state of its protagonist, 15-year-old Tracey Berkowitz.

The story, such as it is, follows Tracey attempting to deal with having lost her kid brother in the park. We see the days leading up to the loss, and the days after, often several times apiece to reinforce points and connect dots through complicated editing which only gradually reveals a straight-line narrative.

The fragment structure is far and away the film's greatest strength. The visual design, on a conceptual level, is something that has not been done quite this way to quite this effect before; it is occasionally pretty extraordinary in its ability to get at the character of Tracey in a highly expressive deconstruction of a modern teenager's ADHD-addled thought processes.

This ingenious concept is, however, also the film's greatest weakness. McDonald shot the film on what would appear to have been little better than consumer-grade video cameras with minimal lighting or image control. Which is all well and good for low-budget filmmaking, but for a project leaning on such advanced visual experimentation as Tracey Fragments, results in a degradation of the image to the point that the flick becomes nearly incomprehensible at various points.

Tracey Fragments doesn't hold together as a completed work, but it's fascinating as hell as an experiment into the possibilities of narrative. So really, Tracey Re-Fragmented is, like its forbear, well-named. This is a movie of bits. Why shouldn't we, as aspiring video artists (if not displeased filmgoers), be free to take those bits and make them into something better?

The submissions made under Re-Fragmented will be judged in the new year, with the grand prize being a Final Cut Studio 2 software package and various Tracey Fragments miscellany. The files for your slice-and-dicing pleasure are available in several download packets on the Fragments web site.

I'm going to give it a shot, because I have nothing better to do with my time, and in spite of my disappointment with the theatrical version of The Tracey Fragments, I do feel like the idea itself deserves further exploration. Someone is going to crack this thing sooner or later and make it work as well as some fleeting moments in Fragments suggest that it could. And through Re-Fragmented, it might happen very soon.

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