As the Zone is to Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”, so southern Louisiana is for current American movies—a mysterious, water-logged, overgrown terrain, polluted with debris, a place of arcane lore, subject to mysterious forces, and perhaps suffering under a curse. (Why else would the crazy jambalaya that is “Beasts of the Southern Wild” have fallen one vote short of instant acclamation by the New York Film Critics Circle or vote Greig Fraser best cinematographer but decline to acknowledge his sensational New Orleans location work on “Killing Them Softly”? But I digress.)
Southern Louisiana is a territory haunted by ancient ghosts although, because this is America, the ghosts can be mighty cheerful. “Tchoupitoulas” which—named for the riverside New Orleans street that’s named for a vanished Indian tribe—had its premiere at SXSW and opens Friday at the IFC Center in New York is a situation documentary in which three local kids and a dog named Buttercup miss the last ferry home and consequently spend the night immersed in New Orleans street life soaking up the atmosphere of the city’s clubs and dives, rubbing elbows with a mad assortment of bluesmen, drag queens, buskers, oyster-shuckers, strippers, drunken revelers, and miscellaneous party people.
The camera is part of the action. Made by the brothers Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross (and co-produced by two members of the Court 13 collective and produced “Beasts of the Southern Wild”), “Tchoupitoulas” is a fluid, garish, good-timey mélange of close-ups and kid-view low angle shots. Like the youngest brother who takes plastic Mardi Gras beads for real pearls, the Ross brothers treasure the city’s tawdry glamor. (In a press kit statement they describe themselves as running “camera in hand” in pursuit of “what’s sparkling.”
While not a wildly experimental as Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s fishing boat phantasmagorical “Leviathan”, this raucous, nocturnal city symphony has the effect of a wildly colorful dream dreamt as the result of some overindulgence while the city sleeps–if it ever does.