April 13, 2011

Absurdist Jazz: Robert Downey Sr - Part I

by Allen Irwin

Although this film is practically “lost” I was able to catch a digital presentation of it, straight from Downey’s personal collection, this week at the Alamo Drafthouse’s repertory series of a few of his films. 

Moment to Moment (aka Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos) (1975) – dir. Robert Downey Sr.

A sharply ascending sax line graces the first black frame of Robert Downey’s Moment to Moment, a sort of aural overture to the cinematic improvisation to come. The film works more as a jazzy, surreal series of riffs, or variations on a theme, rather than a conventional narrative, but that it does extremely well. Downey’s then-wife Elsie (credited as L.C. Downey) serves as master of ceremonies to his free associative carnival.

Downey filmed Moment to Moment over the course of a few years and released it in 1975 on a few 16mm prints that almost immediately disappeared from circulation. The film consists of short sketches, interviews with strange characters, what look to be home movies, and possibly even some found footage. While some characters reappear, none is more consistent than Elsie: playing every single female part, even when it requires her to have a conversation with herself, affecting a different British accent for each character. The singular nature with which the film views her makes it easy to conceive of Moment to Moment as a sort of love note or poem celebrating and examining Elsie as not just a woman but the woman. While the film’s subjectivity remains hard to pin down, it is possible that it is either Elsie’s or Downey’s (or neither).