Writer-director Todd Berger, who also stars in “The Scenesters” as writer-director Wallace Cotten, takes on documentarians, the found-footage film movement, TV crime procedurals, LA hipsters, mumblecore, local news, Hollywood scumbags, wannabe rockers and many other Los Angelenos in his new film, a courtroom drama about a documentary film crew on the trail of a serial killer. It’s not nearly as confusing as it sounds, and much funnier.
Sherilyn Fenn (yes, the Sherilyn Fenn) stars as an assistant district attorney questioning a series of witnesses in connection in the trial of a serial killer. The film is a faux reality TV broadcast that’s part comedy, part whodunit thriller, comprised of hardboiled noir, surveillance video, mysterious DVDs, and documentary footage.
The witness list is the cast and crew of “The Scenesters,” (the movie within the movie) a doc about Charlie Newtown (Blaise Miller), “average schlub with a Sherlockian sense of deduction” who works on a crime scene cleanup crew. At the scene of his first murder, Newton meets Cotten, a crime-scene videographer, and his producer Roger Graham (Jeff Grace). Cotton and Graham are so taken with Newton’s story that they begin to make him the focus of their filmmaking efforts, getting into arguments with each other about the film’s editing and whether or not to focus on a possible love story for their new hero.
The film is so understated—the noir bits are unflinchingly deadpan, and the commentary of hipster snobbery is so dry--that it’s easy to miss a lot of the humor, but it’s definitely there. And the structure is remarkably inventive and clever, if a bit slipshod at times, but it’s easy to forgive them their missteps.
Two years after the film’s (very limited) theatrical release, it’s finally available on home video. The deleted scenes work better than those included with most films because the movie itself is so structurally disjointed that many of these moments stand on their own. The making-of featurette starts out being interesting, as Berger talks at length about the genesis of the film and his take on Los Angeles history, but it’s too long and starts get a little boring as it begins to focus too much on explaining the plot.
“The Scenesters” is a gutsy experiment that rewards the viewer's knowledge of Los Angeles, movies and TV with a funny and engaging hyper-meta crime story.