“I willingly was a participant in the lifestyle of the motorcycle club, and it is a lot like any other social scene, with it’s own codes and mores, only perhaps faster and at times more violent. But at the same time, it is upfront, so in that sense you know what you are dealing with and it is clear what is expected from you… I have never been uncomfortable around the club and have never felt threatened in any way, if they like you, and most importantly, if the leader of the club likes you, they will treat you with absolute respect.” -Laura Stewart
The two main protagonists of Laura Stewart’s latest film are the titular “Shooter,” motorcycle gang leader of Green Bay, Wisconsin’s Black Pistons, and Whitley, a young woman who is both his partner in crime and charity project.
Shooter is an actual individual whom Stewart credits with sparking her interest in perusing the project in the first place; “I didn’t even know what this film was going to be about when I started it, I had always liked Shooter and found him intriguing… he was the only subject that interested me enough to blow through all this film.” From seven hours of footage, the final cut comes in at fifty-three minutes.
Shot without a script, the film uses voice-over narration to reveal the thoughts, fears and desires of Shooter and Whitley, and we experience the filmic world Stewart creates through the lense of their impressions and experiences. Although Stewart confesses that a typical days shoot would involve “having a general idea what I’d want to film,” she cultivated a collaborative relationship with her actors and actresses wherein they would agree or decline to proceed given the premise she would establish. The goal was always to produce scenes that most realistically reflected their lives, so although the relationships and events of the film are all constructed, the characters had, “the freedom to expose the parts of their lives that they want(ed to).”
For Whitley, this entailed sound bites about coming from a broken home, learning how to cook crack by age eight, and getting thrown out of the house by fifteen. Shooter took a longer view about his romantic relationships over the years, and the protection and security he could provide Whitley for the price of obedience.
By giving them the “freedom to be who they want(ed) to be,” Stewart felt she was able to better coax an authentic portrayal of their “lifestyle or soul” from them. Amidst the dancing, drugs, partying and prostitution that eventually entrap Whitley, and cloud her ultimate quest for comfort and security in the hands of Shooter, we find both characters blindly searching for home in a motel and bar, and referring to a biker gang family.
Without knowing the film is fiction, it is virtually impossible to perceive it as anything but documentary. This complex fusion of fiction and reality is what interests Stewarts, who feels that, “…all our lives are continually being made up every day in our heads anyway. There is no concrete documentary in my opinion.”
The non-diegetic mood music is eclectic and often jarring— it ranges from a song by the Dirty Three, to The Rolling Stones, to Franz Schubert. One scene in particular, shot on location at the Bourbon Street bar, pairs “Nacht und Träume” with lingering close-ups on Whitley’s tightly bound bust and Shooter’s grizzled, filthy looking paw stroking her upper thigh. The camera cannibalizes the image of Whitley, lingering on her chest and leg, chiefly without inclusion of her head or face in the frame, placing the viewer in the position of objectifying misogynist right alongside Shooter.
There were a handful of reasons why Stewart opted for filming in 16mm (with some Super 8)— some were practical, others were creative license. After recent run-ins with the law that Shooter and members of motorcycle club had just prior to filming, the analogue technology of 16mm, “let them know this was not some sort of surveillance, so (they) would be comfortable with a camera around.” In addition, the film pays homage to seventies cult biker films which were also often shot quickly, using 16mm.
Stewart embraced the uncertainty that filming in 16mm comes with, stating, “That was part of what I liked best about (it), never having any idea how it would turn out until it came back from the lab in Seattle.” She notes that, “the bikes and the chrome, and the Sky Lit motel with it’s 50′s sign where the M goes out after a lot of rain, this was something I felt needed to be on 16mm.” While the quality of shooting with film goes a long way towards setting the stylized tone of the film, the rigid, traditional and conservative gender roles that both Shooter and Whitley personify also reinforce this feeling. The trance-like spell their gritty, sparse, and often desperate monologues invoke, incanted under the pulsing neon light of the Vegas-style motel sign transport the viewer to a bygone era, so much so that moments when a man in a recumbent bike pedals past the Bourbon Street bar, or a different man gets into his car in the parking lot of the Sky Lit while talking on his cell phone are unexpectedly shocking, standing out as wrinkles in the time warp.
Stewart reports that the bikers like the film, and that, interestingly, “the guys all say it is more about relationships.” Through an interesting blend of narrative and documentary, and improvisation and confessional, Stewart employs classic Hollywood filmic troupes alongside contemporary motorcycle club culture and aesthetics to create a film that navigates its own interesting path somewhere between the realms of hyper-reality and fan fiction.
All images courtesy of Laura Stewart.
Interview with Laura Stewart conducted by the author via email in September 2013.
The author would like to thank Laura Stewart.
To contact Stewart, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org