Resident Video 4: Denton’s Pullout Couch

Resident Video is a monthly series that provides exclusive access to short films from emerging artists. In honor of Halloween and the month-long spookiness that precedes it, we bring you Ryan Ohm’s Denton’s Pullout Couch, an unsettling film about sex, isolation, and escapism.

Denton’s Pullout Couch explores the isolation of a young man (Alex Silver) looking to escape his outsider status by indulging in something that will unite him with his peers and give him access to a more authentic social life — sex. His experience with an older prostitute momentarily curbs his anxiety as they engage in a nostalgic fantasy, but this ultimately leaves him with a deeper sense of insecurity. While Denton’s extreme sense of exclusion and personal anxiety make his character unique, his confusion in navigating adult life makes him relatable to a wide range of viewers. The film gained critical acclaim after screening at Seattle’s National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) in April as well as several other festivals around the country.

Like many of Ryan Ohm’s films, Denton’s Pullout Couch is an exploration of youth culture, using nostalgia for a simpler time as a recurring theme. However, in contrast with Ohm’s other works, Denton takes a much darker turn while investigating today’s youth. The film’s melancholy appropriation of 80’s film aesthetic along with a soundscape of atonal strings and wistful melodies makes for a depressive story of rejection and escapism.

Ohm’s collection of films and music videos such as Vimeo staff pick The Night the Sky Fell in New Haven and a teaser for his upcoming feature film Finn & the Sea of Noise, can be seen on his Vimeo channel. Read through the interview below to gain insight into Ryan’s inspiration and creative process.

One of the major themes explored in Denton’s Pullout Couch is the evolution of sexuality and how having or not having sex can create a sense of isolation. The most comfortable scene in the film for Denton’s character occurs when he and Jessie transform into one of the couples from a classic film Denton idolizes. How do you think sex and its portrayal in film plays a role in young people’s lives in terms of self-worth?

Cinema plays a huge role in shaping a young gun’s mentality on sex and losing one’s virginity, no doubt about it. With Denton’s Pullout Couch I wanted to take a stab at visualizing a more real truth of ‘what sex is’ and the media’s role in shaping that viewpoint. Denton’s problem is he confuses love with two vastly different cinematic voyages – pornography and a Hemingway novel turned film in the early 30s. Never experiencing a real connection with even a friend, let alone in a romantic sense, Denton is isolated because he is so far off the grid from the perceived sexual norm.

The film itself mirrors the roughness of the VHS Denton watches on repeat. This creates a sense of “instant nostalgia,” as if the film had been shot many years ago but was only recently discovered. This feeling is a trademark in a lot of your work. Is it a simple longing for styles long passed, or do you see the use of nostalgic imagery as a way to comment on the present in a new way?

Hmm, it’s tough to say. As a filmmaker I aesthetically love creating a faded, unidentified era in films. I think this allows for a more timeless feel off the bat and gives everyone on the team a sense of liberty. We can have a VHS player prop, a 60s shirt, 90s phone, etc. – it’s all about creating a new world – that’s why we watch films, to escape somewhere new, right? (I know Denton does, heh.) Director of Photography and all around amazing dude, Nicholas “Guy” Wilson, had plenty of badass ideas to work with this nostalgic aesthetic – my favorite being shooting in 4:3 to emulate watching a VHS tape on an old tube tele.

Funny story, so this was my thesis film at Columbia College Chicago and we’d be watching dailies in class and every other minute somebody would throw their hand in the air or just belt out “oh man, you got a C-stand, boom pole, or jesus… a crew member in the shot!” Eventually folks remembered we were applying a tight 4:3 pillar box to our frame, but we got some good looks and laughs while watching the raw footy.

From the noisy, at times atonal score to the constant sexual anguish within Denton, your film rarely allows its viewers to feel anything but unsettled. Unlike, say, horror cinema though, its intent isn’t necessarily to scare the audience. Why then create such an overwhelming sense of dread throughout?

Jeremy Marsan, a long time bud and creator behind the entire score, really dug deep into the internal emotions of Denton throughout the film before diving into the actual score. From the moment we meet Denton in his wood paneled, dark bedroom – in the glow of his tele – we begin to experience his downfall. I wanted the whole film to feel like a nightmare slowly unfolding. There’s a few moments when things look up, but primarily the film is a downward spiral. For instance, when Denton finally has a moment of euphoria while dancing with Jessie, Jeremy created a cover of a classic Roy Orbison song. However, he noted he let his vocals strain to still show the slight level of anxiety in Denton. In other scenes, Jeremy used sound to emphasize Denton’s anxiety to an extreme, even when he’s just eating cereal a manic violin plucks over the scene to represent his inner demons. Jeremy utilized an old violin, piano and sampled bits and pieces from the early days of cinema to create the wild score for the film.

The final image on Denton’s TV shows birds flying upwards out of frame, giving the viewer a sense of Denton’s newfound emotional freedom upon feeling understood — if only by a prostitute. This scene could have been a satisfying ending to the film. Why the decision to continue Denton’s spiral into isolation after his momentary escape from reality?

Denton’s vision of love was crafted entirely from viewed imagery, not life experience. So when he encounters his first real human connection, he instantly thinks he has found this “hollywood love.” It’s likely clear to everyone but Denton that a prostitute is not making his or her presence and time available for love. So I think it was really key to show Denton’s aftermath, if only to hint at what love can mean to folks today. I love watching a happy flick, but oddly when I’m behind the wheel I find myself going into darker turf, where the street lights end.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Resident Video series. While the films are no longer available, the interviews remain. Forever.

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