Theorems on Film

Cam Archer loves images. A look at his work reveals a deep connection between that burning iris image of both photographers and filmmakers. Based in Santa Cruz, California, where the combination of beach and communal existence adds a shade of light to some of the grays Archer plays with, he made his splash at Sundance in 2006, working with heavy hitter Scott Rudin and the auteur’s auteur Gus Van Sant. The film Wild Tigers I Have Known followed a young boy coming to terms with his homosexuality. For its critically celebrated director, the success came with a cost: he was (somewhat) famous. For Cam Archer, this was not something to be happy about.

His website ( is sparse—two images, following an image of the man (boy?) Himself, covering his face with his hand, looking as if he were photographed at the wrong time. Finding himself at Sundance again in 2010 for his second film Shit Year, Archer was open with his ennui. What did he do in between? Well, he directed music videos (a lot of them) and started using a lot of 16mm film. His short films shot on 16mm led to his feature film Shit Year being shot on 16mm (starring Ellen Barkin) and in black and white. One can’t help if the title refers To Cam’s feeling after his early success. After all, the film is about fading superstars and the loss of celebrity status.

Archer’s explanation for the creation of the film is that it came to him in a dream—the image of a man dressed in black, whose attributes he eventually applied to the female character Colleen West. He has stated that he finds his film to be more “performance piece” than “real-life drama.” Perhaps because he is a bit older than he was when he made the adolescent daydream Wild Tigers or perhaps because his true love is for the still image, you get the sense that he would be happy just to take 3,600 still photographs and line them up, one per second, and let you run by as fast as you can and be left with the pictures in your head and let the movie create itself. Or maybe that’s just me. But there is no denying that Archer’s work stays under your skin. Part Todd Haynes and part Hanes Underwear, his music video direction plays with speed, slowing down time and superimposing images of very non-Hollywood looking people. His video of “Throw it All Away” for Zero 7, his grainy black and white imagery, his Elliot Smith look and feel and his emotive sexuality have him poised to have a love-hate relationship with fame for a long while.

– Adam Pollock