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Tchoupitoulas - Movie Review - 2012

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Tchoupitoulas - Movie Review - 2012

'Tchoupitoulas' Poster Art

Oscilloscope Pictures

A Youthful Escapade in New Orleans

In Tchoupitoulas, three African-American youngsters -- the Zanders brothers -- leave their home in the low income suburbs of New Orleans, hop aboard a ferry and head for the Big Easy's French Quarter to experience their first night out on the town.

With wide-eyed wonder, they wander through the streets and check out the colorful sites and spectacles of the vibrant, celebratory Crescent City.

A Most Excellent Adventure

Accompanied by a faithful and patient protector -- their dog named Buttercup, who follows along on a leash -- the three boys randomly encounter New Orleans characters: street musicians playing Dixieland jazz and the blues, folk and flute tunes, a dancing clown with huge feet, down-and-outs who inhabit park benches, buskers selling souvenirs, sunglasses and highly desirable gadgets. They find their way into nightclubs and stage shows featuring strippers, rappers, drag queens and novelty dancers. They watch several parades and clamor for the beads and trinkets tossed to the crowds by costumed characters who are riding high on the floats> They poke around dark side streets and explore the waterfront, and, with curiosity and some trepidation, trespass on to an abandoned, dark and decaying ship.

From start to finish, the boys' night out is a most excellent adventure, filled with extraordinary discoveries and first time experiences - things they'd never even dreamed of seeing and doing.

Unseen Filmmakers

Filmmakers Bill Ross and Turner Ross -- who happen to be brothers, too -- are there to document every moment of the Zanders brothers' wide-eyed wonder at it all, but they never appear on camera, and they never interject their voices with questions from the sidelines.

Their camera work is fly-on-the-wall, and nothing but.

In fact, the only time their camera's presence is acknowledged is when it's focused directly on the boys faces, registering close ups as the boys look directly into the lens, while the world seems to spin by in the background. And, during one sequence, an oyster shucker, while teasing an elderly customer about the effects of oysters on the libido, looks into the lens and winks.

There are no on camera interviews with the subjects or expert commentators. The film's audio is natural sound, a marvelous composite on camera conversations between the boys and the people they meet, mixed in with clips of the music they hear on the streets or in the clubs and shows, with snippets of their on camera conversations with each other and with the people they meet. And, the filmmakers use revealing sound bytes of the boys' ongoing banter about their experiences or life in general as voice over that artfully compliments or provides counterpoint to images on the screen.

There is no use of intertitles to provide statistics or any interpretive guidelines.

The Ross brothers are nonjudgmental, never taking sides with or against any of their subjects, never telling their viewers what to think or feel.

Disctinctive Style, Vision and Sensibility

Yet, their distinctive style, vision and sensibility make the Ross bothers an extremely strong presence in Tchoupitoulas and in their first film, 45365, an observational documentary about their home town of Sidney, Ohio.

Their beautiful handheld camera work seems casual, but is remarkably focused, keen and nuanced in its observation of detail. They're superb storytellers, sensitive to moments of drama and humor, ready to allow the story to develop as it will, in its own time. They fearlessly allow images on screen to fade to black or to dissolve into swirling colored light. They connect with their subjects with rare ease and grace, yet stand aside as impartial observers.

The Ross brothers seem to see the world as a work of art, and that's how they deliver its truths to the viewers of their films.

Tchoupitoulas is a beautifully realized, lyrical, impressionistic and affecting documentary.

Central Casting

In Tchoupitoulas, the youngest of the three brothers is given the most screen time, and he stands out as an icon of youthful innocence, exuberance, curiosity and aspiration. He's a good kid, smart and forward thinking. But his circumstances are hard. At home, he sleeps on a mattress without a sheet, uses a plastic milk crate as a desk on which to do his homework, and makes up tunes on his recorder incessantly as a way of transcending his crowded confines and being badgered by his brothers.

During his night out, he's fascinated by a street flautist wearing angel wings and pixie dust, and listens attentively as she assures him he'll be able to play all the woodwind instruments 'cause he can play the recorder. When he's given a toy sword at a parades and brandishes it wildly, he readily complies with a cop's instruction to hold it by his side so he doesn't poke someone's eye out. At one point, he tells of a dream in which he was wearing all six of his superbowl rings on one finger and retired from his successful law practice to become an architect. But he also comments that "nobody cares about what happens to us." As the documentary progresses, you come to care deeply about this boy and can't help but be concerned about whether he'll have the opportunity to make at least some of his dreams come true.

He is an extraordinary character and, though his wonder-filled eyes, the French Quarter becomes an extraordinary character, too -- an exciting and mysterious source of entertaining spectacle and artistry and exotic fun of all sorts for kids of all ages. The filmmakers use footage of some places -- the dressing room and backstage at a strip joint, for example -- that were probably accessed without the Zander boys' presence, but the shots are authentic, used moderately and they heighten the impression of the character of the French Quarter. Without any of the typical come ons, the film is a terrific travelogue and tourism beacon for New Orleans.

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Film Details:

  • Title: Tchoupitoulas
  • Director: Bill Turner and Ross Turner
  • US Theatrical Release Date: December 7, 2012
  • Running Time: 80 mins.
  • Parental Guidance: Advisory for Parental Guidance for content
  • Location: New Orleans' French Quarter and suburbs, including Algiers, Louisiana
  • Language: English
  • Production Country: USA
  • Theatrical Distribution Company: Oscilloscope Pictures
  • Official Website
  • Trailer

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