PRESS RELATED INQUIRIES
FOREIGN SALES INQUIRIES
Cinemavault Releasing International Inc.
Dikenga Films, 2004
Director: Steve Balderson
by Joe Schaefer
The razzle dazzle of sickeningly huge big budget
action films and the clever for clever's sake movies that boast
the top spots in today's cinema houses are simply unmatched by the
daringly original, vastly virginal in presentation and positively
pure performances of Writer/Director Steve Balderson's tragedy on
Not only a film to be watched, it is a film to
The experience can be compared to marveling at
the intricacies of a spider's web. This metaphor is easily adapted
to an initial viewing of Firecracker and each subsequent experience
thereafter. Imagine, in your heart of hearts and active mind's eye,
if you will, the complexity of said web that also weaves within
it, a mix of honest simplicity. If you study the web closely enough,
it is devoid of color, yet within the bounds of reality and in truth
it is illuminated by color under the right conditions. Upon closer
inspection, characters fall victim to the web, becoming hopelessly
entrapped. Writhing and seeking escape, at any cost, their beauty
and moments of ugliness are exposed. Having foreknowledge and foresight
of their fate, you exist at a threshold, watching, expecting, knowing.
The viciousness of the creature who will disarm the bug of it's
suffering and soul, who is at the moment captured within the web,
creeps slowly, and you know of the coming fate and event. No matter
how sickening it is, or how badly you feel, you cannot take your
eyes off of it. Tortuous suffering and death occurs, and the deed
is done. Somehow you have witnessed moments that you cannot decide
whether to celebrate in its beauty or to mourn the losses. Either
way it is done.
Or is it?
(insert distinctively original, moving, revealing
and powerful pieces from the soundtrack here!)
Suddenly, without warning and without time to
catch your breath, a hand stretches across your field of vision,
seemingly from nowhere, and sweeps through the web, taking with
it the tiny little world, destroying it, furthering the damage already
done. As the world of the bug slowly came undone, so did that of
the spider and so does yours as you take part in a journey that
unfolds in front as well as within.
Not unlike the experience known as Firecracker.
Firecracker is short of "just another film,"
it's an experience to be had. It's one of the eyes, the heart and
the soul. It is cathartic, or a purgation of sorts, as those seemingly
dry tragedies of the past once were that you had to suffer in high
school or college; however, Firecracker is engrossing and smart,
capturing the attention and drawing you in as your appetite for
more grows with each successive scene. Be not afraid, Firecracker
is very much an update on the classic tragedy, told by a story teller
who has a nascent finger on the pulse of contemporary cinema. That
same finger has enough creative flow in it to make your head spin,
and when it stops, you get off the ride and wrangle with feelings
of excitement and despair. The juxtaposition of both fight for prominence.
Billed as a tragedy as the lights go down and
the enchantment begins, Steve Balderson presents his story, based
on actual events, that took place in his hometown of Wamego, Kansas.
True to tragic drama of the past, Firecracker is classic in the
sense that it sprinkles its story and fills the screen with tantalizing
characters who, at times, act as tragic hero and even as the chorus.
Such that would be found in tragic literature and theater, but are
presented as a fascinating addition to a film with scenes and sequences
that are nothing short of becoming classic film moments.
A critic of Shakespeare once wrote of the bard,
he "pours new wine into old bottles." Writer and Director
Steve Balderson does the same as he brings the true story from a
town in the mid-west to life in a multi-layered and multiple stanza
poem that is rich in crisp, brilliant images. If being conscious
of minute details to create dramatic effect as well as bringing
new artistic life back to the screen is a crime, then Steve Balderson
is guilty as charged. Much like the bard, Balderson utilizes the
audience's imagination, hoping for those creepy images saved up
in the deep, dark recesses of the imagination to take shape. For
example, in scenes that call for graphic representation, Balderson
shies away from being overt and relies on the experiences of the
audience to fill in the blanks, adding to the experience and adding
to the artistic mystery of Firecracker. Balderson's characters even
bring to mind other moments, although not exactly, of Shakespeare.
This is especially true as characters delve deeply into inescapable
insanity after murderous behavior and one even tries to rub out,
unsuccessfully, grotesque spots of blood like that of Lady Macbeth,
to no avail.
Be not afraid, this is not a period piece by
the aforementioned references to Shakespeare. Although timeless
in nature, this is a modern take on human values and the human condition.
And comparisons be damned, this is a film that is unlike anything
seen in recent memory.
At the darkened heart of Firecracker is the compelling
story of Jimmy, an abused coming of age teen who falls victim to
his abusive older brother and who is caged emotionally by his religious
zealot of a mother. Longing for escape, love and to drink the elixir
of both, Jimmy finds solace and excitement in a traveling sideshow
carnival. Boundless in technicolor illusion and promise, the carnival
also hides a few rotting secrets and evil. Jimmy, nonetheless, finds
Sandra, a woman who holds beauty in her appearance, song, and heart.
She too is caged and under the fist of another, the carnival owner,
Frank. It is when Jimmy's brother, David, disappears that worlds
begin to collide, as well as emotions, with earth shattering and
soul stirring force. Explosive sounds, images, words and performances
are the ties that bind the core story into a knot, pulling tighter
and tighter until they snap and pop on screen, and in the gut.
The simplicity of Wamego, Kansas is shattered
as Firecracker hits the ground running, literally. Creeping up Vine
Street are the townspeople and neighbors while haunting music and
a soul scraping wind attack the auditory senses. Images mimic the
same when a body is unearthed in a shed and Police Chief Ed's (Susan
Traylor) reaction to the odor is nothing less then gut wrenching.
Not unlike the images and the emotional tug of war that weaves its
way throughout Firecracker.
The tug of war works of three levels: that upon
each other, within the characters themselves and that within the
Not a murder mystery, but a murder/cover-up that,
along the way, treats the audience to an outsider's view of the
human condition magnified on screen to a sickening degree. Yet at
times, the audience is treated to moments that are full of care
and wonder for the characters, ill-natured or not, that is unique
to a film, like Firecracker.
A story ripe with characters who are searching
for love, drunk with power, in extreme denial, hungry for escape,
consumed by guilt, bent on exploitation, Firecracker peels away
the layers one by one. Starting with the true story at its core,
illuminated by its richly fascinating characters who are developed
by their unique look, words and actions and presented by a fantastic
array of images.
Academy award nominee, Karen Black, personifies
all that is kind and proper for a woman devoted to her religion
and rightly devoted to her sons, Jimmy (Jak Kendall) and David (Mike
Patton). As Eleanor, Black commands the character and the screen
making the character seem as though she is an age-old alter ego
of Black's, having always existed in her psyche. Eleanor reluctantly
stands by as David, sick with anger and starved for affection, abusively
rules the roost, especially when it comes to younger brother Jimmy.
Patton's depiction of such a character is nothing short of natural,
with a hint of fear injected into the audience as one begins to
wonder how easily he plays this role. Jak Kendall makes his debut
as Jimmy, the reclusive, quiet-natured younger brother with dreams
of escape that are intertwined with a deep-seeded anger that boils
within, born of the abuse he has endured. Kendall floats in and
out of each scene on strings that are attached to your heart as
he pulls at them, demanding, through performance, that you find
his innocence destroyed on one level, but hauntingly present on
the next. He is the embodiment of the character he plays, thoroughly
convincing and hauntingly real.
Both Black and Patton double up as they play
dual roles. Black as Sandra, the love interest of both Jimmy and
David (whereas Jimmy longs to love her as the mother he wishes to
have and David seeks a means of sexual gratification; perhaps a
hint of the Oedipus Complex eeks its way into the tangled relationships),
again, she plays, this time the carnival attraction, the character
with precision and beauty. Can anyone say Academy Award? Mike Patton
plays up the sinister and evil carnival owner Frank as only the
mind of musician masterpiece Patton could deliver, with enough venom
to kill off the audience. If Patton ended his acting career here,
not only would he be at the top of his game, it would be a shame.
It is interesting to note that although Patton appears in approximately
12 scenes, his presence is such that he is felt throughout the entire
The mystic, Pearl, played by Brooke Balderson,
is flawless in her delivery of the mysterious insight and powerful
dialogue. In one pivotal scene she demands, "Why do you cover
it up? Why do you hide?" As an audience member, one might expect
her to be speaking to Police Chief Ed, or perhaps as Steve Balderson
makes active participants of his audience, she is speaking to them,
insisting that they look inward and search within themselves.
Police Chief Ed (Susan Traylor) loves her town.
Traylor portrays Ed as though she has always been in Wamego, Kansas.
Traylor plays the role as though she has known these characters
that play opposite her all of her life. Naturally. With true compassion
and a dose of realism that is undeniable, Traylor represents all
that is unique to the character and her performance, which speaks
volumes of her talent.
Firecracker is a myriad of wonderous and devilish
characters, including oddities, who are too numerous to list, but
who are nonetheless superior in their craft.
Playing host to those characters is the town
where the actual events took place. Firecracker's majesty and downright
realism is captured in perfection by its sets/locations--that of
Wamego, Kansas. Everything from the murder house to the glow of
the carnival is brought to life straight from the locales that spawned
the creepy story in the first place. Hollywood couldn't dream of
stuff like this.
Quite possibly, Steve Balderson's Firecracker
will be a tough film to top for himself and in the cinema houses.
Firecracker is a journey. Firecracker is an experience.
Watch Firecracker as entertainment and you are in for a surprise.
You will have one hell of a time, yes, but one thing is for sure,
things will never be the same. See it to feel the train wreck ending,
smell the smells, see the grand spectacle of the artistic aesthetics
and symbolism that all feed into the Firecracker gallery of total
experience that explodes simultaneously on screen and in the psyche.
Psychologists will no doubt muse about the motivations,
both of the characters and of Balderson himself.
Steve Balderson has a flair for eliciting a pure
emotional response through his visual poetry in the form of a mind
boggling voyage. Thus, Firecracker. By picking at the bandaid that
covers only the symptoms instead of treating the disease, he forces
the audience to see themselves in a mirror disguised as images on
a screen. Instead of just viewing the image in that mirror, he expects
you to truly see.
You've come this far, the experience has begun.
Aftertaste Magazine - 2004
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