Jon Jost's FRAMEUP is an excellent, extremely formalist treatment of the American road film. It retraces the lives of an ex-con and his lover as they travel through the Pacific Northwest into California, before they are caught in an aborted robbery and killed by lethal injection for
The film opens with a prologue of long single-take or still-camera landscape shots, accompanied by music and natural sounds, and brief bursts of speech. Then, a twelve-part narrative on the lives of Rickey Lee Gruber (Howard Swain) and Beth-Ann Bolet (Nancy Carlin) begins. The characters are
introduced separately: Rickey Lee is framed in a split screen, resembling a live mug shot, illustrating the two dominant aspects of his personality, one angry and violent, the other bored, unvaried, and vulgar. Beth-Ann is introduced inside a picture frame speaking about her high school loves
while personal items from her girlhood, such as makeup, nail polish, and earrings, are inserted and removed from the frame.
Beth-Ann narrates her first sight of Ricky, at the diner in Idaho where she is a waitress, and their first night in a motel. Rickey Lee has stolen a small pickup truck and, with it, they travel first to coastal Washington and Oregon and then down into northern California. They sightsee, drive
through the Redwoods, and eventually rob a convenience store, where Rickey Lee commits three murders. Rickey Lee and Beth-Ann are both sentenced to death. During their executions, as the injections are administered, Rickey Lee rages and Beth-Ann whimpers, and then both quickly lose consciousness.
A narrator describes the lethal injection process in a dispassionate voice as the camera gazes at a group of spectators watching from behind glass. The film concludes with Beth-Ann commenting on her experience of death as the image of her face is gradually obscured by the nothingness of a blank
Jost uses formalist techniques to express his characters' despair, isolation, and spiritual depravity, and implies the existence of such despair, naivete, and alienation in American culture. He regularly frames his characters alone, in odd compositions, or moving partially in and out of frame.
There is little dialogue between characters, and when they speak they seem to speak to themselves or to an exterior or unfamiliar spectator.
The self-referentiality of the project is suggested in the opening scenes, when the words FILM, WRITE, DIRECT, EDIT, JOST, and FRAMEUP overlap with images. Later, after Rickey Lee botches the robbery, the film breaks to a news-style interview with a woman describing her experience when held up at
Jost's self-reflexive formal devices force the spectator to question both what he is observing and the distinction between film and reality, breaking the traditional cathartic identification of narrative cinema. The film's pacing reflects the lives of the characters, two people who lack any
purpose. Rickey Lee is nervous and excited when he steals and angry and violent when things do not go his way, but he is otherwise bored and lethargic. Beth-Ann is completely uninspired, and only mildly excited by the possibility of love, romance novels, and sex. Highlights include Rickey Lee's
description of a typical romance novel, Rickey Lee and Beth-Ann having sex while exchanging words associated with California, and an uncommon and humorous scene of male frontal nudity.(Violence, extensive nudity, adult situations, extreme profanity.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: Jon Jost's FRAMEUP is an excellent, extremely formalist treatment of the American road film. It retraces the lives of an ex-con and his lover as they travel through the Pacific Northwest into California, before they are caught in an aborted robbery and kil… (more)