A Review of Noel David Taylor’s Man Under Table
What is avant-garde creativity in a quasi-apocalyptic post-Covid world that’s still recovering from the surreal nightmare of Donald Trump-era politics? What is the relationship between reality and imagination in our landscape of ubiquitous content? Man Under Table OR: I’m Writing a Movie, Noel David Taylor’s feature-length directorial debut film, magnifies these questions. It works against conventions and viewer expectations to macably majestic effect. A film like this deserves an uncommon review. So this article challenges readers by weaving together an analysis of the film and an interview with Taylor. The threads seek to push you out of your comfort zone in much the same way as Man Under Table.
CHRIS: The characters in your short films and videos have a penchant for finding the darkness in mundanity to humorous effect. Where does your interest in exploring these situations come from?
NOEL: I think I’ve always felt a severe confusion and disconnection from the bureaucratic and systemic. I’ve never understood the structures people have made to create order or sense. So I think I tend to riff off of my discomfort, and I think everyone to some extent feels the same confusion, on occasion. I really enjoy trying to pinpoint those ideas, and playing with how they make you feel: being alive is super weird, but we have to put that aside in order to get through the day.
Man Under Table is set in a sardonic Los Angeles filled with caricatures of hipster filmmakers, money-hungry executives, and nonsubstantive social media influencers. Spot-on performances like Katy Fullan’s indie-darling “Jill Custard,” Ben Babbitt’s pretentious tagalong “Ben,” and John Edmund Parcher’s sleazy producer “Gerald” are simultaneously unnerving and enrapturing.
C: What was the inspiration for Man Under Table? Can you provide some specific anecdotes?
N: I had been trying pretty hard to find a place in film in LA, mostly writing. I managed to get some work and fell in with some fairly unsavory characters. It felt like the further I went into that wormhole the more unbelievable and dark things got. I’d look around and think; did anybody hear that? Is anyone seeing this? This can’t be real! So much ego and attempted cash and status grabbing it just all felt too insane, it became impossible not to parody.
Contradictory impulses create a tenor of melancholic seduction, using low-fi sound production and minimalist visual effects to create a nihilistic wasteland that calls to mind André Breton’s 1924 “Manifesto of Surrealism.” Following World War I, Dada-movement artists and their successors, the Surrealists, believed that rational thought could no longer make sense of the world. They were influenced by Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis that called for the embrace of the unconscious to make sense of the ugliness of a decaying world.
Breton argued, “The imagination is perhaps on the point of reasserting itself, of reclaiming its rights. If the depths of our mind contain within it strange forces capable of augmenting those on the surface, or of waging a victorious battle against them, there is every reason to seize them — first to seize them, then, if need be, to submit them to the control of our reason.” The uncertainty and feelings of global crisis in 2021 parallel the context in which Breton was writing. We are ultimately rewarded by Man Under Table if go beyond the conscious mind and give ourselves over to our subterranean impulses.
C: Throughout the film we meet stereotypical, inauthentic LA characters. What does authenticity look like to you?
N: I think authenticity often comes from resisting the urge to act on one’s insecurities, from choosing instead an openness and thoughtfulness that is instantly recognizable when you see it (which is perhaps not often enough in LA). To be authentic I think you need to drop the idea that you are special or different. Everyone is of course those things but the more you try to mimic someone else the more you will lose yourself. But on the other hand people might think you’re super cool so who knows maybe it’s worth it.
(L to R: Frank Perry and Alisa Torres as “Exec 1” and “Exec 2” in Man Under Table: Photo courtesy of ManUnderTable.com)
Viewed through this lens of the unconscious, Man Under Table becomes a biographical experience for viewers. The frustration of Noel David Taylor’s “Guy” is all of ours. “Guy” is torn between selling a film idea to two mindless executives, played with deadpan brilliance by Alisa Torres and Frank Perry, to make money and staying honest to the vision he wants to create. Tensions between the demands of a content-demanding populace and a desire to create something of which he can actually be proud drive “Guy” literally under a table in despair. Knowing he can never be a shiny happy influencer like “Lyle,” played by Robert Manion, “Guy” writes a suicide note to affirm his disinterest in a world of plastic media. Is this his goodbye or is it just the beginning?
C: If you were stuck under a table for 8 hours what are three items you’d want with you to keep you occupied? Why those three?
N: When I was a kid I absolutely relished climbing under the table – just to escape the world, pretend I was in a spaceship, or what have you. I have to admit at this point I’ve gotten fairly obsessed with my Nintendo switch and as lame of an answer as that is, it comes to mind. After that probably a drink and a sketchbook.
(Kathy Fullan as indie darling Jill Custard in Man Under Table : Photo courtesy of ManUnderTable.com )
This moment of decision is something to which we all can relate at this point in time. We’ve not yet fully entered the next stage of life after Covid-19 but the dawn is upon us. Who will we all be now? We have the chance to start over again. To create a reality we want. Do we only go by the despair we see in front of us, or do we pay closer attention to our dreams of what could be and work towards making those realities?
C: How has Covid changed the film industry in your opinion?
N: I think in a lot of ways people in any business have had a chance to reassess the need for physicality. It’s honestly a relief to not schlep to Santa Monica for an audition, so it’s not all bad! And I hope people’s safety remains a top priority in film, I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the speed and effectiveness the film industry has managed to muster in this awful time.
Man Under Table was right at home when it premiered at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival. Beginning in 1995 the festival operated as an antidote to mainstream festivals like Sundance and Tribeca. The growing disenchantment with systemic Hollywood and increasing artist empowerment through online forums, however, position Slamdance to rise in prominence. With artists like Noel David Taylor challenging the stagnance of creative boundaries and the confines of reality, look for a game-changing future of filmmaking. It’s right there if you can imagine it.
I’m giving Man Under Table a 4.5 out of 5 Hairpieces!
Check out ManUnderTable.com for more information about the film and head to NoelDavidTaylor.com for a look at his body of work.