Finding Loose Ends: Some disorganized thoughts from the Trylon film programmer

| John Moret |

A celluloid film strip with frames reading "Loose Ends."

Credit: John Moret

The Minneapolis films of David Burton Morris and Victoria Wozniak play at the Trylon Cinema from Friday, April 7 through Sunday, April 9. Visit for tickets and more information.

It can be easy to ignore or disregard movies because you haven’t heard of them before. I certainly do it all the time. It often takes the recommendation of a friend I trust, a known director, actor, distributor, etc. to spark my interest. The problem is, because there are just so many films (and so many bad films), we can’t possibly make time for all of them. This is why we make lists and find trusted publications.

It seems to me that in the last couple of years, like most things, film taste has become akin to brand loyalty. Recently, the preeminent canon-makers of the Sight & Sound top 100 poll chose over 50% of their top 100 titles from Janus Films’s catalog (the theatrical arm of The Criterion Collection). For me, there is no doubt that Janus is far and away the best film distributor in the world. But do they indeed hold more than 50% of the greatest films of all time? I believe this is somewhat of a film snob equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m easily seduced by that lovely font work and art on Janus’s releases and posters; it can be easy to believe you are in for a masterpiece every time (and only when) you watch one of their releases. The truth is that marketing very often ends up as the primary maker of success, or even esteem, for a film. I say all this to get the films of David Burton Morris and Victoria Wozniak.

Over a year ago and out of the blue I received an email from some guy saying he directed some movies in Minnesota. We get a number of these emails every year, so I was skeptical. Still, David and I started corresponding and he sent me copies of some of his films – Loose Ends and Purple Haze were very difficult to find otherwise. I ended up grabbing a VHS tape of Patti Rocks from eBay. As I watched his films, I started to see the ambition and influences of so many of my favorite filmmakers represented in films set in 1970s and ’80s Minneapolis. In Loose Ends, you can see the vérité style of Cassavetes. In Patti Rocks, you see the toxic male characters of Elaine May alongside the sexual exploration typical of 1990s indie films, except this film was shot one decade earlier. In Purple Haze, you see the confusion and political ambiguity of Robert Altman. The most exciting aspect of all of this is that it was done on a shoestring budget far from Hollywood.

A gloved hand works on a celluloid film strip.

Credit: John Moret

David and Victoria had me out to their house this winter, and it was lovely to hear their stories. I imagine them looking at the production possibilities in Minnesota in the 1970s (none) and being so undaunted that they just soldiered on into completely unknown territory. When they started on Loose Ends, there had never been a feature film shot in Minnesota, let alone by a pair of Minnesotans. Originally conceived as a horror film, they chose to shoot on 16mm. However, after David went to a screening of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment at the Walker Art Center, he pushed for a different path.

I wonder now, if they had made a horror film, would it have been on our radar this whole time? With David’s style and Victoria’s authentic, biting dialogue, they could have created one of the truly beloved regional independent films like Night of the Living Dead or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And yet, Hollywood pinholes directors. Neither George A. Romero nor Tobe Hooper were ever given the budget to do any type of dramatic film.

I’m so glad that David and Victoria took the difficult path and made something of their own, something honest that would challenge audiences. Upon its release, Loose Ends received a glowing review from The New York Times’ Vincent Canby while Roger Ebert declared it one of the best films of the year. The film launched the career of arthouse favorite Chris Mulkey and encouraged other filmmakers from Minnesota to pick up a camera. It has since fallen into obscurity.

While living in Los Angeles, David and Victoria produced and directed two more critically acclaimed films shot back in Minnesota: Patti Rocks and Purple Haze, which will play alongside Loose Ends. So gracious with their time, Victoria and David helped establish the IFP/North (now Film North) and the first IFP branch in Los Angeles (now FIND). Victoria is also a founding creator of the Independent Spirit Awards.

I knew I wanted to show these films, but the task seemed impossible, considering the rarity of materials. Upon learning that David and Victoria still had a 16mm print of Loose Ends and 35mm prints of Purple Haze and Patti Rocks, it became clear that this is something that we could actually put together. It’s been a joy to work with them and I’m looking forward to seeing these films back where they belong, in a theater. I have no doubt that Loose Ends, Patti Rocks, and Purple Haze are all ripe for rediscovery. Let that discovery start right here and now, where they were made.

Edited by Olga Tchepikova-Treon

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