Cast: Arthur Martinez, Mike Ott, Nathan Silver, Lindsay Budge, Sarah Sansoni, Andy Hankins, Connor Long, Bobby Black, Sanaz Fatemi, Cindy Silver
Director: Mike Ott, Nathan Silver
Running time: 1 hour 16 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
The nature of creating art is often given a veneer of earnestness which contradicts the messier aspects of the process. For instance, making a film is a multi-faceted endeavor involving commerce, representation, fantasy, and a willingness to believe that such a thing is somehow viable to an audience outside one's own hubris. Art as a parasite feeding off the artist's belief that their creation will come to fruition in some form is at the heart of Mike Ott and Nathan Silver's Actor Martinez; a film which blends fiction and documentary in ways both self-reflexively comic and uncomfortably misanthropic.
At the center of the project is Arthur Martinez (playing himself), a struggling actor living in Denver who moonlights as a computer repair man. Early on, Ott and Silver fix their camera on him as he attends film culture meetings, gabs with local actors, and responds to house calls to fix laptops using detached, Robert-Altman-esque zoom lenses which presupposes a fly-on-the-wall approach to their subject. However, it becomes clear that Arthur, though broke and slovenly, believes himself to be an interesting enough persona for the filmmakers to form a narrative around. With a mixture of self-deprecation and egotism, he begins to emerge as a ghostly presence floating through a life of unrealized potential and failed ambitions who lacks self-awareness. Speaking of the acting process in banal generalities and often lecturing Ott and Silver on the finer points of marketability, Arthur is both obnoxious and yet, oddly endearing. The directors too, portray themselves as irritating provocateurs, goading their performer into awkward audition scenes with actresses attempting to land a role as the "girlfriend", whom they hope will resemble his ex-wife.
In it's blurring of reality and fictional elements, Actor Martinez could be seen as a companion piece to Robert Greene's Kate Plays Christine, only Ott and Silver lean even harder into the idea of objectification and emotional neurosis. By casting real-life actor Lindsay Burge as Arthur's co-star and romantic foil, the filmmakers plunge their production even further down the rabbit hole of art imitating life imitating art. Burge often expresses feelings of guilt and sympathy for Arthur, and occasionally calls into question the director's dubious intentions. Of course, how much of this is constructed or stems from a combination of "real" and "rehearsed" reactions is part of the film's magic. That the film ultimately resists any kind of definitive reading is what gives it such a strange, beguiling quality.
Using slow panning shots and evocative zooms framing the actors through reflections, mirrors, corridors, and silhouettes, Actor Martinez has a calm exterior which nonetheless cages a nervous energy beneath the surface. Throughout, Ott and Silver keeps us a distance; inviting us to mock Arthur's cluelessness and then root for him to arrive at some kind of epiphany. The film within the film construct could be a stumbling block for some, but there's nonetheless something oddly touching about Arthur and Lindsay's developing relationship, as well as a compelling ambiguity during the final moments where Arthur seems to come to a revelation concerning the artistic process. Like all works of deconstructionist art, Actor Martinez works on multiple levels. It can be seen as an exploitative stunt or simply a commentary on our need to exploit and be exploited. It can be a window into the uncertainty of emotional intimacy, or a rebuke to the very idea that intimacy can be truthfully achieved through acting. It can be read as a character study concerning a lonely eccentric who just wants validation, or simply a haunted representation of a lost soul acting in a movie about himself made for himself that no one else, save for perhaps a few brave souls, will ever get to see.