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Martin digs deep (again) with ‘Killing the Muse’ – Play It Again, Tim

Killing The Muse
Written by Tim Miller

Steven J. Martin doesn’t mess around. Though his movies are cerebral, you also can almost imagine him tearing open his torso as he spills his guts on the screen.

The former Cape Codder, who now lives and makes movies in Japan, has returned to the Cape a few times for Hyannis Film Festival screenings of his previous films “Unplayed Lullaby” and “Anonymous Gods.” He will return when the Hyannis festival presents his most recent picture, “Killing the Muse,”  on July 22. (See for more information.)

As always when writing about Martin, I feel compelled to start with a disclosure: Martin is a former film student of mine, and I consider him a friend. I will introduce his film at the July 22 screening and will lead a Q-and-A afterward.

Killing The Muse

Steve (Steven J. Martin, back to camera) is confronted by two actresses (Nana Akuzawa, left, and Kozue Ito) in “Killing the Muse.” (Orgel Theatre/Must See Pictures)

While it’s important for me to be transparent about this, I sincerely believe that whatever connection I have with him is not why I have such high regard for him and his work. (You can read my review of “Anonymous Gods” here:

Martin’s films are reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s in that they are heavy, dialogue-driven dramas about soul-searching characters wrestling head-on with life’s big issues. “Killing the Muse” is no exception, though you also can see the strong influence of cinematic titans Jean-Luc Godard (experimenting with form, the emphasis on the fact that this is a movie) and Federico Fellini (film as autobiography and therapy, the merging of fantasy and reality).

That’s not to say it’s derivative; Martin might borrow various approaches, but only as tools to create his own, distinct brand of film.

“Killing the Muse” is (at least of those I’ve seen) Martin’s most blatantly personal film. To emphasize the point, he plays a filmmaker named Steve, “Anonymous Gods” is mentioned by name and there are visual references to Martin’s other movies. His real-life collaborators, actresses Nana Akuzawa and Kozue Ito (also Martin’s producer), play variations of themselves, though Martin uses them as mouthpieces for his own doubts about himself. They say things like “Your work is boring, and so are you,” and refer to his movies as “the poetic musings of a whiny old man.”

Killing The Muse

The sublime Nana Akuzawa (“Anonymous Gods”) plays more than one role in “Killing the Muse.” (Orgel Theatre/Must See Pictures)

In a fascinating twist, Akuzawa also takes over the role of Steve at various points.

Aging is a big theme (Steve, like his real-life counterpart, is in his early 50s). So is sex and love and marriage (it’s suggested that the three “can’t co-exist”). But towering over all is the compulsion to create art, and the heavy toll it can exact on the creator and anyone in the creator’s orbit. Scenes involving the struggles of Steve (whether played by Martin or Akuzawa) and his wife (Naoki Kondo) are especially powerful. (Like Bergman did with Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullmann, Martin – who has said he prefers to work with actresses – makes the most of the exceptional talents of Akuzawa, Ito and Kondo.)

The film isn’t perfect. The soundtrack is overbearing at times, often when combined with montages that sometimes seem forced. “Killing the Muse” is best with no music, when the quality of the dialogue and the acting create the dramatic impact.

It’s at these moments that the movie soars. ***½ (out of four)

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Tim Miller, Movie Critic

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

1 Comment

  • Hello Tim:
    Your review / analysis/ conceptual breakdown of Killing The Muse is more entertaining than the film.
    I viewed the film when Steve sent it to me. His work is different, dark and very deep as you have described very eloquently.
    I like your disclosure . It shows you have integrity.
    I am the one that wrote and produced the short film Now Hiring that you didn’t see. LOL
    I admire Steve’s fortitude in spilling tortured mind and guts. He cranks out these films one after the other. He is fortunate to have HFF platform and you to review!

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