Few local filmmakers have warranted more close scrutiny than Nick Peterson. Best known for his trio of near-silent short films—One, Two and Three—which he directed and photographed, Peterson has quietly built a reputation as one of the most stylish and promising filmmakers in Portland. Working primarily in 16 mm as so many others embrace digital video, Peterson creates intricately composed moving pictures with a vibrant spectrum of color—photographs that come to life.
The big question on the minds of those that have been following Peterson's career is when the 25-year-old would move from shorts to features. This weekend, Peterson's fans will have their question answered as his debut feature, yellow, premieres at the Northwest Film Center.
What may come as a big surprise to some is that, for a director known for a series of shorts that eschews dialogue, yellow is a musical. Inspired by the early 1930s musicals of Ernst Lubitsch, yellow stars Nora Ryan and Eric Schopmeyer as Natalie and Matt in what amounts to a traditional tale of girl meets boy. During the course of their day-to-day lives, Natalie and Matt cross paths on a regular basis, often eating lunch at the same park. But neither thinks to approach the other until Matt overhears Natalie talking—
or rather singing—about her relationship status with Christian (Nico Izambard).
Yellow is at once beautiful and daring, and just a little bit odd. Peterson's often static photography displays the same beautiful sense of composition and color palette that makes his work uniquely recognizable. And while the film is a musical, there are also entire sequences that play out with no dialogue, recalling One, Two and Three.
The music in yellow was written and composed by Schopmeyer, himself a respected filmmaker. Unlike traditional musicals where the songs are lip-synced by the actors and the music is laid down as a separate track during editing, the songs in yellow were recorded live on set, with musicians accompanying off camera. This unconventional production style adds to the casual tenor of the film, and in turn makes the musical numbers all the more surreal.
If yellow has a weak point, it would be the bare-bones story. There is so much attention to the overall craftwork of the film and the music that it feels as if the story is secondary. In fact, there is no credited screenwriter. But at the same time, yellow is not so much about the story as it is an expression of feelings through motion picture and music. And to that end, the film succeeds.
Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave., 221-1156. 7:30 pm Thursday, April 20. $4-$7.