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(William Cusick’s Pop Meets the Void hits online by FilmBuff this month on Friday, 4/29 via iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu and Vimeo. This review clearly shows it is worth your time)

William Cusick wrote, directed, and starred in Pop Meets the Void, a genre-bending feature about a musician who constantly floats between fantasy realms and alternate realities. At least, I think that’s what is happening. The true reality of the protagonist is never explicit. He could be a slovenly, bearded man recording demos in his squalid basement apartment. Or he could be a clean-shaven office drone with half-hearted musical aspirations, a daughter trying to break into acting, and an existentially conflicted wife. He could instead be an international musical sensation, longing to return to a life of obscurity. Or possibly all of these versions of himself exist only in the mind of a man trapped in a sort of musical purgatory, attempting various methods of suicide when he’s not, NOT composing.

Pop Meets the Void is not as confusing as it sounds, but it definitely leaves much open to interpretation. The narrative takes a backseat to the visuals and satirical dialogue. Each realm has a distinct look (and not just because of changing facial hair), but they’re all tied together with ever-present rainbow fractal motion graphics. Sometimes the graphics accentuate the background. Other times they take over the entire frame. It’s more than eye candy but less than a feast; A snack for the eyes, if you will.

A predominant theme of the film is how the modern landscape of the music industry is nearly unrecognizable from the early days of pop. It’s easier to record music on your own, but practically impossible to get noticed above the din of the internet. To paraphrase one character, you’re not a real musician unless you are famous. It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario. The struggling musician version of our protagonist (and my best guess for the “real” him) resigns himself to post-mortem appreciation because he doesn’t know what to do with his demos. He plays them for a guy in a coffee shop and argues about whether or not a demo is a completed song. He also has a hell of a time pinning down a description for his music, at one point calling it an “electronica folky thing”. He needs an elevator pitch, but he never wanted to be in marketing. He only wanted to make the music and expected everything else to fall into place.

The film’s thesis comes in the form of a monologue delivered by the office drone’s daughter as she rehearses for an audition. Her monologue, written by her mother, is called “The Trouble with Being Born”, and it posits that most of life’s problems stem from the fact that everyone has conflicting views of reality. Whether or not this little girl actually exists within the narrative doesn’t matter because her point resonates. Dreams are a kind of reality but they conflict with the waking world. And one person’s view of what makes a real musician is different from another’s. What matters is who is talking and who is listening in any given moment. These days making music is the easy part. The hard part is getting someone to hear it, and harder still, to care about it. If an album drops in the virtual forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

The film brings up more questions than it answers. But overall, it’s a fun and wry 90 minute trip to the Void that will continue to rattle around in your brain long after it’s over. The independent film industry is almost as oversaturated as the music industry, but I can tell you with certainty that William Cusick’s film is worth your mental energy.

– Jessica Baxter (@TehBaxter)

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