Pack de six
Written and Directed by Chucho E. Quintero
I confess I’ve never made it all the way through Kevin Smith’s Clerks, although I queued it up the other day for one more try. But it’s not hard to see Smith’s influence on Chucho E. Quintero’s Six Pack, a low-fi, off-the-cuff, mostly black and white feature about a group of young, mildly delinquent slacker-stoners in Mexico City who get drunk, smoke weed, test and initiate relationships, and try and fail to plan a road trip to see their favorite pop-punk band, Inspection 12, in Jacksonville, Florida. That’s an ironic destination in more than one sense.
One of the reasons I didn’t warm up to Clerks, as opposed to Six Pack, which I did right away, was that I could never figure out where to place myself as a spectator. As a previous-generation, educated urban gay man who never understood the worshipful reverence of Star Wars, or The Godfather for that matter, or of being into comics because they’re comics, and couldn’t understand why anyone would think acting dumb when you’re not was funny or inspiring, I had trouble identifying with Jay and Silent Bob. I had even more trouble taking seriously Kevin Smith’s sub-sub-Sturges, anti-intellectual-everyman schtick. All of these traits strike me as quintessentially American, and may also be why, as a dissident expat living in a Spanish-speaking country, I have trouble not wincing at every gesture. Jay also struck me as this yuck-yuck, passively threatening, heterosexual white guy who could cold-cock you at any moment, or have a psychotic break — you just didn’t know. At least with Smith’s Silent Bob persona, we had something we could both agree on — that he has nothing to say.
On the surface at least, the characters in Quintero’s Six Pack resemble Smith’s, but Quintero’s respect for a certain kind of spontaneous naturalism in performances and characterizations steers him away from the easy political incorrectness that Smith is famous for. These characterizations and performances are expressed within a shifting set of ramshackle formal and stylistic tricks and gags, the filmmaking intelligence of which is beyond Kevin Smith, and all employed with genuine affection and a sense of fun.
Six Pack’s incorrectness and vulgarity is social, and plays out as drama between characters rather than for shock or low-comic value, or simply to press the audience’s buttons. Quintero keeps his characters’ idiosyncrasies — one’s homophobia, in particular — human-sized, rather than comic-book-sized, and rarely betrays them for an easy, derisive laugh. A few times he makes them meaner than I think they really are, however, and in those instances I wish he’d have killed his heroes, or at least ignored them. When he follows his instincts, the audience does, too. Quintero says his first feature gets requests for showings more than he expected. Unfortunately, there’s no other way right now for anyone else to see it. But no doubt it’s this basic affection that drives the word-of-mouth.
I also got the feeling that these characters existed, or at least that the relationships between them had backstories. The subject of Quintero’s movie is friendship, with the best-friendship of a straight guy and a gay guy at its center, just as it is in his recent Velociraptor. That’s still a rare dynamic and one I’m happy to see addressed by Quintero’s contributions. (More on that when I finally write about Velociraptor.) The subject of Kevin Smith movies is Kevin Smith and his personas.
Not that Quintero doesn’t insert himself into Six Pack. The film’s main set is his parents’ flat and every shot bears the marks of that level of familiarity, intimacy and continuity. It’s not surprising either that the movie starts out with POV shots — handheld coverage of Inspection 12, the band of the hour, and only one of two color shots in the film — with a few conventional static shots sprinkled in, or shots in which we can’t immediately tell who’s behind the camera, such as the series of jumpcuts showing main character, Javier, drawing Inspection 12’s logotype on his bare chest. Still, Quintero never entirely abandons the idea of a camera with agency.
For instance, during a four-way, round-robin conversation in which the friends find out that Inspection 12 is in fact not playing but rather another band with the same members, the four characters sit in a circle while the camera in the middle pans around them 360°, determining and anticipating the beats of the characters’ speech and responses rather than the other way around. The camera directs them, in other words. It’s a funny and self-reflexive moment, charming as much for its modesty and self-mockery as for anything said in the conversation, although that’s funny, too: “I don’t see a reason not to take a car and drive for two weeks,” Javier, who’s straight, deadpans. “You’re such a drama queen,” the ostensible homophobe says. This implied agency behind camera movements pops up periodically, reminding us that there’s someone, some person filming, invested at some level in the silliness playing out in front of him or her. (6 people are credited with the photography, one more than the main cast!) In a similar shot, the camera tracks a foam football as two characters pass it back and forth while discussing which Inspection-12 song they want to hear live. The camera has to be quick in this scene, and I wondered how many takes it took to get it right.
Which brings me to another reason that I prefer Quintero’s scenarios to Smiths’s. Given a choice to hang-out with young pot-smoking, beer-drinking Mexican dudes in La cuidad (“Let’s watch Machete!”) or Jay and Silent Bob in New Jersey, the choice for me is an easy one. No apologies for that. But, we all make these kinds of decisions when watching and responding to films, particularly such personal ones that explicitly invite us to a particular time and place with a specific set of characters. The two color shots that bookend the film briefly represent these kinds of simple affinities — in this case, the love of a particular band — and the bonds they form.
(In that sense, Rose Troche’s Go Fish and Gregg Araki’s The Long Weekend (O’Despair) strike me as clearer and cleaner antecedents to what Quintero has been up to than anything Kevin Smith has done, Chasing Amy notwithstanding.)
Personal and cultural affinities are rarely acknowledged in film criticism, particularly the American variety, and even less rarely, how these choices and preferences affect our aesthetic responses, or even at certain turns and junctures, our political ones. There’s nothing overtly political about Quintero’s Six Pack, yet with just a couple moments of reflection, key questions become extant. This is a road movie that can never begin, after all.