There’s something special about talking to artists. People who spend much of their time and energy exploring their own creativity often present differently, communicate differently, and conduct themselves differently. When I’m speaking to an artist, I sometimes have the realization that the conversation is just on a different wavelength than most of my day-to-day communication. There’s a palpable difference, and I haven’t often seen that feeling effectively captured on film.
Enter POSER, the new film from directors Noah Dixon and Ori Segev. From the first frame, we are immersed in the indie music world of Columbus, Ohio. Our protagonist Lennon (Sylvie Mix) is consumed by the artists residing in the North District of the city, playing underground shows and dedicating their lives to their craft. Lennon herself is soft-spoken and a bit deadpan, in contrast to the many colorful personalities she obsesses over, but she’s a fascinating protagonist. Lennon is mysterious, and the film holds suspense over her exact motivations. At the beginning of the film, Lennon starts a podcast dedicated to “bands you’ve probably never heard of,” recording music and interviews into her phone before transferring the audio to cassette tapes. “Analog just sounds better,” she explains, as we see a mountain of tapes in her home.
The film is full of musicians, most of whom are playing themselves. Lennon meets and interviews the bands Sons of Dribble, wyd?, and Rat Motel, but becomes completely obsessed when she encounters Damn the Witch Siren. This two-person group consists of Z Wolf, who never removes the frightening wolf mask that covers his entire head, and Bobbi Kitten (played by Bobbi Kitten), the in-your-face lead singer with bright pink hair.
Lennon immediately begins following the band around, filming Bobbi on stage, and mimicking her movements in the mirror. When Lennon eventually meets Bobbi Kitten at a party, they hit it off, and the film begins to follow a familiar trajectory of hero worship, obsession, and jealousy. It feels a bit like ALL ABOUT EVE but transplanted to a hipstery modern-day music scene. Sylvie Mix and Bobbi Kitten both give quality performances while bringing markedly different energies to the screen, and they play off each other wonderfully. In one notable scene, Bobbi teaches Lennon about performance art and the two create their own impromptu piece. Lennon and Bobbi lock eyes and imitate each other’s movements, creating a perfect visual representation of their relationship.
Tonally, POSER is a peculiar but hypnotic blend of energy and paranoia. The film kicks off with a lengthy introduction to the immersive setting—“the scene” as the characters call it— but the film slows down in the second half and tension builds around Lennon and her suspicious actions. Even as the film grows more deliberate and brooding, the quiet is punctured every so often with brilliant and loud concert scenes. The music of the film, and the way it’s captured, is impressive throughout. Sometimes artists are on stage, giving a big, full-fledged rock performance, and other times they are staring directly into camera, quietly singing in their kitchen for Lennon’s podcast. In either case, the effect is stunning.
The film’s interesting title comes into play early on, as Lennon feels unqualified to be part of the scene, like she’s on the outside looking in. The very nature of podcasting speaks to this tendency— rather than create, Lennon finds an outlet for her fandom that feels legitimizing. Podcasting is, of course, creative in its own way (speaking as the podcaster that I am), but in the context of the film, the podcast is clearly Lennon’s way in to a world where she feels like an imposter. And when Bobbi encourages Lennon to pursue her own songwriting, Lennon’s actions further this theme of artistic legitimacy, playing with this notion of her self-imposed “poser” status. Besides ALL ABOUT EVE, the film I thought about the most while watching POSER is the Banksy documentary EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP which deals heavily with art and inspiration and imitation.
The film also contains some mild critique for the artists themselves; in some scenes, pretentiousness is played for laughs. An early scene has Lennon interviewing a musician couple, and one of them describes in great detail his creative process of watching water flow through rocks for hours— the joke is that Lennon finds him interesting. There’s also hypocrisy, especially in Bobbi Kitten herself, who loves all animals and would never harm them. “Except fish,” she says, making a gagging face.
But even amidst the critiques, the film has a genuine love for the many unique creators it turns its camera on. What becomes apparent quickly is the remarkable confidence each of them holds, unafraid to be their distinctive selves. A strong belief in oneself is admirable, and the filmmakers want us to witness that. Bobbi Kitten even verbalizes this idea, calling her confidence her best quality when Lennon interviews her. “I feel really sure of myself, and I like that I don’t ever have to second-guess myself.”
Aside from the many songs performed in the film, POSER’s score, from composer Adam Robl, is shockingly great. It matches perfectly the distinct setting and striking visuals of the film to create an incredibly fleshed out sense of place and time. The world of the film is so fully realized and mesmerizing, it makes up for the fact that the ending is a bit underwritten. The jealousy and obsession come to a head in a way that is somewhat surprising, but not as satisfying or emotionally resonant as one might hope.
Even with a slightly underwhelming final act, POSER stands out as one of the strongest films released in 2022. Despite treading well-worn thematic territory, the film’s engaging cinematography, immersive world-building, and energetic sound design make the film feel fresh from start to finish. Sylvie Mix is magnetic as Lennon, and her interactions with musicians are always thrilling to watch. Lennon’s interviews serve just as much to give us insight into her fascinating character as they do to help us appreciate the many creative weirdos in the Columbus art district, so we can begin to love them as much as she does. I only wish the podcast were real.
POSER is now playing in limited theatrical release