Reviewed by Lorne Nudel
In a backwoods gas station a young addict confronts a terrifying threat in this dramatization of a tale first told on film in 1978.
Seedy and atmospheric, Between Ethyl and Regular tells the story of a young junkie whose fortunes go from bad to worse late one night as he tends a gas bar on a rural backroad. Having passed out in his chair after dosing, he is robbed by an opportunistic young couple, but down the road, approaching menacingly, is a something far worse.
The low key light, saturated colours and tensely dynamic soundtrack by Max Barbaria, all conspire to build tension as a darkly frightening, even demonic figure draws nearer to the young man.
Inspired by a story told by Stephen Prince, friend and principal subject of Martin Scorsese’s documentary film American Boy, Director Adrien Cothier recreates the tale of how while working one night in a gas station 10 miles outside of Barstow, Prince confronted an assailant with deadly consequences.
Infusing the narrative with other references to Prince, the film opens with video of a Neil Diamond television appearance for whom Prince, at the height of his drug addition, was road manager. The soundtrack quickly takes the audience from the external to the internal world of the reenactment as the actor, himself a good likeness of the real Prince, shuts the TV off.
The goal with B.E.A.R. was to do something new with sound where the score and sound effects become characters on their own that will direct the narrative. The music creates a bridge between the synth of Moroder and the new sound of New York. It is a mix of a 70’s OST and a techno song.
– Adrien Cothier
Indeed the sound design is central to the film and Steven Prince’s own words bookend the narrative, first foreshadowing what is to come and then again afterward as Prince attempts to justify what he did.
It is in this justification that Cothier and Alexandre Bahrami insightfully capture a subtle point of Prince’s retelling.
Asked why he emptied all six shots from the .44 into the man, blowing him across the parking lot, Prince relates haltingly of the sense of power conferred on him by the gun, and the realization of what he was doing. Recounting this, one can see that beyond the rush of adrenaline and fear, Prince is almost giddy with the memory of that power.
So too as Bahrami blasts away, he smirks slightly, not so much from relief or bravado, but from the “high” of the power unleashed at his hand.
B.E.A.R. may be about a terrifying random encounter, but it is also a story of confronting demons. Prince’s demons. And it is Prince’s own father’s words that come back to him, reassuring him.