Poser Eerily Charts the Perils of Performance Anxiety

Movies Reviews Slyvie Mix
Poser Eerily Charts the Perils of Performance Anxiety

A thriving artistic community provides cold comfort for an aspiring podcaster in Poser, the feature debut from co-directors Ori Segev and Noah Dixon. The Columbus, Ohio-based filmmakers use their city’s DIY music scene as the backdrop for a neat little thriller that’s totally ingrained in the creative climate it surveys. The film’s script (written by Dixon) exudes a palpable adoration for the contemporary musical landscape of Columbus, with several fantastic local acts performing within the film (and comprising most of its principal cast.) A fascinating blend of performance-focused psychodrama and kitchen sink realism, Poser introduces viewers to a regional artistic identity while crafting a narrative that never feels confined to a niche politics of place.

Lennon Gates (newcomer Slyvie Mix) has long harbored an obsession for recording sound. A perennial wallflower, she’s constantly tuning into the lively sounds of her surroundings: A cacophony of human chatter, musical artistry and ambient noise. She obsessively records these sonic snippets on her phone before manually transferring the recordings onto cassette tapes. According to Lennon, analog recordings simply sound superior. It’s ironic, then, when Lennon resolves that her new pursuit will be a wholly digital one. Desperate to enmesh herself in Columbus’ robust independent music scene, Lennon decides to start a podcast where she interviews local acts about their creative process.

Though initially met with disinterest, a steady influx of artists eventually agree to be featured on her podcast.

“Can you describe your sound?” Lennox asks every band that she interviews.

“Queer death pop,” replies wyd.

A flurry of other responses pour in: “Experimental indie,” “experimental pop,” “indie folk,” simply “alternative.” For Son of Dribble, the answer is a bit more nuanced. “Our genre is junkyard bop,” explains the frontman. “Or family band, like if your really strange relative was a band.”

Despite the intriguing guest list she’s managed to curate in a relatively short time span, Lennon’s dream interview subject (and personal hometown hero) is Bobbi Kitten, lead singer of the electro-punk band Damn the Witch Siren. A real Columbus musician, Bobbi and her bandmate Z Wolf (so dubbed due to a wolf mask he rarely removes) are the de-facto aural pulse of Poser; Bobbi’s saccharine yet edgy vocals perfectly compliment the purposefully erratic rhythms provided by her partner. Their energy is intoxicating—Lennon can’t help but do everything in her power to emulate their spectacular force. She begins to dabble in songwriting, cinches her holy grail interview with Bobbi and even starts to perform songs she’s written for fellow Columbus scenesters. After a while, though, Lennon’s own artistic abilities come under community scrutiny—threatening to dissolve the morsel of clout she amassed for herself after years of merely existing on the scene’s fringes.

What’s most compelling about Poser is the titular concept it seeks to unravel, one of deception and contrivance that epitomizes the ultimate sin in expressive art. Predicated on the central principle of authentic cultural consumption, the term “poser” feels like it’s most often reserved for people (though most often women) who sport t-shirts featuring the logos of bands they’re never actually taken the time to listen to. While the proliferation of shitty fast fashion Nirvana and Ramones tees is admittedly annoying, this hyper-vigilant assessment of “true” fans is overwhelmingly sexist and embarrassingly pretentious. Wearing a Metallica shirt fresh off of the H&M racks is a generally harmless form of cultural posturing.

Thankfully, Poser has virtually no interest in chiming in on this tired debate. What’s presented is far more rooted in the obsessive (if ill-inspired) pursuit for artistic validity rather than quantifying what constitutes “real” fandom. While “posers” are colloquially known for their surface-level knowledge of subjects they claim to understand, Lennon possesses incredibly thorough insight into the local scene she’s attempting to infiltrate. On her podcast, she discusses local lore, secret venues and the freshest faces on the scene. While not typically emblematic of the traditional idea of a “poser,” Lennon’s rabid yearning to make a name for herself pushes her to engage in cheap—and sometimes downright reprehensible—tactics to assist in her rise. In this sense, Poser is less concerned with the validity of fans and spectators within a scene, focusing instead on the integrity of the artists who seek recognition within it. While she’s clearly well-versed in the subtleties of the so-called scene, Lennon lacks the fundamental markings of the artist she so desperately wishes to be. During her much-anticipated podcast interview with Bobbi Kitten, Lennon immediately recoils when she’s called “an incredible writer” by her interviewee. After stating that she’ll edit the compliment out of the podcast’s final cut, Bobbi immediately dissuades her. “You should be proud of that shit,” she says. “It’s one of the best things about you.”

Hearing these words fuels Lennon’s delusions of artistry while also unintentionally rubbing her face in her own artifice. If her creative output is one of her only redeeming qualities, what happens if she can’t actually produce quality work? Perhaps burdened by the legacy of her supposed songwriting namesake, Lennon can’t quite measure up to her so-called contemporaries. Yet the film isn’t so quick to reduce Lennon to an unsympathetic hack. After all, how is creativity supposed to effectively flourish when the demands of a day job, lack of familial support and abject loneliness comprise the majority of one’s precious waking moments? In a dreadful world where artistic drive is increasingly stymied, sometimes being a Poser feels like the only way forward. It’s important to note, however, that no amount of seeming self-awareness can save you from certain exposure. “A true musician pushes boundaries in every way possible, using their art as a platform for something completely original,” Lennon says via voice-over, clearly referring to herself alongside Bobbi and other Columbus bands. “Those in the scene know this.” As it turns out, those in the scene who end up knowing too much—as opposed to not very much at all—await the worst of consequences. When artistry is measured by face-value intimacy alone, the unassumingly cunning are afforded quite the advantage.

Directors: Ori Segev, Noah Dixon
Writer: Noah Dixon
Stars: Sylvie Mix, Bobbi Kitten, Abdul Seidu, Rachel Keefe, Z-Wolf, Sean Taylor, Angela Jernigan, Nick Samson, Danielle Samson
Release Date: June 17, 2022 (Oscilloscope)

Natalia Keogan is a freelance film writer based in Queens, New York. Her work has been featured in Filmmaker Magazine, Paste Magazine and Blood Knife Magazine, among others. Find her on Twitter @nataliakeogan

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