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Doomsday Rappers, Soundcloud Preppers

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About a half hour into Crestone, an impudent semi-documentary about rappers isolated in the Colorado mountains making music, philosophizing, Instagramming, and showing up for one another, Phong—one of the many members of this collective calling itself Deadgod—ignores the Emergency Alert System tone squonking from the television while he paints an image of the scary-ass rabbit from Donnie Darko smoking a blunt. Soon, there’s another tone though: the microwave. Phong was heating up water for Cup O’ Noodles. He pours the water into the noodles and wanders over to a massive flatscreen TV with the rest of Deadgod to see what the warning is all about: There are wildfires. They’re getting bad. 

They don’t do anything. What is there to do? There is a metaphor here. The world seems as though it is ending and here they all are inside the house, slurping down Cup O’ Noodles. Except it isn’t a metaphor. We are all literally inside right now, eating bad food, staring at a TV (or a phone) that is telling us the end of something, maybe everything, is happening. 

Baltimore filmmaker Marnie Ellen Hertzler’s Crestone feels like a great piece of outré journalism. It found the sweet spot of making you feel as though you’re there watching something happen and commenting on it all only when necessary. And indeed, it is a movie with one heck of a lede: “My friends from high school are Soundcloud rappers now. They moved to the desert of Crestone, Colorado to grow weed and make music for the internet,” Hertzler narrates early on. I kept thinking of Eve Babitz especially as she is described by Molly Lambert in the introduction to I Used To Be Charming: The Rest Of Eve Babitz: “Cool beyond belief but friendly and unintimidating.” That’s the vibe of Crestone.

Another scene that is a metaphor. Sloppy, the squad’s demigod, trudges through an abandoned house. He finds a Timb boot whose sole is falling off. He throws it to SadBoyTrapps who puts it on (it fits!) and then SadBoyTrapps picks up a roll of tape with the eBay logo on it and tapes it up. Then Sloppy finds a pill bottle with one Xanax inside. He shares it with SadBoyTrapps but does not tell the others. The scene—I believe—is “acted” rather than “real,” though Deadgod document their “IRL” life via Instagram so they’re often smearing the real and the fake even when a camera, which also alters “reality,” is not pointed at them. 

You get to see the fragile codependency among bros and scrappy, gauche utopianism in action and just how hard it is to hold something together even when you find a way to keep the rest of the world at bay. We could all learn a little something from Sloppy and his crew.

Narration throughout by Hertzler makes the whole thing a bit less of a doofy sausage party and will likely make some women watching have flashbacks to a time when they were the sole non-dude hanging out with a bunch of charismatic and kind fuckarounds and had to be the responsible one by default. She discusses the way Instagram has warped their personalities, adding new edges, smoothing out other parts, without ever falling into griping about technology. She is a friend and she appreciates what they do and would also like them to do better sometimes.

“Maybe their devotion to creativity was just a complete dismissal of reality,” Hertzler narrates. “If the world was ending they probably wouldn’t even notice.”

Oh, and there is another narrator, a stoned enamored drone operator who says things like, “At night, I imagine I am a star.” And there are two music videos that interrupt the movie’s ambling story—one from Deadgod’s HighMyNameIsRian where he raps over a beat sampling music from Sonic the Hedgehog is transformativeand often, Crestone cuts to Instagram videos where you can see, for example, Sloppy feeding a deer by putting an apple in his mouth and allowing the deer to snatch it out. You get to see the fragile codependency among bros and scrappy, gauche utopianism in action and just how hard it is to hold something together even when you find a way to keep the rest of the world at bay. We could all learn a little something from Sloppy and his crew.

One more scene, one more metaphor. They all sit down to watch a movie, choose from a hard drive full of downloaded files. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Nah. Adventureland. Not today. Avatar. There it is. Sloppy can’t get the movie to start. The remote control won’t work. He clicks it. He smacks it against his hand. He mutters, “bruh.” He taps the remote’s buttons again. 

“Bruh, what the fuck is going on,” he says.

He whips the remote across the room. He is sorta kinda losing his shit, menacing and hilarious like the pudgy kid from The Sandlot all grown-up and with face tats.

“Bruh, I’m just trying to watch Avatar. Like, I don’t understand this shit bro I don’t understand like, this shit isn’t working. It’s so fucking simple. What are we even doing, right now?” Sloppy says. “Like, we’re sitting in this hot-ass fucking room. No fucking water, like, no fucking food, bro, it’s the same shit every fucking day and I just don’t understand how all of y’all just keep acting like this shit is okay. Everyone keeps just smoking they weed, like fucking laughing and shit.”

He throws something else across the room.

“Nothing’s easy anymore,” he says.

Here is the thing. Right now, you can’t see Crestone. It was supposed to screen at South by Southwest but that has been cancelled. And that’s why I’m writing about it: Because it’s a great and special movie with nowhere, for the time being, to be. It is daring filmmaking with a smart—and productive—point of view about internet culture, and something that is, well, just bizarre and meme-able and attention-grabbing. And Baltimore is all over it. It was written by Hertzler and Corey Hughes, who also shot the movie (Hughes has directed a number of music videos for Baltimore bands including Abdu Ali’s “Did Dat”). The credits also show it was edited by Albert Birney (Tux And Fanny), scored by Animal Collective—and Theo Anthony (Rat Film and Subject To Review) receives a story consultant credit. Look out for Crestone. Wait for it.

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