❉ Jonathan Sisson examines Breen’s most wildly undisciplined film, in the latest part of our feature.
“If you’re familiar with Breen, you’ll know despite the fact that he clearly has a sense of humour, his works have shown that he does take himself seriously, and if you’re not, then nothing quite prepares you for just how bizarre I Am Here Now…. Now is.”
If Double Down (2005) was Neil Breen’s film school (as he has described it), then I Am Here…. Now is the film where his recurring themes and obsessions coalesce before solidifying into the more disciplined but no less feverish and bizarre narratives of his later Fateful Findings (2013) and Pass Thru (2016).
I Am Here…. Now (the on-screen ellipsis has four periods, presumably to match the beat of the genuinely glorious stock music opening theme as the title appears in time with it) would have us believe that Breen’s character, simply credited as The Being, is a God-like entity come to visit the Earth because he is disappointed in our species. As The Being monologues to a skull he finds in the middle of the desert, we learn that, apparently, other planets in the solar system are doing fine, and that The Being is “disappointed in your species!” Yes. That means you! You’re not being the person Neil Breen knows you can be.
The movie opens with The Being landing in the Nevada desert in a crystal ball. He then also steps down from a cross. He looks like Neil Breen in a nightshirt with old laptop parts glued to his body and sports RAM stigmata, but through a series of flash cuts, he also looks like a Voodoo zombie caveman.
We’re also treated to sudden flashes of a screensaver background cyberspace tunnels that look like the Doctor Who credits had a lovechild with the opening of The Matrix (1998). He walks past a sea of decapitated plastic baby heads—an image Breen refuses to discuss the meaning of on the grounds that it’s not up to him to tell the audience what his films mean—but it seems to represent The Being’s superiority to humanity. This is all about as incoherent as it sounds.
The first humans The Being happens upon are a pair of heroin addicts sitting on the tail of their pick-up truck. They’re shooting up and the male (Ali Banks) plays Russian Roulette with a loaded automatic pistol, yet somehow manages to avoid doing a Bobby Peru and blow his own head off; a lot of commentators have found hilarity in this little detail, but one wonders if, perhaps, The Being didn’t use his powers to intervene.
The man and his female companion (Tommie Vegas, credited as Tommie Lee Vasquez, who has actually gone on to enjoy a prolific career) finally notice The Being and muse if they’ve died and gone to heaven (after attempting to shoot him for some reason). The being informs them that, “No! This is not Heaven!” before rendering them unconscious, steeling the man’s clothes and making them invisible before driving off in their truck.
The fact that The Being spends the whole film wearing the clothes of a drug addict who spends the majority of the film dematerialised did prompt me to wonder if, in fact, the drug addict and The Being weren’t one and the same, with The Being as some sort of hallucinatory idealised self, but that particular theory doesn’t quite fit into the (admittedly loose) continuity of the overall narrative and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Nevertheless, Breen’s work does often seem ambiguous in just how objective the reality of events are supposed to be, but he wouldn’t explore this fully until his next movie.
Overall, I Am Here…. Now is made up of three strands; the adventures of The Being as he goes about performing miracles and smiting ne’er-do-wells; the downfall and redemption of twin sisters Amber and Cindy (Joy Senn and Elizabeth Sekora); and finally, the machinations of corrupt politicians and their nefarious involvement in a vast criminal conspiracy involving drugs and prostitution, along with their attempts to suppress renewable energies and the cure for cancer. These evil politicians tend to do their business in parked cars, street corners and, when dealing with their drug cartel allies, in an alleyway outside of a burnt out restaurant. Why neither the criminals nor the politicians can afford better premises is never explained, but the location is just off Las Vegas Boulevard, and I can’t help wondering if the branch of Harley Davidson which now stands either adjacent to, or perhaps directly on that spot, is where Neil bought the awesome motorbike jacket he wears in Twisted Pair (2018).
I Am Here…. Now is filled with priceless Breenian moments, like when a thug (Thanos Panagiotaros, the film’s sound recordist) tips over the wheelchair of a dying man (Herbert Alan, spouting dialogue like, “Cancer-chemo is kickin’ my ass!”) because he ran over his foot, prompting The Being to cause the bully to bleed from his eyes and run away screaming; watch carefully and you’ll notice he’s wearing his t-shirt inside out, presumably as a last minute attempt to prevent some branding appearing on camera. We keep cutting to glimpses of someone being slowly dismembered in the desert, which involves a disembodied voice screaming things like, “NO! NOT MY EAR!” as said body part goes splat on the sand. All the major female characters wear strappy open-tops with no bras. The villains continually announce their evil plans to one and other in a stream of exposition speak.
When Cindy is fired from her job at a renewable energies firm “due to the poor economy,” her sister immediately informs her that she must become a stripper or escort (because, apparently, it’s all the girls’ big secret in Sin City). We are treated to a scene in which the girls have an encounter with a client who’s also one of the corrupt officials in league with the gangsters, but rather than being the dark, Requiem for a Dream nightmare it should be, it’s a giggly, sexless frolic in Breen’s backyard pool. Cindy, incidentally, is a single mother, but I guess the absentee father was an Auton, because her baby is made out of plastic; when asked at a Q&A why he didn’t use a real baby, Breen joked that they did; it just died and they didn’t realise it. And speaking of Breen’s sense of humour, when a young man on a bike sees the two sisters, he instantly falls off and lies on the floor repeating, “Wooooooooow!” a lot.
In fact, I Am Here Now…. Now is so off-the-wall, many commentators speculated that Breen might have been making some sort of ironic comedy, but, despite the fact that he clearly has a sense of humour and seems quite self deprecating, his subsequent works have shown that he does take himself seriously. I think that kind of reaction, along with categorising his films as So-Bad-They’re-Good is a result of people being confronted by something they’ve never seen before. I could go on, but if you’re familiar with Breen, you’ll know all this, and if you’re not, then I won’t spoil it for you, because nothing quite prepares you for just how bizarre the whole thing is.
All that aside, from the perspective of a serious analysis (and, believe it or not, that’s what I’m attempting here), I Am Here…. Now is Breen’s most wildly undisciplined film and often feels like it was made up on the spot, while Double Down felt more like a fever dream. On top of that, it’s edited in such a way that the film never cuts into the action, but around it. For example, when Amber’s boyfriend is murdered by the gang members, we cut to her before her reaction, then cut away after she stops screaming.
The narrative continuity is all over the place. Amber decides to become a full-time hooker long after she has already introduced her sister to the gangsters, even though we’ve already seen them working together. In fact, the beats of Cindy’s story is basically repeated once Amber loses her own job, so the two characters could easily have been amalgamated into one, or perhaps we should have seen Amber’s descent into drugs and prostitution first, whereupon she drags her sister down with her. Cindy’s storyline is suddenly resolved when the man in the wheelchair turns up again to pick up a toy dropped by her baby. This act of kindness is noticed by The Being and he not only cures the man of his cancer but makes him young again (whereupon he’s turned in to Eduard Osipov, who we’ve already seen playing a gang member). Cindy and the young man whom she has absolutely no knowledge of then walk off hand in hand to live happily ever after because, well, The Being tells them to.
Great ideas, that film makers with more discipline might have been able to execute on no budget, are hilariously botched. The depiction of The Being crucifying the villains simply involves them standing in a line with lengths of two by four stuck up the back of their jackets and across their sleeves, while the scene would have been much better accomplished by shooting some crosses with dummies nailed to them in the desert so that they were backlit by the sun, then inserting cutaways of the victims’ faces shot from a low angle against the sky.
Ultimately, I Am Here…. Now, whilst being wildly entertaining for its sheer silliness and audacity (particularly in regard to Breen casting himself as Space Jesus), is ultimately hollow. It’s the only Neil Breen film that I can’t find any hidden depths to and it feels like nothing more than a filmed workshop for his later works. It is hilarious as a piece of amateurish trash cinema nonetheless, but we’re interested in Breen’s work as outsider art, and here, at least, he falls short of the mark, with the films ultimate message being little more than “Respect yourselves! Love nature! Live in peace!”
Breen would tackle similar themes and indict humanity’s behaviour far more ferociously in his later Pass Thru, which deals with a similar premise on a far more audacious scale. I Am Here…. Now completes what we might term Breen’s “Film School Period” and as we shall see, it is with his next film, Fateful Findings, that Breen would fully find his voice and qualify his style. It would also be the film that would cause his popularity to explode.
❉ To see if ‘Twisted Pair’ is playing near you and for details on how to order his previous films, follow Neil Breen on Twitter @NeilBreen
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Jonathan Sisson studied Moving Image at the University of Central Lancashire and produced several short films. After that, he became an actor and has appeared in several film and television productions. Jonathan Sisson’s 2001 film ‘The Institute’ is now online on Vimeo and can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/193049022