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Out of tune
on April 22, 2002
"Seconds" is one of those films that is both too long and too short. Conceived as a half-hour episode of the original "Twilight Zone" series, it might be a compelling nightmare, a kind of Borgesian sick joke shot by Fritz Lang on speed. We'd accept the story's heavy-handed sententiousness as a necessity of the short format and revel in the snap with which it was made.
As a feature film, though, it's schematic, a series of sub-philosophical postures enlivened by filmmaking a little too clever for its own good. Not that the idea couldn't work as a feature. The problem is that instead of focusing on the main character's realization that his humdrum life results from a bankruptcy that can be blamed on no one but himself, Frankenheimer and company seem more interested in hanging a phantasmagoric swirl on their skeletal idea.
Why do filmmakers believe the best way to present the paranoid is to dump a lot of "style" in our laps? Master fabulists like Kafka and Borges achieve their effects through language so precise it is *itself* surreal. An arty fable like "Seconds," all tense technique slammed in our faces, ultimately falls flat because the film has not been *structured* visually. When a man can't get on a commuter train without the camera doing whirligigs, jumping around from one bizarre angle to another, there's nothing left for the kicker moments, no real horror when we need it. It's a failure of discrimination, an inability to recognize when the fantastic is appropriate, or better, how the fantastic is best revealed through the utterly mundane.
With the main character's transformation more stated than demonstrated, the action feels dragged out, the technique pasted on to distract from the empty subject. It's a pity, because the story could provide a compelling portrait of a grey man's realization of his mediocrity if the filmmakers had the perspicacity to develop the logic of the situation. Brilliant in stretches, rather frustrating because of the obvious talent involved, watching "Seconds" is a lot like listening to a drunken opera star sing out of tune.