Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through
understanding." But in Matt Pizzolo's aggressive, new underground film, "Threat," the hope is that understanding
can be achieved through violence. And that violence is the result of cultural miscommunication and
misunderstanding. For in the film, several disenchanted youth, living on the fringes of society, from
different backgrounds and lifestyles, struggle to comprehend the meaning of their existence. But the mere
presence of violence severs all bonds, creating chaos and confusion on the city streets where there are no
rules for survival. Mixing street philosophy with urban thrills, "Threat" incorporates guerilla style filmmaking
and exuberance to present its tale of social abandonment, rage, and intolerance. And despite a lack of experience
or direction, the film stays true to its intent - a gritty portrait of modern youth by youth.
"Threat" opens with a series of character initiations. There's Jim, a homeless, white street punk who is
trying to control his inner angst; Fred, a young black revolutionary and hip hop artist, who struggles to raise
his son in a culturally challenging world; Mekky, a 16 year-old obsessed with sex and death, hiding in the
shadows of HIV; and Kat, a young, rebellious poet who is troubled by a mysterious stalker. And a group called
One Less Drunk, intent on bringing a violent end to drunk driving. Together, their lives come crashing together.
At the heart of the story is the relationship between Jim and Fred. In spite of radically different backgrounds,
they meet over lunch at St. Mark's Comix, and become friends, sharing feelings of societal rejection, anger, and
frustration. And they realize that they have more in common than just comic books. But a well intended get together
between their friends has dangerous consequences. In fact, it leads to an explosive and violent riot. Actions are
misconstrued as being racially motivated, and both Jim and Fred find themselves inexplicably involved.
What makes "Threat" an interesting specimen of film is the nature in which it was put together. Comprised of a youth crew of
inexperienced, non-professional filmmakers, the so called King's Mob scoured the streets of Manhattan, shooting in renegade
fashion on more than 50 locations, utilizing upwards of 100 extras, and operating on a close to nothing budget. Founded
by Katie Nisa and Matt Pizzolo (writers of "Threat"), King's Mob Productions was formed as a means to blend hardcore punk with political
activism. And at the heart and soul of the company is a DiY (Do-it-Yourself) mentality that lent itself to all aspects
of the film's production, from the locations to the camera work to the lighting and editing.
Visually, the film is very organic and rough, as abrasive and straightforward as the story itself. And it's a credit
to Matt Pizzolo for mixing things up, using color stock for the animated nighttime sequences and black and white for
the more mundane, daytime scenes. Additionally, the film embellishes the action with a splendid animation technique
from Robert Anthony Jr., which helps create a colorful snapshot or a surrealistic spin on the story and its characters.
Much like the crew, the casting was also non-traditional. In other words, no professional actors were cast, only
non-actors from the streets who could really relate to the on screen personas. And it's a strategy that almost pays
off as characters such as Jim, Fred, Kat, and Mekky all maintain a certain level of authenticity that you wouldn't
necessarily get from professionals. However, it's also a strategy that translates into less appeal, less clarity,
and less fluidity. Rigid and uptight, the final product is somewhat lethargic, as many lines and scenes ramble and
often feel like they are delivered on queue.
In 1995, a similar type of film created quite a controversy. Depicting the lives of teen-agers growing up in the
poverty-stricken streets of New York City, Larry Clark's "Kids" left a lasting impression. But it did so because it
had a story to tell, a story primarily involving a young boy named Telly, who continues to search for sexual conquests
long after a former girlfriend discovers she is HIV positive. As difficult and disturbing as it was to observe, the film
had well-established characters and a well-established storyline. In stark contrast, this is where "Threat" ultimately
fails. Although the characters are concrete and true, they have no focus and no objective, content to pontificate on
society's doom and gloom or their own woes. Even when violence erupts, there is no explanation, no logic, and no
reckoning. Actions are random and unprovoked. And while there is honesty in the way the characters are presented,
there just isn't enough cohesion in the story to bring them all together or tear them apart.
Oftentimes, even the best intentions can be misguided. And in "Threat," the intent gets lost somewhere toward
the end of the film in a series of gratuitous violence. Is it a cautionary tale? A call for change? A social
commentary? Or just random acts of violence prevalent in street life? Because the film lacks a compelling story
arc and because it's missing key dialogue, the violence has very little meaning. And with very few answers or
suggestions, the film lacks provocation. However, the notion that there is a widening disparity in social class
is ominous. And the film is most successful in exploring it over the other degrees of separation such as race,
color, ethnicity, religion, and sex.
Yet, despite its shortcomings and limitations on equipment, cast and crew, and finances, "Threat" manages to
entertain with reckless abandon. After all, if the project had unlimited resources, it most likely would have
lost all its integrity. A mix of hardcore punk, underground hip-hop, and guerilla style filmmaking, "Threat"
does a good job of presenting its philosophy and political views. Even though a definitive understanding of
urban violence is not achieved from watching "Threat," the film does depict renegade experiences and
circumstances that are very real. And for that, the film lives as a raw experiment with a positive edge.