A Great Lamp
A Great Lamp is the first feature by director Saad Qureshi. While much of it feels like a first voyage and a grand gesture to make a strong impression, the film’s raw emotions make for a humanizing tale of two strangers just trying to reach someone.
The film is nearly entirely black-and-white, save for a quick animated sequence as a mini movie-within-a-movie. It’s a micro-budgeted little art film, akin to Clerks or Eraserhead before it, though those comparisons feel lazy. Although it’s a newish director’s first feature, and it’s in black-and-white, that doesn’t necessarily mean that these three pictures share much beyond that.
A Great Lamp shifts between Gene (Steven Maier) and Max (Max Wilde). Gene spends his days wandering around not doing much of anything. He lies to his father about having a fancy, adult job, which means that he can’t lie around the house all day. Instead, he visits bookstores, movie theaters, and coffee shops, and seems to be really interested in his own thoughts and feelings. Thankfully, this vapid Gene is only a minor character compared to the intricate and complex Max.
Max wanders around downtown Wilmington, North Carolina, posting flyers about his grandmother. They’re not to advertise a yard sale, or even announcing her passing, but instead just about the woman herself. She died the year before, and this is Max’s way of keeping her memory alive. It’s an unconventional approach to mourning, but Max is a pretty unconventional guy. When he randomly meets Howie (Spencer Bang), the two of them hit it off instantly, and Howie joins Max in his smattering of flyers.
The tale of Max and Howie is scattered and not especially cohesive because A Great Lamp is not a strictly narrative film. Animations pop on screen from time to time. Long stretches of the film just show us the back of Max’s head as he wanders around, re-appropriating Christmas carols with his own lyrics. But as we get to know Max and Howie through the time spent with them, we slowly come around to the fact that these weirdos are going through some profound loss and have the deep need to connect with other people. Despite their outward appearances, and sometime aggressive reactions, the unrefined humanity at the core of A Great Lamp makes it a powerful contemplation on isolation and death.
It’s rough around the edges, and takes some time to settle into its skin, but A Great Lamp is the a rare gem of an indie film that seems to come from nothing yet has plenty to say and a voice strong enough to say it.