While screening Argentine director Luciano Piazza's Las Vegas in 16 Parts, I couldn't help but think of Nicolas Provost's absolutely delightful found-footage noir short Stardust. Mr. Piazza's mid-length structuralist essay shares some of that film's foreign wide-eyed fascination with the almost unbelievable carousel of kitschy period Americana that is Las Vegas - the ultimate temple of consumerism, endlessly commodifying and recycling a handful of key events in post-WWII American popular culture through a non-stop assembly-line of trashy, throwaway souvenirs.
As its title suggests, Mr. Piazza's film is a homemade Lego construct, starting from a small number of constituent pieces recognised as Vegas trademarks: neon signs, casino floors, souvenir shops, Elvis impersonators. But in between are mixed other American signs and identifiers from the same period that molded American imagery: guns, cars, skylines. And Las Vegas in 16 Parts is designed as a mosaic of segues, composed out of 16mm footage (mostly his own, with a few period footage thrown in), aiming at reaffirming and transcending the clichés and platitudes we identify it with: an attempt to reach the essence of what we have come to think of as 20th-century America by focussing on its lowest common denominator.
But its sparse, academic design fails to make it gel as a viewing experience: though a slim, hour-long effort, its conceptualization quickly becomes staid and stale, our interest being maintained out of the somewhat voyeuristic curiosity of seeing "what comes next" (for all that, Mr. Piazza announces the "list of contents" at the beginning and repeats it at the end). There are some truly affecting moments in the mix, for sure, like the plans of empty hotel corridors in "part 9" or the assemblage of period footage in "part 15" that point glaringly out the promise that Las Vegas failed to truly fulfill and the vacuum that was erected in its wake. Which leads us into another interesting aspect of the essay - does that emotional connection come more from Mr. Piazza's assemblage of the material, or from our own fascination with the gaudy seediness of Las Vegas? Or is it a mix of both? Maybe Las Vegas in 16 Parts is designed as a litmus test. After all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
LAS VEGAS IN 16 PARTS
USA, 2015, 63 minutes
Conceived, realized and edited by Luciano Piazza; sound mix by Craig Smith; produced by Martin Ahualli, Mila Djordjevic, Jessica Gordon-Burroughs, Alberto Mendez, Luciano Piazza, Marcelo Piazza, Marta Piazza and Victoria Piazza; funded partially by Fotokem and the California Institute of the Arts Completion Grant
Screened November 26th 2015, Porto/Post/Doc 2015 official competition advance screener