Living Shadowbox: Dave Made a Maze

My inaugural entry in this category is maybe not as vintage-inspired or traditionally sumptuous as future picks will be, but I love the movie Dave Made a Maze precisely because as a whole, it accomplishes with only cardboard sets and wild imagination the same degree of visual delight as moving pictures with 10 times the production budget.

I was lucky enough to see this irreverent horror/comedy/adventure for the first time on a big screen at San Francisco's Roxie theater, "the oldest continually operating theater in the United States." (If you don't live in the Bay Area, check their schedule regularly, simply for a list of movie recommendations!)

Slightly based on a true story, Dave Made a Maze tells the story of Dave, newly into his 30's and still struggling to find creative focus, and the motivation to follow through once inspiration strikes. We can all relate to the "What am I supposed to do with my life?" question, and even if we've found a path, making time to nurture our passion projects can be frustratingly difficult.

Dave finally does just that... by building a cardboard box fort/maze/labyrinth — complete with accidental homicidal minotaur! — in his living room. (Yep, you read that right!) Tardis-like, it's bigger than it looks: when his friends realize he's trapped inside, they pack their box cutters and some sandwiches and enter the maze to rescue him.

True film critics can explain the themes in more detail (this review from Daily Dead has great insights), but my purpose is to highlight and share with you the "Living Shadowbox" aspect: art from films and TV shows that compose their frames with such thoughtful production design and well-composed detail that almost any still frame is worth capturing and placing on your wall — preferably in a 3D shadowbox diorama!

With much modern CGI often trying SO hard to suspend our disbelief that we just end up rolling our eyes at the bad physics on display (or in the uncanny valley, eeesh), it was a delightful thrill to watch and grin as a bunch of yarn, cardboard boxes, and other assorted household craft supplies transported me to a believable microcosm full of deadly booby traps and surreal adventure.

I love how the in-camera trickery and imaginative sets made a world that operates on it’s own independent oddball rules, and how the sincere story ("Do you know what it means to be 'broke'? It means that you are broken. It means that you don't work.") is wrapped up in clever visual surprises ("Did she just... die? Or did she turn into a craft project?!").

I'm intrigued by 'behind-the-scenes' details, and it was especially fun to read press articles (like this pithy piece on The Young Folks) and learn how the constraint of using found materials to construct sets, and the fact that they only had two stages to shoot on, meant that entire sets were often designed and built in a day, on-the-fly. The visually-striking "Kubrick Corridor" set is one example of a necessity-born happy accident, and it's one of the more memorable scenes in the film.

Some of my favorite details in my own artwork are the results of happy accidents, and it’s always an exciting and magical "ah-ha!" feeling when it happens. Like being given a magic key. It takes the artist to roll with that gift and recognize it, build on it, but it’s still magic. I feel like the sense of wonder and the zany creativity inherent in the film would have been squashed by a studio, and it's a treat to have the movie exactly as it is. It inspires me to remember to find the glee in "making stuff" and let that be the fuel that propels a project forward!

The cast and crew produced a bounty of production stills while filming: here is a great short YouTube video. The official website will link you to sources for watching the movie yourself, and is a library of links to reviews, trailers, and other coverage of the movie. Highly recommended! Give it a watch and let me know what you think.

Think Outside the Box! Err... Boxes! :)

(Movie poster and all screen captures are © the original artists, and are used here for review and inspirational purposes only.)

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