Wild Tigers I Have Known

Wild Tigers I Have Known


Reviewed by: Richard Mellor

Wild Tigers I Have Known is ostensibly a rites-of-passage film, documenting the same tender teenage years as the likes of Summer Of 42 and Stand By Me. But in Cam Archer’s first full-length movie, cross-dressing homosexuality and roaming big cats replace Jennifer O’Neills and trips along traintracks as key stops in the adventure of adolescence.

Stand By Me is relevant here: as well as detailing seminal moments in the youth of River Phoenix and his chums, it has long been argued to hold a gay torch. Archer has previously helmed a documentary on Phoenix, and his fledgling director-writer career also includes 2003’s Bobbycrush, a short film on which Wild Tigers is based. It’s like Michael Mann re-making LA Takedown as Heat, but with hand jobs rather than bank jobs.

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Like Bobbycrush, Wild Tigers is about a 13-year-old, small town boy in probably unrequited love with his best friend. But in this meatier upgrade, Logan (Malcolm Stumpf) must now suffer the additional barbs of a conservative junior high school, while also keeping an eye out for the most metaphorical of mountain lions (despite the title’s suggesting other felines). Aid comes from his despairing mother and a concerned counsellor (played respectively by indie darlings Fairuza Balk and Kim Dickens).

As ethereal and equivocal as they come, Archer’s picture is also as gray as it’s gay. Distorted sounds reach tremulous high pitches; filmy scenes fade away or speed up as the camera starts great whizzing pirouettes; long silences occupy landscape shots. It’s often a job to know what’s going on. While not being bullied at school or gawping at love object Rodeo (Patrick White), Logan floats dreamily through the woods in order to escape the agonies over his newfound sexuality.

Like a patient concerto, Wild Tigers builds to its climactic moment, as Logan prepares to test his and Rodeo’s burgeoning friendship by making a move. Honouring his character’s sudden self-knowledge, Archer adopts a weightier tone, ditching the stylised lyrical moments in favour of (unfortunate pun) playing it straight. The scenes that follow are much easier to follow, but also vastly more uncomfortable and taut.

For Logan’s charm offensive involves not just make up, but full-on female impersonation, with feminine clothes and a spookily convincing womanly voice. As he chats up the unsuspecting Rodeo in sporadic telephone calls, you fear for Logan’s sanity as much as his security. Filmed in garish tints, these scenes of seduction are truly transfixing, not least because Stumpf passes for a very believable girl.

Stumpf excels throughout in fact, as limpid and awkward in drainpipe shorts and strange T-shirts as he is spirited and hopeful while addressing his homosexuality. White is likeably nonpareil and humble as the local rebel, and Balk terrific as ever in portraying Logan’s mum, embittered at being shut out by her son but desperately concerned nonetheless.

Rather too rarefied to begin with, Archer’s profound story soon shapes up into a reasonably gripping potboiler, beautifully shot and acutely tense. The subject matter is nothing new, but it’s a considerately and unflinchingly covered coming-out, and that’s definitely to be praised. So if you can put up with some vaporous cinematography, have patience for a snail’s pace and don’t object to men loving men, then Wild Tigers could be for you to know.

Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2008
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Sexual awakening of a teenager who tries to engage with the object of his affections by posing as a woman on the phone.
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Director: Cam Archer

Writer: Cam Archer

Starring: Malcolm Stumpf, Patrick White, Fairuza Balk, Kim Dickens

Year: 2006

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

Stand By Me