Film: HIP PRIEST
Directed by Gregg De Domenico
Run Time: 27 minutes
CONFESSIONS, RITUALS AND REDEMPTION…SEARCHING FOR SALVATION IN THE RUBBLE OF THE ANCIENT MODERN CITY…SAYING GRACE WITH HIP PRIEST
People are often reflections of their environments, and vice versa. Surgeons gamble with life and death in operating rooms. Performers conjure magic on stages and athletes thrill crowds with finesse on the designated fields or courts of their chosen game. For an ordained clergyman, one assumes their central place of business is the chapel or temple house of worship, where from the altar to the confessional they attend to the spiritual needs of the faithful.
The main character of the film Hip Priest is identified and referred to simply as “Priest”. His true church is the sprawling city streets. Priest’s followers and constituency are all the people of urban society who make the cold concrete hum, buzz, sing and cry with living energy. Priest is a beacon of spirituality for the many wounded lost souls floating through the wreckage, desperate for sympathy to ease their palpable suffering. He carries a gentle understanding, a charming sense of humor and a warm lack of judgement. In the mold of a classic local folk hero, Priest is beloved and respected by everyone from the innocent children cheerfully dancing and playing on the sidewalks in the afternoon sun to the rough-edged older crowd of grown up kids getting loose at a live rock show in the ominous night.
Hip Priest succeeds as a memorable and intellectually satisfying film on several levels. From a visual perspective it looks gorgeous. Shot in black and white, every frame is elegant in composition and dynamic without appearing manufactured or fake. The lack of color beyond dark, light and gray tones gives a pleasing aesthetic that enhances the emotional weight of the subject matter. Whether intentional or not, the exterior shots of New York City boulevards, parks and architecture strongly echo the crumbling ruins of ancient Rome. The city itself is another lost soul, exhibiting both the fantastic ambition of the initial dream of the metropolis super-structure and the battered morning-after reality of survival in harsh conditions.
Priest glides along, eyes shielded behind thick black sunglasses, crisp short-brimmed black hat and ever-present smoldering cigarette dangling. The film is very much about playing off the contrasting images of the traditionally typically restrained, orthodox conservatism of professional priests re-imagined as a well-dressed hipster preacher man with a sly wit, a street-wise swagger and a familiarity with the edgy, dangerous side of the nightlife. Priest takes confessions in bars from emotional folks getting an early buzz. He tenderly consoles an agonized woman reeling over a visit from the dreaded touch of Death. For his personal pleasure and release, he goes to small rock club to watch a band play, shaking his head in affirmation with the new wave trance of the music as guys bash around up front and girls dance up and down around him.
Leading man Gerard is very convincing and natural as Priest. His presence on screen is formidable, cutting an imposing figure in all black as he marches through the urban jungle. Gerard brings a wry sense of humor and emotional weight to Priest, creating a well-rounded, charming and believable human character. We all wish we had someone like Priest roaming our neighborhood, to console us in despair and laugh with us in joy. The definition of where Priest ends and Gerard begins is a comfortable gray area. This aspect is another mirror of the city itself.
Are the people finding true happiness in the rituals from chess to softball to whiskey, achieving a poetic level of simple, humble grace and bliss? Or are they screaming and whimpering under the massive weight of all that immense stone, steel and rubble, being slowly crushed by the constant pressure of feeling overcrowded, under-paid and rattled by sensory overload? Ask anyone who has lived in any big city for long enough to not feel like a tourist and they’ll confirm it’s always a bit of both, another washed out pale gray, deciding its level of hope or doom based on the momentary mood of the day.
Hip Priest winds down with a hopeful sense the citizens are in good hands. They’re not yet completely doomed. Salvation and redemption are not fully out of reach. Spiritual older brother Priest is there to help show them a simple, straightforward path toward forgiveness and light. Some of the best scenes in the movie occur when Priest delivers several monologues directly to the audience, quoting passages from the pages of the thick, tattered book he carries everywhere, like a personal updated edition of the Bible. If the Old Testament and New Testament comprise the original, Priest reads from the Gray Testament; a compilation mix-tape of verse from Oscar Wilde, Alan Watts and Henry Miller commenting on the Ego-wracked hysteria of modern society. Not truly despicable nor close to glory, somewhere in-between the human drama unfolds like an infinite puzzle within a maze within a nightmare and a dream.
*Watch Hip Priest at