Just like the esoteric title may suggest, I’m An Electric Lampshade is a conundrum of a film. This film is one part documentary, one part concert film, and a little abstract narrative thrown in for good measure. While each part works well enough by themselves, the result of their collaboration is a chorus of cinematic cacophony.
The film follows Doug, an average joe that has been working as a corporate accountant for over twenty years. We’ve all had a Doug in the workplace before; mild-mannered, dry humored and a bit odd, but kind-hearted through it all. Yet underneath this humble occupational alter ego lies a rock star persona with a Leonard Cohen like voice just waiting for its time in the spotlight.
With retirement on the horizon, Doug sees a chance to finally let his hair down and embrace his musical wild side. What begins as a simple music video to bid adieu to his corporate co-workers becomes a cross continental journey to fully realize his dream of being a professional singer.
The first third of John Clayton Doyle’s directorial debut is everything a good documentary should be. The subject matter is slightly absurd, but relatable enough that it’s entertaining heartwarming. Seeing the camaraderie of Doug’s co-workers and family as they awkwardly accept and embrace his late-bloomer vision is beautiful and demonstrates the importance of a community.
Once Doug travels to The Philippines to learn how to embody a performer, the feature, like Doug’s favorite concert film, stops making sense. Doyle begins to craft a fantastical narrative of Doug’s experience of working with the drag queens of The Philippines. This blurring of reality and fiction is suppose to mirror Doug’s own disillusionment about his identity and whether he belong as a rock star.
Unfortunately, the fantasy elements detract from the emotional core of I’m An Electric Lampshade. The authenticity and earnestness of Doug’s journey that’s established in the first third becomes lost in favor for nonlinear mediocrity. When we finally are given the opportunity to see Doug perform on a grand stage, we’ve been so conditioned to doubt the film’s reality that it becomes difficult to watch the concert without a critical eye.
The music video industry is full of ambiguous narratives and symbolic visuals. It’s commendable that Doyle attempted to turn a three-minute visual art form into a feature length feature. Yet I’m An Electric Lampshade‘s experimentation doesn’t reach the success to be used as a template for the medium going forward.
The Silver Lining
While I’m An Electric Lampshade may not achieve cinematic excellence, Doyle’s direction of Doug’s music videos is superb. Particularly the music video for “The Fear” works as an acknowledgement of the audience’s concerns about the film, while also providing a window into Doug’s doubts.
“The Fear” is positioned at the start of the third act; a point where audiences are likely struggling to find meaning out of the film. While we may not discover understanding in the scene, “The Fear” empathizes with our incomprehensibility by tying it to Doug’s own fears about his performing ability. The way that Doug is kneeling naked as he sings “The Fear” symbolizes how raw he feels emotionally on stage. The kneeling is a pleading to be loved and accepted when he performs.
There’s much about I’m An Electric Lampshade that confounds, but one thing is clear: John Clayton Doyle is going to have a successful music video career.
I’m An Electric Lampshade is coming soon to a screen near you.