Sean Baker’s film Tangerine (2015) is a wonderful shot in the arm for the world of low budget, independent film. Personally I much preferred this film with its $100,000 dollar budget to Baker’s 2017 film The Florida Project which cost $2,000,000. Just for scale The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two came out the same year as Tangerine and cost $160,000,000.
The disparity between Tangerine’s budget and The Hunger Games’ budget has at least in some part to do with who’s story is being told and who’s voice is getting heard. Tangerine depicts a world many do not want to see or hear about, but truthfully the film’s radical subject matter has little to do with why I loved it. It was the craftsmanship that impressed me. The film is rough and gritty but clever and bold like Scorsese’s Mean Streets.
The color in Tangerine is wonderful. By using available light the color of everything continually shifts. Skin tones, and clothing are cast and recast in blue, yellow, green and orange. In fact that is where the film gets its name. Baker saw all the colors contained in his film and named the film in homage to them. Its a great example of making a low budget work in your favor.
Tangerine was filmed entirely on an iPhone and without any tripods or extensive set ups. The lack of a tripod in The Florida Project felt less organic. It was too evident. The camera in Tangerine is even more unsteady but I never once doubted that we had to keep moving in order keep up with the action. The film has tremendous forward momentum propelled by the acting and intensity of Sin-Dee Rella who plays out a sort of reverse version of the fairy tale where together with her fairy godmother Alexandra, Cinderella must pursue the prince.
The story may be about trans prostitutes but it also plays out classic themes like the hero’s journey and the Odyssey. The film blends conventional with unconventional beautifully. Its exciting that films like these are still being made. Let Hollywood trudge on with its capitalist inspired nightmare, film is still alive and kicking out in the street.