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Our Bloody Underground

Brady Starr shoots inside Baltimore's loft life in The Lift

Dylan Lee Brady discovers the sinster secrets of the Copycat Building in The Lift.

By Martin L. Johnson | Posted 2/17/2010

The Lift screening

The Senator, Feb. 19

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Aspiring filmmakers in Baltimore--regardless of what types of movies they make--often wrestle with comparisons to John Waters. But Baltimore artist Brady Starr, whose vampire faux-documentary The Lift screens at the Senator Feb. 19, has a closer relationship than most with the director who exposed Baltimore's campy identity to itself. When Starr watches John Waters movies, they're also his home movies.

"One of my houses is in Cry-Baby, and my mother, pregnant with me, is in Polyester," Starr says at a Station North coffee shop on a rainy morning in mid-November, referring to one of Waters' indelible scenes in which a group of pregnant women take a hayride at a nun-run home for unwed mothers. "You can see her because she has a red Converse on, and she made the attempt to be noticed by putting her Converses out during the hayride."

The connection between Waters' tableaux vivants of Baltimore's underground made in the 1970s and early '80s and Starr's The Lift aren't obvious at first. But both suburbanites share an interest in shining a light on people and places at the margins of the city. Starr, who moved to Baltimore a few years ago to start work on The Lift, has made a movie that is as much about his interpretation of city life as it is an urban version of The Blair Witch Project.

Instead of the Maryland woods, Starr said he was drawn to filming Baltimore's loft-performance spaces. "We just wanted to film the Copy Cat," Starr says. "It's very hard to describe. There are apartments, there are bedrooms within apartments, but most of [the] apartments are locked. A lot of people live on couches, in little cubby spaces. It's a very common area. They all cook for each other, they all share food. It's really like its own community."

Much of the movie is, in fact, a rather simple documentary of the Copy Cat; parts of it could have been shot by a MICA sophomore setting foot off campus for the first time to learn about artists' lofts. The affable Dylan Lee Brady serves as the host for the first 45 minutes, asking a series of innocuous questions--"How old are you? How long have you lived here? What do you use the space for? How many roommates do you have?"--and getting stranger and stranger answers.

Starr says that the documentary approach, and the discomfort many Copy Cat residents felt in the presence of a camera, made the movie more eerie than even he was aware during the shooting. "It worked to our benefit that people were nervous," he says. "We knew how the movie was going to end, and everything people said was so creepy and weird that we said, 'Wow, this has to be in the movie even though it has nothing to do with The Lift."

While the movie tiptoes around its vampire theme until the end, from the beginning it's clear, as in almost all horror flicks, that something is off. While in other circumstances it may be easy to write off someone not knowing how many roommates they have when they live in a space so fluid, when you imagine vampires in this setting the same answers take on a more ominous tone. "What do you think you'll accomplish with that?" one guy with glasses and a black skull cap asks Brady in between smokes. "People come and go around this place. I mind my business, do my thing."

People doing their thing takes up much of the movie, which is as much social document as vampire movie. As Starr makes clear, "the lift," is not slang for a human blood high, but instead code for an unveiling of a new subculture of vampires. As was done for The Blair Witch Project and the more recent Paranormal Activity, Starr has invested considerable effort into blurring the lines between fiction and nonfiction in the movie's publicity, so much so that he worries that some people will miss the movie's backdrop altogether.

"Some people are going to watch the movie and never know it's a vampire movie," he says. "They're just going to go, What the fuck was that all about? The other people who understand the underground nature of the vampire, and what their exposed life would be like, they're going to get it. I hope."

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