Director: Bill Ross, Turner Ross
Runtime: 80 minutes
Tchoupitoulas (pronounced CHOP-it-TOO-luhs), an engaging documentary named after the boisterous street in New Orleans that sits closest to the Mississippi River, opens with a young boy named William looking into the camera from the back of a pick-up truck, the aged metropolis of New Orleans flying past him in the background.
It’s the beginning of what will be an odyssey for three brothers — William the youngest by far — to an island of sinful fun that they do not completely understand. Filmmakers Bill and Turner Ross do not interfere with the proceedings, allowing the young kids to live out a night they have long hoped for. “This is everything I dreamed,” William exclaims, referencing the music and naked women that surrounds him as though they were rubies and diamonds finally discovered after years of scouring.
While they walk about the bustling street, the brothers bicker and fight, then lose interest in each other and gain interest in something else. Similarly, the filmmakers sometimes lose focus on their central subjects, cutting to an oyster salesmen who’s more of a showman than anything else, or a small group of bums on park benches trading insults to one another in harsh, broken whispers. Perhaps the most arresting of these asides is a single, wide shot of a young man behind a burlesque stage playing The Godfather theme on the violin. The show lights bleed into the edge of the frame, creating something so iconic it’s a wonder its documentation.
To be sure, there are moments that feel less documented and more produced, such as a shot of a preacher man with a bible in the foreground and a neon red sign that reads DESIRE in the background. But this interference is few and far between. For the most part, the Ross brothers allow this naturalism to give way to its own, special kind of mysticism.
And though the doc loses a considerable amount of steam at the halfway point, once they leave the titular street in fact, it picks right back up thanks to a discovery that illicit some memorable reactions from William and his brothers.
Their eyes wide, mouths agape and lips quivering, we watch these boys have the adventure they hoped for when the snuck out of their home hours earlier. Shot over one long night, the film is a testament to how fascinating it is to simply take children and mash them up against an ocean of adults acting like children. Take a moment in which the two older brothers attempt to explain the idea of transvestites to William. There’s no sugar-coating of language or description, no treading on political correctness. The trio is on this particular on this particular night to grow up a little bit and have an adventure. Watching them do just that is an adventure all its own.
Tchoupitoulas is now in limited release.
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