Something about bowling captures an essential element of transgender identity, according to the director behind the forthcoming feature film “Death and Bowling,” made by and starring mostly trans individuals.
Like going to the ocean, it’s one of the only social activities where everyone is looking in one direction, and “that captures grief and desire in this way,” director Lyle Kash said.
“You can never quite touch the horizon, but you go and you look forward anyway,” making it both “formally trans” and reflective of the emotional textures of the film, said Kash, who took a year off from his CalArts graduate program to make the crowd-funded film.
The movie centers on a multiracial, multigenerational bowling league made up of lesbian women dealing with grief in some form or another.
When Susan (Faith Bryan), the captain of the Lavender League, takes her own life on her 75th birthday, her unknown, estranged trans son Alex (Tracy Kowalski) arrives and strikes up a friendship with Susan’s closest confidante — a leather-clad, trans James Dean-type character referred to only as X (Will Krisanda).
Together, Alex and X, the only explicitly trans characters, “unpack” their relationship with Susan and literally pack up her home together.
When it came to filming the bowling alley scenes — where the women in the league laugh, cry and, of course, roll — the Montrose Bowl on Honululu Avenue was the first choice for aesthetic reasons, Kash said.
The 82-year-old, eight-lane bowling alley sports an aqua-and-orange motif, red vinyl seats and distinct non-electronic scoring equipment.
When Bob Berger, the second-generation owner of the Montrose Bowl, gave the crew a large student discount, it also made it the most affordable option, so it was a done deal, Kash said.
Primarily used for filming and private parties, “there’s no sense of an outside world when you’re in the alley,” Kash said.
That gave the setting a feeling of a film set within the film, which added a layer to the film’s commentary on a performative quality sometimes linked to trans identity, Kash said.
“The film plays a lot with lighting and set design to make you wonder if you’re watching something where the actors and the characters know themselves that they’re telling a story, so it fit nicely with that,” Kash said.
The roughly 30-member crew shot for seven days in the tiny space. It was one of the film’s 17 locations in or near Los Angeles, including CalArts in Santa Clarita, a gym in Pasadena, a rooftop in downtown Los Angeles and three very hot days at a location in Palmdale.
While Kash said the cast and crew received a warm welcome nearly everywhere, he said they encountered adversity at an Italian restaurant in Santa Clarita. After they were barred from using its bathrooms and a crew member wrote a negative Yelp review, they were kicked out, Kash said.
“That was a helpful reminder of why spaces like this are so important,” Kash said, referring to the community of like-minded individuals who worked on the production.
While the characters’ gender and sexual identities figure heavily into the story, Kash underscored that “it’s not a film about trans-ness.”
The goal is to eschew more common trans narratives in LGBTQ films and cinema, where “the only trans experience is deciding whether you’re going to get surgery and take hormones or kill yourself,” he said.
Instead, “Death and Bowling” focuses on characters long after they transition.
Shooting wrapped in early October. The film is now heading into a year of post-production with plans for a festival run in late 2019 or early 2020.