Fox Maxy’s Gush and Maat
On a mission to promote accessible production with iPhones and camcorders, Fox Maxy is a pioneer of freeform filmmaking.
Contrasting light exposures scatter across the opening frames in Fox Maxy’s Sundance premiere, Gush (2023). Some of the flickers feature a flashlight hitting a tree, spotlights shining on nightclub ravers, a camera’s flash illuminating a bloody nose, and the differing degrees of sunlight contributing shade or heat to nature’s evocative beauty. Artificial and natural light sources abound in Maxy’s personal, exuberant, and horror-esque style. However, his sporadic editing trains the audience’s sight on his interior, nuanced nine-plus-year archive (the footage was shot over nine-plus years) rather than a continuous arc that examines a concrete situation unfolding within his relationships. The lucid, swift pacing informs audiences that they will comprehend clips of Maxy’s life in a non-linear timeline. Instead, the film begins as a critique of external forces influencing a person’s livelihood before transforming into a letter of self-determination about the joy of enduring humanity.
Gush is the debut feature-length continuation of the San Diego-based (Kumeyaay and Payómkawichum; he/she) artist’s diaristic self-introspection and mission to showcase accessible filmmaking via iPhone and low-quality camcorders. Forefront traces of frenetic scene transitions, unexpected yet non-flustered vocal changes, multilayers of projection, and an eclectic soundtrack (consisting of string orchestrations and hip-hop and blues remixes) are present in Gush and his shorts F1ghting Looks Different 2 Me Now (2022), San Diego (2020), and the widely-seen Maat (2020).
The 71-minute, free-associative collage analyzes the effects of mental health, social media, and sharing oneself with the world. Its mind-boggling structure makes Gush’s time-traveling spectacle mundane and, instead, opens up conversations about how we function and perceive information, leaving little room for blanket statements. The indecipherability of Maxy’s internal exploration accretes to an understanding of love, unity, and companionship. Gush initially follows the haunting relationship between humans and land before it signals the importance of having friendships as love conquers angst.
Frequent pop-ups of mobile corpses, spiders, and splattering blood manufacture strong bonds and interests between Maxy and his friends. Excerpts of auto-tuned Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell discussing sexual abuse are paired with abstract imagery (which reflects Maxy’s multitude of emotions) and Maxy’s own witty remarks, such as “you’re either hot or crusty in this world.” These instances complement his refusal to be labeled by others about his work and himself. This noncompliance with conventional storytelling allows Maxy to shower the sources of his beliefs in adoration without concerning himself with the audience’s expectations at all.
In Maat, Maxy redefines home, activism, and his Nativeness. The film establishes his admiration of lizards and his dog, and begins with Maxy’s POV shots from the driver’s seat of a car. In another scene, he then twirls on foot in the desert with a friend to contact the motherland. Then, we shift to interviews during which we listen to poignant remarks from key Hawaiian solidarity movement figure Haunani-Kay Trask, tribal scholar L. Frank, and incarcerated firefighter Marty Vinson. Maxy places the interviewees in smaller aspect ratios under the backdrops of a living room and palm trees with multiverse jumping shots of Maxy gazing at the world or a human’s internal cells. It eases viewers not to be too serious about the subject matter. Simultaneously, however, he stimulates a future of liberation with people thriving and reclaiming spaces.
The figures in Maat crucially critique how white people contribute to ongoing systemic oppression, capitalism, slave mentality, and colonialism in Turtle Island. In most familiar films, actuality raconteurs assert a specific agenda for audiences to create transformational change. However, Maxy is conscious of his positionality and doesn’t compromise his creative expression to be a cultural explainer for non-Indigenous—predominantly white—audiences. While acknowledging the history of how America became America and his ancestors’ accomplishments, Maxy does not explicitly tell people to be on his side. For example, he cuts from an essential point in Trask’s speech to a jumping cat, emphasizing the many instances in his life where he does not have to constantly justify his existence. He finds a therapeutic purpose in his work through recurring switches between his wonders of the land and the politics of control. This passion absorbs a pragmatic comprehension of the daily minutiae.
When one watches Maat with captions, they will see alternate spellings of commonly used words such as “u,” “kno,” and “rly.” This execution reflects Maxy’s relationship with his phone. His life revolves around this precious resource and he exerts its unique capabilities toward the film’s advancement. In doing so, he sets a precedent for how language—via captions and visuals, for example—functions in the digital age by contending with its ubiquity. He abandons King’s English in favor of internet scrolls symbolizing a user’s Instagram highlights. He soothes societal hot takes with a lively, melancholic playlist where he embraces his culture and illustrates the power of living. He ruminates grief into a session of acceptance through a multi-format interview in Gush.
In the interview, he confronts his trauma as he resumes his meditative rituals from his past work. He intersperses scenes of women in a car debating a sexually violent man’s value to his community with snippets of his MoMA Modern Monday performance (with his troupe that includes acclaimed musician and Gush composer Laura Ortman) in relation to his interview. These short fables—shown in multiple segments—touch upon the impact social media has on us. Social media encapsulates the strength of connecting to the world, yet its daunting presence looms over the simple apps phone users take for granted. They both show how people use social media to navigate the confinements of relationships and how perception is developed based on notable accounts of history and a person’s activity on the web.
Maxy gives the big picture while revealing enough of oneself in a non-didactic manner. The unnamed women heal in their collective get-together. When Maxy adds montages in between their exchange, we witness a complicated horror taking place as they speak, revealing the ways in which there’s fear in going to ordinary settings where a traumatic event occurred. While the surface is peaceful, internal evil hangs over ordinary settings, as victims of trauma may not have pleasant memories of certain places that their counterparts do. Peculiarly, in this scene, they are the only characters to be censored when they curse—perhaps implying that they collaborated with Maxy on how they ought to be represented on-screen. The MoMA performance contains observations of one’s relationship with flesh and others. It comments on the emotional ethos of feeling pain but soon becomes a therapeutic exercise for the performers to free themselves from their inner demons.
Once one releases something to the world, one can never undo that action. That is the dilemma Maxy contemplates throughout Gush. While acknowledging his platform’s amplification, he sometimes autotunes parts of his sentiments to let audiences know that making art is fun yet susceptible to one’s endeavor to express themselves.
Maxy demonstrates his capabilities as a time lord in Gush and Maat. His non-linear storytelling epitomizes how events have long-term effects and how moving on from moments that scarred or excited us is impossible. His sound bridges of mixing diegetic sound and remixed tracks subsume healing antidotes that make people stronger yet vulnerable to daily life. He enthralls the grainy yet vibrant, ubiquitous surroundings that shape a person’s ideology. He redefines how conflict can become tense out of the blue. Gush is a coping mechanism to clinch love, fear, and power to ourselves. Maxy allows viewers to reflect, grapple, and enjoy the bold remembrances that we carry. He blends sorrow and bleakness into delight and endearment.