16mm film, color, 75 minutes, 1997
Finished is a detective story and a love story, a film noir bathed in sunlight. It’s a film of contradictions: pornographic yet chaste, distanced yet mesmerizing, reticent yet moving. It reminds us that life in the movies is not like life at the movies.
Sundance Film Festival; Rotterdam International Film Festival; Vienna International Film Festival; Filmforum, Los Angeles; Blinding Light Cinema, Vancouver; American Cinematheque, Los Angeles; Image Film/Video Center, Atlanta; Northwest Film Center, Portland, Oregon; Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Antwerp Film Museum; Tate Modern, London; IFC Center, New York; The California Files, CCA Wattis Institute, San Francisco; Atelier Frankfurt, Germany; BodyPoliticX, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam; Anthology Film Archives, New York
Best Independent/Experimental Film, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, 1998
Bill O’Driscoll, “Naked Obsession,” Pittsburgh City Paper, April 10, 2003.
What do you say about a porn star who died? A good deal, if you’re filmmaker William E. Jones and the lubricated luminary is Alan Lambert. In 1992, the French-Canadian Lambert walked into a Montreal park and shot himself in the head. He was 25. But Jones didn’t know of Lambert’s death until sometime later -- well after he had already cultivated an obsession with the boyish, dark-haired model upon seeing him in a magazine phone-sex ad.
Jones investigates that obsession in his feature film Finished, which highlights “The Straight and Homo,” an evening of film April 11 at The Andy Warhol Museum. Jones’ philosophical inquiry explores not only the mysterious relationship between photographed object and viewer, but also the strange and contradictory life of the man who in the late ’80s and early ’90s starred in films including Hard to Be Good, Locker Room Sex and Summer Buddies.
Except for the voice of the disembodied narrator (Jones) and pictures of Lambert, Finished (1997) is strangely depopulated. Its first section, about Lambert’s movie career, unfolds against the stark, sunburned banality of the San Fernando Valley, epicenter of American adult video. A second section studies Lambert’s death, with Jones reading excerpts from Lambert’s “completely baffling” suicide letter against tranquil images of the ocean; other narrations are coupled with ruminative views of the sky. Jones leaves you feeling that obsessor and obsessee are the only people in the world. “I felt as though I owned him,” Jones self-analyzes. “I was seduced by an image.”
But even the memory of Lambert is not so easily claimed. As Jones learns, the Quebecker saw himself as a political radical and sexual adventurer; in Montreal he led a double life as a student and a sex worker, all the while imagining the spontaneous people’s revolution that would coalesce around someone who, if not him, would be someone very like him. Lambert becomes something like the naked women in Naomi Uman’s bitingly funny doctored-footage short Removed (1999), which screens with Finished and Scott Stark’s short Angel Beach (2001): Just as Uman’s women are chemically obliterated -- turned into pulsating white blobs under the hands and eyes of their male admirers -- Lambert keeps changing shape for Jones, refusing even in death to be pinned down.
Jones thoughtfully exploits the Gary Cooper film Meet John Doe, finding in it parallels to his own themes. But his most poetic touch might be his sparing use of video footage of Lambert in action, in which the performer’s recumbent rapture suggests the sleep of the grave, and love spasms might also be death throes.
Bruce Hainley, “My Life in Pictures,” Frieze, November/December 2001, pp. 104-05.
It is possible to fall in love with someone by seeing his picture in a magazine. I’m not sure what this says about love, magazines, photographs, or those who fall in love this way. In his hauntingly original film Finished (1997) filmmaker and documentary photographer William E. Jones meditates on his intense interest in a man he knew only through his appearance in ads, porn magazines and films. Imagine A. J. A. Symons’ enthrallingly great “experiment in biography” The Quest for Corvo (1934) as a film about a gay porn star, and you’ll have some idea of the intellectual and erotic milieu of Finished. Alan Lambert, the object of Jones’ fascination, transforms into something else entirely when Jones finds out that Lambert, soon after Jones became aware of his existence, has committed suicide in a public square in Montreal, leaving behind a messianic letter-manifesto. In Finished Jones tracks Lambert’s non-appearance in the non-sites that make up Los Angeles (long shots of the freeways, erotically desolate corners and alleys, blue skies, littorals) as counterpoint to his appearances in porn.
Two aspects of the film are of particular interest to me. First the way Jones’ narrative voice-over, while relating the intersection of his own life with Lambert’s hypnotic studly representation, supplies a brilliant critique of contemporary gay identity via pornography and its simultaneous idealization and commodification of the (white) male body. And yet his loving deliberation and care with images – Jones uses the documentary potential of film to accomplish a personal archiving, even memorializing, of the photographic and filmic remains of Lambert’s life – complicate matters almost to the point of contradicting his critique, suggesting the on-going trade between mind and body, word and image, life and death. Second, early in the film Jones focuses on a series of porn magazines opened to their centerfolds. Because of the way the magazines are discontinuously assembled, bodies are abstracted, different poses and body parts juxtaposed – I want to say inappropriately and obscenely, even though no cock or fucking is ever seen. In one spread a staple holds the entire magazine together: verso, hands and butt leaning on a white sink while what is out of the frame is blown; recto, a recumbent torso and a reaching arm. Positions suggesting sex but not quite showing it. Idealization is a staple of fantasy and desire, and yet the staple, forlorn resonant signifier, barely holds anything together and what it does is bizarrely abstract – not unlike the little that holds the “real” and “unreal” together, “thing” and representation”, “experience” and “fiction”, “word” and “image”. Each stapled to the other, each, at times, transmuting into the other, something called the body or sex or, at the very least, its representation occurs. In Jones’ careful notice of the still image can be discerned all visuality’s pornography, pornography’s transactions with the ineffabilities of the abstract, and mourning’s skidding desire into philosophy.
Christos Tsiolkas, “Meet John Cassavetes,” sensesofcinema.com, September 2001.
In William E. Jones’ underrated documentary Finished (1997), the filmmaker undertakes to resolve the mystery of why a seemingly handsome, intelligent and popular young porn actor offed himself. The film begins with Meet John Doe and ends with it: it becomes a lament for the innocence of American culture, the continually betrayed American Dream. Finished suggests that it never was real in the first place.
Mark Loving, “Finished (1997, USA)” planetout.com, 1999.
William Jones’s gorgeous and languidly-paced film Finished proceeds from a blatantly voyeuristic premise: a gay porn star destroys himself and a film-maker investigates why. Alan Lambert — humpy québecois, voracious bottom, muscle-bound Snow White — at first seems to be the prisoner of a nasty illusion. He killed himself at age twenty-five to keep from getting old and losing his looks. This motive proves to be merely the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, as Jones (the director and narrator) eventually discovers Lambert’s crackpot, messianic Marxism. A last letter, several friends, and a handful of videos point to a contradictory, volatile Alan Lambert, who was very likely manic-depressive. Not a pretty picture, and as if all of this baggage weren’t enough, Jones has the effrontery to show us very few of the things that we might expect from a hard-hitting exposé of a troubled loner on the margins of the sex industry. There are no tearful talking heads, no shocking reenactments, no lengthy excerpts of the suicide letter, and most pointedly, not a single glimpse of full frontal nudity. Finished gives us perfectly composed views of the Hollywood sign, waves crashing at the base of a cliff, snowy Montreal streets, ice in the St. Lawrence River, but we never see the obvious: dick. Jones has the audacity to make a film ostensibly about porn, while depriving us of the pleasure of seeing what we thought we paid for.
By presenting unexpected visual material, Finished disrupts ordinary habits of consumption. What is at stake is nothing less than a rejection of the jejune truisms of gay liberation contained within (and limited by) gay consumerism. This polemical stance is entirely appropriate to the man at the center of the film. Alan Lambert’s political convictions lead him to criticize the circulation of commodities and the alienation it produces, and yet paradoxically, he sold himself, becoming a commodity in the most direct way. Finished suggests that what Alan brought to an intolerable level of contradiction, many of us experience in our everyday lives. However many inadequacies we see in the consumer economy, we must still participate in it. It is possible to read the film (like the suicide that inspired it) as an act of revulsion to the gay marketing moment that so many have anxiously awaited.
As a very personal response to the great steamroller of mainstream gay culture, Finished has an unnerving, hermetic atmosphere. Lambert is such a perfect cipher for Jones’s concerns that the whole story might just have been invented, though the filmmaker assures us that this is not the case. The folie à deux of Messrs. Jones and Lambert recalls a line from that subcultural icon, Bruce La Bruce: “Utopian ideologies hatched in cold basement apartments on long, lonely nights never really stand up to the light of day.” Jones doesn’t correct Lambert’s bizarre philosophy; he is too intent on revising his own discourse, and in the process, he reinvents his image of this enigmatic figure at every turn. In this sense, Finished isn’t so much about Alan Lambert, as it is about the ways in which he can be seen, talked about, and interpreted. Somehow Jones seduces us completely with his voice, and having been seduced, we are ready for almost anything — shots of cloudy skies, a sequence of Meet John Doe, porn stills thrown out of focus à la Gerhard Richter — to appear on screen.
Finished: the film bears a title redolent of bitter irony. The closest Jones comes to offering a definitive conclusion is a final reflection on the cinema’s power to bestow illusory immortality on its subjects. At the end of the film, one is left with the impression that now that this document exists, Alan Lambert did not live in vain. His testament has been written, not out of piety, but out of a need to question and provoke. William Jones delivers his insights in a remarkable tone that never falters, with a skepticism that never quite gives way to hopelessness. His attitude, the malaise of an obsessive gay cinephile mixed with the righteous anger of a latter-day leftist, is ultimately what makes Finished the odd triumph that it is, entirely mad and absolutely essential.
Kensington Smith, “Alternative Reviews: Finished,” Adult Video News, October 1998, p. 242.
Gay industry bit-player “Quebecois” Alan Lambert is the hub around which this admittedly solipsistic docu-essay revolves. William E. Jones takes the listener — because actually, this “film” is little more than a still life with narrative and atmospheric music (one AVN staffer dubbed it “the Koyaanisqatsi of gay porn”) — on his personal odyssey through an obsession with male model Lambert, who made a handful of adult tapes before his suicide in 1994.
It would be easy to dismiss Jones’ project as simple self-indulgence; and on its face, this might be an apt assessment. However, to pretend that any take on any facet of this living can be anything other than completely subjective is unforgivably naïve, and Jones is forthcoming about his skew.
Instead, what should be noted is Jones’ skillful storytelling and the fearless simplicity with which he illustrates his journey, mostly through slide-show vistas, lonely and poignant in their stillness. Though he made a journalist’s effort to incorporate other voices in what turned out to be his one-man show, none of Lambert’s friends or acquaintances would speak on record. Thus we are left with Jones, who turned events which would almost definitely have hobbled a similar “biography” into capacitating accents.
What starts out as a personal quest to unearth some romance about a pretty stranger and his dimestore-novel-tragic demise turns into, after a mesmeric forty-or-so minutes, a gentle, encompassing editorial. Just when you’re ready to condemn him for canonizing his really rather uninspiring subject, a larger view is invoked: Jones turns a critical — but never melodramatic — eye on porn, image and masculinity.
Jones’ observations on the gay industry, beauty, militant politics and anomie are not universal or unique, and neither is the manner in which he has framed them; but taken as a whole, his Finished is, due to an ineffable synthesis, both.
Marketing: You better explain to the heathens that this is Art.
Paul Malcolm, “Notes from a Video Store Burnout: Finished,” L. A. Weekly, June 5, 1998, p. 74.
Director William E. Jones narrates Finished, his experimental biography of a gay-porn star, with a somber passionless lilt. It’s an odd sort of detachment for a project Jones admittedly undertook in order to bring closure to a personal obsession; but by the film’s end, what at first sounds like a forced objectivity resonates with a powerful mix of regret, loss, guilt, anger and desire. A sexy, young slab of beefcake, Alan Lambert first came to Jones’ attention — and entered his fantasies — as a model in a phone-sex ad. It was, however, Lambert’s suicide at the age of 25 that prompted the filmmaker to discover as much as he could about the circumstances of his strange life and death. The star of some 20 hardcore videos (Bare Bottoms, Boot Camp 1 & 2, The Trenches), Lambert was in many ways a typical performer, and Jones uses his screen presence as a leaping-off point into an examination of the rigid aesthetics of gay porn. But along with the usual comparisons between Hollywood and the world of pornography, Jones struggles against outright condemnation of both industries’ exploitative, commodifying practices. Instead, he mines richer territory, moving deep into the complex tangle of relationships and gauging the insurmountable distance between the image and the individual, the voyeur and the object of the gaze. With assured rhythms and a deft, ironic emphasis on surfaces, Jones pulls us in with him and, in a still all-too-rare move when it comes to documentaries, implicates himself in the construction of his subject. In that sense, Finished is something more than the sum of its parts. It’s not simply about a single tragic and confused life; it’s about all of us sitting in the dark and longing.
Paul Burston, “Age Concern: Gay Film-makers Switch from Boyz to Men,” Time Out, March 11-18, 1998, p. 102.
This Thursday marks the start of the 12th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Twelve years may not sound like such a long time, but as many a gay man will tell you, it’s half a lifetime in gay male years: like shagging, ageing is something gay men tend to do ‘doggie fashion’. Whether or not the festival is beginning to feel its age isn’t for me to say. But it does seem rather fitting that, of all the films on offer to the ‘boyz’, some of the best tend to concentrate on what it means to grow old in a subculture obsessed with youth and beauty.
Looking good for the money — and just as provocative as anything else on offer — is Finished, William E. Jones’s highly experimental meditation on life, death, and the gay porn industry. Part autobiography, part elegy, the film recounts the director’s obsession with Canadian porn star Alan Lambert. Conscious of the fact that his shelf-life as a sex object was limited, and living in constant fear of the day when he would be told that he was finished in the porn business, Lambert decided to die young and leave a good-looking back catalogue, committing suicide at the age of 25.
Though his initial motivation for the project seems to have been to satisfy his own voyeuristic fantasies, Jones has turned in a cool, accomplished film about the nature of sexual obsession, the power of the moving image and the marketing of desire as a commodity. Lambert emerges as a victim of the vanity of contemporary gay culture, which says a man can be over the hill by his mid-twenties.
Joel Shepard, “Film Reviews: Finished,” Your Flesh, issue 37 (January 1998) p. 83.
Finished, which premiered at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, is a highly experimental documentary about the short but intense life of Alan Lambert, a twenty-five year old gay porn actor who flamboyantly committed suicide in a public park. Lambert left behind an apocalyptic suicide note filled with radical politics, twenty or so obscure films (including Pool Boy, Hardball and Boot Camp), two cats, and many friends and lovers. Early in the film, director William E. Jones states that he “was intrigued and dismayed by a young man whose identity seemed entirely dependent upon his personal appearance.” Seduced by this image of a man he never knew, the filmmaker set out to make a statement about the false vanity of contemporary gay culture. He discovered something much deeper.
Attempting to make sense of a life cut tragically short and of his own obsessions, Jones has fashioned a brooding meditation on the dark power of the moving image. Finished is composed of long, static camera shots and the dry, cool narration of the filmmaker, who explains his prolonged search for the man inside the myth. All of the clichés of the documentary film genre — interviews, talking heads, re-enactments — are absent. In a repetitive eerie style, we see frozen images of Lambert and the desolate places where he worked and lived: snowy, gloomy streets in Québec and sun-baked Los Angeles warehouses, all devoid of signs of life. Fierce emotions boil underneath these deceptively calm surfaces. The sparse, percussive soundtrack by Jean-Pierre Bédoyan underscores the sense of barely controlled emotion. What emerges out of this combination of disparate elements is a deeply emotional life story and profound examination of the temporary nature of beauty.
Drawing strange parallels to Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe, the portrait of another misunderstood and suicidal idealist, Jones states that “Alan was a rebel. He stood in opposition. To what…is not very clear.” Equal parts personal confession, biography, and political analysis, the film does not exploit its lurid subject matter or appeal to prurient interests. Those expecting a gutter-level view of the porn industry will likely be disappointed, but they may learn something in the process.
Finished concludes with a hauntingly beautiful montage of clips of the actor’s face contorted in orgasmic ecstasy, but the “real” Alan remains an enigma. Critical of society’s definitions of masculinity and gender, Finished is a sober yet poetic journey through the shadowy landscape of the gay adult film industry and into the heart of one of its casualties.
Eddie Von Mueller, “Out Right: Image Hosts ‘Avant Queer’ Fest,” Creative Loafing (Atlanta), January 10, 1998, p. 81.
Finished (1997): The jewel in the “Avant Queer” crown, William Jones’ sophisticated documentary chronicles the filmmaker’s obsession with Alan Lambert (né Alain LeBeau), a Quebecois gay porno actor who committed suicide in 1992. Jones uses landscapes, still images of Lambert, and scenes from the 1941 Frank Capra classic Meet John Doe to try to make sense of the actor’s life and death, and of the industry in which he worked.
Through interviews with his friends and lovers, Lambert emerges as a self-styled political radical and sexual adventurer. His 10-page suicide note/manifesto is a baffling and ultimately indecipherable morass of pseudo-Marxism, millennialist anxiety, and self-absorption of Nietzschean proportions. Part of a culture in which physical beauty, youth, and hyper-masculinity are the primary means of measuring personal value, Lambert chose to end his life rather than face the inevitable waning of those traits on which he traded.
Jones’ own investigation eventually demolishes the mystique that had drawn him to Lambert, whose tragedy is in a way too human and mundane. Lambert becomes both a victim and a weapon in the hands of a “…machine…an economy of images which creates and satisfies desires; some benefit and others are destroyed by it.” Jones’ film is stylish and savvy, impressively mingling cultural criticism and biography in a way that enhances both.
Kevin Thomas, “Screening Room: Life, Death in Provocative Finished,” Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1997, p. 16.
Experimental filmmaker William E. Jones will appear at the American Cinémathèque’s Alternative Screen presentation today at 8 p. m. at Raleigh Studios with his impressive and reflective Finished. In it, he probes the life and death of Alan Lambert, a handsome French Canadian porn star with whom Jones became infatuated but whom he never met.
As Southern California, and later Montreal, vistas unfold, Jones tells how he discovered that Lambert committed suicide as part of his half-baked messianic Marxism. Lambert also thought that, having reached the height of his physical perfection, he could only decline.
Finished draws provocative parallels with Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe, but Lambert also recalls Yukio Mishima in his self-destructive mix of mystical radicalism and concern for physical perfection.
Ernest Hardy, “Finished,” L A. Weekly, February 14-20, 1997, p. 72.
In the future, everyone’s 15 minutes will be capped by a documentary that seeks to explain or simply justify their lives. The best of these works will likely take some of their cues from such groundbreaking works as Superstar, Todd Haynes’ brilliant sketch of Karen Carpenter’s life, or Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, Mark Rappaport’s sly and subversive reading of Hudson’s filmography; they’ll be darkly humorous, rigorously intellectual, and achieve a universal poetry that transcends the specifics of the life examined. William E. Jones’ Finished is such a film. A few years ago, Jones saw an ad for a phone-sex hot line and clipped the photo of the model, Alan Lambert. The seeds of a mild obsession had been planted. A year later, though, the 25-year-old Lambert committed suicide in a park of his native Quebec. Finished, admittedly initiated by Jones’ lust, tries to answer a host of questions surrounding the unanswerable “why” of Lambert’s final act. A man who listened to Mozart while he turned tricks in his apartment and had bookshelves filled with Marx, Lambert reportedly once told a porn-film co-star that he was “superior to most human beings.” He espoused radical but confusing political theories, eagerly anticipated the fall of capitalism, and was obsessed with the apocalypse. Most of the revelations paint him as insufferably pretentious. But the film goes beyond Lambert’s life. It offers pungent critiques of society’s definitions of masculinity and gender. It challenges the aesthetics of porn, even as Jones admits their power. But Finished delivers its most devastating blows in showing how politics, commerce, sexuality and the individual are engaged in a deadening if not deadly dance. (One of Jones’ keenest observations is that “Commodities borrow their aesthetic language from human courtship, but then the relationship is reversed and people borrow their aesthetic expression from the world of the commodity.”) With its lingering shots of crashing ocean waves, billowing clouds, and busy L. A. freeways, the film will be too artsy for some; it certainly won’t satisfy anyone’s prurient interests. But by the last frame, Finished has proved itself a powerful, disturbing meditation.
Holly Willis, “The Silent Treatment,” Filmmaker, Winter 1997, p. 56.
What is a “Sundance film”? John Cooper, Associate Director of Film Festival Programming, thinks people can answer this question too easily. In an effort to refute a sense of predictability, the Festival last year inaugurated the Frontier section as a forum for more experimental filmmaking. “It’s a way for Sundance to get back to its roots.” says Cooper. “It’s also a way for us to answer a continual question: What do we do with films like Nina Menkes’ The Bloody Child, films which are very formal, rigorous projects? They tend to get lost these days at festivals, especially festivals with specific categories for narrative, documentary, and competition films.”
This year’s Frontier expands from three to five films and includes Betzy Bromberg’s Divinity Gratis, which is nothing less than a history of representation and culture. […] Bromberg will be joined in Park City by fellow L. A.-based filmmaker William Jones and his experimental doc Finished. The film’s about gay porn star Alan Lambert, who committed suicide at the age of 25. At once autobiographical confession, biographical portrait, and porn industry analysis, Finished is, according to Jones, a way around the stodgy limits of traditional documentary practice, and another contribution to the growing number of essayistic films and videos which eschew objectivity in favor of a subjective (and often explicitly desiring) stance.
Finished is composed of images culled from the edges of the porn industry. “I used video boxes, rented tapes, and images shot off a monitor,” explains Jones. “I looked for the marginalia of the porn industry. I also decided I wouldn’t use anything as found. I wanted there to be a distance, a sense of the generic or the anonymous, so some of the images are slightly out of focus. Others are grainy. And others are cropped so closely that it’s difficult to tell what they are.” Over these images is Jones’ voice, which builds both the story of a life cut short and a filmmaker’s desire to create meaning.
Both Bromberg and Jones look forward to the festival with bemused anticipation, and Jones has already been called by a major distributor looking for that special Sundance film....
directed, written, narrated, photographed and edited by William E. Jones
music by Jean-Pierre Bédoyan
sound mix by Craig Smith