Directed by Bill Ross, Turner Ross. PG. 82 min. Opens Feb. 9 at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
Titled after a street in New Orleans, Tchoupitoulas presents a startlingly vivid, true-life portrait of Big Easy nightlife as seen through the eyes of three boys who really shouldn’t be up so late. Our tour guides for this excursion are the Zanders brothers, who range in age from 11 to 16. Arriving one night via ferry from their home on the other side of the Mississippi River, they spend an evening exploring the city. Actually, their adventure extends into the following morning after the boys miss the last boat home. This not entirely unwelcome turn of events provides more opportunities for exploration both for the brothers and for Bill and Turner Ross, the filmmakers who chart their journey and provide a nominal (if sometimes sketchy) degree of adult supervision.
As evidenced by his occasional pieces of voiceover, youngest brother William is the most loquacious and philosophical of the trio. Nevertheless, even he is awed by much of what they witness on Bourbon Street. Says William as they work their way down the street with their dog Buttercup in tow, “This is everything I hoped for—naked pictures, clubs….”
Though they’re too young to go inside the many disreputable establishments they pass, the filmmakers, thankfully, aren’t. They augment footage of the Zanders’s odyssey—the majority of which was indeed shot over the course of one night—with onstage and backstage views of performances by rappers, bluesmen, and some impressively agile burlesque dancers.
Not so much a documentary as a disarmingly casual kind of city symphony, Tchoupitoulas celebrates the seedy magnificence of New Orleans with an ardency that dwarfs even the Louisiana love in HBO’s Treme, the movie’s close stylistic kin. And while the loose and fragmentary nature of this cinematic curio may throw some viewers for a loop, the film contains a magic more potent than anything you’ll find in Bourbon Street’s tourist-trap voodoo shops.