Featuring a cast of local musicians, the short SATIRICAL film from Josh Couvares (Couvo) and Charles Hull (Mary Shelley) follows a broke Brooklyn artist through a series of equally ridiculous and relatable scenarios, making for “the kind of fever dream you’d walk by in any L-train adjacent neighborhood”
Time flies when you’re having… fun? Uh, something like that.
As any 20-, 30-… maybe 40-something Brooklyn artist knows (and understands from experience), there’s no road map for “growing up” in this scene and certainly no reliable cause-and-effect in the creative fields. No boxes to check or ladder to climb or surefire choices to make to guarantee mobility and ensure success. Potential partners can be swiped, infinite emails can be sent and every available ounce of time, money and energy can be poured into achieving algorithmic allure, pleasing the playlist gods, making slightly more than minimum wage and getting some babes out to a basement bar in Ridgewood to catch your 10 pm set on a Tuesday…
And maybe, for a moment, it works!
But then, the next day, you’re probably back exactly where you started: at whichever bar has the cheapest beer-shot combo.
So really, is there any point in trying?
This is life on a hamster wheel… or maybe it’s Groundhog Day. Some kind of rodent-related metaphor. But as much as it’s frustrating, it’s also kind of comforting, the fact that no one really knows what the fuck they’re doing at all. If misery loves company, confusion definitely does too. It’s the blind-drunk leading the blind-drunk… but hey, it’s better to stumble together than wander alone.
And besides, what’s the end goal? A house, health insurance, a kid or two to take care of you when you’re old and senile?! Meh. For a certain set, being broke and hungover, making music and (blurry) memories with friends in this Northeastern Neverland, is way better than, like, settling down in the suburbs or something. Priorities are just different… in purgatory.
That brings us to the latest Couvo record. It is, after all, the bizarro world that is Bushwick in which Josh Couvares has set The Drinks Are Always Free in Purgatory (September 2022), a series of songs that explore the hope and (occasional) hustle for a tomorrow that never comes through the lens of a protagonist existing in “that liminal space, set in an all-too-familiar landscape of unfulfilled expectations and uncertain futures.”
And it’s this very L-Train-adjacent limbo—a space characterized by both artistic expression/obsession plus a not insignificant dash of arrested development—in which Josh has set the film, which centers on himself as an endearing and unlucky semi-slacker of a musician (according to credits: “himself?”) who is kind of (?) making an effort, perpetually recognizing the ridiculousness of the world he inhabits but also actively participating in it. To various degrees of humiliation.
Directed by Charlie Hull (of BK band Mary Shelley), the film premiered, oh so fittingly, about a year after the album’s release to a packed house of BK scenesters—nearly all of whom either appear in the movie or know someone who does—at a screening on the Our Wicked Lady rooftop last month.
It’s not surprising for a musician to make a jump to film (or vice versa). I’ve written frequently about how artists seem to have innate abilities that can’t be confined to one mode of expression, talent that transcends their primary medium, and creativity and curiosity that bleed outside the lines of music to overflow into other artistic endeavors (a phenomenon embodied by director/drummer Charlie, as referenced above). And for Josh, writing the short was natural; the script was simply an extension of his album.
“I wrote the screenplay without thinking anything would ever come of it,” Josh says. “It only took a couple of days—the songs on my last album had already done all of the heavy lifting. There was always a very clear story behind that album. I wrote about the people I knew and loved, myself included—people who were broke and aimless, wandering through their lives in grimy Bushwick bars, ambivalent about the possibility of change. I just thought, what if this was a film?”
But while Josh wrote the film, as is so often the case, it was creative collaboration that truly brought the project to life.
“I know a lot of actors… who knows?” he recalls thinking. “All I had to do was copy and paste those stories into a Google doc. From there, Charlie took care of the rest. He’s the one that turned it into an actual film.”
As for those actors, the 21-minute short is packed with cameos from local artists.
“This movie is an absolute hodge-podge of the local scene,” Charlie says. “Photographers, musicians, performers – all beautiful and friendly faces you’d see at a show on any given night.”
Those faces, enlisted to play roles they’re all probably a little too familiar with, include Charlie’s bandmates, Jackson Dockery and Sam Pinson of Mary Shelley, along with Laura Galindo, Doak Henley of Friendly Company, Michael Tarnofsky of Edna, Mike Palmieri of Rosso Rosso, Max Berdik from Le Boss and Colatura, photographer Tyler Bertram and writer/actor/producer Claire Tumey. Some are doing more traditional “acting” (as far as I know, Jackson isn’t daylighting as a douchebag hiring manager at a tech company called Yikes!) while others brilliantly portray more exaggerated, and obnoxious, versions of themselves (Tyler is credited as “photographer” but IRL he probably wouldn’t literally sprint away from his subject… probably).
These guest appearances are delightful on two fronts. Every time you see a familiar face, you experience that exciting hey, I know them! moment. And then there’s the second side of the surprise, when you discover how genuinely funny all of these people are. At that point, once again, you’re reminded of the absurd amount of talent in this scene and how willing artists are to come together for the simple sake of creation. Which is a truly goddamn beautiful thing.
As Charlie said of the film:
“For me (and maybe you!), it’s an absurd reflection of how lucky we are to be part of this community. Go to a show and you can make friends with almost anybody. Where else can you do that, the subway?”
The Drinks are Always Free in Purgatory is on YouTube now. It’s both a reflection of a very specific—to many, very relatable—reality and an absolute product of it. Plus it’s really fucking funny.
Go forth, watch and count how many friends you spot. Then reach out to me with your theories on what is truly the film’s real question…
Did Josh ever really have a job?