Film Review: Footprints

A Hollywood mystery tale that’s in no hurry to reach its destination.

This star-struck variation on the classic no-budget shocker Carnival of Souls uses a slackly paced mystery—Who is the pretty amnesiac who wakes up in front of the famed Graumann’s Chinese Theatre?—to wallow in nostalgia for a glittering Hollywood of yesteryear that never really existed.

Footprints opens with a pointedly depressing montage of down-market storefronts accompanied by the sort of wailing saxophone that fairly screams “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”; then, as a portentous voice over-intones “Once upon a time in a magic kingdom, a young woman journeyed to a grand Chinese palace and disappeared… What was uncommon is that she came back,” a pretty brunette (Sybil Temtchine) in a drab green dress awakens on the pavement in front of Mann’s Chinese Theatre, across the street from a Hooters restaurant and face-down next to the slab of concrete into which ’30s actress Ann Harding once pressed her hands and modestly scrawled, “Whatever success I have, you make possible.”

The only things Our Gal (as she’s identified in the credits) remembers are the words “fountain boy” and a scrap of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “A Dream Within a Dream.” With no money, ID or clue who she is—let alone how she came to be passed out on this busy patch of sidewalk—she’s forced to rely on the kindness of strangers. Fortunately for Our Gal, the strangers are all kind and each, in his or her own strenuously quirky way, helps shape her journey to self-knowledge.

A solicitous homeless man (Jeris Lee Poindexter) asks after her health, then launches into a well-polished rant about the inferior placement of handprints belonging to African-American actors (“You gotta step on Sidney Poitier to get to the ATM machine!”). A tubby tour guide (Charley Rossman) buys her breakfast and his earnest-but-vulgar buddy (John Brickner) tries to help her get her bearings. A courtly older man (H.M. Wynant) leads her to a rooftop telescope in the hope that she might see something familiar, but all she spots is a stocky man in a trench coat (Kirk Bovill) who seems to be following her. A wily Catwoman impersonator (Catherine Bruhier)—the Halle Berry one, not the Michelle Pfeiffer one, she says pointedly—persuades Our Gal to put on a Wonder Woman costume and charge tourists for pictures. A Scientologist tries to recruit her and an elegant older woman (Pippa Scott), the onetime star of a vintage B-movie called Lola the Tiger Girl, suggests that her name might be Daisy. A Hollywood Book and Poster clerk (R.J. Cantu) shows her a card trick he promises will leave her a different person, and a realtor (Jim Braswell) invites her to a pool party at the former Fontenoy Hotel, now a swanky condo. Bit by bit, these apparently random encounters spark scraps of memory.

It’s clear that writer-director Steven Peros—a playwright whose previous film credits include the screenplay for Peter Bogdanovich’s The Cat’s Meow—is haunted by the ghosts of old Hollywood, where even failure and misery seemed touched by a golden hint of glamour. His characters never tell each other to shut up when they can bark “Cut,” and their worldviews are entirely shaped by movie memories they’ve conflated, remixed or muddled to suit their needs. But despite the movie’s brief running time, it takes a painfully long time to pull all the narrative threads together: The conclusion of Our Gal’s quixotic journey is genuinely poignant, but the trip itself is one few moviegoers will have the patience to take.