Lilac Lips, Dutchess County, population one, lies somewhere between Upstate New York and fantasy. In the short film, titled Lilac Lips, Dutchess County, Director Tristan Scott-Behrends plays with place and person to reimagine Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus from a queer perspective.
The video follows a nymph-like protagonist, navigating the complexities of relationships with others and himself as if in a maze of his own making. Played by only one actor, Joey Gray finds himself sitting opposite himself in an undisclosed diner over a burger and a shake that never comes.
The two characters feel at odds in their relationship, each viewing the other through reflective eyes and painted lips — one lilac, one cherry-red. In a film that fractures reality and truth, the diner is both a respite from and catalyst for the protagonist’s inner world. Coming face to face (and then mouth to mouth) with his partner and himself via a messy burger-filled make-out session, our hero is forced to confront what’s inside.
In the BDSM dungeon of his mind, he grapples with the way he views himself and is viewed by others — scratching the surface and digging below, all while performing fellatio on himself. "You live your life like you’re taking a picture,” the partner says to the protagonist as reflections, pictures and pornographic images superimpose.
The film pulls parallels and portals from Orpheus, but has its own unique perspective — falling somewhere between Twin Peaks and Portlandia. While the subject matter traffics in the complexities of sex and selfhood, queerness and the relationship to the body, Lilac Lips, Dutchess County doesn’t take itself too seriously and makes for a three-minute punched up viewing pleasure.
Born out of the pandemic, Scott-Behrends and Gray made due with what they had. "I found inspiration in the resources available at the time," Scott-Behrends says. "Joey Gray was living nearby where I was staying with my best friend in her beautiful converted barn. Joey and I had been intending to make another project together that was derailed in the early days of the pandemic in mid-March 2020. When circumstance put us regionally in the same place, it occurred to me that it was the perfect opportunity to create something that we could make safely with a singular actor."
While mere happenstance, Gray’s versatility generates an ambiguity in the plot, playing up themes of narcissism and self-confrontation. "What we made is not just a campy comment on narcissism and gay relationships," Gray adds, "but that it is also such a product of the time we were in, in the middle of the pandemic when so many of us were left to our own demons and interior worlds. I love thinking of it as a time capsule of that, too."
Now released into the world, Lilac Lips, Dutchess County has made its way through the festival circuit, pushing viewers to revisit conventions and get creative with self-expression. "I think that it’s important to lean into limitations to tap into creativity,” Scott-Behrends says of the lessons learned. "There is always going to be something standing in the way of creating work. Instead of avoiding it because of potential challenges, look at what is possible with the resources that you have and work from there."
Photos courtesy of Lilac Lips, Dutchess County