28 October 2009


There's a great palette here, a terrific vision for a film, and if Calvaire had fully realized all its potential it would have been a great film. It itself borrows from other cinematic visions, it's a veritable stew of Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Deliverance, but it uses these former genre achievements as a backdrop to express its own cinematic voice. The result is bizarre, and surreal in the proper sense.

These are the elements of the film, the three overlapping motifs which I am speaking of: 1. The genre riffs. The echoing of past horror films. If this was a stage, Calvaire has done the equivalent of hanging an Edvard Munch painting as a backdrop to the drama. The legacy is intentionally highlighted in order to build from it, in order to establish the boundaries which will be broken. 2. "Writer/director Welz said he purposely wanted to create the characters in the film against type, by fleshing-out and sympathizing more with the character of the villain rather than his victim." I would say that what happened, intentionally or not, is that everyone in the film became a victim. Everyone is worthy of sympathy. 3. The end. Last night I had a conversation with someone whose opinion was that the last ten minutes of a film validate or invalidate all the antecedent exposition. I'm sure horror/thriller filmmakers believe this and often count on the audience possessing this belief. I think Calvaire is very successful in its delivery because its final lingering note is a psychological one that casts a new light on the actions of the film. Rather than ending in a final violent moment, Calvaire ends with a moment that reshapes all the already ample violence which has occurred.

The tone, the characters, the conclusion: all slightly complimentary and slightly contradictory. There's nothing to make sense of, which elevates the film over the intellectual or high-minded horror films that attempt to have social meaning. Horror is horrifying in part because it is senseless and unpredictable, at east this is the modern sense of horror, and Calvaire demonstrates how effective it can be to have a narrative which mirrors this. The villains in Calvaire are neither faceless nor understandable, and they're neither vacant nor obscure. In this way Calvaire is clearly a horror film like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and not a thriller like Psycho or Peeping Tom, the distinction to me being that a horror film works on the psychology of the audience and a thriller works on the psychology of the character/mood.

Still, it has its borders and boundaries. It takes too much time to set up a basically unused environment (the end would work fine standing alone). It sometimes relies on its allusions for effect, and it spends too much time on them. It should have dared to explore its chore intention, "According to director Fabrice Du Welz there are really only two characters in the film - Marc and Bartel. Welz says that the rest of the people in the film are all some variation of the character of Bartel. Notice how everyone in the film is desperate to be close to Marc, just like crazy Bartel." I hope Fabrice Du Welz is able to develop a confident voice and continue pursuing his strange path. He has another film, Vinyan, and I wonder if he pushed forward or diverted onto a new goal.

26 October 2009

Local Hero.

During an industrial video outlining the increasing productivity and capabilities of the Knox oil company, the CEO falls asleep at the head of the table. The rest of the board members continue the meeting in a hushed whisper, not wanting to wake the executive. Thus begins Bill Forsyth's delightful film Local Hero.

Mac MacIntyre is sent by the Knox oil company to negotiate a purchase of land in a small Scottish town. More specifically, for the purchase of the entire town and beach, in order to build a refinery in its place. That's the story of Local Hero. If that's the story of Local Hero, why is that about forty or so minutes into the movie the local liaison for the purchase, Urquhart, discusses with the landowners what the tactic should be to draw out the bid? Isn't Mac there to make a bid?

The purchase of land in Local Hero is about as important to the movie as the money is in Psycho. The land purchase provides narrative propulsion, which then the characters take over as they become the principal agenda. The story is never fully phased out or abandoned, and devices stretch out from it that affect the characters, but it somehow becomes a detail not a focus. Sometimes a film will use a narrative catalyst to divulge the inner complexity of a character, and as the character obsesses over a personal vision the audience learns about the character. There's a lot of crime drama that follows that path. Local Hero isn't that direct. The story is an appendage to the characters, and the story flows on outward and inward channels.

It's spontaneous and shapeless. It taps directly into the characters, and sometimes it requests the viewers to become substitute decision makers. For example there is no motivation given to Mac's languidness in business matters. He doesn't play hardball and he hates business games; the only slight explanation is that he's more of a telecommunications man and usually handles all the deals over the phone in a matter of hours. The solution is natural and obvious: he's become enamored with the small-time beach-front lifestyle. The film doesn't tell you this, but it shows you what happens because he has these feelings.

As the days creep by without a resolution, finally Urquhart approaches Mac with a proposal which is quickly sorted out without prolonged haggling. It's an oil company paying off the townspeople, millions of dollars are being offered, the townspeople are ecstatic about the deal, it's not Mac's own money, and what they're asking for isn't beyond reason. It's an easy, perfect deal situation. With one snag: the reclusive, eccentric beach owner who lives in a hut on the beach and won't sell the land that has belonged to his family for four centuries. That's a problem for the deal, but it's not a crisis moment for the movie.

The things that the film is not create a void filled by the things the film is, and that substance is the mannerisms, personalities, and incidents of all the characters in the film. They exist inside the plot like the characters exist inside their town, living off the environment circumstantially without being wholly possessed by it. This is the film's triumph, the way it doesn't saddle the locals with a single voice, the way it doesn't rely on them to buttress its motifs; it allows too for the oil company to be ambitious without being faceless, to be human willed and malleable; and this strategy exists in the tiny details too, like a beautiful woman with webbed toes, and a psychologist that is truly troubled.

No conclusion is reached at the end of the film about anyone or anything. No character is a single attribute and no problem has a single answer. The film would have faltered if it had conceded a single judgment, but in its total refusal to do so it creates the perfect void to be filled by the audience later, who exist too in the place they are, and know too the happenings of Local Hero. It's a film that makes you feel like you've lived it by having seen it.

Night of the Lepus.

I'm about to discuss a film featuring a full-grown adult dressed in a rabbit costume wrestling a live horse. The director is William Claxton, who I see also directed the classic Twilight Zone episode I Sing the Body Electric, and later went on to direct 68 episodes of Little House on the Prairie. It's a 1972 film set in the southern state of Arizona, with the southern side of Arizona played to a high pitch, stars Psycho's Janet Leigh and Star Trek's DeForest Kelley, alongside Stuart Whitman, Rory Calhoun, and Paul Fix (each with over 100 other IMDb credits to their names). I'd like to draw attention to the fact that Night of the Lepus is based upon a novel by Russell Braddon called The Year of the Angry Rabbit.

Lepus is Latin for rabbit, and in Night of the Lepus an experimental serum injection on a member of an overabundant population of rabbits results in extraordinarily giant sized killer rabbits. The rabbits, in their horrifying onslaught, attack general stores, produce trucks, families, persons, horses, and cows. Scenes of blood-dripping rabbit-fangs abound, which is to say that Night of the Lepus delivers in its b-movie premise where others do not.

While I can enjoy just about any film with a lunatic storyline, it's rare to find one that's also engaging and fulfilling. Through a mixture of convincing miniature sets and actual rabbits, and full-grown adults in rabbit costumes, the rabbits terrorize in glorious scene after scene. This satisfies me on two levels. Beyond the accomplishments of the filmmakers, there is also the pleasure of the concept being committed to with such wild ambition.

It's complete and undisguised absurdity, and for me it's like Night of the Lepus is a tune and filmmaking is a piano. I enjoy a composition of fantasy that drives my mind into the corners of possibility, where my own ideas bloom, outside the typical tracks, settled figuratively in its own small-town ways. The laws of eco-horror permit all acts in Lepus, but seldom have I seen such creative use or passionate dedication. The willingness of this film to venture into mutant-rabbit territory spurs me on forward into my own direction, god bless 'em.

14 October 2009

Private Parts (+/-).

Private Parts (Blood Relations, the alternate USA title according to IMDb, is a much better title for the film) shares characteristics with the three previously discussed films. Obviously Eating Raoul, as this is another Paul Bartel film, and Peeping Tom, because it's a thriller with themes of obsession, and Shaun of the Dead, owing to the filmic depth of its characters and the unraveling of the narrative. Not Quite Hollywood too, because Private Parts is a personal take on a type of genre.

The film is typical for the period, especially as the name Corman is attached to the production. It's a genre film that faintly exhibits personal traits of the filmmaker, but is geared toward commercial success and exploitative reactions. Following Eating Raoul with Private Parts, traveling in reverse order, illustrates the way filmmaker's interests can break through the surface of a genre narrative without finding full expression. Private Parts is a diluted combination of Bartel's impulses, several previous films (most obviously Blow-Up and Psycho), and genre intrepidity. In Not Quite Hollywood QT talks about the one scene everyone talks about in a good genre film, the scene that's complete 'what the fuck' and 'did they just do that' material. Private Parts has that scene, which Quint of AICN also mentioned in his recent write-up of the film.

I'd like to think that Bartel was inspired by Bava at the time. I know he was around Joe Dante, and I know Dante was into Bava. Regardless, the film plays out like an Italian genre film. There's murder, sexual perversion, mystery, suspense, drama - there are all the qualities that make a film exciting and interesting. This is how it fails: it doesn't wholly commit itself to one idea. It shares qualities with many films but fails to become its own. Development of story and plot is the primary concern, and all peripheral components of filmmaking, including characters, are driven toward a final revelation, or simple audience titillation. Not that Bava had fully realized characters, but he had fully realized films, movies that were cinematically excessive. Bartel totters between character-driven and genre-driven, and wedges these two on his filmmaking inclinations.

It works to the extent that Bartel is an interesting person, a competent filmmaker, and has a bizarre script to draw from. A tapestry of peculiar Los Angeles eccentrics is the direct link between this and Eating Raoul. I love the way Bartel views LA in both films. The problem is in Private Parts the characters, the unusual LA personalities, aren't allowed to steer the film. They're pushed into the background, and to describe them is to simply reduce them to their exploitative and attractive features: a man-loving priest, a sexually oppressed photographer, a time trapped old woman, an alcoholic, an innocent midwestern girl. The tone of Eating Raoul is determined by its characters' mindset. When that happens it makes every shift in the narrative feel like a furthering of character development. That's the difference between a good genre film and a great genre film, generally speaking.

Private Parts is exciting and easy to watch and not a bad film: there is one scene in particular I rewatched about twenty times. But the difference between it and Eating Raoul is significant. Eating Raoul feels like a film made by a man, and Private Parts feel like a movie produced through a system.

13 October 2009

Eating Raoul.

Whether working in drama or comedy, an artist's voice partially comes from their perception of death. Paul Bartel's angle in Eating Raoul is deliciousness, indifference, and absurdity. A great deal of all three if you ask me. I looked for but could not find what I believe is a Pynchon quote that says, approximately, an artist's seriousness is judged by how he treats the subject of death. What I take from movies like Eating Raoul, The Honeymoon Killers (+ Ripstein's Deep Crimson), Errol Morris's Gates of Heaven, an Almodóvar film, or a John Waters film, is an appreciation for the richness of emotional expression and the range of personal guilt over the matter of mortality and transience. Also, something like that Oscar Wilde quote "Life is too important to be taken seriously."

Because what runs through my head in any very serious situation, such as death, is not only unbearable sadness and grief. Not only that. I'm afraid that my first reaction to any very gloomy matter is usually a smile. A defensive reflex or a habitual sublimation, I'm not sure. Often a strange pettiness as well. For example there's an immense repercussion to manslaughter. I think about this all the time: manslaughter destroys two lives. An unintentional murder and the subsequent personal devastation is an awfully terrible thought. It's the kind of real life drama that's interminably both sensational and relatable.

The message I take from Eating Raoul is not that death is funny or that murder is humorous. What Eating Raoul does, however, is it takes this seriousness and works it all the way through to the other end, it frames murder against other absurdities and misfortunes, declaring it one horrible aspect in an unending deluge of life's absurdities and misfortunes. Because although death is the final statement of the dead, for the living it's a fraction of a life. Like that famous quote from Gates of Heaven, "Death is for the living."

If the world does not die when someone I love dies, and if I do not die when someone I love dies, and if I must continue to live, then my life must continue to be something beyond intolerable unhappiness. Let the films which only want to see death one way see it as that way, but it will not help anyone see the full reality of their lives. And what I mean to say is, Eating Raoul is ultimately simply a traditional comedy in that it frames the drama in a medium shot as to make it funny.

It's terribly funny. It's horribly humorous. Easily among the blackest, the bleakest, and the funniest of any dark comedy. It has lines like, "Why don't you go to bed, honey? I'll bag the Nazi and straighten up." It has exchanges like, "Mary, I just killed a man." "He was a man. Now he's just a bag of garbage." All completely straight faced. There's not a single wink in the film, all the way down to the supporting character of Raoul, who's at least as full a character as Paul and Mary are, and has his own dreams, motivations, mannerisms, challenges, and contributions.

The film lampoons a little bit of everything in society, including the film itself, the film's own characters, and Bartel's own sensibilities. It's thorough enough in its criticisms that it clearly doesn't convey an agenda. It's not counter-cultural or conservative, but it's not anarchic or flippant. It's deeply passionate about nothing in particular. As in, from the total nothingness of everything, it draws its passions.

It also possesses one of my favorite, though not necessary, virtues of a film. It's sloppy. It was clearly made over a long period of time, has frequent continuity errors, and feels low budget. I love a film with a pulse, with a sense of human eyes and hands laboring over the film. To me that amounts to hard work and dedication on the part of Bartel and only strengthens the film. It does not, however, share in the sin of the poorly made low budget film: it is not uncinematic. You could not accidentally film such a sexy x-ray room scene. You could not incidentally evoke the pathos of sexual perversity on the scale this film does. The narrative, too, works, and is a complete statement, fully realized.

12 October 2009

Peeping Tom.

In the roughly five years since I last watched Peeping Tom (the receipt is saved inside the case, purchased December 2004, before I knew you could find any dvd you wanted online, back when my collection was completely dependent upon the stock of Borders and Best Buy; I remember finding Peeping Tom in Fingerprints in Long Beach and telling my friend "I don't have the money for this but I don't know when I'll see it again") my life has progressed only in a behind-the-camera sense. Only through thoughts of the camera, by imagining the world through a lens, an imaginary lens at that, wanting to record everything and being able to record hardly anything. And my eyes have stolen the images of all I've seen, none of it first belonging to me.

I've brought myself into a desert of passion and lost my way. Deluded and in a fit of hysteria, hallucinating dreams of the silver screens, I watched Peeping Tom again last night in the perfect state to be genuinely thrilled. Imbued with my own guilt, thoroughly directed along by master craftsman Michael Powell (you can forget how good some filmmakers are), and able to understand what was being shown to me, Peeping Tom was for me a white-knuckled hair-raising endeavor.

Karlheinz Böhm, with the veneer of a masculine Hitchcockian blonde, channels the pitiful eeriness of Peter Lorre. His voice is shy and limited, as are his eyes, and his movements and the noises he makes (Helen never knows when he is home, but her blind alcoholic mother Vivian does), but he is unguarded, unprotected: he allows Helen easy access into his personal world, he hides a corpse on his own set, he takes photos of his bodies being discovered. He's crazy we know, and he knows it, except only he knows the extent. He knows the direction the madness is headed in, and once revealed to us, Böhm, Mark Lewis, becomes a tragic hero of morbid, warped, obsessive and passionate intensity. He seeks to fill a void created by his father, who taught him to love through the camera and by fear, and as an artist he risks everything to fill the void.

I'm reminded of Paul Schrader's quote on screenwriting, "When screenwriting, be prepared to drop your pants and show your dirty laundry. If you can't do that, better find yourself something more polite." Michael Powell goes well beyond this, beyond irrational fears and embarrassing idiosyncrasies, beyond failed romances and personal regrets. It's not the usual dramatic material Powell explores in his film, but the unusualness of his attractions at a sinister and intrinsic level. In the special features Peeping Tom is referred to as a Chinese Box, with riddles and mysteries and puns hidden within itself. Consider the ways in which the film overlaps with Powell's personal life: Powell casting himself as Mark's father, including his own first camera in Mark's collection, and casting his own son as young Mark. The creepiness of the film is immensely heightened by its apparent honesty and lack of compromise.

In its completeness Peeping Tom exposes what is unnerving about the Josh Harris types and captures the futility and randomness of modern murder better than Bogdanovich's Targets or McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Peeping Tom also investigates the development of psychosis in a serial killer better than any other movie, exceeding the usual motivations or explanations. The horrifying revelation at the end of Psycho is rapidly summarized by a doctor in the next scene, but Peeping Tom explains itself out over the course of its running time, allowing the character of Mark to grow and enlarge in our minds.

Most of this could not be achieved without the skill of Michael Powell. A great thriller is directly the result of a great filmmaker, it's a genre that magnifies the strengths and weaknesses of the filmmaker, and it's impossible to fake. Michael Powell, Alfred Hitchcock, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Brian De Palma, Roman Polanski, Richard Franklin, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa are all names linked to unbridled passion for cinema. A bad thriller works on movie mechanics, and they're like seeing the inside of a clock, while a great thriller, like Peeping Tom, can change both the way you see the breathing world, and the way you see cinema.

08 October 2009

Shaun of the Dead, Cont.

If you haven't read part one yet, then, you know, read part one first.

After Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead makes the best use of the zombie-to-death horror relationship, and the meaty symbolism the zombie state represents. If you haven't read Simon Pegg's essay on Why the undead should never be allowed to run yet, then, you know, read that before you read this. It'll begin to demonstrate how much the writers of Shaun really cared about what they were writing, really thought about the subject and material, and it'll settle all debate as to whether the humor was biting or affectionate, if that question lingers in your mind (if it does, you should watch Shaun before reading, you know, anything, period.).

If you count the high points in Shaun, from an emotional perspective, three of them deal with the sadness of death and fragility of life. There are five high points total. The three deathcentric ones would be Philip's essentially unearned death scene, the first burst of brilliance from the movie, Barbara's inevitable demise and the consequent conflict, and Ed's heroic and redeeming final stand. The two remaining points are the Shaun/Liz reunion, and the Shaun/Liz David/Dianne love dynamics. The latter enjoys a partial appearance in the film's death theme, but it's earned so hard and fast, and by such different means, that it doesn't really count in my book. The book that I keep for my personal records. For me the David/Dianne death scene falls into the category of eradication of dispensable characters.

The first half of Shaun establishes the absurdity of the zombie scenario, and the second half highlights the bitter tragedy of absurdity. If it strives for too much and extends itself too far, the more the film should be appreciated. An attempt to unravel the fears and repressions of a person is the basis of the most exciting and engaging genre films, and if Shaun doesn't explore new territory, it does stick faithfully and effectively to its material. It gives itself entirely to its material, which is what a film of its nature must do.

There is an element of double-layered symbolism to Shaun because of its fetishistic treatment of popular culture. In the second sequence of the film, right after the hilarious bar scene, the inhabitants of London are filmed as zombielike creatures, and it's unclear if at that point they're even zombies or not. Wright and Pegg riff on one of Romero's other contributions to the zombie symbolism, the zombification that is a result of commercialism and materialism. This statement is made clearer by the fate of Ed and the lack of substantial difference between who he was alive and what he's like as a zombie. Furthermore, Shaun could and I think should be read as a wishful rumination of the zombie universe. Although the characters in the film cannot choose their deaths, Wright and Pegg chose for each of them to die a zombie death. Beyond a horror staple, the message, in the context of the film, is that zombie death is a great death to have. I think they could have killed all the characters and still it would have been a happy ending, because of the positivity and enthusiasm that Wright and Pegg portray the gruesomeness within. It's a rather tame horror film, and if it wasn't for the investment of characters Wright and Pegg corner you into this would be even easier to see.

What about the skill of execution? Beyond differing thoughts on the subject material, Wright is clearly a gifted director, and one of the few working today who can craft a movie that fires on all engines. It's a rare breed of film that finds success in the horror/comedy field, and it's even rarer for it to have identifiable characters. Wright's films also have the energy and tactility that so many modern films endeavor toward, and it's achieved effortlessly. His films are enjoyable and easy to watch. They don't make too many mistakes, and they sometimes land on brilliant moments (as discussed).

Wright is also gifted at giving his films over to his audience. His fans become fanatics, true believers. He's the Paul Thomas Anderson of genre films. People decode Wright's films, they study them, they search out their influences, they hunt down Wright's interviews, Wright's early films, Wright's breakfast menu, etc. Wright is probably the furthest you can get from the self-indulgent and self-satisfying type of filmmaker. He's one of the few filmmakers who has retained his original beliefs despite a typically souring successful career. His blog is like a 16 year old's blog. It's like the blog of someone who yesterday discovered films. His movies are like that too. His movies have the pulse of movies, they're real movies, the kind you look forward to seeing.

Shaun of the Dead.

The difference between fine-tuned and contrived is a thin one, based on feeling and intuition, and even beginning to make the distinction requires a degree of reflection and contemplation. Artists are regularly subjected to criticisms of their ability to succeed in accomplishing the mechanisms of naturalism, and there's a definite sphere of criticism that has a major concern with these qualities, in film and other areas, but in film there's a condemnatory voice frequently raised against a filmmaker whose films exhibit characteristics deemed movie fantasy material. A towering example is Steven Spielberg. Even the allmovie.com mainpage used to have that Alex Cox quote where he says, approximately, "Spielberg is not a filmmaker, he's a confectioner."

When I worked as an usher in a Dayton Ohio dollar theater, around the time my love for film was truly burgeoning, my manager was a graduate of the Wright State film program and had received his degree in a period of fierce criticism over the films of Spielberg. There was a large group of snobbish people who reacted strongly against the Spielberg design, and my manager found himself regularly defending the likes of Jaws and 1941. At this time I had a bit of affectation built into my mindset, I would pass judgments based on either partial personal exposure or simply the opinions of others, and I vividly remember saying something to my manager and his friend like, "Well you know, that's because his only good film is Schindler's List." A frankly bullshit proclamation that I was no doubt spontaneously fabricating. My manager and his friend rightly glared at me like I was a moron.

If this attitude towards Spielberg still exists I don't encounter it much anymore. Or I ignore it. Point is, many younger filmmakers begin with the opposite point of view. Everyone from Kevin Smith to Bryan Singer names Jaws one of their favorite movies, Jurassic Park is now called the final of his 'good films' (when it was initially deemed the nail in the coffin, which goes to show how opinions on his work shift over time), and writers like Edgar Wright and Diablo Cody very much carry on his torch, deliberately or not.

As this edges closer toward a discussion of Shaun of the Dead, and the obvious manipulative aspects of the film, there's a Frank Cottrell Boyce quote that should pose as a background, one from an interview with Roger Ebert. "A while back, I was on Radio 4's Film Programme the same day as Simon Pegg. We were asked what we thought of screenwriting manuals. I dismissed them as get-rich-quick compendiums of cliche. Pegg said he thought they were really useful. Our films opened that weekend. His vacuumed up money. Mine tanked. It may well be, I thought, that I've been missing something."

In a dream-type situation, where I am a studio executive and am allowed to fund whatever films I want, I would want to finance a Frank Cottrel Boyce film. Welcome to Sarajevo, The Claim, 24 Hour Party People, and A Cock and Bull Story are some of my favorite movies. Millions is absolutely my second favorite kids movie (only just behind Free Willy). I'm partly bullshitting now though too, projecting the same airs I did with my previous theater manager, because on opening day, with Boyce's film opening against Wright's film, let's be honest, I'm going to see Wright's film. There are external factors, for example Wright's films are better audience material, while Boyce's films work big and small, and I'm probably going to have an easier time talking a group of people into seeing a Wright film with me, but the point is, like when QT talks about taking satisfaction in Inglourious Basterds being the most widely anticipated film at Cannes, movies are easier to digest than films. And when I say movies, in this instance, I'm meaning the type of film you watch and say, "That never happens in my life."

Shaun of the Dead is basically an orgy of that feeling. It's a movie lover's fantasy, a popjunkie's paradise, and there's hardly a moment in it that isn't part of some overarching construct meant to elicit a specific reaction. In Shaun, as in Hot Fuzz, it's all about the pay-off. Wright's strategy is to be comically high and narratively straight-faced for about half of the movie and then deliver on all the set-ups in roughly the second half. I think it's euphemistic to say that he plays it safe in the beginning of Shaun, and in an angry or impulsive mood I'd say that the whole thing is essentially movie bullshit, a pack of dirty lies.

The beginning humor and exposition gradually build into the fabric of the film. The word exacerbate, Timesplitters 2, the Night of the Living Dead named mother, Barbra, the asshole roommate, and the pub/gun Winchester are some examples from Shaun. Wright is the kind of filmmaker who doesn't leave loose ends, and every piece of his film is either referential, trivial, or character building. Movie lovers see this as a way of adding depth to a film, but detractors interpret it as a way of resiting or inhibiting naturalism. Wright places reality into his film, and there's an obvious contradiction in this style.

Or is there, right? What artists, besides the non-fiction filmmaker or writer, and even they are often accused of steering the emotions of the audience, deal in reality? You know this conversation, of course, the one about nature vs. naturalism, the Bresson debate, the Neorealism angle, the vérité style, etc etc etc. Most people have heard the debate a million-trillion times, and I guess some people won't even have it anymore.

Wright's sin is that he uses filmic devises to reveal his characters' emotions, which means that the emotional high-points are grounded in basically a bedrock of falsity. He's a child of movies, and he's a moviemaker. The question I find myself asking myself is, am I, while watching his movies, again being that usher in front of his manager, disliking a film based on obscure and irrational pretext, or am I a matured filmwatcher, disallowing the unnatural and the unsubtle to affect me?

07 October 2009

Not Quite Hollywood.

It's of course frustrating to watch Not Quite Hollywood and then discover that most of the movies talked about are unavailable to you on the dvd market. For example the film I decided I absolutely had to see, Next of Kin:

I absolutely can't see the movie in its entirety. I ordered like a schmuck Dead End Drive-In and Roadgames, which I'll be sure to talk about here after they've arrived and I've watched them.

Not Quite Hollywood is a better film for having so much cinema to talk about, and as the film progresses through the different cycles and films it becomes more and more interesting. By the end I was salivating for the movies, I was hungry for the movies.

(Stone actually is available on dvd, but in two versions, the better one [the one I would buy] more expensive than Dead End Drive-In and Roadgames together).

It didn't bother me that their only outside source was QT. It's a film about genre films, who the fuck else are they going to use, the Saw director?

The Saw director is also an interview subject, along with many of the actual filmmakers, producers, and actors, and even one critic from the period. Greg Mclean is in there too, and I love his Rogue, and now I want to see Dark Age as well.

It has great Dennis Hopper stories too. I love great Dennis Hopper stories. I love the Blue Velvet one about how Dennis Hopper loved the Frank Booth role, connected with and thought he was perfect for the role, and so called Lynch to tell him this while Lynch was having lunch with Isabella Rossellini and Kyle MacLachlan. Lynch told them, approximately, "Dennis says he is Frank Booth. That's great for the movie but I don't know how we're going to have lunch with him." That story isn't in Not Quite Hollywood but there's some gut-busting good ones dealing with Mad Dog Morgan.

Ultimately the movie portrays these filmmakers as a single face, a single body that wanted to craft personal films, outside a national agenda, based on inner passions and genres. Mostly with motorcycles, naked women, blood, and animals. There is an unquenched place in my heart and mind which shares this thirst. It's a great rush to hear how a group of people projected their own Hollywood visions out onto the screen.

Rent or buy this one and watch it when you need to jolt your ambitions. Which I mistakenly just mistyped as ambissions, although I don't mind because I want to make my ambissions my missions.

06 October 2009

An Evening with Bill Morrison.

A girl from the back rows begins to ask a question. Everyone turns around to see her. She asks Bill Morrison what Bill Morrison's contributions are to the films of Bill Morrison. Her phrasing is slow and awkward and she stutters a little bit. Her hesitance amplifies the tension the question creates. A multilayered tension. Bill is even kind of defensive about the question, the question of why he claims authorship over his found footage, and after he explains his involvement he asks her if she has a problem with his art. She says no, she thinks it's a creative approach, and then refers to the second of the films shown, Morrison's 2001 Ghost Trip, a live-action film that's a quasi-documentary about Morrison and some friends renting a hearse and driving it across the country. Ghost Trip plays exactly like any other Morrison film, including a hypnotic soundtrack (I'm lifting the description from Morrison's own Hypnotic Productions), repetitious sequences, sequences which literally reuse frames, and a non-verbal narrative.

She dodges a confrontation I don't think she intended to instigate. What compelled the girl to ask the question? The other films shown tonight featured archival footage that Morrison reprocessed, re-edited, had scored, and to which he applied new structure. He didn't shoot anything for them, he wasn't in contact with actors, and, except for 1997's Film of Her, he didn't write any narration. There's no dialogue anywhere. Maybe that's confusing, but I don't think so.

When Morrison says that if it wasn't for him the footage wouldn't be seen I think he's referring to the restorative aspects of his work, and he means that we literally wouldn't see these lost or damaged films if he didn't rejuvenate them. He's right, but that's not why I think his work is important, personally, except for the already mentioned Film of Her. Film of Her is explicitly about the sadness of film degradation and the voices that are lost to time and history because of improper handling or direct lack of concern. Aside from the factual, the tangible, what I wouldn't see without Morrison, and what is Morrison's true contribution, is the beauty and sadness of a woman being engulfed in flame-like filmrot in his 2004 Light is Calling. Nowhere else do I experience the airplane-like images toward the end of his 2006 The Highway Trilogy, a truly provocative moment that Morrison slowly builds, not inherent to the original footage.

It's kind of hard to tell someone that you really connected to the airplane-like images in the film you just saw. It's not usual film speak. There's a lot that's unusual about watching Morrison's films. The rot is sometimes illuminating, sometimes distracting, and sometimes confusing. Morrison relies on a portion of the emotional force to come from his famous scores, which he edits the films to, sometimes even the music coming first. As a filmmaker he uses music in a traditional sense and to great effect. If sometimes as a viewer I lose track of the film's pulse, or lose myself in the obliqueness of the image, the music guides me back in.

05 October 2009

H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival 2009 (Sunday).

The best way to begin is to tell you about the storytelling session which occurred before What Does it All Mean Elwood? played. Festival founder Andrew Migliore told two stories. The first was from his youth, about a cat vomiting worms and goo. The setting was a game store called Dragons and Spaceships, and the story goes that the cat coughed up this disgusting pile of sickness and Andrew became very grossed out. Yes. The second was another story from childhood, and the subjects were beef jerkey and a creaking stair. Yes. Then came on another man, a friend of Andrew's, a jovial and entertaining right-to-bear-arms kind of guy, who told longer and more detailed stories. His two stories were longer because there were more details, not because there was more content, and the details consisted of his inner-paranoia while encountering first an invitation to a horror-themed play, The King in Yellow, in an old theater, and second a giant box on his doorstep in New Orleans. Mostly he told us about the many gun firings which were to occur should he find himself in a doomed situation.

Nothing horrifying truly happened in any story told. It seems to me, although I am no expert and I know now that there are indeed very serious and very dedicated experts on the subject, that the Lovecraftian sense of horror is a pre-modern concept of the genre: shadows are potential threats, your personality is unpredictable to yourself and others, the fantastic and the magical can occur, and all things are creepy and potentially harmful. The world is fantastically spooky, anything is possible, and the cosmos are indifferent. I think their stories are evidence of patience and true belief in the coming of horror, and at the festival they spoke of Lovecraft as a deity. Worship Lovecraft is a running theme. It's one of those serious comments that's partially a joke or vice versa, depending on who the speaker is (some might call it tribalism, etc).

The Lovecraftians are truly like a religious sect within the horror community. They await Lovecraft to receive his proper recognition as a master, they have a set of beliefs, the Mythos, books that originate and delineate their beliefs, and they expect there to be a horror revelation. They're very aware of how funny this is, to certain degrees and depending on who you talk to, but in general they're all nice, godless people who are avid readers. I liked them, those that I met.

I attended a panel on Weird Horror in Popular Fiction, that was the first thing I did. It had your regular assortment of panel members, my favorite being:

Who has an eye patch (+1, obviously), but is also a great speaker and a sensitive, insightful personality. His name is Laird Barron and I'm going to check him out. Cody Goodfellow also impressed me. There were two major discussions: Cthulu bumper stickers, the pros and cons, and Del Toro's potential adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness. They are against the adaptation if it means a copyright on Lovecraft's material, and of course they worry about how the material would be handled. Overall I had the sense that they trust Del Toro but not the studio's interference with intellectual property through trade marking, etc.

The one true film I saw was Italy's Colour from the Dark, directed by Ivan Zuccon. The theater was packed, people were standing in the aisles. It was a micro-budgeted Bava-inspired Lovecraft-infused camp-fest that I and the audience loved. There's a certain type of American slasher film in which a litany of plot devices must be executed in service of the genre, and then there's the much more exciting Italian tradition of a series of death scenes. This one went though some good ones, including gut-stabs and eye-gouges. It also featured incest, blasphemy, and evil curses. And a breast-feeding joke.

I made the mistake of passing on Beyond the Dunwich Horror for festival favorite What Does it All Mean Elwood? There was a lot of buzz about Elwood before it started and I got sucked in, but this infamously bad 1996 Lovecraft Fest submission was basically a Lovecraft themed student film that the Festival wanted for some reason to advertise as their own Rocky Horror, because for some reason everyone needs their own Rocky Horror. Its best parts were the mumbling Elwood and a ferret. I didn't take anything from it, and I did Colour from the Dark, and I probably would have taken something from Beyond the Dunwich Horror. The lesson is always choose the better film regardless of the quality of the audience.