Retro Review: When the Old School Met the New Wave: HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT Makes a Big Splash at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema!

Posted on: Dec 9th, 2015 By:

hitchtrufmainHITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (2015); Dir. Kent Jones; Starring Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Peter Bogdanovich. Starts Friday, December 11; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets and showtimes here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Landmark Midtown Art Cinema continues to spur discussion of great movies by presenting a great movie about a great book which discusses great movies. That’s a lot of “great,” but it’s hard not to go overboard in the superlatives when you’re talking about Kent JonesHITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT.

In 1962, one of the founders of the French New Wave of cinema turned to his favorite director, one of the old guard, for a week-long series of conversations undertaken to establish the older filmmaker’s legacy as an artist. The resulting book (published in 1966) was one of the most influential documents ever published about filmmaking: HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. The book worked as intended, as François Truffaut’s examination of Alfred Hitchcock’s ouvre to that point was possibly the first attempt to present the director’s work as a cohesive body of personal expression instead of a simple series of mindless thrillers.

It’s hard to imagine a time in which Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t taken seriously as a filmmaker. But even such a celebrated figure as Hitch was hardly unassailable during his time. Contemporary critics cited unbelievable plots or seeming lapses in logic in Hitchcock’s movies as detriments. He had, during the 1950s, become something of a comic figure. His gag-filled appearances as the host of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, as well as the plethora of products (magazines, books, record albums and board games) bearing his name, led to him becoming a beloved pop culture icon, rather than known as a true artist worthy of serious examination.

François Truffaut was no stranger to the serious examination of classic movies, having been one of the leading critics at CAHIERS DU CINÉMA, the celebrated French film magazine. It was there that he coined the “auteur theory”—the idea that some directors utilize the industrial trappings of filmmaking and the collaborative nature of the process the way a writer uses a pen or a typewriter, or the way a painter uses a brush. And, like a writer or painter, that these directors used the medium to explore their own idiosyncratic visions and psyches, and that much of these filmmakers’ projects contain similar themes, images and other elements that form an interconnected body of work. These directors were the true authors (or, in French, auteurs) of their work, rather than the screenwriters or producers behind the films, overriding the raw materials given to them and transforming their movies into personal testaments. It was this theory that fueled many of the magazine’s own critics (Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Éric Rohmer among them) to film their own movies, thus launching the French New Wave.

Hitch_Truffaut_book_aWhen the book was published, Hitchcock’s reputation was in need of rehabilitation, and Truffaut was riding a wave of acclaim. Truffaut was in a perfect position to draw attention to the solid artistic merit of Hitch’s films, and thankfully had both the writing talent to describe that merit and the intelligence to ask Hitch the right questions. HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT arrived at just the right time, and landed in the hands of a generation of aspiring directors who had grown up loving Hitchcock’s cinema and, like Truffaut, believed it to be worthy of serious consideration. This is where Kent Jones’ loving tribute comes in.

Jones not only offers a look inside the creation of this landmark work of film criticism, utilizing audio recordings of the interviews and never-before-seen photographs from the sessions, but also goes to the directors who have been inspired by this work. Wes Anderson probably best sums up its importance in the lives of the filmmakers involved, describing his copy as having been so frequently used that it has been reduced to a stack of loose papers held together with a rubber band. Also on hand are Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Arnaud Desplechin and many others to express just how this book inspired them to look deeper into Hitchcock’s work and his technique. In discussing VERTIGO, for example, the documentary provides a capsule description of how Truffaut’s book led to Hitchcock’s work being reassessed. At the time of the book’s release, VERTIGO was almost impossible to see, having been a critical and commercial failure. Yet the discussion of the movie between the two directors made it one of the most in-demand titles among aspiring filmmakers, who searched out for rare film prints in order to learn from it. As a result, the film’s reputation grew steadily over the years as it began to be more seriously discussed and analyzed.

Jones weaves HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT together beautifully, using clips from Hitchcock’s movies to illustrate the comments from the documentary’s participants, and winds up being as much a celebration of the director as it is of the book about him. It will make you want to read (or re-read) the book. It will make you want to revisit Hitch’s filmography. And then it will make you want to revisit Hitch’s filmography with a copy of the book at your side. My only argument with the film is that at 80 minutes, it’s far too short for my liking. But, then, as an avowed cinema nerd, I’d gladly spend hours upon hours listening to the world’s top directors discussing this book and the two men responsible for it. For all you normal human beings out there, it’s the perfect length to get you hungry for more. In short, HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT is a delight for anyone even remotely interested in the behind-the-scenes world of movie making.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Splatter Cinema Brings Italian Cannibal Mania in the Amazonian Jungle to the Cinevision Screening Room With CANNIBAL FEROX!

Posted on: Jul 17th, 2015 By:

canferoxSplatter Cinema presents CANNIBAL FEROX (1981); Dir. Umberto Lenzi; Starring John Morghen (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), Lorraine De Selle and Robert Kerman; Cinevision Screening Room; Saturday, August 15 @ 8:30 p.m.; IndieGoGo campaign w/ advance ticket sales end July 24; Admission at door is cash only; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema wants to bring you a rare chance to see Umberto Lenzi’s notorious CANNIBAL FEROX, aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY on the big screen at Cinevision in all its 35mm glory. Incredibly they’ve scored a fully restored print from Grindhouse Releasing! But the catch is the rental and shipping is expensive, so they are dependent on an INDIEGOGO campaign with advance ticketing. If it doesn’t make its goal, this screening won’t happen. That would be a real shame because Splatter Cinema has really delved into the fetid jungle of grindhouse treasures to unearth this putrescent piece of gut-munching gore. 

As I’ve mentioned here before, the horror genre is, in the eyes of many, disreputable. It’s not hard to see why—its primary purpose is to elicit something negative: fear. Comedy doesn’t get that reaction, because who doesn’t like to laugh? Action films promise thrills and excitement, which generally equals fun. Drama deals with serious topics and explores a wide range of emotion. But horror films conjure up some of our darkest emotions, and thus fall victim to the stigma of being “bad for you.” And some of horror’s subgenres get criticized more harshly than others. The slasher film, for instance, constantly comes under fire for celebrating slaughter. But no subgenre inspires the kind of wholesale, visceral revulsion than does the Italian cannibal film.

600full-cannibal-ferox-posterThe whole craze started in 1972, when Umberto Lenzi helmed THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER. Almost a beat-for-beat remake of 1970’s A MAN CALLED HORSE, Lenzi shifted that movie’s setting from the old west to the Thai rainforest and added a fascination with ritualistic acts, cannibalism, violence and animal cruelty (largely inspired by the worldwide success of exploitative pseudo-documentary Mondo movies such as MONDO CANE and AFRICA ADDIO). Its huge success in Italy and on the US grindhouse circuit led to the subgenre remaining successful for nearly two decades.

Generally speaking, the Italian cannibal film follows a particular pattern: it opens in the “civilized” world—typically New York, though this isn’t written in stone—and some incident occurs that pulls our protagonists into the (again, typically) Asian or South American jungle. There, they encounter some previously unknown, long-lost or much feared native tribe; witness or experience graphic violence, torture and/or rape; and then a bunch of people get eaten and the lone survivors return, battered but wiser. This plot plays out in Lenzi’s CANNIBAL FEROX, which ups the ante on all its predecessors by claiming to be the “most violent movie ever made.” It goes to such extremes that Italian exploitation stalwart John Morghen (aka Giovanni Lombardo Radice) expresses regret that he agreed to act in the movie to this day.

CanFer-07Now, there are a wide variety of reasons why CANNIBAL FEROX and its kin are viewed so negatively. To start off with, there’s the insinuation that entering into some foreign jungle will pretty much guarantee that you’ll become the next meal of some “savage tribe.” It might stop short of actual racism (and my use of “might” is mighty shaky), but short isn’t where most people would prefer to stop. Then there’s the issue of sexual violence and rape. Sexual violence in these movies is almost always a threat, whether it’s perpetuated against indigenous women by the outsiders or against female outsiders entering hostile territory. Sympathetic critics have defended both elements on the grounds that many of the Italian cannibal films are explicitly anti-colonialist in tone and critical of Western capitalism. The conquering white heroes invade a remote locale, rape its women and kill its men, and are dealt retribution in kind. It’s not particularly subtle, but then, neither are these films when it comes to anything else. They’re blunt instruments, the argument goes, meant to shock a complacent audience into examining itself and the violence inherent in the system.

And then there’s the actual animal cruelty depicted in these movies. For some reason, this is a longstanding element of the subgenre, and is the main focus of most people’s revulsion. Defenders of the cannibal genre argue that the presence of actual animal cruelty works as a technique because it causes you to question the reality of what you’re witnessing—if that is real, what else is? Others argue that some of the depictions reflect actual practices of the people populating the film, so it’s an introduction of documentary realism into a fictional framework. Still others argue that these elements are present in any number of critically celebrated films—from Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW and Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE to Tarkovsky’s ANDREI RUBLEV and Godard’s WEEK-END—and that singling out these films amounts to bigotry against the horror genre (“sure, I’ll let Coppola show a water buffalo being slaughtered because that’s art, but all horror is pretty much crap, so this cannibal movie is fair game”). All of which are salient points, to which I’ll add that the raison d’être of horror films—to evoke fear and revulsion—draws more attention to these acts than in other, more mainstream films. There’s no shift in tone to relieve the audience. Not that it makes the viewing any easier.

Cannibal-Ferox_bannerThe genre reached what many consider its apex in 1980-81. Ruggero Deodato’s landmark 1980 film CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST touched on all of these elements and not only set aim at the horrors of colonialism, but turned its sights on the fact that an audience even existed to relish in the horrors he was putting on screen. As with Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES, the viewer is made implicit in the crimes depicted as he or she watches. In making HOLOCAUST, Deodato seemed to be saying, “look upon the disgusting nature of this genre’s demands and know that they exist because you fools pay money to see them!”

Then came 1981’s CANNIBAL FEROX, released in the States as MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. So uncompromising that its marketing brags about having been banned in 31 countries, the movie sees Lenzi largely eschewing the postmodern moralizing of Deodato (while still picking up on the evils of colonialism and Western capitalism) and going straight for the jugular. It’s brutal, it’s ugly, and it represents one of the twin peaks of Italian cannibal cinema. Lenzi is an accomplished filmmaker and knows precisely how to push buttons and fills his movie with energy to spare. That it’s as well-made as it is only makes the bludgeoning savagery of the film that much more affecting. If it were truly a bad movie, then no amount of outrage would sustain the attention paid to the film over the years. I mean, nobody’s talking about Bruno Mattei’s MONDO CANNIBALE, which sports many of the same superficial elements (heck, it’s basically a remake of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) and it’s only 12 years old. No, CANNIBAL FEROX is a quantifiably good movie—well-paced, intelligently structured, and uniformly follows through on its line of reasoning to an inevitably downbeat conclusion (it’s always hard to judge the acting, because most Italian films were shot without sound and dubbed after the fact even in their home countries, but what is here is perfectly acceptable). It just may be completely reprehensible, depending on your point of view. To paraphrase Walter Sobchak in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, say what you want about the merits of CANNIBAL FEROX, Dude, but at least it’s got an ethos.

But at any rate, it’s a film that demands to be seen, experienced and then talked about. See it with your friends and debate the various controversial aspects of the movie afterward. No matter where you stand on the appropriate nature of the vile events that are depicted in the movie and the philosophical reasoning behind how they’re depicted…well…

It’s definitely something to chew on.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bring Me the Fangs of Alfredo Garcia: Splatter Cinema’s November Movie JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES Features Some Badass Bloodsuckers But Is a Better Western Than a Horror Movie

Posted on: Nov 11th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES (1998); Dir. John Carpenter; Starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee; Tuesday, Nov. 12 @ 9:30 p.m. (pictures and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Still feeling unsatisfied after all of the horrors that Halloween and the Buried Alive! Film Festival had to offer? Not a problem! Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre keep the gore flowing with their presentation of JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES! Turn up early to have your photo taken in a recreation of one of the film’s tableaux and check out the merch table!

Okay. Let’s be honest: the end of the 1980s was probably the worst thing that could have happened to John Carpenter. After a decade and a half of superior filmmaking—capped off by 1988’s savage and darkly comic take on Reagan’s America, THEY LIVE—the road suddenly became very bumpy for the director. Misfires like 1992’s MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, 1993’s Showtime Networks project BODY BAGS and 1995’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED were interspersed with deliberate attempts to recapture past glories. 1995’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, surprisingly, worked; it succeeded in closing off his Lovecraftian “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with THE THING and continued with PRINCE OF DARKNESS. But his re-teaming with Kurt Russell on 1996’s ESCAPE FROM L.A. was hardly a patch on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. It wasn’t even 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, for crying out loud. And when a quickly-made cash-in knock-off by Enzo G. Castellari is a more entertaining follow-up than the official one, then something is rotten in the state of Carpenter. Realizing that he just wasn’t having fun making movies anymore, John Carpenter decided to retire.

Why, then, did Carpenter change his mind after just two years and film an adaptation of John Steakley’s VAMPIRE$? He largely rejected the plot of the source novel, and pretty much tossed aside the two screenplay drafts that were offered to him, so it wasn’t the story that pulled him back into the game. A good guess is that he saw this as a chance to once again have fun. And how? By making the western that he’d always wanted to make.

He’d attempted to make a western once before with his second feature, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. It was originally set in the Old West as a cross between RIO BRAVO and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. However, budgetary restrictions forced him to update the scenario to a present day urban setting. And while Carpenter had long integrated elements from his favorite western filmmakers into his work (Howard Hawks, John Ford and Sergio Leone among them), he had never explicitly returned to the genre. VAMPIRES’ Southwestern setting and revamping (no pun intended) of a “hired guns” trope allowed him to explicitly return to his own favorite genre.

The storyline is relatively simple. A crack team of Vatican-backed vampire hunters takes out a cell of vamps holed up in a New Mexico house. Afterward, an ambush back at their motel leaves only the team’s leader, Jack Crow (James Woods), his partner Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and a prostitute (Sheryl Lee). Crow pulls together a new team in order to take out the vampire’s leader and his army. There’s some supernatural gussying-up going on (the vamps are after an ancient relic, there’s a climactic exorcism ritual as a plot turn), but as you can see, this is largely a “cowboys vs. Indians” story disguised as a horror movie.

Is it successful? Well, not entirely. It actually makes a fairly good run at turning THE WILD BUNCH into a horror flick, its action sequences are well-staged and deftly shot, it sports a typically good score from Carpenter and it’s more lively than almost anything Carpenter had done in the decade following THEY LIVE. But the leads are woefully miscast. James Woods is sufficiently vicious as a hired killer, but—let’s face it—there’s nobody among us that wouldn’t have rather seen Kurt Russell as the lead of this John Carpenter horror/western hybrid. Daniel Baldwin is…well…Daniel Baldwin, as unfortunate as that might be, and Sheryl Lee is merely okay in her role as Katrina, the prostitute-turned-vampire. But they’re all serviceable in their roles; it’s not like any of them are really bad actors. They’re just not quite right for the project. So while all of this may make this sound like it’s just one of Carpenter’s weaker films, why is it so poorly regarded?

Ultimately, JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES falls victim to its placement in his filmography. It came at the end of a “lost decade” of sorts, when his career needed a severe revitalization, and when he desperately needed to make an Important John Carpenter Film. And this movie is blissfully unimportant. Carpenter just wanted to have some fun once again, and if it had landed somewhere around BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA in his oeuvre, it would be seen as a nice little detour. Not a damaging entry into his work history, just a fast-paced bit of vampire killing with western flair. But in the context of his career, it was the wrong movie at the wrong time.

So, my advice is this: take the movie out of context. Forget what Carpenter needed, and focus on what it is: a beer-drinking, hell-raising, rip-snorting, ass-kicking, heart-staking, head-cutting, over-the-top, balls-out bit of fun. Don’t even look at it as a horror movie. Because it’s really not, once you get past the surface. Look at it as a blood-soaked action/western with vampires as the villains and James Woods chewing up the scenery like it was made out of cheeseburgers. And have a ball, because everyone making it appears to have been having one.

And thank your lucky stars that it’s not GHOSTS OF MARS.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Halloween’s Over, but the Horror Continues with the Buried Alive! Film Festival at the Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Nov 7th, 2013 By:

Buried Alive! Film Festival; Friday, Nov. 8 @ 7:00 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.; Saturday, Nov. 9 @ 3 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.; Plaza Theatre; Schedule here; Tickets $40 (all access, both days), $10 per programming block, available here and at the Plaza Theatre box office.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Who says that Halloween has to end with the month of October? Take a journey into the future of horror with a weekend of groundbreaking short-and-long-form cinema as the Buried Alive! Film Festival takes over the Plaza Theatre this Friday and Saturday November 8 and 9!

The festival was founded by local horror fiend Luke Godfrey, whom you’ll know as the co-creator of Chambers of Horror (Atlanta’s only adult Halloween attraction and this year’s ATL Retro pick for Haint of the Season) and the award-winning film series Splatter Cinema, as well as being the undead head of Zombie Walk Atlanta. Buried Alive! Film Fest has proven year after year to be one of the many reasons that Atlanta is recognized as among the horror capitals of the world, and this year proves to be no exception as Festival Director and filmmaker Blake Myers has loaded the schedule with the acclaimed, the weird, the wonderful and the outright outrageous.

The festival opens Friday night at 7:30 with the “Evil Everywhere! Shorts Program.” Transgressive German horror auteur Jörg Buttgereit (NEKROMANTIK 1 & 2, DER TODESKING, SCHRAMM: INTO THE MIND OF A SERIAL KILLER) reverently opens the show with A MOMENT OF SILENCE AT THE GRAVE OF ED GEIN. From there, we are treated to a series of shorts focusing on the presence of evil in the most unlikely of places. Atlanta-based explorations into this dark realm are represented by the memory-triggering subterranean chamber of CHLORINE, the hidden horrors of a quaint bed and breakfast in BURIED BENEATH and the dangerous efforts of a father and son to rescue a loved one from a cult in BAIT. Other standouts in this selection are the surreal and hellish underground Miami fighting ring of C#CKFIGHT, the promise of an innocent ride home detoured in NEXT EXIT, the trials of a boy thwarting a bullying monster in the acclaimed dark fantasy of SHHH… and the menacing, encroaching shadows of shelter in REFUGIO 115.

This all leads to the 9:30 opening night feature, PIECES OF TALENT, preceded by the short film TERRITORIAL. While TERRITORIAL paints a darkly comic tale of a man settling in for a nice weekend, PIECES OF TALENT takes a more harrowing path, as aspiring actress Charlotte is swept into the plans of charming local filmmaker David. David is obsessed with creating a piece of “true art”—and that creation means a series of brutal on-screen deaths, with Charlotte as the climactic setpiece.

Following the screening, the opening night party of the festival will be held at The Workshop on North Highland (one mile from the Plaza) from 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Episodes of [adult swim] favorite YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL (with effects and art direction from ATL Retro Kool Kats of the Week Shane Morton and Chris Brown) will be projected outdoors, while filmmakers from around the world will congregate to talk movies and generally have a fantastic time.

After you’ve rested and recuperated from the opening night party, the festival picks up once again at 3:00 p.m. with the “Weird and Wild Shorts Program.” As the title promises, this series takes a more off-the-wall (and at times darkly humorous) approach to the genre. Local highlights on offer here depict some unexpected changes under the light of the full moon in WEREHOOKER, the nefarious plans of an innocuous-looking clown in ALL YOU CAN EAT, and the comic domestication of the living dead in WELCOME TO THE BUBS. Among the other films, standouts are the insane comedy of the self-explanatory GIANT RUBBER MONSTER MOVIE, the gloriously bizarre visuals of DRACULA IN SPACE and the incredibly inventive “zombie apocalypse from a dog’s eye view” depicted in PLAY DEAD.

5:30 brings us “International Terror: Shorts From Around the World,” and reprises Germany’s A MOMENT OF SILENCE AT THE GRAVE OF ED GEIN and the UK’s NEXT EXIT. In addition, Brazil is represented by the plight of the journey of the blind Rafael in AS ÓRBITAS, Australia by the masked terror of CAT SICK BLUES, Canada by the existential dread of FOR CLEARER SKIES and Spain by the television-fueled insanity of BARIKU LIGHT.

We reconvene at 7 p.m. as the Atlanta chapter of the international film and animation association ASIFA joins forces with BA!FF to present the “Drawn and Quartered: Animation Program.” In addition to the intricately-constructed HERMAN BLUE, which local artist Ian Mark Stewart created using over 250 carved pumpkins, highlights include the Valentine’s Day-set NIGHT OF THE LOVING DEAD and the brilliantly macabre stop-motion of ABYSSUS ABUSSUM INVOCAT.

As the clock strikes nine, we explore the realm of body horror with the “Wave of Mutilation Shorts Program.” Local collective New Puppet Order delivers a horrifically funny tale of home invasion when a man discovers that an inter-dimensional gateway has opened up in the back of his skull in ED IS A PORTAL. And in addition to reprisals of BARIKU LIGHT and FOR CLEARER SKIES, another short you won’t want to miss is OTHER, which depicts a doctor’s extreme experiments in ridding his body of a rapidly-growing cancer. When an unforeseen development occurs with his equipment, he is determined to take his experiment all the way to witness the results.

The closing night feature delves further into body horror with an encore of AS ÓRBITAS, followed by the feature film THANATAMORPHOSE. This Canadian film poses the question, “what would you do if you woke up to find yourself slowly rotting away?” A bravura acting turn from Kayden Rose and amazing makeup effects from David Scherer and Rémy Couture combine with Éric Falardeu’s claustrophobic and intimate direction to create a bleak—and ultimately moving—portrait of sexuality, abuse, loss of control, alienation and liberation.

At $10 per screening block, or $40 for an all-access pass, Buried Alive! Film Festival continues to be the best bargain in town for anyone interested in the future of horror cinema, and the visionaries who push the boundaries of the genre.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , ,

Retro Review: Sometimes Filth Can Be Divine! PINK FLAMINGOS Nest at Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO-LA-LA at the Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: May 30th, 2013 By:

Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO-LA-LA presents PINK FLAMINGOS (1972); Dir. John Waters; Starring Divine, Mink Stole, David Lochary, Cookie Mueller, Edith Massey, Danny Mills and Mary Vivian Pearce; Saturday, June 1 pre-show entertainment starts @ 9:00 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Ages 18+ only; Tickets $12; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s time once again to push across the boundaries of good taste and delve head-first into the outré, the out-of-bounds and the delightfully wrong as Blast-Off Burlesque and the Plaza Theatre bring us another heaping helping of TABOO-LA-LA!

This is it. The film that put John Waters and Divine on the map. The film that made Baltimore famous. The filthiest film in the world. PINK FLAMINGOS.

It’s crude, it’s angry and it wants to rub you the wrong way. It wants to offend you. It wants to provoke you. It wants to push you face-down in the ugliness that lurks just under the surface of everything and laugh at you. It will poke you with a stick. And you don’t know where that stick’s been.

All that, and it’s hilarious to boot.

“I’m all dressed up, and I’m ready to fall in love!” – Divine / Babs Johnson

The entire film is centered on the fact that Divine (played by Divine, as only she could), who is living under the alias of “Babs Johnson,” has been named the Filthiest Person Alive. This angers her arch-nemeses, Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole and David Lochary). The Marbles are running an entire criminal empire entirely dedicated to being filthy. They force their gay servant Channing to artificially inseminate kidnapped women. They then sell the babies to lesbian couples. Then, the money they make from their black market baby ring is used to push heroin to elementary school students and fund their chain of pornography shops. Meanwhile, Raymond has a nice sideline going in flashing unsuspecting females and then stealing their purses. Understandably, the Marbles think that they are more deserving of this major award, so they set out to destroy Divine and unwittingly start a war that can only end in the destruction of all life on this planet. Or at least the lives of a few people in the Maryland boondocks.

PINK FLAMINGOS' Egg Lady (Edith Massey).

PINK FLAMINGOS takes the unusual step of making its heroine someone who has no moral qualms with killing anybody or everybody who dares look at her the wrong way. Someone whose raison d’être is summed up in the quote “Kill everyone now! Condone first degree murder! Advocate cannibalism! Eat shit! Filth is my politics! Filth is my life!” Divine is not just an anti-heroine, but an anti-human. You are dared to root for her, and you acquiesce because you fear that she may hack you to pieces with an axe for not doing so.

From a sex scene in which a live chicken is crushed to death to an orgy of oral sex spurred on by licking furniture; from one woman’s insatiable love of eggs to an anal sphincter singing Surfin’ Bird; from a trailer fire to, yes, the actual on-screen consumption of dog shit…PINK FLAMINGOS is not for the weak of heart, stomach, mind or constitution.

This was John Waters’ third feature film after MONDO TRASHO and MULTIPLE MANIACS, and featured his much-beloved Dreamland Productions ensemble. To get a handle on the Dreamlanders’ retro-trash aesthetic, imagine the B-52’s if they’d joined the Manson Family. Driven largely by a lack of money and a surplus of a camp sense of flash, their thrift store style was cemented by the Baltimoreans’ shared memories of the city back when it was the hairdo capitol of the world, and their sensibility shaped by Waters’ fascination with those who live outside the law. The Dreamlanders’ performances are all perfect. They exist beyond criticism. There’s nothing natural about them, but there’s nothing natural about the characters either, so who are we to judge? And while it’s not Waters’ most technically proficient film, its raw and blunt stylistic approach is the only thing suitable to capture the intense taboo-shattering of the subject matter. Anything prettier would take away from the transgressive attitude on display. And, quite literally, you can’t polish a turd…

Divine archnemeses Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole and David Lochary).

Did I just say “taboo-shattering?” Because that’s what TABOO-LA-LA is about. And as such, this film practically screams to be shown. Because as transgressive and deliberately offensive as this film is, it’s also unbelievably positive. Remember, this was a mere three years after the Stonewall riots, where drag queens, lesbians and poverty-stricken gay street kids were on the front line against armed squadrons representing a society that would rather beat them down. In the wake of this, John Waters dared to turn a drag queen named Divine into a larger-than-life symbol of rebellion against anyone who’d dare take away anything that she claimed as hers. And in becoming the Goddess of Bad Taste, Divine was almost saying, “so you think all of us outsiders—drag queens, lesbians and gay men—are disgusting? Let me show you what disgusting really is, you prigs.”

It’s not just a fist in the face of a world that deserves it. It’s a celebration.

And it’s a celebration that Blast-Off Burlesque and TABOO-LA-LA are fully prepared to bring off the screen and into your faces. Enjoy complimentary cocktails in the lobby starting at 9 p.m.! A titillating live stage show featuring Blast-Off Burlesque, Baby-Doll and Poly Sorbate! A Filthy Fashion Contest and Sexy Doggie-Doo Eating Contest with prizes provided by Libertine and Cherry Blossom Salon! A raffle for PINK FLAMINGOS artwork by Zteven! And then, AS IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH, the movie itself! How can you NOT go? If you decide to go anywhere else, know that I and my gang of fellow filth fanatics will sneak into your home and lick your furniture so that it will reject you when you return.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some hard-boiled eggs to eat.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog atdoctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Retro Review: Shatner and Borgnine Give Satan His Due: THE DEVIL’S RAIN Will Fall on the 11th Annual Rock & Roll Monster Bash!

Posted on: May 28th, 2013 By:

Rock & Roll Monster Bash presents THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975); Dir. Robert Fuest; Starring William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Ida Lupino, Eddie Albert, Tom Skerritt, Keenan Wynn and Joan Prather; Sunday, June 2; Starlight Six Drive-In; Buy tickets here. Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s Rock & Roll Monster Bashin’ time, kiddiwinkies! And if you’ve spent all day celebrating at the Starlight Six Drive-In, there’s no better way to cap off the night than with a double-bill of diabolical delights. And it doesn’t get more diabolical or delightful than THE DEVIL’S RAIN.

Okay, I’m biased. Let’s get that straight from the start. Around my house, if there’s a movie made in the ‘60s or ‘70s about a bunch of folks worshipping Our Downstairs Neighbor, I’m giving that sucker the benefit of the doubt. And likewise, if your name is Robert Fuest, and you’ve directed a movie about anything, I’m giving that sucker the benefit of the doubt.

This is why it’s constantly puzzled me that folks give THE DEVIL’S RAIN such short shrift. Even in the limited genre that is Satanic Cinema of the Sixties and Seventies, it gets relatively little love. And I’m not talking about pitting its reputation against that of established classics like ROSEMARY’S BABY. I’m talking stuff like THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN, THE WITCHMAKER, BEYOND THE DOOR, ALUCARDA, and on and on and on. I mean, sure, huge chunks of the movie don’t make a lick of sense. But that’s never stood in the way of a film building up a cult following.

Partially, I think it’s got to have something to do with the prevailing notion that anything touched by the Hand of Shatner outside of the STAR TREK franchise is somehow shameful at worst, and best appreciated as camp at best. And maybe it’s got something to do with so much of the cast being composed of actors either well past their prime and heading for the Irwin Allen Disaster Movie Retirement Home (Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn, Eddie Albert) or so early on in their careers that they don’t make much impact (Tom Skerritt, John Travolta). Maybe it’s because Ernest Borgnine spends most of the movie going so over-the-top that you can’t see bottom anymore. Maybe it’s because the movie’s promotional tagline is so grammatically incorrect that I’ve been trying to decipher it for decades (“Heaven help us all when…The Devil’s Rain!” Huh? When the Devil’s Rain does what? Are you trying to say “when the Devils rain?” or “when the Devils reign?” Are you confusing your plurals and possessives?)

Or maybe it’s because some people don’t like to have fun, for crying out loud. Because this is one fun movie.

Re-hashing the plot won’t help anybody, so I’ll just say this: Ernest Borgnine is the reincarnation of a devil-worshipping warlock burned at the stake long ago, and he’s back (and holed up in a church in the desert) to obtain a book kept hidden over these many years by William Shatner’s family. There’s a Snowglobe of the Damned called “The Devil’s Rain” that contains the souls of those Borgnine has ensnared. There’s some pseudo-scientific gobbeldy-gook about ESP that brings Shatner’s extended family of Tom Skerritt, Eddie Albert and Joan Prather into the mix. There are flashbacks to the burnings. There are lots of folks in black robes with no eyes (including John Travolta) running around doing Borgnine’s bidding. And maybe they’re made of wax or something because they all tend to melt.

Like I said: big chunks that don’t make a lick of sense.

Ernest Borgnine in THE DEVIL'S RAIN.

But what works in this movie, works like crazy. Fuest’s direction is—as always—stylish and visually fascinating. Don’t forget, this is the guy who directed THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, the Michael Moorcock adaptation THE FINAL PROGRAMME (aka THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH) and numerous episodes of THE AVENGERS. The guy’s got flash if he’s got anything. There’s a prevailing sense of dread cast over the entire film from its opening frames, with the stage being set by the opening titles presented over the hellishly hallucinatory artwork of Hieronymus Bosch. There’s the unique in media res opening that delivers the sense that we’ve been dropped into the movie after its first reel, leaving the audience disoriented as they try to piece together what’s happening. There’s Ernest Borgnine invoking the spirit of Satan and turning into a Baphomet-headed beast. There’s the presence of the High Priest of the Church of Satan, Anton Szandor LaVey (ANTON FREAKIN’ LAVEY, people!) as both the film’s technical advisor and Borgnine’s High Priest, playing the pipe organ and sporting a diabolically groovy helmet for some reason. There’s fantastic makeup work from Ellis Burman, Jr. There’s an insanely great score by Al De Lory. And it ends exactly like it ought to end.

Let me say this: if this movie had been made in Italy, the horror community at large would be salivating over THE DEVIL’S RAIN like it was Edwige Fenech in STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (Italian exploitation fans represent!). But because of its familiarity—being ever-present on late-night TV, the drive-in circuit and relatively easy to get on home video through the years—it’s easily overlooked. Don’t make this mistake, dear readers! This movie deserves a re-evaluation and a re-appreciation. Much like Shatner’s career has developed a post-TREK rehabilitation, we should go back and give the Devil his due.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog atdoctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Retro Review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Cabin in the Woods: EVIL DEAD 2 Is a Vicious, Nasty, Bloody, Frightening and Smart Movie!

Posted on: May 28th, 2013 By:

Rock & Roll Monster Bash presents EVIL DEAD 2 (1987); Dir. Sam Raimi; Starring Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry and Dan Hicks; Sunday, June 2; Starlight Six Drive-In; Buy tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s Rock & Roll Monster Bashin’ time, ladies and gents! And if you’ve spent all day celebrating at the Starlight Six Drive-In, there’s no better way to cap off the night than with a double-bill of fright featuring folks messing around with books they ought not be messin’ around with. And they don’t come any better than Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD 2.

It was 1983 and I had started sailing awkwardly into teenagerhood. FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND was on the verge of closing up shop, and I had been steadily supplementing my reading material with FANGORIA. A video rental store named Video Land had just opened up in town to provide stiff competition to the local movie house (the Royal Rocking Chair Cinema), and my main after-school preoccupation was scouring the shelves of the horror section to rent whatever I hadn’t seen yet. And one day, there it was: the Thorn/EMI plastic clamshell case for THE EVIL DEAD. In the coming years, I must have paid for half of Video Land’s entire inventory just from renting that movie over and over again. It was mindblowing. Just a vicious, nasty, bloody, frightening and smart movie—not just script-wise, but so audacious visually that it was like few things I’d seen to that point.

So when FANGO started reporting that Sam Raimi was teaming back up with Bruce Campbell to make EVIL DEAD 2, I was rabid. And then, the Royal put up the poster for it as a coming attraction. I pestered the hell out of the people running the place about when they were going to get it, and every time, they’d say “soon.” Maybe it would be that they were holding over that week’s show. Or maybe it would be that a big release was coming in the next week that they had to run instead. But every time, something different. And they must have had that poster up for a year. Like they were doing it out of spite, just to taunt me or something.

So, like so many others like me who were living out in the pits of Nowheresvilles all across the country, I had to wait for it to come out on video to see it. And when I finally got my grubby mitts on it…it was a comedy?

Because how can you follow up a movie whose own closing credits describe it as “the ultimate experience in grueling terror?” By piling on the excesses of the first until it becomes so overloaded with the wacky that it collapses in hysterics. (And by describing the result in its closing credits as “the sequel to the ultimate experience in grueling terror.”) Where the first film was visually inventive, this took every lesson learned from that first movie and asked the question, “how can we do this BIGGER?” If THE EVIL DEAD used the whip pan as a stylistic device, let’s do everything in whip pans. Lots of blood all over the place in the first movie? Let’s shoot it out of fire hoses at Bruce Campbell. The first movie has Bruce wielding a chainsaw? Let’s give Bruce a chainsaw for a hand! The first film has violence so over-the-top that it borders on the absurd? Let’s demonstrate that Bruce Campbell is an incredibly agile physical comedian and have him beat the living daylights out of himself with everything but the kitchen sink, like he’s both Moe and Curly trapped inside the same body.

Groovy.

This became my new gospel. I’d sit and pick over the minutiae of this movie like I was in seminary and this was the Codex Sinaiticus. Like I was Wilbur Whateley poring over my John Dee translation of the NECRONOMICON. This was now part of my personal canon, alongside THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or…well…THE EVIL DEAD.

Capsule recap: Ash Williams and his girlfriend Linda head out to a secluded cabin for a quiet getaway. Ash plays a tape recording found which was made by the professor staying there previously, and which contains translations of the bound-in-flesh NECRONOMICON EX MORTIS (which was also found in the cabin). It summons up evil forces from beyond that possess Linda, Ash, his hand, and soon threaten to possess the people heading to the cabin, mistakenly believing that they’re meeting the now-late professor.

Bruce Campbell in EVIL DEAD 2.

There are few sequels that are better than the first movie. You can probably count them on your fingers. Both hands, if you’re feeling generous. You know it. I know it. More importantly, Sam Raimi knew it. He knew that since the first film was celebrated as a straight-up horror movie, that the second movie could only disappoint in comparison. So he made a different movie. A movie that didn’t even try to do what the first one did so well, but aimed for something he knew he could pull off: the first splatstick comedy. I mean, Sam Raimi had never wanted to be just a horror film director anyway; he just saw horror as an easy way to get his foot in the door. Most of his own short films were comedies, and he had followed up THE EVIL DEAD with an attempt to make a live-action LOONEY TUNES / Tex Avery-styled comedy in collaboration with Joel and Ethan Coen, CRIMEWAVE. That it flopped seemed to only strengthen his resolve to take a bigger risk by making EVIL DEAD 2 a comedy.

And it worked. Oh, man, how it worked. It quickly became the MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL for the horror geek scene. Whereas the first film presented Bruce Campbell as Ash, a likeably bland lead, this movie established Bruce Campbell in my mind (and that of anyone else who saw it) as Bruce Campbell, Movie God. This was the movie where he finally came into his own, delivering a tour de force performance that would have killed a lesser man to give. And the guts of Raimi to essentially condense the entire first movie into the first half-hour of the second, retelling it and streamlining it (removing any character other than Ash and his girlfriend Linda). It was like Raimi explicitly saying, “this is not that movie. This is a whole different thing.” The only thing about the movie that suffers is the collective performances of the secondary cast members, which are generally either a little too broad or a little too wooden. But it’s hard to really judge them because they are unfortunately cast alongside the marvel that is BRUCE F’ING CAMPBELL. Olivier might have suffered in comparison. (We’ll never know. He wisely stayed away, and never suffered those slings and arrows, the coward.)

Some movies are fun. Some of those movies are described as “a roller coaster ride.” EVIL DEAD 2 is like Disneyland riding a roller coaster through Knott’s Scary Farm while the Ramones are playing on top of a blood-filled Splash Mountain. Strap in, kids, because it’s gonna get MESSY.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog atdoctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Retro Review: Comparing Corpses: Two EVIL DEAD Go Head-To-Blood-and-Gory-Head!

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2013 By:

THE EVIL DEAD (1981); Dir. Sam Raimi; Starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker and Sarah York; Available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

There’s such a hue and cry over the seemingly unending parade of remakes coming out of the Hollywood horror entertainment complex. It’s increasingly hard to approach one on its own terms without feeling like you’re betraying all that is good and true in this world. And when it comes to a beloved horror classic like Sam Raimi’s 1981 gorefest THE EVIL DEAD, the stakes are raised even higher.

But here’s the complication: THE EVIL DEAD has already been remade. Not once, but twice. The film’s plot was summarized and streamlined into the first quarter hour or so of 1987’s EVIL DEAD II, which was then subsequently summarized and streamlined into the opening segment of the series’ third film, 1992’s ARMY OF DARKNESS. Further complicating matters is the fact that THE EVIL DEAD is itself a remake. Raimi’s 1978 short film WITHIN THE WOODS was developed as a prototype horror film to draw investors, and it successfully led to Raimi raising the nearly $100,000 needed to develop a feature-length version of the short.

To be clear: THE EVIL DEAD is far from being some sacred, untouchable text. Not even Raimi sees it as being one, as he’s been futzing around with the same story since 1978. And even then it wasn’t that original an idea: though Raimi denies having seen the film prior to production, the storyline of THE EVIL DEAD is relatively close to that of the 1967-70 drive-in classic EQUINOX. Both involve scientists who have unwittingly opened a portal between this world and a demonic realm, a mysterious occult text and a handful of early-20s youths who visit the scientist’s cabin and wind up fighting off demons. It’s become such an archetypal setup that the “five kids in a cabin” trope is the basis for Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s ultimate meta horror-comedy, 2012’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.

That being said, how does Fede Alvarez’s 2013 version compare with the 1981 model? Let’s take a look.

Both stories are superficially similar: a group of five kids in their 20s visit a remote cabin, wherein they stumble upon a mysterious tome, the NATURON DEMONTO, which contains passages intended to open a portal and summon demons to this realm. The spells are read aloud (in the original, played via a scientist’s tape recording; in the 2013 version, directly read from the book), and said demons are summoned. One by one, the five are picked off and controlled by the ancient evil called forth by the book.

The first thing you’ll notice as different is the film’s immediate stylization. In the original, there’s a sense of everything being normal until we get to the cabin. In the remake, a pre-credit sequence of sacrifice casts a shadow over the proceedings, and to reflect that, there’s a consistent color desaturation which gives everything a sickly pallor and darkens the tone of the film. While I miss the gradual move away from “reality” that the original possesses, the point stands that the remake is, well, a remake. We know that bad stuff is about to go down and we know where it’s located (and if you didn’t know, the establishing sacrifice informs you).

The second thing is a deviation from the original’s storyline that affects the audience’s relationship with the characters: in the original, Bruce Campbell’s Ash is part of an ensemble and emerges as the film’s lead over time. In the remake, Jane Levy’s Mia (a recovering drug addict who has chosen the isolated cabin as a place to detox) is quickly established as the film’s focal character. By announcing right out of the gate who the film’s protagonist is, the sensation at the original’s outset that anybody could die at any time is somewhat lessened. We already know which character is established as the hero, but the question remains: how long will our hero last? Both films take their own path to establishing that question, but the original’s route creates more audience empathy. The remake’s approach results in a decrease in the sense of danger, meaning that no matter how many times the film pulls this rug out from under the viewer, the viewer is still inclined to think, “well, sure, but they can’t kill her; she’s the star!”

One thing in which both films succeed is the application of gore. Though budget kept the original’s prosthetic appliances looking like anything but prosthetic appliances, they made up for any shortcomings with a shocking amount of blood. And not just blood spurting from wounds, but from everywhere. And Raimi’s bravura direction pulled maximum shock out of every instance. Alvarez’s higher budget has resulted in more successful practical effects (he boasts that every effect was done on-set using practical effects, with CGI only used for touch-ups and more general uses such as manipulating the film’s color palette), and his insistence on not backing down from the original’s bloody reputation has resulted in this being quite probably the most gore-filled major studio film I’ve ever seen.

Bruce Campbell in the original EVIL DEAD. New Line Cinema, 1981. Available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Meanwhile, let me address something that I’ve seen crop up elsewhere in comparing the two: criticism that the 2013 film lacks the comedy of the original. The original film IS. NOT. FUNNY. Sure, there are one or two intentionally comedic moments in the first few minutes of the film as we follow our gang to the cabin. But the “splatstick” comedy that so many people associate with the EVIL DEAD franchise was something that popped up in the sequel, EVIL DEAD II. The first EVIL DEAD movie is every bit as serious about what’s going on as the remake. Got it? Good.

The main question, though, is this: does the film stand on its own two legs? I’d argue that it does, unequivocally. It does lack some of the sense of fun that the original had, particularly in its first half. But when the possession starts going and the blood starts flowing, it’s too easy to get caught up in the unbridled enthusiasm of the movie to not enjoy it from that point onward. Sure, there are plot holes and contrivances that might bring down any attempt to reason with the film, but in a movie like this, reason is the last thing you want to bring into the theater with you. The entire point of either film is to show what happens when reason can no longer be applied. And both films succeed and fail at showing that in probably equal amounts. And the remake might lack some of the bizarro flourishes that made Raimi’s film stand out that much more in that regard. But you can walk into this film not knowing of Bruce Campbell’s existence (I can’t imagine living such a life, but to each their own) and come away happy.

And I—knowing and loving the original, which I’ve probably owned more copies of in my life than any other film—walked away having enjoyed myself thoroughly. It’s a nice complement to the original, which it references enough to question whether it might be some kind of sequel: not only are the superficial elements in place (the cabin and the book, though the book has been redesigned due to copyright problems), but Ash’s 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale is still present outside the cabin. (Nerds like myself might chime in with “…but Ash’s car was transported through the portal to ancient Sumeria in 1300 at the end of EVIL DEAD II!” To which I award you the coveted No-Prize, and direct you to the lobby to collect it.)

The new EVIL DEAD equals the original in blood and gore. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2013.

It’s certainly the best of the recent crop of horror movie remakes. And while that might sound like damning with faint praise, it’s not intended to be. It works as both a celebration of the original and a successful horror film on its own. It doesn’t shy away from its visceral roots in order to deliver a PG-13 rating, or preemptively compromise itself so as to not invoke the MPAA’s wrath. Surprisingly, something this brutal made it through unscathed.

Five kids in a cabin. Deceptively easy to screw up. Thankfully, Fede Alvarez has kept things simple.

Blood simple.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog atdoctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: The Beating Heart of Art: Garrett DeHart and His Poe-Inspired Short Film IF I AM YOUR MIRROR

Posted on: Feb 22nd, 2013 By:

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Atlanta native filmmaker and photographer Garrett DeHart is the mastermind behind one of the most inventive short films ATLRetro has seen in recent years: IF I AM YOUR MIRROR. An adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the film takes Poe’s lean exercise in mounting paranoia and expands it into a fractured document of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the years following the Civil War. Beyond the narrative twists taken with Poe’s themes, the film dramatically stylizes the world its characters inhabit – presenting it as a living Victorian-era oil painting imbued with the blood, spit, dirt and murk both of the time and of its main character’s mind. The portrayal of that lead character by the late actor Larry Holden in one of his last roles, is a triumph: in turns fierce and fragile, proud and pitiable. Currently available for viewing online, this immersive 18-minute epic is well worth your time.

In honor of this horrific accomplishment, ATLRetro goes Really Retro with this week’s Kool Kat.  We spoke with Mr. DeHart about his experiences making the film, the techniques behind creating the images, his influences, his local ties and much more.

ATLRetro: IF I AM YOUR MIRROR has a remarkable visual style, resembling an oil painting come to life. Were there any particular artists that inspired the look of your film? Filmmaking-wise, who influenced you on this particular project?

Garrett DeHart: I’ve always loved Poe, and  I had been playing around with a process to make live action film look like an animated oil painting. I thought the color and composition of Romantic painting, the predominant painting style of Poe’s time, was very well-equipped to tell a story inspired by Poe’s voice. I added a bit more dirt, grim and blood, and I think, with that, it’s a style that lends itself well to my voice as well. I did research on Romantic painting as a whole, but was really drawn to the paintings of Eugène Delacroix, J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Wilmer Dewing.

As far as filmmakers, the process was, of course, inspired by Richard Linklater‘s WAKING LIFE.  I loved what he did, turning live action into animation, to create a world of dreams, and really loved the look of his Rotoshop films. But I really wanted something that had a bit more texture and grim to it, and also wanted something that I could do myself.  After I saw WAKING LIFE, I started working on the process and used it in my film THE PROBLEM WITH HAPPINESS (2004) a 70-minute film that was projected on three discrete screens and had an accompanying seven-piece live band playing the score. We had 300 people at Eyedrum for the premiere and then later played The Earl before the band broke up. It was a sci-fi film in which the protagonist’s world slowly turns into a moving oil painting. I was never really happy with the effect that I was able to produce for that film and so I kept playing around with the process. The narrative was inspired by the films of Terrence Malick and Lars von Trier.

Could you describe how you came to create MIRROR’s striking look? How long did it take to bring such a heavily-stylized project to fruition?

The actors were shot on green screen at a small studio at Georgia State University. Aside from a few chairs, luggage and miscellaneous props, everything else was added in post. I developed a process through Photoshop to stylize the actors’ frames and ran each frame of each element in a scene through Photoshop to add the effect. Many of the shots have multiple layers on each actor, and the layers were then rotoscoped in to create lighting effects, shadows and a greater depth of field with the paint effects. The backgrounds were developed from stills, paintings and created graphics. Those backgrounds were then layered and animated in After Effects. Some of the shots have hundreds of layers in them. The final shot of the film took over 30 hours to render. I pushed the capabilities of After Effects in working in a 2D for 3D world. I did all of the post for the film on my MacBook Pro. The computer was running full speed around the clock for over two years. I’m typing this now on the same machine. The whole process took a bit over two years.

You also directed DOGME #55: A PICNIC AND A STROLL. You’re obviously not frightened by taking on a wide variety of styles, as MIRROR is about as far away from the Dogme 95 philosophy as possible! Which turns out to be more difficult (or, alternately, more fulfilling) for you as a filmmaker: following the self-imposed restrictions of the Dogme 95 movement, or the technical demands of an effects-heavy film like MIRROR?

I was really inspired by the Dogme 95 manifesto. I really like the idea of using real people, instead of actors, when possible, and breaking down the spectacle of lighting and score, and using a handheld, cinéma vérité camera style to get to some truth. I think my tendency would be to lean more towards a Dogme esthetic, at least in the way in which I direct actors. Now that I think about it, It might be compelling to try and develop one of Poe’s stories as a Dogme style film.  But I don’t think even Von Trier or Vinterberg ever made a truly pure Dogme 95 film, and while I think there are some very important ideas in the Dogme 95 movement, I’m really most inspired by very stylized expression in films. I also love the graphics and effects and the spectacle of fantasy and horror films.

I did MIRROR for my graduate thesis and I really wanted to experiment with this effect that I had developed. They have a great studio at DAEL (Digital Arts Entertainment Laboratory), and I wanted to utilize the GSU facilities while I had the chance to access all of their equipment for free. We shot almost everything in the DAEL blue-screen studio at GSU and got to utilize all of the studio equipment.

I’m not sure which style is harder as a means of telling a story well. I know which takes longer.

How did you come to work with the late Larry Holden, and how was your experience working with him on MIRROR?

I met Larry on the set of another film a few years prior to my film. My friend had written him a letter, told him he was trying to make his first feature and asked if he’d be willing to be in the film. Larry drove across the country for that film, so when it came time to make my film, I thought he would be perfect for the role [and] I wrote him and asked if he would star in the film.

Larry was an amazing cast member to have on set. The experience and vitality he brought to the set really energized everyone working on the project. For most of us on set he was the biggest name we had worked with, but he was incredibly humble and was really dedicated to working with and teaching everyone on set. He had been in Christopher Nolan’s films and a lot of TV, but he was making his own films whenever he could, and when he had time he would travel across the country, for little more than expenses, to help and teach those who were trying to learn the craft. He stayed with some friends of mine up the street from my house during the shoot.

He was not only incredibly influential to all of the crew that he worked with for less than a week, but many folks in the neighborhood became very close with him in that time as well. My neighbors traveled across the country to go to his funeral. I was not able to make the trip at that time. It’s an incredible loss. He was an amazing artist and an amazing person, and we all feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend some time with him.

Poe’s stories are known for how streamlined they are, which makes adapting them almost impossible without necessarily expanding on the source material, or deviating from it in some way. MIRROR provides a particularly novel take on Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” How did you decide on your approach to the source material?

Initially I had planned to shoot a straight version of “The Tell-Tale Heart” told through the lens of Romantic painting, with voiceover. I had all the pre-production done and was ready to shoot and make that film. As I got Larry Holden interested in and then brought him onto the project, he convinced me that “The Tell-Tale Heart” films had been done enough and that it might be more interesting to take Poe’s story and its themes and let those inspire a new story. After some research, I realized that while a modern “Tell-Tale” done well could be really compelling, he was right and that I needed to develop something new: something that would express my voice. So I dug in, and with the help of a couple of friends, developed a script that I thought respected Poe’s legacy but might expand on who his characters were and the world they may have inhabited.

Garrett DeHart on set of IF I AM YOUR MIRROR.

I had the blueprint of all that pre-production I had done for the Tell-Tale script, but I was convinced we were making something new now—something certainly more challenging for me. So it wasn’t really a difficult process in deciding what to add or subtract. Poe’s story works really well in its minimalism and focus. He excludes all details that don’t lend directly to the development of the protagonist’s obsession and insanity. I was working on a new project; a film inspired by Poe. I think that “inspired by” gave me the freedom to expand on Poe’s ideas and imagine circumstances that may have brought his characters to the situations they experience in his story, and in that imagining I was creating my own story, a story that explored some slightly different, maybe more contemporary themes.

My first edit of the film we shot was almost 50 minutes. It was really more about pacing than it was about cutting scenes. But many of those quick shots, that last only a few frames, were 5, 10 or even 30 seconds long in the first cut. I was really working from the inspiration of Malick and Von Trier in the pre-production process. I imagined the film as a very slow, melodic PTSD nightmare. But as I worked with the film more and more, I found something of a thriller in it, and it seemed a bit pretentious to let the scenes linger like they were. I loved the 30-second wide, static shot of the train driving across the horizon, or 30 seconds of his wife walking through a burning wheat field, or a 5-minute flashback of the Civil War, but as I lived with the film day and night for two years, I realized this was a short, not a feature. I felt the audience might find it a bit tiring, and I wasn’t sure the long shots and extra scenes were really helping to propel the narrative. I’m happy with the decisions I made in cutting the film down.

Being an Atlanta-centric website, I’m required by city ordinance to ask: what local talent should we be keeping our eyes peeled for in the film? Any notable locals toiling behind the scenes that we should be aware of?

We had an amazing turn-out for crew from GSU grad students and for extras from all over the Atlanta area.

Shane Morton (aka Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow) was incredibly helpful on set. He did a lot of makeup work on the actors in production to help the paint effect along when we got to post.  He’s always working on cool projects. He did some effects and stars in the TALES FROM MORNINGVIEW CEMETERY horror anthology. He’s always planning and working on Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, and they are in development on FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS (The sequel to DEAR GOD NO!).

If you’ve seen any Atlanta independent film you probably know Barefoot Bill (aka Bill Pacer), the Old Man/Evil Eye. Bill is always auditioning in Atlanta when he is not working on his one-man Ben Franklin show. He”ll be doing the Ben Franklin show at AnachroCon this weekend and March 2 at Duluth Historical Museum.

Mari Elle, the wife in the film, is now in LA but comes back to Atlanta to audition for films. She’s in town this week auditioning so catch her while you can. She is fantastic.

Steven Swigart and Chris Escobar were a huge help during production as the anchors of the production team. Chris is now the director of the Atlanta Film Festival and recently made a documentary short, shot partially in Colombia, about the ripple effects of family choices. Steven is making mini-documentaries for a university.

Jeff Ballentine, who let us borrow his large Civil War re-enactor wardrobe, is working on post for his own Civil War film.

What led to your decision to release the film online, rather than pursue the typical festival route? What has the reaction been thus far?

There’s a misconception, I think, that filmmakers are giving their work away for free when they put it online. The truth is that most filmmakers don’t make any money from their films; in fact, most spend hundred or thousands of dollars just trying to get the film seen in festivals. I made IF I AM YOUR MIRROR as my graduate school thesis project, so I wasn’t expecting to make money on the film. I wanted to create a film that exemplified my capabilities at the time, and I feel this film does that. MIRROR, at 18 minutes, is long for a short film and does not easily fit into an established genre. Therefore, it would be difficult to place it in festivals.

The festival circuit, while important, seems to me, just another way to suck money out of the truly indie filmmaking market. At $20 to $50 per entry, it’s just so much time and money that could be spent on the next project. And while seeing a film on the big screen is, of course, a far better experience (I screened my film at the Plaza Theatre and the trailer at the High Museum as part of WonderRoots Best of Generally Local, Mostly Independent Film Series), reaching an audience is really the most important thing, and the potential audience on the web is immense. Tapping that audience is, of course, the key, and that has been somewhat difficult, but I’m doing everything I can to self-promote the film through online media like ATLRetro. The critical response has been great and the film has gotten a lot of attention but, sadly, that has not really translated into as many viewers as I had hoped.

If you like the film, please support independent cinema, and pass it along to your friends and social networks.

This past October, I saw the 7 Stages production of DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, and when I saw your film later at the Plaza, there were a few effects shots in the video projection that looked familiar—primarily some shots of the train and the train station itself. Given the overlap in talent between these projects, I have to ask: were these your handiwork?

Yes. Rob Thompson was in MIRROR and asked, when they started to develop DRACULA, if they could use some of the footage for the backgrounds of the rock opera. I adjusted a few of the shots and gave them longer takes, and I’m very happy that MIRROR helped to fill in some of the space of the Dracula rock opera.  We’ve talked about the possibility of doing a music video/short with one of the songs on the soundtrack that will be released this month, but we haven’t had the time to work it out yet.

Are there any future projects on the horizon we should be looking out for?

I’m hoping that getting IF I AM YOUR MIRROR out into the world will facilitate connections with other writers and filmmakers and lead to new projects in the near future.  I’m in development on a Steampunk character study, short film with a style inspired by Wong Kar-wai and Gaspar Noé, that I hope, when complete, I can crowd-source into a TV series or web series. I’m looking for some writers to help in the expansion of that project. Again, if you like the film, please support independent cinema, and pass it along to your friends and social networks.

You can like IF I AM YOUR MIRROR on Facebook and check out the webpage; www.ifiamyourmirror.com.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

All artwork is courtesy of Garrett DeHart.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2017 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress