Sunday, January 16, 2011
A long time favorite filmmaker of mine, Alex Cox has never really received the kind of attention and credit his work deserves. After the relative successes of REPO MAN and SID & NANCY, he alienated audiences and critics with films that were too esoteric (STRAIGHT TO HELL) or too esoteric and radically political (WALKER). After a couple more stabs at mainstream indie films, with HIGHWAY PATROLMAN and THE WINNER (which I believe Cox ultimately had his name taken off of due to editorial conflict), the filmmaker retreated into a world of even more esoteric, lower-budgeted films which he had more creative control over. The results have been mixed (I'm more partial to THREE BUSINESSMEN than THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY), but the vision of these projects has been purely Cox's, and that's something I respect.
Now comes REPO CHICK, Cox's semi-sequel/semi-remake to his classic REPO MAN. REPO MAN, I must admit, is probably my favorite film of all time. It really changed the way I think about film, storytelling, humor and was also a movie I have long felt a strong sense of identification with, from early adolescence until to day. The REPO MAN soundtrack(featuring Iggy Pop, Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Fear, the Plugz and others) was the first punk album I ever owned. When I was in high school, I rented the REPO MAN VHS tape so frequently from the local video store they'd just let me take it for free if I rented a couple of other movies. My obsession with the film has not abated over the years. Just a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to interview Sy Richardson (who played Lite in REPO MAN and has been in most of Cox's other movies) on my radio show, and that was just a wonderful treat. There's always something to keep my love of REPO MAN alive.
That said, REPO CHICK is absolutely nothing like REPO MAN, although many of the older film's cast members (Miguel Sandoval, Del Zamora, Zander Schloss, Olivia Barash, Jennifer Balgobin) appear and it's fun to see them older and in different roles. Stylistically, though, the movies are radically different, and I do have to give credit to Cox for not simply retreading what worked before, even at the expense of audience satisfaction, because REPO CHICK is frequently kind of a confounding film. Parts are stilted and awkward, almost intentionally so, as much of the humor is very campy. But there is humor, and a lot of it works and provides laughs, and the film is appropriately politically subversive and reasonably clever in that respect.
There are some elements that seem to have to do with budgetary limitations that give the film an at times surreal, almost video art quality. Characters are projected before elaborate backdrops. Scenes of cars and trains driving are done with (intentionally) obvious miniatures. It's colorful and creative and gives the movie a real individual quality.
If REPO CHICK really suffers from anything it's the lack of a strong central character. Jacyln Jonet is appealing enough as the REPO CHICK, but her whole character is constructed to be kind of unsympathetic and unlikable. This isn't bad in and of itself, movies don't require likable leads to be good, but in a film this fast-paced and cartoonish, the result was somewhat alienating. Time is also a factor, as some character development is eschewed in favor of moving the comedic plot points forward, we don't get to spend very much intimate time with the Repo Chick, something some of the other characters, particularly Sandoval's (as well as his cohorts played by Richard Beltran from EATING RAOUL and NIGHT OF THE COMET and Rosanna Arquette), are awarded more generously, and to great effect.
So yeah, the part of me that hoped that this would prove to be the second coming of REPO MAN was disappointed, but the part of me that appreciates a highly original, creative albeit flawed campy politicized romp was pleased well enough. Though perhaps REPO CHICK is not a movie for all tastes, I encourage people to see it and especially to see it theatrically if they can, because we need more movies like this, more individual visions, more low budget flicks, more of everything REPO CHICK is, warts and all...
Monday, January 3, 2011
In the meantime, here is the proto-list of films I'm interested in covering in Negative Pleasure book. I'm open to suggestions and additions, and to any reliable sources about information on these films, be they books or websites or people I can talk to.
Anyway, the initial list is as follows:
1. Murder in the Blue World
2. Last House on Dead End Street
3. Lemora- a Child’s Tale of the Supernatural
4. The Witch Who Came from the Sea
5. They Call Her One Eye
6. Criminally Insane
7. Linda Lovelace for President
8. Kidnapped Coed
9. Fat Girl
10. Dead End Drive-In
11. Class of 1999
13. Boarding House
14. Meet the Applegates
15. The Pit
16. Fade to Black
18. Messiah of Evil
19. Secret Ceremony
20. The Todd Killings
21. Out of the Blue
22. Times Square
23. Miami Blues
24. Love Me Deadly
26. Last Summer
29. Crucible of Horror
30. Deep EndWhat works for you? What doesn't? Anything not obscure enough? Too obscure? Not good/bad enough? Post your comments here or email me a firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, for you reading edification, here is my initial proposal:
As much as we all love a good movie, be it simply an effective entertainment or a transcendental masterpiece, most filmgoers hold a nearly equal place in their affections for certain less-than-wonderful cinematic treasures too. Bad movies, b-movies, exploitation movies and all flavors in-between have stoked the imagination of many a viewer throughout the years. Now, bad can mean more than one thing here. There are of course films that are bad on a technical level, with crummy sets and lighting. There are films that are poorly written or that feature bad acting. There are films that fail to stretch the suspension of disbelief required to appreciate most entertainments. There are films that feel cheap and others that are gaudily extravagant. Then there are films that combine any or many of these perceived flaws. Beyond all of this, however, there are films that simply exude an aura of, not even necessarily badness, but incorrectness. Films that confuse the senses, inspire discomfort, films that go too far, or that take the viewers somewhere they never wanted to go. These films need not be “bad” in the conventional sense, though they often are. Defined by more than mere quality, this is a cinema sublime. This is the cinema of Negative Pleasure.
Negative Pleasure the Book seeks to make some kind of sense out of these so-bad-they’re-good-and-then-some kind of movies. As movies such as these have so often fallen into relative obscurity, Negative Pleasure aims to mine the relics of outcast cinema for 30 of the strangest and most striking films that never really got their day under the sun. Rather than trotting out familiar cult items like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “Donnie Darko,” Negative Pleasure plunges into the depths of cinematic oddities and excavates the oddest of the odd, 30 films that will confound, perplex, infuriate, at times even disgust but ultimately edify and enlighten adventurous moviegoers. This last part is central to the notion of Negative Pleasure. These films aren’t just trash, and this book not just a cinematic freakshow. Negative Pleasure films are all art in their own way, they reward the viewer who can see past their cheapness and exploitation elements to the essence of cinema within (even, perhaps, when some of the makers of these films couldn’t).
Bad or strange movies have long been the topic of popular books, from the Medved Brothers’ Golden Turkey Awards (which ignited public interest in the films of Ed Wood), to Danny Pear’s Cult Movies series, which tracked the progression of left-of-mainstream films from the silent era through the 1980s, to the more serious criticism found in J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Midnight Movies. Indeed, the cult movie is alive and well today, be it mainstream films that get a second life on video or at midnight screenings, such as “The Big Lebowski” and “Office Space,” or camp classics like “Showgirls,” and oddities from other eras, like “Troll 2” or “Teen Witch.” There certainly is an audience other there right now for the strangest, worst-best obscurities of cinema than can be unearthed, and few are more qualified to do the celluloid excavation of these anti-classics than author Harris Smith. A humanities professor at School of the Visual Arts and graduate of the Masters in Media Studies program at the New School, Smith is a lifelong cineaste and a critically acclaimed film and video maker, as well as a publisher of underground comics and a longtime online radio personality and DJ. He has been researching the world’s most obscure movies for decades, writing extensively about them on his blogs negativepleasure.blogspot.com and negativeplesure.tubmlr.com, and as a contributor to the film criticism anthology Captured- a Film/Video History of the Lower East Side (Seven Stories Press). In addition, he has experience in the film industry, having worked on films by Jim Jarmusch and Hal Hartley, among others. In researching this book, he has selected 30 of the strongest, strangest, most mind-bendingly bad and bizarre titles he could find, focusing as much as possible on films that are obscure yet available to the public on DVD or Blu Ray. Each film will receive its own chapter with description, meticulously researched historical information, and expert analysis, and will feature, as much as possible, poster art and stills from the films."