Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Friday, September 28, 2007


       Observant readers of this blog have no doubt noticed that I glob about each film shortly before it’s released in some form -- theatrically, on DVD, through the internet, pink-laser-projected directly into your brain, what-have-you. But some films never quite get an “official” release -- at least, not with any fanfare, nor through easily accessible channels. To get ahold of such a film, bootleg editions of the movie are often the only option; but unfortunately they often feature video transfers and mastering of questionable quality and disreputable origin. Less frequently, but more beneficially to the films’ creators, a work will be self-distributed. Such would seem to be the case with the surreptitious DVD release, some fifteen months ago, of WAX, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees.

       Okay, so I’m now going to try and synopsize WAX for you, dear reader -- please note: I said try; I have serious doubts that I’ll actually succeed, but here goes. Jacob Maker, a weapons guidance-system designer and amateur bee-keeper, is investigating his own genealogy and discovers that his grandfather, James “Hive” Maker (also a bee-keeper), was a founding member of the Supernormal Picture Society of London -- a group of cinematographers who believed they could photograph the spirits of the dead. Meanwhile, Jacob has a blackout one day while tending his bees -- a fugue-state induced by the bees themselves, who insert a small crystal into his brain to broadcast images to him. These “images” cause Jacob to have some startling revelations concerning his work at the weapons center -- and how that work relates to the cinematic experiments of his grandfather, “Hive” Maker. If all this sounds alarmingly close to the rantings of that guy down the street who lives out of his shopping cart -- well, with good reason; it’s hard to interpret WAX as anything other than a first-person account (albeit fictional -- I think) of a full-on schizophrenic episode -- what makes WAX unique is that its representation of this dementia is completely uncompromising -- there is no “return to reality” for Jacob; indeed, there’s no real suggestion that what he’s experiencing is anything but “reality”. While WAX sometimes takes on the quality of a spoken diary with visual accompaniment, it nonetheless has a fairly sophisticated grammar bound up in these same visuals; something that only struck me on a recent re-viewing.

       WAX achieved a number of firsts when it was completed in 1991; it was the first independent feature film to have been edited on a digital non-linear system; it was also the first film to be broadcast on the internet -- reformatted as hypertext and and at the painfully inadequate frame-rate of 2fps; but first in that regard, all the same. As you can gather from the synopsis, WAX is in no way a conventional “movie”; it’s really more of a feature-length “video-art” piece than a narrative film. And while much of the computer graphics and even the quality of the videography itself seems “clunky” by today’s standards, what creator David Blair did with it still seems compelling; at least in stretches, here and there.

       WAX, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees is available as a 2 DVD set (a conventional DVD and a DVD-rom) here, and also can in fact be viewed, in its entirety, online, at WAXWEB, the site Blair has set up to promote the film. This online version splits the film up into 43 shorter movies of approximately 2 minutes each; and each with its’ own hyperlinks and reference material. Not the most convenient way to watch an 85 minute film, but then again, WAX has little to do with expedience, and much to do with creating something unfettered by the concern of what people will make of it.

Next post -- 10/05/07

Friday, September 21, 2007


       Primitivism -- in its broadest sense, as an attempt to deliberately utilize antiquated methods and forms -- has been embraced by most of the arts over the last couple of centuries. Painting, sculpture, even music -- all have had their Primitivist adherents; but the term is applied only haltingly in reference to motion pictures, undoubtedly because the medium itself is of (relatively) recent origin, and the product of technologically advanced society. But if you ask me, primitive is as primitive does -- and the medium used has less to do with it than what you choose to do with the medium. If you look at it this way, then there are any number of filmmakers and films towards which the term could apply: Guy Maddin, Russ Meyer -- individual films like Begotten or The Fast Runner -- all could arguably be cited as examples of “primitive” filmmaking. And certainly a film that was made entirely by “primitives” could lay claim to such a title; a film like Ten Canoes.

       The genesis of the film is almost as interesting as the movie itself. Director Rolf de Heer had previously worked with actor David Gulpilil (Walkabout, The Proposition), and got to talking with him regards his Aboriginal ancestry. After hearing some Folk tales from Gulpilil, de Heer decided that he wanted to make a film set amongst the Aborigines -- one that would use an entirely indigenous cast, story and writers. The Films’ storyline is inspired by a well-known 1936 photograph of some canoeists paddling downstream and is really a story within a story -- some time before the Australian colonization, Ten men take a trip down river to harvest Geese eggs; as they undertake their journey, elder Minygululu tells his younger companion, Dayindi, a story; a very old story about a young man who coveted his elder brother’s wife, and what he was willing to do, to have her. The remainder of the film is largely this tale, with occasional cuts back to the latter day foragers as they progress in their hunt. The actors all speak entirely in their native tongue, and wear nothing but their native dress -- which is to say, darn near nothing. The film is narrated in english by David Gulpilil, who seems to be speaking from the P.O.V. of a present-day Aborigine; making the film, I guess, a story-within-a-story-within-a-story.

       Director de Heer rejects the assertion that he ‘s a white director making an indigenous story: "They're telling the story, largely, and I'm the mechanism by which they can." -- and de Heer was probably the best candidate for this role. An Australian national himself, over the course of his career he's made a series of iconoclastic and challenging films -- the best of which (and by far the most notorious, I might add) being Bad Boy Bubby; a personal favorite of mine. Ten Canoes is not just a feature film, but an attempt to bridge two diverse cultures -- associated projects taught young native aborigines how to use video recording and editing equipment; set up an interactive website introducing the people of Ramingining to the outside world; created a multi-media art/cultural exhibition; published a book and initiated a music preservation project. The film though, is how we’re most likely to interact with the world of Ten Canoes; and it’s quite effective on that front in its own right.

       Ten Canoes becomes available on DVD this Tuesday, September 25th, in a special edition that includes interviews with both the director and many of the cast, as well as a DVD-rom study guide -- for those who feel academically inclined regards their movie-watching habits. You can rent or buy it from the usual sources; worth a look, and as anthropology lessons go, it’s a decidedly enjoyable one.

Some links:

Palm Pictures webpage regarding this release.

The website for Dr. Plonk -- an upcoming feature film from Rolf de Heer.

Next post -- 09/28/07

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fall '07 Trailer Round-Up

       Regular readers of this blog will have undoubtedly noticed that each successive entry has had a consistent format -- one film per post: a brief intro., a synopsis, some background info. etc. -- but once a month or so I’d like to interrupt the regular routine with something a little different. To kick it off, here’s a round-up of movie trailers for films making their theatrical debut sometime this upcoming Fall. Apple’s trailer page does a very good job of keeping track of upcoming releases on the whole (if you haven’t seen the trailer for Great World of Sound yet, do yourself a favor and check it out; it looks hilarious!); but there always seem to be a few films that slip through the cracks... -- so here, let me scoop 'em up for 'ya.

       Darkon is an independently produced documentary about... uhh, nerds -- serious, full-time nerds with highly developed sewing and smithing skills and lots of free time on their hands. It’s also about L.A.R.P. s or Live Action Role Playing gamers -- in other words, people who’ve watched Lord of the Rings one too many many times and decided to don their tunics and grab their “vorpal” swords and do it up for "real". Not a demographic that I've ever really felt a need to know more about, but then again neither were the subjects of King of Kong -- and that was great! Darkon has gotten good reviews at a slew of film fests, and won the Audience Award at the SXSW Festival this year. I’ve seen a couple of early promo reels for this, and while they’ve in no way increased my desire to wear leggings or purchase a ten-sided die, I do think it looks like it’s worth watching. Darkon is already open in a couple of venues in NYC, and should make it to the rest of the nation this Fall. Huzzah!

       Wristcutters is a black comedy starring -- amongst others -- talented singer/songwriter and actor Tom Waits, and talented model/hottie and actress Shannyn Sossamon. It’s a comic tale about finding true love -- except that the people looking for it are all already dead; who knows, maybe it’s easier under those circumstances -- at the very least, lets hope it proves entertaining. Wristcutters: A Love Story has gotten good write-ups from its screenings at Sundance and won it’s fair share of awards at some other Film Festivals. It opens October 19th in NYC and LA, and will move on to other markets from there.

       It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE is the second feature film from actor/auteur/very-strange-person Crispin Glover, and is a sort-of sequel to his first feature, What Is It? -- surely the most bizarre movie I saw last year -- maybe this past decade; to know for certain, I’d have to see it again, and I’m not sure I’m on the right combination of meds to handle that just yet. This marks Glover’s second collaboration with screenwriter and “star”, Steven C. Stewart, a wheelchair-bound quadraplegic who died shortly after completing his role in the film. It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE has been sighted at Sundance this year, where viewers were, on the whole, unable to discern what impressed them more about the film: the extent of their indignation at what they were watching, or their total confusion over what to make of it. Glover is self-distributing the film, which rolls out this Fall as a sort of road-show with a live performance from him as well -- it’s quite the event -- go see it when it comes to your town... I dare ‘ya.

       The Orphanage is a horror film produced by Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro, and concerns eerie goings-on at a woman's ancestral home. Del Toro is no slouch himself at directing in the horror genre, having made two excellent examples thereof, Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone (as well as the pretty-good Mimic); advance word on the film has been very strong, and suggests that it’s far from just another standard-issue supernatural thriller -- but then again nothing Del Toro’s done so far has been “standard” -- so why should this be any different? The Orphanage opens in late Fall of this year.

       Invisible Waves is a crime thriller from Thailand, directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang -- who made the excellent Last Life In The Universe a few years back. The story concerns a cook (Tadanobu Asano) who has an affair with his bosses wife -- who then orders him to kill her. This film was Thailand’s initial entry in the 79th Academy Awards, but was later withdrawn because Tadanobu is not of Thai descent himself, but Japanese. Invisible Waves opens in October in NYC and LA -- not sure how many other markets this one will make it to.

       Taxidermia is the only film covered in this post that I’ve actually seen as of this writing, and it’s a compelling -- if sometimes stomach churning -- cinematic experience. An anthology film about three generations of Hungarians -- a soldier, an "athlete" and a taxidermist -- spanning from WWII to the near future. The film has a comic, if bleak, tone throughout and is that rare example of an anthology film that works (at least, it worked for me). Taxidermia is supposed to have a late Fall release, with a DVD release to follow in early 2008.

Next post -- 09/21/07

Friday, September 7, 2007


       It’s a little premature to start making picks for the year’s Halloween viewing (although trust me, on this blog, most of the month of October will be devoted to that task), but since the subject of this week’s entry is being released on DVD for the first time -- ever -- this upcoming Tuesday, I think I’ll slide it in a lil’ early. Many people -- even those disinclined towards the horror genre -- are at least vaguely familiar with Stuart Gordon’s notorious first feature, Re-Animator, a film whose scandalous reputation comes not only from the amount of gore displayed on screen, but also from the fact that the films' producers opted for an unrated theatrical release. A bold move, that the MPAA -- an organization that tends to get a little miffed when production companies bypass their little tea circle and release films sans their stamp -- finds all the more irritating when it then makes scads of money on home video sales and rentals. But unrated or not, a successful film almost always demands a sequel -- and what do you do to top yourself in the movie biz? Why, completely go over the top, of course! Which brings us to From Beyond.

       Like Re-Animator, From Beyond is also based upon a H.P. Lovecraft short story; it's arguably a more faithful adaptation as well. The story starts with Dr. Pretorius and his assistant, Crawford Tillinghast, completing construction on a device called a resonator, which appears to open a portal to another dimension that exists alongside our own. The trial-run of the device results in a horrible mishap that seemingly causes the death of Pretorius; Tillinghast is blamed for his death, and arrested. As an investigation commences, it soon becomes clear that the resonator actually does grant access to some other dimension; and that it’s operation inalterably changes those in close proximity to it; and that Pretorius may not be dead after all...
       As the trailer and photos on this page all too graphically suggest, From Beyond up’ed the ante on gross-out over Re-Animator; a fact which didn’t escape the MPAA, who demanded all sorts of cuts in order to grant the film an R-rating. Entire effects sequences and scenes were removed; the re-edit was so extensive that new dialogue scenes were shot in order to bring the film back to feature-length. But the story-line and pacing of the movie suffered, and the result was a flawed end-product -- especially in comparison to its predecessor. Neither as financially successful nor as cult-status worthy as Re-Animator, a chance discovery of the excised elements from the film has allowed the release of this un-bowdlerized and restored cut of the film.

       Stuart Gordon, the director and co-writer of From Beyond, has an unlikely pedigree for a horror-film-meister. He founded the Organic Theater Company, a troupe notable for putting on the world premiere production of David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, as well as many other stage-plays of note. Gordon’s had a speckled career since, always doing a mix of original, challenging films (most recently, an adaptation of Mamet’s Edmond) and hokey, direct-to-video potboilers (Robot Jox). That being said, even his throwaway work usually includes an attempt to make the material compelling -- or at the very least interesting -- at some level. While the inclusion of the new scenes is exciting news, the best special effect in From Beyond was there, all along, intact -- Jeffrey Combs’ mannered, melodramatic performance as Crawford Tillinghast; he’s one of those actors -- like Vincent Price -- who knows how to make a hammy portrayal work for him. He’s having fun going completely over the top / you know he is / you have fun too, as a result.

       The restored version of From Beyond becomes available on DVD Tuesday, September 11th. Access to it can be found here or here. I haven’t seen this new version myself, but if it manages to improve upon the flawed, but still absorbing theatrical cut, it’ll be well worth a look.

Next post -- 09/14/07