Hey folks, Harry here and from the sound of Massawyrm, either that 2/3rds of a lung of his has cleared up, or he had a helluva good time at Austin's CINEMATEXAS! And oh how I envy his attendance. But I'm healing as fast as these sorts of injuries allow... and believe you me, it's nerve-trying... I know I'll be searching around to see some of these!
Hola all. Everyone's favorite Chain-smoking, Dr. Pepper swilling, indie schilling man about town here with more of my special coverage of the wonderful CINEMATEXAS film festival. I've had so much fun over the past three days watching shorts, debating the brilliance and the shortcomings of what I've seen with many of the people I've met and just taking in the atmosphere of having so many artists in one place at one time.
Having taken in several films over the past two days since I last wrote and several very cool items that I can't wait to share with you, so here we go.
I must once again mention that I sat next to another Hybrid critic today. This was a different one, they're apparently sharing badges, but still in a coordinated effort to stalk my every movement. I don't quite know what they're up to, but I'm on to them. Hybrid...I've got my eyes on you...
Anyhow, I couldn't start this off any other way without sharing my absolute joy about the best two pieces I saw over the course of the two programs I took in. They were put together by the same team and as I've found out are part of a much larger project. The films: "Victory at Any Cost" and "Colonel Kharnage: Commie Killer". It may seem odd timing, a very unpatriotic, decidedly anti-American set of films showing within the current climate, but it worked. It was a pleasant reminder of past attitudes and where we went wrong as a both a government and a culture in our cold war attitudes.
The year is 1966 and as "Victory at Any Cost" opens we see John Wayne pull up in a jeep. But it's not the John Wayne we know, the tall, chain-smoking gunslinger. No, this is John Wayne in all his glory. 12" tall and made out of molded plastic. That's right, it's a John Wayne action figure, having driven up in a plastic jeep while plastic toy helicopters (or Choppers if you're army, Helo's if your navy) fly overhead in all their stop motion glory. Yes, "Victory at Any Cost" is a stop motion wonderland of anti-communist sentiment. John Wayne looks up, nods his head and welcomes us to Vietnam with a hearty "Well hello, Pilgrims. I'm John Wayne. You might remember me as the guy who almost single handedly won World War II. Or my other motivational films like Kill a North Korean for Christ." And then your hooked.
This is one of the funniest freaking things I've seen in a long time. The entire film is populated with dozens of action figures brought to life through the magic of stop motion, shot on black and white 16mm. And it's flawless. The animation just kicks so much ass and is so realistic, you start to forget its stop motion. Then, in a sudden moment, you're reminded, and you chuckle out loud again at the sheer audacity of the film and the beautiful sets in perfect scale to the figures. These are the playsets you wish you had as a kid, and these guys built it.
John Wayne then takes us around to meet the troops fighting the war against the "Gook Menace" as he terms it, and we meet such great figures as Frenchman Private Getsome, whose only phrase of English he seems to know is "Get Some!" (something that prompted a French national in the audience to yell a decisive "Fuck You!" at the filmmakers sitting one row in front of me), Colonel Kharnage (who we meet in more depth in the second film) and this great unnamed soldier who proclaims "We got beer, pussy and we kill people for money. If only we could get Nascar, this would be heaven." Man, this thing is beautiful. Then, we're treated to a guest appearance by Charlton Heston, demonstrating the latest invention, the M-16, which he proceeds to fire like a man possessed.
Well, after John Wayne gives his wrap up, the next film was "Colonel Kharnage: Commie Killer". Again, stop motion action figures, only this time, we see through the eyes of a documentary crew, filming the adventures of the Colonel, a hilarious parody of Robert Duval's character in "Apocalypse Now", as he tries to find some good footage of the war in Vietnam. Of course, he never does. Everything goes wrong. Soldiers wander in with heads on the end of their machine guns, surfers worry about flack on the beach, and the Colonels troops get slaughtered every step of the way. Yes, this one's got gore. Classic Gi Joe action figures are slaughtered in ways that would make Mr. Knowles very uncomfortable in the way the plastic men are dismembered and rendered undisplayable.
This one parodies and pirates shots straight out of every Vietnam war film ever made and keeps you laughing every step of the way. This film was sheer brilliance in ways I could only dream of describing. Now here's the really cool part. The boys responsible for this revealed to me that these two pieces are part of a larger, feature length film project on the Vietnam war. An hour and a half of action figure goodness. I can't wait. This is just too cool.
Well, shifting gears, another great midnight showing last night was "Receiver", a 20 minute documentary on Kurt "The Strangler" Jensen, a backyard wanna be wrestler who wrestles for the BCW (which I can only assume means Backyard Championship Wrestling). This kid is extreme. What he puts himself through and endures for his love is simply mind blowing. Fifteen foot drops off of rooftops onto other wrestlers set up on plywood tables. Being body slammed onto piles of thumb tacks. Being thrown into barbed wire, getting wrapped up in it and struggling his way out, tearing flesh all the while. BEING STAPLED IN THE HEAD WITH A STAPLEGUN BY A FELLOW WRESTLER!!! This film was brutal. And yet, all the while, Kurt explains why he does it, how he endures the pain, and talks about how blood thirsty his fans have become.
Does this kid have the charisma to make it in the pros? Probably not. Does he have the drive and the will to make it? He freaking yes. What you watch this kid go through is both appalling and inspiring. He may be crazy enough to scar himself for his dreams, but at the same time, how many of us can say the same about our pursuit of our own dreams. I hope some one in the ECW takes a look at this kid and sends him to their camp. The three time world champion of the BCW deserves no less.
While this film shows you who this kid is, it also makes statements about what we've become as a society. Crowds of people swarm this backyard (of what appears to be a mobile home) in Illinois to watch these kids put themselves through things that will turn the squeamish white. And they only start to cheer once the blood is drawn. A well put together documentary with some great subject matter. Another one not to miss.
Another good film was "Gas 'n' Sip" the only real narrative in the midnight program. It's the story of a man who enters an empty convenience store only to have his truck stolen and it all goes downhill from there. Very clever and well worth checking out, this film has twists and turns of all sorts, making for just the type of Narrative short I like to see in these festivals.
Now I must mention one film I detested in the program. Usually I don't talk about the things that didn't sit well with me, but this time I must. You see, this one was a favorite of many people in the fest but it drove me up the wall. It's called "Break" which is either "The greatest animal rights film of all time" in the words of one audience member or "Seventeen minutes of my life I can't ever get back" in my own words.
You see, "Break" is 17 minutes of 3 hamsters, rolling around on a wood floor in those cute little plastic exercise balls you can get at any pet store. Oh and there are only about 10 cuts in the whole film, which was shot on a Beta cam. And that's it. No music. No voice over. Nothing. Just hamsters, in balls, rolling into one another. One can argue that it's a statement on freedom and cruelty, except that the filmmaker actually set this thing up herself and if it is such a statement, it is one in which she is just as guilty as anyone else. This was the film last night that made me want to ask the filmmaker "Have you looked into weddings? I hear they pay more."
Well then, onto today's screening, a decidedly southwestern themed screening called "Final Frontiers". None of these films jazzed me as much as the midnight shows films did, but they were all solid and not a one of them was weak in any way. Don't get me wrong, I really liked them, but come on...they weren't plastic soldiers killing the Vietnamese.
The one I really liked the best was "A Rabbits Tale", in which two girls don paper machete head pieces in the shape of a rabbit and a coyote while Puerto Rican poet Piri Thomas recounts a Zapotec trickster tale about rabbit fooling coyote out of her treats for Carnival. While this film wasn't particularly stylish or stunning, I am a huge fan of mythology and folk tales and this one delivered. Cute and amusing, this is the tale of just why coyotes howl at the moon. What can I say, I'm a sucker for these kind of stories.
Another interesting short was "Bocho", the story of a man preparing to die and the barber who gives him his last haircut. Nicely shot and deliciously moving.
Then there was "Tres Metros Bajo Tierra" (Six Feet Under) a cool Spanish language film about a man wandering into a city of the dead in search of his father. As the main character wanders from ghost to ghost, he is told the story of his father and what brought about the death of each spirit. A riveting little film backdropped by a beautiful desertscape.
And finally "Los Trabajadores" (The Workers), a well made but decidedly slanted documentary about the struggle of migrant workers trying to make their way in America. While it was moving and very touching, I couldn't help but get the feeling that opposing feelings against the migrant workers and their day labor businesses. You see, I have the unique perspective of having spent nearly two years living next door to a Day Labor business and got to see first hand what it does to the community around it. In this film, the people who opposed the city of Austin moving the day labor center to their neighborhood seemed villianized for their beliefs, and while some of those interviewed did have the wrong idea about the nature of what was going on, many of the protesters had valid points, points that I have seen first hand. Rather than presenting both sides, this film seems to really put all of its wait into the side of the illegal immigrants.
However, this film really humanizes an element that never gets it's say in this country. Often we, as Americans, forgets what really makes this country great, and what has made this country great throughout history, is the fact that this is a place where anyone, born here or in another country, can make a life for themselves and their family if they're willing to work for it. This film really shows us many of the people, who as a Texan, I have had the privilege to work beside. Hard working people who get nothing but mistreatment from our country and it's citizens.
I guess what really bothered me about this documentary is that it is so good, and yet it was short about 3 to 5 minutes worth of the oppositions educated point of view to allow us to draw our own conclusions and hopefully come to the same opinion as the filmmaker: that we use and abuse migrant workers and really need to consider changing our opinions and maybe even our policies concerning them. If this film were re-edited, just slightly, I honestly feel it would be something that every American should see. As it stands, it's still really good and worth a look.
Well, there you have it friends. I've gone from plastic soldiers to migrant workers in no time at all. That's the great thing about these festivals. A little bit of everything laid out for your pleasure and debate. Till next time amigos...
Smoke 'em if ya got 'em. I know I will.