Hey folks, Harry here... Once again Massawyrm has gone through the mines of magnetic tape.... tooling away through the mounds looking... praying for something to share with you. Films by those that have never written or directed before... films with no distributors... Something new for you.... Now see what he's found, and perhaps it'd be cool for you....
Hola all. Massawyrm, everyone's favorite Chain-smoking, Dr. Pepper swilling, indie schilling, soapbox dusting off reviewer here with another weeks worth of indie goodness for your digestion. This week I'm once again sporting two diametric opposites: One film that opened at Cannes, another that opened at Tromadance. Oh boy! Lets go!
Yes, well, if I seem a bit excited this week, it's because I have been given the opportunity to talk about something that has plagued me for a few years and finally came to a head with the arrival of a film entitled "Bad Actors". What could be so exciting to talk about? Dogme 95. Yes, that Dogme 95.
For those of you unfamiliar with Dogme 95 (and who think its probably some snooty French picture about the catholic church) let me fill you in a bit. Dogme 95 is a manifesto that was written back in (you guessed it) 1995, attacking the nature of modern film and promoting a call to action involving the adherence to their own version of the 10 commandments known as the Vow of Chastity. The Vow of Chastity is pretty much one of the most ludicrous lists of rules I've ever had the displeasure of contemplating. In my opinion, the way the Manifesto if phrased, it is the most ridiculous film concept ever envisioned. In it, it claims these rules are indisputable and alludes to the concept that anything else is complete "muck". Here is the Vow of Chastity as listed on Dogme 95's official website Dogme95.Dk
1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot).
3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place).
4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)
8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
10. The director must not be credited.
Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a "work", as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations. Thus I make my VOW OF CHASTITY."
-Excerpt from Dogme 95 Manifesto
So, in essence, your film must not have any artificial elements other than the script and the fact that the actors are present in that locale without any other reason to be there except to be filmed. Tripods are outright (Lars Von Trier's wet dream come true), no harm other than emotional may come to your characters unless that harm actually happens, and period pieces, sci-fi, fantasy, noir, etc. are not acceptable. (Can you have sex in a Dogme film? If so, must it actually occur or is simulated sex just acting, thus possible? It boggles the mind...)
Essentially, what has happened in this movement is they've stripped away most of the fundamentals of this artform in the interest of artistic integrity and then claimed that the master artist is non-existent and superfluous. That its all about the moment. Personally, I feel the whole of Dogme is riddled with inconstancies perpetrated by a couple of frustrated filmmakers who have since "rewritten" the rules as the "Director must not be credited" only applies to ON THE FILM ITSELF. Not to after the fact. Note that on the site itself, the director of each Dogme film is clearly listed below the title. They don't see any problem with this.
Oddly enough, I've read a similar manifesto, written by one Jack Keruac back in the day. It can be found in "The Portable Beat Reader" (available in any bookstore, and recommended by this reviewer for anyone curious about the Beats), but I'm not sure where else it might be printed. In it, Kerouac states that all writing should be from the hip and never revised, except to correct spelling mistakes and glaring, unintentional grammar errors. It was all about the moment.
Well, as much as I love Kerouac (but not as much as I love Burroughs, who totally disregarded Kerouac's way of thinking, as it excluded science fiction as a viable source of literature), I think he was way off on many of his ideas, just as I think the Dogme folks are skipping down the primrose path of self righteousness. But, oddly enough, the directors who created the manifesto, don't REALLY feel that its a set of rules, but a project. Not really a movement as they decreed, but a new way to look at making one film, then moving back to the system they claimed was "muck".
As a project, or an experiment if you will, it's kind of interesting. Like writing in Kerouac's style purely to see what will come of it; it requires inventiveness to play by all the rules. If the manifesto weren't so strongly worded and was offered as merely an interesting new approach to film, then I might think more highly of it, but alas, it WAS strongly worded and makes the whole concept pretentious and devoid of the very essence of art itself. It is, in effect, like saying that painting is trite and the only hand drawn sketches penciled in one sitting is a viable artform. I disagree that ruling out conventions in an artform is in the least bit viable. I feel that art should be judged upon what it has accomplished, rather than HOW it was accomplished. Sometimes the HOW adds to the flavor or the perceived genius of a film (as in El Mariachi, which is on the whole a good film, but when you look at how Rodriguez made it and how little he made it for, it becomes better in many people's eyes) but it does not make the film.
I have never, until today, enjoyed a single Dogme 95 film. "Bad Actors" changed my opinion entirely. This was a brilliantly put together film that sticks true to ALMOST all the rules of Dogme 95 (the actors all have their own headshots, which are props that I'm assuming weren't originally in the location. But I'm guessing since they could have been there, and were the actors real headshots, this isn't an issue).
"Bad Actors" is a funny little comedy about 8 actors, all using their real names and identities, taking an introductory acting class from a drunken washed up actress, played by veteran actress Cissy Wellman. The entirety of this film was improvised (not a Dogme requirement) and done so very well. Most of this cast delivers knock out performances as people in the industry many of us have encountered or gotten to know: the wannabes. They are all indeed Bad Actors, played by what I hope is really good actors acting bad (like those beautiful scenes in Boogie Nights where the cast acts very badly whenever on 16mm, especially reminiscent of that 5 minute sequence available in the deleted scenes in which Mark Wahlberg acts brilliantly badly much to the amusement of P.T. Anderson who is laughing offscreen.) This film has moments of that kind of brilliance.
"Bad Actors" has no real plot to speak of, save that it is a slice of life in the world of people who believe they are much better than they really are. This is the type of comedy for people who love Waiting For Guffman and Best in Show, without being as absurd as those two films get. This is more true to life and that's what is so damned funny about it. True Arthouse fare, don't expect to see this one at the multiplexes, but it is from what I'm told playing in L.A. for a limited engagement in the next few weeks. Once I know more I'll let you folks know where you can find this little gem. But until then, check out this really cool website for the film. It really manages to capture the spirit of the film without revealing too much as well as gives the background of these real life actors. BadActors.Net There's also a nifty little downloadable trailer link there too.
The casting for this film was pure genius, and many of the actors truly stand out: The afore mentioned Cissy Wellman, Anjeanette Carter who is both absolutely gorgeous and completely riveting (especially in her amazing monologue about the mishaps at a stage production of Peter Pan), David Ivers (who prefers to be called a thespian) doing the worlds greatest Andy Dick impression until he breaks out with the Shakespeare and tears the roof off, and Paul Witten who plays the pretty boy so well I think it may not have been acting. Here's hoping we see more of these folks in the near future. They were all magnificent.
Debuting at Cannes and playing at Melbourne's Dogma Day Afternoon, this film still has no distributor, but really deserves one. Its a great piece of experimental film and deserves a look by any indie film fan.
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And now on to a new subsection of my column, created at the behest of many e-mails and talkbacks: Best of the bad. You see, mixed in with the stacks of fine films I've received are a smattering of tasteless features and shorts that are made with non-existent budgets and contain no real artistic merit (by the standards under which one might consider something art). These films are designed for the total amusement of the viewer and revels in the fact that there is simply, well, almost no money to make the film. many of these have come my way, and some are just downright bad. Some so offensive that they defy description. Some however, refuse to leave me alone. They visit me late at night while I lay awake in bed; they haunt me when I see something or hear a phrase that reminds me of it. They won't go away. And then I want to watch them again.
This is how many a cult film got started. And so today I christen The Best of the Bad with a bottle of twistoff top Champaign and send it on it's merry way with H.R. Pukenshette. Yes, read that as you will, that's exactly what you think it means. H.R. Pukenshette is a parody of those great, psychedelic Sid and Marty Krofft Saturday morning live action TV shows many of us grew up with. In this 10 Minute short, a distraught man fresh from being dumped decides to drink himself to death, only to get sick and puke up his new best friend, H.R. Pukenshette, a sickening little puppet who teaches the man the joys of life, like peeing on young lovers from trees and puking in public places.
This movie is disgusting, raunchy and just plain tainted. But then again, there's this small part of my brain that craves this kind of entertainment. Yes, it is the 14 year old in me, but damnit if he wasn't amused and didn't want an H.R. Pukenshette of his very own. You can find H.R. Pukenshette making the rounds of the more liberal film shorts programs, this month London at the Highgate Film festival on the 15th, and here in my stomping grounds of Austin, TX on the 22nd at FlickerAustin.
I enjoyed this film for its brash, unrelenting sense of indecency and its sharp, disgusting, sense of wit. A perfect parody. And, well, it has what Quint, the crusty seaman, refers to as the mark of genius (note: he has not seen this film nor endorses it in any way) it has a midget. For some reason, movies with midgets tend to be good (I argue that Gummo had a midget, but he waves his hand at me and claims it was all special effects). Well, one things for sure, H.R. Pukenshette indeed has a midget. Enough said.
If you have an ironclad stomach and enjoy Troma style humor, check this one out when it comes near you, or better yet, check out their super nifty website complete with scads of downloadable stuff Here CLICK HERE
Well, folks, that does it for me this week. I must note however that the tapes aren't quite ROLLING in. I received 2 this week. Two (not the two I talked about today). How many times do I have to ask people? Please, for the love of all that is holy, send me your tapes! Or for the love of all that's green, or just to amuse me...for any and all reasons, send me those tapes. Roughcuts, final prints and everything inbetween, get them to me and get some press.
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Austin TX, 78705
and please email me with questions, comments or to contact me about covering your festival at firstname.lastname@example.org
Till next Monday, smoke 'em if ya got 'em. I know I will.