OOOO – it’s a bad week for DVDs. One of the worst in recent memory. It’s hard to figure out where the problem lies. There is lots of product sitting around, big title films from 2006 and recently released underachievers that could easily overpower the marketplace this week. It’s merely a matter of tweaking the turnaround time. Similarly, a holiday like Easter should have no effect on the sell-through strategy of your typical Tinsel Town tyrant. All manner of horror, science fiction and gratuitous genre offerings swamp the equally religious Christmas season year in and year out. Maybe it’s the commercial calm before the substantial shilling storm. Whatever the case, be prepared to be massively disappointed when you head to your favorite B&M this week. Aside from a couple of compelling titles – including the solid SE&L pick – there is nothing but double dips and drek on board for 10 April:
Payback: Straight Up – The Director’s Cut
Other Titles of Interest
My Father, the Genius
Phantasm/ Phantasm III
Instead of going the Region 2 route, and offering a collection of all the Phantasm films, newly remastered and presented in a signature silver orb, Anchor Bay is applying a piecemeal approach. First up is Don Coscarelli’s initial classic, fully dressed with an anamorphic image and excellent extras. The third installment is no so lucky. It gets a packaging polish, but little else. While less than definitive, the old DVD saying of Region 1 beggars not being choosers apparently applies.
Slaughter Night (Sl8N8)
And Now for Something Completely Different
Video Violence 1 & 2
Rob Walker’s Consumed column in yesterday’s NYT Magazine, about the “innovations” in toaster technology, raises the question of what constitutes an authentic innovation without quite answering it. Do all innovations become commoditized, or can products be continually refined so as to refresh their novelty and extend their usefulness? Should we differentiate between cosmetic improvements and actual functional improvements. The column ends with this punch line:
the market has spoken, and its message is that this innovation — while it may not rate as breakthrough status — is, to some, worth paying for. As Clyne notes, the Egg & Muffin toaster is being tweaked with even newer options. Like more slots. And a version with a stainless-steel finish. But those innovations will, of course, cost you extra.
This seems to suggest that anything consumers will pay more for should be considered an innovation in our consumerist culture, and maybe that’s right. There’s no more sense seeking authentic innovation than there is deciding what really counts as creativity (rather than cultural recycling or cynical commerce) or what the true use value is of various commodities—postmodernism should have taught us that there is no measuring stick with which to take stock of these things (no Archimedian point from which to lift the world, so to speak; no standard that is not itself free of the need for evaluation), and into that void of verifiable authenticity we may as well let the market and its scoreboard of dollars exchanged stand.
But still I balk at letting interchangable stylistic refinements stand as innovations—society did not progress with the invention of the brushed-stainless-steel toaster, and the $200 pair of jeans is no humanist triumph either. Fashion cycles turn in a wheel without propelling society forward —but ah, how can I even say I know which direction society is moving in? We can refer to increases in efficiency and output, but adherence to these economic gauges may come with spiritual costs: a corrosive rationality that can’t comprehend pity or sympathy, a loss of community, a preference for facile convenience over the difficult but enriching bonds of human companionship, and all that. Nevertheless, fashion and style innovations intend to allow consumers to signal primarily their superiority to others, imposing on them a net loss in the zero-sum game of status. “real” innovations would have to overcome that net loss by supplying some compensatory utility that is free from the game of self-aggrandizement. But isn’t it the case that utility, as a matter of individual preference and satisfaction, is virtually defined as self-aggrandizement? Does such individualism at the root of how we conceive innovation doom us to focus our innovative efforts on those things that will ultimately consume themselves in a burst of trendiness or fashionability that’s quickly spent? These are convoluted ways of asking whether the conflation of style with innovation basically turns all innovation into mere shifts of fashion, with it impossible for us to judge what are lasting improvements from a standpoint more comprehensive than what’s good for our own ego. Encouraging the motive of self-actualization, through signaling goods, etc., has broken fashion as an idea out from its former niche as a frivolous aristocratic preoccupation in precapitalist times to be a primary force driving the economy—and if innovation is a matter of growing the economy, than perhaps fashion is innovation. Sorry—I seem to be going in circles here.
JOHN VANDERSLICE [Photo: Autumn De Wilde]
Letter to the East Coast (remixed) [MP3]
Nine Inch Nails
Year Zero [full album stream]
In the Morning (Hot Chip Remix) [MP3]
Time Warping [MP3]
The Columbia Journalism Review recently published a solid piece that examines media coverage of working mother, relieving those of us who have had it with articles about women who ‘opt out’ and stay at home (as in this New York Times article). Most working mothers report to the office for the same reasons that working fathers do: we need to earn money to pay rent and feed our kids. See E.J. Graf’s refreshing article in the Columbia Journalism Review. And if you’re interested in more varied and authentic portrayals of motherhood than currently offered in Good Housekeeping, see girl-mom.com (teen mothers), mommytoo.com (African-American mothers), mamazine.com (feminist parenting), literarymama.com (self-explanatory), mothersmovementonline.com (political mothers) and others.
The Internet allows news organizations to publish minute by minute updates – often unsubstantiated rumors – on the most ludicrous topics (Anna Nicole Smith) and in this way, yes, it dumbs down journalism. But, the Internet also accommodates lengthier, richer and more thoughtful explorations of overlooked topics than you can find in most print vehicles. That’s why I’m sad that the website sixbillion.org seems to have been left in limbo, with no apparent updates from the third issue, 2005, that is currently available. Sixbillion offers narrative storytelling through text, photography, art, video and interviews, covering a range of stories from the Iraq War to hand-carved gravestones in Rhode Island. Well, it did, anyway.
It’s been three days since it arrived on the web and yet the verdict is still out on Rob Zombie’s “reimagining” of John Carpenter’s classic slasher film Halloween. The new ‘teaser’ trailer, providing only the slightest glimpses of lead villain Michael Myers and the concerned psychiatrist chasing after him (the desperate Dr. Loomis is played this time around by Brit legend Malcolm McDowell), promises a lot – and Zombie himself instills a similar feeling of anticipation. After all, this was the man (rocker turned director) who delivered one of 2005’s best films, the excellent exploitation retread The Devil’s Rejects. Similarly, he’s a very serious student of the horror genre, as his flawed if still fascinating debut feature, House of 1000 Corpses, confirms.
But taking on a legend like Halloween doesn’t seem like the smartest move for this fledgling auteur. Unlike Marcus Nispel’s work in the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or Zach Synder’s efforts to bring Dawn of the Dead up to date, Zombie already has an established style. Call it schlock shock sensationalizing or Grand Guignol grindhouse, but he’s not the unknown quantity of say, Alexandra Aja or Christophe Gans. Here’s a man steeped in the creature feature concepts of the past, a person who’d fit in perfectly among classic TV horror hosts, the monster spook show spectacular, and as a standing member of the legendary 40 Thieves of exploitation. So why take on Carpenter’s signature film? Why bring so much potential criticism down on your recently revised reputation?
The answer appears to be twofold. First, it’s an obvious case of paycheck payback. Zombie’s Corpses was a trouble production from the very beginning, a full blown work of motion picture macabre in an era as yet unprepared to embrace same. For his tireless efforts, his release dates were endlessly bumped around, his vision eviscerated by mandated studio and MPAA cuts, and actual ownership of the title was tossed from distributor to distributor. That anyone got to see the final film is amazing in and of itself. But then Zombie played on that cinematic sob story, parlaying his problems into a gig creating an Evil Dead II style sequel. Unlike Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects had a clear intent – to mimic the drive-in grime and slime of the ‘70s slick sick flicks. As usual, success bred options, and taking a stack of greenbacks from MGM and Dimension for this remake was obviously something Zombie wanted – or needed.
The second response is far more compelling. A study of this new teaser trailer indicated a less stylized, more aggressive approach to the Michael Myers story. Carpenter, clearly a student of old school suspense and masters like Alfred Hitchcock, wasn’t aiming to dissect or probe the disturbed psychopathic mind. Instead, he wanted to manipulate the language of film to create the ultimate edge of your seat entertainment. He also wasn’t out to start the slasher fad (which, unfortunately, he did) nor did he think his initial effort would begat a continuing scare series. In essence, Halloween was a one shot deal that de-evolved into a callous cash grab. Any substance sustained from the way Carpenter imagined the story has long since disappeared into a ridiculous realm of repetitive revamps.
But Zombie’s concepts appear more honest, draped in reality and stripped of the first film’s slayer as superhuman characteristics. Delving deeper into Michael Myers backstory (the trailer offers fleeting glimpses of animal abuse and youthful violence – standard serial killer profile stuff) and envisioning his holiday night of terror in more everyday small town terms (another amazing shot comes near the end as a seemingly silent house reveals a death struggle at its doorstep), Zombie is apparently looking to bring Halloween into the vaguely voyeuristic 21 century.
Back when Carpenter created the story, there was a sense of neighborhood nonchalance in his tone, an acknowledgement that friends and family were beginning to close themselves off from one another over a palpable feeling of distrust. Gone were the days when front doors remained unlocked and homes were warm and inviting. In the nasty new world, undeniable dread was just a turn of the latch away, and Carpenter made grand use of such startling social designs. Zombie has no such logistical luxury. The present world is one in complete sync with suspicion and fear, a place where panic has unseated common sense as the overriding interpersonal emotion. Thanks to years of media fear mongering, and the government’s desire to use alarm as politics, he faces a populace already antsy and ready to react.
The teaser seems to tap into this idea in ways both obvious and indirect. We see a shot of Michael Myers entering a home, butcher knife poised to do some decidedly deadly damage. Quickly the camera pans over to a shocked girl sitting motionless in a stairwell, her defeated screams and lack of action indicating a repugnant resolve. It’s as if she’s already given up on life before our villain has a chance to take it from her. Similarly, there is a moment when our fiend is featured full faced (behind his shoddy Shatner mask, as always), Zombie’s lens focusing directly on the killer’s cold, empty eyes. In the background, McDowell is narrating, making his case for Michael as monster. But the two concepts don’t quite match. The words are alarmist, but we’ve actually seen that vacant look before. It’s a blankness that’s paraded out before us everyday during endless crime updates on the 24 hour news channels.
Still, the biggest hurdle Zombie faces here is making an idea that once seemed so novel – the unhinged spree killer – into something fresh and inventive. Thanks to endless Dateline ‘documentaries” and other fictionalized versions of the mass murderer’s mentality, we know this kind of character well. In fact, it’s become a thriller cliché; the mindless maniac with the singular desire to slay. From what we can decipher in the trailer, Zombie hopes to combat this by bringing clear-cut authenticity and realism to the narrative. By keeping the surroundings as recognizable and mundane as possible, while inserting within this scenario a shockingly non-supernatural “boogie man”, he hopes to bridge the gap between one trick pony and real onscreen terror.
It remains an uphill battle. Messageboards have been aflutter with negative views of this project ever since a copy of the supposed script was “leaked” onto the web. Those who revere the original have argued over every artistic choice Zombie has made, from dealing with Michael Myers as a young boy to jerryrigging some of the narrative’s most memorable shock elements. And since he proved at least twice before that he can handle original takes on horror and violence within the genre, many find it hard to dismiss the substantive stench of ‘sell-out’ clouding this entire enterprise. Following this fledgling filmmaker over the last decade or so, ever since Beavis and Butthead made his band a hilarious household name, it’s hard to imagine that Rob Zombie is only doing it for the dosh. Until August, when we get a more complete glimpse of his Halloween vision, we’ll be left wondering just how this entire nightmare scenario will play out. The odds, unfortunately, are in its favor, no matter the promise temporarily ‘teasing’ us.
View the Halloween (2007) Teaser Trailer Here