Thirty years ago, no one would have ever heard of these films. They would have fallen into the cracks, wallowing in cinematic obscurity or sitting in some failed cineaste’s bottom desk drawer, a harsh reminder of a dream deferred. Twenty years ago, the chance for some manner of minor distribution or limited release was possible, though how you could get such a Super VHS exercise in genre jerryrigging into Mom & Pop video stores, let alone the major chains, would remain a major challenge.
But over the last ten years, the rise of the Internet along with an increase in home-based technological options, not to mention the easy to exact format of DVD, have given artists all along the fringes of film the opportunity to have the multifaceted aspects of their unusual oeuvre seen by an otherwise blinkered mainstream audience. Even with the end result balanced between rejection or rejoicing, this newfound way of delivering content to viewers has elevated the profile of writers and directors who would otherwise have suffered in the shadows.
For its part, the PopMatters’ film blog, Short Ends and Leader, has tried to champion these off the radar renderings. We’ve gone out of our way to celebrate the gonzo Godard of actor turned trailer park auteur Giuseppe Andrews. We’ve highlighted the ever-growing canon of horror comedy king Chris Seaver, and discussed the homegrown macabre that is the films of Wicked Pixel. We’ve dabbled in cracked comedies, mannered familial drama, and as many variations of the Tarnatino retread as one can tolerate.
Yet even among these celluloid rarities there exists works that walk the fine line between outright genius and downright insanity, an illustration of how insularity plus passion can create a kind of cosmic aesthetic excellence. They are the true titans among the populace of the periphery, the diabolical delights that make exploring such an extreme entertainment realm both rewarding and frightening.
In the following five examples, we have movies so amazing, originality so outstanding that the entire cinematic situation offered defies comprehension. While studios insist upon dumbing down everything that made the movies magic, demographically determining the focus group located lowest common denominator, the signals being sent from beyond the fringe give hope to any true lover of film. While you probably never heard of the fantastic features discussed, one thing’s for certain—once you’ve seen them, you’ll never forget their innovation and imagination.
There is nothing better than experiencing something fresh and new, even if old genres are getting tweaked and taken down in the process. That’s the beauty of these unabashed film junkies. They love their medium’s many languages. Let’s begin the overview with the ultimate acid trip spaghetti western:
The Legend of God’s Gun
To call this film genius would be a gross understatement. To label it a homemade homage to an equally endearing artform would also be too simplistic. For filmmakers, musicians, and friends Mike Bruce and Kirkpatrick Thomas, the Once Upon a Fistful fabulousness of the pasta prairie parade is merely a jumping off point for a combination lampoon and love letter to the works that rewired their cinematic sensibilities.
The result – the magnificent Legend of God’s Gun, a shot on video fever dream filtered through the latest high tech post-production optical candy factories to produce one of the most original and unforgettable films of the newly crowned “noughts”. While it may seem like nothing more than a copycat compilation of Leone, Corbucci, and Barboni riffs, with just a little sidewinding psychedelia thrown in for gonzo measure, the opposite is actually true. What Bruce (director/actor) and Thomas (writer/actor/composer) manage is nothing less than a brilliant distillation of everything the reformulated artform stood for.
Alex and Her Arse Truck
In his absolutely stunning and undeniably brilliant short film Alex and Her Arse Truck, UK filmmaker Sean Conway creates the kind of character sketch that has you sitting back, mouth agape, in satisfied contemplation. It’s a movie that sticks with you long after the final image has faded away. Similar in style to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, but far more fierce in its unconventional flair, this is a book come bounding to life, a novel’s worth of detail and depth in 15 far too brief minutes.
The main narrative is easy to understand. Alex is planning on taking a bath, and her man plans on watching. Along the way we meet a geek burglar, a well-endowed swimmer, two larded drug dealing lesbians, and a pub filled with reprobate raffling off our heroine’s soiled knickers. While there are hints of other stories in all these recognizable references, Conway’s work has the overall effect of being wholly original and wildly inventive. It stands as an epic expressed from the smallest of cinematic statements.
A certified cinematic home run and instant candidate for 2007 independent comedy of the year, this amazing mock-doc about a Survivor-like reality show centering on the handicapped delivers one of the best satiric send-ups of the entire entertainment industry, ever. Those expecting a mean-spirited marginalizing of the disabled will be greatly disappointed, while others wanting the mindless purveyors of reality rot to really get theirs will be doubled over in sidesplitting delight.
That he managed to salvage something that could have been a disaster is not Isaak James’ greatest accomplishment here. No, the real revelation is his ability to thwart convention while carefully walking across all the formulaic necessities mandated to make a clever motion picture. Along with proving yet again that mainstream moviemakers have completely forgotten how to handle humor, Special Needs argues that the future of film lies somewhere beyond the fringe. Any cinephile who visits there will be wonderfully rewarded.
Superstarlet A.D. is a jaw-droppingly bizarre, bravura exercise in kitsch and camp. It proclaims itself a morbid, deviant comedy but actually plays more like a smart collection of vintage porn magazines come to life. Telling a detailed and intricate sci-fi Judgment Day story of femme fatale fashion victims roaming a desolate landscape in like hair-colored harems, this is gang warfare, Vogue style: a never ending power struggle between Mary Kaye and Maybelline for supremacy over the lipstick lesbian population of power babes.
Sexy, sultry, and drenched in a heaving knowledge of smoker/exploitation films of the ‘30s thru ‘60s, this ambitious, baffling stag loop for the new millennium creates a private, provocative universe of glam gals with firepower battling each other and bemused de-evolved Neanderthal men in the name of domination and dominatrix. It’s like watching a series of sketchy Man-Ray photos come crashing to life.
Flatland - The Movie
Clocking in at a little over 30 minutes and packing a lot of education in its geometrical meaning, Flatland is a fabulously engaging effort. Not to be confused with a 2007 full length feature by Ladd Ehlinger, Jr., this computer animated labor of love represents a real sense of individual imagination and awe-inspiring wonder. Writers Seth Caplan and Dano Johnson, along with director Jeffery Travis, have translated the essence of Edwin A. Abbot’s 1884 mathematical allegory about a tyrannical two dimensional universe into a salient social commentary, using the best bits to fuel a fantastic look at conformity, control, and the power of contravention.
With effective voice work from Martin Sheen, his real life brother Joe Estevez, Kristen Bell, Michael York, and others, the result is an exceptional classroom tool that functions equally well as an artistically brave entertainment. From its intriguing character design to the meaning and message, everything combines to create a unique vision. It adds levels of insight and interest to what is a basic examination of the X/Y world.
These are just a few of the examples of experimental excellence and avant-garde grandeur that Short Ends & Leader discovers every day. Indeed, the motion picture landscape is growing by leaps and BitTorrent bounds. It won’t be long before every outsider with the proper DIY spirit will be making a magnum opus via the video capture aspect of their cellphone.
Thinking outside the standard celluloid box is just one aspect of this contemporary revolution, however. The most important element remains ideas, and as seen in the five selections featured here, there is an abundance of innovation to be found if you just stray from the beaten Tinsel Town path. There, along the edges, some of the best, most vital work can be found.