[28 December 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Outsider films are, dare it be said, a dying breed. Thanks to updates in technology, new and novel means of distribution, and the bandwagon like call to arms that is the Internet, even the most reclusive cinematic “genius” is bound to be discovered (and if the biz has anything to say about it, exploited). This doesn’t mean that every movie made sees the light of an everyday release, but it does make it harder and harder to stay in the background. Websites strive on uncovering the unique and unsung, and as such, banking on the uniqueness to raise their always struggling profiles. After 12 months of sifting through the celluloid remnants, offering up a compendium of ten heretofore unknown treats is difficult, if not impossible. Still, in the annual spirit of such a discussion, we will give it a well-considered whirl.
Of course, the notion of titles “you never heard of” has to be taken with a grain of cinematic salt. We could have easily included the brilliant British alien invasion film Attack the Block, and equally genius UK road comedy, The Trip, or the killer clowns from Franco’s Spain, The Last Circus, on this list. They easily demand inclusion among 2011’s Best. But the minute we include them here, someone will come out to claim that, as mainstream hits around the world, we are being too US-ccentric in our premise’s frame of reference. With this in mind we dug a little deeper, looked a little harder, and came up with a list that hopefully has more “huh’s” that “aha’s.” Sure, some will still be known, but most will be untapped treasures.
Of course, as with any year end acknowledgment, a few consideration parameters have to be laid down. First and foremost, it’s important to note that the films themselves do not have to be made in, or originally released during 2011 proper. After all, some outsider cinema takes years in legal or logistical limbo before making it out via some manner of viewable state. In addition, there is no need for an Oscar like NY to LA preview schedule. As long as the film made it out on some format during this year (originally or in an update) we allowed it. Finally, we don’t discriminate against those who self distribute. As long as it passed over our critical transom, we considered it, no matter how it first got there. About the only consistent element is worth - if the movie wasn’t something really special, we just didn’t add it to our final overview.
A documentary about one of the party record originals, this amazing movie follows the 70-something MC as he tries to make yet another comeback. Championed by a group of devoted fans and still believing he is a superstar in style and substance, what we get is the sometimes sad story of a man who deserved better, and probably should give up on getting such recognition. What makes the story even more fascinating is Clarence Reid’s initial career as a hit songwriter. Somewhere, Blowfly took over, and the rest is regressive music biz history.
Horror - from a decidedly Jewish angle. That’s right, writer/director Warren F. Disbrow, a true macabre maverick, wondered why so many fright films offered up evil from the purely Christian/Catholic perspective. He didn’t think it was fair. So he altered the religious approach and made a rotund rabbi his protagonist. For those who are fans of the outsider auteur, Hate himself is a metal faced indie icon, as sustainable as Freddy, Jason, or Pinhead. This latest twist on the type makes the craven character even more loathsome, and the franchise more viable.
There is obviously more to Park Chan-wook than blood-drenched revenge. Yet all fans in the West know of his work is the amazing trilogy Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance. But nothing he’s done before can prepare you for the outrageous fun and sunny wistfulness of this asylum-set RomCom. Yes, this is one of those movies where misunderstood eccentrics experience life in a way that we “normals” can’t see, where the weird and the slightly disturbed are championed and seen as superior. The way in which Park illustrates his points, however, makes for some amazing filmic flights of fancy.
Here’s another misunderstood filmmaker who must live with the legacy he created previously. Darren Lynn Bousman will always be known as the man who turned James Wan’s Saw into a series of gorier and gorier sequels, stopping at number four to then indulge in his fascinating future shock - Repo: The Genetic Opera. Since then, he’s been MIA, helming a Mother’s Day remake no one saw and this fascinating low key fright film. With its apocalyptic feel and timely narrative, it should have been a hit. Instead, it disappeared, like Bousman’s current commercial cache.
For Special Needs and Hungry Years alone, Isaak James and his sister Eva deserve massive indie kudos. Creating comedy out of character is so unlike the current state of cinema that their achievements defy easy explanation. Now they are attempting drama, and doing it just as well. This story of two couples coming apart among the wind turbine fields of rural Missouri has its hiccups, but as an attempt to keep a serious straight face, it’s light years beyond the typical mainstream drek.
The redneck. It’s a cliché that’s been carefully conceived and crafted since the wooded areas of the Deep South were discovered to be full of rapists, killers, and psychopaths. Forever undone by James Dickey’s Deliverance (and John Boorman’s big screen adaptation) the supposedly stupider, more sinister members of the closet Confederacy are now a genre given. Perhaps this explains why this twisted take on the type is so magical. Nothing is as it seems, or should be, and that’s a down and out in Dixie truth.
At first, this appears to be nothing more than a novel horror comedy created by someone with one foot in the indie scene and another smack dab in the middle of X-rated raunch. Indeed, the director’s adventures in smut form the foundation of this hilarious, sometimes hideous production, a very clever combination of the camcorder DIY spirit that drives both post-modern moviemaking and present day pornography. There is real talent involved here, people with a passion for what they do, be it with goofiness, gore or a little bump and grinding. A real treat.
When you hear the set up, you cringe slightly. Father finds half-naked feral girl in the woods and strings her up in the basement. Ick. As far as your encoded proclivities dictate, this villain will be vanquished, but only after traversing a narrative that will offer up sick, seedy schlock inside a more or less misogynist mindset. Indeed this film does follow a plotline of least resistance. But then it all goes bugnuts insane, approaching the material in such a unique and unhinged manner that the results become something of a weird work of art.
Rambling, incoherent, magnificent, and ready to be embraced by a cult of completely insane film fans, this movie is a miracle. It’s like watching the splatter punk stream of consciousness flow from a perplexed peyote casualty and knowing, without fully comprehending, that the bizzaro-world brazenness makes sense…to someone…somewhere. Filmmaker Caleb Emerson clearly wants to take on the antiquated adventures of a certain Victorian girl via crazy gluing them to the body art and Brand X inertness of the post-modern indie scene. Then he makes it weird…really weird.
Eric Stanze has crafted a masterpiece, a strange amalgamation of old Nazi experimentation and modern crime spree that argues for his ability to make the illogical and the impossible come magically to life. As he has throughout his entire career, this viable visionary uses his gifts behind the lens to take on challenging ideas and approaches with ease. He has the chops to walk right into Hollywood today and command any level of production, from a large scale work of epic scope to a small, two person character study. He - and his film - are just that good.