2/15/12

TERRIBLE? or JUST TERRIBLE?: "After Last Season" dir. Mark Region, 2009


For those of who have already sought out (or stumbled haplessly into) Mark Region's After Last Season (2009) and recognized it as a cinematic offering worthy of inclusion among the pantheon of the unquestionably inept and utterly compelling cinema of Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2),Tommy Wiseau (The Room), and James Nguyen (Birdemic: Shock and Terror), the answer to my ongoing query at ECSTATIC is clear:  it's truly Terrible.  For those of you who have yet to see After Last Season and either aren't given to the pleasure of movies so bad they're irresistible, or are without interest in the academic confluences of Primtive Art and Avant-Grade cinema, then the case may be a bit more difficult to make.  To try and describe the unique qualities of Region's first attempt at movie making and the way in which it is distinctly different from the aforementioned New Guard of midnight movie-dom is a task that, as anyone who has tried surely agrees, will most likely dissolve quickly into an exhausted plea to "just see it!"  With that said, I will in no way make an attempt to try and unpack this "thriller" through Aristotelian notions of Plot, Character, Diction, and so on; to do so would no doubt compromise the integrity of Region's work.  And, as Donald Fagen once said of Steely Dan's earliest attempts at making music:  "Even shit has a certain kind of integrity...and we didn't have that."

Donald Fagen
As for this debut film by Region--a pseudonym that reportedly belongs to a film maker of Asian descent (and is not an invented moniker of accomplished film maker and "Jackass" collaborator Spike Jonze, as rumored here)--how it all holds together is a mystery.  It is extremely compelling, while simultaneously being an assault on all basic cognitive processes.  After Last Season is only for those with a certain degree of synaptic fortitude.  Structurally, though the film posts many signs, the path is remarkably unclear.  In fact, the film is literally littered with shots of signs, arrows, and various cheaply printed copy.  In many cases, scenes include shots of paper that have nothing on them pinned to walls and doors, as in one particularly baffling (and recurring) cutaway shot of a symmetrical row of blank pieces of paper taped to the outside of a house.  When we finally return from any one of these various enigmatic cutaways to check back in on the characters, their reactions are invariably and defiantly more perplexed than any potential reaction an audience could muster.

After Last Season - "Craig?"
In terms of exposition and dialogue, to say that After Last Season has a tendency toward narrative meandering is like saying The Tree of Life jumps around in time a bit.  After Last Season is a grand dare of comprehension that works so aggressively on ones taken-for-granted ability to piece together narrative that it can't help but beg the question of whether or not it is a "hoax" of some sort.  The repeated cutaways to arrows pointing in different directions and signs guiding us cryptically to "Rooms A-B" or "Rooms C-D" may lead one to conclude that an individual possessing some rare combination of Brechtian obsession and autistic brilliance may be putting us on, indeed.  Read as a revision of a certain type of commercial sci-fi thriller--one involving elements like psychology students, large corporations, thought transference, and a rash of local stabbings--conceived by someone who has a distinctly altered or damaged neurological make-up, After Last Season hints at having been a deliberate, and perhaps even competent, attempt at joining the ranks of success occupied by the likes of Wiseau.

Tommy Wiseau       
Although the film has only made small ripples in the bad movie blog world since it's release in 2009, and it seems as if the buzz generated by the initial trailer has died down a bit, it is not clear whether or not it will emerge in the same way that Wiseau has, spurring repeat interactive midnight screenings across the country.  For one thing, After Last Season isn't appealing as a "Terrible" movie in quite the same way as The Room, or even Troll 2, and one of the reasons is that those movies both present a higher level of competence in relation to their respective genres.  The narrative hiccups of The Room make up nearly the entire modus operandi of After Last Season.  Also, the overall affect of After Last Season is certainly more maddening, with its disjointed discussions of nearby towns and markets, its mind numbing use of computer graphics that make the Dire Strait's "Money for Nothing" video from 1986 seem groundbreaking, and set design that would suggest the entire production was cobbled together through a series of abandoned homes.  Added to that, the soundtrack is plagued by a recurring background noise that is a combination between digitally suppressed traffic noises and supernatural intestinal feedback.  One of the most difficult aspects of the production to wrap your brain around is the inclusion of an MRI machine that appears in the first scene, is supposedly integral to the plot, and is clearly constructed out of taped together pieces of paper.

After Last Season - the MRI scene
Alas, a bit of searching reveals that "Region" is, in fact, the real deal.  But in considering otherwise, the thought occurred to me that someone out there is most likely attempting to create a film intended to cause the ultimate effect of a Wiseau, a Fragasso, or a Region without actually being a Wiseau, a Fragasso, or a Region.  If I had to hazard a guess, I would say the person attempting this is a funded film-school brat of the hipster variety who has spent more time pointing and laughing at films like The Room than they have actually trying to create anything of their own.  The popular response to these films seems to be riding a wave of mass derision, one maintained by those whose primary entertainment mode has less and less to do with the aspirations of art, and increasingly more to do with an all-too-easy "point-and-laugh" mentality.  One disturbing aspect of this mass derision is the fact that these film makers are being exploited publicly by primarily young, white college students, while many of the film makers themselves are foreign.  In fact, much of the humor that arises from these films comes from line readings and storytelling generated by a severe language and culture gap.  Stir into this mix a constant diet of Tosh.0, the continually declining humor of shows like The Soup, the gradual rise of reality exploitation from The Gong Show to American Idol to The Jersey Shore, and the current trend of publicly gathering to denigrate these unskilled auteurs with uniform chanting and en mass gestures of mockery comes off as less than admirable (if I'm misreading the recent Midnight Madness scene, someone with more experience please let me know otherwise).

Chuck Barris
Daniel Tosh
As for After Last Season, although it may seem like a ridiculous claim to some, I think the appropriate response is reverence, rather than disdain.  Of course, I'm aware that much of the audience for these films show a lot of reverence for these film makers and their unique body of work, and for all the right reasons.  All intents and abilities aside, After Last Season is a thing of difficult beauty that generates more moments of surprise, mystery, and humor than the deadly boring excesses of current Hollywood fare.  The primitive nature and lingering effect of the film is such that it deserves to be used like the Dada-esque tool of destruction that it is. It should inspire joyous public screenings...but without parading the poor director out and throwing printer cartridges at him in the wee hours of your local art house.  I'm all for a performance-based engagement with film (and the world in general), but just a bit concerned about exactly why we're laughing.


For more information on obtaining a copy, visit the website.
And, for more information on the bizarre life of this film, 
visit the Facebook page of star Jason Kulas.


      

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