Encounters at the Ann Arbor Film Festival (Part 1) - Peter Rose

The 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival began this week, offering encounters with some of the seminal figures in Experimental film making, many from Ann Arbor's sister film city San Francisco.  My experience with the festival began with a highly anticipated presentation by one of the iconic figures of the Avant Garde, Peter Rose.  In the early 80's Rose crafted a couple of works that are landmarks in the Experimental film cannon, as well as the first two screened in this brief retrospective bill: The Man Who Couldn't See Far Enough (1981) and Secondary Currents (1982).  Though Rose presented work ranging from his 8mm beginnings in the 70's to his recent short The Indeserian Tablets, he prefaced the screening by calling his work "brutally heterogeneous," which is certainly true to some extent, judging from this particular grouping of films, though his initial description fails to get at the enormous breadth of techniques, themes, and influences present in his work.  Granted, Rose attempted a few litanies of description as a way to frame his films, speaking of themes ranging from the vast--Space, Light, and Death, for instance--to the intimate, most notably marked by his preoccupation with exploring dark and forgotten urban spaces, and his personal connection to landscapes.  The influences cited careened from Borges to Bruegel to Clint Eastwood.  The works screened proved true to these multiple points of entry, but offer up an experience tied so tightly to the physical reaction caused by the perceptive challenges of the films that, taken on their own, they communicate something much less intellectual and more potent than the mere linking of his images to their specific points of reference.  That the "Fall of Icarus" was the influence for the final shot of The Man Who Couldn't See Far Enough is interesting, but distant from the way in which he manages to maintain a sensation of vertigo in the audience through the shots that precede it, culled from his own climbing of the Golden Gate Bridge (which you can see excerpted here).

As is the case with so much experimental work, something seemingly simple is expressed or utilized in such a way that it instigates a new experience in the audience.  I speak from personal experience on this, as my vertigo button was triggered and re-triggered by Rose's Golden Gate bridge footage, which is a particularly odd feeling when sitting comfortably in a movie theater.  But, what made this different from the IMAX Dark Knight experience of Batman leaping into the streets of Chicago (which I'm sure brought up more than a few JuJuBees), was that this was a sustained, steady sense of vertigo only achieved through the use of the intermittent sections of black leader, continually frustrating our neural desire to settle into the image.  Simple, but profoundly effective.  The typical Experimental short showcase tends to leave a lingering effect or two, but the way in which Rose's films tend to work specifically at dividing the conscious, sensory experience of film viewing in such a progressive way creates a unique after-shock.  As I mentioned earlier, there's the divide between the intellectual unpacking of his work and the visceral reaction to them, but the fugue states he instigates don't stop there, as he is continually trying to split the processes of receptivity that we so often take for granted, or fail to exercise beyond their most basic expectations.  In the second section of The Man Who Couldn't See Far Enough he splits a common image into three different plains of time;  in the third section he multiplies an image of people witnessing a solar eclipse into a checkered game of light, estranging the singular eventfulness of the event from itself, entirely re-authoring an image we've just begun to form into a cognitive mold.  In Secondary Currents, a sort of prank film (and a very funny one) he preys on the divide between what we see and what we hear, at first without calling attention to the fact, but progressively building the joke to an unexpected hysteria;  a great starting point for those wanting to explore Rose's work (see it here on UbuWeb).  Another film that has a similar reliance on text is Rose's SpiritMatters (1984):

One of the unavoidable questions that arises when looking at this work, and which was of great interest to Rose in the Q&A portion of his AAFF presentation, is that of technology and format, especially since many of the most influential 60's, 70's and 80's West Coast films come out of the hand-made tradition of Brakhage.  Though Rose notes that one of his earliest (and most beautiful) films, Incantation (1970), was made through painstaking 8mm layering dictated by mathematical rhythms, he expressed little nostalgia for those days, and the last two pieces he screened, Odysseus in Ithaca (2006) and The Indeserian Tablets (2011) are works produced on video.  Returning to that notion of the "brutally heterogenous," Odysseus in Ithaca is really only a variation of the "three plains of time" segment from The Man Who Couldn't See Far Enough, but shot and edited digitally.  For me, there is something, though fairly ineffable, that is altered in that shift of technology, something lost for me, and I often wonder how much of that is tied to a generational sense of nostalgia;  that for many of us the images of our youth are tied to the particular hues and rough edged frames of past technologies.  This notion becomes further complicated by the recent spate of Hipsamatic/Faux-Vintage Photos, neo-nostalgia music acts, and film makers who continue to resist digital technologies.  Curiously, the tendency to resist seems less present in the elder visual experimenters (a sentiment repeated in the upcoming report on my encounter at the AAFF with Bruce Baillie), the format proving less important than the technique and the subjects of their work, as they press on in their quest to elevate the experience of both life and film to the realm of poetry.





So many bad movies, so little time.  So, I introduce the "ToJT" Notebook to resolve in briefer form the lingering question of whether or not what is lurking in that dusty crevice of cinema history is actually lost treasure, or simply rancid.  Of course, sometimes you just know, and as the film whirs on you sink into a pit of self loathing, despising yourself for not following your instincts, and hope against all hope that the whole thing is saved by something exceptional, releasing the ecstatic emanations that can only be generated by the most uniquely inept of auteurs and actors.  If you're like me, you're cursed with the compulsion to look, and all too aware that the more you see the harder it becomes.  It's been a bountiful few months for bad movie viewing, and I thought I would take this opportunity to once again weed out the "Terrible" from the "Just Terrible":

Tiptoes (dir. Matthew Bright, 2003)

You may be skeptic if I told you that an indie drama that stars Matthew McConaughey and Kate Beckinsale as a couple going through their first pregnancy is a Terrible delight.  But, when you add in the fact that the controversy around the pregnancy is because Beckinsale's character is worried that her baby might be a dwarf because McConaughey's brother, played by Gary Oldman, is a dwarf, then you might be more convinced.  Designed as a movie that (I guess?!) was supposed to address issues around living as a dwarf in a socially conscious way, Tiptoes neither achieves that goal, nor succeeds in any of it's other dramatic premises.  The film is not only cringe inducing for the obvious reasons involving the film maker's efforts to create the dwarf illusion with a combination of camera tricks, Oldman dwarf-doubling, and the use of fake legs and rigged furniture, but also for it's maddening inability to create any forward dramatic momentum in regards to the McConaughey/Beckinsale relationship.  The film unintentionally reaches the aspirations of the Absurd, as the couple ceaselessly enact scenes where they discuss the pregnancy without seeming to move the film forward in any way, while the audience is left to ponder exactly what the intended tone was supposed to be, and why the perfectly capable actor and dwarf Peter Dinklage (as Oldman's best friend and fellow three-wheeling nomad) wasn't cast in the lead role, if not just to save time.  The film's conclusion is an entirely unearned jaw-dropper, despite Goldman's utterly realist dedication to the role (the film's one triumph, which for Oldman fans will come as no surprise).
Palate Cleanser:  Tom McCarthy's excellent indie The Station Agent from the same year, starring Peter Dinklage.

Ghost Rider (dir. Mark Steven Johnson, 2007)
     +  Ghost Rider:  Spirit of Vengence (dir. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, 2012)

I haven't exactly been keeping up with the Robert Pollard-esque output of Nicolas Cage, though I did catch up with a few of his films when I was working on the last ECSTATIC "In Conversation" piece for Leaving Las Vegas.  After a double feature of The Rock and Con Air (in retrospect, probably both better candidates for "Terrible?" or "Just Terrible?") I finally made my way to Ghost Rider, which is based on a Marvel comic I often enjoyed as a kid.  I say finally because I actually went to see Ghost Rider in a mid-west multiplex on it's opening night with my dear friend and fellow bad movie aficionado Kris Murray, a person I have seen more bad movies with than, perhaps, anyone.  It's not so much that we consciously seek out the "Just Terrible" (though it's probably happened), but more often than not we're simply burned by what we assumed would be a harmless and entertaining night of back-of-the-theater popcorn munching.  In retrospect, I'm not sure which aspect of our attempt to see Ghost Rider is more ridiculous:  1)  that it was SOLD OUT, or 2) the realization that the film we bought a ticket to instead, the Silence of the Lambs prequel Hannibal Rising, was even worse.  (On second thought, after this long of not thinking at all about Hannibal Rising I don't want to be unfair to the film...so lets just say they're both just fucking terrible, and leave it at that.)  The real crime to report is that the Neveldine/Taylor sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence, didn't breath any new life into the franchise, much less blow the whole franchise up to ecstatic proportions, which is an expectation they have earned, to some extent.  The directing duo perhaps needed more control over the script to once again reach the delirious heights of their debut from 2006, Crank, and it's completely inadvisable yet entirely triumphant sequel, Crank 2: High Voltage, which flies so gloriously off the rails that it ends up paying hilarious homage to the Godzilla franchise.  Sadly, in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence they show very little of that humor or willingness to let the film be silly, which is the only thing that might have saved it.  As it is, it joins the ranks of Clash of the Titans, Tron: Legacy, and Captain America as the least spectacular (and consciousness challenging) 3D films of recent memory.
Palate Cleanser:  Triple, dry cappuccino and a double feature of Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage.

Let Me Die a Woman (dir. Doris Wishman, 1977)

Doris Wishman films have been compared to primitive art in the sense that she seemed to be working without a template, or any sense that there might be a template, and ended up with products of Sexploitation sin-ema that appeared to be the work of someone inventing the craft of film making with each production.  As a way to cope with the death of her husband in the late 50's, Wishman took up the camera to make a series of "Nudie Cutie" pictures like Nude on the Moon and Diary of a Nudist.  Wishman's work ran the gamut of genre sub-divisions in that period of grindhouse fare, from weird Roughie/Horror films like The Amazing Transplant (which involves a timid virgin being driven to rape due to his possessed transplant penis) to perhaps her most known work, the two films she made with the endowments of Chesty Morgan in 1974, Double Agent 73 and Deadly Weapons.  As detailed in the special "Transgendered Edition" Synapse DVD's excellent liner notes and production history, it took much of the 1970's, and maybe even some of the 80's, to create and release Let Me Die a Woman, a film that no one should watch without knowing what they're getting into, especially if they are as squeamish as I am about watching surgical footage involving the genitalia.  Though some Exploitation from this era seems fairly tame today, Let Me Die a Woman still has the stuff for those seeking pure shock value, as in one scene depicting the dangers of do-it-yourself sex changes involving a hammer and chisel that may put one in mind of S/M performance art guru Bob Flanagan.  I'll admit that the FF button was hit a few times during my at-home screening of Let Me Die a Woman, but it should be noted that part of the fun of Wishman's films is watching the way in which she curiously cobbles them together.  One scene of particular note here involves Richard Towers (the actor who portrayed Dr. Collingwood in Wes Craven's Last House on the Left) picking up a prostitute on a park bench in the late 70's, then time travelling five our six years by the mere opening of a bedroom door, whereupon his temples have very noticeably un-grayed.  Other uncomfortable chuckles came from the "medical doctor" at the center of the picture (whose office seems to completely change locations 2 or 3 times) using his pointer to draw attention to the various features of live transgendered subjects with all the enthusiasm of an elderly sixth grade biology instructor.  For those looking to seriously engage with the history of trans culture, know that the film has to be read within the context of 70's Sexploitation--as the liner notes remind us, since the film does contain so many different modes of addressing it's subject, it is "simultaneously less and more" than anything you could have expected. For this reason, Wishman's films create so many interesting tensions, which in this case are even present in the title (why isn't it called "Let Me Live a Woman"?).  Ultimately, it's Wishman's Ed Wood-like conviction to her utter schlock that I rest the convictions of my recommendation on here.
ECSTATIC Rating:   Terrible
Palate Cleanser:  A couple of Hairy Eyeballs and some lighter Wishman fare, like Nude on the Moon.

Masters of the Universe (dir. Gary Goddard, 1987)

Speaking of hitting the FF button, this pioneer of the "Toy-to-Screen" genre, instigated by the Mattel line of He-Man toys, is an unmitigated dare to follow through to the credits (much less the post-credit "Surprise!" that teases a possible sequel).  It's hard for me to imagine that even the most die-hard fans of the cartoon that inspired this sword-and-sorcery abomination would find anything worth their time here, but I'm sure it's fans are out there.  In fact, I looked into this possibility briefly, and it turns out that the IMDB has heard from a number of the film's supporters, some of whom have created essential discussion lists around burning questions like "Did Dolph take steroids?" and "Why does He-Man have a cape?!?!"  Lartronic from Akron, OH gives this mild recommendation:
There is no deep thinking, you just sit back and watch. I really enjoyed watching this, it's the kind of movie you can get wrapped up in, just like "The Ice Pirates". All in all a worthwhile view.
Despite the presence of Lundgren in the lead role, who holds a Master's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to MIT, Masters of the Universe indeed requires no deep thinking.  As for it's comparable ability to swaddle you comfortably like an Ice Pirates, I have my doubts.  Then again, there are more hearty defenders of the film out there, like Ross from Ottawa who simply calls it "WITHOUT QUESTION THE GREATEST SWORD AND SORCERY EPIC EVER!!!":
Not only does this film stand tall on it's own achievements but it is also clearly the inspiration for that well loved classic "Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time". It follows the mythos of the original He-Man mini comics (the ones that came with the toys) more than the plot of the animated series, as such He-Man is not secretly Prince Adam.  
Ross goes on to praise Langella's work as Skeletor, as well as the bold choices of Goddard's direction, but I have to disagree with his overall assessment, as I found the whole affair kind of boring.  Perhaps catching up with Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time will broaden my frame of reference.  As for my journey to Eternia, not even the hilarious disconnect between the film's two worlds--the He-Man Universe and the 80's high school flick starring Courtney Cox--could elevate this flick to the Terrible.
ECSTATIC Rating:  Just Terrible
Palate Cleanser:  Evidently, Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time 

Death Bed:  The Bed That Eats (dir. George Barry, 1977)

A film so obscure that even the director forgot he had made it until stumbling across some scant discussion of it online, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats has to stand as one of the best bad movie rescues of all time.  Production began in a now-demolished castle on a small island off the coast of Detroit in 1972, but the film wasn't printed until 1977, and only released on DVD in 2003.  In that time, Barry was surprised to learn the film had developed a cult following on the bootleg circuit.  Like many, I first heard reference to the film on Patton Oswalt's stand-up album "Werewolves and Lollipops," which so succinctly sums up the breaking point that many ultimately reach when cognitively dealing with the best of the Terrible, which is the realization that at some point in history somebody actually said, as Patton puts it:  "We are shooting this masterpiece!"  Yes, people actually worked on Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (although it would be hard to make the case for the actress in the still above, who often appears less-than-conscious, perhaps winning the award for the least engaged actress in history), but the truly puzzling and delightfully frustrating aspects of it don't stop there.  Although director Barry claims in the DVD that he never found the story all that bizarre, the film is actually exceedingly bizarre beyond what the title already suggests.  The film is, in fact, about a bed that is evidently filled with an enormous amount of yellow bile due to it being possessed by a demon who has trapped an artist forever behind a painting of the artist's own making, where the bed often disposes of the jewelry of it's victims, until the artist can somehow communicate to a visitor of the castle where the bed is stored, which can only happen once every ten years (demons trapped in beds only fall asleep once every ten years) to create a ritual of flame around the bed which will replace the corpse of a dead girl, a victim of the demon when it was alive, with the person who lights the flames around the bed.  Or something.    
ECSTATIC Rating:  Terrible
Palate Cleanser:  Vino, Pepto, and some complimentary piece of odd possession cinema like Christine or Maximum Overdrive

Teen Witch (dir.  Dorian Walker, 1989)

Finally, I am beholden to say a few words about Making the Grade director Dorian Walker's Teen Witch, a movie I would have never seen had it not been for the request of a dedicated ECSTATIC reader.  Although I deeply appreciate all of my readers and am open to any suggestions or recommendations, particularly for the "ToJT" section of the blog, Teen Witch is a film that makes me want to reconsider that open invitation, along with my general faith in humanity.  Teen Witch might strike those who were coming of age around the time of it's release as a delightful romp of 80's nostalgia, perfect viewing for re-living those junior high sleepovers with a couple of friends and a few bottles of wine.  Another way of thinking about it would be as the very oozing, fetid tip of the festering, culminating cyst of 80's cinema, forever preserved on DVD as a message to the Future of the mindless cultural depths we have fathomed.  Containing a performance by the strangest of 80's child actors, Joshua John Miller, utterly miscast as Robin Lively's younger brother, the film's flat out unwatchable nature is augmented with a bit of that River's Edge flavor.  The epitome of the "Just Terrible?"  One can never be sure.  Now, let us never speak of it again.
ECSTATIC Rating:  Just Terrible
Palate Cleanser:  A bag of squid jerky



DOUBLE FEATURE: "Freddy Got Fingered" dir. Tom Green (2001) + "Project X" dir. Nima Nourzedah (2012)

Call them slightly off-kilter cinematic book-ends to the last decade, Tom Green's absurdist satire Freddy Got Fingered and Nima Nourzedah, Michael Bacall, and Matt Drake's ultimate party flick Project X are two of the most significant and revealing mirrors to be held up to the Millennial generation yet.  Though these two films are entirely different beasts in some respects, it's the way in which they ask us to shift our expectancy of the genres from which they're born, and ultimately the nature of the world we're living in, that makes them so similarly interesting.  Of course, they are both widely hated.  But, I think it's nearly impossible to disregard that both of these films manage some significant accomplishments, especially in terms of the way they balance the tropes and conventions of the movies that precede them, and the precise and devastating way in which they operate as cultural critique, intentionally or not.  I will freely admit that they both qualify as "difficult viewing," at least for some movie-goers, but the more I reflect on the response to these pictures the more I find the critical response of the generation that bore them to be lacking.  In the case of Freddy Got Fingered, I understand why no one would have expected Green to make a film as sophisticated and subversive as he did, but it's not like he didn't try to tip us off.  Have a look at the film's poster art (also the subsequent DVD cover image)...

With the tag line "This time you can't change the channel," one might think the image simply acknowledges the fact that "Tom made a movie" (In fact, the film itself is highly self-reflexive throughout in its attempts to remind us of how ridiculous it is for a studio to sink money into a Tom Green film).  But, if you'll pardon the turn of phrase, we're the ones getting "fingered," or framed, as it were.  Perhaps the last word one would think of to apply to Green's work is "subtle," but take a moment to consider the image above:  it incites one to peer closer at it via the minuscule collage of images in the background, which only brings the viewer closer to being the subject of the image; brings them more into Green's frame.  The image is cleverly, even subtly, designed, hinging on the perceptive and physical gesture of curiosity that underlines the whole of Green's work, and that the film mirrors in its attempt to get audiences to "come closer";  this time the prank is most succinctly targeted at anyone who would pay to see it in the first place.

"Fear Factor"
If you'll take a trip in the "Wayback Machine" with me, 2001 was a year that marked a crescendo of "Gross-Out" entertainment, a time sandwiched between the first two American Pie movies, as well as the first two Scary Movie releases, a franchise that marked the beginning of a cycle of parody films typified by that year's Not Another Teen Movie.  Of course, humor has always relied on the occasional fart gag or dick joke, but (as my "In Conversation" partner Nathaniel Carlson once perceptively noted) the parody film seems to have instilled in a generation an understanding of comedy that replaced any trace of craft or cleverness with mere pop culture reference;  where there was once an actual joke (or, dare I say, something akin to Moliere's goal of "Educating men through entertaining them"), now there is only the reference. On TV this same sensibility was (and still is) being perpetuated by Seth MacFarland's "Family Guy," and "South Park" was just beginning a significant decline in quality after releasing the only film that begins to rival Freddy Got Fingered in satirical scope from that year, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.  Yes, the early part of the new millennium was a time still ruled by the Farrely Brothers and "Fear Factor," which debuted the same year Freddy was released.  And, once again, I understand that you may be suspicious that the guy who contributed the "dog-doo on a microphone" bit to the music video-less MTV of the late 90's would emerge as the film maker with his finger most firmly on the pulse of all this ridiculousness...but lets have another look.

Tom Green in Freddy Got Fingered
The scene I consider to be the "thesis statement" of Freddy Got Fingered happens early in the film, after a scene in which Gord (Green, knowingly too old for the role he's playing) receives a LeBaron convertible from his Mom and Dad (bravely played by Julie Haggerty and Rip Torn, both rightfully and perfectly invested) and takes off to fulfill his dream of becoming an animator, leaving his Dad in a state of celebration, and his younger brother Freddy (the titular character) a bit jealous.  The set-up is familiar, and Green hangs on to this thread of narrative familiarity throughout, which is an essential aspect of the film that Green maintains in just the right balance.  Of course, there are many detours on Gord's path to fame, many tied to what Green was all too aware was expected of him by the studio, and which he integrates into the narrative pretty brilliantly...which is to say, not much at all.  For instance, the "thesis statement" scene of Freddy Got Fingered, or Green's version of the razor across the eyeball, is a scene in which Green is almost demonically compelled to pull over his LeBaron and jerk off a horse.  This happens mere minutes into the film.  Entirely disconnected from the narrative framework of the film (aside from, perhaps, his patented mocking calls intoning "Look at meee, Daddy!  I'm a faaarmer!"), Green has offered us maybe the most succinct image to artculate the Millennial generation's inherited engagement with cinema and television.

Tom Green in Freddy Got Fingered
Not long after this thesis moment, Green begins to translate his TV shtick (much of which relied on his ability to  instigate working class people to anger in public spaces...or pissing off his parents), into scenes that push all expectations over the edge.  I think Green's choice not to make a "Jackass"-esque film version of what he did on television is crucial to the grandiose and daring nature of the satire he achieves in Freddy Got Fingered.  Green appropriates studio attempts to lamely cash in on anything that will turn a buck, knowing that he could push the boundaries as far as he liked within a market that had successfully created a youthful feeding frenzy around the exceptionally distasteful, and creates his scenarios with the disjointed glee of an anarchist.  He encounters more animals, this time the carcass of a dead deer that he proceeds to be so taken with that he wraps it round his body like a cape, only to be caught off guard by a charging semi truck that runs him down.  Giddy, Gord emerges unscathed, and continues his quest to be a famous animator.

"Zebras in America" 
Although Green does tie the film's narrative together with the conventional "rags-to-riches" plot points, he also allows entire scenes to emerge from mere turns of phrase, almost like a game of surrealist free association.  The deer carcass scene is propelled by Anthony Michael Hall's studio executive character turning down Gord's attempt to pitch his ideas by saying:  "You have to get inside the animals."  Later, Gord licks the broken bone emerging from his friend's leg after his father accidentally says "Get him a job" instead of "Get him an ambulance."  Later in the film, Gord begins a relationship with a phallus-obsessed, wheelchair-bound, amateur rocket scientist (played with bubbly charm by Marisa Coughlin) who casually advises Gord to focus his creative energies by getting something to eat and playing some music.  This advice emerges as a scene where Gord has attempted to draw, eat, and play music at the same time by creating a musical sausage pulley system.

"Daddy, would you like some sausage?"
Food and animals continue to be used throughout the film as devices for Green's larger commentary on the middle class, pop culture, and the film industry.  In a move that beautifully mocks the traditional TV-to-Movie expectation of augmenting the televised bits to movie proportions, the finale of the film involves Gord receiving a one million dollar green light to produce a cartoon called "Zebras in America," which he uses to rent a helicopter (in a sequence that contains one of the film's references to Apocalypse Now;  Viet-nam cinema is another blatant motif of the film that vaults the ending of the picture to delirious heights), buy his girlfriend some jewels, and covertly transport his father to Pakistan, where they mend their disputes through the gooiest desu-ex-machina in cinema history, a spray of semen coaxed by Gord from an elephant's penis.

Gord and his Dad in the aftermath of elephant ejaculation - Freddy Got Fingered
By this point in the film Green has augmented the idea of "Prank TV" that got Freddy green lit in the first place to a proportion that is often far from comedic.  The title of the film, for instance, is a reference to Gord's off-handed accusation that his father molested his younger brother Freddy (played with Tony Dow-esque charm by Eddie Kaye Thomas), which results in Freddy (a man in his twenties) being taken to an institution for victimized children where, in one scene, we see him sitting zombie-like with the other children as they watch the meat-hook scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  In fact, the way in which Green tempers the comedy of Freddy with horror elements is subtle, and what ultimately vaults the film beyond the expected comedy product.  Green simultaneously plays the hero within the comedy narrative while subverting it.  The rebel skateboarding through the mall at the beginning of the film (cut to the Sex Pistols singing the refrain: "the problem is yoooouu!") is a character that Green could have easily relied on for the comedic conceit of the film, but the lengths he goes to in distorting that character through the inter-textual and meta-fictional aspects of the film create a fun-house mirror that recalls Tommy Lee Jones defense of Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers as akin to the paintings of Goya.  For me, Freddy is the more successful picture, as Stone only accomplished those heights in part (particularly in the incredible "I Love Mallory" sequence), but his message is similar to Green in that the true horror at play in the media age is the way in which it allows us to laugh off the truly aberrant;  to confuse the hero and the monster.

Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers
Nima Nourzedah's Project X
The segue may seem obvious here, but to critique the teenage characters in Project X, the audience that earned it well over 20 million on it's opening weekend, and the writers, producers, and directors involved as monsters would only be feeding the beast.  Instead, let's commend Project X for not cloaking the inherent ugliness that runs rampant throughout this drug-fueled, 17-year old fantasia.  Like Freddy Got Fingered, it combines elements of comedy and horror in delicate balance, via the 80's and 90's "party film" genre, as well as the recent trend of "found footage" movies, which has migrated from the horror/sci-fi realm of Cloverfield, the Paranormal Activity series, and the similarly lucrative teen-targeted product Chronicle.  As a "movie movie" (as my friend Kris would put it), I prefer Chronicle, a fairly successful picture that has a fun time melding the hand-held DV convention with it's premise of telekinetic teens, and pulls off a pretty hilarious high-flying multi-camera sequence in the film's finale.  But, compared to Project X, Chronicle seems like it has so little to show.  Chronicle is similarly involved in depicting the lifestyle of your average high school student and the extravagant house parties they attend, but considered against Project X, it feels wrapped in a lie.

 Josh Trank's Chronicle
Project X
Project X is unprecedented in what it reveals beneath it's genre, and contains some key music cues that tip us to the fact that it's creators understand a bit more about where it's coming from than one might expect, particularly in the opening's use of 2 Live Crew's "We Want Some Pussy," and, later, once all hell breaks loose, Metallica's "Battery."  Of course, any debate over whether or not Project X is corrupting our youth or not will very quickly seem as pointless as the 2 Live Crew debate of my high school days.  In fact, for fear of coming off as simply adding to the tired rhetoric of bashing the generation at hand, I have way more respect and admiration for the current generation on the whole than I do for my own, seeing as the closest we got to manifesting a movement as significant as Occupy Wall Street was collectively tuning into MTV to watch the video for "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)."  The juvenile critique of whiteness that the Beastie Boys eventually transformed into respectable hip-hop is revisited in Project X, this time finding the narcissism of R. Kelly, Kanye, Jay-Z, and Pusha T emasculated and re-contextualized accurately as the soundtrack to suburban white boy excess.

Project X
The Beastie Boys
Where Freddy Got Fingered seems to me a surrealist-inspired masterpiece, Project X is way more frightening in what it reflects.  Freddy's ugliness seems to have turned off most of Green's paying fan base, which I think was the intent, whereas Project X is frightening for the fact that it's target audience will easily pay for and laugh off the film's overbearing misogyny and racism, as fleeting and inconsequential to them as a Facebook post.  In fact, critics of the film have commonly likened the experience of it to having all the weight of a text or a tweet, and there is some truth to that, particularly in the way in which those communication mediums often operate in opposition to their intent.  But, by no means is that the whole story, as the ethics of a communication tool, be it a smart phone or a film, is always tied to its user.  In the case of Project X, the only extreme reaction of any kind it's designed to create is in relation to those it's not targeted to, which is part of the reason why I refuse to condemn it.  See Project X;  it has way more to tell you about the generation at hand than Juno or The Social Network could ever hope to.  Sadly, it's the opposite of Bertolucci's cinema obsessed homage to the late 60's Cinemateque Francais The Dreamers and it's simultaneously truthful and  romantic depiction of a world where seeing films, hashing out their significance, and taking it all seriously was the passion of the youth culture.  Similarly, the release of Project X reveals a portion of a generation for whom reality is masked by the various screens that occupy their lives.  But, with Project X the dream of The Dreamers has been inverted, replaced with an audience so disinterested in art that only a film that caters to an emaciated attention span will do.  By the time our hero, Thomas (Thomas Mann) realizes in one of the final scenes that the girl who was right in front of him the whole time is the pussy worth having, a narrative contrivance so blatantly placed that it might be brilliant, the triumph of Project X is complete.

Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers
Project X
Although I have read interviews with screenwriter Bacall (also scribe for the current 21 Jump Street movie), I'm not sure whether or not to give him credit in what might be the ultimate key to what Project X has to tell us, and that's the title.  Project X is a movie exec term for movie projects that don't have titles yet.  In this case, they made a product so perfectly designed to make money, so slick it could have only been directed by someone like Nourzedah, who had only made TV ads and music videos prior, that it didn't even need a title.


"Fish Out of Water" dir. Ky Dickens, 2009

Last October I attended a panel at the Chicago International Film Festival on "Social Media" where one of the featured panelists was documentary film maker and co-founder of Yellow Wing Productions, Ky Dickens.  At the time, Dickens was speaking to the ways in which social media has benefited her in terms of spreading the word about her documentary film Fish Out of Water, but it wasn't until last night that I was able to see the film and talk with Dickens a bit more about the goals of this personal and political work, which she presented at the University of Michigan-Flint in conjunction with the Ellen Bomarito LGBT Center (currently directed by my amazing partner, Jennifer Salamone).

Documentary films addressing LGBT issues and history have developed a rich cannon over the last couple of decades, and Dickens' film takes an interesting place among them politically and aesthetically as one of the most concise and effective of those works, which include a number of other films put out by the distributor of Fish Out of Water, First Run Features, the label that put out the Stonewall documentaries and Daniel G. Karslake's For the Bible Tells Me So (2007), which deals with similar issues of the tensions between the church, scripture, and gay and lesbian culture.   The secondary title to Fish Out of Water is "A Film About Interpretation," and it is this aspect that sets the film apart in terms of it's capacity for social change.  Too often Christian scripture is used as a device of exclusion, hate, and persecution, and Dicken's film has the guts to call out that this absurd position of ignorance comes from a popular faction of Christian understanding that is largely uneducated (even when it comes to their own belief systems).  Fish Out of Water intelligently and respectfully lays out all of the classically debated scripture in a way that feels way overdue.

Ky Dickens' Fish Out of Water

Fish Out of Water is also notable for it's thoughtful integration of interview footage with the varied voices of the gay and lesbian and christian communities (and all the places those communities overlap and are divided), as well as her own narrative toward researching this much talked about, but often misinterpreted, controversy.  The way in which the film uses animation to follow Ky on her journey and explore the particular lines of scripture in question is both clever in relation to the film serving it's purpose as a tool for social change (not unlike the use of animation in Bret Morgen's Chicago 10), but is also genuinely entertaining and comedic, both in the writing and the voice work.  The film features illustrations and animation by Kyle Harter and Alan Saunders, and an original score by Kaki King.

Kaki King
Fish Out of Water is designed to clear up some essential questions about interpretation, and would make even the most close-minded reconsider their position when it comes to the New and Old Testaments, both of which are examined here from various perspectives, and in a way that actually gets at questions that reach beyond what the bible does or does not say about homosexuality.  If you know someone who needs to see this film, or want those questions addressed for yourself, the film can be purchased (and even sent anonymously to a relative or organization) from the film's website.  But, regardless of your orientation toward these topics, Fish Out of Water is a film that evokes questions of interpretation that are relevant to everyone.

Ky Dickens
One of the aspects that impressed me most about meeting Dickens on Tuesday was how she expressed her dedication to travelling with the film and communicating it's essential message.  For those wanting to bring Dickens to your campus, church, or theatrical venue, please look into bringing this remarkable activist film maker to where you are.  Many thanks from ECSTATIC to Ky and her partner for travelling to Flint.   Ky Dickens new documentary film is called Soul Survivor, which deals with the soul survivors of major airline disasters.  Watch the trailer here.


INSTANT 3: One Person Shows

From Lenny Bruce to Anna Deveare-Smith. a rich tradition of solo performance work that reaches beyond the limits of theatre and stand-up comedy has been created by the few creative and restless souls with the bravery to attempt work that is truly avant-garde, truly pushing their respective genres into new territory.  Today we see more of a crossover between the underground performance art solo show, historically existing out of the light of nearly everyone only to emerge years later on scratchy VHS tapes, much of it only now being pieced together in documentary films that attempt to bring it into proper perspective, and the commercial comedy club style of stand-up that has reached numerous points of televised saturation, died and been born again, and in recent years only been saved by comics who have set themselves apart from the endless "Comedy Central Presents" crowd by bringing performance art technique into their world.  With Maria Bamford you get a theatrical precision in bringing multiple characters to life that echoes the theatrical work of Smith and Bogosian.  With Patton Oswalt, it's the quality of the writing that makes the difference, creating a stand-up that isn't afraid to indulge dark, absurd poetic flights amid a storytelling mode that isn't always focused on driving the audience headlong into the next punchline.

Anna Deveare-Smith
Maria Bamford
If you have somehow missed Bamford or Oswalt in action, I highly recommend the two concert films featuring them that Netflix offers to Watch Instantly:  The Comedians of Comedy:  The Movie and Comedians of Comedy:  Live at the El Rey, which also contain sets from Zach Galifianakis and Brian Posehn.  In fact, my first "Instant 3" recommendation is for an excellent and overlooked concert film featuring Galafiniakis.  

1.  Zach Galifianakis:  Live at the Purple Onion (2006):  I think my case for having a look at this intimate and unique film has been bolstered by the rise in popularity Galifianakis has experienced, mostly as an industry go-to for an off-kilter sidekick, a somewhat sad attempt to fit a truly creative stand-up mind into a mold that broke with a resounding crack upon the release of flicks like G-Force, Operation: Endgame, and The Hangover II.  Even Galifianakis's turns in more respectable fare like Sean Penn's Into the Wild or Jason Reitman's Up In the Air were not exactly memorable, and his attempt at carrying the Vonnegut-esque indie Visioneers is much better in concept than it is in execution. Taking a look back now at Zach G.'s live show reveals how wasted he has been in the world of movies, especially since his strengths as a performer so obviously lie in his connection and sly confrontation with a live audience.  Perhaps the old-school model of success for stand-ups--from stage to TV to movies--was followed to a fault in this case.  The performance techniques a stand-up comic hones in the live realm have little to do with film acting (much less acting with CGI Special-Ops guinea pigs), and although I'm curious to see where Zach could take his often surreal, performance art-influenced act if he returned to stand-up, I'm doubtful that it's possible for him to return to the stage in the same beautiful, harried manner captured in Live at the Purple Onion.

2.  The Life of Reilly (2006):  I'll admit it.  I went into The Life of Reilly with a knowledge of Charles Nelson Reilly that did not extend far beyond his appearances on "The Match Game," but after seeing the film version of his solo show (filmed during his two final performances of the piece in North Hollywood), I can only recommend that those out there who have a similarly limited view of Reilly should check it out.  The depiction of Reilly's family is at the heart of the piece, with comedic takes on his mother's frightened, racist world view woven throughout.  But for me it's his reminiscences of a time "when people studied acting" that are the most special.  At one point in the show Reilly reads the roster from his 11am acting class with the great teacher Uta Hagen, and the list of names is jaw-dropping.  Unfortunately, the same is true for the number of friends Reilly lost to AIDS throughout his long career, though Reilly never allows the show to become maudlin, trumping sentimentality with genuine sentiment at every turn. The show is ultimately a testament to a remarkable, and remarkably hidden, life in the theatre, and the story of tribute to his first acting teacher was not the only moment that I found terribly moving.  The film itself is thoughtfully edited and punctuated with music and imagery that serves the live performance well.  The film is an 84 minute version of what was supposedly more like a three hour live affair, but certainly doesn't feel like a compromised version of a longer piece.  One of the running jokes of the piece the Snake Pliskin-esque refrain of a question Reilly found commonly applied to himself:  "Is he still alive?"  Unfortunately, we lost this unique performer in 2007, not long after the release of the film.

3.  And Everything is Going Fine (2010):  Spalding Gray was a master monologist with a photographic memory and an uncanny ability for weaving his life into solo shows.  His life and work was haunted by the specter of suicide, to which he ultimately succumbed in 2004.  For those of us who have tried our hand at writing and performing personal narrative, the extent to which we revere what Gray was able to accomplish with such basic theatrical elements is still leaving us in awe.  I was fortunate enough to see Gray perform live twice (Monster in a Box in '92, Morning, Noon, and Night in '99), as well as having met him briefly once in Chicago before a show he performed periodically where he would attempt to meet as many audience members as possible in the lobby before the show, and then chose four of them to interview as the show.  It was honestly one of the few times I have ever been star struck by someone, and I remain so.

Spalding Gray in Gray's Anatomy
Steven Soderbergh directed one of the film versions of Gray's work, Gray's Anatomy, which is not a place I suggest the uninitiated start their exploration of Gray, but neither is Soderbergh's documentary tribute to Gray, And Everything is Going Fine.  The Johnathan Demme directed film version of Swimming to Cambodia still remains the ideal Gray performance film and introduction to his work, and would be wisely paired with a screening of the excellent mid-eighties film to which the title refers, Roland Joffe's The Killing Fields.  And Everything is Going Fine is definitely a film designed as a gift to those who love Gray, and as such is pretty successful, shedding new light on details of his life, as well as giving us pieces of monologues that many of his fans have only encountered in text.  For those new to Gray, take your time with what has previously been captured of Gray first.  For those interested in Soderbergh's work, this is obviously not of a piece with his recent genre exercises, but once again shows the incredibly capable versatility of the director, and, for my money, is more essential than either of his most recent films, 2011's Contagion and this year's Haywire.


The 34th Annual Big Muddy Film Festival - SIU-Carbondale, IL (Or, Why Attending The Big Muddy Is Better For You Than Staying Home And Watching The Oscars)

The film was Craig Bladwin's Sonic Outlaws and the venue was the Longbranch Coffeehouse.  The screen was one of those pull-up science class film strip deals and the back room was pretty much packed as the assortment of narrative, experimental, and documentary films whirred on, the soundtracks occasionally fighting the hiss of steamed milk.  It might have been 1996.  In any case, this is the moment I think of as the beginning of my love affair with the Big Muddy Film Festival.

Bert I. Gordon's Village of the Giants (1965) 
as seen in Craig Baldwin's Sonic Outlaws (1995)
The Big Muddy has been happening around the end of February/beginning of March since 1978, screening a wild variety of international submissions in venues within the SIU campus and throughout the Southern Illinois area, always maintaining a strong focus on the evolution of documentary and experimental film, as well as the ways in which the light from those two genres bleed endlessly across one another.  The Big Muddy is a small festival that, in it's best years, brings a quality and consistency of films that rivals larger festivals.  As the Academy Awards decline in popularity and relevance, it seems only fitting to pay tribute to the Big Muddy which has proudly maintained a focus on independent film production and the evolving film underground, frequently presenting its "Best of the Fest" closing night on that once-revered night of television.  Of course, the discerning and dedicated Southern Illinois film lover will always choose the Big Muddy.  Some of the most notable winners to screen on Oscar night this year were Heather Freeman's funny and unnerving Pennipotens (Best Animation), the home-movie daydream of Luis Arnias' This Must Be the Place (Best Experimental), the bare bones documentary style of Melissa Davenport's Blueberryland (Best Documentary), the handmade black-and-white Big Bang whimsy of Rachel Moore's Pop (Honorable Mention-Animation), and perhaps the most overtly activist-oriented film of the festival, Jean-Gabriel Periot's Les Barbares (Honorable Mention-Experimental), the simplest of all the "Best of" films in terms of production, but also one of the most potent.  Built entirely of still images, Les Barbares crafts a visual meditation on the tension between the conformity of "civilized" institutions and the potential of anarchy.  In the wake of the Occupy movement, Periot's short piece serves as a welcome artifact emerging from the movement that raises the activist voice of the French professor of philosophy Alain Brossat to our ears:
If politics were to come back, it could only be from it's savage and disreputable fringe.                                        Then, a muffled rumor shall arise whence that roar is heard:                                                                                                          "We are scum!  We are barbarian!"
Jean-Gabriel Periot's Les Barbares
Periot's short piece takes me back to the power of appropriation that Baldwin was simultaneously documenting and utilizing in Sonic Outlaws, primarily focusing on the collage audio/visual work of Negativland, John Oswald, and the Emergency Broadcast Network (EBN) which led the question of Fair Use into the new appropriation art terrain of the 1980's.  In Les Barbares Periot appropriates the naturalized human architecture of the "group photograph" and disrupts it by wiping one across the other in ever quickening succession, and then finally disrupting it entirely with images of violent revolution.  Since we've come a long way from the questions of authorship that Negativland and Oswald were asking with their work in their most popular periods, it is interesting to see how collage and appropriation work has morphed in the age of You Tube.  As the borders of authorship erode in ways that the legal system can barely keep up with, the tools of film making become increasingly accessible, and the possibilities for experimentation increase as the idea of ownership is challenged and chipped away at in the online sphere every day.  This idea also resonated within the Big Muddy's retrospective presentation this year which featured George Kuchar's classic from 1966 Hold Me While I'm Naked.  Not only did Kuchar re-mix elements ranging from melodrama to sci-fi to porn in an age when underground cinema was truly underground, but the recent documentary It Came From Kuchar reveals the extent to which they are still creating remarkably strange work using consumer grade video equipment.  (And, for those who need a catalyst to start making that film to submit for next year's festival, a viewing of It Came From Kuchar might be a good place to start.)  The choice to screen Kuchar along with the late avant-garde animator Robert Breer and the meta-cinematic flicks of Owen Land is one that certainly shows how deep the tradition of appropriation in experimental film runs.  Added to that, two films by Chick Strand were presented, a film maker who often used pre-existing materials in her work, but also serves as a reminder to the Big Muddy's exceptional dedication to women in film (once again, sorry Oscar, but giving Kathryn Bigelow an award for the over-praised Hurt Locker is somehow more insulting than progressive in the face of the continuing boy's club mentality of Hollywood production).

George Kuchar's Hold Me While I'm Naked 
Other notable "appropriation" films that screened at the Big Muddy this year were Johanna Vaude's UFO Dreams and Michael Robinson's These Hammers Don't Hurt Us which resurrects Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson in a film that juxtaposes clips from their Egyptian incarnations.  Cinemascope's Michael Sicinski wrote on Robinson as a significant part of the new shift in experimental film, one that the Big Muddy has continued to spool out in all of it's twists and turns for the last three decades plus.  Sicinski says that Robinson's work could be seen as the answer to a precise problem in the world of experimental film studies and appreciation:
How can experimental cinema retain its connection to history, remaining cognizant of the various crises of representation, without lapsing into nihilism? Or, for that matter, how is it possible to harness filmic effects in order to produce feelings of dread, longing, or even spontaneous release, without veering into ridiculousness or self-importance? How can we accept the failure (for now) of the grand designs of modernity and still operate on a plane of sincerity, commitment, and belief?
In an interview with Robinson, he describes his films in terms that reach back through the subjects of Baldwin's Outlaws all the way to the early days of recombinant visual frontiers marked by the works of Vertov, Duchamp, Man Ray:
I consider my films as taking the surface of various things, as in the surface connotation of a given landscape, text, song, etc., and forcing these surfaces into proximity with one another so as to create some kind of new resonance between them. In a sense, none of the films are “about” the different elements they contain, but are more concerned with the distance and movement between sources, and with how to forge a narrative arc out of essentially non-narrative materials.
Michael Robinson's These Hammers Don't Hurt Us
Though the more experimental portions of the festival may have limited mass appeal, it continues to be one of the most exciting portions of the festival for me, and this year's screenings were not shying away from the aspect of cognitive disruption that often accompanies these showcases.  One of the showcases, which included Robinson's film, was capped off by the delightfully noisy and eroded compositions of Ana Geyer's Goodbye Pig and the brain-scrambling flicker-film aesthetic of Scott Stark's Tenpin Arpeggio, a pairing certainly appreciated by those who want their cinema alive and kicking, as opposed to the dead-on-arrival, over-hyped pics of the Oscar elite.

Scott Stark's Tenpin Arpeggio
Meryl Streep as The Iron Lady 
As the Oscars transforms even more dramatically into a way to peddle mediocre cinema to mass audiences (egregiously punctuated by the increase in Best Picture nominations), the experimental film front shows continued flickers of promise.  While we're not going to see something like Thomas Imbach's moving experimental feature Day is Done nominated anytime soon, or the 16mm beauty and strangeness of Ben River's Slow Action, it should be noted that the Academy did nominate what might be the most avant-garde film to have ever been nominated for Best Picture, Terrance Malick's The Tree of Life.  Of course, this triumph is sullied by a number of factors, most notably the nomination of Brad Pitt as Best Actor for a different film, the lazy decision to just toss another one to Meryl Streep, and the ultimate win of The Artista film that not only pales in comparison to any of Malick's work, but whose long-term survival might in fact be hindered by having won the whole shebang.

Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life
Where the mainstream mostly rewards films that are immediately accessible, films that recycle material in an "appropriate" fashion (with the goal of making money), a festival like the Big Muddy acknowledges that film is one of the most complex of the arts, one that, in it's most refined forms, should be allowed time to digest and a vigorous community to discuss it with after.  In an age where the success of a commercial film seems to be a foregone conclusion regardless of it's quality, festivals like the Big Muddy ask us to truly look at and engage with the world, which could also be said of the best works of experimental, documentary, and narrative film.  This point becomes more important with a bit of historical context, given that the history of film has inhabited some pretty dire spaces, allowing us at times to hide in the ethical blackness of movie halls in ways that nurture our worst impulses.  The most common examples of this would probably lie in the works of Griffith or Riefenstahl;  in contrast, I often think of the best experimental films as throwing their light back at us, as the opposite of us throwing ourselves into the dream worlds of cinema making fascists.  Looked at through that lens, great films and film festivals kill fascists and keep us from being sheep.

Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will  
One of my fondest Big Muddy memories is of a film that achieved this in a very literal way.  I can't remember the name of the film, but it was during a retrospective of the progenitor of the American avant-garde, Stan Brakhage.  I believe the title of the film was a number (3?...11?), and I remember that we were watching a fairly quick succession of Brakhage shorts, some of which can be very short and do not always announce their beginning points in easily recognized ways.   This particular film seemed to begin with a nearly minuscule point of light at an off-center point in the screen.  No sound.  As most of us sat there wondering if this were some kind of projector malfunction or the beginning of another film, the point began to gradually open wider at an almost imperceptible rate until the screen was simply a gaping hole of light, and the entire audience awash in bright, white light.  And, that was it.  Us, illuminated and together for a brief moment, caught in the light of cinema.  It's hard to explain now, but it was a kind of joyful discomfort, as if the film had offered our collective presence up to us to discover anew.  I marveled at how a trick of light so simple could seem so unprecedented and revolutionary.

Stan Brakhage
That particular Big Muddy retrospective was conducted by Chicago Reader critic and artist Fred Camper, and I remember him punctuating the point of how film "takes time" much better than I ever could.  He told us that in order to properly discuss Brakhage's work we should take an entire day to watch all of his films.  Then, we should take another day to watch them all again.  Then, after the third day of watching them all, he suggested we might reconvene to begin the discussion.  Although it didn't go down like that, I see the spirit of the Big Muddy Film Festival reflected in that comment, and in the way the collection of films the organizers of the festival have put together over the years allows us to see the refinement of technique that it takes to make a truly great work of film, no matter what length or genre.

Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan's Between Two Rivers
Speaking of great works, one of the festival highlights this year, and winner of the Audience Choice Award, was Between Two Rivers which documents the once thriving town of Cairo, IL, delving deep into the history of racial tensions that mark that tragic city.  The screening I attended at the University Museum was certainly overfull, but the positive response to the film was not affected in any way by a few folks having to pull up a floor.  One of the most captivating elements of Between Two Rivers is the combination of archival footage and photography, as well as how adeptly it identifies the history of racism in the area without being exploitative.  A fondness for the Southern Illinois landscape, strikingly captured by Cartwright and Jordan's cinematography, and an adeptness at weaving the stories of the area together in a way that rambles and co-mingles like the place where the waters of that once crucial intersection meet, Between Two Rivers is a documentary that will certainly communicate beyond it's local appeal.  Another feature of the film that is woven in effectively is the use of narration, expertly handled by a friend to ECSTATIC, Southern Illinois actor and film maker Bob Streit.  Steit was recently featured on ECSTATIC for his directorial debut Confidence Man, a documentary about another piece of So.Ill history involving the rise of the Woodbox Gang and the ultimate imprisonment of their front man Hugh DeNeal, which Streit created with Daniel Overturf and premiered this year at the St. Louis International Film Festival alongside the likes of Steve James' The Interrupters and AJ Schnack's Kurt Cobain About a Son.  Streit and Overturf were both involved in the production of Between Two Rivers, so congratulations to them and everyone involved for their successful showing at the Big Muddy.  Between this film and Elena Esquibel's exceptional ethnographic performance piece Sundown in Southern Illinois that was produced in SIU's Kleinau Theatre last year, I have re-focused insight into Southern Illinois history that I never came close to in the 5+ years I lived in the area.
To check out where you can see Between Two Rivers, click on their Facebook page.

Between Two Rivers
As always, I remain looking forward to next year's festival.  For those who live in the area, I can't stress enough how important it is to get out and support the Big Muddy Film Festival.  If you're a  student at SIU, you should be ashamed to let this great event pass without at least taking in a screening or two, especially since those who plan the festival do all they can to create discounted and free screenings for students.  Finally, thanks to all those who organized the festival, and congratulations on another rich year of films.  Long live the Big Muddy!