8 Ways Bladerunner 2049 Is Not Sexist – SPOILERS

 

The best science fiction literature and films deal with modern cultural and societal issues. They frequently do so set against the backdrop of a distant technologically superior albeit dystopian future. Bladerunner 2049 succeeds in this respect. For instance, it explores issues of humankind’s reliance on technology. But, the theme that was the most prevalent was that of  man’s diminishing role in the new world and the emerging importance of the female. Much has been written over the generational gap of understanding of the film. Several reviews have noted that demographically, only people over 40 were interested in seeing the film to begin with and those younger people who did go to see it, decried the film for being sexist. Yes, there is female nudity and representations of male-created ideals of femininity. Yes, there is violence perpetrated against females. But this shallow criticism shows a lack of ability to read beyond the surface images and apply meaning to them within the narrative of the story. True to my over-40 status, I’m going to go ahead and say that these people apparently did not watch the same film that I did. In fact, Ryan Gosling’s K/Joe spends the entire film being both manipulated by women who are both more powerful and smarter than him. There are many reasons why this film can arguably be read as feminist. Here are 8 of them:

SPOILER ALERT

  1. K’s boss is a woman. He does everything she tells him without question. He even kills his own kind because it is what he believes he was made to do. A belief she reinforces regularly. He does not question her, even when he is questioning his own identity. It is implied several times that he is a ‘’good boy’’ placing him in an inferior position.
  2. K has a virtual holographic girlfriend. Joi is young and beautiful. The first time we see her, she is dressed in typical 1950s housewife attire fretting about her recipe that she has made for dinner. Considered by many American males as being the ‘’good old days’’ when women knew their place. The fact that she is entirely a creation of K’s fantasy version of a perfect woman is not meant to be ironic or demeaning and it is far from sexist. Rather, it places K in the role of a man who has created a fantasy for himself and refuses to see reality. It makes him seem ridiculously old-fashioned. It is even explicitly said at one point that he ‘’doesn’t like real girls’’ and that Joi is nothing more than a product manufactured for his shallow needs. She holds no relation to anything close to a real woman. She feeds his ego over and over and it is  though her suggestions that K ultimately comes to believe that he is the first replicant child born naturally. In other words, it is because of her that he believes he is special through a majority of the film. When she gives him a human name, she calls him ‘’Joe.’’ Because he’s just an average Joe. This is true in every way possible.
  3. K is led to the group of rebels by a female prostitute with the aid of Joi. In other words, a female who is seemingly exploited every single day, uses the manufactured image of ‘’Joi’’ (the male’s ideal girl) to get what she wants from him. She exploits his need to fulfill his sexual fantasies by ‘’syncing’’ up with Joi. Here the word ‘’syncing’’ takes on a possible double meaning. One is technological, combining the virtual and the real. The second, conceivably comically refers to the long-held common male-originated myth that women who reside together can ‘’sync up their menstrual cycles.’’ Like this myth, K’s sexual experience is also not what it appears to be, as it is merely a ruse to lead him to the rebels, who are…surprise…led by a woman.
  4. The leader of said rebels informs K that no, he is not the special child. It’s a lie whose idea was planted by a fake woman and reinforced by the actual special child, who is…surprise…a woman.
  5. When he visits this woman, Dr. Ana Stelline, he finds her to be a memory maker. In other words, she creates the identities of and is therefore responsible for the psychological make-up of every single replicant on the planet. She is a creator. When K asks her if his traumatic childhood memories are real, she answers vaguely (but not untruthful) with tears in her eyes that ‘’these things are true.’’ K (and the audience) read her tears as sympathetic to K’s difficult childhood. Instead, it turns out that they are HER traumatic memories all along. She was crying because of her own trauma and K was so wrapped up into his own need to feel special that he (and we) completely misread her emotions and her response. Despite her having a compromised immune system, she is emotionally and technologically superior to every human on earth as she is the first of her kind. She cannot be touched, hugged or physically exploited as she lives in a hermetically sealed bubble. She is untouchable. She is the special person and the one who will bring revolution. The future does not, therefore lie in the hands of the average Joe because he is little more than a slave to his own antiquated ideals. At the end of the film, when confronted with a giant nude, over-sexualized holographic image of a seductive woman, K comes to the realisation that his entire purpose, unbeknownst to him up until that point, was to fulfil the mission of the replicant rebellion led by a females. The memories that he thought were real, were actually those implanted by the true miracle, who is female.
  6. The use of Las Vegas as an outdated, dead city, which K enters flanked by large dominating statues of female figures. He is small within the frame and they look as though they are going to eat him. Once inside the city, we are bombarded with images of old -school masculinity. There are holographic showgirls, and Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley sing the songs that gave them their reputations in their time, of being ‘’man’s men.’’ Even Deckard, who, in the first film was at his peak in terms of stereotypical maleness, limps along slowly and is flanked by a lame old dog. It is obvious that their time is over. The entire city is covered in a layer of sand and dust waiting for the last winds of change to cover it over forever, with only the women at the entrance remaining.
  7. Corporate magnate Wallace is a blind man who both physically resembles and speaks like a religious prophet. The first thing we see him do is to create a woman replicant. When he discovers that she is incapable of breeding, he destroys her by stabbing her in the reproductive organs. The film then immediately cuts to the reaction of his female replicant assistant, the very strong, but mercenary Luv. She sheds a single silent tear. Wallace represents every old-school man that clings to religion and wealth and attempts to exert control over womankind in 2017. Luv’s tear can be read both as sadness from seeing a fellow replicant cut down but also as sadness for having participated in the cutting down of a fellow female literally at the start of her existence. It is never made clear whether she may also feel sadness for being a traitor to her own kind, which she most definitely is. Even so, it is Luv who at the end of the film, who obliterates the old male ideals of the feminine when she literally stamps out the existence of Joi by stepping on K’s emulator where she is stored.
  8. When Wallace meets with Deckard, he makes it perfectly clear that Deckard’s falling in love with Rachel in the first film was entirely outside the realm of his own agency. Whether possible because he was programmed to do as a replicant (which is highly hinted at in the Director’s cut of the original film) or simply because he is a human male is irrelevant. Deckard was simply the sperm donor falling prey to his own idealized view of women. It was Rachel who was more important as she would would give birth to the child who will bring revolution in a chapter as yet unwritten in the Bladerunner universe.

Visually, Bladerunner 2049 is stunning. Those striking visuals include both nude and scantily clad female figures. But this does not automatically signal sexism. Rather, I would encourage the younger generation, to look for meaning in these images as they are presented within the narrative in relation to the male characters and their actions.  There is more going on here than meets the eye and I have no doubt that like its predecessor, this film will be analyzed in classrooms by future students of film and media. In my opinion, history will be kind.

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George A. Romero’s Feminist Themes

Yesterday, we lost the most influential filmmaker to the horror genre in generations. George A. Romero was single-handedly responsible for creating the zombie sub-genre with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. Known more for his themes of anti-consumerism, he also wove threads of the changing roles of women in society throughout the narratives of many of his films. On first glance, one might say that Night is outright sexist in its representation of women. I used to think this way. The adult female characters in are all ineffectual. Barbara is comatose from having witnessed her brother’s death, Helen Cooper speaks her mind but never really does anything and is constantly overshadowed by her loud-mouthed husband Harry. Worst of all, we have Judy who stupidly follows the lead of her boyfriend Tom all the way to their deaths.

But there is one more female that must not be overlooked. Karen Cooper, the feverish little girl who was bitten by a zombie prior to the start of the film. She is the future. It is surely no coincidence that she utterly destroyers the previous generation, stabbing and consuming them. Karen generates the biggest impact (and the biggest scare) of the entire film. Even today, with more almost 50 years of gore in its wake, the garden trowel scene loses no impact. Drawing a parallel with societal change, the scene is violent, painful and leaves the viewer feeling shocked and slightly sad.

For the next 2 decades, Romero’s subsequent films consistently featured stories concerned with the role of women in society as perceived by both themselves as well as the men around them.

Season of the Witch (1971), which was originally titled Jack’s Wife, is not a horror film, although it does contain the plot device of witchcraft. Produced in 1971 Season of the Witch (1971) is very much a reflection of the time period when feminism and Women’s Liberation were gaining traction in America. The lead character of Joan (Jan White, who coincidentally shares her name with a very real famous witch) is very much “a product of traditional patriarchy who seeks individualism and freedom from oppressive conformity” (Wilson).

The first scene in the film is a dream in which Joan follows her husband Jack (Bill Thunhurst) through the woods obediently. He ignores her and allows the branches he is parting to whip back and scratch her face as he passes through. Further on, Joan sees an image of herself swinging happily on a tree-swing dressed completely in symbolic white. Before Joan can reach out to her own self- image and grab happiness, Jack reaches into the frame, attaches a collar to her neck, and leads her around on a leash for the remainder of the sequence. The scene ends with Joan receiving a smack on the nose with a newspaper and she is then left alone in a kennel while Jack is away. In match-cut that retains Joan’s seated position in the cage, she is suddenly sitting in her home, creating the visual association that Joan’s home is like a cage.

Joan is led around by a realtor, who describes her life to her as if it were everything anyone could ever want. The house is nice and up to date for the time period. Her kitchen has all the best appliances and her closet has “all the latest styles” but the dream turns into a nightmare when Joan once again encounters her doppelganger. Instead of being happy as she was on the swing, this time she is an old hag who has wasted her life being “Jack’s wife.” When Joan awakens in her bedroom, reality and the nightmare are the same. Reflecting Romero’s typical anti-consumerist stance, an outwardly appearing ideal socio-economic situation s actually a slow death for Joan where she will grow old and die lest she break out of her role as a financially dependent wife and mother and become her own person.

Mirrors feature prominently within the overall mise-en-scene and help to illustrate the shallowness of Joan’s attempt at an internal transformation via external sources. There are many shots of Joan inspecting her face and other parts of her body as well as applying make-up to help turn back the clock. Beauty is only skin deep and therefore not very different from the labels that society places on women. To truly change and become happy, Joan will have to reject her social conditioning, and embrace an ideology more progressive for the time period.

Following a visit with her friend to a local self-proclaimed witch for a Tarot card reading, Joan is intrigued and immediately converts from Catholicism to Magick. She embarks on an affair with a younger man and eventually kills her abusive husband “accidentally” as she believed him to a be a prowler.

The dog imagery at the open of the film comes full circle to the end where she is tied up with a collar during her initiation rights into the local Coven. She is now making her own decision to be objectified, even if she is not consciously aware of it. True change was difficult for women in that time, even for those who desired it.

By 1978, Dawn of the Dead’s Fran (Gaylen Ross) has a career, speaks her mind, learns to shoot and becomes a helicopter pilot, despite being pregnant. She is smart and quickly adapts to the new reality of the zombie apocalypse, even when her macho male counterparts suffer from battle fatigue. In 1985’s Day of the Dead, we have a lead zombie-fighting, gun-toting scientist named Sarah (Lori Cardille), who was perhaps the most badass of all his female characters. It’s her movie and she carries it well.

1980’s Knightridgers gave us Romero’s most richly diverse cast of females. The film deals with highly principled motorcycle enthusiast Billy Davis (Ed Harris) who wishes to live outside the confines of an increasingly shallow and materialistic society. To accomplish this, he creates his own private Camelot in the form of a self-sufficient medieval style community where the members move from town to town putting on motorcycle jousting shows for the local citizenry.

The group includes artistic misfits from just about every walk of life. There are bi-racial couples, homosexuals, doctors, entertainers and craftspeople, who have made a “conscious adult decision” to live under low-income conditions in exchange for the ability to live as they wish outside the conventions of “normal” society.

The women inside the group are portrayed as strong and independent. At first, bike mechanic Angie (Christine Romero), who is constantly cheated on by her boyfriend Morgan (Tom Savini), puts up with a lot. But, once she realizes her value as a human being at the behest of her gay friend Pip (Warner Shook), she speaks her mind freely and confronts Morgan telling him that although there is no one else right now that she is interested in “someday there will be.” Additionally, the lesbian character of Rocky, quickly identifies as one of the best bikers in the group.

Conversely, life on the outside in the “normal” world is portrayed as lonely and shallow for women. Julie Dean (Patricia Tallman) is a bubble-headed sweet teenager who runs away from her abusive home to join the group and embark on a whirlwind romance with Billy’s favorite knight Alan (Gary Lahti). The girl’s father is portrayed as an oafish drunkard who beats his wife, Helen (Iva Jean Saraceni) regularly. In the best shot in the film, we see Helen crying in her kitchen, dwarfed by large, neutral colored empty walls.

After realizing Julie is too young for him, Alan brings Julie home and leaves her crying on the curb in front of her house. When the light in the front room turns on, Julie raises her head with an expression of abject fear. Her father will beat her for running away. Rather than give the audience resolution on the matter, we never see this character again. It is an editorial choice that resigns the audience to the depressing fact that things like this happen all the time. Knights in shining armor aren’t real and sometimes, men just suck.

Although his output dwindled in quality over the last 10 years, George A. Romero will always remain a legend for creating the flesh-eating living dead sub-genre. I’d like to remember him as a feminist as well.

 

Works Cited

Belton, John. American Cinema American Culture. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2009.

Dawn Of The Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. Perf. Gaylen Ross, Ken Foree, Scott             Reiniger and David Emge. Laurel Entertainment, 1978.

Gagne, Paul R. The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh: The Films of George A. Romero.

New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1987.

Knightriders. Dir. George A. Romero. Perf. Ed Harris, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest and Patricia Tallman. Laurel Entertainment, 1980.

Nemiroff, Perry. “Interview: Survival Of The Dead Writer-Director George A. Romero.”

Cinemablend.com. May, 2010. < http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Interview-Survival-   Of-The-Dead-Writer-Director-George-A-Romero-18735.html

Season Of The Witch. Dir. George A. Romero. Perf. Jan White, Bill Thunhurst and Ray Laine.     The Latent Image Group, 1971.

Williams, Tony. The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight Of The Living Dead.

Great Britain: Wallflower Press, 2003.

Wilson, Brian. “George A. Romero.” Senses of Cinema. November, 2006.

< http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/07/romero.html#biblio

David Lynch’s America

4 Forgotten Films To Watch On Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day and though there are plenty of newer films available to honor the day, why not celebrate the feminine with a few forgotten old school films? None of the films on this list were commercial blockbusters at their time of release but all of them are now highly respected and/or considered classics with the added benefit of having kick-ass soundtracks. Enjoy.

Season of the Witch (a.k.a Jack’s Wife) (1972) Dir: George A. Romero

Season of hte Witch

Image ©Arrow Video

The only film on the list written and directed without the input of a woman, this film nonetheless shows remarkable insight into the minds of aging housewives in the late 1960’s at the dawn of the women’s liberation movement. The plot concerns Catholic housewife Joan (Jan White), who has spent the best years of her life doting on her abusive husband Jack (Bill Thunhurst), and raising her very cool free-thinking daughter, who is now in college and no longer needs her. Despite having all the comforts of a suburban life, she regularly attends therapy sessions for her recurring nightmares in which she is tied up like a dog and left in a kennel by Jack. Eventually, she meets a practicing female occultist and decides to explore “the craft” in an effort to gain meaning and empowerment in her life. The question at the heart of the film is whether witchcraft is responsible for Joan’s ensuing emancipation, or her decisions. She casts spells, but she also initiates practical steps that are in no way supernatural and directly lead to her having an affair with her daughter’s boyfriend, breaking off her relationships with her older, more conservative-thinking female friends, and ultimately to the death of her husband. The power, it seems, was Joan’s all along and it is her decision alone who she will submit to. No irony is spared when we see her dead husband being carted away on a stretcher intercut with images of her kneeling down, completely nude for indoctrination into her local coven. Entirely happy with her new identity, the film’s conclusion is nonetheless haunting as it seems the rest of the world has yet to catch up with the new modern Joan as she is still referred to socially as “Jack’s wife.”

In the UK, Arrow Video will be releasing this film later this year on Blu-Ray. Definitely check it out.

Foxes (1980) Dir: Adrian Lyne

FOXES400

Image ©Warner Home Video

Starring a young Jodie Foster and The Runaways’ Cherie Curie, the film follows the friendship of a group of girls in L.A. in their last year of High School in the late ‘70s. Although each girl has a coming-of-age storyline, the plot’s focus lies mainly with latchkey kid Jeanie (Foster), and her close relationship with her druggie friend Annie (Curie) who constantly parties to avoid going home to her physically abusive policeman father. Director Lyne is no stranger to drawing complex authentic performances from his female actors as evidenced by his excellent take on Nabokov’s Lolita (1997) and this film is no exception. Jeanie is not just a kid. She’s the smartest person in the room even when she’s with her mother or her teachers. She takes care of everyone and everything. Consequently, she has difficulty finding people who will look after her when she needs it. Her parents are divorced and both act younger than her. After tragedy befalls one of their group, Jeanie leaves them all behind for college and hopefully a better future.

Times Square (1980) Dir: Allan Moyle

Time Square

Image ©Network Video

This film is probably my favorite on the list. The development of the unlikely friendship between shy well-off Pam (Trini Alvarado) and volatile street musician Nicky (Robin Johnson) into the Sleeze sisters, who become beloved by all the young girls in the city for their take no bullshit attitude and music is only enhanced by the backdrop of decaying 1980 Manhattan, which almost becomes a character in and of itself with the age-old question of culture vs. gentrification featuring prominently. The changing city has an important impact on the way these divergent girls come together to understand each other, their sexualities, and the outside commercial world. In the end, the message is one of rebellion, self-expression and believing in yourself, even when at odds with those closest to you. As if those weren’t enough reasons to see it, the soundtrack rocks and Tim Curry plays a DJ.

Girls Town (1996) Dir: Jim Mckay

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Image ©Lions Gate Films

Not to be confused with the 1950’s Mamie Van Doren movie, this title is another film about the last year of high school, this time set in gritty urban New Jersey. The film follows a gang of four girls (Lili Taylor, Bruklin Harris, Anna Grace and Aunjanue Ellis) one of who is a single teen mother to a little girl, who must cope in the aftermath of the rape and subsequent suicide of one of their group. Feelings of rage, sadness and hopelessness cause the surviving three to act out towards in various ways, to just about everyone in their periphery despite the prospect of college and a better future. The girls become closer in their shared trauma but and they know in their hearts, that no matter where any of them end up in life, this will be the event that defines their friendship. The writing (with contributions from co-star Lily Taylor) is especially poignant when dealing with mother-daughter issues and the guidance or lack thereof provided after the incident. This one is hard to find as it was only ever made available on VHS, but it is worth looking for the occasional screenings on IFC, which is where I first discovered it. The performances are incredibly strong and the soundtrack features some great music from that era, including Queen Latifah’s U.N.I.T.Y., which is used to great affect as the girls patrol their neighborhood spoiling for a fight.

 

 

Honoring Divine in the Month of March

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Image © 2017 The Criterion Collection

This month marks the 29th anniversary since the death of Divine, the actor, singer and drag queen most famous for the films he made with his friend and fellow Baltimore native, John Waters. Recently, a full six months after its release in North America, the United Kingdom was blessed with the limited theatrical release of the newly restored version of Waters’ second film 1970 Multiple Maniacs. On the 21st, The Criterion Collection will be releasing the title on DVD and Blu-Ray and for fans, it is essential viewing.

For mainstream audiences the 1988 feel-good Hairspray, its subsequent Broadway musical adaptation and then play’s 2007 cinematic re-adaptation are likely their first introductions to the duo. But, for those casual fans curious about the humble beginnings of Waters and his muse Divine (aka Harris Glenn Milstead) Multiple Maniacs is as good a starting point as any and perhaps a gentler introduction to the pair’s oeuvre than the more famous Pink Flamingos (1972.)

The plot of Multiple Maniacs concerns “Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions” where unsuspecting middle-class punters pay to see such late ‘60s American horrors as “real homosexuals kissing” in a Baltimore roadside carnival scam where everyone is eventually humorously robbed, humiliated or killed. Like all of Waters’ early work with Divine, the story is secondary to the visuals, which are indeed meant to shock and include simulated sexual acts with a rosary inside a church and a sexual assault perpetrated by a giant lobster.

Past reviews have referred to the film as “outrageous”, and “grotesque.” It is also agreed by many to be very funny and it was indeed, a hell of a good time to watch it with an audience at the BFI.

In the 47 years since its initial release, the one word that has probably never been associated with Multiple Maniacs is charming. Not charming as intended by a film like Marley and Me (which is arguably a more traumatic a viewing experience) but charming like your favorite nephew’s first student film that had monsters running around in it. Where the director and crew had not yet mastered the technical skills associated with good filmmaking but whose results made it abundantly clear that those kids put their hearts and souls into every frame.

Rather than being mean-spirited, the scenes of violence in Multiple Maniacs are frequently evocative of child’s play, with Divine’s knife strikes missing their intended targets by a good 18 inches. Compared to modern rebellious cinema, such as the New French Extremity movement, this film feels innocent. The missed cues, flubbed dialogue, out-of-focus zooms and awkward editing only add to the experience and more than once, I found myself rooting for Edith Massey (the egg lady from Pink Flamingos, 1972) to get through a whole take without missing a line.

Of course, as with all of Waters’ earlier works, Divine is the standout performer of the piece. He effortlessly recites pages upon pages of dialogue without missing a word, hits all of his marks perfectly and ultimately elevates the proceedings to new heights in his high heels. The camera loved him, whether he played men or women. Waters knew this and his instinct to showcase Divine’s talents whenever possible was part of what made him into the cult hero director he is today. Had Divine lived, he would have no doubt enjoyed the same enduring success.

As fate would have it, March 7th is the 29th anniversary of Divine’s death. He died of heart failure at the age of 42 in 1988 on the eve of starting work on what was likely to become a groundbreaking recurring role as the openly gay Uncle Otto on the American sitcom Married With Children.

Of his late friend and long-time collaborator, Waters once said “I think he changed drag queens forever. Ru Paul’s show wouldn’t be there. His legacy was that he made all drag queens cool. They were square then, they wanted to be Miss America and be their mothers.”

So, in honor of the great Divine, (and John Waters who was recently bestowed the Writers’ Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award) pick yourself up a copy of Criterion’s newly restored Multiple Maniacs on DVD or Blu-Ray, make some popcorn and have some friends around. Soon you’ll all be quoting such award-winning lines as “I love you so fucking much…I could shit!”

Sources:

http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/26962/1/john-waters-remembers-legendary-drag-queen-divine

https://www.criterion.com/films/28954-multiple-maniacs

5 Films in 5 Weeks – Halloween Edition

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It’s 5 weeks until Halloween. In the run-up to the big day, there will be parties, costumes, candy and decorations. Part of celebrating the season includes watching scary films. If you’re too busy to look through the longer lists available online, here’s a short tally of recommendations for your viewing pleasure, on per week in the run up to Halloween 2016.

  1. The Thing (1982) Dir: John Carpenter

THE GREATEST HORROR MOVIE EVER MADE. All the films on this list lose nothing with repeated viewings, but The Thing is so well constructed, that the mystery deepens each time. Details emerge that we didn’t notice the first (or fifth) time. Every shot, every edit and every plot twist are perfectly crafted to keep us guessing and on the edge of our seats. There is no waste. It is a lean, mean scaring machine with great acting, atmosphere, real in-screen special effects and creatures the way your wannabe Tom Savini loving cousin used to make. You haven’t seen it? “You gotta be fucking kidding me!” If you have, go watch it again. See if you can figure out if Doc was infected when he logged on to the computer.

  1. Halloween (1978) Dir: John Carpenter

The first of two films by John Carpenter on this list. Though the re-make by Rob Zombie gets its fair share of respect from audiences, I was not one of the champions. I threw my remote at the TV as the credits rolled. Then I re-watched the original classic to wash the bad taste from my mouth. Michael Myers was scarier when we didn’t know why he killed. He just did. That’s all we need to know. The story, though simple, is so well photographed, acted and scored that it still holds up 38 years later. Watch it with the lights off and if you’ve seen it, watch it with someone who has never had. It’s fun to see people jump the way we did the first time and it really brings home how effective Carpenter is as a director.

  1. The Exorcist (1973) Dir: William Friedkin

Lauded as the “scariest movie of all-time” it needs no exposition. Full disclosure: I was unable to watch this all the way through until I was 41 years old and yes, I had nightmares after.

  1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Dir: Tobe Hooper

Far superior to the 2003 re-make. I base my opinion on my experience of watching a restored print at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA with an audience of millennial film students. Initially, they were dismissive, chuckling at the bell-bottoms and astrology-driven dialogue. But, once Leatherface made his first kill with his handy sledgehammer, they became silent. They remained so through the continued mayhem until well after the end credits. When the house lights came they revealed expressions of traumatized dismay. 42 years later, it still packs a punch. Right in the gut. With the business end of a sledge.

  1. Evil Dead (2013) Dir: Frede Alvarez

In a sea of bad re-makes of horror classics, this one stands a mountain above the rest and deserves a place on this list. It respects the Sam Raimi classic while updating it smartly within the narrative. It increases the tension of the original situation by adding the specter of drug addiction and ramps up the pace and effects to such an extent that when it was over, I had all but forgotten all about my undying love for Ash and his boom stick. Of course, if this list were longer, I would honor that love and tell you to watch the original as well as its two awesome sequels. Groovy.

Got a scary film you’d think I overlooked or a list of your own? Please share it in the comments section! Happy Halloween and Happy Viewing!

Spotlight: Filmmaker Julia Marchese

Out of Print

 

This Thursday, London’s top revival independent cinema The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square will be screening first-time-director Julia Marchese’s indie-documentary Out of Print, a fun and informative film that highlights theatres just like the Prince Charles. Those reasonably priced privately owned cinemas with double features, theme nights and old-school popcorn with real butter. There aren’t many of these places left in 2016 no matter where you live and that is why Marchese made this movie.

Although the film largely focuses on Marchese’s former employer, The New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, through the eyes of its employees and customers such as director Joe Dante, the broader theme highlights the consequence of the advent of digital formats on the little guys as well as the relevance of watching older films in their intended formats and the importance of film preservation in general.

The financial struggle for these cinemas is real. Especially in the light of a recent decision by several major studios to halt the striking and distribution of any 35mm prints for any films, new or old regardless of how they were originally made.

As a Los Angeles resident with for 15 years with a passion for film, I spent many an evening at the New Beverly. I remember Julia selling me tickets and wondered how she made the transition from behind the ticket counter to behind the camera. She was kind enough to answer my questions in an interview conducted via e-mail last week. This is the edited version. Julia herself will be on hand Thursday at the screening to answer more questions after the film.

Q: Independent filmmakers all face great challenges, from raising money in the beginning to distribution in the end. Which were the most difficult challenges to overcome and what are you the most proud of, looking back over the past 4 years? 

A: “I’m proud that I set out to make a film and I did. My motto (like Elvis’) is Taking Care of Business in a flash. I’m proud that I took this movie from an idea in my head to a 35mm print. The most fun thing about it was learning how to do everything. And luckily I had so many incredible people to guide me through every step.”

“The most difficult thing was getting fired from the New Beverly after the film was already complete. It was so bloody crushing to have a film that suddenly switches from a joyous one to a melancholy one. I have a film that promotes a place that I no longer wish to promote, so I feel like that has hindered my joy about the whole project a bit. Now I would make an entirely different film, of course. But the film has a bigger message – that EVERY independent cinema is important, so THAT I can be proud of.”

Q: When making Out of Print, where did you draw your inspiration? Were there any documentaries that you watched that inspired you? 

A: “Yes! The four that I repeatedly watched were Exit Through the Gift Shop, Grey Gardens, Cinemania and American Movie. All of these films treat their subjects with reverence and a sense of humor that I love. Each one is endlessly watchable and absolutely fascinating every time.”

Q: Who is your favorite filmmaker?  

A: “Alejandro Jodorowsky. His films absolutely blow my mind. He is unlike any other filmmaker out there, and he is still making such extraordinary work. Dance of Reality was terrific and I donated to his campaign for his new movie, Endless Poetry.”  

Q: Since your petition to preserve film prints, what positive developments have happened in the area of film preservation? 

 A: “Across the world, there are thousands of dedicated souls working in archives everyday to preserve film prints. They were there before I made Out of Print, and they will be there after, and I am so grateful to each and every one of them for choosing to spend their lives saving the past. No matter what the studio decide, we will always have these silent warriors fighting the good fight.”

Q: In Out of Print, one of the interview subjects drew a very apt parallel with the digitalization of music. Vinyl has had a recent resurgence, with many old classic albums being re-issued over the past 18 month and bands even releasing new material in both formats side by side. Do you see this as a trend that may happen with film? Why or why not? 

A: “…The thing about vinyl is that it is a medium directly available to the public – film prints are owned by companies. There are 35mm collectors, but they are few and far between, and were never meant to be owned by the public. …It’s tricky.”

Q: What other developments, technical or otherwise, do you potentially see happening in the future regarding film preservation?  

A:  “Sooner or later, the studios are going to realize that all films need to be stored on film. Hopefully that will cause them to up their production of it again – digital just isn’t permanent.”

Q: This film goes a long way at getting the word out on the importance of revival cinemas and film preservation. What do you think that revival and repertory theaters could do on their own to help the cause and improve their bottom lines? 

A: “Making every single customer feel comfortable and like they’re part of the community is so important. Try new things. See what others around you are programming, and ask for help if you need it.”

Q: You spent some time filming in London at the Prince Charles Cinema for Out of Print. What is the biggest difference in the film-geek culture that you saw in Los Angeles vs. London? 

 A: “I programmed a double feature of Fast Times at Ridgemont High & Night of the Comet at the Prince Charles Cinema, so I got to see those up on the big screen, and I caught a midnight screening of El Topo there too. (Jodorowsky! Yay!) The audiences for both were awesome. There really wasn’t much of a difference and that was what was so bitchin’. Movie geeks are pretty awesome everywhere you go – that’s what makes independent cinemas so cool! “ 

Q: What project or projects are you working on now?

A: “I am hoping to start a new project in the UK, filming a series of mini-docs. Each one will focus on a single cinema, and we will see it through the eyes of the employees and regulars – the people who love it most. I’m really excited!”

Tickets for Thursday’s screening with director Q&A are available here: https://www.princecharlescinema.com/performances/16661/