Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Strike One, Strike Two, Strike Three

As I mentioned, when I attend Indiefest each year, I am forced to endure some truly horrible films. Some of these films, I dislike as a matter of personal taste. Others, I dislike because they are poorly made, poorly acted, poorly directed, poorly scripted, et al.

This year, Indiefest showed a funny short film titled Moosecock. It was a film within a film. The film includes a vapid ~1 minute film plus 6 minutes of the Making of Moosecock mocumentary.

I think the Indiefest organizers should give out an award to the film that scores the lowest in audience voting. Perhaps they can chip in a few dollars or find a sponsor to give out the Golden Moosecock Audience Award. The cash prize would be contingent on the filmmaker agreeing not to make anymore films. I'd kick in $20 to stop some of these filmmakers from filming again.

My three worst films of the 2007 Indiefest are:

2nd Runner-Up: The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell; (2006). This film falls into the category of personal taste. The nonsensical plot (set in 2097) has to do with a post-apocalyptic United States. Tex Kennedy is destined to lead the US into a new future. He takes two human looking robot/bodyguards and his girlfriend Cannibal Sue along for the ride. There is a blind prophet, the Spawn of Satan dressed like a lounge singer, Satan's sadistic minions, Fidel Castro's descendant, and a rival gang that wants to kill Satan (or does he want to kill Tex?). This film reminds me of another film from my youth - The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. I never understood or liked that film and the production values were a lot better than The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell. The audience around me ate this film up so perhaps I "just don't get it."

At the beginning of the film, a very attractive 50something woman played the last President of the United States prior to the apocalypse. During the Q&A, I realized that she was Jane Seymour. Her daughter was involved in the project. Daniel Baldwin had a small role as well.

I will say that this film made me laugh at times and the directors did insert some Shakespearean threads into the film.

The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell Official Website

1st Runner-Up: A Ripple in the World; (2007). Get a load of this script: A 22 year old virgin works at a hotel. He sees a cute hooker coming through there on a regular basis. He calls up the escort agency and asks them to send over the girl based on his description. Instead of a girl, they send over a tranny who just happens to be the brother of the whore of his dreams! By the end of the movie the virgin has gotten a blowjob from the tranny and had sex with the sister (while her tranny brother is on murderous rampage). Add in an urban cowboy pimp, a blues singing/guitar playing preacher, and an obese, sociopathic, closeted homosexual for good measure.

You would think that would be enough for an entertaining if not trashy movie. Perhaps under more experienced/talented direction it would have been. Instead, we get crappy looking video, stultifying dialogue, clichés, and wooden acting. Director Aron Cho said he had more skills as a director on this film than he did on his first film. Maybe by his 10th film, we’ll get something worthwhile. The acting and dialogue constantly reminded me of how bad the acting and dialogue were instead of the advancing the plot. This film is the perfect example of a film that could have been much better with the same plot but with a different director and cast. I believe Cho wrote the screenplay so he should be congratulated on that; the potential of the film is apparent.

2007 Golden Moosecock Winner: Dance Party, USA; (2006). This film typifies everything I think is wrong with independent films today. Foremost, it is one of these films with minimal scripting. The dialogue sounds as if it was ad libbed by the actors. Rather than having a script, the director develops back stories for the characters and puts the actors together to brainstorm. The director tells the actors to advance the meager plot with dialogue they think appropriate.

The film was shot on video for a small amount. Filmmakers are hesitant to say how much a film costs because it is used against them when they negotiate for the film to be distributed. I don't think Dance Party, USA has anything to worry about but I won't say exactly how much the director quoted. I will say that many people in the Bay Area have monthly mortgages that exceed this film's budget.

Modern technology enables a film like this to be made. A person can go down to a consumer electronics store, buy a digital video recorder, and make a film. Some off-the-shelf software and a powerful PC are all that's needed to edit the film and do post-production. This may sound egalitarian but the net effect is that people that shouldn't be making films are making film. Because it is so cheap to make these films, the director is not disciplined with the script. If a film like this was shot on 35 mm film, the director would have to make specific choices about blocking the scene, how long the scene should last, etc. In other words, the director would have to direct.

A common retort I hear to my criticisms is that digital video or HD allows filmmakers to experiment with actors, plots, filming techniques, etc. That is a valid statement but why do I have to pay to watch an experiment or what is in essence, a film school project?

Worst of all, this film is plodding. I fell asleep about 2/3 of the way into this film. I didn’t wake up until the audience started clapping. The plot revolves around Gus (who looks older than his 17 year old character) who tells tales about his sexual conquests. He goes to a 4th of July party and meets up with an odd 17 year old girl, Jessica. Without much prompting Gus tells Jessica about how he raped a comatose 14 year old girl at a party last year (for added dramatic effect, the girl regains consciousness during the attack). This somehow strengthens the bond between Gus & Jessica. Gus does what any 17 year old in his situation would do – he tracks down the 14 year old, goes to her house, and asks her if anything bad has happened to her. She doesn’t recognize him so (apparently home alone) she invites him in to watch TV. The two share a long conversation filled with pauses. That was the best part of the film because the pauses between dialogue were long enough that I was able to doze off until the end of the film. I don’t know how the conversation turned out or how Gus and Jessica ended up but I can’t say that I care.

The interview after the film was very interesting. Indiefest Programming Director Bruce Fletcher blathered on about how the filmmaker was at the forefront of a new age of filmmaking – ostensibly a more realistic portrayal of life that eschewed scripted and stylized plots. Fletcher noted (without a hint of sarcasm) that the filmmaker had made three films in the year since Dance Party, USA. I guess the thought that making three feature length films in one year would stretch the creative limits of an artistic genius never crossed Fletcher’s mind. Aaron Katz, the director of the film and not an artistic genius, then noted that he made the film for such an inexpensive sum and that being able to make his films for such a small amount freed him from the constraints imposed by producers and financiers. I guess the constraints he was referring to were entertainment value and an audience that was awake.

Fletcher then brought up the director of a 2006 Indiefest entry, reverently invoked the name of Bujalski, and asked if these auteurs were the leaders of this New Wave Cinema Vérité. At least, I discovered that 2007 Indiefest film LOL was filmed in a similar style; that’s 2 hours of my life I was able to devote to something else.

The film scraped the bottom of the barrel. Do Indiefest programmers really enjoy these films or are they just jumping on the bandwagon (Katz’s next film is showing at SXSW)? For his next film, I hope Katz's budget allows for a few reams of paper so he can provide a script to his actors

The only good thing I can say about this film is that it is not as execrable or pathetic as some of the stuff Indiefest has shown in previous years.

Dance Party, USA Official Website


Jason Wiener said...

Ha! As usual, we totally disagree, but I love reading your opinions, and I love the idea of a "golden moosecock". Personally, I can't get enough moosecock. That movie's all about getting a theater full of idiots to shout "moosecock", and I don't know if we were in the same screening but it totally worked at mine. The guy next to me said it (the juvenile shouting of "moosecock") reminded him of high school, so of course I had to say, "So, you got a lot of moosecock in high school, did you?"

Anyway, the real reason I wanted to comment is to point out that "Dance Party USA" was actually almost totally scripted. I know it's not your cup of tea, but I'm sure the director would really get a kick out of knowing you hated it because you don't like unscripted, ad-libbed stuff.

BTW, "LOL" actually was almost completely unscripted, and of the two I preferred it. So, given our differing tastes, it's probably good you missed it.

Finally, as far as Bujalski worship goes, I hated "Funny Ha Ha", but loved "Mutual Appreciation", so sometimes the style works and sometimes it doesn't.

Dan said...


I'm not sure if we have the same definition of scripted. At the Dance Party, USA screening I attended on Friday, Feb. 9, Bruce asked Katz how he achieved the "naturalistic" dialogue or some similar adjective. Katz response was that he allowed the actors to come up with much of their own dialogue as long as the plot was served. I took that to mean it was pieced together immediately before they filmed each scene.

My recollection and inferred opinion was that dialogue was not scripted and that the plot only contained minimal detail. I could be wrong though. I was just waking up from a nap.

The specific words coming out of the actors' mouths could have been written well in advance of filming but that doesn't change my opinion of the film. I would still give it the Golden Moosecock for the same reasons; I would just have a different opinion of why and how Katz made the film he did.