Week one - A week with Radley Metzger
The first week at Offscreen was all about porno chic director Radley Metzger. The festival did a retrospective of his work and invited Metzger over for a week. He was such a sweet person to hang out with. When he wasn't sharing anecdotes about his experiences on set, he was joking around like no other. “Oh, you’re writing a book about pussy,” he said when he learned that I was working on a book about my cat. At Marcolini he wanted to pay with his public transport card, and in the tea shop he ordered a spaghetti Milanese. The jokes usually came with a straight face, and sometimes I could scarcely differentiate between what was supposed to be funny and what was not: “That was a joke, you know. You have to laugh,” he reminded us regularly.
Fun anecdote: After the screening of The Lickerish Quartet, we had dinner at Ricotta & Parmesan, when a girl entered the restaurant, walked over to our table, and presented herself to Radley Metzger as Nikki from Brussels. “I was in Playboy a couple of months ago,” she said, and she shoved a copy of the magazine under his nose, saying he should contact her if he ever needed an actress for a new film. “Does this happen a lot?” I asked Radley afterwards. “Not since the seventies,” he said. “It's a pity, because I just love aggressive girls like this, the ones that go after what they want. And I like my women to be trashy too.” Maybe he was only joking.
After dinner, we returned to the festival and attended a live soundtrack performance by the Oaïstern collective for early 20th Century European westerns shot in the French Camargue. It was as interesting as it was boring, and we left the performance before it was over.
Week two - Bond girls and British trash
The second week of the Offscreen Film Festival was mainly dedicated to British trash cinema, and started for me Wednesday with an introduction to the eighties horror Xtro (1983). I’d seen Xtro a good fifteen years earlier and had forgotten how fun it really was. Vicious aliens manifest bloodthirsty beasts and clowns with the power of their thoughts, and go on a spree to turn humans into aliens. It’s all incredibly nonsensical, but that’s exactly what makes Xtro so charming.
On Thursday I watched the Belgian film The Miracle Of Life (2013). This mix between Basket Case and Mask with a pinch of Troma follows the life of a placenta (!) from birth to adolescence. Advertised as a horror movie, I expected lots of gore, but the placenta is actually pretty sweet; he even falls in love and is bullied at school. Despite this film being a low budget school project, it’s made with care, and the talent of the filmmakers shines through in multiple ways. The only low point is some of the acting, but with an outrageous film like The Miracle Of Life, this hardly matters. Chances are this weirdness will become a new cult hit, so keep your eyes out for it.
My favorite day of the week was definitely Friday, when author Ian Hunter (British Trash Cinema) and I introduced several British horror films. The first of the bunch were Psychomania (1973), a silly cult film about zombie bikers that wasn't half as funny as I thought it would be, and Horror Hospital (1973), an easy but entertaining film about a doctor who turns the patients of his "health hotel" into mindless beings. The night ended with Killer’s Moon (1976) which immediately became a new trash favorite of mine. Known as "Britain’s sleaziest film," Killer’s Moon follows a group of schoolgirls as they are being raped and murdered by a group of crazies that have escaped the mental hospital. The filming locations in the English countryside and the blue colors work in perfect harmony with the disturbing atmosphere. Some of the scenes and dialogue have shocked a few spectators (“You’ve only been raped. I’ll keep it a secret, so you can go on with your life and make lots of children”), but what few people know is that the screenplay was partly written by feminist novelist Faye Weldon. Killer’s Moon may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly was mine.
This was followed by Slave Girls (aka Prehistoric Women) (1967). This old-school adventure film about a tribe of brunettes and their blonde slaves brought a big smile to my face, not just because of the cheesiness, but also because it was so fun. During her stay in Brussels, I got to know Slave Girls actress Martine Beswick a little and it struck me how much she had in common with her character Kari, especially how she loves to be pampered and take the lead. By the way, Martine and I had quite a few things in common too, mainly our obsession with food and cats. I believe we bored Ian Hunter silly with our feline anecdotes and our babble about the book A Streetcat named Bob.
The second Offscreen week ended on Sunday with Oscar winner Her (2013), which constantly approached the verge of sentimentality, but which was deep and meaningful enough to balance it all out. And who knew that a man's relationship with his computer could actually resemble the ups and downs of a human love affair?
Week three - Hysterical nuns and vengeful dominatrixes
My third Offscreen week started on Tuesday with a special uncut screening of Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971). A film rarely makes me feel ill at ease, but The Devils got me out of my cinematic comfort zone and left me concussed for hours. Set in 17th century France, it is the story of a deformed nun (a grandiose Vanessa Redgrave) who becomes erotically obsessed with Father Grandier, who then stands accused of her "demonic possession." With his trademark theatricality and sacrilegious imagery, Ken Russell showcases the mass hysteria and personal amendability that is so closely linked to religion. But in the end, no matter how unsettling the insanity, it is the injustice towards Father Grandier and the ensuing torture, that brings the most discomfort. A masterpiece.
On Thursday, I went to see The Shout (1978), the story of a man who claims to be able to kill with a shout, and uses this ability to manipulate a couple. Shot in Devon, England, the typical English cottages and countryside locations are what makes this bizarre Nicolas Roeg-type story come alive. An interesting watch, but not something I would absolutely recommend.
Friday started with Hitoshi Matsumoto’s latest, R100 (2013). An average family man secretly joins a club which promises surprise visits from professional dominatrixes. When they begin showing up at his workplace, at home, in restaurants, and on every street corner, he tries to put an end to the madness. But as breach of contract is not allowed for a year, these women have something much worse in store for him. For an entire hour R100 is hilariously funny, though a bit repetitive, but the third act is so over-the-top I stopped laughing completely (however, many believe this is the best part of the film).
After the screening of R100, I introduced Altered States and The Lair Of The White Worm, both in collaboration with Lisi Russell (his spouse) and Paul Sutton (author of the biography Becoming Ken Russell). Though I already knew it by heart, I watched The Lair Of The White Worm (1988) again with the audience. Of all the Ken Russell films I’ve seen, this is the only one I wouldn’t consider a masterpiece, but it is definitely the one that succeeds best in making me good-humored. Based on the legend of the Dampton worm (and partly on Bram Stoker’s last novel), the story of an accursed town inhabited by snake-people that worship a giant white worm is quite simple, but it’s Russell’s eccentric style and frightening imagery, that transforms this story into something highly original, memorable, and fun. By the way, Lisi told us that the production forced Ken Russell to cast Catherine Oxenberg because she was famous for Dynasty, but her voice was dubbed by someone else. When Oxenberg found out during the premiere, she ran out crying.
Computer Chess (2013) was the first film I watched on Saturday. Filmed with a vintage Sony AVC 3260 video camera and just plain weird and inventive, Computer Chess is also (deliberately?) boring. The only scenes that woke me up were those in which one of the characters keeps seeing cats wherever he goes, their numbers mounting as the film progresses.
Next came A Field In England (2013). A black and white film about a group of men on hallucinogenic mushrooms during the civil war didn't exactly seem to be my thing, but as I had dinner with the producer and his wife a couple of times, it was only good manners to give it a go. I’m glad I did. Ben Wheatley’s direction has finally matured with this film, and the story and its execution are original, to say the least.
The Offscreen Film Festival ended with Number 10 Blues Goodbye Saigon (2013) and Blue Ruin (2013). Shot in 1975, Number 10 Blues Goodbye Saigon was unfinished and considered lost for many years, but finally completed in 2012. The story isn’t all that special, but the film’s history, its authenticity (the gun shots come from the war), its exotic filming locations, and its view on 70s Vietnam are more than worth it. As for Blue Ruin (2013), there’s hardly any dialogue and we have no idea what happened to the ravaged main character for a big chunk of the film, but the story captivates, and when the trauma is finally unleashed upon the audience, its effect is as distressing as it is funny. An honorable closing of the festival.
Photos by Esther Eggermont.