Monday, April 6, 2015
Offscreen Film Festival 2015
The Offscreen Film Festival started on Wednesday with a screening of Roy Andersson's latest A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence. Whereas the film excels in interesting compositions, its theme of life being boring and meaningless results in a film that is as empty as the situations and people it describes. It's all about recurring locations, static actors, endless shots, and repetitive dialogue. “We just want to help people have fun,” one of the characters says. Considering the strong Monty Python-like vibe of A Pigeon..., I'm guessing this was Roy Andersson's objective as well. Unfortunately, he accomplished the opposite.
On Thursday, I spent the day with Tobe Hooper and his girlfriend Rebecca, showing them around all the cozy corners of Brussels. Tobe insisted on having a drink at Le Cerceuil, a bar in the centre of Brussels where you sit around coffins, and drink cocktails with names such as Cadaver's Urine out of skulls. Besides our mutual love of horror movies, we also shared a passion for animals. Tobe stops in the street to gawk at passing dogs, obsesses over Milou (Tintin's dog), and just tries to find as much excuses as he can to talk about his canine loves.
On Friday, I introduced the movies The Duke Of Burgundy and Matango: Attack Of The Mushroom People at Offscreen. The Duke Of Burgundy was an absolute marvel. For the first fifteen minutes, it looked banal and wooden, but that was only because director Peter Strickland was playing his audience's strings like a puppeteer. Once you realize that you're watching a lesbian couple playing out a sexual fantasy, the story becomes really interesting. As the fantasy becomes part of the couple's daily routine, little fissures in the relationship start to show. Both women don't always react the way they want each other to, frustrations build up, and the dominant party in the RPG becomes the dominated one in real life. Despite the weirdness of the film, it's all surprisingly recognizable, a mirror to the reasons why many couples fail after a while. It's smart, multi-layered stuff, and the visual appeal is nothing less than magnetic.
After having attended Tobe Hooper's masterclass on Saturday, I went to see Lifeforce. I can't say I'm a fan of Tobe Hooper's adaptation of Colin Wilson's 1976 novel The Space Vampires. Therefor, the film has too many dull moments (the silly ones are rather charming). On the other hand, Lifeforce contains iconic scenes that you keep thinking about long after the film has ended (London being engulfed by zombies, the look of the victims after they've been sucked from their energy, the hypnotic presence of Mathilda May). It has too many good moments to be ignored, and too many dull ones to be recommendable.
On Sunday, Jasper Sharp and Tim Grabham introduced their documentary The Creeping Garden: Irrational Encounters With Plasmodial Slime Moulds in which they explore the frightening intelligence of slime moulds. I expected the documentary to be sensational in nature (the slime moulds' behavior reminds us of The Blob and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers), but Jasper Sharp and Tim Grabham go for a realistic, fringe scientific approach. After this documentary, you'll never look at slime moulds the same way. The Creeping Garden is now also available as a book.
Next, I introduced Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive. It was the first movie Tobe Hooper made after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and it's easy to spot the similarities between those two films. There's the same gritty atmosphere, the same hopelessness, the same rage. In 2000, Tobe Hooper would make a second killer crocodile film, and herein it's obvious that the director has become more moderate and commercial. Eaten Alive is definitely one of my favorite Tobe Hooper films, mainly because the set pieces are so efficient (everything has been filmed inside the studio, including the exterior scenes in the swamps).
On Wednesday, we took Tobe Hooper and his girlfriend Rebecca to Bruges. For Tobe, that means spending eighty percent of the day inside the restaurant. He ate mussels for the first time in his life and enjoyed several local beers such as Brugse Zot and Brugse Straffe Hendrik. He loved the sightseeing part, though. His eyes sparkled as he discovered the cobblestone streets and walked along the fairytale-like canals.
By the way, did you know that Tobe is superstitious? Whenever we passed a lantern, he insisted we crossed it from the same side as he feared the lantern would divide the group's energy and bring bad luck.
When we passed Aalter on our way back home, I mentioned that I saw a UFO there when I was a kid. Tobe replied that he had seen two UFOs as well and that he is absolutely certain these are aliens.
After dinner in my favorite Thai Restaurant Villa Singha, I introduced Salem's Lot on Thursday. I stayed to watch the film for what is probably the thirtieth time in my life. A lot of people consider Salem's Lot one of the creepiest vampire movies ever made. I can only agree. It all started in 1979 with a TV mini series – the most expensive ever made at that time. Because the TV mini series was successful, the material was heavily cut in order to turn it into a film. That was the version we got to see at Offscreen. Tobe Hooper himself loathes this cut, and I can see why. The first thing to go from the TV mini series was the character development. The film feels rushed. Important information is missing so that several scenes become illogical. Ben and Susan go from “Let's have a date” to being a couple without any transition scenes. And when Ben exclaims that Susan has to go back to Boston, the viewer can only wonder why she has to go to Boston if she lives in Salem's Lot (she actually explains in a cut scene that she has to go to Boston for a job interview). And what happened to Susan after she entered the Marsten House? There are more than a few hiccups in this cut, but overall the film version works and the cuts are generally from scenes that only slowed down the TV series.
I watched Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films again on Friday. You may remember that I had already seen this documentary at the Sitges Film Festival. The fact that I watched it again at Offscreen proves how much I love it. Electric Boogaloo is easily one of the most insightful and funny documentaries I've seen in years. It never bores for a single second. It doesn't matter whether you know Cannon films or not; if you love great documentaries then this one is not to be missed.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films ignited my desire to watch Ninja III: The Domination (1984) later that evening. Ninja III is known as one of the worst movies the Cannon Group has ever produced and there are no words for how silly it is. The story follows a young woman (Lucinda Dickey) who gets possessed by the spirit of an evil ninja who avenges his death from beyond the grave. The audience was laughing hard as Lucinda Dickey stripped in front of the hairy police officer she just met and poured V8 over her chest, when she did aerobics when she was assaulted by the evil spirit, or when laser beams came out of the arcade game. An unmissable “so bad it's good” movie that has often been described as a mix between Enter The Ninja, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and Flashdance. You have to see it to believe it.
The weekend was spent having dinner with the festival's guests at Houtsiplou and Ricotta & Parmesan. We also went to the Made In Asia convention and Mini Europe (miniature representations of Europe's famous landmarks) with Electric Boogaloo director Mark Hartley.
On Saturday, I introduced the 1987 movie Street Smart at Cinematek. In this crime drama from Cannon, a journalist (Christopher Reeve) writes an article on a fictitious pimp. By coincidence, the story resembles that of an actual pimp (Morgan Freeman), now convicted of murder. The day afterwards, it was time to introduce Tobe Hooper's Invaders From Mars (1986), an alien invasion movie written by Don Jakoby and Dan O'Bannon (who also wrote the script of Lifeforce).
I watched the new remastered version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre twice in a row on the big screen on Tuesday. The first time was for the sound check of the screening in the Bozar theater and the second time together with the audience. It was a good fifteen years since I last saw the film, but my opinions have remained the same: brilliant shots, broody atmosphere, creepy sound effects that make your bones tingle, a baleful build-up, and a nightmarish scene in which a chainsaw-yielding Leatherface unexpectedly shows up in the woods at night and chases Marilyn Burns for ten long minutes without giving the viewer any second to pause or breathe. Contrary to most viewers, though, I don't like the dinner scene (it breaks the tension as it renders the villains ridiculous). Otherwise, a masterpiece.
After having spent the day with Tobe Hooper and his girlfriend Rebecca again on Wednesday, I introduced the 80s action movies Avenging Force and 10 To Midnight at Offscreen. I stayed for Avenging Force which turned out to be banal for the first hour, but once Michael Dudikoff is being hunted in the swamp, the film picks up and becomes huge fun. Another good thing about Avenging Force is that the script is varied and that it features some unexpected death scenes.
You may remember from last year that I had the opportunity to take photos in the abandoned porn cinema ABC (you can find the pictures here ). Offscreen, Cinema Nova, and La Rétine tried to save the cinema and managed to collect 60,000 euros in crowd funding. Just when they were about to sign contracts, the owner of the ABC died. Unfortunately, his son had other plans with the place. While the ABC cinema may not have been saved, Cinema Nova did manage to salvage more than 600 films, three of which have been shown at Offscreen on Friday when Offscreen paid tribute to the ABC cinema with an evening full of movies, trailers, striptease acts, games, etc.
On Saturday, I watched Matango: Attack Of The Mushroom People. The fact that it was a pristine 35mm print that had traveled the world in order to be shown at Offscreen, made the screening worthwhile. Nothing really happened during the majority of the film, though, and when the mushroom people finally arrived, they didn't do much but stand there.
I ended the day with a screening of Masters Of The Universe, long revered as one of the campiest films ever. Courtney Cox and her boyfriend find a cosmic key that can open a portal to any point in time and space, and are being hunted by an evil creature wearing a Halloween mask. Luckily, there's He-Man Dolph Lundgren and his team to save them. The costumes and dialogue in Masters Of The Universe will push your limits of bad taste.
On the last day of Offscreen, I introduced Tobe Hooper's The Mangler. I'd seen this film back in 1995 when it came out and didn't like it. Twenty years later, my opinion still hasn't changed, but I had forgotten how gory and gruesome The Mangler was.
The festival closed with a screening of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (which I had already seen at the Sitges Film Festival) and lots of themed treats.
Have you seen any of the Offscreen films? Which ones are your favorites?