Posted by Richard Harland Smith on July 5, 2013
Fresh from that Stomboli’s Circus of an academic book mill, McFarland & Company, is a new tome by Pennsylvania DIY filmmaker and genre aficionado Mike Watt (not to be confused with the co-founder of the Minutemen; on the IMDb, this Mike Watt is Mike Watt (I) and the other Mike Watt is Mike Watt (II), FYI). Fervid Filmmaking: 66 Cult Pictures of Vision, Verve, and No Self-Restrait subdivides the Psychotronic Sea into an even smaller, more rarefied body that the author brands (with a tip of the hat to the British school of Kitchen Sink Realism) as “Kitchen Sink Movies,” as in “everything but the..,” as in films that adopted a “more is better” approach and “took severe right- angle turns when you least expected them to, where the artists borrowed from all over the place to make something that was, if not unique, at least a wild and disorienting ride.” Movies whose “filmmakers just don’t give a damn about market reports or box office; they’re just doing whatever the hell they want, out of either lack of budget or an overabundance of caché.” Movies that are “lightning strikes of inspiration, all the elements coming together for good or ill, to result in jaw- dropping wonder.” As defined by Watt, these films can be from young (or once young) upstarts and bad eggs such as Timothy Carey’s THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER (1962, included), Tom Schiller’s NOTHING LASTS FOREVER (1984, ditto), and Scooter McCrae’s SIXTEEN TONGUES (1999, same) or from arthouse darlings such Derek Jarman, Robert Altman and Peter Greenaway, whose JUBILEE (1977), O.C. AND STIGGS (1987) and THE BABY OF MACON merit, respectively, inclusion as well.
Maybe not so much in my sweaty little demimonde of movie geeks, but elsewhere in the world I take the rap for knowing a lot about a lot of movies that not a lot of people would be interested in seeing: Hammer’s Wide Sargasso bouillabaisse THE LOST CONTINENT (1968), John Parker’s noirish fever dream DEMENTIA (aka DAUGHTER OF HORROR, 1955), Larry Hagman’s — yeah, that Larry Hagman — SON OF THE BLOB (1972), Ching-ying Lam’s horror comedy VAMPIRE VS. VAMPIRE (1989), Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s devastating homicidal rugrat movie WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976), Jan Schmidt’s bleak end-of-the-world chronicle END OF AUGUST AT THE HOTEL OZONE (1967), Gerardo de Leon’s religiously devout Filipino vampire flick THE BLOOD DRINKERS (1964), Larry Zazelenchuck’s five-cent Canadian zombie opus THE CORPSE EATERS (1974) — hell, I can’t even get my geekiest of geek friends to sit down and watch Joachim Hasler’s Eastern Bloc teenage musical HOT SUMMER (1968). All this to say that on most days I feel like Dr. Caligari in a world full of Dr. Kildares … and then Mike Watt drops this book into my lap and all of a sudden I’m feeling like, I don’t know, Dr. Meredith Grey. Of the 66 films that Mike has assembled into Fervid Filmmaking, I’ve heard of 40 or so and I’ve seen, I’ve actually sat down and watched… maybe a dozen, tops. Oh, some of these I’ve known about for years (some were made by friends of mine) but I’ve never done the scut work of actually tracking them down or sitting down and watching them. And now I feel bad.
I would never have told you the world needed another cult movie maven (in the words of Bart Simpson, “We could use another Vietnam to think out their ranks a little.”) and yet Mike wins me over with the deftness of his touch, the sincerity of his passion, the forfeiture of snark, and the wide gauge of his vision. Into the book’s generous page count he finds time (in addition to the movies already mentioned) for Bigas Lunas’ ANGUISH (1987), Alex Cox’s STRAIGHT TO HELL (1987), Freddie Francis’ SON OF DRACULA (1974) — I used to have the soundtrack on vinyl! — Richard Lester’s THE BED SITTING ROOM (1969), Richard Elfman’s FORBIDDEN ZONE (1984), Alejandro Jodorowsky’s SANTA SANGRE (1989), Steven Soderberg’s SCHIZOPOLIS (1996), Terry Gilliam’s TIDELAND (2005), Alan Rudolph’s TROUBLE IN MIND (1985, and a personal favorite), Allan Arkush’s GET CRAZY (1983 — holy Hell, how did that get to be 30 years old?!), Bob Rafelson’s HEAD (1968), Otto Preminger’s SKIDOO (1968), Robert Fuest’s THE FINAL PROGRAMME (aka THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH, 1973), Herb Ross’ THE LAST OF SHEILA (1973), veteran Hollywood make-up man turned one-shot film director Tom Burman’s MEET THE HOLLOWHEADS (1989), and Harry Bromley Davenport’s XTRO (1983), which manages to rip off ALIEN (1979) and KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979) in one fell swoop and of which Mike comments: “To the thinking man, there isn’t a single moment of XTRO that doesn’t add up to an overflowing bag of ‘Huh?’ To the feeling man, the horror movie fan… XTRO is a delightfully gory, misanthropic and surreal mélange with which to torture the soul.” And we do torture ourselves somewhat, we lot, we weirdies. A long-time friend of mine wrote on her Facebook page the other day “Favorite movies are like favorite blankies or pillows from childhood. When you watch them, you feel completely safe and comforted from the world.” Yeah, I can see that but as I get older I find I don’t need that kind of protection so much. I favor more the kicking-down-the-door approach that Mike seems to advocate here, born of an innate curiosity to keep going around the next corner, to crawling under the house to see what’s there, to flipping the forest rock to see what crawls out. I’m just glad Mike’s keeping well ahead of me on this tramp, so when the bear comes out it’ll get him first and give me plenty of time to run. Fervid Filmmaking is good company, it’s my anti-Medved.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should admit that I am an acknowledgee in Fervid Filmmaking and not only that — I’m the first one! Check it out. I have no idea why Mike has singled me out for this honor but I can’t pretend it isn’t cool. Top o’the World, Ma!
To order Fervid Filmmaking from Amazon.com, click here.
To order Fervid Filmmaking from McFarland & Company, click here.
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