Friday, April 12, 2013

April is totes the cruelest month

Original Airdate: 4 - 8 - 13
What else could we talk about tonight but the deaths of 3 major cinematic figures (among others) this weekend, none of them particularly untimely? Discussions will, of course, be dominated by talk of Roger Ebert, who truffle-shuffled off this mortal coil last Friday, the day after announcing a break from reviews due to cancer-recurrence. Like him or hate him, he was/is probably the biggest American critic this side of Pauline Kael, and that's exactly why his body of work is controversial. Some would argue that Ebert was the driving force behind the commodification and reduction of film criticism; that the "thumbs" and "stars" he used to package his writing turned an art form into a sale. In a nutshell, I agree, though I think Ebert was less responsible for this development than late capitalism and the post-industrialism narratives at large in his lifetime. He certainly didn't help it. Movie ratings are reductive and often diminish a (we hope) complex apparatus into a marketable nugget, an arbitrary scale that, like money itself, assumes it is a neutral, transparent medium; its power of abstraction/value-form as a universal equivalent places its stamp on everything that is expressed in its terms, which is why according to Ebert - Nicolas Cage's Knowing is among the best films of all time and M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening is better than A Clockwork Orange (uhh).

Some of the nastier obits are probably justifiable reactions to a hagiography that has been in place well before Ebert's death, when he developed a cancer that would claim his lower jaw. He wrote and reviewed in spite of this, which many people claimed was courageous, and he started swinging at popular trending issues in the political sphere, giving him a popularity outside film media.

Other deaths, sadly foreshadowed but arguably more relevant and interesting for film culture were the deaths of visionary documentary filmmaker Les Blank, whose Burden of Dreams remains a pillar of documentary technique and the scion of artful trash, Jesus "Jess" Franco, who fathered an entire dash-sploitation era in horror films, marrying elaborate, artful technique with trashy subject matter.

Appropriately, our review tonight was of the Evil Dead remake. No one was more surprised than us, but this movie was awesome. I had forgotten that a horror film could be, well, horrifying. Evil Dead was, for our show, a rebuttal of our truism that a remake is a diminished copy. While I continue to wish that young filmmakers could push their efforts into incorporating rather than mimicking, but the analogy for the new Evil Dead was more akin to a good artist covering a good song, making the material his own with another's words. A pleasant surprise.

We heard music from:

Fitzcarraldo, 1982 - Popol Vuh
Vampyros Lesbos, 1971 - Jess Franco
Count Dracula, 1969 - Bruno Nicolai


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