David’s Movie Journal 12/1/11
Gosh, I should really get back to watching some older movies. These three are all new and are either available on some format currently or will be very soon.
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
This documentary is the Black Power and Black Panther movement from a perspective you’ve likely never considered it before. All the footage in this movie was shot by visiting Swedish journalists during the years specified in the title. Yes, this is a Swedish film about the American Black Power movement. It’s fascinating.
The cultural distance of those documenting the events lends them the ability to present facts with little bias. For instance, the case for using violence as a tool for social change is made academically. We can consider it without necessarily being forced to think about the effect it would have on our personal lives (especially if “we” are white).
What’s most interesting about The Black Power Mixtape becomes clear when it is compared to what we have seen of this era beforehand. Whites being in a position of power (even more so at the time than now, if you can imagine), they were able to affect, in ways both subtle and not so subtle, how these events were presented. Most of the footage we have available to us in this country was made by media outlets with ties to the establishment. The events in this film are able to put us inside the movement, to be embedded, in ways thus far unimaginable. It’s hard not to see things from someone’s point of view if you’re living alongside them.
The Weird World of Blowfly
Blowfly is the stage name of Clarence Reid, who wrote some very successful – and very good – R&B songs in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Under the Blowfly persona, however, he released and continues to release a string of “party records,” vulgar parody versions of popular songs (“Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” becomes “Shittin’ off the Dock of the Bay,” for example) and other sexually explicit comedic tunes. After some popular albums throughout the 1970’s, though, Reid’s notoriety drained and, despite continually touring, he began to experience financial as well as health problems.
Jonathan Furmanski’s documentary, The Weird World of Blowfly, catches up with Reid circa 2008. He has sold off all the rights to the songs he wrote under his given name and is touring small venues in a van, staying in motels. Things may be looking up, however, as he is recording a new album and is about to embark on a tour of Germany with a popular group there called Die Ärzte. Managing his tour and career is a man named Tom Bowker, who is also Blowfly’s current drummer.
This is where the film becomes troublesome. Bowker is a fan of Blowfly, to be sure. But he is also egotistical to an extent of which he seems completely unaware. He consistently foists his own ideas about the direction of the band on Reid and becomes irritated when he Reid disagrees with him. He treats Reid as if he is babysitting the man and Furmanski seems to either not realize this or chooses not to acknowledge it. Bowker is a fascinating figure in his own right and could be the subject of his own sadly compelling documentary. Still, this is meant to be a film about Blowfly and Bowker gets in the way of that.
Clarence Reid is a fun and sweet-natured tragic figure. Despite the film’s flaws, it leaves the viewer with hope that things will get on the right track for him, even while there’s a queasiness involved in how they will get there.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil
Eli Craig’s delightful film, Tucker and Dale vs Evil is further proof, if you needed it, that the legacy of Wes Craven’s Scream is an important and long-reaching one. Back in 1996, Craven used Kevin Williamson’s screenplay to make a film that revived horror as an American genre. Scream did so by recognizing what we all knew anyway: that horror had stopped being scary because it was verging on self-parody. We the audience were aware of all the conventions by that time so Scream not only used that knowledge to its advantage, it actually addressed it outright, exhaustively and hilariously. In a more baldly postmodern way, Scream did for American horror what Die Hard did for American action.
In the fifteen years since Scream, numerous films have shown its influence. Some of them in shallow ways, attempting only to replicate the hip and comedic detachment of the lead characters. Others have sought to go deeper, not just pointing out horror tropes but deconstructing and analyzing them. The best of these films – and one that is likely to hold that title for a long time – is Scott Glosserman’s Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.
Now that postmodern horror is established as a genre unto itself, it can expand to being about more than its own structure. Tucker and Dale is a welcome, top-notch example of this. By poking fun at the stereotype of the backwoods redneck serial killer and the way privileged college kids react to it, the film explores the ways in which people generalize those who are different from them, be it regionally, educationally, economically, etc. The result is both humorous and humanist – ironic for a film that takes such joy in its many gruesome and bloody deaths. If you haven’t seen Tucker and Dale vs Evil yet, don’t hesitate. Check it out.