Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

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Okay, I’ve reviewed some pretty fucked-up stuff on this site over the years, but it’s probably fair to say that nothing I’ve seen — not Cannibal Holocaust, not Goodbye, Uncle Tom, not Men Behind The Sun, not A Serbian Film — compares in terms of being as genuinely unsettling as one-and-done director Adi Sidelman’s disarmingly matter-of-fact 1994 documentary ChickenHawk : Men Who Love Boys, a short (51 minutes, to be precise), concise look into the lives and mindsets of guys associated with the semi-notorious NAMBLA —  an acronym, for those who claim not to know, for The North American Man Boy Love Association.

NAMBLA’s core philosophy is an unusual one indeed — they hold to the belief that children are inherently sexual beings, with curiosities and desires just like anybody else, and that they are capable of having fully mature, consenting, reciprocal (in terms of both emotions and bodily fluids) relationships with — well, fully-grown adults. Specifically, fully-grown adult men.

Yeah, yeah — I know all the arguments : the Greeks and Spartans engaged in this kind of thing all the time, the Romans were cool with it (the film even mentions Nero’s public marriage ceremony to a twelve-year-old boy, not that I’d recommend invoking Nero’s name as a great historical example of, well, anything), and there are tribes in New Guinea where elder-on-kid sexual relations are still a matter of course to this very day. Never mind that there are tribes in New Guinea where cannibalism is still a matter of course to this very day, as well — when you’re in NAMBLA’s shoes, you gotta take your allies where you can find ’em. And strange as it sounds, you do have to sort of give them a kind of awkward near-respect for being brazen enough to organize themselves despite more or less all of society’s entirely-understandable disgust. Just to get back to cannibals again for a second, we all know they’re out there here and there, and walk among us in some (hopefully) small number, but I don’t see them having the guts (for lack of a better term)  to form, say, a North American Human Flesh Eaters Association.

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Please don’t confuse that previous statement for any sort of admiration  on my part for NAMBLA and its ilk, though —I don’t know about you, but the general impression I have of “pederasts,” or “boy-lovers,” or whaetver the hell it is child molesters prefer to call themselves, was probably imprinted on my psyche at an early age by Gordon Jump’s guest-starring turn as a bicycle shop owner with a taste for not-yet-ripened fruit on Diff’rent Strokes. As a result, these fellas have generally seemed to me to be more, frankly, pathetic than anything else, and Sideman certainly does nothing to dispel that notion in ChickenHawk. Listening to these guys wax poetic about how 12- and 13-year-old boys are, as they see it, “flirting” with them just by doing the normal everyday shit that kids do would almost be amusing, if the consequences for the “flirtatious” youngsters in question weren’t so devastating. When one of the NAMBLA-ites talks about a camping trip to the woods he took with a barely-pubescent little tyke, he goes to great lengths to stress that the whole trip was arranged by the boy, as was the idea for them to sleep in a double-width sleeping bag with no zipper in the middle. The creepy old fart chooses his next words even more carefully, though, and doesn’t come right out and say the kid “consented” to being reamed out by the old-timer, merely that “nature took its course,” and that said illegal “love”-making  was a “very special moment” for him and, he “hoped,” the boy, too.

He wasn’t certain of it, mind you — he just hoped.

Now, to return to the basic tenets of the “World According To NAMBLA” for just a  moment —the “historical precedent” argument these guys trot out fails to wash with me because times change and it means something entirely different to be a 12-year-old in a world where life expectancy is 40 if you’re lucky than it does to be a 12-year-old in a world where we live to be 80. The “kids have sexual curiosities and desires” argument likewise doesn’t hold much water either because, yeah, while  kids do indeed have sexual curiosities and desires ,they’re generally  about other kids their own goddamn age, not 50-year old men with pencil-thin mustaches, bad hairpieces, sweaty skin, and oily foreheads. So any sort of moralistic stance for pedophilia is just something I can’t buy into.

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Now — bear with me here — where the NAMBLA creeps do have a valid point, though, is that no individual should be persecuted, much less prosecuted, for thoughts in their heads and feelings in their hearts that have never been acted upon. I don’t know if pedophilia is a genetic predisposition or what, and I certainly don’t blame the LGBT community for wanting to keep these folks as far fucking away from them as possible since there’s an absolute universe of difference between sexual activity engaged in by consenting adults and sexual activity engaged in by one absolutely positively rarin’-to-go adult and a young child who cannot, in any way, shape, or form be held legally or morally responsible for their actions and therefore can’t be said to “consent” to anything at all . All that being said,  when the queasy-looking fellow in the photo above was fired from his gig at a public school merely for being associated with NAMBLA, and not for any specific acts of child molestation (hell, he’d never been so much as accused, much less convicted, of anything), I think he should have “lawyered up” and sued the school district for everything they’ve got. Instead, he just sits in his less-than-modest apartment right across the street from the school that ousted him , watches the boys in the playground from his window, and compares himself to Moses looking out at “the promised land.”

Is  a statement like that enough to make your stomach churn? Absolutely. Do I blame the parents at the school for wanting to keep this guy away from their kids? Not in the least. But let’s be honest — those   kids have about a 10,000 % better chance of  being harmed, even molested, by those selfsame  parents than by the admittedly deviant (and unrepentant) lonely old creep they are supposedly being “protected” from. Unless and until this guy does anything, he’s got every right to keep his job as long as his — uhhhmmmm — predilections don’t affect his work performance. You may not like it, but you can’t claim the mantle of moral superiority over anyone, even a pedophile, if you’re willing to throw somebody under the bus merely for having criminal thoughts in his mind, because ya know what? We’re all guilty of that. I’ve never fantasized about molesting a kid, but I’ve certainly had the urge to kill a few people in my time, and so have you. We didn’t act on it — unless you’re reading this in the computer lab at Riker’s Island or something — and we’re allowed to go on about our daily business, as we damn well should be. Same goes for this clown. No matter how repulsive the inner workings of his mind may be, he should be allowed to live his life as freely as he wants to as long as they well and truly remain inner workings.

Likewise, you can’t help but feel a bit repulsed by the actions of a good number of our fellow non-child-molesters who are shown harassing NAMBLA members a bit too enthusiastically. Standing outside their office and chanting at anyone coming in or out, leaving anonymous death threats on their answering machine — this isn’t the behavior of people “concerned for the children,” it’s the behavior of a bloodthirsty mob out for a pound of flesh. And who’s an easier target than a grown man who admits to having sexual feelings for little kids? My message to all the overly-vociferous NAMBLA harassers is a pretty simple one — pick on somebody your own size. It doesn’t take much by way of balls to scream at and threaten the most marginalized, lame, pathetic losers on the planet. Direct your rage at somebody with some actual power if you’re still into proving your manhood. Might I suggest Goldman-Sachs? Citibank? Wells Fargo? Chase Manhattan? Who’s a bigger danger to the lives of you and your family — a desperate, lonely, unhygienic, unemployed slob who gets a woody looking at drawings of naked teenagers, or the asshole bank CEO who owns your mortgage?

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All of which, perhaps confusingly, is not to say that I feel the members of NAMBLA and their ilk deserve any sympathy. When Sideman shows noted “beat generation” icon Allen Ginsberg reciting a poem that begins “sweet boy, give me your ass!!!!!!!!” at the boy-lovers’ national conference and the (obviously quite small) crowd roars and cheers its approval, it’s pretty obvious that most of these guys are genuinely loathsome individuals who have absolutely earned a healthy amount of scorn. But it’s a matter of degrees here, people. In the overall scheme of things, these folks, repugnant as they are,  pose a very small threat, while your average bank, oil company, hedge fund, or defense contractor poses a mighty one indeed. Just imagine what a glorious world we would be living in if the average Wall Street executive were as ashamed to show his face in public as the average NAMBLA member!

If it seems I’m extrapolating a bit here, that just goes to show that ChickenHawk is, indeed, a thought-provoking piece of work. It’s definitely a challenging — hell, even difficult — bit of filmmaking, but it does what all good documentaries do — shows both sides of the issue without bias or emotion, raises thought-provoking questions while bypassing the urge to spoon-feed answers,  and allows the viewer to make up his or her own mind. All in the space of about 52 minutes.

While this movie was probably the most- talked-about selection at legendary “fringe” documentarian Todd Phillips’ inaugural New York Underground Film Festival back in the day and got pretty good distribtion on VHS under the auspices of the great Film Threat, it has never, at least to my knowledge, been given a “legitimate” DVD release (although it was available as a bootleg for awhile from an outfit calling itself Divine Trash Films). That  doesn’t mean you can’t see it, though — more than a few enterprising individuals have put it up on YouTube in its entirety. Don’t expect a link here since I don’t need that (or, hell, any) kind of unwelcome attention around these parts, but if you really want to see it, just type it in the search box there and you’ll find it easily enough. I would certainly encourage you to do so — it’s one of those films that nobody should see if they don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for in advance, but if you go in forewarned and forearmed, you will find it to be a truly rare thing indeed : a movie that more than likely absolutely confirms your initial impressions in regards to its subject, but gives you plenty to ponder over anyway.

I’ll admit it, for most of the 1990s and into the early 200s, I was an absolute black metal junkie. Simply put, this amazingly misanthropic music was — and is — like nothing I’ve ever heard before (or since). Most folks just plain don’t get it, but if you’re on the same antisocial wavelength as those who create the stuff, it’s pure audio magic (or at least it can be when at its best). I still listen to it on occasion, sure, but my tastes are pretty dated by now — most of the scene has become way too showbiz-like and it’s just too hard to keep up with all the new, more raw stuff still (fortunately) emerging from the underground. Still, the whole 1990s Norwegian scene — since that was the epicenter of the black metal universe at the time, both for the music and — ummmm — other reasons, will always hold a special place in my black heart.

So I was excited when I heard about documentarians Aaron Aietes and Audrey Ewell and their independent cinematic effort Until The Light Takes Us. Released in 2008 but shot primarily over a period of years much earlier in the decade, it promised the first comprehensive celluloid glimpse into the infamous “black metal mafia” that kept all of Norwegian society on knife’s edge for the better part of a decade or so. I knew it would never be as comprehensive an overview as that provided by authors Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind in their seminal book Lords Of Chaos, but I figured it would at least be pretty good.

Unfortunately, while it did get some midnight movie and festival screenings around the country here and there, it never made it to my home city of Minneapolis, so I had to wait for the DVD. And now that I’ve watched it through a couple of times, I have to say my initial impression/guess was right — it is, indeed, pretty good.

It’s shot entirely on HD video, but the filmmakers seem to have bypassed most of the limitations inherent in that format and the whole thing actually looks pretty moody and appropriate to its theme.The soundtrack, too — both the black metal and non-black metal selections — complement the “storyline,” if you will, nicely. All in all its most competently and professionally done.

I do, however, feel that the net could have been cast a bit wider in terms of viewpoints shown on screen and subjects interviewed. For the most part, the only people involved directly in the scene that we really hear from are Hellhammer of Mayhem, Fenriz of Darkthrone, and Varg Vikernes of Burzum. Sure, if you’re only gonna talk to a few people these are probably the first I’d go to, as well (and for the most part their English is surprisingly good), and I appreciate the fact that there are time limitations involved and what have you, but I do think the scope ends up being a bit too narrow, even for a 90-or-so-minute film.

I didn’t really expect anything new to emerge here in terms of broadening the amount of information we already knew about, and sure enough all the basics of the most historic moments of the scene’s history are covered, from the suicide of original Mayhem vocalist Dead to the arson fires at numerous Norwegian churches to the eventual murder or scene ringleader and Mayhem founder Euronymous at the hands of his former protege (of sorts), Vikernes, so the “”need to know” information is all present and accounted for.

But therein lies the other problem for seasoned black metal veterans such as myself — simply put we already know all this stuff. Sure, it’s intriguing to see it all discussed by the principal players involved, but it’ still old (if always interesting) hat. How the scene has evolved since then, both stylistically and philosophically, is only briefly touched upon, mostly by Fenriz. It makes it all seem somewhat dated, even if it is pretty amazing to see actual news footage of Fantoft Stave Church burning to the ground.

There are intriguing clues as to what is going on down on a deeper level scattered throughout, such as when Vikernes states that Satanism had nothing to do with his music or his actions (which is absolutely true), but his anti-Christan, pro-pagan/heathen sentiments are given only the briefest examination by the filmmakers. Stated most basically, they maintain a respectful and non-judgmental attitude toward the subjects of their work, but don’t seem to have either the time or the inclination to go into the subject as deeply as fans such as myself would like. I was hoping that the deleted scenes that serve as the only bonus feature on the DVD (which features both exceptional widescreen picture and stereo (although 5.1 woulda been nice) sound quality) would fill on some of the gaps, but alas, not really.

I don’t want to sound too negative, really, because on the whole the film is, as I said, well done, and avoids the simple route of veering into pure shock-value territory, which too much of the media “attention” surrounding some of the more admittedly spectacular events associated with this music went in for. I think the film would serve as a great introduction to the music and more specifically the period of the music’s history that it covers to someone previously unfamiliar with it, but I also honestly have to wonder how much interest somebody who’s not already “into” black mental would have in this flick in the first place. They’re largely preaching to the choir here, it stands to reason, and a more thorough and comprehensive overview probably would be more than welcome by most of us, especially since these filmmakers so obviously understand just what the hell it is they’re talking about

For those of us who know the story, though, there’s nothing much new to be found here — but it is nice to see it recounted this stylishly and this well. I was hoping for (though admittedly not expecting) greatness, I admit, but am more than happy to settle for good.

Let’s face it — we, as a species, are completely, hopelessly, unequivocally, irrefutably fucked.

You know it. I know it. And Michael Ruppert sure as hell knows it. And while we may not have the guts to admit to this basic truth in polite company, Mike’s got no such hang-ups.

Ruppert is a former LAPD narcotics unit detective who was run off the force when he refused to play along with CIA drug running into his district in the early 80s. Thus began a remarkable exodus of sorts for Ruppert that lead to attempts on his life, homelessness, and finally, independent investigative journalism.

Documentarian Chris (American Movie) Smith ran across Ruppert when researching a project on The Company’s involvement in the crack cocaine trade, and eventually abandoned that project in favor of Collapse, an 82-minute soliloquy wherein Ruppert sits down in front of the camera, chain-smokes, and lays out the whole score on everything. Prepare to be scared. Damn scared. In fact, Collapse is easily the most frightening film of 2010, and probably the flat-out scariest movie we here at TFG have thus far reviewed.

It’s also as close to an absolutely essential piece of filmmaking as you’re ever likely to witness.

According to ex-detective Mike, as well as countless geological experts, the oil on planet Earth is running out, and at a rate much more rapid than our leaders are willing to admit — even though they certainly damn well know it. And that’s essentially the cause of every major geopolitical grand scenario we say playing out before us today, from 9/11 to the turmoil in the Middle East to the economic meltdown to — well, you name it.

Oil, you see, is about a whole lot more than oil itself. It’s also about transportation, food, jobs, and the underlying social order itself. Notice how at the stores these days it’s not just the price of gas that’s going through the roof? I paid nearly six bucks for plastic trash bags the other day. What’s plastic made of? You got it — petroleum.Even more importantly,  what’s the key ingredient in most pesticides and fertilizers that enable mass food production? You got it. Petroleum.

When the price of oil goes through the roof, as is the case these days, the price of food goes up, the price of  transportation of any and all goods goes up, the price of everything goes up. Welcome to the end, my friend. Pull up a seat and catch the show.

Ruppert doesn’t pull any punches in this interview-cum-monologue, and frankly he says exactly what we all need to hear. We’re hopelessly hooked on oil for the very survival of our civilization, and pretty much none of the alternatives are going to work, even if we got way more serious about implementing them than we apparently have the political will to. Ethanol’s a joke. Hydrogen’s a joke. Hydroelectric’s a joke. Wind and solar have some potential, but on the scale we’d need them to be up and running it’s already too late. Nothing will replace oil because nothing can. It’s the most public secret in the world, but it’s one nobody’s got the guts to face. It’s so damn scary to contemplate that we just plain can’t do it.

And therein lies the rub — because if we want to survive, we’ve got to. Plain and simple. Ruppert lays out an interesting comparison between two countries that were completely dependent upon Soviet oil imports, Cuba and North Korea, both of which ended up SOL when the “evil empire” collapsed. North Korea had no plan in place and as a result, they’re still completely fucked. Cuba, on the other hand, didn’t exactly have a plan, but adapted on the fly and, after a few rough years, not only survived, but thrived. The grow food on every piece of arable land. They practice sound crop rotation. They save driving for absolutely essential occasions. They decentralized, and localized, their food production and economic trade. And so far they provide the only possible model of success for society as a whole to build on in the trying times to come.

There’s just one rub, though — Cuba is an isolated, self-contained island. On the other hand, there are over six billion of us out here, all dependent, to one extent or another, on oil for our survival.  It’s not gonna be pretty when it all comes down, folks, especially for those of us that live in major metropolitan areas. Ruppert lays out some potential strategies for long-term survival for those of us willing to listen, but frankly, there are no guarantees, and all bets are off.

Collapse got some limited theatrical burn, but if you missed it, now’s your chance, since it’s just been released on DVD from MPI Media Group. While the only extra to be had is an updated interview with Ruppert on his life since the film’s release, the fact is you’ll be so shell-shocked after watching the main feature that you won’t care about silly things like DVD extras anymore. You may not want to face up the reality of what our guy Mike’s got to say, but your one overriding thought from start to finish while watching him go at it will be “Holy shit, this guy’s absolutely right.”

Ruppert boils down his message to humanity in stark and simple terms — it’s time to either evolve or die.

What’s it gonna be?

"Best Worst Movie" Poster

Ah, Troll 2. Where would we be without it? Still talking about Ed Wood’s films, I suppose.

Wait, we’re still talking Ed’s films, aren’t we? So I guess my point’s been scuttled. If I even had one. So I guess this review’s got something in common with Troll 2 right there.

But actually, this review isn’t even about Troll 2 at all — it’s about the new documentary that’s about the new king of bad cinema, Michael Stepehnson’s superb Best Worst Movie.

Stephenson himself ought to know a little bit about the subject — after all, he was one of the stars of Troll 2 itself, a wet-behind-the-ears child actor back in 1990 who landed his first cinematic role as Joshua Waits, the little by who sees visions of his dead grandpa warning him to stop his family from vacationing in the scenic hamlet of Nilbog.

Stephenson’s not our main point of entry into the peculiar cult universe that has developed around Troll 2, though — that honor belongs to George Hardy, more specifically Dr. George Hardy, an Alabama-born dentist who was trying to make his mark as a part-time actor in the Salt Lake City area back in the late 80s and early 90s and found himself cast as George Waits, Joshua’s dad.

For George, who now practices dentistry back home in ‘Bama, the Troll 2 phenomenon has given him a chance to be what he always wanted to be  — a star, albeit a star known only to a select group of — uhhhmmmm — initiates, I guess we’ll call them.

We follow Dr. George as he goes from convention to convention, screening to screening, reuniting as much of the cast as he can muster up along the way, and it has to be said, this guy never stops smiling. Even as he admits to the severe fatigue and burnout he’s suffering from having watched the one and only film he ever starred in dozens of times over the years, and having  recited his famous “you can’t piss on hospitality — I won’t allow it!” line probably thousands of times, Hardy just keeps on smiling. He’s both grateful for him accidental cinematic immortality and sick of it in equal measure. Perhaps the film’s most telling moment is when he admits to his desire to get off the convention circuit treadmill (and Best Worst Movie offers perhaps the most realistic appraisal of the drudgery offered up by that particular “lifestyle” that you can imagine) and then, a split second later, when asked if he would be willing to appear in a Troll 3 if it were ever made (and director Caludio Fragasso and screenwriting/producing partner Rossella Drudi are, in fact, in pre-production on it right now) he answers “absolutely.” Dr. George loves the limelight and genuinely loves entertaining people, and his enthusiasm for his (I use this term loosely) art shows through in every moment he’s on the screen, even at a UK convention where nobody’s heard of his film, or him, and frankly they don’t seem interested in finding out about either. When George talks about how his heart has always been in acting but his father pushed him into dentistry, your heart sort of breaks for the guy even though he’s certainly got a very comfortable life.

And there he is, Dr. George Hardy, delivering the line for which he'll always be remembered

For the rest of the Troll 2 cast, life hasn’t been quite so rosy. Don Packard, the genuinely goblin-esque general store owner in the film, has been in and out of mental hospitals his whole life (and was on a supervised leave program of some sort from one when he shot his scenes back in 1990). Robert Ormsby, who played dead Grandpa Seth, lives a quiet and apparently exceedingly lonely life in Salt Lake City. Margo Prey, who portrayed George’s wife, Diana Waits,  live with her ailing mother and obviously suffers from some mental health problems herself — she’s essentially a shut-in and is the only member of the cast to have eschewed all public appearances in conjunction with the movie so far — but George keeps trying!

As for the principals behind the camera, Fragasso still swears he made a great film that’s just misunderstood by the public and berates his cast at every turn for failing to deliver their lines accurately enough. The scene were they return to the original Utah filming locations and re-enact memorable moments from the film is absolutely priceless and conveys the sort of madness that can probably only happen when hot-tempered Italians try to shoot a super-low-budget horror flick in the heart of Mormon country. For her part, Drudi just sort of silently agrees with all her partner’s wild-eyed excoriations, probably figuring it’s the best way to avoid arguments.

The cult that’s formed around the film itself is explored pretty thoroughly here, as well — it never played theaters but was a mainstay on HBO’s late-night lineup back in the early 90s, back when they just needed to fill up airtime with movies whose rights didn’t cost much. Then it slowly caught on in VHS rental shops. Then the internet came along and everybody who had seen it and loved it began to realize they weren’t alone — and the rest, of course, is history. Now this product of Bizarro-World is right up there with The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead at the top of the midnight movie pantheon.

Finally, for those who might be wondering whether or not you need to have actually seen Troll 2 in order to enjoy Best Worst Movie, I would say the answer is no — all the basics, like how it had nothing to do with the original Troll, how it was originally titled something else, etc. are pretty well-covered. I will say, though, that if you indeed haven’t seen it yet, after watching Stephenson’s film you’re going to want to. Right away. And that’s perhaps the highest compliment about Best Worst Movie that one can give. For my part, I went right from the 9:40 showing of this on a Friday night last weekend at the Lagoon theater here in Minneapolis to the midnight Troll 2 screening at the Uptown, just up the street, and had the best night at the movies I’ve had all summer, if not all year.

Now, if there’s any justice in the world, we’ll be hearing the name of Best Worst Movie announced on Oscar night, not as “best worst” anything, but as Best Documentary Feature. Needless to say I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen, but it definitely deserves it.

"Story Of A Junkie" Movie Poster

 There are words and phrases that you think you have a true understanding of, but you don’t. And I would submit that one of those phrases is “gritty urban realism.”  You might think you know all about it because you’ve read some books, or seen some films, that were gritty, urban, and realistic. But you don’t have any clue what “gritty urban realism” means unless or until you see Lech Kowalski’s “Story of a Junkie.” Then you become an expert on the subject in my book. And isn’t that what you’re absolutely dying to be?

No? Well, who asked you, anyway? Oh yeah. I  did. Time to get this circular imaginary conversation out of the way and move into the review phase of this — uhhmmmm — review, which is, I guess, sort of where I started, before I got sidetracked by — myself. “Story of a Junkie,” Christ — I sound like a junkie right about now.

Let’s get one thing straight right from the outset : “Story of a Junkie” is NOT a documentary. It’s far too realistic to be.

Shot in 1984 on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side (a.k.a. “Alphabet City”), this film follows the life of  Gringo, a desperate heroin addict, and those in his immediate orbit.  Gringo is portrayed by John Spacely, who is not an actor. He’s a real-life junkie. The stories he relates to the camera are not scripted, they’re real. The supporting cast are also real junkies, and the activities they undertake — scoring, shooting up, the whole works — are not staged, they’re real.

But I repeat, this is NOT a documentary film.

Oh, sure — the movie’s director, Lech Kowalski, is best known for punk rock documentaries like “D.O.A.,” “Born To Lose” and “Hey! Is Dee Dee Home?,” but “Story of a Junkie” is more like cinema verite, in that it combines actual interviews and footage of actual drug addicts with re-enactments of stories from Spacely’s life, not unlike what you find on all the true crime shows that litter the cable TV lineup, with the crucial difference here being that these re-enacted scenes do not feature (semi-) professional actors, but real Lower East Siders involved in the drug culture.

As such, it’s much more immediate, visceral, and powerful than any straight-ahead documentary could possibly be.

To be sure, the film has no “plot” per se, it’s entirely ad-libbed. And again, all the scenes depicted are real, as are the people and the locations. When a room full of junkies are shown injecting themselves in a shooting gallery, that’s EXACTLY what’s happening — a room full of junkies are injecting themselves in a shooting gallery. But when a dealer is gunned down in the streets, it’s obviously not a real murder that’s being filmed — but the raw and unvarnished nature of the film’s surroundings certainly gives it the air of absolute authenticity.

So “Story of  a Junkie” isn’t just a REPRESENTATION of Lower East Side junkie life in the early 80s, it’s a  RECORD of Lower East Side junkie life in the early 80s. Even if it’s not a documentary. Which is the last I’ll say about that, I promise.

John Spacely as Gringo --- essentially, himself

Forget “Trainspotting”  — Kowalski’s film is, without question, the most jaw-dropping, gut-punching, absolutely spot-on account of the addicted life ever committed to film, because it IS the addicted life committed to film.

Some of the shit that comes from Spacely’s mouth will have you hitting the rewind button just to make sure you heard it right. He talks about how he was raised by a normal, loving family in Southern California, but lost his way in life when his steady girlfriend was hit by a truck and killed. She was pregnant once, and when she miscarried he threw the fetus in the trash because it was “nothing but a big period anyway.” He lost his eye in a fight with some drag queens. After another fight, he had to have a large slice of meat amputated from his body, When the doctors wouldn’t give it back to him, he stole it and snuck out of the hospital. He’s a nonviolent anarchist who years for another war in order to “awaken the consciousness of the youth.”

In short, he’s a mass of contradictions, but I don’t know what else you’d really expect from a guy in his condition.

There’s no comfortable distance between viewer and subject in this film. You’re plunged headfirst into Gringo’s world and there’s no “narrative” per se to follow — you’re as lost as he is. To the extent that any sort of linear “storytelling” is involved here, it comes pretty late in the game : through a set of circumstances typical, I’m sure, to junkie life, Gringo is separated from his beloved skateboard, and at the very end he gets it back. That’s about as close to a “storyline” as you’re going to find here. Mostly we just follow Gringo around, with plenty of interview asides with those he comes into contact with or even just people who happen to be around.

Given that this part of New York has now been gentrified beyond all recognition (along with, sadly, Times Square and other former shitholes), this flick is truly a historical record, not just of a time that no longer exists, but of a place that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t either.

“Story of a Junkie” took some time to cobble into shape once all the footage was shot, and played some festival screenings and the like before finally getting picked up for proper (albeit limited) release by Troma, of all people, in 1987, and along with the similarly (mostly) harrowingly realistic “Combat Shock,” it remains one of the absolute best films ever to go out under their moniker. They’ve put out a great DVD release for it featuring a digitally remastered (but still appropriately grungy) print presented in full-frame,   a terrific commentary track by Kowalski (this film is actually even more interesting with the commentary on than without), an interview with executive producer Ann Barish (wife of the founder of the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain) that’s genuinely both interesting and informative, and the usual Troma-centric extras including and introduction from Lloyd Kaufman and a Kaufman-directed music video for the death metal band Entombed.

"Story of a Junkie" DVD from Troma

Plenty of films (most notably the aforementioned “Trainspotting”) show you what a junkie’s life is LIKE — this one shows you what a junkie’s life IS. Not to be missed under any circumstances.

John Spacely died of AIDS at some point in the early 90s. The times, the places, the people depicted here are all gone. But heroin’s still around, and still doing ( in concert with its evil twin, the “War on Drugs”) exactly what it did to the people in this film. The problem’s moved from the inner city shooting galleries to suburban schools and bedrooms. Everyone seems to be resting easier with it safely out of sight,  but the fact that it’s now largely out of mind, too — well, that’s something that ought to concern us all.  The locales and the people involved may have changed, but the problem remains, and whether viewed as cautionary tale, historical record, or some combination of both, “Story of a Junkie” is the most no-bullshit account of it you’re ever going to come across. Even if it’s still not a documentary.

Whoops, I said I wouldn’t bring that up again, didn’t I?

"Capitalism : A Love Story" Movie Poster

"Capitalism : A Love Story" Movie Poster

You might think that with a purported “progressive” in the Oval Office and both houses of Congress firmly under Democratic control, Michael Moore wouldn’t have too much to bitch about these days.

But you’d be wrong. And thank goodness for that. Because in the current political atmosphere when liberal and otherwise left-leaning voters might be tempted to assume that everything’s okay and that now’s the time to rest on their laurels and enjoy the fruits of their “victory,” Moore’s message is actually more relevant than ever, and his latest film “Capitalism : A Love Story” shows that he’s not about to sit back and give the Democrats a free pass. He’s doing exactly what everyone else should be doing, namely holding these people’s feet to the fire, and he hasn’t mellowed one bit. In fact, he’s chosen now to unleash his most uncompromising, well-realized, and comprehensive assault on the robber barons of the late 20th/early 21st century and their paid henchmen in the political and media classes. The result is a polemic (sorry, TFG doesn’t really consider Moore a documentarian in the strictest sense and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that) that’s energetic, focused, and mad as hell with a smile on its face. Moore is the happy warrior of the working class and “Capitalism : A Love Story” is his magnum opus, the natural culmination of everything he’s been working towards all these years crystallized into one seamlessly flowing, easily-communicable message : capitalism sucks, it has nothing to do with democracy (or even the US Constitution), we’ve all been played for suckers, our country has literally been swindled out from underneath us, and it’s well past time that we fought back.

And you know what? He’s absolutely right. I may disagree with many aspects of Moore’s proposed solutions, but in terms of identifying the problem he’s spot-on. Runaway Wall Street greed has resulted in a pronounced and rapid deterioration in the quality of life of average Americans, and the honest working man and woman have been left in the dust as the already-filthy rich have fattened their coffers way beyond the dreams of avarice.

Michael Moore doing what he does best

Michael Moore doing what he does best

Moore starts out his latest offering by showing us the human toll that the recent foreclosure mess has taken on people before segueing into his by-now-typical paean to life in the 1950s America he grew up in where one income was more than enough to buy a house outright, send your kids to modest private or parochial school, pay for their college when the time came, take a nice little vacation every year, and have enough left over to enjoy one’s golden years in relative comfort.

Then we go back to the modern day, and learn that pilots are only making $19,000 a year, the unions that once helped fight for our customary way of life have been decimated, whole cities lay in ruin due to factory closings, and Wall Street tycoons are laughing all the way to the bank (that they own) as their complex derivative games turn the stock market into a giant casino that the taxpayers they’ve spent the last few decades ripping off cover the losses for in the form of all these insane “bailouts” that have been rammed down our collective throat in the last year or so.

Nobody comes away from Moore’s equal-opportunity assault clean, with prominent Democrats like Chris Dodd exposed as charlatans and stooges for the predatory capitalist class every bit as much as Republicans. Coming in for special criticism is Donald Regan, secretary of the treasury and later chief of staff for Ronald Reagan (the footage where  Regan, the former CEO of Merrill Lynch,  tells his supposed boss to “speed it up” without even adding the customary “Mr. President” to the end of the command as Reagan is addressing the crowd on the Wall Street trading floor is priceless and lays bare in the most stark terms possible who’s really giving the orders in Washington these days) who slashed taxes for the wealthy while slashing regulations on the financial sector, Robert Rubin, Clinton’s former treasury secretary who deregulated the industry even further before going on to make $115,000,000 running Citibank, and Hank Paulsen, former Goldman Sachs CEO and Bush treasury secretary who arranged the current “bailout” fiasco.

Not getting in the door, as usual

Not getting in the door, as usual

Yes, there are a few honest folks in Washington who do their part in laying the scam bare and sticking up for the interests of ordinary working folks in the face of teh Wall Street juggernaut. Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, in particular, would probably be elected President if everyone saw this film. But they’re few and far between and Moore makes it clear that if we want to end this cycle of legalized theft, we need to do it ourselves.

To that end, the final third of the movie is actually a somewhat uncharacteristically optimistic portrayal of some positives that have taken place in recent months : a high-tech robotic equipment company and a bread-baking corporation that are run in truly democratic fashion where the workers all have an equal voice in how the company is run and all take home an absolutely equal share of the profits are both making money hand over fist. A group of concerned neighborhood activists in Miami banded together to prevent a family from being foreclosed on and refused to move for days, causing such a stink that the bank eventually walked away in shame. The sherriff in Wayne County, Michigan, where Detroit rests, has refused to serve any more foreclosure notices. Workers at a door and window company in Chicago locked themselves into their factory when they received three days’ notice that they were all being fired without pay, and after a six-day sit-in they all received $6,000 severance packages.

Sure, along the way Moore serves as our guide as usual and gets up to his usual antics of trying to get into various corporate headquarters and being refused entrance (the scenes where he’s driving an armored car around Wall Street and backing up to places like Goldman Sachs and Citibank and asking for our money back are classic Moore — when no one budges he tries to get inside to make a citizen’s arrest of their boards of directors with equally predictable results), but these antics come pretty late in the game, and rather than making himself the star of the film as has been a frequent and entirely justified criticism of his previous work, in “Capitalism : A Love Story” Moore does a much better job of letting the ordinary folks involved in his portrayal of contemporary America and their stories serve as the real centerpiece of the film. He’s more a tour guide than he is a protagonist, and the movie is all the stronger for his decision to take more of a back seat to his subject matter.

How about some of that bailout money back?

How about some of that bailout money back?

The usual redundant criticism from the usual corners will certainly all be heard in the days to come — that Moore has gotten rich himself by criticizing the wealthy, that his films are one-sided, that he’s out to push an agenda, that he’s a shill for the Democratic Party. The last is refuted pretty easily throughout the course of the film (he’s even notably ambivalent about Obama, excited by the prospect that his historic election represents while fully cognizant of the fact that his largest comparing contributors were all Wall Street giants—he seems to take the pragmatic and understandable view that Obama may want to do the right thing, but that if we don’t demand it, he’ll opt for the politically easy route of pleasing the folks who paid for his ticket to the top instead), and the rest just plain don’t matter, pure and simple. If folks on the other side of these issues want to present their side of the story, they have the entire media apparatus and most of the government in their pockets and are free to do so. In fact, they do 24 hours a day , seven days a week, in what is laughably called “news” programming.

Simply put, Moore is not merely giving us one side of the story. He’s giving us the other side of the story, the one we know to be true from our daily lives but never see reported by the networks.  And he succeeds where so many other left-leaning journalists fail by actually employing a technique that the right uses very well : placing things not in cold logic and concrete numbers but in real, human, emotional terms. He speaks to the head only after he’s proven what the heart already knows to be true. It’s not about the facts and figures with Moore, in the end it’s about the people. This movie plays at the heartstrings, sure, but in the present political climate of town halls and tea parties, it’s refreshing to see purely emotional politics put in service to issues that speak to the better angels of our nature (and yes, I hate that term, too) rather than baseless, irrational, divisive fears.

Mr. Moore goes to Washington

Mr. Moore goes to Washington

As for the most lame-brained fall-back argument his critics employ against him, “If he hates America so much, why doesn’t he just leave it?, ” Moore delivers a poignantly simple rebuke at the end that is the film’s best line and maybe the best line you’ll hear in any movie this year : “I refuse to live in a country like this anymore. And I’m not going anywhere.” After over two hours of succinct and harrowing accounting of our present crisis laid out in terms anyone can understand and far too many people can relate to, it’s enough to make you want to pump your fist in the air. And then roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Given that’s exactly the reaction Moore wants, it’s only fair to conclude that “Capitalism : A Love Story” is an unqualified success —  his best and most accomplished work and a movie no one should miss.  We already know that, given the nature of our highly divided Union these days, Moore will essentially be preaching to the converted with this film and those who would benefit the most from hearing his message will be nowhere in the audience. Our task, then, is to convince others of the truth in what Moore is saying in our daily lives, to take his message to unfamiliar quarters and present it in a way they can relate to without feeling alienated and/or somehow threatened by “socialism” (a position Moore never actually advocates, instead stressing that democracy—real democracy—is the best antidote to capitalism). It’s a daunting task, to be sure, but it’s one we have to undertake if we want to bring about change we really can believe in.

Next time out, we’ll return to our little halloween countdown, but for now, we all need to get off our butts, get out and see this movie, and then get down to business.

"Not Quite Hollywood" Movie Poster

"Not Quite Hollywood" Movie Poster

“Stone.” “The Man From Hong Kong.” “Stork.” “Fantasm.” “Long Weekend.” “Mad Max.” “Turkey Shoot.” “Razorback.” “Dead-End Drive-In.” ” Mad Dog Morgan.” “BMX Bandits.” “Patrick.”

If the names of these movies don’t ring a bell—or even if they do—you’d be well-served by checking out director Mark Hartley’s respectful-yet-irreverent new indie documentary “Not Quite Hollywood,” a fascinating look at the history of “Ozploitation,” the bizarrely unique brand of low-budget exploitation filmmaking from Down Under.

In a very real sense, the history of the Ozplotation and the history of Australian filmmaking are one and the same, as no other country on earth has a movie industry whose roots lie in low-budget, drive-in pictures, and while more serious and scholarly arthouse fare like “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “The Last Wave” were the types of films Australia wanted to be known for producing in the 1970s, in truth these high-brow pictures were few and far between, and the bedrock of this nascent industry was the low-budget genre picture designed to draw people into the drive-ins (Australia is the only country besides the US with a distinct drive-in movie culture) and deliver the same types of cheap thrills, cheap shocks, cheap sex, and cheap gimmicks as their more-well-known American counterparts—all, of course, delivered on a cheap budget.

In truth, there was no Australian film industry to speak of until “Stork,” an ultra-low-budget screwball sex comedy, came along in 1971 and proved to the Australian filmgoing public—and prospective producers/investors—that Australia could produce its own fare for its cinemas and even, eventually, worldwide distribution markets. A veritable flood of Aussie sex comedies followed, such as the highly-popular “Alvin Purple” and “Fantasm” films, and the nudity-filled romps rules the day for several years until the small cadre of Australian filmmakers started to branch out into genres such as horror, action, and biker (or “bikie” as they’d say down there) movies, as well—there were even a few Australian kung fu flicks!

“Not Quite Hollywood” covers it all, with candid interviews from the directors, producers, stars,  and cinematographers behind many of the most notable Ozploitation efforts. Special attention is paid to the gonzo, balls-to-the-walls stuntmen who did so much to make this bizarre brand of filmmaking what it is, as well. American and British stars who made the trek Down Under  to either revive sagging careers or just plain keep working such as Dennis Hopper, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stacy Keach, and George Lazenby are on hand to share their recollections, as well.

Plenty of folks who went on to have fairly successful careers in Hollywood like George Miller, Fred Schepisi, and  Russell Mulcahy got their start directing Ozploitation pictures, and while names like Brian Trenchard-Smith are not as well-known stateside, their names are well-known to the Australian filmgoing public and their contributions to the growth and development of Aussie film cannot be overstated. Future mega-stars like Nicole Kidman and Mel Gibson got their start in the world of Ozploitation, as well.

Oh, and there’s plenty of Quentin Tarantino, too, if you’re interested—as a human treasure-trove of knowledge of all things exploitation, he knows many of these movies well and his thoughts and reminiscences on them are insightful, interesting, and delivered with a lot less self-involved self-importance than we’ve grown accustomed to from him over the years.

I’m a little biased toward the subject matter here because I absolutely love Australia, having spent six months there, and I absolutely love low-budget exploitation filmmaking, so pairing the two is a match made in heaven for your humble host. But I have to admit that my own exposure to the world of Ozploitation has been minimal at best, since most of these films are unavailable on DVD here in the States. Sure, I’ve seen most of the well-regarded “classics” of  the filed like “Stone,” (my personal favorite of those I’ve seen and one of the absolute best biker movies ever, period) “Mad Max,” “Roadgames,” Razorback,” and what have you, but this movie has got me wanting to hunt more down—a lot more. There’s a plethora of delights for the low-budget coniosseur to be found in the wild world of Ozploitation, and I can’t wait to discover some of them for myself.