Wednesday, May 02, 2007

FRIDAY SCREEN TEST: Chris Stangl

Chris Stangl, at the tastefully-named and designed Exploding Kintetoscope proclaims film as 'the deadliest art,' but he also travels into the realms of television and ... Teen Wolf. Okay so it's mostly film-related, and Mr. Stangl touches on a library of topics in this arena, with unique investigations through the likes of Kill Bill (on the lost 'Yuki's Revenge' contained in the original script), The Shining (an exhaustive look at relates to American history) and, yes, Teen Wolf (hear him out: ol' Stiles deserves his due). Last month, he sat down with the new M*A*S*H uber-box set and hardly got off the couch for a month -- but did live to tell. Chris recently posted a loving tribute to his hometown movie palace in Iowa City, one of those places that makes you wonder 'maybe we would be better off without all these multiple screen.

"YEAH, BUT HAVE YOU SEEN THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION?": 'For what favorites are worth, Eraserhead is my favorite movie. More honestly, my favorite movies are Eraserhead and Dellamorte Dellamore. Those answers usually stop non-cinephile conversations in their tracks. In mixed company, I usually say my favorite movie is The Parent Trap. Eraserhead is a masterpiece of personal expression through film, a great meeting place of narrative and avant garde cinema, a film at once sealed off from reality in a world of private metaphysics and universal in its vision and concerns about civilization and its discontents. Seeing Eraserhead at 15 was that experience all film-obsessives surely have, the movie that plunges you into the oceanic possibilities of cinema. Whenever I think I’ve outgrown it, or running on simple nostalgia, I’ll watch it again, and remember Eraserhead is a source of inexhaustible mystery.'

ONCE A DAY, EVERY DAY: 'I can’t watch movies every day; there isn’t time. But sometimes I watch six movies a day so... In the end my viewing tallies do average out to approximately a movie a day. I also average an hour-worth of TV episodes a day. I try to read a book and a half a week, which I find a more manageable goal, because they’re portable.'

WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY: 'When puzzled by my own reaction to a film, I generally take it as a special opportunity to think harder about how and why it works. But I can’t really explain why I like the most unremarkable Disney live action movies of the ‘60s, except empty nostalgia and bright moments with favorite performers. I suppose those are the same sketchy reasons behind my fascination with Golden Age adult films. I haven’t spent time pondering why I can sit through the dreariest Poverty Row horror, un-action-packed cowboy serial, have an insatiable Antonioni appetite, but end up looking at my watch as much as the screen during most Jess Franco and Tarkovsky pictures. I’m pretty cautious about knee-jerk negative reactions to movies; I’d prefer my blind spots to be filled with blind love than blind hate.'

DO GHOSTBUSTERS DREAM OF ELECTRIC TWINKIES?: 'The first film I can remember inspiring me to ask questions about narrative strategies, character relationships and in-fiction story issues, and to discuss technique, was Ghostbusters. How do the Ghostbusters feel about each other? How do the other guys feel about Venkmann ditching them for a girl? What are (as Beetlejuice puts it) the functional parameters of ghosts in the movie? Is the depiction of ghost-catching consistent and logical within the film (e.g.- why do you need heavy proton packs, instead of just carrying around the ghost traps)? How can a movie be scary and funny at the same time? Is Tobin’s Spirit Guide a real book? What do we make of scenes found in the paperback novelization but not the movie? Are you responsible for your actions when turned into a terror-dog? Is it possible to clear your mind and think of nothing, as Ray fails to do at the climax? Most importantly, is there a satisfying story reason for the sudden flare-up of PK energy in the NYC area? Is one provided or inferred? Et cetera. Those are silly questions, but I can see an early interest in textual analysis, reception studies, social and gender issues, and genre studies. Maybe ethics and metaphysics. It’s nothing to do with Ghostbusters specifically; it was the right time, it was the genre that interested me, and as I’d later learn, cultural legitimacy has little to do with analysis. Ghostbusters was possibly that film for me, because it’s an essentially adult popular film that appeals to kids because it has a burping ghost and a call-and-response theme song: early forays into film obsession are almost invariably fantasy movies. Hmm. Maybe I talked about Gremlins this way, earlier.'

SHIVERS: 'An inevitable byproduct of being a horror movie fan is that you eventually build up a callous over your scare-nerve. But why? I don’t stop wanting to sing along with musicals or laugh during comedies. Dull as the filmmaking often is, slasher pictures are the horror movies that retain the most potential to frighten, at least for me. The mist-belching forests and spooky castles of classic horror excite the imagination more, but psychopaths stalking strip malls and apartment complexes is closer to home. Eyes of a Stranger (1981) is this ideal marriage between taut suspenser and gory serial killer horror, very stark and stripped down and simple. Brian De Palma was interested in directing the script, about a newscaster and her blind sister who discover a serial killer is living in their apartment complex, but passed it off to Shockwaves auteur Ken Wiederhorn. The movie has a great De Palmaesque sense of spatial geography, but benefits from the verisimilitude of its low budget, in completely sleazy scenes like an assault on a topless, underage Jennifer Jason Leigh. It’s the scariest, coolest modern era horror movie that’s still not on DVD. You can also see it advertised on the Mann Chinese marquee in the greatest teen sex comedy of all time, Hollywood High.'

BONDING: 'Y’know, after 37 years of relentless, dull-spirited junk, there was no reason to ever expect a good James Bond movie again. Hearing news that Casino Royale was a series “reboot” didn’t make my mouth water. Reboot WHAT? And then Casino Royale turned out to be completely engrossing, mean, funny, unpleasant and sexy. Just like James Bond! Look, it’s got a lot of problems: “pretty good” is enough to shatter expectations for Casino Royale.'

WHAT ABOUT A THUMB?: 'Summer evening 1957, drive-in theater, black & white ’55 Bel Air convertible, girl in tight sweater in passenger seat, Attack of the Crab Monsters double-billed with Not of This Earth. This is where you go when you die. I would willingly chop off a finger to go back in time and experience this. (Chris, you just made me re-examine my image of heaven -Ed.)

PREACH, BROTHER: 'I know but one medication for loneliness, for existential crisis, for painful breakups, for a bad day at work, for hopelessness, sorrow. Ingredients: one bottle of rum, one bottle of soda water, and Destroy All Monsters. Let the sun shine in.'

MATRIX RECONSIDERED: 'The consensus, “common sense” opinion about the Matrix sequels drives me up the wall. It’s frustrating, and it’s confusing. Barely any popular critics owned up to a lack of appropriate education in comparative religion, mythology, philosophy, or science, and the films’ investigation into these topics were dismissed as window-dressing, half-assed pretense, or mumbo-jumbo with a shocking lack of intellectual curiosity. The Matrix trilogy as completed didn’t tell the story any critics or audiences were expecting, and rather than discuss the surprising films delivered, they responded by avoiding the question. Critics rarely even discussed the filmmaking intelligently, almost universally missing that the central genre reference point where melodrama, mecha-obsessed action, and ponderous metaphysics meet is anime. Because the trilogy is a money-factory, it’s easy to call it crass, commercial, stupid, right? Yeah right. And Alfred Hitchcock made art pictures for intellectuals. Reloaded and Revolutions betrayed the inventive promise of The Matrix by dissolving into rote action-picture cliché? Really? These people must see a lot more movies than I do with albino ghosts, sword fights on top of semi trucks, Kabbala in-jokes, and the spirit of God envisioned as a giant robotic baby head.'

Contact DVD Panache if you are interested in contributing to Friday Screen Test.

1 comment:

Piper said...

Whoah, what the F? Like the new look.