My Top 10 Documentaries Of All Time

My Top 10 Documentaries Of All Time

Out of all of the cinematic genres, I’d say apart from horror, that of the documentary is my favourite. A fantastic true story told brilliantly is worth it’s weight in gold. Which leads us onto my Top 10 favourite documentaries of all time. Hold onto your hats- these aren’t your average examples of the genre…

10. Long Shot

Juan Catalan is convicted of a drive-by shooting even though he was at a Dodgers game at the time. He has to prove his innocence. Add to this the fact that the woman who is trying to prove that Juan actually committed the crime has an impeccable record of succeeding in the cases she takes on.

Thankfully Juan has a solicitor fighting in his corner who is prepared to go above and beyond to prove without a reasonable doubt that Juan definitely didn’t commit the murder and was elsewhere when it took place.

But then events take an unexpected turn in a VERY strange way resplendent with a cameo appearance by someone who is very well known to people around the world. And no, I’m not going to reveal all here and ruin this amazing documentary for you!

Life is stranger than fiction and this is certainly shown to be true in this instance. The film also depicts issues regarding race, the flaws of the judicial system and the goodness of some of those working in this realm along with the rabid lack of empathy of others.

9. Dig!

A great music documentary that chronicles the bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols at the start of their trajectories.

The real revelation is the introduction to many of the genius of The Massacre’s lead singer and visionary Anton Newcombe. He exudes creativity with a healthy interest in the past but whilst being able to take that and make it his own. He isn’t interested in merely copying his influences but giving them his own twist in the present. He’s also not interested in compromising his art by commodifying it whilst selling his soul to a huge corporate record label.

Contrast this with The Dandy Warhols who have just signed a deal with Capitol Records. And this is where the two bands who had previously been running in parallel start to separate and plough their own paths.

The Dandies seem to have plenty of surface gloss but when you scratch further there’s just more surface and no substance which is the complete opposite to the brilliant art created by Newcombe and his band. There’s a very telling sequence in which The Dandies drop by the L.A. house in which Anton and Co live in the day after a huge housewarming party they have thrown. The Dandies start to be photographed as if this is their house and as if the debris we see them suddenly in the middle of is the just the way they role. It feels like narcissistic posturing that is neither real or sincere. It’s a false depiction and has more to do with empty fashion than sincere art.

In fact, you’ll see that the world depicted in the documentary is completely topsy turvy and somewhat maddening because of it. The Brian Jonestown Massacre create truly great music but don’t reap the appropriate rewards whilst the superficial image led fakery of the Dandies is rewarded with riches, festival appearances and money (admittedly after one of their songs features in a mobile phone commercial, of course).

In fact the documentary does nothing for the Dandies just as it acts as a fantastic introduction to Newcombe and co.

There’s even cameos by Genesis P. Orridge and Harry Dean Stanton. You ain’t seen nothing until you see Newcombe dressed head to toe in white resplendent with a huge furry hat on rollerboots and clutching a boombox.

8. Ramones: End of the Century

Another music based documentary, this time chronicling the history of punk pioneers, The Ramones.

From their origins in Forest Hills, Queens to their early gigs as part of the new NYC punk scene and then onto their lack of success in America but their huge fame across the pond as part of the emerging British punk scene, their history is documented candidly and without a sugar coated nostalgia.

This excellent documentary also examines the relations between band members with one incident seismically changing relations between Joey and Johnny forever wherein Johnny stole Joey’s girlfriend with them being in a relationship ever since.

There are also observations regarding being the pioneers of a movement and not receiving the appropriate success because of this. You might be seen as a seminal band who are name-checked by future flavour of the month bands after that but that doesn’t mean that you suddenly become a band who suddenly sell records by the bucket load because of that. The sad irony is that as great as their records are, they probably sold more t-shirts.

7. How To Survive A Plague

A time capsule of the effect AIDS had on the gay community, America and the world. The pressure group ACT UP and later TAG both sought to spread awareness, pressure the Reagan administration into more and quicker drug testing (no mean feat) and to fight the homophobic ignorance spread by scumsuckers such as Jesse Helms (there is a fantastic part of the documentary in which activists cover Helms’ house with a giant condom to raise awareness regarding the safest combat against the disease rather than ‘abstinence’ which is what Helms was recommending).

It was the matching of brains, expertise and organisation that made ACT UP so successful. The group started to be acted to participate in drug conferences when it was quickly realised the level of knowledge and awareness that the group possessed. These were people with a great awareness of the kind of drugs and drug tests that were needed to combat the vile disease and save lives. The number of lives lost to AIDS year to year is displayed via a counter that periodically appears onscreen. And the number increases at an extremely disturbing and depressingly fast rate.

But the documentary also records the infighting that can develop within any political group which can successfully divert energies and time from where they would be much better channelled. Watch out for Larry Kramer’s argument in opposition to this. It cuts through and silences the whole hall full of bickering participants and for very good reason.

How To Survive A Plague also captures the community that has always been at the heart of the gay and lesbian community and before it became the commodifiable entity known as the LGBT community with one letter taking precedence over all others.

6. Who Took Johnny?

Johnny Gosch was one of the first children who disappeared to feature on the side of a milk carton in the U.S.

I first found out about this documentary as John Waters named it as one of his Films of the Year in Artforum magazine.

This documentary isn’t only about Johnny’s disappearance but is also a testament to his mother Noreen becoming a one-woman campaigning machine, trying to get the police to act (against the odds apparently, with the police being shown to be unwilling to investigate new leads even when new evidence is overwhelming), trying to get laws passed regarding missing children (before this the local law enforcement agencies would only investigate a missing child after 72 hours of the child going missing. It’s now widely believed that the first 24 hours after a disappearance are the most crucial for police to act to actually find the child) and advising other parents who are going through what she so tragically had to experience.

The journey that we are taken on with this film is unexpected, traumatic and ventures well and truly into the unknown. There’s even an episode near the end that changes what we have seen before and what we will possibly think afterwards about the whole case and possibly about Noreen.

An exemplary piece of filmmaking which deserves wider exposure not just so that people can see how a brilliant documentary can be made but also to educate about the dangers of child abduction.

5. Abducted in Plain Sight

Every now and again I see a documentary that is so warped, so surreal that I think ‘What the fu…’ Abducted In Plain Sight takes that to the very limit.

Robert Berchtold infiltrates the Broberg family with one intention- to get to their underage daughter Jan. He realises that to do this he has to get through her parents.

This is just the beginning as to tell you anymore would be to ruin the impact and power of this piece of work. We are only just beginning to learn about topics such as pedophilia, grooming, narcissism, psychopathy and abduction now. Imagine getting to grips with those topics as early as the 1970’s when this documentary is primarily based.

Many critics have mentioned the parenting on display in this documentary. I’d agree with this and also suggest that issues of trust need to be addressed in relation to the topics I mentioned above. A child’s welfare should be paramount. Maybe it will be with more parents after they’ve seen this extraordinary piece of work. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. In this case, it’s a lot stranger!

4. Legend of Leigh Bowery

Leigh Bowery accomplished the impossible. He stood out in an arena (1980’s London gay clubbing that had evolved from the New Romantic movement) that was already populated primarily with peacocks and poseurs. Leigh stood out because of his outfits which not only made heads turn in whichever establishment he was in but also revolutionised the medium of fashion through his ‘outside the box’ thinking, extremes and sheer innovation. He was a creature of his own imagination and the sky was the limit.

Director Charles Atlas has sourced and utilised a broad range of sources for the clips of Leigh from TV programmes he either guested on or participated in, photographs of his wonderful creations (including some of the wonderful Fergus Greer portraits) and recordings of performances such as the Michael Clark shows and his Minty performances.

There are also contributions and reminiscences from those who knew him well with these memories being just as colourful as the man himself. There are even interviews with Leigh’s family members which add a poignancy to proceedings.

One of the things that I loved the most about Leigh was that it was impossible to pigeonhole him into one firm category regarding his art. The broad range of his talents and the mediums he applied them to are fully explored here showing what a wide ranging talent he really was and also how irreverent he could be.

An incredible documentary.

3. Grey Gardens

A mother and daughter both called Edith Beale (although one is referred to as ‘Little Edie’) both live in a rambling and crumbling mansion known as Grey Gardens in East Hampton. The estate has been raided by the local sanitation department as it was found to be in severe disrepair with no running water, infested with fleas and with rubbish piling up.

The Beales are actually the aunt and cousin of none other than Jackie Onassis who, after two high profile magazine articles about the house and it’s two occupants, provided the funds to repair the house and the estate as a whole in 1972. It was because of this exposure that brothers Albert and David Maysles decided to reach out to the Edies regarding making a documentary about them.

The resulting documentary is a peek into the lives of the pair. Both Edies are wonderfully eccentric but one of the things I love about the film is that at no point do the Maysles brothers try to portray the Beales are freaks or weirdos. They are photographed as is with no interference from the brothers as their magic unfurls in front of the camera. The film was first shown in 1975 which is the year in which another great eccentric was introduced to the public with Quentin Crisp’s life being captured in The Naked Civil Servant and shown on UK television.

I’ve always been attracted to people who have carved out their own life and personalities without caring what others may think or bending to society’s expectations. And this film is a shining beacon example of this.

The film is also VERY quotable through a number of key scenes which have gone down in film history such as being a staunch character, Little Edie’s fashion tips (the skirt can become a cape) and her search for a Libra man. We even get a fantastic dance routine with American flags.

2. Nico Icon

Witness as we see Nico progress from model to cutesy 60’s singer to the chanteuse on The Velvet Underground’s first album and then onto having a highly idiosyncratic solo career.

Her vision, the way she carved out her own life on all levels, how she chose to interact with those who entered her orbit and her mammoth intake of narcotics are all examined. But it’s her genuinely revolutionary and genre smashing music that is the real star here if there is any doubt amongst the peanut gallery who question if Nico and her legacy. How many artists released a string of genuinely five-star albums with each one being a masterpiece? Nico did whilst influencing a whole host of female artists (Siouxsie Sioux is an obvious example).

The emotional pull of the content of this documentary was completely unexpected as the film forces us to re-examine Nico’s and indeed, The Velvet Underground’s music with fresh ears as if we are discovering them for the first time.

This documentary is a revelation. Not even the now dated ‘words that appear on the screen’ trope can diminish it’s brilliance.

1. The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

The top shot for this list of documentaries goes to this Netflix six part documentary about the abuse, torture and eventual death of eight year Gabriel Fernandez from Palmdale, California.

This is easily the most shocking piece of cinema I have ever seen. I spent roughly five hours of the six hour running time crying at what I was seeing.

But what could have been an overly sentimental ‘weep-athon’ is instead a detailed, nuanced and somewhat forensic examination of the events leading to Fernandez’s death at the hands of his birth mother and her boyfriend, the people he interacted with who reported the tell-tale signs of abuse to the relevant authorities, why Gabriel wasn’t taken away from his extremely toxic family home and what is being done (or should that be what isn’t being done) to prevent similar tragedies from happening again.

This extremely well made series should be used to test if viewers have the empathy chip or not. If they do, the tears will flow almost immediately as the ghastly and inhumane events unfurl in front of our shocked eyes. 

Essential.

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Faster, Meathook Cinema! Kill! Kill!

Faster, Meathook Cinema! Kill! Kill!

I first heard about the opus Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! when I bought a book that still remains like a cine-bible to me, Re:Search’s Incredibly Strange Films. There was a chapter on Russ Meyer (as there should be in any self-respecting book on cult cinema) and I was instantly taken with the huge picture of goddess Tura Satana using her martial arts expertise to throw a man to the ground whilst wearing a black catsuit and matching black gloves. ‘I need to see this film!’ I vowed.

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The essential Incredibly Strange Films

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How said book featured Faster Pussycat. As if I wouldn’t see this film

The film centres around three go-go dancers Varla, Rosie and Billie. When they aren’t at work dancing erotically for their male patrons, they enjoy nothing more than driving their cars FAST in the desert. We see them play a game of chicken until a jock couple show up. A fight breaks out, resulting in Mr Jock (actual name Tommy) having his back broken by Varla. His girlfriend Linda is drugged and taken along for the ride. The three women next encounter a gas station and the people who run it including the owner who has been injured in a railway accident. Varla is told that apparently the compensation he received, as a result, is stashed somewhere on the premises. She decides to find out where so that she can steal the loot.

If this film plotline doesn’t sound like the most awesome you’ve ever read, you’re probably on the wrong website. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a film in which the women call the shots, the outsiders are shown to win (the scene in which Mr Jock is killed epitomises this) and all whilst the lead characters are kitted out in the best fashions EVER. It’s a world of karate chops, knock-out drops, flick knives and pure sleaze.

But there’s so much more to the film than just cult film goodness. It showed that marginal cinema could also constitute what the readers of Cashier Du Cinema would call *gulp* art. The film looks beautiful, as the home media releases have shown more and more over the years. Just like Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with each new release and restoration, the film gleams more and more. Will we see Faster on Criterion someday? Let’s hope so.

The film also made a star of Tura Satana who would go on to epitomise cult cinema badass cool and clad in black rebellion. Satana’s back story is as larger than life as her role in Faster Pussycat, especially what prompted her to learn the martial arts she so effectively displays to great effect in the film. Satana would later become a major draw when she attended cult movie conventions later on in life.

Add to the mix one of the best theme songs ever (sung by the Bostweeds) which had the perfect endorsement- it was covered by The Cramps.

It’s also a film in which almost every line of dialogue is dynamite. Again, this reminds me of the best of John Waters with the example of his meisterwerk Female Trouble instantly springing to mind. Bloodsucking Freaks is another film that exemplifies this level of perfection when it comes to a genius screenplay. The script is so primed to perfection that the film hits every bullseye it aims for head-on.

It’s also one of the most influential cult films ever. If this movie was a stick of rock, it would have the film ‘CULT’ running through it. It’s as pivotal as Pink Flamingos (Faster Pussycat is one of John Waters’ favourite movies), Eraserhead and El Topo.

When I arrived to study Film at University in London, I saw that there was a retrospective of Meyer’s work showing at an art cinema in Piccadilly Circus. ‘Wow! Art cinemas are showing the bodies of work of my favourite cult directors here! Isn’t life great?!’ There were multiple screenings of all of his oeuvre but most screenings were devoted to Faster. It was during the first screening that I realised that it wasn’t an art cinema, however. Single guys would move from seat to seat after the lights would go down. It was only after a while that I fully grasped what was going on. This wasn’t an art cinema at all but a porno movie house. A guy even sat down next to me and tried to feel me up (‘Erm, excuse me, you’re making me miss one of the greatest films ever made!!!’)

Whilst on my Film course, I was undertaking (and it was an undertaking) a module called Images of American Women (!) There would be a presentation/seminar given by each of us at the end of each lecture on any film that we wanted to talk about that depicted, y’know, American Women. My classmates gave their presentations on such fare as Terminator 2 and Thelma and Louise. So far, so bland. I decided to give mine on Faster Pussycat and was all prepared with a handout consisting of photocopies of the pages from Shock Value by John Waters regarding what he thought of the film and clips to show including the opening of the film and then the clip in which Varla kills the jock. To show how Faster Pussycat was influential in wider popular culture, I showed some of the video for Say You’ll Be There by The Spice Girls in which they depict futuristic vixens in the desert. Faster Pussycat but with a sci-fi twist (and with music nowhere near as brilliant as The Bostweeds).

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The Spice Girls video for Say You’ll Be There- Faster Pussycat with a sci-fi twist. Here’s Old Spice.

My classmates loved it. All except one (there’s always one). The new voice of dissent came from the girl who looked like she had a poker shoved halfway up her backside. The girl who played the cornet (!)  in the Uni orchestra. The girl who I saw perusing the Alanis Morrissette official website in the computer room. ‘That film isn’t real life, though is it?!’ she scoffed. ‘No film is real life’, I replied. ‘But what I mean is that film isn’t real to life!’ she continued. ‘Can you let me know the name of a film that is just like your life?!’ I replied. There was then a very awkward silence that was shattered by Jane, an American lesbian and classmate who suddenly said to Lil Miss Cornet Player, ‘You chose Thelma and Louise for your presentation. Is going over a cliff in a Cadillac real life for you? Is that like your life?!’ And with the snorts and titters of laughter from others in the room, I closed my presentation.

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! will always be in my Top 10 films of all-time. If there was ever a more perfect film, I haven’t seen it yet.

31 Days of Halloween- Day 5- Blackenstein (1973)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 5- Blackenstein (1973)

Eddie Turner steps on a landmine whilst serving in Nam and loses his limbs as a result. His fiance Winifred is a physicist and looks to her former teacher Doctor Stein (his name is a red flag already) who has recently won the Nobel prize for his work regarding DNA and so may be able to graft new limbs onto Eddie. What could possibly go wrong? Well, lots. Dr Stein’s assistant Malcomb is knocked back by Winifred and so to retaliate he contaminates the DNA solution used in Eddie’s operation so that Eddie turns into an uncontrollable killing man-beast. While he appears bed-bound by day he secretly goes on killing rampages at night.

As you may have guessed this is the blaxploitation version of Frankenstein and was made after Blacula (the blaxploitation version of…do I really have to tell you?!) was a hit at the box office.

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The main word when describing this film is FUN. Yes, it’s cheesy in places but so what? It’s a perfect time capsule of the genre and what horror and drive-in audiences were lapping up at the time. And if I had been around during this era I would have been with them doing the same.

I’m loving that Eddie’s first port of call is to pay a visit to the male nurse we saw being abusive to him earlier in the film. I also love the fact that the punishment that Eddie doles out is to rip off one of the orderly’s arms. Who said there was no such thing as irony in films like this?

Blackenstein is also noteworthy as John Waters’ starlet Liz Renay is one of Blackenstein’s victims. Yes, Ms Renay from Desperate Living!

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My face for the world to see! Yes, Liz Renay stars in this film!

Look out for the Severin Blu ray that restores two versions of the film (the theatrical and slightly longer home video version). The film has never looked or sounded so good.

Grade- B-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 4- Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 4- Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)

Following a very messy suicide involving a shotgun (there’s a cameo by Ruby Wax who stars as a secretary), the American Ambassador to Britain position is now made vacant. It’s then filled by one Damian Thorn, businessman, politician and Son of the Devil. This was the job once held by his father, y’know, the one played by Gregory Peck in the first film.

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The daggers that can kill Thorn are then found after The Thorn Museum’s remains are excavated after the building was destroyed by fire at the end of the previous film. Scientists then find that the Son of God is due to be born. We see this happen as Damian tosses and turns in bed, waking up in a cold sweat.

Thorn learns of this second coming and aims to kill all children born within the appropriate time frame. Meanwhile, a group of hardcore Christians seize hold of the daggers and aim to kill Thorn once and for all whilst also finding the new Son of God.

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John Waters said in his book Crackpot that some of his favourite movies were the final instalments in movie franchises before their demise. He names several with this film being one of them as he calls it ‘the most ludicrous of all The Omens’. Is he right?

Yes, he is. Omen III: The Final Conflict is ludicrous but it’s also a very satisfying rollercoaster ride of a film. It combines the classiness of the original with the slasher movie nastiness of the first sequel and comes up with something that is very gory but also with a subtle undercurrent of black humour.

I loved the attempts to kill Thorn that were so inept that I felt like I was watching an ’80s horror version of The Ladykillers.

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Sam Neill is perfectly cast as the adult Thorn. In fact, there are no missteps with the casting whatsoever.

The idea of the murder of loads of children reminded me of the bleak ending of another third film in a popular horror franchise, that of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. But whilst H3 still holds up for all of the right reasons (great acting, direction, cinematography and soundtrack to name but a few pluses), Omen III demands that the audience holds down the ‘suspend disbelief’ button in their minds.

The Omen III may be ludicrous but Waters still named it as an example of a film that is still noteworthy and still great fun. And he’s not wrong.

Grade- B-

Review- Christmas Evil (1980)

Review- Christmas Evil (1980)

I first heard of this Yuletide horror flick as John Waters spoke about it as being his favourite seasonal cinematic shocker. With such high praise from The Prince of Puke I later heard it was being shown at a local cinema in Sydney, Australia where I lived for a year (it was actually shown as part of a double bill with Black Christmas which is possibly the greatest duo of films I’ve ever seen on the big screen).

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This film was also seized during the raids on video shops that happened in the UK during the video nasties furore. After it was seized it was then banned by the BBFC. Hence, why I wasn’t allowed by the powers that be to see this masterpiece in the 80’s.

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The film centres around Harry Stadling who we see first as a child as he sees Santa pleasuring his mother. After seeing Old Nick being so naughty he goes upstairs and self harms with a broken ornament from a Christmas tree.

The film then flashes forward to Harry as an adult working in a local toy factory. He seems to be completely obsessed by Santa Claus and even dresses like him, sleeps in his outfit and orientates his whole being towards becoming him. We even see him applying way too much shaving foam to his face so that it resembles a white beard to make the likeness even more apparent. He has also starts to make notes regarding the neighbourhood children as to who has been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ whilst jotting down examples of why he has arrived at his decision.

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Harry is told by his boss that the factory will donate toys to children at a local hospital but only if production at the factory increases and employees chip in with their own money. This angers Harry who sees this as an indication that his boss only cares about production rather than genuinely caring for the local unfortunate kids.

Harry’s Santaphilia reaches new heights on Christmas Evil when he seems to truly believe that he is Father Christmas. He starts to travel around in his equivalent of a reindeer led sleigh- a van with a picture of a sleigh on the side of it. He creeps into his brother’s house and leaves bags of presents for his nephews and then leaves a bag of dirt to one of the other neighbourhood children he has noted down as being ‘bad’.

After he is mocked by three men who are leaving church, he stabs one of the men in the eye with a sharpened Christmas ornament and then kills all three with an axe. After then entertaining people at a local Christmas party who mistake for just some harmless Santa impersonator and after telling the kids present that they should be good, he breaks into his co-worker Frank’s house (who we saw earlier in the film after he asked to swap shifts with Harry so he could be with his family only to be then spotted by Harry in a local bar drinking with his pals much to Harry’s chagrin) and murders him but not before leaving toys for his kids.

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To tell you much more would ruin the film for everyone and disclose some genuinely unexpected and quite brilliant twists. Without giving too much away I love the fact that even though he’s a murderous Santa, the neighbourhood’s kids protect him from an angry mob who have formed to capture or even kill him. The kids will save Santa even he is to Christmas what Michael Myers is to Halloween.

The final scene will fully ignite the magic of the Yuletide season in your soul. Seriously! Did Steven Spielberg steal it for possibly the most iconic scene of E.T? Quite possibly. I’ll take this movie over Spielberg’s saccharine family favourite any day though.

A genuine oddity and a film unlike any other, Christmas Evil was worth the wait for me and John Waters is completely justified to have taken this to his heart. Perfectly acted, beautifully photographed and with some fantastic insights regarding ‘this most wonderful time of the year’. These include those who are permitted to buy into the whole illusion of Christmas whilst others aren’t, the vileness of capitalism masquerading as being caring and charitable (but only if production is increased) and how in-crowds and groups judge others as ‘one of us’ or not.

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Waters said that if he had kids (and that would be quite something) he would sit down and watch this seasonal shocker with them every year. And if they didn’t like it they would be PUNISHED! That’s fair enough in my book.

***** out of *****

John Waters’ Audiobooks/Site Updates

John Waters’ Audiobooks/Site Updates

I’ve uploaded the audiobooks for two John Waters books onto YouTube.

Shock Value from 1981 is here whilst Crackpot from 1986 is here. Both are classic texts and extremely funny. Listen to ‘How To Become Famous’ on Crackpot to listen to Waters laughing at how outrageous his own text is.

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I’ve decided to add Book of the Week to the already existing Soundtrack and Poster of the Week. I think I’ll publish these every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Theres been a delay in any more essays and analyses of films as I’m working on an essay that has already ballooned to over 10,000 words and it’s not even finished yet. I don’t wanna jinx it so I won’t announce which film it’s about but you won’t be disappointed. This film has been derided as either one of the worst films ever made, a camp car crash of a movie, or (and this is the worst criticism you can ever give a movie) ‘so bad it’s good’ *gag*. It’s none of these and in fact in my mind it’s one of the best pieces of High Art ever made.

All will be revealed soon…

 

 

 

Who Took Johnny

Who Took Johnny

I first discovered the documentary Who Took Johnny from Artforum magazine when John Waters named it as one of his Films of the Year for 2014. I found the trailer for it on YouTube and it REALLY freaked me out.

Johnny Gosch was a 14 year old boy who went missing whilst delivering newspapers in 1982. His parents reported his disappearance to the police but very quickly they appeared to just give up trying to find out what happened to him, where he is and if he was still alive. Johnny’s mother Noreen quickly became a one-woman crusade trying to do what the police should have been doing all along- trying to locate her son.

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After seeing the film’s trailer I started to try to find the film but with no luck. And then the film was added to Netflix here in the UK!

The documentary doesn’t disappoint and is indeed just as brilliant as Mr Waters stated. There is so much credence to the saying ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’. This film epitomises it! Watch and be amazed, maddened and very, very surprised.

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And another thing- this documentary isn’t for the faint of heart. Not just that but after watching this YouTube will start to suggest similar documentaries relating to similar topics to you. PROCEED WITH CAUTION! I have seen some of these other documentaries and just like this documentary they require nerves of steel. It’s a very dark rabbit hole to fall down.

Who Took Johnny is here.

Excursions Into Hell: My Favourite Filmgoing Experiences

Excursions Into Hell: My Favourite Filmgoing Experiences

With the news that Female Trouble, John Waters’ meisterwerk and design for living is being shown, my noggin got a joggin’.

I started thinking about the films that I’ve been lucky enough to watch on the big screen and with an audience.

My favourite filmgoing experience has to be when I got to see a film that I never thought I’d ever see in a cinema AND in the format that it was intended to be seen in. That film is the brilliant Friday the 13th Part 3D. I had moved to London from York in 1994 to study film and had started to go to the amazing but very high-brow (although it can’t be that high-brow as they let me in…) National Film Theatre known as the NFT to London’s cineastes and skinny latte-drinking set.

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Shortly after graduating from Uni and getting a job (real life is worse than ANY horror film), I heard that the NFT were to show a season of 3D films which were to be actually shown in 3D using the vintage technology that was required. I then read that the third Friday the 13th film would be part of the season. I have never bought a cinema ticket faster in my fucking life!

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Friday the 13th Part 3D starts with the end of Part 2 which isn’t in 3D. The NFT film snobs were sniggering at how corny this sequence was and were clearly thinking that their tastes in film were so much more elevated than this supposed generic slasher film they were watching on the screen.

But then, Part 3 started in earnest. If you haven’t seen the film, the 3D is brilliantly done. The makers of the movie really knew how they could make full effect of the 3D process and were willing to use it to blow audience’s minds.

The first glimpse of the 3D happens when the titles literally shoot out of the screen at the audience out of the decapitated head of Pamela Voorhees. But to really show how awesome the process was and how far it could be taken, the titles come forth but only partway before they come out even further so that they are right in front of the audience’s noses. It was a great piece of showmanship on the part of the filmmakers- ‘Here’s the 3D. Oh, hang on, we can do better than that! HERE’S the 3D!’

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With that first 3D one-two punch by the film I have never heard such a scream of excitement emitted by a cinema audience (and it sounded like every single member of that audience squealed in delight) before or since. The film was so well crafted with so much thought placed on the 3D aspects and how the gimmick could be used in so many innovative ways. A movie that was primarily made for horror fiends had just demonstrated that it could also work on the snobbiest film audiences imaginable and completely enthral them. Now that’s genius.

The 3D was used for both comical purposes to make the audience chuckle ( these involve yo-yos, juggling, a joint being passed towards the audience) but more importantly it’s also used so that spectators can experience the sheer pain of Jason’s killings. There is one scene in which Mr Voorhees squeezes a bit too hard on a character’s head and one of his eyeballs shoots out of it’,s socket and straight at the audience. In another, we get an arrow shot from a harpoon that Jason has fired at another victim. This also shoots her in the eye (after wheezing towards us first). It’s almost like the filmmakers wanted to exploit the ‘eye injury’ angle with this being a 3D movie. They were making the movie as painful as possible for the audience. Hooray for 3D!

We even get Jason staggering towards us whilst he’s mid-battle with the film’s Final Girl with an axe sticking out of his hockey mask.

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This screening was such a success with the NFT’s audience that there was even applause when it finished. The audience whooped, yelped and had a jolly good time. Job done.

I went to see Jaws 3D the following night. Even in 3D, it’s dreadful and further testament to the innovative use of the format by Friday’s filmmakers.

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Shortly after this screening, I heard about a season of films showing at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (known as the ICA), another establishment of all things high culture and respectability. All of the films chosen were then (1998) still banned by the British Board of Film Classification (the BBFC- as you can tell we like our acronyms here in the United Kingdom or UK *haha*) and were all banned horror movies with some appearing on the infamous Video Nasties DDP List. Through some legal wrangling, the ICA had asked the BBFC to let them be shown for one day only.

Thus, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Driller Killer, Zombie Flesh Eaters, House by the Cemetary, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain and Zombie Holocaust were all shown whilst they were all still banned in the UK.

The thrill of seeing these forbidden fruits of the Video Nasties era when they were still banned was palpable. James Ferman was still the Director of the BBFC and was notoriously strict when it came to horror (it was under his regime that The Exorcist and Texas Chain Saw Massacre remained banned. He seemed inflexible when it came to art of any kind and clearly behind the times).

But things were about to change when it came to TCM. The movie was released in early 1999 in London when Camden Council were granted a license to show the film within its area boundaries only. For this release the film even had its own certificate of ‘C’ for Camden. Only people who were 18 and over would be able to watch the film in a cinema. I saw the film during this release.

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I remember I had gone into London to browse the many film memorabilia shops that existed around the West End then (all sadly gone now, unfortunately) and then to go onto the gay scene with its numerous bars that were close to the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue. As I exited the excellent Cinema Store I walked past the ABC Cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue and saw that TCM was showing. I didn’t know about this release until I saw the poster outside the cinema.

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This was also my first visit to this particular cinema with its gorgeous carved frieze on the outside. It reeked of history inside and out and with further investigation, I found out that it went back decades and was even used for film premieres.

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The afternoon screening of TCM only had two other people in it. Watching TCM is like going to Hell (in a good way) for an hour and a half and it seemed really perverse that one minute I was trolling the West End and was then immersed in one of the most intense and frightening horror movies ever made. I remember none of the punters in that screening left before we had seen all of the end credits through to the end. The house lights then went up, we exchanged looks to each other as if to say ‘What the fuck have we just been through together?!’, smiled and then left.

A favourite more recent screening that sticks in my mind was when my local arthouse cinema showed Pink Flamingos. The Hyde Park Picturehouse here in Leeds shows a cult film most Saturdays under the banner of Creatures of the Night. The cinema is located in a part of Leeds which has a huge student population. Hence, you have plenty of students who attend these screenings, a minority of whom think that ‘cult’ means ‘rubbish’. These people obviously don’t know what cult cinema is and wouldn’t know shit from clay. I’ve attended screenings here of films such as The Terminator, The Warriors and Christine which, unfortunately, this clueless and jaded minority have thought it appropriate to snigger at and ridicule. As a side note, these people will never ruin a cinema screening for me. I would never give them the satisfaction or feed their narcissism in such a way.

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A surefire way to tell if your film still has ‘it’ when it comes to cult cinema is to see and hear how the audience reacts. Right from the get-go, Pink Flamingos shocked the audience at this particular screening into submission. At the start of the film, there was a stunned silence of utter disbelief at what was being seen and then there were howls of laughter at all the right places with screams of disgust at all the appropriate scenes also (the dog poo scene especially) as Divine and co won the hearts of the punters.

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In fact, there have been a few John Waters related screenings that stick in my mind. Firstly, the time I went to see his live film This Filthy World in New York which he attended. He answered questions after it. Also, the time he taught a film class that I was lucky to be invited to in which he showed one of his favourite films, Boom! starring Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. We all then talked about it and asked him about his career…But that has been covered by myself in a previous blog post. Talking about it again might be seen as bragging *walks away whistling*

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Layabout crazy cat Jerry (played by the director Ray Dennis Steckler under the hilarious pseudonym Cash Flagg), his girlfriend Angela and his friend Harold go to the seaside to visit a carnival there. After getting their fortunes told they see the fortune tellers sister Carmelita who is a stripper. Jerry is seen by Angela to be staring a bit too intently at Carmelita and so leaves in a huff with Harold. With them gone Jerry decides to go and watch Carmelita’s strip show (the carnival has it’s own nightclub that holds such entertainment. The name of this establishment is, wait for it, The Hungry Mouth which rivals only The Flaming Cave Lounge from John Waters’ Female Trouble in terms of a brilliant name for an establishment of that kind).

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Jerry is then lured to Carmelita’s dressing room where he is hypnotised. This then turns Jerry into a ruthless killer of which afterwards he has no memory of. He had in fact killed two characters whilst he was in his murderous trance-like state. He also tries to throttle Angela to death the next day.

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Hypnosis!

Carmelita’s plot is then revealed. She has been throwing acid into people’s faces which turns them into zombies (!) and then keeping them captive.

But Jerry then decides to confront Carmelita as he keeps having flashbacks and knows that something isn’t quite right ever since he visited Carmelita at the carnival. This all builds to a very eventful climax.

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Carmelita uses the same foundation as Donatella Versace

This is pure Drive-In B movie goodness. Theres so much to like here. The hypnosis scenes, the hallucinatory dream sequence Jerry has, the zombies, the song and dance sequences at the nightclub (one of the girls can be seen chewing gum as she performs her dance moves. Now that’s attention to detail and classy to boot!).

The film also has a colour palate which can make your eyes water. I had several acid flashbacks whilst watching this gem.

I first found out about this film from reading the cult film bible Incredibly Strange films from Re:Search publishing at the tender age of 14. This book treats Steckler as some kind of god in much the same way more pedestrian film fans look up to John Ford. And they’re right. Steckler is an Orson Welles for the perverse.

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And John Waters is a huge fan.

4 out of 5 stars

Day 17- 31 Days of Halloween- Basket Case (1982)

Day 17- 31 Days of Halloween- Basket Case (1982)

Duane books into the sleazy flophouse Hotel Broslin with a large basket. It’s contents consist of his deformed twin brother who he used to be conjoined with. Both Duane and his twin are hellbent on enacting revenge on the surgeons who separated them against their wishes.

Basket Case will always occupy a special place in my dark little heart. When my family first bought a VCR in 1982 we rented two films. One was the cartoon of Captain America from the 60’s. This choice was intended for 8 year old me. And whilst Cap is very cool, it was the other film that intrigued me.

CAPTAIN AMERICA 1966 VHS

It was rented to be viewed by the rest of my family when I had gone to bed. It was Basket Case. The forbidden always seemed more alluring to me. And after much pouting and pleading I was allowed to watch the film. It was an amazing night of mind-expanding and gleefully deprived family viewing.

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The film hits every bullseye it aims for. Theres humour (check out feeding time for the basket’s resident), gore (each attack is bloody as hell and very inventive) and well rounded characters whether they’re the main players or the supporting cast. In fact a film could be made based on any of the film’s characters and it would rock.

Whilst the film does contain very black humour this doesn’t dilute the horror sequences which pack a real punch still. In fact, Basket Case has an air of sleaze, filth and edginess that reminds me of another masterpiece, Bloodsucking Freaks. Both films capture a time when 42nd Street and The Deuce reigned supreme. Basket Case even takes us into one of the grindhouse cinemas. We even get a cameo by Sonny Chiba!

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The big reveal

Basket Case is The Evil Dead’s low budget filmmaking genius with John Waters’ writing brilliance. I can’t think of any higher recommendation to a fellow lover of warped cinema brilliance than that.

5 out of 5 stars