‘The Living Want Me Dead‘ is a short independent horror film that’s won a bunch of awards at festivals because it deserves to. I enjoyed every minute of this wild ride along with a desperate slacker as he realizes that he’s been contaminated with a substance that causes everyone within sniffing distance to want to disembowel, devour, decapitate and dismember him. He’s hounded by vomiting, mouth-foaming lunatics who simply won’t rest until he’s dead. It’s a clever commentary on the overdone zombie genre that manages somehow to be frightening and hilarious at the same time. The film was written and directed by Bill Palmer who employes techniques typically seen in independent feature films. Vimeo is full of filmmakers who want to strut their pro-quality stuff, but very few of them make anything I can watch for more than several seconds. I’m sure that director of photography Jeremy Hayward had a lot to do with this because the camera work is fluid and clear, even when following intense action and movement.
Director Palmer handles his equipment, crew and actors without letting the job overwhelm his natural instinct for telling a ripping good story and making us want to know what’s going to happen next. In fact, he made much of his own equipment, including a simple rig for filming underwater! He used water guns to shoot fake blood. I love that kind of filmmaking. And I love that he did it all without ridiculous shooting permits. He just hit the side streets with his little crew and turned the whole neighborhood into what I imagine was a hell of fun time. He has created a tight little view into a California suburb at Christmas time by littering the landscape with decorations that lend a sort of lunatic and false joy to the dark comedy and spurting blood.
So the main character, played to intense and despairing perfection by Adam Conger, tries to get away from his attackers by lying low at a friend’s house. Conger really hits his role on the money. He’s perfect as the overwhelmed slacker-type dude who’s actually fairly driven and maniacal in survival mode. But he just can’t seem to find a good way to explain the desperate situation to his friend who is played with great comic ability by Tony Nunes. I believe that during the violent proceedings in his backyard, this friend is primarily engaged with heating up a HotPocket. Needless to say, the hero’s plan for lying low does not work out very well!
Germaine Dulac was one of the original French film ‘auteurs.’ She was also a film theorist and feminist. She had a relatively short career as an avant-garde filmmaker, making such works as ‘The Smiling Madam Beaudet (1923) and ‘The Seashell and the Clergyman’ (1928) which is often credited as being the first Surrealist film.
In this film, the title translated as ‘Those Who Make Themselves,’ we follow a destitute drunk woman who appears to yearn for the life of a prostitute or to engage in some sort of tryst. It is also possible that she is simply despondent over rejection by a lover. She appears to fail at everything she tries and eventually walks down a staircase into the Seine river. It’s a very simple film that manages to convey a deep sense of loneliness.
Dulac insisted on being credited as the author of her films, not accepting the standard partnership between a screenwriter and director.
Here’s a 1923 quote from Dulac:
I believe that cinematographic work must come out of a shock of sensibility, of a vision of one being who can only express himself in the cinema. The director must be a screenwriter or the screenwriter a director. Like all other arts, cinema comes from a sensible emotion … To be worth something and “bring” something, this emotion must come from one source only. The screenwriter that “feels” his idea must be able to stage it. From this, the technique follows.
Here’s a 1966 short crime film by a young and learning Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The great and too-soon-departed German filmmaker actually plays one of the three young criminals who decide to invade a woman’s home to terrorize and rob her. The film is relentlessly cool and begins at around the 3 minute mark to really show how deeply Fassbinder was mining the work of Jean Luc Godard. Those shots in the apartment with Fassbinder reading the novel out loud in front of a wall of pinned art prints is straight up Godard stuff. But it’s just fine to imitate other filmmakers as long as your real intention is to destroy them from the inside. Fassbinder was just that kind of filmmaker.
This is a short film made in 2000 for the Toronto International Film Festival by David Cronenberg. ‘Videodrome’ actor Les Carson talks about how afraid he is of the movie camera while children bring one into the house and set up to shoot their own movie with professional equipment. The actor’s fear and doubt contrast sharply with the enthusiasm of the kids. But of course they are interested in him as subject matter because they know that he is real. This is an excellent and moving study of time, creativity and how all art is an unfathomable mixture of enthusiasm and terror.
This film’s writer and director, Maureen O’Connell, is a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. The school doesn’t make a good first impression with all its diction and dialects. But her film does. I’m a bit of a jerk about British drama training. Derek Jacobi once made an offer of employment that I refused while asked for another beer. That’s my general attitude about the Kenneth Branagh tribe. Nobody’s ever produced duller Shakespeare than Mr. I-Am-a-Hard-Working-Shakespearean-Dammit! O’Connell comes from Ireland… usually an ace up an actor’s sleeve… except in Mr. Branagh’s case. If O’Connell can keep RADA off of her back, she might just have something very fine going on as a director. She’s made a great film here. There are some technical issues with sound that annoy me, but they seem easily solvable by simply converting a stereo track to mono and blending a few audio transitions together. Someone could fix that up in a few minutes for her.
The film is about a comfortably middle-class girl who seems disconnected from her family and friends. She takes a sudden turn toward what I can only call suburban violence. The film builds quietly toward a surprising viciousness that seems very real. O’Connell darts around the action like she’s making a documentary. She works well with actors, somehow getting large groups of them to create scenes that are shockingly realistic and disturbing. There’s not a hint of awkwardness in her camera work. In fact, she seems, along with director of photography Arthur Mulhern, to revel in what I call the messy image. It is my belief that only people who seek out messy images can become great filmmakers. I will not explain that too much. It should be obvious to any filmmaker. The film contains a crystallizing and gorgeous image where O’Connell points the camera into the sun and tracks a running group of teenagers after a fight. It’s a great image that violates the norms of video photography. In fact, I notice quite a bit of light leaking into the lens during the film. O’Connell’s violence is shocking but also mesmerizing. She approaches it in a slightly off-kilter manner that I can’t quite get a handle on. Just when you think it’s time for her to calm down and quiet things, someone gets kicked in the face. She just has a natural sense of drama.
Her lead performer, Marilyn Bane, conveys her role brilliantly. She is a cross between likeable innocence and brute savage that I want to hit with a baseball bat. Really fine work. All the actors are terrific and the group of ass-kicking girls is just horrifying.
So this Maureen O’Connell is probably going to be making something very fine for the BBC soon. Get ready for it. Because it won’t be pretty. But it’ll leave a big bruise for a long while. She’ll most likely have to get over all that RADA stuff. Although, to contradict myself slightly, she does do this nice little Romeo & Juliet thing that I listened to!