Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The two best movies I saw this Summer were the unlikely pairing of "The Devil's Rejects" and "Grizzly Man."

"The Devil's Rejects" is a solid slice of b movie shtick galvanized by a well chosen southern rock soundtrack and moments of tortured sadistic brilliance. The movie this is a sequel to, "House of 1000 Corpses," was a passable homage cum rip-off of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (without a doubt the greatest over the top psycho horror freakout ever conceived. The opening scene alone is worth the price of admission) but hardly memorable.

Rob Zombie has slightly altered his genre this time out to a road movie / crime spree romp across the West Texas flatlands, and it works a lot better thanks to some lovably disturbed leading characters (mainly Bill Mosely's "Otis" and Sid Haig's "Captain Spaulding"), gallows humor and a bizarre supporting cast of familiar faces from the American b movie/sitcom wastelands. This drops him squarely in Tarantinoville, though Zombie is not near the filmmaker Tarantino is; for proof of QT's genre mastery, just check out the final sword fight blow-out that concludes "Kill Bill Vol. 1"--phenomenal! Rob makes up for it with his own ridiculous sense of excess and style (which is about what you'd expect after seeing a White Zombie video). That being said, he uses too much slow motion for my taste, but then it's a genre convention, and I'm all about genre. Favorite moments: Hearing the Allman's "Midnight Rider" over a montage of Otis and Baby running through yellow fields as they evade the law, broken up with 70s styled action stills; Otis torturing and slaying two good ol' boys in an industrial area as he philosophizes about what it really means to be free.

""Grizzly Man"" is inspired by a similar desire to exist outside of society, to know "true freedom," but it's an entirely more haunting and impenetrable work. Werner Herzog's latest documentary is among his very greatest films, and that's largely because of Tim Treadwell, a self-made naturalist superhero who is at once noble, tragic, comedic, pathetic. He's damaged, as we all are, to the point that he'd rather hang out for months at a time with gigantic grizzlies and foxes in the Alaskan wilderness than deal with the world of man. His life is a metaphor for so many ideas and desires--and Herzog too, someone who is at once enthrall and deeply resentful of nature.

Treadwell is the ultimate Herzogian protagonist. He's sensitive, self made, ostracized, alienated, living on the line between domestication/the wild, reality/fantasy, sanity/insanity, love/loss. He's a character that I think will stay with me always. Just like Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo or Kaspar Hauser, Herzog has found someone who not only represents the many boundaries we all negotiate through the "grizzly maze" of life, but himself too--a larger than life persona and fiercely independent filmmaker. It's easy to see why Herzog was so drawn to Treadwell. He [Treadwell] still had hope long after society had broken him; he just had to travel deep into the heart of darkness to find it. But as Herzog says in his haunted, often strangely humorous narration, "violence rules the universe," or some such, and ultimately there is no line between the wild and civilization: The same rules apply everywhere. For more info, here's a fascinating article from the Christian Science Monitor that shows that Treadwell and Herzog's kinship runs deeper than even the film might suggest. Thanks to Ben Judson at Eat Worms for forwarding this.

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