Friday, February 20, 2015

Happy Birthday Sam.

Sam Peckinpah, iconic filmmaker, may not be a natural fit for TvFILM.  He made Hollywood films his whole career, and the films he made were very divisive- some hate them and some love them.  His filmography ranges from the genre re-defining, “The Wild Bunch,” to the car chase staple, “The Getaway,” to his old west character study,“Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” to his vastly underrated, “The Osterman Weekend.”  Unfortunately, he passed away in 1984, but his legacy lives on. 

My first exposure to Sam was watching the documentary, “Hollywood Mavericks.”  The film tells how many of our beloved American filmmaking auteurs such as John Ford, Orson Welles and Martin Scorsese made films, their way, in Hollywood.  It included archived footage of Sam Peckinpah being interviewed on television, I think sometime in sixties.  Sam sat the on stage wearing silver-mirrored aviator sunglasses, a pencil thin moustache, smoking a cigarette.  He mumbled his answers, barely answering the question that was presented to him.  The fourteen-year-old version of me was not particularly struck by him, considering I had not seen any of his films yet.  It was when Paul Schrader, writer of “Taxi Driver,” (which at that time just blew my mind) started to talk about Peckinpah’s films.  Schrader explained that many of Peckinpah’s protagonists are usually not good men.  Peckinpah did not sugar coat who these men were, but even in showing their true nature-killers, gangsters, rapists, he felt they could still do good.  This is apparent in his masterpiece, “The Wild Bunch.”  The film tells the story of a group of aging gun fighters facing the twilight of the western frontier.  They do whatever it takes to survive, including letting a rogue Mexican General torture one of their own.  In the end they choose one last stand to help their man in the face of the General and his many armed men.  Cue bloodshed.  As a filmmaker he is most known for how he used violence in his films, most notably the use of slow motion while depicting violence.  This is most evident in the climax of “The Wild Bunch.”
Sam told stories from material that other filmmakers of his time would deem as nothing more than Saturday morning serials.  He used standard film genres like the western or war film to explore themes concerning change, masculinity, violence, technology, and morality, just to name a few.  In this sense, I think he is very much in step with TvFILM’s independent spirit.  It is well documented how much Peckinpah butted heads with Hollywood studio bosses.  I have no doubt that if he lived longer he would have made independent films.   

Sam Peckinpah would have been 90 years old on Saturday, February 21.  I’ll admit-I’m a fan.  I recently purchased a limited release, Blu-Ray copy of his 1974 film, “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.”  Do I like all his films?  No, and learning about his real-life problems with alcohol and drugs is very sad.  It’s his spirit of creating something so personal on such a broad stage that resonates with me most and pushes me to do the same.  I recommend you check out some of his films or even re-watch some of your Peckinpah favorites.

PS – The TvFILM Call for Entries is still open – you can still submit.  Pleas

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Michael Myers, Independent Filmmaker

Remember that serial killer from the film franchise, “Halloween?”  Michael Myers, right. I bet you’ve never thought of this masked, madman as an independent filmmaker?  I just finished reading, “Shock Value” byJason Zinoman.  The book’s main premise is that as we moved out of the sixties, horror films started to look and scare different.  What happened was filmmakers like John Carpenter, who directed “Halloween,” George Romero and Wes Craven began to make a new type of horror film.  These filmmakers made films that did not have the gothic aesthetic of Frankenstein or the traditional scares of Hitchcock.  I’m talking about films like “Halloween,” “Night of the Living Dead,” and “Last House on the Left,” just to mention a few.  I’d like to mention that most of these horror filmmakers were working independently, outside the Hollywood system.  For example George Romero worked in his native Pittsburgh, Wes Craven in NYC and even Dario Argento in Italy.

Now this post is not about the minutia of why these films were so important in changing horror films, I’ll save that for October.  It is worth noting however, the kind of impact a handful of true independent films had on the Hollywood filmmaking industry as a whole- an impact we are still feeling today.  Just to go back to Mr. Zinoman’s book, I was struck by his observation that from the late sixties to the special effects revolution of the early eighties, these independent films fiercely broke new ground on all fronts – story, visuals, music, and casting!  This fertile time of genre filmmaking has yet to be repeated.

I think it might be lost, how many different film genres live under the banner of independent filmmaking.  Right now, TvFILM is in the middle of our latest Call for Entries (psss, there is still time to submit!) and just like the previous six seasons, we’re getting short films of all shapes and sizes.  One of my favorite things about this series is how local filmmakers defy convention creating any type of short film.  I can’t wait for this new season!   TvFILM proves that local, independent film is truly a Crayola 64 Crayon box!