When I first moved into my current residence, an alarming seven years ago, there was a non-chain video store right around the corner. In the same plaza as a pizza place and a sweets shop. It seemed too good to be true. Alas, it was. After about a year of getting five movies for five nights for five dollars (excluding new releases, of course), they closed their doors. Never one to pass up an opportunity to capitalize on someone else's misfortune, I swooped in like a vulture to see what I could pick off the carcass.
Nica Ray as Sarah in Cutting Moments: is it bad to think this pic is hot?
In this case, that morsel happened to be an anthology released by EI Independent Cinema in 1997, CUTTING MOMENTS. It's a neat little guy, five stories in all, with varying themes and levels of effectiveness. The standout piece is by far the titular vignette, a harrowing 23 minutes that I have harrowed many people with.
A few days ago, a friend's Myspace profile picture reminded me of CUTTING MOMENTS (the short), which sent me scurrying to IMDB for information (I would rather die then seem uninformed). I was surprised and upset to learn that IMDB considered CUTTING MOMENTS (the anthology) to be simply CUTTING MOMENTS (the short). There was no mention of the other films. Same thing with the listing at Amazon. Needless to say, my gears started whirring to life, sensing a wrong that needed to be righted. To all six people who read this (one of whom is among the very people whom I have harrowed).
Let's take it from the top, shall we?
1. CRACK DOG. This is the opening piece, credited to Casey Kehoe. No IMDB entry exists for this short, but Kehoe is listed under the camera and electrical department of such fine fare as BIKINI TRAFFIC SCHOOL and CURSE OF THE PUPPET MASTER. In any event, CRACK DOG is a rollicking 10 minutes, and a great way to start the anthology off. An art school punker with a shitty green Mohawk agrees to treat his poodle (with a much better pink Mohawk, as well as the soul of a pit bull) to a few hits off a crack pipe. So they crash a crackhouse, where Tito displays some strikingly violent (and hilarious) behavior for a poodle. Looks like he's got two masters, now!
(Holy last minute, Batman! Watch CRACK DOG here: http://www.crackdogthemovie.com/)
2. Next up is DON'T NAG ME, written and directed by Tim Healey and Gino Panaro, both sporting some less than stellar IMDB credits (but, again, no entry for this short). This one is a bit of a come-down after CRACK DOG, and is a somewhat lame take on Poe's The Telltale Heart. It aims to be Hitchcockian, but just sort of falls flat. It has its good moments, like the lady who plays the murdered wife, come to haunt the husband who killed her. She's pretty creepy. But the "black" humor is rather obvious, and there is never enough tension to make the ending satisfying. Worth one watch, but probably not two.
3. This leads us to BOWL OF OATMEAL, a disturbing ten minutes to be sure. It is credited to Lawrence Gise and Matthew Bezanis, neither who appear to have any other credits than this short film. In it, a lonely (and quite disgusting) man has many conversations with a bowl of
oatmeal, a bowl of oatmeal which sounds suspiciously like HAL from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. HAL, as he shall be known henceforth, decides that his friend should get a hobby, as a means to meet others with similar interests, to socialize a bit. They settle on kit-building, except the lonely (and don't forget wicked disgusting) man builds an unsettling kit out of an unsettling material. Think a low-grade MAY.
Watch out, kid, you'll put your eye out.
4.THE PRINCIPLES OF KARMA is the first in a series of five shorts done by Craig David Wallace between 1996 and 2003. It focuses on downcast punker Stuart, and his attempts to make it in the world today. It appears to be a mid-eighties period piece, through Stuart's bizarre friend Wozzle's references to Molly Ringwald and Hunter, at least when he isn't running around naked with his sorry little wang flopping in the breeze. Though those references might just be an attempt to show that these fellas are living in the punk-rock heyday's past. Just when Stuart is "so bored I've got a gun to my head," enter Jim the cable man, who uses his access to people's homes to scope out teens to "deprogram" as a part of his Youth Liberation Organization. He sells it to Stuart with the anthology's best line, "Let's go be insane and awesome." Think of the bastard child of SLC PUNK and FIGHT CLUB. This one definitely has the best soundtrack of all the segments.
The next, and final, vignette is the infamous CUTTING MOMENTS, which also happens to be the first segment in Douglas Buck's FAMILY PORTRAITS: A TRILOGY OF AMERICA. The film concerns itself with the theme of repression and loneliness leading to violence in suburban middle America, and few films have displayed that as well as CUTTING MOMENTS. It is really and truly the most profoundly disturbing thing I have ever seen. I can't oversell that point. It is a very quiet and slow-moving piece, sparse, with little to no music and a minimum of dialog. It is up to the viewer to piece together the story. There's Sarah and Patrick, husband and wife, and mother and father to little Joey. Through Patrick catching Joey having his Power Rangers bugger each other, and Sarah mentioning that the lawyer said "they" might come get Joey soon, one can infer a sexual abuse vibe. Sarah makes a few attempts to reach out to the icy Patrick, but is rebuffed each time. The steps she takes to get noticed in Patrick's eyes, and his subsequent reaction, are images that will haunt me forever. On the TRILOGY disc, you have the option of watching either the short films on their own, or as part of a cohesive whole. The film version cuts off CUTTING MOMENTS final credits, where haunting acoustic guitar plays over a montage of snapshots, both of the earlier, happier family life, and the aftermath of the film's grisly conclusion. I strongly suggest watching the standalone version. It is a one-two punch that will leave you speechless.
(NOTE: The actress who plays Sarah, the gorgeous Nica Ray, is the daughter of director Nicholas Ray, who has done a few films, one you might have heard of called REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE)
The second segment, HOME, was
conceived to be a kind of sequel/remake to CUTTING MOMENTS, but shifting the focus from the mother to the father. It keeps the same themes and the same pace, even featuring the actor who played Patrick as patriarch Gary, here. This one sort of failed for me. Watching the two back to back, HOME just can't compete. It's a noble effort, and has some harrowing moments itself, but just never connected in the necessary emotional way for me.
Buck hanging out with some other guy who's made a few movies.
PROLOGUE, the final, and longest, segment of the film, is a much more somber and meditative piece than either of the others. Billy comes home a year after being raped and mutilated and left for dead in the wilderness. Both of her hands have been cut off, thus necessitating the use of macabre hooks attached to her wrists, and she spends the entire film in a wheelchair, but we can only assume that her feet have been cut off as well. They're never shown. In the year she was learning how to be a human being again, her whole home world fell apart. Her boyfriend married another woman, her parents divorced, and, oh yeah, the guy who destroyed her life is still at large. The other half of the film, too large really to be called a subplot, concerns the wife of the sadistic predator slowly coming to terms with who she is married to. Towards the end of the piece, Billy hands off her teddy bear to a little homeless girl, thus symbolizing at once her renunciation of her innocence, that was so brutally taken from her, and also her renunciation of the past, to not let that brutality cloud her world for the rest of her life. It would be schmaltzy in the hands of another filmmaker, but Douglas Buck handles it with grace and affinity.
(NOTE: The character Jimmy Doyle in Prologue is played by non other than low-budget, indie maestro Larry Fessenden, creator of one of my favorite vampire films, HABIT, as well as many others)
There are many great special features on the two-sided disc, including an early short film from Buck called AFTER ALL. It's a 17 minute black and white piece centering on a young boy who learns to socialize by watching predators on nature programs. This one is black humor done right, but might be hard for some people to watch. There is no dialog; the children in the film never speak, and when the adults do, they all sound like adults from a Charlie Brown cartoon. And the foley work is absolutely hilarious. But the best thing about the inclusion of AFTER ALL is that, with the TRILOGY disc, you have every single film that Douglas Buck has ever done.
Well, that is until his remake of Brian De Palma's 1973 classic SISTERS (already completed) is released. If it is released, that is.
So there you have it, lovers of low-budget, indie cinema. Your homework for the next two weeks is to seek out both anthologies (CUTTING MOMENTS is available pretty readily from Amazon, and you can go to www.glasseyepix.com for FAMILY PORTRAITS). And for those of you who are not fans of low-budget, indie cinema, your homework is to become a fan and stop sucking so much.
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Eating the flesh of lesser film geeks since '72.
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