It’s a really strong year for documentaries at EIFF, making this a pleasingly tricky shortlist to formulate. Luckily, I could care less about the high-profile Amy Winehouse doc, Amy (though director Asif Kapadia’s Senna was engaging enough). It was tougher to jettison two films about comedy that I wouldn’t like to miss, namely Kevin Pollack’s Misery Loves Comedy and Douglas Tirola’s Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon and, hard as it was, I’ve also cheated with two music docs in joint fifth place. Here’s my picks of EIFF’s docs:
1. Remake, Remix, Rip Off (dir Cem Kaya, 2014)
21/06, 20:35 at Cineworld | 28/06, 13:40 at Cineworld
I couldn’t not pick this, though I’m 100% sure it’ll be fantastic. I’ve written before on the strange phenomenon of Turkish Remakesploitation and found research materials pretty thin, to non-existent, especially in terms of first person accounts. I can say with confidence, then, that this is not only a long-overdue excavation of a fascinating period of world cinema but it’s also a compelling tale of gung ho creativity and extreme cheekiness, which should really appeal to absolutely everyone. Director Cem Kaya is attending the screening on Sunday 21/06.
2. The Wolfpack (dir Crystal Moselle, 2015)
26/06, 20:30 at Filmhouse 1 | 27/06, 20:50 at Cineworld
The Angulo brothers seem like a gift to a documentary maker. Home-schooled and living on welfare in Manhattan, cut off from society by a father for whom overbearing seems insufficient to describe, they kept themselves sane by re-enacting movies, one of their few links to the outside world. An intriguing story, an enthralling trailer and a ton of good press so far means The Wolfpack is a must-see.
3. Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (dir Paul Goodwin, 2014)
22/06 20:30 at Filmhouse 1 | Screening as a double bill with Dredd in 3D
I was first exposed to 2000AD as a kid in the mid 80s when someone’s subscription was accidentally delivered, shrinkwrapped to my house. Being a wee dick, I ripped it right open. It was eventually discovered and returned, but by then my brain had been rewired and I’ve been a fool for comics ever since. So I’m sure this doc will be personally enthralling, but 2000AD has always been much more than a gateway drug. It was a full-on sensory insurrection, pages ripping with ideas and visual invention, subversive, iconoclastic and, more often than not, funny as fuck – a national treasure on a par with the NHS.
4. Chuck Norris Vs Communism (dir Ilinca Calugareanu, 2015)
24/06, 21:00 at Odeon 2 | 25/06, 18:15 at Odeon 4
I first read this story in SoFilm last year, and though a lukewarm Guardian review (god forbid) out of Sundance has slightly taken the edge off of my anticipation, I’m still very excited about it. In 1980s Romania under Ceausescu, western films were impossible to see, certainly in their original, uncensored form. A mysterious chap called Zamfir took it upon himself to smuggle VHS tapes in, hiring a woman named Irina Margareta Nistor to re-dub all the dialogue, and then distributed them in their thousands on the black market. So this is the story of how Chuck Norris undermined the Ceausescu regime while a generation of Romanians became happily familiar with the mysterious, disembodied voice of a valiant state translator.
= 5. Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream (dir Grant McPhee, 2015)
19/06, 20:00 at Filmhouse 1 | 23/06, 20:25 at Belmont | 27/06, 18:10 at Odeon
This is a world premiere, and a perfect choice for EIFF. It tells a version of the Scottish post-punk story which encapsulates the mutant pop ethos of Fast Product as much as the already constantly re-affirmed prevalence of Postcard et al. Fast Product, founded by Bob Last (before Rough Trade and Factory), released a ton of amazing music by everyone from The Mekons to early Human League to the Dead Kennedys, but also by local up-and-comers like Scars. Having grown up late, pre-internet and far away (Prestwick), I only found about Scars and Fast Records a number of years ago and then I was kind of angry that they seemed to have been hidden from me by the myth-makers. Bit disappointed to see Alan McGee’s ever-punchable face in the trailer, of course, but this will be a fascinating and hopefully inspiring history fix.
= 5. Imagine Waking Up Tomorrow and All Music Has Disappeared (dir. Stefan Schwietert, 2015)
24/06, 18:15 at Cineworld | 27/06, 15:45 at Odeon
Erstwhile KLF/K Foundation founder Bill Drummond is the star of this doc, which focuses on his current project The17 while providing “some exclusive commentary” on his body of work to date. I’m going to be a little sceptical how thorough a consideration of the iconoclast’s career this will be. The KLF deleted their back catalogue and burned £1 million in cash, so it wouldn’t be shocking if Drummond resisted dwelling on his past too much. Luckily and unsurprisingly, his current endeavour is fascinating in itself. The advent of the iPod, which he greeted enthusiastically, had unexpected consequences for Drummond, who explained, “Nothing seemed to satisfy, even though in theory I had every recording on it that I had ever wanted to listen to”. He concluded, therefore, that “all recorded music has run its course”. His response was the17, a choir of constantly-shifting membership who perform only for themselves, are never recorded, and eschew scores in favour of instructions from Drummond. Much more interesting than a bunch of sun-glassed talking heads mumbling about how shit a business it is.
Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015 runs from 17th-28th June. Check out the brochure here.
“I moved to America for one reason, and that was freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and if someone thinks they’re going to take that away from me, they’re insane!”
Adi Shankar, Bootleg Universe producer
When we think about ripped-off movies, we’re usually thinking of either poor quality bootlegs (If you can remember VHS, you can probably remember, “that’s your tracking, mate, tracking’s touchy”) or movies that steal conceptually and/or aesthetically from other movies (or “properties”). Nowadays, the former has been largely supplanted by the illicit download, increasingly indistinguishable in every way from the “real” thing (though “cam” recordings captured in cinema theatres can still give you something approaching that classic murky a/v experience). The latter, meanwhile, is as rife as ever, originality as bankrupt conceptually in Hollywood as it is essentially meaningless (“There never was but one western,” quipped Los Angeles Times columnist Harry Carr in 1930, “Told endlessly.”)
While we chuckle at anti-piracy campaigns, from the ones fronted by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan (Jackie: “Help us stop piracy.” Arnie: “Let’s terminate it!”) to the ones that make false equivalencies in order to shame us into compliance (“You wouldn’t steal a handbag…”), we also shudder at the draconian, highly-publicised punishments meted out to some confirmed transgressors-cum-scapegoats. We also might understand that once the dust thrown up by previous scare campaigns (for example, the one that trumpeted “home taping is killing music”) has settled, they can be seen for what they truly were – the desperate throes of dying industries unable to adapt to changing times. “Piracy, history tells us,” writes Peter Decherney, “is often just a name for media practices we have yet to figure out how to regulate.”
The Harry Carr quote I used earlier also comes via Decherney’s excellent book, Hollywood’s Copyright Wars: From Edison To The Internet. In it, Decherney paints a very unfamiliar picture of the American film industry, before anyone had figured out how copyright should apply to the new motion pictures, or even if it should. It was a more innocent time, when “filmmakers made exact copies of each other’s films and sold them as their own; they remade competitor’s films shot for shot; and Thomas Edison and his Trust built an industry on the unauthorised adaptation of books, plays, and newspaper cartoons. Early filmmakers, in other words, copied from each other and from other media without permission.” Competing adaptations meant, in the early days of motion pictures, a kind of democratic, crowd-sourced designation of authenticity. The audience would vote with their feet for the best version of something, which the relenting opposition would often resort to bootlegging for their own profit.
It’s easy to misconstrue “copyright” as an inherent, moral right. In fact, until recently, the so-called ‘moral rights’ of creators were almost antithetical to the American and therefore Hollywood way of thinking. In fact, the American conception of copyright still technically holds that creators’ rights to profit their properties should be held in balance against the greater good of the culture. Theoretically speaking, the intention is that you benefit from your creation for a fair period before it’s given over to the world at large to benefit from.
Decherney goes on to depict how an industry – a whole culture, really – came to prefer binding, often-Faustian contracts and strategic cash settlements over moral correctitude and, above all, government interference into the way they could best make a buck. The best-known example of that practice is, of course, Disney’s, with their history of repurposing traditional stories (Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, etc) or literary properties (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book) – and let’s not even get into Kimba the White Lion – while ruthlessly “protecting” their own original properties. Decherney sums it up: “Throughout its history, Hollywood has been placed in the often-contradictory position of trying to protect filmmakers’ rights to use copyrighted material as freely as possible while, at the same time, limiting others’ use of the works created by Hollywood.”
And so to now, or 2012 anyway, when Adi Shankar, who made his name as executive producer of the likes of The Grey (dir. Joe Carnahan, 2011), Killing Them Softly (dir. Andrew Dominik, 2012) and Dredd (dir. Pete Travis, 2012) began amusing himself by producing a series of copyright-flaunting live-action shorts. The Punisher: Dirty Laundry (dir. Phil Joanou, 2012), Venom: Truth In Journalism (dir. Joe Lynch, 2013) and Power/Rangers (dir. Joseph Kahn, 2015) all belong in a long tradition of fan films driven by and delivering various degrees of wish-fulfillment, self-promotion and fun.
Originally released without their identifying prefixes, Dirty Laundry and Truth In Journalism distinguished themselves from those countless legions of fan films by virtue of enlisting established Hollywood talent behind and in front of the camera. Casting Thomas Jane, who took the title role in 2004’s The Punisher, in Dirty Laundry was a particular stroke of genius, while the latter’s generic title performed double duty in protecting the surprise reveal – of the Punisher’s trademark skull logo among the titular clothes – and presumably the producer from probable law suits.
Whether or not the high profile his films have gained is a provocation to copyright holders, fans love them. Shankar, meanwhile, insists his status as a bona fide producer is irrelevant. “There were all these news stories going around,” he told New Media Rockstars, “and after I would do one of these things it would be like, ‘Oh, Adi Shankar makes a pitch to Marvel for another Punisher movie,’ and I’m like: ‘Fuck you, this is not a pitch! I just needed to make it.’” Like most modern iterations of the fan film, all of Shankar’s films, retrospectively tied together under the banner of what he calls his Bootleg Universe, have been released straight to the internet, free of charge. “I think you either need to adapt to the digital world or you’re going to perish in the next five years,” Shankar told NMR, adding, “I’m doing a horrible job of adapting to the new age. I’m sitting here making fan films for free. It will be a 23-year-old kid who figures it out and actually, like, rebuilds this town.”
What differentiates Shankar’s films from the official product is a matter of steadily evaporating context. From a long enough distance – whether that’s geographical, temporal or philosophical – it becomes impossible to tell the difference, or understand why it’s even important to. In the pages of Physical Impossibility #3, you’ll find all manner of similar copywrongs, from the undisputed classic of world cinema which by rights should have vanished into ashes to the irrepressible Django and his parade of shades and doppelgangers. In between you’ll find curios of copyright contempt from across time and space of which, happily, there are many more besides.
This article is excerpted from Physical Impossibility #3: Copywrongs, launching 21/05/2015 at The Old Hairdressers, with Matchbox Cineclub’s screening of Turkish Star Wars. Grab a copy at the launch or shortly thereafter at selected retailers or online, here.
Our May screening at The Old Hairdressers will be Çetin Inanç’s Turkish Star Wars (Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam, 1982). The screening takes place at 7pm on Thursday 21/05, upstairs in the gallery area of the bar. Back in 1982, big western movies didn’t get screened in large parts of Turkey, so some enterprising filmmakers decided to make their own versions – and made up for their lack of budget by stealing music and special effects from major US films, which they often back-projected behind their actors, in the wrong ratio. Turkish Star Wars is the most famous of hundreds of similar efforts and we’re very excited to watch it with you. Read more about it here.
The Facebook event page can be found here.
There’ll be music and more after the film, since this month also doubles as a zine launch for Physical Impossibility #3: Copywrongs, which features Turkish Star Wars, alongside many other films that have also flaunted copyright in one way or another. Films like FW Murnau’s Nosferatu, Never Say Never Again, the Django series, the Italian Zombi franchise and a host of cheeky sequels. The zine features beautiful illustrations by Jon Adam, Emily Chappell, Peony Gent, Ken Da Koalah, Valpuri Karinen, Claudia Nova, L See and Drew Walker alongside writing by Nicola Balkind, Ryan Balmer, Ian Dunn, Craig McClure, Paul McGarvey, Harriet Warman and Sean Welsh.
This is the fifth screening in our monthly series at The Old Hairdressers, which takes place on the third Thursday of every month. Previous screenings there have been The Beaver Trilogy (dir. Trent Harris, 2001; 1979-85), Stunt Rock (dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1980) in association with Glasgow Film Festival, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (William Klein, 1966) and Cecil B Demented (John Waters, 2000).
In 2012’s Avengers Assemble, Joss Whedon blew up a city thrillingly and responsibly. The choice of Stark Tower, in the middle of New York, for the culmination of Loki’s plot played neatly on Tony Stark’s arrogance while compounding his sense of responsibility…though he wasn’t actually responsible. His teammates, meanwhile, spent as much time defending civilians as they did attacking those filthy, fodder-y Chitauri. Not everyone is quite so conscientious. The “destructive hero” is now such an established trope it’s been co-opted by the business world to describe the kind of troublesome employees also known as “brilliant jerks”. While Tony Stark’s hubris is testing folks’ forgiveness once again in Age of Ultron, it seems like a good time to take a look at some of the heroes that really should have known better. Hiding in plain sight, bolstered by swelling music, hugs and high-fives, sometimes the good guys are actually really, really not the good guys, at least if you have half an eye on the medium to big picture. Sure, they win in the end, but how bad do they make things before then?
1. Vince Larkin, Con Air (Simon West, 1997)
“Define irony…” says Steve Buscemi’s Garland Greene. “Bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash.” Or how about a US Marshall who repeatedly scuppers attempts to shoot down a hijacked aircraft en route to a heavily populated area? Now, to be clear, there should be no beef with former Army Ranger and human weapon Cameron Poe (former actor and human meme Nicolas Cage), who, besides being rakishly handsome and charming to boot, is just doing his best to get home to his daughter, protecting his pals and battering baddies wherever possible along the way. No, the real problem is Jon Cusack’s Vince Larkin, whose haughty dismissals of
Transporter Chief DEA Agent Duncan Malloy (Colm Meaney) and his justifiable desire to shoot the titular aircraft out of the sky belies the fact he’s capable of such arrogance that he single-handedly ensures the climactic (and utterly avoidable) plane crash in central fucking Las Vegas.
2. Dominic Toretto, Furious 7 (James Wan, 2015)
For a lot of reasons, this one is a little unwarranted. Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team are really more anti-heroes, if not the outright outlaws they were at the start of the franchise, and they never had much respect for pedestrians in the first place. However, can you blame even battle-worn audiences of innocent civilians for twitching involuntarily when they heard the words, “A war is coming to us, whether we like it or not,” says the former Beastie Boy. “If a war is coming,” Toretto continues, seemingly unconvinced by the last 12 words out of his own mouth, “we’re going to face it on the streets we know best.” Which makes sense, in the context of the narrative (exploiting the prize MacGuffin software, God’s Eye) and to facilitate the film’s spectacular climax. Even so, Roman (Tyrese Gibson) complains, “I don’t even have a gun!” “Gun?!” retorts Toretto, “We got a whole city!” Yeah, Toretto, a whole city of people you just elected to put at risk of untimely, though spectacular, death. Roman grumbles, “I don’t know about y’all, but I didn’t really plan on dying today.” And neither, you selfish bastards, did all those innocent bystanders.
3. Bryan Mills, Taken 2 (Olivier Megaton, 2012)
Having run roughshod through Europe in Taken (Pierre Morel, 2008), Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills has to pay the piper when the father of one of his victims seeks retribution in the sequel. Showing Mills pics of his vics, Rade Šerbedžija’s Murad explains, “To you, they were nothing. But to other people they are sons and grandsons, fathers and husbands and you killed them all like they were so many nothings.” Which, even though Murad is quite the scoundrel himself, is kind of fair enough. Mills is so unreasonably indignant, though, he spits back, “I killed your son because he kidnapped my daughter!” That retort pretty much says it all, since the Taken films are about the preservation of mewling milquetoast Kim Mills (Maggie Grace) at any and all costs. However, they’re also about showcasing that very particular set of skills which, in Taken 2, involve Mills figuring out his own location relative to explosions nearby. Which is very clever, but also involves civilian Kim throwing a grenade from a hotel balcony. “Is there a safe place you can throw it?” Bryan asks his daughter, who spies a parking garage, confirms there’s no-one “on it” and lobs the explosive. Mills then has his daughter run across Istanbul rooftops, chucking additional grenades, with even less particular safety criteria. No-one in their immediate family dies, so, win.
4. John McClane, Die Hard 2 (Renny Harlin, 1990)
Sequels invariably deal in retaliation, escalation and amplification, and the fact that audiences are effectively pre-sold on the heroic nature of the lead protagonist(s), means they can pretty much get away with murder. As the hero of what’s widely held to be the greatest action film of all time, the further antics of Die Hard‘s John McClane (Bruce Willis) are a perfect example of this. As Joe Queenan pointed out in an excellent piece for The Guardian, ‘[McClane] never gets his man until dozens of innocent people have died, until an enormous number of trains, planes, trucks, ships and automobiles have been destroyed, and until he has laid waste to the infrastructure of whatever hapless metropolis in which he is currently operating.’ In the first and most plausible of the four sequels to Die Hard, McClane’s ends-justify-the-means approach finds perfect expression, but there’s collateral damage and there’s culpable homicide. Dennis Franz’s Captain Carmine Lorenzo, the spiritual predecessor of US Marshal Vince Larkin, gives McClane the high-hat early on, rashly dismissing his warnings of impending disaster. Though, in the end, Lorenzo expresses a begrudging admiration for McClane’s results, a closer examination of his methods strongly suggests Lorenzo’s instincts were correct. Particularly, McClane’s reckless taunting of the rogue Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), which directly leads to the fiery and unnecessary deaths of 230 civilians. Not to say the Johnsons could have negotiated any better, but…
5. Superman, Man of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013)
Let’s, just for a minute, put a pin in whether or not Superman could’ve avoided ultimately snapping his Uncle Zod’s neck. Disaster analysts, hired by Buzzfeed, put the cost of Superman’s climactic, pre-sacrilege tussle with Zod at an uncool $700 billion in physical damage (compared to 9/11’s $55 billion and Avengers Assemble‘s $160 million). More importantly, the Man of Tomorrow’s Now Absolutely Fucked left an estimated 129,000 known dead, 250,000 missing/likely to subsequently die, with a further 1 million injured (his new pals at the Planet were all fine, though, phew!). All because he elected to take on Zod and his minions in, first of all, the town centre of surrounded-by-fields Smallville and then the very middle of The Big Apricot itself, rather than somewhere, anywhere else. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) is sensibly (opportunistically?) going to pick up where the wave of internet indignation left off, making a bit of a mockery of Man of Steel‘s upbeat coda.
Jauja (Dir. Lisandro Alonso, 2014) is screening at GFT until Thursday 23rd April. My accompanying programme note will be available at screenings – the physical copy is a little edited for space (though not by me and I’m a little scared to check it); you can download it here. Alternatively, the full, unedited version is on GFT’s blog, here. GFT archives all its programme notes online here.
By the way, if you have any thoughts on Jauja or my note, I’d love to hear them – post a comment here or on GFT’s blog (or you can even email me here).
The next issue of the Physical Impossibility zine is all about Copywrongs, and features writing and art inspired by films which have flaunted copyright in one way or another. Films like FW Murnau’s Nosferatu, which barely survived being wiped from history by court order, Never Say Never Again, the rogue “unofficial” Bond remake which brought Sean Connery back to the role, or the legendary classic of Turkish remakesploitation, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam AKA Turkish Star Wars, which back-projected clips from Star Wars in lieu of expensive special effects.
The 24-page zine features new and exclusive writing by Nicola Balkind, Ryan Balmer, Ian Dunn, Craig McClure, Paul McGarvey, Harriet Warman and Sean Welsh alongside beautiful illustrations by Jon Adam, Emily Chappell, Peony Gent, Ken Da Koalah, Valpuri Karinen, Claudia Nova, L See and Drew Walker.
The zine will be available from various stockists and via the zine page of this site, soon.
However, your first chance to grab a copy of Copywrongs will be at Glasgow Zine Fest at The Old Hairdressers, Glasgow, on Saturday 4th April. Physical Impossibility will have a table there, with zines and prints aplenty. We’ll also be debuting the second edition of our long-sold-out first issue, The Films of Larry Cohen. #1’s been updated with a redesign and a bonus extended excerpt from our Larry Cohen interview. Hope to see you there!
Our March screening at The Old Hairdressers will be William Klein’s Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?, 1966). The screening takes place at 7pm on Thursday 19/03, upstairs in the gallery area of the bar. Klein’s rarely-seen film has been described as “a fashion exposé, a raucous attack on media, and a fractured fairy tale,” and is one of Matchbox’s very favourites. Read more about it here, here and here. Our screening is by kind arrangement with Arte.
The Facebook event page can be found here.
This is the third screening in our monthly series at The Old Hairdressers, which takes place on the third Thursday of every month. Previous screenings there have been The Beaver Trilogy (dir. Trent Harris, 2001; 1979-85) and Stunt Rock (dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1980) in association with Glasgow Film Festival.