I should mention that the Lone Star Film Society is starting up a new series called Arthouse FW that will be showing classic films in the first half of 2014, ranging from Kenji Mizoguchi’s Life of Oharu to John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (and Escape from L.A.). The publicity materials are all over the festival. Should make for an exciting new addition to the film scene here.
I started off today seeing A Field in England, the festival’s WTF entry and maybe the WTF movie of the whole year. Ben Wheatley’s gritty black-and-white movie is set during the English civil war during the 1640s, but that’s only a backdrop to the weirdness going on here. Four soldiers get away from the carnage and decide to make for the nearest alehouse, only they eat some psychedelic mushrooms and run into a rich Irish bastard (Michael Smiley) who forces them to locate and dig up a buried treasure for him somewhere in the field. He takes an educated but cowardly servant (Reece Shearsmith) into a tent, then there’s a whole lot of ungodly screaming, then the servant emerges tied to a leash, grinning like a maniac, and looking like a zombie searching for the next brain to eat. What the hell happened in that tent? Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump never tell us, but the movie has visual audacity to spare. The actors are occasionally posed in stiff, overtly theatrical poses reminiscent of Rococo paintings, and the cuts in some montages are seizure-inducingly quick. (Indeed, the movie begins by warning the audience of stroboscopic effects.) Meantime, the comic relief comes from a dull-witted soldier (Richard Glover) who doesn’t know what stars are. I have no idea what any of this means, but it’s an acid freak-out like nothing I’ve ever seen. This is the first Wheatley movie I’ve seen; I need to catch up with his Sightseers before the year ends.
Another freak-out took front row center in Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self, which had its Texas premiere at the festival. Even though it was set in Dubuque, Iowa, it was filmed in Dallas’ Radisson Park Inn. It’s about a sales manager (Robert Longstreet) who has his friend Bob Birdnow (Barry Nash) speak to his sales team as a motivational speaker, only the motivational speaker cracks up and tells them about the defining trauma of his life. Bob’s monologue takes up about the last 60 of this movie’s 75 minutes, and it’s quite a feat by both the actor and writer-director Eric Steele, the former lead singer of Red Monroe and a part of the James Johnston-David Lowery-Yen Tan circle, who are all mentioned in the credits. We hear Bob try to cut the tension by telling unfunny jokes and wander off-topic, telling the crowd about the little girl dying of leukemia whom he flew to her chemo treatment in St. Louis. The man’s rambling and his burning need to tell his story feels very real, and Nash (a longtime North Texas stage actor making his film debut) mostly sustains the piece. There are moments when the exercise flags, and I would have liked to know what has led Bob to this breaking point and what the sales manager was thinking bringing him into a sales conference. Still, it’s a remarkable notable piece of writing and acting. The movie started out as a one-man stage play at Second Thought Theatre, and indeed it was probably fans of that production that packed the auditorium at the AMC Palace. I wish I could have seen it on stage, but since I missed it, I’m glad the movie exists.
Anyway, tomorrow is going to be busy, with the festival’s big-ticket items on the bill. Can’t wait to see those.