See, used to be I’d go to the video store and rent anything that looked interesting, and I’d come home with wild, awesome, insane movies. But one Tetsuo The Iron Man and a pile of Richard Kern films later, I start to get wary of the weird stuff. It seems the few weird, random films I rent these days are crappy movies trying too hard for cult success (Sukiyaki Western Django, Tokyo Gore Police). Eventually I get this crazy idea that I should seek out good movies instead of bad ones, and become obsessed with lists of great and important films and magazines like Cinema Scope. So imagine my surprise when C.S. did an article on Craig Baldwin, one of those purveyors of cult-reaching found-footage hyper-weirdness peppering the video shelves. Bug had been a C.S. recommendation and that wasn’t so bad, so I finally overcame my angry memories of Baldwin’s Negativland documentary Sonic Outlaws and I rented this.

And wow is it a mindblowing pile of awesomeness. Footage from ALL sources (godzilla/molemen/cartoons, star trek scenes played as news footage, actual news footage superimposed with sci-fi business) combine to form a tell-all exposé of aliens from planet Quetzalcoatl who landed on earth in the year 1000 and live underground for centuries, waking after nuclear bomb tests to affect global climate change and politics in South and Central America and the U.S., leading to annihilation of the planet in the future year of 1999.

Movie is a wild, hilarious masterpiece of montage, with the nutty stuff woven into actual history, then 45 minutes in, after I thought it had just ended, it refocuses on Africa and becomes kind of dull. Turns out this was the short RocketKitKongoKit (1986), with no opening title so I didn’t know what was happening. Story is more news reporting with less fanciful writing, with stuff on Mobutu (evil ruler of Zaire/Congo) and others I already can’t remember, and I think there was stuff about Germany in there. Loved the conspiratorial half-whisper of the narrator in the first film, so the dull, accented narrator of this one lost interest in comparison.

Next up on the DVD: Wild Gunman (1978), apparently featuring scenes from a dragon’s-lair live-action cowboy video game, but I guess they didn’t have laserdisc players in ’78. Clever montage of advertisements, cowboy shows, repeated bits back and forth (not quite Martin Arnold-obsessive, just for fun). All three movies are divided into numbered sections… the last one used reverse-images of a girl holding up numbers and this one’s got film countdown leader. Playful and fun, brings back the energy the middle film lost.

Internet says Baldwin is a Bruce Conner devotee – no surprise there.

Video distributor says:

Baldwin’s “pseudo-pseudo-documentary” presents a factual chronicle of US intervention in Latin America in the form of the ultimate far-right conspiracy theory, combining covert action, environmental catastrophe, space aliens, cattle mutilations, killer bees, religious prophecy, doomsday diatribes, and just about every other crackpot theory broadcast through the dentures of the modern paranoiac… a truly perverse vision of American imperialism.

T. Maloney in Senses of Cinema:

On the surface RocketKitKongoKit is the true story of a German rocket firm leasing land in the Congo (then called “Saire” under Mobutu’s reign), for testing rockets. The larger implications, that of Europe’s colonial attitude towards Africa in the 1960s and the exploitation of its people for a program the Europeans didn’t want in their own backyard, is not an entirely inaccurate one. History is, of course, highly malleable, and interpretations of any event can continue for decades – especially with relatively recent and well-documented events. The direct links between the ESA’s rocket program and deteriorating conditions in Africa are made more forcefully than would a more conservative historian, and the information is presented with the authority and integrity the documentary form affords.

and on Trib 99:

Organised into 99 chapters, each with a terrifying title screaming out in full screen capital letters, (9) the structure of the film invokes both conspiracy theories and biblical texts. And yet a great deal of the narration in Tribulation describes a readily verifiable history of American intervention in Central America from the 1960s through the 1980s. It is mixed in with vampires, voodoo and killer robots, but it is there.

For the first time, this is an entry about a book I’ve read, not a movie I’ve watched. It’s a book about film though, so I think it fits in.

I enjoyed P.C. Usai’s writings in the “1000 Movie Moments” book, so I finally tracked this down. Full of short (never more than a page long) interrelated statements about film destruction and preservation, mostly over-academic. But for each statement on the right-hand page, there’s an interesting captioned photograph on the left-hand page, so whenever I’d read the words on the right with no understanding or enjoyment, at least I’d get the photo to keep me turning to the next page. Short book, anyway, and ends with a “reader’s report” which nicely condenses the long-winded despair of the author into a few pages of focused and readable despair on the impossibility of any sort of complete archive of film history – not that such a thing would necessarily be desirable.

Some bits I liked:

p. 19: “If all moving images were available, the massive fact of their presence would impede any effort to establish criteria of relevance – more so, indeed, than if they had all been obliterated, for then, at least, selective comprehension would be replaced by pure conjecture.”

p. 49, given the degradation of the original image, and the viewer’s lack of total attention (including blinking of the eyes), “no viewer can claim to have seen a moving image in its entirety.” That one-ups F. Camper’s claims that if you’ve seen a movie on video, you haven’t seen the movie. Not even he has seen the movie!

p. 51: “It is expected that a time will come when the loneliness of the spectator will be detrimental to the pleasure of experiencing moving images.”

p. 89: “The ultimate goal of film history is an account of its own disappearance, or its transformation into another entity.”

p. 109: “The real questions is, are viewers willing to accept the slow fading to nothing of what they are looking at? Is it fair to encourage them to believe that they will never witness the inevitable, and that its actuial experience will be left to someone else?”

p. 129: “…all lost moving images have at least existed for some viewer in the past. The unseen is an integral part of our lives, even if not directly our own. … The fact that the unseen is beyond our control is an excellent antidote to our claim of authority over the visible world, and administers a good shaking up to our deluded obsession with permanence. Sooner or later you and I will both disappear, along with our visions and memories of what we have seen and the way we have seen it.”

One of those documentaries that I don’t think I should be celebrating because it seems deceptive, hiding facts in order to heighten the drama… but on the other hand – a classic video game competition with scores pursued over a period of years and the players not even competing at the same time – this is drama that needs heightening. What they’ve done is made an awesome, exciting movie with equal parts pathos and comedy, and a portrait of two really interesting guys, hot-sauce mogul Billy Mitchell and science teacher Steve Wiebe (and one really awful guy who the camera mostly avoids). A simple, boring premise, but somehow pulled off sooo entertainingly. I wanted to clap and cheer but I was alone in my room and Katy would think I was weird.

Hellraiser Prophecy
Holy crap this was bad. I’ve avoided fan films for this long, so why did I watch this one? Oh yeah – I’ll watch anything in the Hellraiser series. I’m sure this guy was proud of his fan script, trying to tie the Leviathan thing from Hellraiser 2 together with the lead character who I don’t remember from Hellraiser 4 and introducing Lucifer himself into the Hellraiser world for a collision of different hells. That’s all fine and good – the mistake was to actually shoot the thing, with dismal actors who stumble over their lines and no sense of skill or vision behind the camera, just some series-aping tribute bits with the chains and some good makeup and costumes on the cenobites. Guess I’m not sorry I watched it (only 20 minutes long) but I won’t be checking out the hour of DVD bonus features.

Flowers and Trees
First technicolor cartoon AND first oscar-winner for best animated short (probably no coincidence) is a disney “silly symphonies” musical. Two trees (a nasty gnarled one and a strong young one) compete for a beautiful girl tree, and there’s a forest fire and singing and stuff. Like a popeye episode, but with plants.

Super Mario Movie
Clever: guy hacks a super mario bros. cartridge and turns it into a “movie” installation piece. It’s over-long at 15 minutes, but cute. The “plot” is that Mario is trapped inside an old game cart in a closet somewhere while the code is starting to break down. Like Rejected, but in 8-bit.

Hyas and Stenorhynchus & Love Life of the Octopus by Jean Painlevé
These are a lot cooler looking than I thought they’d be. The Yo La Tengo music works fine – I was going to try synching up the live versions, but I don’t suppose exact timing matters much in this case. Katy is grossed out by the idea of octopus sex.

I liked it. Liked the story, liked the pyramid-headed supervillain, liked the Hellraiser 3 ending, liked the The Others ending, liked the digi effects and the corrosion and the ash snow and the crazy acting. Josh left after 15-20 min because he “wasn’t feeling it” or prefers suspense to shock horror or something unclear. Here’s hoping pyramid-head comes back in the sequel.