REFLECTIONS of EVIL
Damon Packard is an LA-based film-director who bankrupted himself giving away 29,000 DVD copies of his movie Reflections of Evil. Initially, the only responses he received were "Cease and Desist" emails from the Lawyers and Publicists of C-List knobhead celebs like Jim Belushi and Ellen Degeneres who thought that he was (doh!) stalking them. Packard’s friend Sage Stallone repeatedly tricked his dad Sylvester into watching the film by hiding it in different boxes in his DVD collection. Eventually, the former Rambo actor flipped out and said (of Packard): "This guy is really sick…no, I mean, he is really sick. I wanted to put a fuckin’ ball-peen hammer in his head…"
For a while it looked like Packard’s persistence had finally started to pay off. RoE gained cult notoriety on the festival circuit, beating Ichi the Killer to win "Most Ground-breaking Film" at Montreal’s FantAsia Film Fest. A serious buzz started to build about his work. Then poverty struck and Packard's phone was cut off and his website went down. He was barely able to make his monthly rent, and supported himself through the lean, cold winter months of 2004 by working on a remastered/Redux Edition of Bill Girdler's bearspoitation classik Grizzly, and helped engineer a restored 5:1 DVD soundtrack of Carpenter's Dark Star. Packard redefines the term 'impoverished artist'...
RoE is a remarkable film that’s pretty difficult to pin down. Packard plays Bobby, a compulsive-eater who roams the streets of South Central LA, selling cheap watches and screaming obscenities at hapless pedestrians. He is cursed to remain in Purgatory until he finds the spirit of his dead sister who overdosed on PCP in 1971 at Universal City. Bobby binges on junk-food until he vomits; he is savaged by vicious dogs and attacked by machete-wielding gang-bangers until his sister finally rescues him and they depart into the Afterlife on Schindler’s List: The Ride.
Old TV commercials, film trailers and psychedelic effects are 'randomly' cut into the footage. Characters’ voices speed up and slow down as reality starts to collapse around Bobby. RoE is gross, disturbing and surreal, but it’s also insanely funny. Packard has been described as the new David Lynch, which is the usual response when hacks can't neatly pigeon-hole a film. Stylistically, Packard's films have a dreamlike, dislocated, early '70s vibe (unsurprisingly, his heroes are Spielberg and Lucas "before they sold out"...) that reminds me slightly of Jean Rollins' best stuff. The scenes shot in Universal City (recast as a level of Hell where the dead victims of fairground-ride accidents are doomed to forever relive the moment of their deaths) are, quite frankly, astonishing...it's one of the strangest, most Hyper-real moments I've ever seen in a film. All the more remarkable, because it was filmed in the theme-park without any permission.
When I spoke to Damon last year, I asked him about his guerrilla-style film-making: I mean how the hell do you smuggle a woman in a nightgown, and a guy in Nazi uniform into Universal City and film them?
DP: "Kek, it really wasn't all that difficult...this was pre 9-11, so security was still a bit lax, though we were being watched at Universal, and I was thrown out twice...the 2nd time permanently (Packard was then banned for life from the amusment park), but fortunately it was after I had completed 98% of the footage I needed.
"Magic Mountain (the other theme park) was no problem...security was relatively lax pre-9-11. There is no way we could have managed that footage afterwards. Nicole was wearing a bathing suit under the nightgown so it was easy for her to slip it on and off...we certainly got our share of funny looks but people were mostly curious about the movie. I brought in a German uniform and we managed to recruit someone inside the park to put it on and go through the motions, but that part wasn't easy.
"It really is pretty amazing what you can accomplish when you try. When it comes to collecting footage for a film I've done some crazy things..."
DP: "Being surrounded and questioned by Sheriff Deputies and such. I mean, I was so livid...here I was just trying to make a movie and they damn near arrest me! That and the constant hassle of dealing with security popping out at every location telling us "we can't shoot" (which never stopped me) ...I mean, it was a constant nightmare...I had to keep sneaking back in with the actors to quickly steal shots before Security materialized again. Of course, I've had to deal with that on every production with increasing severity as the years passed. But the strangest incident? Hmm, I really can't think of one off-hand..."
"But I have run into Steven Spielberg, Jerry Goldsmith, Bjork, John Landis and Eddie Deezon while selling watches years ago...I tried to sell them all a watch, but only Deezon bought one (laughs)."
Packard is also responsible for The Untitled Star Wars Mockumentary, a spoof fly-on-the-wall documentary about the making of Star Wars Episodes 1 and 2 that almost defies belief: it's like watching a Michael Moore film edited by The Merry Pranksters. Get some beers in pronto and watch it with your mates before George Lucas’ lawyers take out an injunction…
Packard's CV also includes an number of trailers for unfinished/half-imagined projects like Dawn of an Evil Millenium and Untitled ‘70’s Horror Trailer which manage to be both funny and incredibly disturbing at the same time. The viewer is bombarded with dense, eyeball-destroying, synapse-melting, pastiche-collages of every brilliant late 60's/early 70's underground/cult movie ever made at the same time. I gotta tell ya: this is some seriously fucked-up film-making. Despite their sub-zero budgets, Packard's attention to detail is amazing: the camera-angles/editing/use of light/effects/locations are spot-on...these films feel like they should be 35 years old. Even if Packard never makes it as a mainstream film-director, then he's certainly one of the best editors I've ever seen...
And I really shouldn't forget his (as yet) unmade Psychedelic Lesbian Sword 'n' Sorcery Epic Apple, which I can only describe as, well, Lord of the Rings shot on mescaline. It currently only exists as a trailer, but it seems to get longer each time I hear about it (there's now a 30-minute version doing the rounds). The fragments I've seen are sheer genius: Packard's idea is to shoot Magick as a colour-drenched psychedelic experience, and it works amazingly well: the viewer feels disorientated, like he's tripping and has somehow entered another realm. There's a sense of electricity about the footage, as if the entire world is crackling with a hidden, inner energy. It's marvellous stuff and required viewing for shroomheads the world over. Needless to say, Damon would be the perfect director to make promo-shorts for Acid-Folk/Neo-Psych groups like Wooden Wand, Comets on Fire or Sunburned Hand...
Or Sonic Youth, come to think of it.
Despite being able to barely make his rent, Damon recently managed to complete some new film material...so if you visit his website (now finally back on-line) he's selling a whole bunch of his stuff on DVD at around (I think) at around 10 bucks a shot plus postage, etc. Like, uh:
1. Penniless Packard: the client Projects 2004-2005 includes the just-completed "Lost in the Thinking: aka The Thinking" (+ an hour of extra client material, trailers, shorts, etc.)
2. Mondo Packard Revisited: 90min collection of trailers, shorts andmusic vids mostly not available on previous disc releases. Includes a 30min version of "Apple", "Al's Techno Bar", Chemtrails and many others
3. Star Wars Mockumentary + extra shorts "Dawn of an Evil Millennium", Sage Stallone short, Afterlife/Amazing Stories and other trailers.
4. Reflections of Evil (118 min re-cut version, + extra trailers)
This is your chance to be a gen-u-ine Patron of the Arts and help finance a real-life, starving artist. In 10 years time when Damon is the new Peter Jackson you can impress your mates in the pub by telling them that you preferred the earlier stuff "back before he sold out..."