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Saturday, August 04, 2007

YOU'LL BELIEVE THE FUTURE DOES NOT EXIST

Literally, the day after I mentioned Damon Packard in a post below, this arrived thru the letter-box:



Long-term readers/viewers/listeners'll be aware that I've been a fan of Damon's shit for some time now. Still, glancing back over my archives I'm surprised how little I've written about him, considering how much I dig his movie moves...just the occasional mention here and there....I'm thinking it was maybe 'cause I spent a while pitching articles about him to various mags (tho to no avail), so was holding back on posting stuff, as some editors don't like previous appearances/partial interviews on the internet...just looked back thru the archives I salvaged from a hard-drive implosion of a year-and-a-half ago and found the bones of an email interview from 2004 that was destined for "Bizarre" magazine, so I'll bookend this post with it...still, "Spacedisco One" is the nearest thing he's done to a feature since "Reflections of Evil," so time for a catch-up...

I think "SD-ONE" is a terrific film...but, then, his movies can split whole families: you'll either 'get' them and think they're totally great, or else you'll think they're puerile, zero-budget rubbish. Damon turns the complete lack of a budget into a virtue, using his wits to transmutate lead into gold...He takes micro-snippets of other people's footage, soundtracks, etc and mixes it (totally un-seemlessly) into bespoke footage shot guerrilla-style either by himself or with a team of enthusuastic collaborators. But what Damon has on his side is a geekish encyclopaedia-like knowledge of film and film-culture (so that PoMo references pile up on top of even more references), an eye for an excellent shot, and the fact that he's a really great (and savage) editor.

"Spacedisco One" starts off incredibly druggy, even by his standards...using cut-ups of filtered found footage from assorted 70s/80s Roller-Disco movies, cut in, I think, with some recent roller-rink footage...which initally makes it a sort of semi-sequel (by default) to "Roller-Boogie III" from last year's "Client projects #2" DVD - one of the greatest (and funniest) things I've seen in a while. Circle Brophy will back me up on this - jaws agape, we nearly fell off the sofa when we watched it together last summer...but once it settles into its flow it becomes apparent that it's a sort of sequel cum prequel cum deconstruction of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," "Logan's Run," "Battlestar Gallactica" and Michael Radford's 1984 film of, er, "1984."

Packard piles up image on top of image, embedding trailers within films within trailers, giving full, unfettered rein to his obsessive love of late 60's/early 70's L.A. archtecture, and using theme-parks/rides (as he did in "RoE") as both a source of cheap film-sets/backdrops and of cinematic references. At points the film collapses into a sort of meta-making-of-itself-movie, as actors suddenly stop and ask for directions or Packard is interviewed as if he is some forgotten 70's flim-auteur. Chunks of dialogue, I think, are lifted from the film version of "1984" (tho I've never seen it, nor even read the book, shame on me, so just guessing here...) and spoken by his own actors in new contexts...Packard makes a bunch of connections (obvious in retrospect, but done here with such glee and lo-fi panache) between "1984" and the so-called War on Terror....

The film's tag-line "You'll believe the future does not exist" begins to come into focus and starts making sense as the film progresses: Packard seems to be saying that History ended at some point in the early Eighties (1984 being a semi-arbitary date); that the creatively-expansive, open-minded, liberalist culture-boom that began in the 60s withered and started to pack its bags round that time (musically, you could tie this in with the brief explosion of Post-Punk musical hybrids that flourished, then fizzled out itself around '84...). He never says it out loud, but wasn't '84 the year that Reagan was elected and the Right decided they had a 1000 year mandate that they've been exploiting ever since?...round about then films stopped calling South American rebel-soldiers 'freedom-fighters' or 'revolutionaries' and began using the term 'terrorist,' but that's another story for another day...



Packard's thrust seems to be that History ended at that point and that the liberal vision of a glitzy brave new future we were promised/sold in SF films up to and incl. the late 70s kinda shrivelled up - and we were all written out of our own future. Packard seems to be staging a one-man rebellion, turning Hollywood's own vision-and-sound weaponry back on The Man, reclaiming the 'future' as some sort of idealised, shiney-trousered, druggy, disco-fied, SF roller-skating 70's arthouse-cum-action movie full of futuristic freedom fighters...it's an act of supreme defiance in the face of the homogenised Korporate Present we're soma-walking our way thru...Starbuck instead of Starbucks...his own characters actually introduce themselves as the offspring of characters from "Logan's Run" or "Battlestar Galactica" or claim to be related to someone in "Krull," as if they're all part of some sort of inter-related conceptual 70s/80s movieverse...the Big Brother motifs are taken a step further when he splices in footage of Dirk "Starbuck" Benedict appearing on UK Celebrity Big Brother, as if he's being held prisoner by some all-encompassing and malignant Mediastate. And some hilarious footage of 70s maverick director Ken Russell reduced to baiting Jade Goody...priceless stuff! It seems a more confident, assured film than his previous stuff - if only someone would give him a budget to do something.

Here's a clip from the 'featurette' part of the movie towards its end:



There's a bunch of his stuff on his Youtube site. Go check - you might really like it! You can get DVDs from his main site here. Please support this artist.

Okay, here's some excerpts from an re-edited interview with DP from 2004 (part of which I've run before) ...the questions aren't exactly probing, I know, but they were prob. going to be for "Bizarre", so, well...(hey, maybe I'll get to do a more cerebral one some time...)

DP: “I think the article should be called: "Broke and Homeless Filmmaker Packard Speaks!" just kidding…

Didn’t you used to sell watches on the streets of L.A. to finance your film-making…? (The main protagonist in "Reflections of Evil" sold watches...)

DP: “I was actually selling watches for a living for a short spell about 9 years ago. At first it was a PT supplement to another job then it became a primary source. Oddly enough it was actually an easy way to make money and I could choose my own hours, a friend of mine would often come along and we'd canvass every inch of L.A. I never expected to find myself peddling on the street but after another friend cajoled me into it, I found it to be a rather easy source of income. Not a lot, but I was NEVER completely broke (like I am now). Strange isn't it? A film director peddling on the streets, I still shake my head. I think maybe I just burned out working normal jobs and tried something radically different, I don't know.

”I've never been much of a savvy entrepreneur or steady-income person, though it seems I should be as there are so many ways of making money on this planet. I should be smart enough to glom onto some way of making a living and yet have the time to make movies, shouldn't I? For some reason I just can't, either or seem to consume full dedication, energy and time. And the amount of energy involved in simply making a living seems to be too much and all devouring. The act of making a decent living and having the free time, energy and devotion to indulge in creative projects is the challenge, isn't it? Perhaps this is the relationship/conflict with the creative and logical divisions of the mind. Can one be both with tremendous success?"

"I have run into Steven Spielberg, Jerry Goldsmith, Bjork, John Landis and Eddie Deezon while selling watches years ago, and tried to sell them all a watch, but only Deezon bought one! (laughs)."

You seem to be a fan of Speilberg's and Lucas' early work...are they a bit of a disappointment to you?

DP: "Yes, Spielberg has become something of a disappointment these days, but that's not unusual because it's happened with EVERYONE. The 80's, 90's and 00's destroyed creativity. Now that’ a rather harsh simplification, but I really feel an entire book could be written about how much better things were in the 60's & 70's compared to the 80's, 90's-present. And people say "oh, the pendulum will swing back…" How? Are they going to tear down all the bland multi-plexes and put up great large single house movie theatres that can run 70mm again? Are they going to bring ticket prices down to $4 and stop using CGI FX and bring all the great character actors back from the grave and let directors make their movies not corporate committees? It's over, it can never be like it was, the future is a very disappointing time."

Tell us a bit about shooting RoE in Universal City (theme park)...that's real guerrilla-style film-making: didn't they ban you for life from UC, or something? How the hell did you smuggle in a woman in a nightgown, and a guy in Nazi uniform?

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, 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 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 to no limits, but I really don't know if it's worth it anymore.”

Any other weird stories while shooting footage?

DP: “Been wracking my brain and can really only think of the Universal Studios incident, 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 with the actors and 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.”

What have you been up to (in 2004)?

DP: “Yea, well I'm currently working on "Grizzly Redux" (added scenes and enhanced sound for the 1976 Bill Girdler film) following the revamped sound mix in Carpenters' “Dark Star” for Bijouflix. So it's something, just doesn't pay much, certainly not enough to live on as I'm not working a regular gig at the moment. In fact it's so desperate at the moment I'm trying to muster up a few bucks for something to eat today. Talk about true meaning to the word starving artist.”

"Grizzly?" Cool...! Didn't he also do "Day of the Animals…”?

DP: “Yes, Girdler (grizzly) is the same man who did “Day of The Animals”, “The Manitou,” etc… I'm still working on that Grizzly project, but I'm kinda stuck on the last 30min…Why is it I can't write a single damned email without the word "I" used in over copious amounts?”

”In Oct I go to NY to direct "Art Therapy" for a London museum opening, but that still only pays 500 pounds…

”In Dec I direct "Jaws VI" for Universal, that still only pays $700, just kidding hehe…. the Art Therapy thing is real though.”