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Aesthetic Terrorism PDF Print E-mail
Written by Written by Mike Watt   
Apr 09, 2005 at 02:00 AM
I just got back from the Chiller Convention in New Jersey. While I was safe and sound behind a table, selling Happy Cloud Pictures wares with Amy Lynn Best and hanging out with the tremendous talent, Allan Rowe Kelly (I’LL BURY YOU TOMORROW), it seemed that for most folks, Chiller was a weekend of standing in line, primarily. Chiller may have finally outgrown its space at the Sheraton Meadowlands.

When I did get a break from the table, I wandered around to see what was available at the dealers’ rooms and on other tables. There were quite a few indie filmmakers hawking their movies, but fewer than I had expected there to be, given the still-hungry digital video boom we’re currently entrenched in. Of those present, there were a few movies offered that looked pretty good (Terry West’s SATAN’S SCHOOLGIRLS looks like a howl) and some that looked pretty dreadful (something involving Bigfoot—I didn’t check it out too closely).

And all around were aging Hollywood types looking to gouge customers on $20 pictures and autographs. The worst of these were Super Hollywood director Penny Marshall and her former partner in bad television Cindy Williams. They were charging $30 per autograph. $20 to just take a picture with them. They were miserable to the fans that came through the door. They were miserable to most of the other guests and dealers. Neither of them looked happy to be there. I made a joke—rather loudly and in front of them—that I was surprised that folks weren’t being charged just to glance in their direction. (Memories are priceless, you know?) This got me quite the glare from the “artist who helmed BIG”.

Ensconced among the “Where Are They Now…Oh, There They Are” celebrities, you had honest icons like Gunnar Hansen, Bo Hopkins, Olivia Hussey, and Elvira folks who had, for better or for worse (and, yes, the ladies Marshall and Williams fit in this category too) left their footprints in the sand of pop culture to one extent or another. But the folks I just listed above were happy to see their fans. They didn’t act like you were bothering them, forcing your money into their hands.

It made me think of something Scooter McCrae (SHATTER DEAD) had said to me in an interview (it also helped that I had run into Scooter that weekend)—this clash of Hollywood, pop culture and genuine indie filmmaking comprises the balance of our entertainment society. But the ills in the mainstream are evident and many.

“Independent filmmaking has become commodified and traded on the open market every since corporate stooges like Miramax and such allowed themselves to be purchased by the Walt Disney Corporation,” Scooter said. “The whole flap over Michael Moore’s FAHRENHEIT 9/11 [dropped by Miramax from their release schedule, only to be picked up by Lion’s Gate and both lauded and vilified by the polarized populace] helped remind everyone the hard way that they were just another corporate lapdog in the post-Reagan environment which destroyed 95% of the true regional filmmaking and filmmakers who were creating flicks before then. I mean, this is Miramax here; these guys made fucking THE BURNING, a slasher flick, way-back-when! That bag of shit Ronald Reagan took the independent filmmaking movement away from the filmmakers and handed it right back into the tainted hands of all the major studios with his tax law changes and by allowing the monopolization of the entire film industry with the manufacturers (and that’s really what most film studios are) once again able to control the distribution of their product by buying up the movie theatres. How are filmmakers like you and I gonna fight against that kind of muscle?

“Well we can’t, of course, which is why we must continue to act as, to use a word that is not exactly endeared by the popular media, terrorists. And by that, of course, I mean an aesthetic terrorist. Surprise, subversion, dealing with subjects that no other film can or would; these are our weapons. The only way for us to defeat these corporate Goliaths are to make sure that we remain sharp-eyed David’s with a full slingshot. Everyone’s trying so damn hard to suck-up to the majors with their little home movies, making things that are cute and inoffensive; like their shot-on-video project is the rough, first-draft cloth of something waiting to be remade with a big-budget studio. Fine, if that’s what you want to do, but I also find that kind of sad. If you can’t maintain your dignity and integrity at this pissant level, then maybe you really are made to be a lackey to the gods of horseshit that control this sad industry. Going to the movies to see major releases these days has become such a masochistic endeavor these days that I just can’t bear the pain anymore. I’m lucky to see five new releases a year without swearing off ever watching movies again for good!”

Scooter went on to reiterate the future of indie filmmaking: “Same two words as before: aesthetic terrorism. They say that being polite can get you anywhere, but who wants to go anywhere? Set your goals and ruthlessly follow them, and when I say ruthlessly that doesn’t mean being reckless or screwing other people to make your way to the top. When a friend does me a favor I do them a favor back; that’s the currency that makes the low-budget storytelling industry run. Anyone who breaks that train of trust must be hunted down and killed immediately before that kinda’ shit spreads any further.

“Overall, the world of indie filmmaking as we’ve always known it and romanticized it to be, always wanted to be a part of and be king or queen of, is dead. Kiss it goodbye, baby. The major studio purchased it and fucked the cheap whore till it bled and then left it for dead in the back of a dark alleyway. People like us who shoot projects outside the realm of the classifiable, who live in small tribes in relative obscurity instead of amongst the idiot masses of great nations, who watch each others flicks in the studied privacy of our own homes instead of the great dark caves filled with insatiable idiots who crave endless sensations in our cities multiplexes, we are the true future of indie filmmaking – which is inextricably linked to the act of indie film viewing. Maybe we are doomed or, blessed finally, to shit where we eat; and by that I mean us indies gotta keep on making good stuff for each other to watch if we’re gonna survive. And if I may mangle the ending of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, we have finally seen the Martians and they are us.”

What I’ve been touting for the last decade is if you’re going to make a movie, don’t just do it because you can. Don’t make a movie if you happen to get ahold of a camera and live next to a girl dying to take her shirt off. Make a movie because it’s burning inside of you to do so. Make a movie because you cannot bear to not make a movie. There’s too much shit out there—too much coming from Hollywood, too much coming from your neighbor’s backyard. Most of it, mainstream or indie, is not entertainment. It’s not even mildly amusing most of the time. “So bad it’s good” is a tired concept. Make something good. Learn about filmmaking. Learn about three-point lighting and miking from above versus miking from below. Find actors who can act—and who are passionate about the script you’ve written. And above all, learn how to tell a fucking story. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Don’t just film a bunch of crap, throw it together and call it “personal” or “experimental”. If you want to make movies, learn something about the craft.

Be bold, be smart. Use your talents and make something that has never been seen before. Grossing someone out is not art. Disturbing your audience to the core, however, is.

There are too many folks out there who already have an over-inflated sense of their own worth. Don’t slap a bunch of random shots together and market it as a movie—that’s weekend warrior filmmaking. Don’t make something empty and pretty, without any sense of depth or sense—that’s Hollywood’s department. (And for god’s sake, don’t give fucking Laverne and Shirley your hard-earned $30. They’ll just spend it on evil.)


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