Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fantastic Planet Sydney Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Festival, Diary #1

Last Saturday was a good day for sci fi. We kicked off the day with Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009), which I’ve been meaning to see for the last few weeks. I’ll put off writing a review for that one, since this post is about the first – of, we hope, many to come – Fantastic Planet Sydney Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Festival. Organised by the masterminds of A Night of Horror Film Festival, Dean Bertram (PhD) and Lisa Mitchell, Fantastic Planet promises a wide range of sf&f features and shorts, forums and parties. What a great occasion for yet another Macabresque diary!

We found out about the pre-festival event before we went in to see Moon. Upon learning it was taking place in the inimitable Mu Meson Archives, we decided to go and immerse ourselves in more indie sci-fi goodness. The night’s program included screenings of La Crème (Reynald Bertrand, 2007) and 1 and 0 nly (Martyn Park, 2008) as well as a Q&A with director Martyn Park and producer/star Christopher Baker.

The French film La Crème is a fantasy/comedy about an unemployed salesman, François Mangin, who receives a mysterious jar of facial cream, which seems to have magical qualities, as a Christmas present. Whenever he uses the cream, people seem to think that he is a celebrity and he starts to use this as an advantage. There are side effects of course, like being accused of rape during sex when the effect of the cream wears off, and the danger of losing his wife because of the attention he gets from women.

An obvious satire on the celebrity culture, this indie French film had the feel of a rather light-hearted early Godard film. The performances of the actors were quite successful, especially those of Nicolas Abraham and Laurent Legeay, who had a nice chemistry as two rival, unemployed, almost nihilistic characters. I believe La Crème would work better as a short film, as it seems like the point is to make a commentary about the superficiality of celebrity culture, rather than telling a story. It was enjoyable enough, but you won’t miss anything if you don’t see it. That being said, we haven’t actually been able to see the end of the film because the dvd jammed, but Dean Bertram and Jack Sargeant (writer of many wonderful books such as Deathtripping and Naked Lens) mimed and narrated the last two minutes of the film for us, which I think, was better than the whole film.

The second film was the much more interesting Australian indie feature 1 and 0 nly by Martyn Park. It is one of the smallest feature films I have seen, with a crew of four – the director, the actor, the composer and the production designer (and a bird named Sir William Wallace). It tells the story of genius scientist and environmentalist Frank James Morley, who develops a way to eradicate all humanity off the face of the earth (by targeting their DNA codes only), deciding that human beings are no longer a part of the biodiversity of earth. As the 1 and 0 in the title suggests, there is a cyberpunk aspect to it as well – man converging with the machine, the rise of the digital flesh!

I must admit I was kind of annoyed and irritated by this, kind of ‘artsy’ sci fi film at first, mostly because of the constant banging of the electronic beats of the soundtrack in my eardrums, and there being no dialogues, or monologues for that matter. Sometimes there is a very thin line between a quiet, contemplative film and pretentious wankiness, and I think this film zigzags on that line. The influence of such genre films as 2001 and Solaris are obvious, but it’s not in the same caliber as they. Still, I enjoyed watching it, and I wasn’t bored despite the elements I just mentioned. The film managed to draw me in

itself in the end.

During the Q & A, the director Martyn Park talked about how he wanted the audience to think about what’s going on with the world and the environment, as it is something not everybody takes as seriously as they should. He also talked about other influences, such as Ghost in the Shell and other animes. Christopher Baker said they were making two different films in 1 and 0 nly – Christopher and the production designer Ray Rotton thought they were making a sci fi film whereas Martyn Park thought

he was making a more psychological film with the implication that Frank James Morley could actually be crazy, rather than a genius scientist and could be imagining that he killed the entire human race. I think I like the latter version better.

The Fantastic Planet is starting tonight at Dendy Newtown. You can find all the information you need at The macabresque diary will continue!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trasharama - Dick Dale Retrospective (17-10-2009)

One cool October evening, we set out for the Mu Meson Archives in Annandale. Mu Meson is an underground cinema venue run by Jay Katz and Miss Death and they have events on every day of the week – not just film screenings, but also fun stuff like Texas Chainsaw Trivia, a trivia quiz for ‘the rest of us’ and Miss Death’s knitting, where even “boys are welcome as long as they do a craft or something useful”.

Tonight’s program is world’s first ever Dick Dale retrospective as part of Trasharama A-Go-Go: “Australia’s Nastiest Short Film FESTERval and Competition”, dedicated to trash, horror, sci fi films, and general low-brow entertainment. Dick Dale hails from Adelaide, where he’s been part of the punk scene for more or less the last two decades and has been organizing the Trasharama A-Go-Go festival since 1997. He made his first film in 1993, with his mates from the local punk scene, and since then, he’s been producing DIY gory horror and sci-fi films with ultra trash/punk aesthetics.

We climb the stairs to the Mu Meson Archives, and there is Jay Katz and Dick Dale conversing happily. They say hello to us and Jay Katz lets us in. We are the first ones to arrive. We find the most comfortable couch in this warehouse-turned-movie-theatre, full of totems and sculptures, old circus posters, dusty reel boxes, and various other paraphernalia, and start watching video works of Emergency Broadcast Network.

When we finally have two digit numbers in the venue, Dick and Jay introduce tonight’s programme: Along with the Dick Dale retrospective, we’ll be watching two documentaries on Dick’s oeuvre and the Trasharama festival.

The show starts with footage from an ongoing documentary project, Australian Trash by Daniel Knight. It focuses on Trasharama A-Go-Go and includes behind the scenes material from Dick Dale’s latest film Family Bizness. It also features interviews with friends of Dick - filmmakers, actors and sfx artists and other misfits, such as Jero Cocksmith, Barry Cree and Mike Nichols among others. This is a timely documentary, considering the good reviews Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood received last year. Not Quite Hollywood showcased low-budget Aussie films of the 70s and 80s, and Australian Trash seems to be giving us a glimpse of what happened to low budget/no budget filmmaking films in Australia in the 90s and 2000s.

Australian Trash is followed by a series of Dick Dale films, the first of which is Space Yobbysey (1996). Inspired by Thunderbirds, and starring action figures, the film is about a futuristic Australian yobbo couple landing in Mars, and annoying the hell out of a local by such activities as having sex, and a barbecue party.

We then move on to a DVD titled Cheesy Knob Nasties, which collects Dick Dale’s works from 1997 to 2004. The first of these is The Beast From Bomb Beach, made with a budget of 500$ - obtained from Social Security. It appears that the film is about a sea monster attacking a kid on the beach, but as the DVD freezes, we’re not able to watch the whole thing – at this point Jay and Dick start ranting about digital technologies and yearn for the beauties of VHS. Dick tells us that The Beast came second in Foxtel’s Graveyard Shift competition and won 1000$, which provided the budget for his next film (after Dick organized a keg party for his crew with some of that money).

His next film, Flies can be described as a psychedelic mad scientist movie. An LSD experiment goes wrong – a scientist is stabbed in the eye with a syringe *ouch* and hallucinates that this lady is, in fact, a giant fly. He kills her and takes her for a drive. When he’s about to have his way with her corpse, the drug wears off and he finds himself in the car with hundreds of flies (which were actual, not sfx, flies!) It’s easy to see this film has a higher budget from the great giant fly and the corpse models. It is sad – but also kind of hilarious – to hear that the fly model was eaten by rats.

Up next, we have Yowie, which was made in either 98 or 99 according to Dick. It is an eco-horror/mutant soldier film. After John Yowie, a soldier who fought in Iraq and then turned into a mutant because of some experiments performed on him, kills an innocent boy, his commander – in true First Blood style – hunts him down in the outback with the help of and aboriginal tracker. They think they’ve got him, but they fail to take some friends of Yowie’s – what seem to be drop bears – into account. Dick says this forms the base of his current feature project, which we look forward to seeing!

Yowie is followed by a music video Dick made for his band Kamikaze: Swamp Baby Succubus. It was shot

at 5 pm in a graveyard in Adelaide, and it captures the performance of a naked woman with vagina dentata and a huge snake around her neck to the catchy punk tunes of Kamikaze. Dick says the shooting was completed hastily, giving no time to the police to come and interrupt. Listen to the song on Triple J Unearthed website!

Creamy Love was intended as an entry for Tropfest for the producers who funded it, yet it ended up being rejected as it is a bit low brow (as you would expect). It tells the story of an encounter between unsuccessful porn actor Ricky Wilderbeast and the Devil. The Devil, clad as an ice-cream salesman, offers Ricky fame and success in return for his first born. Thinking he’ll never have any children Ricky accepts, but things take an unexpected turn when his girlfriend Bianca Bang Bang gets pregnant.

Dick’s next film is not a film but a faux trailer for a non-existent film called Pelican Boy, which was inspired by Storm Boy and Surf Nazis Must Die – a heartwarming story of a boy and his pelican. As we watch this coming of age story infested with nazi pirates and zombie pelicans, we can’t help but wish that there were a feature length version of it. Mic Bradshaw must have thought the same thing, as he made a 37 minute “making of” documentary for this five minute trailer, which we watch right after Pelican Boy.

Mic Bradshaw’s documentary is titled Social Security Spielberg, and it tells the story of Dick Dale making films on social security loans while he’s working in day jobs or on the dole. Again, there are interviews with Dick’s circle of friends and colleagues, and fun stuff like how the special effects for Pelican Boy, such as the flying/exploding garfish, and the undead pelican, were made, and the details of a police raid on the set.

We have a brief interval while Miss Death serves her homemade pumpkin soup and rants about people RSVPing to the Mu Meson events but not showing up. Things don’t seem to be looking up on the Mu Meson front – they need more attendance, or the venue might be shut down. Hence, the Save the Mu Meson Archives on facebook.

As Dick is talking to Miss Death, I approach him and introduce myself. I tell him I will be writing a piece about him and the retrospective and ask him if I could take a picture. Jay Katz joins in the conversation, we talk about the Turkish Star Wars and the Turkish Exorcist, and they both say good things about the films. I take their pictures and take my seat as they prepare for the second part of the program.

It’s Dick’s latest film, Family Bizness, or in his words “his Michael Jackson film”. An homage to Lovecraft and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, and - well - Michael Jackson, the film opens with Michael singing a mock version of Beat It and dancing on the street with his gang. He goes home and his father slaps him and tells him off for being late and they start their hideous experiments of re-animating the dead. It turns into a family drama when Michael’s father kills his pet freak/lover Bubbles for the experiment and mother gets involved in the situation. What’s interesting is this was made before Michael Jackson’s death.

Tonight’s last and maybe the most special film is Blue Dog, made in 1993 on a VHS camera (that Dick reckons was stolen by the guy who sold it to him) with zero budget. Directed by “Dick Disease” and infused with grained images, awful sound recording, a booming punk soundtrack, a cast of punks high on hallucinogens with faces painted blue as part of their roles as zombies, this film was a masterpiece of lo-fi/punk/DIY filmmaking. We’re informed in the end credits that all the animals in this film were raped and killed – and said animals are comprised of a toy blue dog – a dangerous alien which triggers the zombie epidemic by attacking one of the punks. Blue Dog hasn’t been released anywhere in 16 years, and it is near impossible to watch it anywhere else. So, I consider myself lucky to be there to experience what Dick and Jay defines as one of the first films ever made.

I think Blue Dog is important in certain aspects. As well as being Dick Dale’s first film, it marks the beginning of Trasharama A-Go-Go festival, and in that regard, paved the way for Australia’s new generation of trash filmmakers… Also, it gives signals of what route Dale’s filmography would take over the years. We come across zombies, aliens, punks, and iconic elements of Australian culture – rugby balls, Hills Hoist, barbecues and lawnmowers; indigenous people, koalas (drop bears) and others in Dick Dale’s films that follow Blue Dog.

As the night comes to an end, Dick tells everyone to go and make their own films. He humbly says that he’s just one guy among many that makes films like this but people know about him because he has a big mouth, and suggests that we do the same - go out and make films instead of sitting around and complaining.

We say goodbye to Dick and Jay and walk towards the exit. Dick shouts from behind as I go out:

“Turkish Star Wars and Turkish Exorcist rule, man!”

* To check out the Trasharama website and buy the Cheesy Knob Nasties DVD and/or Trasharama merchandise, go to