I’ve just finished a book I bought from my local independent cinema, which has started a small shop. The book I bought was Dogville Vs Hollywood: The War Between Independent Film and Mainstream Movies by Jake Horsley was on the basis it would go into what the title suggest, look at the battle between directors who are either considered auteurs or independent of the Hollywood system. Building on Peter Biskind’s fascinating Easy Riders, Raging Bulls which was an entertaining and in-depth look at the American New wave which began with Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and ending around Raging Bull and Heavens Gate (1980). Dogville covers much of the same ground coming up to 2006 (when the book was published).
I remember when I first started reading this book I had a gut reaction to the harsh critical tone that the writer who didn’t check his facts, saying Citizen Kane was released in 1942 – was 1941, and Hitchcock’s first sound film was The Lodger (1927) – it was Blackmail (1929), I found a few more errors but these two stuck in my mind. It shows how fast this book was written, with passionate anger and disregard for accuracy, when talking about the history of any medium in such detail he got things off to a bad start.
The first chapter was an extended review of Lars Van Trier‘s titular film Dogville (2008) which he uses the basic framework for the book. A film made in response to the current state of Hollywood. A film that is devoid of likeable characters, a set that’s limited to suggestion and a dog that it’s just a drawing on the ground. Most notably an all American cast. I do see the film in a new light now which explains a few things. It’s a dogme that had teeth to bite back.
There were sections where pages where the main body of text was fighting the foot notes that were almost half a page long in places. Why didn’t here just incorporate his research into the main body or minimise it, they became not so much backing up the quotes legitimacy but they were points of trivia which pulled you away from the main body. Eventually I just stopped reading them, noticing that Horsley lifted a lot of quotes from two of Biskind’s books; Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Down and Dirty Pictures, showing an over-reliance on superior books on the subject. (I haven’t read the second one yet).
Lastly the overall tone of the book was scathing on just about any director whose mentioned in the book. I agree on some points, the state of Hollywood has not changed in ten years, relying on franchises, special effects and remakes – nothing new there, showing that the argument still stands up. However hardly anyone gets off lightly, unless its a director you’ve never heard of yet. The established directors – Scorsese, Spielberg and Coppola etc are seen in varied shades of black. They’ve either sold out, burned out or just faded away. He blame critics for helping Hollywood in the dumbing down of audiences, their expectations and their thinking of a film. You could say Horsley is a film snob who has an axe to grind, has he been burnt in Hollywood and fighting back? It would explain the horrible tone and the scathing attack to practically everyone, he can be fair in places which is rare, whole chapters and sections are rants, building up individuals before bringing them back down to earth with a bump.
I’ve not really learned a lot, except who Horsley hates and hates not so much. I hope in the 10 years since it’s publication he has mellowed.
If Alfred Hitchcock is the master of suspense then Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) is the master of horror, the B-movie producer who wants to really engage with his young audience. Even when the Cuban missile crisis is looming heavy over his next release. Reschedule maybe, or maybe not, as history has taught us the timing of a films release can make or break a film. Take Donnie Darko (2001) released soon after 9/11, poorly timed with the plane crash and audiences having experience events that had not been imagined on-screen. Reality had beaten film at its own game.
In Matinee (1993) timing really can mean everything, and also showmanship in how you deliver and promote your film. Which now relies more on digital methods to find their audience, back in the early 1960’s all they had were the old-fashioned posters, trailers and advertisements. For Woolsey he only needs himself to sell a film, much like Hitchcock who used his celebrity to promote his work with his own dry macabre humor, which is channel with good effect by John Goodman whose having a ball in this rare lead role.
He even takes the stance of the master of suspense, it’s all in good fun. For his next film Mant the film within a film of a man whose been transformed by overexposure of X-Rays and an Ant he becomes transformed into a massive ant. Taking a number of cues from the golden age of B-movies such as Tarantula (1955), The Fly (1958) and any number of other classics which are form the fabric of this homage to the genre that had gone into. In 1962 when cold war tensions had a reached a new high with the Cuban missile crisis maybe now is not the time to release a film about the potential harmful effects of radiation with nuclear missile potentially flying in the skies above. This doesn’t stop Woolsey who uses that fear to encourage his young audience to a test screening of the film in the new medium to fully immerse the audience. It reminds me of theme-park attractions that employed similar techniques, explosion, water spray and shaking seats just to get you even more excited.
Woolsey is a movie mogul who understands the changing audience even admits the current political climate which he uses to his advantage. He knows his genre, what horror does to an audience, who want to be scared, to feel alive. They know what they are seeing isn’t real, it’s that primal instinct which is only sought out now for fun not survival.
Lawrence Woolsey: “A zillion years ago, a guy’s living in a cave. He goes out one day, Bam! He gets chased by a mammoth. Now he’s scared to death, but he gets away. And when it’s all over with, he feels great.”
He’s even in a relationship with his lead actress Ruth Corday (Cathy Moriarty) whose too cynical to see what is going on, a realist going out with a dreamer living the Hollywood dream. his investment in Rumble-Rama similar to other gimmicks looks to be his last-ditch attempt as real success, not that Woolsey would let on, he’s passionate about the audience experience he wants to deliver.
Away from Mant we have a less exciting teen comedy that take a while to find its feet, following two young teenage boys Gene (Simon Fenton) the son of a Navy father and Stan (Omri Katz) who befriends him at his latest school. There’s more focus on the army kid, who has traveled from base to base, not able to put down any roots. We even have a jealous older man Harvey (James Villemaire) who warns Stan away from his much to young ex girlfriend Sandra (Lisa Jakub) who wants a man to hold. You feel like your watching two genres colliding, that of a b-movie with a the kids relationships before they go to the movies and get more than they bargained for.
Once we have built up a dynamic we are back in the cinema ready for everything to come together we have the young love-stories complete with hurt ex working the Rumble Rama a system that synchronises experiences with moments and lines in the film. It’s all coming together, whilst cinema owner Howard (Robert Picardo) is more concerned about safety and the potential nuclear fall-out, having built his owner bunker. We have adult fear of the real horrors juxtaposed with those induced into children for quick thrills, escaping a reality they are all to aware of.
Mant the homage to science fiction at a time when it was only for kids, reflecting a time of great political fear. Oversized creatures terrorising neighbourhood’s that were recognisable to audiences. All made on shoe-string budgets with unknown actors using these roles to hopefully break through to bigger roles. Combined with in-screen novelties that keep audiences in their seats or even falling out of them. I just wish I was there to see this spectacle. Up to the point where things start to go wrong but somehow in favor of Woolsey who understands whats going on.
Matinee maybe much forgotten film today, which should be rediscovered by film-lovers and those who wants a piece of nostalgia the golden age of cinema. We are surrounded by film posters of classics from 1962, a lot of detail and love has gone into this film that you can’t help but enjoy. Before special effects were the beginning and end of a film. Woolsey bring these effects to the audience who he understands more than others may think. He’s all about the emotions that cinema stimulates, that good story telling is based upon, if you are engaged with the action, everything else is either falls or is a bonus