Go See The Night of the Hunter Next Tues. in Williamsburg
For the eighth feature in our screening series with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation at Nitehawk Cinema, we present The Night of the Hunter, actor Charles Laughton’s sole directorial effort. Considered a commercial and critical flop upon initial release, it has since risen from cult staple to full-blown classic. And rightfully so: its intriguing mixture of Southern Gothic dread mixed with bold German Expressionism makes it a near anomaly of the era, so it makes sense that it took everyone a few decades to catch up to its brilliance. Beyond the sheer technical and storytelling perfection, there’s a bravura, career-defining performance from Robert Mitchum as the ghoulish villain pulsating at the center (there’s a reason why his infamous knuckle tattoos been referenced by everyone from Spike Lee to The Simpsons.)
Here’s the end of it all, and I’ll tell you why: because there will never be a movie or a character that is more important for this age than Spring Breakers and its protagonist Alien. As Harmony Korine’s friend Werner Herzog said to me on the phone call of all phone calls—I was out in North Carolina, sitting in a little Mexican restaurant called Cocula that I frequent on my lunch breaks from the low-residency writing MFA program at Warren Wilson College, just staring out the window that’s frosted over with a map of Mexico, at the dirty field across the roadway—when he told me that my performance in the film made De Niro in Taxi Driver look like a kindergartener, and that the film was the most important film of the decade. Imagine in a distinct German accent: “Three hundred years from now, when people want to look back at dis time, dey won’t go to the Obama inauguration speech, dey will go to Spring Breakers.”
I can’t even take credit for Alien. He is Harmony’s. As he says, Alien is a gangster mystic. A clown, a killer, a lover: the spirit of the age. Riff Raff wants to take credit for this creation, but that simplifies it. It is like Neal Cassady laying claim to Jack Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty, which isn’t a great comparison because Kerouac was transparently and literally writing about Neal. Alien undermines all. He’s a gangster who deep-throats automatic weapons as well as Linda Lovelace would. He’s the guru of the age. He’s what you would get if you got every damn material thing you ever wanted and then relished in the realization that you don’t have a use for any of it. So you make one up. “Bring it on, little bitches, come to me, little bitches… We didn’t create this sensitive monster, y’all did. Look at his shit, that’s what y’all are working fo yo’selves.”
Escape from Tomorrow is the amalgamation of every nightmare you could ever have about Disney. A dark fantasy shot in secret at Disneyworld and Disneyland, the film explores the corporatization of domestic bliss as one man’s family vacation to Disneyworld goes… well, “awry” would be an understatement. Since it premiered at Sundance in January 2013, the film has polarized viewers and incited controversy over not only intellectual-property issues but also the subversion and reappropriation of one of the most ubiquitous cultural staples in the US.
Wanting to know more about the making of Escape from Tomorrow, VICE sat down with the filmmaker, Randy Moore, the star of the film, Roy Abramsohn, and a few of the sharpest artists and critics we know, including Jonathan Lethem and Paul McCarthy.
Toad Road is a new film directed and produced by Jason Banker that simultaneously expands the parameters of what documentary filmmaking can be and blurs the lines between that format and traditional scripted filmmaking. In production since 2008, Jason views the film as a “horror-thriller” that follows the lives of a group of hard-living young friends who pursue an urban legend in York, Pennsylvania, that concerns a path in the woods that supposedly leads to the seven gates of hell. Their journey is one of self-discovery, heavy drug use, nihilism, and all of the other things young people around the world are struggling with at this very instant. What sets Toad Road apart from other movies is that the film was conceptualized and shot in a hybrid documentary-feature style, weaving a narrative out of the real lives of its subjects in a way that hits on greater truths than either form is capable of alone.
The film is due to be released—appropriately—this October. And it was during a prerelease screening attended by Elijah Wood that his horror-film company the Woodshed decided to back it as executive producers. I spoke with Jason and Elijah about the premise for the film and how the definition of “horror” has changed in this increasingly terrifying world we all share.
VICE: The way you cast this film was unique. But it falls in line with the aesthetic of the film. A few years ago, when you were conceptualizing the movie, you looked to VICE’s top MySpace friends and through that found your principals. How did that idea come about? Jason Banker: I wanted to do a hybrid doc-horror thing, but I wanted it to be real situations. I started using MySpace first because at the time you could search it by area code, and I wanted to shoot it in my hometown. But I couldn’t find anybody from there, and I was like, “God, I want some really cool kids.” People who were pretty hardcore, you know? So I thought I should go on and check who’s friending VICE because everybody who reads VICE is connected to that culture. So I did that, and I found this perfect group of kids—actually I found one, and then I looked at his top friends and they were the perfect cast.
How long ago was this? I started casting in 2008. It’s been a long process because I didn’t have any money to make the film and I needed to find real kids. I wanted to do this thing where I used their real lives and bend a fictional story around them. They were totally down to do it. And I told them I wanted to use like them using real drugs and being who they were, and find the characters that way.
The challenge Baz Luhrmann had in adapting The Great Gatsby to film was similar to what Walter Salles faced with On the Road: how to stay loyal to the era depicted, while still retaining the rawness of the original text. Salles did a great job of capturing the ambiance of 1950s America, but it could be argued that his Dean and Sal didn’t have enough zeal—enough of that desire to live, live, live.
The old saying is that a good book makes a bad film, while a paperback potboiler like The Godfather makes a great film. But this wisdom is derived from the idea that a good book is made by the writing, and if it’s adapted into whatever, its magic is lost. As just about every (film) critique has already noted—and they’re right, if repetitive—most of what makes The GreatGatsby great is Fitzgerald’s prose. We allow the classics to get away with so much because we love the characters. But when older stories are revived for film, the issue of the past and present must be rectified. But that lack was not a function of anything missing in the actors or the general direction as much as it is a result of the passage of time, the encasing of a book in the precious container of “classic” status.
There is SO MUCH going on that’s wrong or doesn’t make any sense. And I don’t just mean the billions of small continuity errors (Laura Dern’s invisible ice cream, the shaving foam, Timmy’s terraforming post-electrocution hair), but like, major, major things that should’ve stopped it getting to the big-screen the first time around, let alone again 20 years later.
Oh shiiiiit! The T. Rex is coming through the fence! And the kids’ car door is open!
Oh wait. No it’s not. False alarm!
Look out Alan! That T. Rex that, two minutes previously, had been heavy enough to literally make the ground shake, just managed to sneak up on you!
Wuh oh! The T. Rex is pushing the car towards Lex and Alan, they’d better jump through that gap in the fence the T. Rex just made if they don’t wanna get crushed to death.
When we shot this, I could not believe what was happening. This was probably the most mind-blowing moment for me. I mean, it’s Vanessa Hudgens, the girl from High School Musical! Of course, the ATL Twins were very helpful in demonstrating the proper way to snort drugs off of naked women. The girl with the “drugs” on her (crushed B12, in case you’re wondering) was an extra who was stiff as a board and blushing from ear to ear the entire time.