Saturday, October 17, 2009

THAS: Miscellany You Need to Know About! #1

Hooper on the set of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
(source: TCM 2 Special Edition DVD)
Michael Worrall's excellent, props-worthy somewhat-positive review of Spontaneous Combustion at his unfortunately little-updated Wordpress site "High/Low: Thoughts on Film by Michael Worrall."
I'm the overly effusive commenter who left the review a response at the bottom of the page, which Mr. Worrall was very kind enough to reply to! Thanks man!
(2) THAS: Questions I'd Want to Ask Mr. Hooper
  1. "Tobe Hooper, for example, traveled around the country a lot doing films about experimental educational programs right after the Kennedy administration, when exciting things were happening in documentary films. He made more than sixty documentaries and probably that many special education TV spots. In so doing, he's been tear-gassed in Memphis on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination and been in a crowd with Ted Kennedy in a riot."
    -Excerpt from book Making Movies by John Russo
    During the 1960s and your twenties, you worked as a documentary cameraman. In regard to your documentary work (or anything, really, in this part of your career before making Eggshells and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), was there any work or creative output that you feel you can particularly be proud of?
  2. What scenes of Eaten Alive did you not direct, if you did in fact leave the director position prematurely to the completion of principal photography for the film?
  3. Poltergeist. Sorry, can't help it. What's yours to claim and what's that other guy's?
(3) THAS: More on the theoretic "Hooperian"
One aspect that distinguishes Hooper's films is an innate neglect of the opportunistic formulas and diversions of "entertainment" filmmaking, and the formalistically utilitarian tendencies of filmmaking. Hooper approaches his filmmaking not with the mentality of a craftsman or cobbler, showman or even dramatist (Carpenter's abilities as a potent, accessible dramatist is probably the factor with which he is most elevated above Hooper as a filmmaker). He approaches filmmaking seemingly with only the mentality of a through-and-through aesthete. In sort of the way The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Funhouse were made to resist the easy pay-offs of the slasher genre, Hooper's films do not trade in the practices of construction that lead to the enveloping escapism or low artistic bar of the ordinary film. As an aesthete and channeler of sensitivities through image and image rhythm, Hooper is not afraid of his own artistic excess, and it is often at the striking expense of manipulation, thrill, and placating emotional concessions. As an aesthete and one wholly committed to the aims of an aesthete, his filmmaking does not partake in much of any manner of narrative or stylistic frivolity (such as slackened "comedy relief," or stylistic "breakages" that suggest employment merely "for effect" and accessibility). His style is staid and non-compromised throughout the extent of the film, in a sense of commitment to an unassuming vision of mood and emotion that is unconcerned with "hipness," sleekness, plain-spokenness, or gratifying a viewer - only in putting out all the graceful, visually expessive filmmaking he can muster (which some may argue isn't all that to get worked up about - I argue the counter, obviously. Note my distinction, though: true, it may not be much, in that he's not Renoir, but I think it is something to get worked up about). This unfortunately results in much of Hooper's non-skills and the stuntedness of Hooper's communicative breadth (which I sense is only eclipsed, briefly but shiningly, in the satire-infused montage motions he makes in the opening sequence of Spontaneous Combustion).
But it ultimately means Hooper is an artist. He aims not to please, but to express. It's true nary is there a constructed suspense sequence the likes of a De Palma film, and who knows if he could pull one off, but his preoccupations manifest themselves elsewhere, in aspects that sacrifices easy pay-offs ("entertainment value") for the whims of his artistic sensibility. Story and thrills will go out the window to make room for his particular sense for expressiveness. He never tries to be "clever," in that notion's most banal sense - he only seems to do what his artistic instincts tell him to do. Thus, his films come with little in the way of elements pre-processed and overly formulated, which is his handicap in one sense but also that which allows him to avoid the cheapening practices of "popcorn" filmmaking - that practice that makes the here-to-please studio films capable of swinging between grand dramatic sweep and pre-fashioned engagement tactics, such as the aforementioned "comedy relief" (which is, most of the time, at some degree, manipulative and sentiment-driven, a concession to viewer's sense of comfort and self-possession) or satisfaction-seeking thrills. These tactics strike only that aforementioned chord of "frivolity," as a distraction from the film's dramatic or thematic focus and as mere means to "impressing the audience."
This mentality seems far from Hooper's mind when making a film. Most people see only feebleness on Hooper's part resulting from this, but I find myself completely inspired by it, even as his works frustrate me in their unevenness. At least it is appropriate, then, that his one and only critically elevated work does in fact personify the special touch that is Tobe Hooper: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a slasher film that's hardly a slasher film, that forgoes accessibility and the escapist diversion of "regular films" for an "above-regular" ("extra-ordinary") commitment to emotional [nightmarish] vision. He may not be much of a salesman, but I think he really believes there's a high standard in beauty and sophistication in what he sells. How much quality this results in is, of course, up for debate - but I'm always up for that line of debatin'.
(4) THAS: Tobe Hooper and Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa, maker of the brilliant horror film Cure and the haunting J-horror progenitor Kairo (Pulse), is a fellow devotee of the works of Tobe Hooper.

Exhibit 1: Kurosawa's book Mon effroyable histoire du cinéma (French translation title), a review by website Midnight Eye which you can read here, and which describes Hooper's "constant presence" in the book and a chapter "devoted entirely to his films." Hooper is "nothing less than a master in the eyes of Kurosawa."

Exhibit 2: The horse's mouth. Well, the horse and his translator. I had the thrilling opportunity to attend a Q&A with Kurosawa when he presented his latest film Tokyo Sonata at the San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival in Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive, where I got to field to him a question, which I prefaced with an acknowledgment that he is the man for being a Hooper fan and, likely, the most high-profile proponent of Spontaneous Combustion (which, sources have reported, he's named as one of his personal favorites) to yet exist. That takes balls and a brilliant mind (both of which I'm sure he has). Anyway, he happily put on record his admiration for Hooper's work and even mentioned the fact he has met and "interviewed" him.

I then got to shake hands with him outside the theater. Hot damn!

Exhibit 3: Picture I got of Kurosawa at the PFA that evening:

Oh yeah!:
Kiyoshi Kurosawa outside the Pacific Film Archive at Berkeley, March 14, 2009


Rodney said...

What is Hooperian is a great topic. His earlier stuff has a grindhouse, B movie sense that is strenghtened by great camera framing, movement, and set design. He offers bizarre entertainment with heightened gore and a askew sense of humor, which seems to push away audiences. Just look at's about space vampires, has a drive in feel yet high production values and decent at the time special effects, a woman running around nude, energy being sucked from beings, and London is hysterics as people are zombified all with the urgency of an action movie.

Hooper is a favorite of mine along with Romero and Carpenter.

JR said...

Rodney - thanks for your comments and Hooper interest!

I agree completely: why don't we all just look at Lifeforce? That should answer any and all questions one has about Hooper!

Points well taken - bizarreness and humor are key to Hooperian (channeled importantly through his cinematographic sense). His sense of perversity definitely comes from a real place.

Rodney said...

Ultimately I think Hooper gets screwed by not having final cut. TCM is the only thing that he had creative control over and didnt have to conceed anything to a producer..and even that was screwed over in the business sense by having involvement with the mafia. It was cool to be a kid in the 80's and go to the videostore and be in the heydey of Hooper, Carpenter, and even Wes Craven among others but it's been a long time since the days of VHS and time has been less than kind to the American Masters of Horror. But I grew up on TCM 1 and 2, and Invaders From Mars was a TV staple on WGN-Chicago. Growing up I would see the video boxes for Eaten Alive and The Funhouse and think they would be terrifying and would be disappointed years later as I would finally see them..but that was more on my imagination and less on the actual content of the movie and those are pretty classic. In terms of Lifeforce, aside from it being an original take on vampires, it is the greatest 80's whatever you want to call it. I mean, a studio gave Hooper a huge budget to create a glorified midnight movie and expected it to be a huge commercial success. If there is a huge article on the Hooper vs Spielberg on Poltergiest on here that would be great

JR said...

Actually, there does exist a great POLTERGEIST fansite that has gathered, seemingly, all the existing dirt on the POLTERGEIST issue into one wet and soggy, basic-HTML pile of hearsay.

Get it right here:

Rodney said...

I've actually read that before but thanks for the link again. Let me just ask you think Poltergeist has any similarities with any of Hooper's other work?

JR said...

I've been abstaining from making any proclamations about POLTERGEIST for a while now, but I will say the only thing I'm convinced about regarding POLTERGEIST, as of this point, is that it's a soup of contributions from both filmmakers, to the mechanical extent such that the only way to parse out who's responsible for what is to ask the filmmakers themselves just that: who came up with what, who conceptualized what, and then who shot what, right down to each sequence, shot framing, camera movement, blocking, acting direction, etc. And - be it not so simple, which it probably isn't (as anyone who has made a film will undoubtedly affirm), unless the stories about Hooper being off in rehab for some chunk of time are even more true than claimed - what can't one or the other claim his own without acknowledging the integral collaboration of the other?

That said, overall I feel Spielberg to be the overriding creative mind at work. I hope to get into why at a later point in this blog, but Hooper's more abstracted rhythms and fluid camera seem only fragmentary here - which is also to take into account the fact that Hooper allegedly had little to nothing to do with the post-production process on the film.

If anything, one could make the claim Hooper served essentially as a co-Director of Photography (that is, if there weren't also his evidential interaction with actors to take into account), and likely the one very often left without anything to do, if on-set Spielberg is being the mastermind and Matthew Leonetti the appointed DP.

But regardless, Hooper must have been sole master and commander at some point or scattered points in the shooting, and whenever I watch the film, I try to, probably fruitlessly, pinpoint those moments where I recognize Hooper's fingerprints and his alone. If anything, I'd be perfectly contented just finding out what bits and pieces of it he, and he primarily, dicTated - and if from a Spielberg storyboard or not, if from a Spielberg idea or not, etc. But then I am just already inclined to do that - pick his brain.

In short (too late), it's Spielberg's speech that I'm sure Hooper got more than a few good words in transcribing, with his particular sense of calligraphy.

And there goes my abstention! Cheers! I suppose that's my say for now, until we get the complete story from the powers-that-be - which I'm still holding out for!