Friday, April 13, 2012

'Eggshells' Now Available at MUBI

Hooper's 1969 first feature, Eggshells, is now available to watch at MUBI for a limited time.

I've re-watched it since, and it remains an aimless, rambling, thinly conceived and spuriously connective pile of nonsense. That said, I welcome it warmly and gratefully into the Hooper canon for its audaciousness and complete artistic self-satisfaction, as tied inextricably with its serious, effortful expressive ambitions and philosophical, aesthetic (not commercial) inspirations.

The film is essentially about two young hippie couples, living together in a house, one couple long entwined and on the verge of nuptials, with all the right and wrong reasons to do so; the other, newly formed, made out of the first couple's malcontent writer housemate and an old friend who just arrives in Austin after leaving her small town, then moves in with them. Meanwhile, a mute, timid boy who seems to also live in the house acts as a sort of counterpoint to the free spirits, taking in with a strange entity in the basement.

As a spirited exhibition of free-wheeling cinematographic experimentation, psychedelic experience-creating, avant-garde animation (!), and on-the-fly cinema verité textures, I only shruggingly appreciate it -- Hooper thankfully returns to more exacting methodology in Texas Chain Saw. But Eggshells is still absolutely sprinkled with Hooper's incredibly precise compositions, camera moves, rhythmic sequences, and, perhaps most importantly, his elevated sense of the severe, formal, assuredly mature and stylistically "adult" (this is all to say, non-escapist, anti-diversionary, or, really, often simply anti-style -- instead, idea-driven) set piece.  For instance, off the top of my head, a scene consisting entirely of a stationary shot at the foot of a staircase that time-lapses the comings and goings of the group of housemates, analyzing temporally their pre-party activity; a wedding dress fitting scene also seen from a single, stationary viewpoint, gradually gaining more and more figures and activity within its frame**; a slow zoom into faces that methodically, algorithmically tracks back and forth across a hanging lamplight; the minutes-long, time-lapse "ghost ride" through Austin; and the most touted scene, the one-man sword fight, which is astoundingly well-executed.

I will say I hate the use of balloons in this film, though. It's hard to give something as commonplace as children's balloons greater meaning.




Here is Hooper on the film, to reveal at least what he wanted to communicate, regardless of the final result:
“It’s a real movie about 1969, kind of verite but with a little push, improvisation mixed with magic. It was about the beginning and end of the subculture. Most of it takes place in a commune house. But what they don’t know is that in the basement is a crypto-embryonic hyper-electric presence that managed to influence the house and the people in it. The presence has embedded itself in the walls and grows into this big bulb, half-electronic, half organic. Almost like an eye, but like a big light, it comes out of the wall, manipulating and animating.”
From a Fangoria article I have lost track of:
"I’m in the middle of trying to restore the first film I made, EGGSHELLS,” he says. “It’s not a horror film, it’s part of a long documentary of what it’s like to have 40 years of screaming for quiet.”
A long documentary, eh?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

THAS: Miscellany You Need to Know About #2 & THE HEISTERS (1964)

Hooper's 1964 short film The Heisters is finally being made available by film restoration and distribution company Watchmaker Films, as a downloadable rental at MUBI. Since first preparing the restoration of Eggshells for SXSW 2009, after a puzzlingly long wait since myself seeing it in December 2009 at the Steven Allen Theater in Los Angeles, they seem to finally be rolling out their plans as Eggshells will also be released (for rental) on MUBI by the end of the month, the website reports. Very exciting!

MUBI writer David Hudson has his article on the roll-out release of the early, 10-minute short The Heisters, which has some useful information (including anticipation of a future MUBI-hosted online Q&A with Hooper, probably coinciding with the Eggshells release) and useful quotations from Hooper and LM Kit Carson (whose Film Comment article they link to and excerpt from I have failed to mention yet here on this blog, so here it is: Carson's article "A Blast from the Past: 'Saw Thru'".)

The Heisters

I think it is wonderful, and I marvel at - in what should seem, as it is in fact, a "primitive" work of his - how unlike Eggshells and Texas Chain Saw it is, more so an early precedent to his exquisite studio work; how effortlessly and self-interestedly he parades his fondness for, indebtedness to, and very well near mastery of Golden Age cinematic style: of classical Hollywood technique and grandeur, of crisp theatricality and performance style (the film is a throwback to silent slapstick performance, and it consistently sparkles as such), of camera wit, movement precision, and movement harmony, all while still applying this polished style to another of his wonkily metaphoric, experimental narratives that borders on incoherent - but without much concern about that, only a carefree stoned-out belief in his cute existentialist conceits (a dandy, a vulgarian, and an objectivist academician, all equally corrupt; a beetle that survives our sapient machinations; cobwebs forming on two males in endless sparring), and Pirandello and Beckett grabs.

It looks and feels like a Roger Corman Poe film, Hooper clearly aiming to recreate all the tones and tropes of that era's - as he calls it - "camp gothic." Yet the short is very much an esoteric product, Hooper making his bed with the 60's mod wave (Sartre, dress-up, and wild antics) and also clearly highly designed in the performative and self-reflexive qualities of the Theater of the Absurd and Commedia dell'arte (not to mention the tricky camera and editorial illusions of cinematic Surrealism). So twenty years prior, he was preparing for the cave-dwelling, cavernous blue, asocial clown show of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, where another trio of bumbling corrupt cohabit together in an underground tunnel of their contraband wealth.

Only vaguely together in themes and coherence, sure (as is the trend with Hooper, weaknesses to be much further exhibited in Eggshells), but The Heisters is vibrant and impressive, quite funny and showing already highly sophisticated, highly expressive visual-storytelling clarity, and rich, stimulating reflexive formal instincts.