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'".)
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.