Sunday, April 11, 2021

NEW HOOPER BOOK: CINEMAPHAGY by Scout Tafoya

So I've pored over and thoroughly imbibed the rich offerings of critic/author/filmmaker/loyal Hooper acolyte Scout Tafoya's new offering in Tobe Hooper scholasticism (buy it online at most booksellers, digital copy also available on Amazon Kindle), and took in his many insights which hit like lightning strikes within Tafoya's oddly business-minded but nonetheless voluminous prose, but his after-release postmortems for various publicity blogs may include the clearest declarations of intent and most candid and impassioned statements on the schisms of perception when it comes to what Hooper was doing and what only he was ever allowed to do in his career pocked by circumstances:

"As in Mortuary, Hooper saw the GOP infecting the people, the land, the sky, everything it touched with its “good old days”.  Rhetoric of a return to norms while the flesh was melted off the bones of their opponents – foreign policy at least as old as the Vietnam war he none too subtly opposes in both Eggshells, his study of a Texas commune, and The Song is Love, his concert doc featuring a show stopping performance from the unlikely likes of Peter, Paul, and Mary." 
http://www.dosomedamage.com/2021/03/scout-tafoya-on-films-of-tobe-hooper.html

"All that rich text just sitting there. That was why I wanted to write Cinemaphagy. Class and money are still such silent but heavy forces in cinema studies. You lose money and you’re off the cultural radar. Look at Michael Cimino. Everyone talks about Deer Hunter (1978), no one talks about Desperate Hours (1990). Just how it goes. You fuck with a producer’s bottom line and the critical establishment is only too happy to do the moneymen the favor of burying them. Hooper was hidden real good. Only his friends could see where they buried him, and they’d occasionally give him work but his reputation never grew past The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Even now it’s tough to get people to take him seriously."
https://frame.land/hooper-dreams-why-i-wrote-cinemaphagy/

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Odds & Ends, Yet Again

Experience Tobe Hooper's Invaders from Mars in a new way.  An experimental one-to-one fusion of the theatrical version and the VHS-ripped rough cut that has made its way online here, this is hypothetical in many ways and something actually quite personal in others (the sharp-eyed fans of the film in its original form may notice a completely gratuitous cut made without any precipitation in the latter half of the film, and this was made only to exert some sort of power and predominance over the film, better to not confuse it for anything authorized or completely anyone's vision but my own - to the extent whatever that means).

It can ultimately be said that the best way to experience either Invaders from Mars or its rough cut are separately, as the rough cut gains (and earns) a quiet beauty by being raw and unmediated by post-production sound mixing and scoring, while the logy and lumpy pacing of Invaders from Mars by nature - one will notice, especially from watching the rough cut, that it's the rare Hooper feature that takes place explicitly over multiple days, laying out clearly its methodical passage of time (something I eventually argue is a thematic and philosophic point of the film) - becomes even more enervating when accommodating for the switching media.

I recommend all give it a chance, though, as it shows a film that was the original intent and that seemed to have had better grasp of the roiling ideas contained within it.

Watch it here as a password-protected Vimeo stream: https://vimeo.com/493688129

PASSWORD: sredavni ("invaders" backwards and in all lower-case letters)

ACCOMPANYING TEXT TO 'INVADERS FROM MARS: THE SUPER CUT'

This is an unofficial experimental supercut combining Tobe Hooper's extant rough cut of the first hour and 19 minutes of the film and the full theatrical cut released by Cannon Films. The rough cut footage was taken from a VHS duplication of the director's in-progress cut, and thus reflects the video quality of the source. Rather than try to simply reinstate the larger deleted or altered sequences back into the movie in chunks, I frame by frame matched the two cuts and reconstructed every instinctual editing choice made in the rough cut phase, which ranged from the substantial to the miniscule. This was in order to present as closely as possible a "What Could Have Been" cut, that is, as if Hooper's initial desire of what his film would be actually made it to the screen.

Big thank you to those who've supported, cheerleaded, and those who viewed my initial demo of the film. Explicitly personal touches were added that one may or may not notice (the most suggestive of "creative liberties" more often than not involved sound work and musical choices). Acknowledgements to filmmaker Christofer Pallu for mostly suggesting to add sound effects for the outdoor radar device and the bold, cosmetic statement to chromakey Hooper's credit over the shot of the house, but also for his enthusiasm for the project and audio editing advice.

The frame by frame matching was actually a more necessary and complicated process than one would think, as the final cut exhibited not only deletions, but chronological reediting and swapped takes. Thus, take the following into consideration:

* scenes existing in the final film will appear here but in rough cut quality. This is most likely because entirely alternate takes were used in place of those initially incorporated.
* Shots may have been used in the final cut but utilized in a different capacity or at a different point. Thus, a "clean" final cut shot will be used momentarily within a scene that is by and large non-existent in the final cut.
* Scenes were restructured back to the original ordering and chronology of Hooper's rough cut.
* This is not even to bring up the scoring and sound work. The "personal" and "experimental" side comes up here, with musical workarounds used to change the tone of the film in the way I felt would have been closer to Hooper's primary intentions. The most glaring example would be the replacement of the opening credits theme used in the final cut with what is listed on the film's original soundtrack as "Original Intro and Main Title." In the process of constructing, it was discovered the cue known as "Original Intro and Main Title" was simply displaced, being not used in the opening titles, placed over the scene in which the parents put David to bed in its entirety as a soft, catch-all underscoring. Feeling this was an artificial rendering of the scene resultant of a utilitarian mindset - "if you got it/paid for it, use it" - and a desire to make the film play smoother, I used the rough cut audio in order to go without the scoring. Use of various cues from the original soundtrack recording is also done on occasion, particularly difficult as Christopher Young's score itself was subject to a similar sort of gutting, the film essentially scored twice - once by Young, a second pass, one of synthesizer atmospherics, by David Storrs - and so parsing what made it into the film and what didn't remains, even for me, after poring through the film for the last three months, incredibly difficult.

You can view the raw rough cut footage - before I tried to conform it to some level of theatrical presentation - or enjoy the Rough Cut as its own whole piece here: youtube.com/watch?v=S8JWWVOh91A&t=124s

A statement on the rough cut:

"... Clearer intentions are found in the more fragmented editing...

The rocket destruction scene is symptomatically reconstructed into a slack, Cannon spectacle in the Cannon cut... [which] eliminates dialogue and re-chronologizes the sequence... whereas here it's a fragmentary confusion of splintered world-views.

In its clearer demonstration of David as our proletariat hero... in its bolder assertion of time in the face of illusionary, dreamed spectacle, we see what Hooper truly intended. The intentions and placidity of the rough cut make are undeniably superior."

—————————————————————

Also included at my Vimeo is my 2020 recut of The Dark, directed by John 'Bud' Cardos, but with "contributions" by Tobe Hooper.  It is one of my favorite films, and was even more of a labor of love than the Invaders from Mars recut.  It removed all post-production tampering by the producers to turn it into an alien sci-fi film rather than the supernatural thriller it was intended to be.

"This re-cut of John 'Bud' Cardos's THE DARK involves no commercial interest, but, under fair use law, it does wish to rip the film away from the historic avarice of its producers and reclaim a vision that was much stronger than their misappropriation could ever be. So this isn't just for education, either - this is fair use under criticism/comment that involves piracy and smuggling, the only proper response to its producers... one of who, Edward L. Montoro, is actually a literal crook, absconding with an embezzled fortune to an equatorial region in the early 80s to never be heard from again.

"THE DARK: RECUT is not only a proper excising of studio/producer impositions but also partly a historical record of THE DARK, in particular, Tobe Hooper's role in it."

[End excerpt]"

"In the tradition of RAISING CAIN RE-CUT, THE DARK RE-CUT (2020) aims to restore the original integrity behind a film that some love, most simply have no thoughts about at all. But it’s the principle of the thing. In the year between THE DARK’s filming and its release in January 1979, producers, anticipating the release of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN and noticing the increasing popularity of “space” films from STARS WARS to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, decided to turn what was a creature feature (one involving a monstrous entity stalking the LA streets and committing a murder every night, a monster of which our inability to explain was the very point of the original story) into a space invader flick, reediting every murder into an attack by an eye-laser-shooting alien using cheap opticals and superimposed stock explosions. Reshoots occurred to implement actual fire effects into the big monster showdown in the end, beginning and end titles imploring of the vastness of space were added, and the rest is history. In the end, even John ‘Bud’ Cardos, who didn’t even develop or work on the preproduction of the film - rather, it was developed by Tobe Hooper himself - was caught off-guard by this imposition by the producers. THE DARK (1979) is a rich text concerning the coexistence of clashing egos, the workings of civil society as a tapestry meant to function as a whole, the illusion of state protection, the nature of fear as a natural outgrowth of social constructs, and the idea of darkness as what hides yet contains that which we fear, so much as being a reminder of a state pre-consciousness and pre-society. This may not all come to fruition in the film that was ultimately removed from Tobe Hooper’s hands, but what remains or is sensed of his and John ‘Bud’ Cardos’s efforts deserves at least the saving from one of the most cynical and scornful moves in producership history.

THE DARK: RECUT is not only a proper excising of studio/producer impositions but also partly a historical record of THE DARK, in particular, Tobe Hooper's role in it.”

The Dark Re-Cut

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Odds & Ends

Some capsule reviews I've written in the meantime of Hooper's films.  Presented in rough chronology, so the repeating of titles and autobiographical elements within the reviews creates an interesting semi-narrative.

THE FUNHOUSE

Many great horror films are war films, in that they're about two opposing parties facing off in ideological or existential opposition. This is the greatest horror-battle film, half the parties unaware they represent a side in a war and that their actions and strategy (or non-strategy) are outright effecting the fate of their respective brothers-in-arms. The subtext is made into the text, which is the subtext, and this is through seeing these structures while the characters never do. The sound design is the ultimate piece completing the Gesamtkunstwerk here (and this should be played loud), as background dialogue, whispered back-and-forth, and repeated whimpers fill out the ever-strategizing, ever-blinkering, of an eternal war.

THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE

This is not a film of exposition, but more a series of scenic warning signs. There is no attempt to create a comprehensive view of our characters and we do not get to know them, they are merely the human figures in a film made up of cautionary events, conceived in Hooper and Henkel's liberally-dispersed and more writerly gestures, incarnate in Hooper's deliberate invention that determines gesture as just that. So extreme are its depictions of irrational terror and social entropy that it forgoes its claims to naturalism early on, tapping into underlying structures and artful syncopation that work on you at a subconscious level, much like a fairy-tale that knows what information to give out and what of its story to truncate and remix. Sally running into a branch leading to an extended moment of disorientation is the point at which the film no longer seems to wish to hide its claims to artifice. Like Hooper's double-window-jumping, the branch is clearly contrived, not to throw an extra jolt in but to support the three-pronged journey Sally embarks on (once her and Franklin enter the woods), acting as a final consecrating indignity - one at a final station of the cross - before the plot can move forward. Only Hooper can make a chaotic chase through a nettled copse geographically and structurally coherent, and Hooper does this because he has established the old Franklin house, he's established the Sawyer house - Sally's journey within it, itself, is an up-down-up structured movement - he establishes the gas station (using incredible tracking shots), and he never introduced that branch. I also noted the "humor" of the scene where Sally is finally brought into the Sawyer house as a captive, of which Hooper has often expressed feeling disappointed when audiences would be too terrified to catch on to that humor. It is less outright humor, though, than it is the sharpness of his editing and the rhythm he finds in the three cannibals' interactions, and I think Hooper knew this. He was not making a comedy, but he was making a hyper-observant portrait of inter-social behavior. The dinner scene is the apex of all of Hooper's ideas of the death-image, but he also shows remarkable dramatic continuity even amidst the chaos. I like how Leatherface is often quite peripheral in the scene, and it is only when Sally is not explicitly facing off with the Hitch-Hiker, who engages her the most directly and the most cruelly, providing the bulk of the drama in the scene, that Leatherface finally gets his moment with a repeat motion, silently creeping toward Sally, a curious hulk seen only through Sally's craning POV. 

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2

Feels rushed in the making, but if L.G.’s holy-coded denouement and Jesus arc doesn’t suggest simply another Tobe Hooper passion play, then I’m moved for nothing.

POLTERGEIST

100% Hooper. Spielberg would never make this awkward, slow, imagistic, and bogged-down-by-images (and pauses, and rhythmic digressions) of a film. The story and script are nonsense, this is merely an experiment in narrative storytelling. Spielberg's pretense of narrative through an emotive frivolity is undone by Hooper's seriousness with everything that juxtaposes unnaturalness in supposedly prescribed relationships. Alternately, Spielberg allows Hooper to divest himself of all his worries about the make-up of the family. Imagine Poltergeist without the kidnapping, its inciting, heroism-precipitating incident, and you would be close to Hooper's original conception of Poltergeist: a family lives next to a cemetery, small nuisance-like poltergeist activity occurs, and it ends in a chaotic finale in which a hidden history reveals itself in wagon wheels emerging from the mud. In the first act you feel the traces of this film. The story is told through magic tricks with the camera, not the coherence of the plot - the chair stacking is something you would see right out of Hooper’s Eggshells. Even after the imposition of narrative stakes, the film is a structureless procession of narrative stoppages, filled with pauses and performative silences (just think of the final shot). Hooper makes a set-piece even of a parents’ joint session, Hooper being the only one who can stage believably the rambling of two high individuals and in this realism, create a unified set piece out of a duet of performances. This is filled with visually-stimulated nothing-stretches; shorthand narrative; long form situationism. Hooper’s capacity for reframing is something he shares with Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a form of storytelling that is not in the content on the surface, not the telling of story (no matter how much they protest that idea), but framing and then subtle reframing, mining an always-drama, an always-characterization, in the very manner in which a story is told, or more accurately, an existence is circumscribed. Every Spielberg trope - the foreground-background placement, the one take, even the camera push into faces of awe - is noticeably different from Spielberg’s usage in the inseparable context of Hooper’s creation of imagist set-pieces, divorcing these techniques from narrative, embedding it in Hooper’s awkward handcraft, his naturalist set-piecing. It is most satisfying as a Frankenstein creature, a film not to have a soul of its own, but to mock the idea of life by the brazen networking of its parts. As a narrative, it is an ungainly creature, but as Hooper’s dissociated networking of parts, it is a comment on the acute sentience of his creation nevertheless. Tangina’s very long debriefing on "the Beast" is not in the original script. What neuronal mishap of elongating this film’s anti-plot was it that provoked that rewrite? 

TOOLBOX MURDERS

It might be cliche for me to reevaluate a Hooper film and inevitably give it a higher rating, but Toolbox Murders is as pure and uncluttered, unproblematic, an expression of Hooper's long, novelistic game as anything. The screening was preceded by outpourings of fondness, gratefulness, and admiration for the infinitely disarming, idiosyncratic, and eccentric Hooper: I heard Danny Pearl express his gratefulness for being given his career, Amanda Plummer in awe of a man she had cherished (telling the story of Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Tobe Hooper deep in an exchange upon meeting - as he was loved by all the Japanese genre filmmakers - and realizing the two men looked identical), Toolbox AD Andrew Zimmerman speak of Hooper's down-home sagacity shooting in the tricky Ambassador Hotel and the "magic" inevitable on a Hooper set. Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Dickerson, his dearest confidantes, who looked on him like a child, Tom Holland bloviating endearingly about his quirks in their Autumn friendship and his coming over with a copy of Djinn and pouring over every frame with them, Mick Garris bowing out on a brief Poltergeist flare-up when overcome with feelings, but recommending everyone just listen to the podcast episode he did that broached the subject as he was there and saw it all. Toolbox Murders in 35mm and theatrical sound (who knew the score was so meticulous and constant?) is definitely giving it the respect it deserves. It may move like an Argento or Polanski film, give or take, but in 35mm it looks and feels more like Hooper's Tsai Ming-Liang film. I report this in a journalistic capacity, not as an impinging on the personal stories of those closest to him. This is for posterity and the record. 

EATEN ALIVE

"As I heard the story in the paper the next day... my tears came tumbling down." 

"What do you want me to do? Throw myself to the alligators?" 

Yes, this movie answers, that is what most men want women to do, as embodied by William Finley's emotionally erratic pater familias

"I said git and git. I made the signal. I told ya and I told ya and I told ya. You come in here and you go in there, ruttin' and ruttin'. You think I don't know?" 

Blistering. Also, contrary to how it may come off at first, carefully considered (as "adapted for the screen" by Kim Henkel), despite the limitations of its making. The events of the film ensue because the monkey (and all its primate functions) dies, and only the reptile Id is left. This may not reach the intensity and razor intelligence of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but this is because it is an entirely different animal: a studio picture, a work of fantasy, a lush piece of theater and a melodrama filled with emotions and sentiment (to the degree such a compromised work of grindhouse filmmaking can) - not a cunningly pointed piece of faux-guerilla filmmaking. Yet these are two films united by the ferocity and vision of their artist (and their shared look at madness), two very different projects finding overlap simply in the youthful inspiration and joie de vivre of their hard-working creator: works put together by an artisanal hand, as if by the skin of their teeth, for each cut and each moment of dramatic montage is welded into the thing as if its life depended on it. Hooper's hybridizing of studio-set artifice and the expressionistic run-and-gun inspiration of his previous film is truly something to marvel at, for we get the expressive cynicism of 'Chain Saw' tied to the mournful, non-cynical gestures of melodrama. Melodrama, at least in its most sophisticated form, has always been a genre of intense detail, and Eaten Alive provides it in gently preponderant ways: a preponderance of arresting subplots, for instance Libby Wood's lovelorn projection onto Stuart Whitman's sheriff no clearer than today with Crystin Sinclair's performance writ large in 35mm; the blood-smudged side of the veranda where Judd's mopping would be less effective, lying just below a clueless Buck's line of sight before he becomes croc bait; the evolution of victims, from Roy to Harvey Wood to Buck, all a lineage of masculinity, but Harvey's stoicism and Buck's belligerence and sexual odiousness alleviated by their growing rational awareness of the imperiled child underneath, each acting more humanly just as Judd ratchets up in villainy and madness. Quoted above is Judd's menacing exhortations to a distracted Buck, as he tries to locate the sounds of the little girl below, and it is a collection of phrases Judd has said at various prior points in the film. This moment is the condensation of Judd's mania, the novel serial killer who has no motivation but to reflect the victim's status right back at them, as refracted through an opaque glass (that is Judd) of PTSD, sexual neurosis, an unchecked sort of libertarianism (distrust of authority), and retrograde barbarity. He circles behind Buck in three paces, spouting these toxic Tantra, warnings to Buck and self-pity for himself. All of it results in anger. The film's details go on, and accumulate, combined in a film that is almost as immersive and in control as Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and that is the sign of a filmmaker who would never stop crafting his work (until it was taken away from him). Even the cramped chase sequences with Angie under the floorboards are more than meets the eye, slyly crafted bravura bouts of impressionist suspense. I love how it ends its playlist of radio songs - up to that point pure American Countrypolitan - with a Spanish Mariachi song. Suffering is a universal language. Vixen Lynette saves the day. Judd's demise is a triumphant end to a work of clear structure. 

POLTERGEIST

This kind of sucks in supersized 35mm. The film is returned back to its commercial purposes, its sensory overload context, every shot no longer a rarefied decision but simply what needed to be shot to get a film up on the screen at all. The film's theology is so populist and middling. It's just like Gremlins and The Goonies, serious (to varying degrees) filmmakers trying their best to cohere (or, better yet, "incohere") committee-written pop nonsense. The goth nonsense here curdles when mysterious strings accompany the reveal that you are, in fact, living on top of a cemetery. The mechanics of the production show their extreme laboriousness, every close-up surely its own hurdle while Goldsmith’s score is simply used to cover-up Hooper’s quick work and inattention to detail. It's a testament to Hooper's wayward train, which this certainly is - read the script, look at the preliminary storyboards, and see a film barely going by plan - that the experience of going to see the "new Spielberg production" feels less like a visit to the toy store and more like getting trapped in a toy store elevator for two hours with one genuine mystic and one ad man. Saying Spielberg was entirely happy with what ended up on the screen is akin to Hollywood revisionism, where Spielberg-hype fantasy overtakes a grim, frankly sloppy reality ("Can't we 'zazz this up a bit, Tobe?" "No Steven, just shoot it in wide shots, your energy tires me.")... Viewed in 35mm right in the center of Tinsel Town, call the experience, and it was kind of like traveling back in time, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOOPERWOOD. 

EATEN ALIVE

"It's much more complex than it seems. I tried to establish some kind of motif that carries throughout the show - sometimes that's actually more important than what you're actually showing. This has a lot to do with lights and shadows: it takes place in a single night, from dusk to dawn. And all the characters bring with them some sort of history, they're not just cardboard characters walking into a slaughterhouse." - Tobe Hooper

I'm no longer convinced of its formal elements, a little too diluted by cinematographer Caramico's hastiness, a little too unfixed on Hooper's fixation on lamps as indifferent beacons of our everyday living, and on decoration (his interest hardly allowed to let flourish until Poltergeist); a little too, dare I venture the idea, slick in its horrific and atmospheric affects - the roiling fog, the canted Freudian insert-shots that glimpse the gator, and so on and so forth. There is a cohesive design and digestible shape here that gets in the way of the film of pure suggestion I have touted. But the film has ceased to become a rational object of evaluation for me, instead it has become a series of accidents and incremental details, and a spirit that defies my increased scrutiny with every revisit (Why didn't he center this shot better? Why didn't he move on this one? Why didn't he hold on this shot longer? It is the peril of being the aficionado), defies the bourgeoisie comfort blanket of hard "decisions" being always, constantly, made. This is a film of suggestion, because I am no longer in charge of the effect it has on me, even as I criticize it. The affective discharge I get in my synapses when I hear the mariachi song that closes the film is ten times greater than the lack of a point in certain prior shots, or the mechanics it may indulge in. This is a film of melancholy, even as it never makes a point of its melancholy. Remember that film Babel? This has the effect that that film desperately wants to achieve (about melancholy and interconnectivity) through constant making a point of it. I'd rather not know what I'm heading into, and this is the magic of Hooper's sense of cinema.

POLTERGEIST

No discernible thematic center, but still a strange, untangled object made of so much hobbled-together uncanny parts, set in a house that doesn't look like a house but a studio set and may be the last hold-out of studio soundstage artifice in a film that wasn't outwardly trying to create such the effect (such as One From the Heart). The ghostly woman descending the stairs is a leading example of a scene that was forced into cohesion, filmed without an idea of what was actually coming down the stairs. Hooper filmed it any which way and may have removed all purpose from the scene. The characters stare at it and it disappears (no one screams like in the script); a true scene that defies sense. Hooper only cared about the image (a wide shot of the living room, characters dispersed into all four corners, the top of the stairs and a hanging lamplight) and it was hobbled into cohesion at a later date with the filming of the ghost (and its equally unhelpful video capture). Defying pragmatic usage, it is not suspenseful, nor consequential, nor particularly elaborate or impressive a set-piece - those things are the domain of Spielberg - but it is emblematic of Poltergeist as a film of parts, schizophrenic and hobbled and rickety and two voices battling it out, Spielberg's sensibleness and Hooper's curiousness and openness, for the way things may not come together as a whole.

DOWN FRIDAY STREET

I try not to be too hyperbolic about a short documentary that is as shaggy, messy, thematically undefined, and unassiduously untempered aesthetically as all of Hooper’s other work, but if you are looking for that connecting thread between the curiously precise classicalist concerns of Hooper’s slapstick period piece The Heisters and the New Wave, timely-concerned vérité phase begun with Eggshells, this is the film for you. Houses Also Die, you can call it, and if it’s not in Hooper’s vocabulary to mount a discourse on race and anthropology, then we can at least expect the same introverted, phobic interests in mood, zones, the ghostly aspects of change and time; experimental techniques melded with his governing interest in the grounded aspects of a story to be told (here, of stately old WASP houses being razed for parking lots). A sharp dip into an almost-refined antiquity for a filmmaker who usually concerns himself with ardent, corrupted civilization (not “society,” as Hooper is either concerned with individuals themselves or the structure at large, at a nominal scale rather than a precise one - his observations on specific social groups often weaker than what is gathered when these subcultures merely stand in for larger issues). This is Hooper’s most withdrawn, well-bred film, into an interior world of objects; his truest occult film (a subject he would subsequently show interest in), for the objects are left to exist throughout divorced from human hands and presence (which Hooper's films of object-space idée fixe naturally betray, with characters). This is Tobe Hooper’s The Haunting of Hill House. It’s Hooper’s closest to a structuralist film, and he’s come close due to his miraculous instincts even in his narrative features. Rustic, region-specific Profit Motives and the Whispering Wind (Gianvito, 2007), give way to Michael Snow, give way to Kurosawa’s Pulse and, as mentioned, Shirley Jackson (and her antisocial libertarian, quasi-satirical takes on the commercialism running roughshod over a bygone, gothic hominess), and the seeds of hints are planted for borrowings - straight-on reiteration of techniques, a kingly lineage of fated self-plagiarism - in Eggshells, Poltergeist, and Djinn

Friday, March 6, 2020

PREY: "HUNGRY FOR SURVIVAL" (1998) by Tobe Hooper, William Schmidt


So a few days ago I had the chance to view a VHS of the unaired, Tobe Hooper-directed pilot of the TV show Prey (1997-98), which would eventually be brought to series as a completely retooled and renovated show for a short-lived season.  While the vision of the series first conceived by show creator William Schmidt (TV writer and future executive producer on shows like Carnivàle and Charmed) and Hooper never came to pass, ascribable to nigh unassailable reasons connected to Hooper's airless style and Schmidt's occasionally high-toned creative decisions, reasons made even more succinct placed beside the show that was soon created from its picked-apart bones, it was an illuminating and poignant testament to the collision of popular templates and almost-imperceptible - naive and psychologically middling, but worldly searching; allegorically crisscrossed and incongruous, yet petrified and untouched - dramatic and exploratory structures that have come to characterize Hooper's work.  Prey seems to activate for Hooper an archetypal romanticism in an hour time that his feature-length pilot work for Nowhere Man and Taken do not in their vaunting of regular plot mechanics.  Prey offers the least realistic and most skeletal drama for Hooper to emphasize only what he deems worthy to emphasize, embodying his inclination for stories that may have no connection to reality yet reveal the world a la carte through a breadth found in dramatically bridging seemingly unconnected things and structuralist concepts.  For instance, Hooper's libertarianism is not his communism, yet presented beside each other, they create paranoid neoliberal tragedies.  This is somewhat applicable to Prey: "Hungry for Survival."

Firmly in the realm of a minor work, being a forty-and-some minute pilot meant to launch an ABC drama, with all its necessary overtures toward show-duration, will-they-won't-they romance and stop-loss soap opera narrative threadbare, this falls in a purer, more rarefied place than the butch actioneer masculinity sprinkled over warmed-over Spontaneous Combustion leftovers that is Nowhere Man (1995) and the impersonality of Taken (2000), Hooper's other series launching efforts.  The set-up, that is, the barely-congealed melodrama, allows Prey, for all its trappings, to present a beginning that is also an end, a suggestion of things to come that seems to performatively lay out the idealized solutions within its at-once romanticism and fatalism, sensibilities that are at once self-fulfilling and answer at once they question, for melodrama and tragedy's teleology has gone far from unstudied.  For instance, the protagonist of Prey's sometimes-disembodied passion is much more suited to Hooper's work, and the undisclosed but bleak fate of certain characters, subsumed in death-signifying genre tropes, is more than finalizing by the end of the episode, leading to no open threads with the enactment of some minor projection.  (Hooper's feature-length pilot to Dark Skies also more successfully figures itself on passionate main characters, although the specter of Kennedy's assassination in that leads to an opening of the road ahead for its protagonists rather than the constricting of an artificial, contrived genre-world, significant of the elongation of a contrived, controlling reality.)  Prey is modest, but it seems to be the least closely-monitored of Hooper's TV pilots, working off a creator and writer who also seemed to have been running off the fumes of a rare freedom to begin in science fiction invention and end in the most cozy convention, of the "starcross'd lovers."

Plot (penned by yours truly): Prey concerns a projected global collapse to humanity threatened or at least harbingered by the resurgence of a demonized other, an unevolved, "splintered" genetic strain of human that is discovered to coexist among the Homo sapien.  A junior geneticist (Sherilyn Fenn) in an academic setting, working amongst a team for a lead researcher who has gotten closer and closer to uncovering the existence of the mutant strain (Lindsay Crouse), falls in with a sensitive FBI agent (Adam Storke) after the mentor is murdered, but he turns out to be a member of this mutant species attempting to cover up the trail of this new discovery.

Unconvincing in more ways than one, this volleys valiantly between ripe set-pieces and unbelievable renderings of milieu, and even less realistically shaded quasi-satire of academic pettiness and global calamity as seen through less-than-visceral channels (such as the media and academia).  The FBI agent appears randomly, along with local law played by Frankie Faison (filling in the R. Lee Ermey role from I'm Dangerous Tonight with even worse gnomic banter), within academic halls and seat-of-bourgeois eateries in or near the college hamlet, looking out of place and derelict of his more serious duties.  A rival researcher steals the team's discovery and he names the species right on national TV without a peer-reviewed public release in sight.  A federally convicted mutant has a gaggle of fawning Mansonesque groupies.

A Beauty and the Beast fricassee of inter-species romance featuring a shrill, performative Sherilyn Fenn and Hooper's own, most artificial theatrics, with a mercifully brief and incidental stopover in inconsolable Silence of the Lambs knock-off territory, this is nevertheless about Fenn's grappling with the world around her and its seeming moral collapse, and never have outsized, stilted displays of emotion been so at one with a director's dialectical, anti-good-television conception of building a serial narrative made of ideas.  What better outlet for acute unreality and the melodrama of cultural tutelage than a series that is about a global sci-fi invasion but takes place almost entirely on a college campus (a la I'm Dangerous Tonight) and is once again in Hooper's filmography about a female protagonist who is never at one with the greater morality she represents - albeit that she holds inside her (wittingly or in sublimated state) - due to the oppression of societies and cultures?  She is berated, gently, by ideas and perspectives on all sides that never seem to add up but to bolster her own undivided principles.  Salama in Djinn asks, why must I suffer for progress?  Amy in The Funhouse, why is my kindness and cruelty so embattled within me?  Genie in Night Terrors,  my purity and my pleasure?  Sloan, here, asks only one pivotal question: Why kill, why divide, even as shadowy noir tropes come to both validate me and erase my love?   Third quarter in, a young Michael Stuhlbarg appears affecting a "Balkian-Bosnian-type accent"[1], playing a possible love-interest rival against the strapping mutant FBI agent but as a slender-spoken foreigner.  He advises Sloan in tentative terms befitting both the first proper introduction of a Muslim character and Hooper's willingness to work in mysterious ways, like with a cross-cultural love triangle between a hunk and a dweeb.  He simply asks her, against an illuminating fire (paraphrasing), "Do you believe in God?  Among my people suffering great adversity, one thing one can simply do is pray."  The episode ends in a full romantic modality between the two lovers, the scientist and the now-rogue mutant, and surely Hooper and Schmidt have more "Romeo and Juliet" in mind than the aforementioned "Beauty and the Beast," as the underlying genocidal and global warming concerns are meant to evoke a world at war with love, although the proto-Twilight bells alarm loudly... as they do in Hooper's Dance of the Dead.

I do want to someday track down a copy of this and make it available, as it has a lasting impact in its being the least competent of Hooper's television work.  Sherilyn Fenn rides around on a helmeted bike like the least badass star of a sci-fi action show.  It is certainly a statement.  A more conventional but hobbled version of the show soon came to fruition starring Debra Messing in a much more tomboyish, elan-filled version of the main role.  The most unfiltered and undutiful of Hooper's television work.



Wednesday, November 20, 2019

THAS: 'Invaders from Mars': The Rough Cut




I officially present this rough cut of Invaders from Mars, which includes most notably an entire first act cut out for reasons we can only presume were motivated by a desire for expediency and fleetness in the film's part as a product/commodity: In other words, a run time under 100 minutes.

I present to accompany this unprecedented and momentous history of Invaders from Mars a dialogue between myself and my colleague-in-thought (also poet/writer/performer) Josiah Morgan, unpretentiously gathered as the at-first-blush impressions I had upon sharing it and Morgan had in immediate viewing, and which goes to some length in distilling the value of this expansion of a film that already spoke to a jaded filmmaker's sense of grandeur, but not to their personal labor, their unfiltered work and ethic.[X]

Alienated consumption and alienated production.

"I haven't had final cut on a movie since the original Chainsaw.  It disturbs me that, for the most part, my movies have not been shown the way they were intended because of someone's 'fantastic wisdom.'" - Tobe Hooper, Fangoria Magazine, 1988

"With the Industrial Revolution's manufactural division of labor and mass production for a global market, the commodity finally became fully visible as a power that was colonizing all social life.  It was at that point that political economy established itself as the dominant science, and as the science of domination."

"Consciousness of desire and desire for consciousness are the same project, the project that in its negative form seeks the abolition of classes and thus the workers' direct possession of every aspect of their activity.  The opposite of this project is the society of spectacle, where the commodity contemplates itself in a world of its own making."

Thank you to Josiah Morgan 
for putting me in the direction
of Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle
from which these excerpts derive.


A Dialogue Between JR and Josiah Morgan On the 'Invaders from Mars' Rough Cut


JR: But let's talk about how Hooper never had final cut and he could barely exhibit his wily, raggedy analyses of the human condition without it being fitted into a box.  I was going to say this "Invaders" cut reveals the Mike Leigh of genre, but that's totally wrong, he's Rivettian and I'm not even a big Rivette fan.†

JM (whose brilliant write-up on the first 9 minutes of the rough cut you can read here): I have always found Hooper's lack of final cut fascinating; it is one mark of his artistry that he managed to always shine through. One can see all of the impositions placed on him by studios, other writers, producers, television stations, etcetera, in all of his work, and frequently can reconcile these impositions with what we know of his early films: Eggshells, Down Friday Street, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

His early films reveal an obsession with architecture (away from a cosmology focused on theological hierarchies, away from a cosmology focused on top-down governance, away from a democratic cosmology, toward a cosmology of autocracy; in which emotions are autocratic, in which emotions are made physical, in which emotions govern decisions and critique structural societal problems).

His early films reveal an obsession with discontinuous editing and lying about what one's own senses perceive -- this seems intrinsically linked to the gap between both cuts of Invaders; this one is far more discontinuous. Perhaps it is naive to comment on this -- a rough cut, after all, is almost predetermined to involve significantly less consistency! But the actual language and ordering of language, the general sequencing here is slightly different and more fragmented - closer, perhaps, to the upstairs-downstairs-basement fragmentation of Eggshells than to the continuous architectural clarity of Poltergeist.


 Excerpts from Chapters 5 and 6 of The Spectacle of Society, "Time and History" and "Spectacular Time"

... History, which until then had seemed to be only the movement of individuals of the ruling class, and thus was written as the history of events, is now understood as the general movement, and in this relentless movement individuals are sacrificed...

... In this social domination by commodity-time, “time is everything, man is nothing; he is at most the carcass of time” (Poverty of Philosophy)...

... Pseudo-cyclical time is actually no more than the consumable disguise of the commodity-time of production. It contains the essential properties of commodity-time, namely exchangeable homogeneous units and the suppression of the qualitative dimension...


Illegible: the jar of pennies beside David's bed, in an excised shot from the theatrical cut, the coveted item of the Martians' "science of domination," their invasion a mere reassertion of Earth's commodity-time.

... While cyclical time was the time of immobile illusion, really lived, spectacular time is the time of self-changing reality, lived in illusion...

... Time, as Hegel showed, is the necessary alienation, the environment where the subject realizes himself by losing himself, where he becomes other in order to become truly himself. Precisely the opposite is true in the dominant alienation, which is undergone by the producer of an alien present. In this spatial alienation, the society that radically separates the subject from the activity it takes from him, separates him first of all from his own time. It is this surmountable social alienation that has prohibited and petrified the possibilities and risks of the living alienation of time.

... The natural basis of time, the actual experience of the flow of time, becomes human and social by existing for man. The restricted condition of human practice, labor at various stages, is what has humanized and also dehumanized time as cyclical and as separate irreversible time of economic production. The revolutionary project of realizing a classless society, a generalized historical life, is the project of a withering away of the social measure of time, to the benefit of a playful model of irreversible time of individuals and groups, a model in which independent federated times are simultaneously present. It is the program of a total realization, within the context of time, of communism which suppresses “all that exists independently of individuals.”

The world already possesses the dream of a time whose consciousness it must now possess in order to actually live it.

JM (cont): In relation to the Letterboxd Hooper-core, the identification of early Hooper with later Hooper also marks the eyes of a set of talented viewers.  [Christofer] Pallu's writing, especially, has often seen straight through the structural conditions Hooper worked inside and the surrounding critical noise in order to get to the heart of the matter: the design, the form, the story, the genre.

What do you make of Hooper's 80s forays into examining the industrial world? Of course the threads were planted in the 1970s but he moved away from the micro view of small towns and localised regions into the geography of America as a whole, for a while (this stopped, I think, after The Mangler), before shifting back to a microcosmic view that focused on individualism and the creation of a collective identity through solitary, wandering, wanting individuals.

JR: Not sure yet (the 80s certainly made "mono-society" the forefront), but it's a crime the final cut removed the one glimpse of real technology in the film.  Plus, the rocket destruction scene is shockingly reconstructed into a slack, Cannon spectacle whereas here it's a fragmantary confusion of splintered worldviews. 

JM: You remind me that I need to read "Society of the Spectacle," actually -- Hooper is impossible to diminish into iconography which is why I suspect the TCSM franchise never took off the way Elm Street did with the Krueger colours and silly arms, the way Halloween did with its mask.  This is largely because Hooper only creates icons in order to critique them, to pull them apart, to suggest that they're only refractions of something else.  In large part that is what he is doing here.  His icons bend to moods, and not the other way around, yes.

JR: It's odd to think of Hooper condoning the reedit that hurries the pace into something of a total dream (rather than an anti-Spielbergian confrontation with time), but we can almost rationalize it (outside of Cannon demanding it not exceed 100 mins).

JM: It's remarkable, really, how similar the finished reedit is to what we see here, at least in a material sense. Curiously, the reedit contextualizes much of this in relation to a different tone and this is what affects the symbols.

JR: What's unmistakable is how acute of a documenter Hooper is of human emotions. Hunter Carson's performance is incredible here, and that's what producers can't really see when they are trying to create a finished cut. Hooper doesn't think in "finished cut" when he's on a set, it's why human mutability accelerates and time stands still, as he lives in the moment. This probably has to do partly with the "roughness" of it, but as you say, the performances stand out and the camera moves stand out, and given that he edited this cut, we see his thought process before it's ever changed.  The "Texas Chain Saw" sequence in the back of the van is astonishing and baffling at once, because it's clear what it's doing, but why it's doing? I dunno, but it does so well and so clearly in its intent.



JM: Hooper is a realartist, in this sense - to risk laughability, to risk being superficial - perhaps, even, a savant: it is so so difficult to pinpoint why, but it is easy to pinpoint what, and it is easy to pinpoint what else, and it is easy to discuss the gaps.  He lives in the gaps.[X]



This cut also includes more eliminated scenes, shots, and alternate takes, as well as some more subtle alterations in scene structure and rhythmic construction (a lot of beginning and endings of scenes snipped).  It also has no score (outside of one scene given an eerie temp track), which emphasizes how much musical scoring can affect a scene - such as a scene of a father repeatedly expressing a love and affection for his son through a series of gestures and utterances, coming off sincere and natural in the unscored version, but suddenly made threatening and unnatural when underscored by the artificially saccharine "domestic theme" used in the final film.

Some of these differences were hopefully pressingly touched upon in the correspondence above, such as the clearer intentions found in the more fragmented editing and the recut of the rocket explosion scene, which eliminates dialogue and re-chronologizes the sequence in the final cut, thoroughly doing away with the sense of the events occurring through the subjectivity of David, the rhythm of experienced, lived time, and the aforementioned fractured, devastated worldviews.

On the "Invaders from Mars" Rough Cut

If there is one thing all sectors of "Hooper studies" have come seemingly to a conclusion to in total rank and file cohesion, it is that his films work at a remove from all perceptible expectations surrounding them.  It is the "Not safe" zone that, I think, it is John Landis who enjoins, rather aggressively, as he's interviewed in the American Nightmare documentary about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  There being no less auspicious an authority on the theoretical valences of a work than one's contemporaries, so determined as Landis would be to sell a reactionary zeitgeist of which he was a part of (maker of his own brand of exploitation films and horror products), we can look at these "expectations" that Hooper evades in other, less sensational ways.  If his films, in their original form, are to be compared to things, they would be the abandoned objects on the side of the street, the home movie someone was not supposed to see (like the "snuff film" characterization that overly-persuadable Texas Chain Saw adherents like to - somewhat artificially - apply), the junkyard appliance that symbolizes some late-stage capitalist neglect.  These are things that have served their purpose once but now exist as things outside their time, in forms that encapsulate the necessity that derived them but now only serve as haunting reminders of that necessity.  It is possible for these things to be reclaimed, in their original form, as a dereliction of the society that afforded it.


"By discovering its basis in political economy, history becomes aware of what had previously been unconscious; but this basis remains unconscious because it cannot be brought to light.  This blind prehistory, this new fate that no one controls, is the only thing that the commodity economy has democratized."

In their abbreviated, at times completely renovated, forms, subject to and the aesthetic byproduct of their use-value of that time, they are the product of a form of domination, a colonization of forms.  Hooper's films are themselves constantly a comment on a society of domination, but, as the tossed-out item, or the home video on consumer camcorder, they are a document made valuable by the hands of the documenter and not the spectacle that produces it and "contemplates itself" in an endless spectacle.  Hooper's films are made to exist outside of time, outside of production models, outside of consumer use.

Hooper's work's "functional remove" is the presentation of time and crystallization of a proletariat/commonplace history.

But rather than its funders honoring a documentarist's integrity, his works have been constantly recycled into trends that are meant to simply reflect a market that is unduly imposed on it.

"Critical theory must communicate itself in its own language -- the language of contradiction, which must be dialectical in both form and content.  It must be an all-inclusive critique and it must be grounded in history.  It is not a "zero degree of writing," but its reversal.  It is not a negation of style, but the style of negation."

In its clearer demonstration of David as our proletariat hero seeing through the nightmare of recycled time and an endless production-cycle that dispossesses us of our autonomous time, in its bolder assertion of time in the face of illusionary, dreamed spectacle, we see what Hooper truly intended.  The rough cut is undeniably superior.


"The wealth that can be concentrated in the realm of power and materially used up in sumptuous feasts is also used up as a squandering of historical time at the surface of society. The owners of historical surplus value possess the knowledge and the enjoyment of lived events. Separated from the collective organization of time which predominates with the repetitive production at the base of social life, this time flows above its own static community. This is the time of adventure and war, when the masters of the cyclical society travel through their personal histories, and it is also the time which appears in confrontations with foreign communities, in the derangement of the unchangeable order of the society. History then passes before men as an alien factor, as that which they never wanted and against which they thought themselves protected. But by way of this detour returns the human negative anxiety which had been at the very origin of the entire development that had fallen asleep."

† [Ed. "On "Rivettian": It's not only the primacy of human behavior taking over from the typical plot mechanics, but the ability to give over a film totally to the inhabitance of a performer into a character such that they become one.  If all life is a performance, then only so thin a line can be drawn before our play-acting begins to bleed over into the circumstances our superstructures enmesh ourselves into.  Refraining from the rudimentary sensationalism of a reaction to his debut horror film, such as Landis's, the sense of instability that derives from his films is more generally, and genuinely, seen as the way his films act as responses to both natural and structural systems that entangle his characters and function at a remove from them.  The desire to see his films as commodities is what allows a convoluted editing phase to so often dilute this "functional remove" in favor of efficiency and expediency, but at the sacrifice of a non-spectacularized history, the labor of an artist who sees no line between film and life, between his performers and their characters, save the Rivettian efforts that what we see is a performance of negation, a negation of performance.  What Hooper's performances lose is the sense they are in a film, despite the prominance of cameras, multiple set-ups, and takes.]