Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Talking Back to The Screen: the Movie

People can sometimes foster an intense bond with their favorite films, which is what fandom is all about. The question is: What can be done about this intense bond, aside from seeing the film over and over and buying all the action figures and video releases?

The traditional answer was to join a fan club and seek out people who share your interests. Studios love fan clubs-- it's the right kind of adoration, and best of all it supports the ancillary marketing industry.

Still, if you wanted to go further, and you were handy with a camera, you could make a little tribute film (God knows I've made my share). Some of my favorite stories in this area are those of fandom gone seriously overboard: in particular, that kid who built the Enterprise bridge set in his mother's basement-- becoming the perfect 10.0 on the “Trek-O-Meter.”

Perhaps the ultimate fan tribute of all time was pulled off by three kids from Mississippi who took seven years to create their own shot-for-shot adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Apparently, Steven Spielberg was impressed. Why not? These teeners did it the old-fashioned way: using the movie as a script and painstakingly recreating all the scenes by hand. Gotta admire their gumption-- and since what they made will never cut into the Indiana Jones revenue stream, why not embrace it?

The trend in fandom (or at least film geekdom) we're seeing now is repurposed Hollywood films. It's much, much easier to rip a DVD, re-edit scenes from it, and post the results on YouTube than it is to make Captain Kirk's chair out of plywood or fashion a huge rolling booby-trap boulder out of papier-mache.

 In the early days of this tendency, the results were clever and justifiably famous: The recut of The Shining as “Shine,” a trailer for a romantic comedy, showing not only the deftness of the creator's editing skills but the hollowness of RomCom cliches.
Later that same year (2006) somebody re-edited Mary Poppins as a horror film-- not as clever as the “Shine” trailer, but still effective.
Woefully, it has become too far easy to cut up feature films. It's the “mumble core” effect: more and cheaper ways to make films has not resulted in a flowering of new auteurs, but rather a wave of mediocrity and unreleasable movies. If you want an idea of the current state of things, go to YouTube and type “Hitler on” in the search box. (Of course, in a perfect reversal of this trend, some wiseacre took this overused scene from Downfall (Der Untergang, 2004) and, in Raiders Adaptation fashion, reshot it word-for-word.

What are these innumerable Hitler rants with funny subtitles? Not much more than Talking Over the Movie. It's more or less the same as what those “movie talkers” do, keeping up an imaginary two-way dialog with the big screen. Or what you do, in the privacy of your own home, adding witty commentary to “American Idol.” it is the quickest, least clever, and most immediate reaction one can have to a film or TV show.

But just when I was completely exasperated with the entire deal, my sister turned me onto a new example of a repurposed movie, and a clever and hilarious one at that: “Guy On a Buffalo.” Like “Shine," this is an example of how someone with a good sense of humor and talent-- in this case, Austin-based musical talent-- can take a nearly forgotten drive-in B picture from 1978 and make it into something amazing-- Talking Over the Movie done well.
And how does Hollywood feel about all this? They hate it, of course. It's not as bad as bit-torrenting whole movies or TV series, but it is a basic intellectual property violation. Still, nobody has ever been prosecuted for re-purposing films on YouTube-- so long as there is no profit in it.

In fact, they may be getting into the act themselves, throwing in the towel and joining in. One of the pre-release trailers for Man On a Ledge (2012) features one of it's stars, Elizabeth Banks, talking over a trailer for the film. It seems a bit like DVD commentary, but it's so funny-- and so totally at odds with the action-drama genre of the film she's talking over-- that it's quite clear the studio has given up trying to be serious. If someone is gonna talk over our film, the producers must have reasoned, let it at least be someone with talent, and on our payroll.

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