Saturday, October 9, 2010

Impossibly Funky – A Cahiers du Cinemart Collection by Mike White

(Bear Manor) I have a new rule about book reviews: Any book that has an image of 70s exploitation movie torturer/midget porn star/Funkadelic sideman Louis DeJesus on the cover instantly gets a stellar review. But even without a fine illustration of the littlest Boodsucking Freak I would be spewing all over this fine tome. The material here is culled from the pages of my fave film zine Cashiers Du Cinemart. Even that title alone was great: a highbrow pun on the French film journal Cahiers du Cinema, with a thrown in reference to the emerging wave of filmmakers/critics/zinesters/eventual bloggers who were getting their education not at NYU or UCLA but by working a video stores and gobbling up archival and international lowbrow VHS releases. That editor Mike White initially made a splash by challenging the king of these film nerds, Quentin Tarantino, was notable, and to me represented one of the reasons to love the zine. White garnered attention not merely for writing about QT but by editing together clips of Reservoir Dogs with nearly identical scenes from a recent Hong Kong film, City of Fire, showing how blatant Tarantino’s lifts were. While I didn’t feel (considering Tarantino’s style which seemed to be a montage of exploitation film tributes/borrows) that crime warranted White’s righteous indignation, I appreciated that the best zine work, the stuff that borders on single-spaced kook pamphlet rants, involves stubbornness, blinders, and crazy drive. What’s more impressive is that with perspective White has un-stubborned a bit, and the section of the book devoted to this chapter in White’s life gives equal time to his own critics (especially regarding White’s would be-Pulp Fiction debunking). The other running theme in CduC that I truly appreciated was their devotion to an obscure, little-loved Blaxploitation film called Black Shampoo. Over the years the zine went from championing it to interviewing virtually everyone involved in the film to celebrating a DVD release for which White wrote the liner notes. Unlike the kind of confrontational obsession of the QT stuff, the Black Shampoo material was all just about pure joyful passion and devotion and love, which is something I love to read about no matter what the subject. But the thing that unites both of these threads is the willingness to do the work. Not only to track down obscure films, tirelessly research the production and cast, locate off the radar people, and spend hours processing stuff, but then putting in the time to make a zine/book to share rather than horde this info. The book (which updates most articles and includes some new material) features several of my fave CduC pieces of all time. There’s an interview with the guy who played the son in the Rodney Dangerfield classic Back to School (a film that features a cameo by Kurt Vonnegut helping to write a book report on himself) who went on to become an avant-garde feature filmmaker adapting Vonnegut to the screen. There’s a rundown of every unproduced Superman script. There’s some of the funniest, most obsessive coverage of Star Wars and Lucas’ insane tinkerings you’ll ever read. There’s a Svengoolie interview! This book, if such a thing is possible, may actually be funky!

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