Friday, December 27, 2013


(An experimental article as published in The Scene, Jan. 2014)

Within the confines of the film Bullet Collector, teen angst is a strange and violently crooked world unto itself. A curious, ultra indie effort bred in Mother Russia (native title 'Sobiratel pul'), this film marks a flawed yet highly noteworthy feature bow for Alexander Vartanov, following stints toiling in and around television and stage productions . This director has openly cited the cinematic legacy of long beloved French new waver François Truffaut (in great particular, The 400 Blows, a work that receives rather explicit homage here) as a primary source of influence on his yarn spinning approach. One may be hard pressed to overlook the shades of fellow countrymen filmmakers embedded in the texture and rhythm of Bullet Collector as well (i.e. Andrei Tarkovsky, Grigory Chukhray).

Bullet Collector gives the adventurous viewer bold (and often quite brutal) insight into the passing everyday turmoil that is the waking life of a perpetually put upon youth, never officially named in the film and played by Ruslan Nazarenko, and the unique process he develops in order to soldier on. Between a cold, defeatist vibe at home care an emotionally bankrupt mother and conflict prone stepfather and an arguably worse environment at school and in the city streets, this poor soul must stick to the markedly fairer comforts of his imagination which at least provides him with a sense of purpose in the role of budding 'bullet collector' (yes, that odd title has a tangible meaning). You see, inside the framework of this anonymous child's mind, there is an abstract war of wills between collectives suggested to be heroic (the 'Bullet Collectors') and villainous (the 'Wood Borers') who trade bloody stand offs in strict juxtaposition to the harsh truths unfolding around him.


The potency that fuels this odd slice of monochromatic cinematic experimentation comes far more from the director's method of image composing and the corralling together of some remarkable ideas than just sticking to a convenient 'woe is me' type of t.v. movie level character study. Bullet Collector feels more accurate when it chooses to unfold its given saga in more of a brooding, even horrific light.

Vartanov divides the overall body of his unusual domestic dilemma into two distinct halves (like a kind of avaunt guarde 'Full Metal Jacket', albeit focusing on a rather scaled down form of combat) the first hour being fractured into drifting, largely unpredictable fragments that attempt to flesh out themes and shades of the protagonist's problematic existence. In said segmentations (ten in total, bearing titles like 'Father', 'Dagger', 'Debt, 'The Road' etc...) the viewer is fitted with the duty of properly assembling a coherent take on the main lad's background and upbringing coupled with sketches that work to detail this kid's none too smooth interaction with a pretty lass (who actually is permitted a name 'Vika', a blatant anomaly in the film for some reason) and a heady variety of violent altercations with local gangs of mechanically vicious delinquents. Finally, following a succession of these increasingly chaotic situations this lithe, blond ne'er do well finds himself smack in the nucleus of, the choice is made to have him shifted away to a reform school hell pit and the film reconfigures itself to become a far more linear, though no less aggressive and troubling, prison escape attempt melodrama. The kid aligns himself with a fitful company of other misfit types, mostly the kind that are repeatedly singled out for predictable abuse, and sets forth to hatch an effective scheme in which they are able to burst from the draining, oppressive walls of this 'establishment' and make their ways to brighter pastures. The film refuses to play out its final beats en route to a chipper denouement, preferring instead to play witness to their free fall away from one another and, especially in the case of the central youth so besotted with evacuating his given reality, a complete decent into a vast open body of water that may (or may not) spell the literal end of a much troubled mortal role.
Bullet Collector works as a mostly dead on depiction of extensive mental improvisation and (eventually) clear cut delirium as a means to survive a truly desolate end. The picture is rendered through stark cinematography that reveals its collection of potentially mundane daily life set pieces more as an engrossing Grand Guignol of painful challenges that the story's chief hero (to use the term with a bit of abstraction) must endure, overcome and ultimately escape in an improved form, or not. To be sure, the pace of Bullet Collector may lag some at times, the film runs a tad overlong, but that does precious little to diffuse its' genuine level of power. The plight of this boy is never reduced to cheap, simple to digest sentiment as the film favors a wholly gory series of visual visitations (i.e. one downtrodden specter who strangles himself with his own intestines) to help or hinder (the purpose is never completely sharp here) his progress through each passing day.
Bullet Collector is a strong piece of film for the sake of pure art and should satiate the needs of those who crave the brave and apart from conventional in their cinematic diet. Available on DVD from an interesting company named Artsploitation Films whose aim is to transcend safe boundaries in cinema and one glane at their budding catalog of releases (check to see for your own damn self) and one can easily believe in them. Bullet Collector is accompanied by a 25 minute making of piece (in color for a nice bit of alternate perspective), a short deleted scene, audition footage and a somewhat helpful booklet with ample insights from director Vartanov who does his darndest to clarify his intentions. Give it a chance, won't you?
Also along the path of different things for 'different' people is the spare yet informative documentary that goes by the name of Free Radicals, A History of Experimental Film. Here, we are presented with a bit of a crash course on the basics and key participants of the underground film movement that sought to separate itself from the confines of strict, commercial narrative storytelling in order to lay emphasis on the value and power of the image itself. The film seems to be a labor of love for its' heavily enthusiastic creator, director Pip Chodorov, and with obvious reason as the film makes blatant early on. Chodorov's pop, Stephan, was a would be avaunt gaurde filmmaker and documentarian and it seems Pip was raised in the embrace of a natural, creativity driven household that involved copious group screenings and related discussions. Pip does well within his tightly kept 82 minute running time to provide the uninitiated with many key points of interest (both historic and current) in relation to the founding and continued nurturing of the world of expressive celluloid manipulation.
Free Radicals works between clips of various works and interviews detailing by direct example the way established voices in this strange variant of the cinema found fulfillment by scratching, looping, spitting, spastically editing and painting on strips of film to craft dense and hitherto unforeseen realms to be projected before any (usually limited) gathering they could wrangle together. Some of the major names in this so-called movement, living and not, are given time to share insight, theory and asides into what first lured them and what maintained their drive to continue making these rebellious and consistently under loved little contributions to the motion picture universe. Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Hans Richter, Robert Breer and Ken Jacobs are all granted a fair share in this micro-epic and yes, even ol' Andy Warhol finds himself slotted into the mix.

The film holds a majority focus on many of the current and more recent facets of this sub-genre and never fully conveys the impression that it ever intends to be a end all, beat all historical chronicle of said subject matter (after all, there is no mention of turn of the century trail blazers like Georges Méliès and his ilk) and that hardly matters. What Free Radicals achieves is the worthy status as a sort of engaging primer on the matter, it could work wonders to pique interest and lead certain odd duck tastes to seek out the sprawling body of works that the mentioned individuals have given forth thus far. The Criterion Collection (forever a valued source for moi) itself has two fat collections of Stan Brakhage's mammoth output as well as a package of stuff from related artist Hollis Frampton (a name not mentioned in this film) that more than do the trick. I found each of the aforementioned films at the Appleton Public Library (bless 'em), so it doesn't even have to cost you to make the effort. Dig into it, pronto.

Free Radicals : A History of Experimental Film can also be tracked down at

Sunday, December 15, 2013


The marks

about her neck

remind me of


she checks the mirror

to see if I'm


it's all backwards now

I never asked to be

(re) born as her

lover she

just took the initiative


made her own rules to

become broken


fit for our

wedding night

the day before the

baby arrived


on the nightstand


for me to entrust it to

the over spilling trash with

the dawning hypocrisy of

our vows


my decision to

have the courage to

ever approach her at all

I have always been leery of

interacting with women

Now I know why.


Friday, December 13, 2013


(as originally published in The Scene Newspaper, Menasha, Wisconsin. circa 2010)

This month's subject is a rock you mentary.

It is about a world famous rock star.

It is about 78 minutes long.

It whips a donkey's ass.

It can really knock it out.

'Wesley Willis's Joy Rides' is perhaps the first, middle and last word on the life, times, art and essence of the true American original known as Wesley Willis (1963-2003). Willis was a Chicago born personality who struggled through poverty, familial dysfunction and the pains of chronic schizophrenia to stake his claim to underground fame as a hustler/songwriter/manic performance wonderkind who, in turn, elevated the spirits of endless crowds with his addictive form of bent creative energy. The first time I was exposed to the man (care the track 'Rock & Roll McDonald's') was like an overwhelming shock to my senses. I thought to myself, 'what the hell is this?' and 'where can I find more?' I have always been partial to the more eccentric members of our mostly listless and convention driven culture, so it would only prove natural for me to seek out more of Wesley on record and live on stage.

Through digesting tons of (often self-produced) albums featuring rants and chants touching on various bands, fast food joints, celebrities and vicarious bestial sex acts, I often wondered what the full story was behind what led this towering, manic,  300+ pound mammoth of a human to become something genuinely positive instead of yet another sad fixture in some mental institute somewhere.

With the arrival of this 'Joy Rides' documentary, one may now obtain an informative (if still somewhat fractured) distillation and analysis of the life lived by this completely nominal and incomparable character. We are presented this information by way of many of the standard practices required of the biographical strain of the documentary format. The film presents copious footage of the man in motion, crafting, recording and belting out his music live. It sheds impressive light on his family life (his father and several brothers lend colorful voice to the topic of Wes), friendships that seemed to have often served as life saving moral support and the origin and troublesome particulars of Wesley's mental 'glitches' (his 'demon' runs him on frequent hell rides with what Willis deems 'torture profanity'). Archival photographic gems reveal Willis as a lanky, awkward youth infatuated with architecture and developing tight, meticulous line drawing technique that gives birth to a mass of huge, sprawling renditions of the Windy City, its public transit system and its skyline that Wesley would produce on a prolific scale until the very day he clocked out of this thing called mortality at the too young age of 40 (leukemia was the culprit).

When discussing Wesley Willis, it is important to keep in mind the patently different approach to deemed insanity the man typifies. Unlike the brand of shifty, crack addled street dregs that tend to put the fear of murder into folks with their vocal cacophonies and suspect behavioral traits, Wesley tended to work the good out of most of his public encounters (providing he was adequately medicated) with the sheer power of his bold and gregarious personality. One interviewee states late in the film that Wesley is a kind of person who is so in love with life that he acts imbalanced, he has the opposing effect of a standard issue 'mad' person, whom you want to be away from. Wesley tends to uplift those around him and many of the words employed by those who lend commentary in this film reiterate this statement by way of key personal anecdotes. Sometimes, crazy is simply an affirmation of true individuality.

'Wesley Willis' Joy Rides' works first on the basics of documentary criteria, in that it sells its subject matter as a legitimate point of interest and second as a fascinating case study of the sheer might of the human spirit as well as the potency of artistic expression as tools to offset and transcend hardship and handicap in order to attain a higher standard of living. The DVD release boasts some fine add-on bits including an extensive collection of deleted footage, herein one gets a glimpse at the likes of a Willis 'tribute' concert held in Belgium (?!?), a slightly creepy Kinko's based encounter with a loopy Jesus crispy and a Wesley cameo in an otherwise disposable short film ('The Dead and the Dying'). A pair of photo galleries round the package out nice and sweet like lunch meat. Wonderful stuff, highly recommended to all who seek to revel in the beauty of life by way of less than expected sources.

To track this pretty little poem to rock and roll, check it Internet-wise



Being the day to day quest for cultural immortality on the part of an L.A. based posse made up of a seriously delusion afflicted quartet of faux comic book personas. A fetishistic Superman, a bargain rate George Clooney-looking Batman, Wonder Woman and a buck toothed afro -centric Hulk jockey for tips and attention on Hollywood Blvd while clinging to the far fetched hope of making the grade with the A-List.

The fine line between quirky in a charming way and crash and burn pathetic is blurred from the start as we follow this hope-deprived crew through their desperate, streetwise routine that barely clarifies the real difference between these pulpy fools and commonplace panhandlers (save for the color palate of their costumes, of course). With the slight exception of the Wonder Woman wannabe (just another starry-eyed hick girl), this bunch is dominated by what can only be accurately referenced as absolute retards. The movie gives up a Superman who obsesses over everything 'Man of Steel' and Christopher Reeve (and claims blood relation to now obscure actress Sandy Dennis), a Batman with a temper glitch who lays claim to a former life of crime and a Hulk who looks as if he got face raped by an inbred jackass.

Now, while I can easily admire the film on its own merits and legitimate level of technical competency, I am hard pressed to become emotionally connected to the subjects to any degree higher than that of a giggling patron at a carnival sideshow. There is fun to be had with the film, no mistake. Its all train wreck fab in the details of this prime slice of Tinsel Town tackiness gone sadly amok. The movie could probably double as a potent warning sign to parents of future generation dumb shits who still cling to the tired belief of having a shot at greatness simply by parading their mug around that city of angels.  Blah! Think twice.

Rock Over London, Rock On Wisconsin,, it's the best way to kill time online.