Friday, 12 June 2015

Persona: Thomas Lee Rutter

 Anyone who has seen Thomas Lee Rutter's shorts or features will tell you: this guy watches a lot of movies, high and low. Rutter's mind is a real blender: his creature feature Feast for the Beast spoofs Tobe Hooper's Salem's Lot while his upcoming Stranger is a psychedelic British Western influenced by the likes of Jodorowski's El Topo. In between shooting Stranger, Thomas took the time to chat with Trash Film Addict about death of cinema, bying a new VCR, Disney's Snow White and, of course, Lucio Fulci.

TFA: Are you a trash film addict? 

TLR: Oh very much. But it has to be trash that inspires me even a little. Even if it has a banal, excruciatingly boring charm. 

TFA: You just got back from the Sahara, where you were shooting your upcoming feature Stranger. I know it's somewhat of a western, but not much more. What makes you want to bring back the lone riders and their smoking barrels?

TLR: I'm not even a huge fan of the western! I love when defining genres are twisted up, or even thrown together. Films that defy categorisation, too.The idea of starting out a film with what seems like a normal plot (in this case for a western) and then totally diverting it into different realms. We have some great locations surrounding the town I live in which I could picture a western taking place in. It was also in my interest of reviving genres you don't see much of anymore.  My film is a so-called ''acid-western'' - a buzz term coined by a film critic for a small bunch of weird westerns. Being a fan of all things cult, exploitation, bizarro and art-house, I'm just making what I'd like to see done more. Next I may squeeze some more life out of the nunsploitationer!

TFA: What are your favourite westerns?

TLR: El Topo, The Shooting, Greasers Palace, Once Upon a Time in the West, Ravenous, Cannibal: the musical, Any Gun Can Play, and recently saw Faccia a Faccia with Tomas Milian. That was great, too.

TFA: Orson Welles also made a movie called The Stranger, it was more of a thriller, though. Welles once said learning filmmaking by watching old movies was crap. That one has to get his own experience. What do you think about that ? 

TLR: I am a product of watching cinema, I lived and breathed it all through growing up, and still do. So anything that I make, no matter how personal it gets, is a response to all the films I've seen. I'm influenced by the love of films and how they are made with little budgets and lots of passion. I do feel life experiences are very important when it comes to making films. It's all about dealing with different kinds of people, and being able to work together. It's also what goes into the characters and the moral viewpoints of your film, being able to justify what you are putting on the screen, and why. Some days I wonder what it would be like to have a natural affinity with making films but without knowledge of most other films and media influence, something purer.

TFA: What brought you into the movies? 

TLR: A love for horror from as early as I can remember. From watching Jaws on TV to eventually watching as many horrors we could get our hands on on video. Although, my first venture to the cinema was for the Disney Snow White re-release.

TFA: Ha, my first big screen experience was Roland Emmercih's Godzilla! Any particular experience you could cite as life changing ?

TLR: Too many, but on a movie buff front it was discovering Bad Taste, Troma and Jodorowsky. 
TFA: You're one of the truly self-funded filmmakers, how does Sranger compare to your other features in terms of shooting conditions?

TLR: In terms of method not a lot has changed, we're still a bunch of passionate folks with a micro-budget. Obviously with this being a western our scenes have been more demanding. We can't shoot indoors unless it looks right, we are shooting outdoors a lot and have got to keep eye on the weather. It is definitely more ambitious and I'm being much more careful with the scenes.

TFA: Has your shooting style changed since the time you made your first films?

TLR: Yes and no. I'm more aware of composition and maintaining a balance with knowing what the actors are doing and knowing where the camera is going. As for my 'style', it is not something I think about a lot. I need to make more films to see some sort of pattern emerge, I guess.

TFA: I'm in despair about the current state of filmmaking. When the likes of Soderbergh wash they hands of the entire business while Suspiria is being made into a TV show, Tom - is there hope ?

TLR: None for the likes of myself, though I'm just going to keep making films. It's even more concerning for the respected directors who have been in the business all their lives and are STILL to this day struggling to find the budgets for their films. We are seeing all of our favourite artists turn to crowd-funding, asking their fans to fund their films! Even worse, we are seeing the likes of Abel Ferrara not even succeeding in reaching their targets on crowd-funding sites. So if he can't pull together his target budget with Willem Defoe attached what chance do I have? I hope to the god of cinema (Cellulord?) that the blanket conglomerate-dominating industry suddenly find true indie stuff to be in-vogue again one day and give the true artists of the cinema chance to be seen on general release – but I'm not holding my breath!

TFA: Speaking of hope, what's your favourite Fulci movie? His birthday is coming up in a few days.

TLR: Probably the New York Ripper. It's just class and the ending is a killer! I think I prefer City of the Living Dead to The Beyond as I felt the Beyond seemed too disjointed at first. If I need mindlessness before sleep with a hint of pain I always go for Cat in the Brain.
TFA: City of the Living Dead  is my all-time favourite, it's the only film that ever gave me nightmares! Name a few recent releases that have made you happy? Do you have a favourite DVD label ?

TLR: Oh god! I have a few reliable labels, but Second Run DVD is a favourite at the moment. They release amazing European oddities. Eureka is also a favourite of mine, they do deals online every now again where you pick up double disc classics for only a few quid! As for recent releases there are many that make me happy but rarely any I can afford! I wished I bagged me the Borowczyk boxset complete with book!

TFA: I re-watched my VHS of Zombie 5: killing birds not long ago. I remember that massive VHS collection of yours. Is that still part of your life?

TLR: Yes the VHS collection has followed me around since. Most of it resides under my bed these days, though. They take up such room! I haven't been as passionate about watching and collecting VHS for a while now, which is a shame. The vast availability of films on the internet has killed the ritual of being seduced by the sleeve and popping the tape in the player. I have, however, acquired a VCR lately so my VHS binge-watching shall begin again!

With these words T.L. Rutter mounted his steed and rode off into the sunset to do some re-shoots for Stranger.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Lonely Violent Beach - La Lunga Spiaggia Fredda (Ernesto Gastaldi, 1971)

One of prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi's occasional forays into directing, The Lonely Violent Beach lands in the grey area between psychological film and rape-revenge exploitation.
Painfully slow at just 85 minutes, the film tells of a bored married couple who come to spend their weekend in a house by the beach. Soon four horny and sickeningly verbose bikers drop in to engage in misogynistic shenanigans all too familiar to any euro-trash film viewer. With budgetary constraints limiting the action to just one location - a beachside house - Gastaldi seems interested in making a tense picture, exploring human emotion in extreme circumstanes, yet his writing shows no notion of understanding human behaviour and the resulting film is anything but tense. 

An understandably obscure entry into the home invasion subgenre, the The Lonely Violent Beach seems at odds with it's own nature. Director Gastaldi seems queasy about presenting the violence with which his script is filled. Mara Maril wears the same mildly pissed off scowl throughout the film, the rest of the cast fare marginally better. With it's forced, theatrical feel, redundant rape and fight scenes and ponderous, overwritten dialogue,The Lonely Violent Beach doesn't know if it wants to be just another sleazy rape-revenge film or gritty drama lamenting the lost generation. Gastaldi's screenplay often has moribund proceedings grinding to a halt to accommodate some risible post-Easy Rider discourse from the said bikers.

Stelvio Cipriani provides an understandably uninspired score which is plastered arbitrarily over the lengthy scenes of beatings and sitting around the gorgeous beach. Minor delights, such as fabulous Nola Orlandi vocals, truly otherworldly shots of the seashore at dawn and the hulking voyeuristic biker (dubbed by Ferruccio Amendola) are not enough to dilute the terminal boredom this tepid exercise in posturing and histrionics exhudes.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Spasmo (Umberto Lenzi, 1974)

A film about the deceptiveness of appearances, Spasmo sits apart in Umberto Lenzi's varied filmography. Set in a world of hedonistic rich people who seemingly do nothing but zoom around the sun-drenched coast, party on yachts and sleep around in picturesque clifftop villas, the film has a strong undercurrent of paranoia, greatly aided by Morricone's varied score. The busy, engaging story follows a bewildered rich industrialist (Robert Hoffmann) on the run after having accidentally murdered a stranger as he encounters a number of attractive women as well as figures from his own dark past. One may have trouble grasping the exact order of events, but vivid images stick in mind: Adolfo Lastretti as the black corduroy-clad thug, latex dolls hanging by their necks from trees surrounding the secluded motel where key events take place, the hero's atmospheric nocturnal excursions to the pier.

Even Lenzi's higher-budgeted films can often be disappointingly plain, with darting zooms as the sole stylistic device. Spasmo is proof the prolific director was capable of creating beauty, when given the means: the film boasts dazzling cinematography by the unsung visual hero of Italian genre cinema, Guglielmo Mancori (Manhattan Baby). Mancori's  use of mobile camera and masterfully-composed shots contributes greatly to the mood of this thriller.

Giallo regular Robert Hoffmann (Death Carries a Cane, Naked Girl Killed in the Park) gives perhaps his best performance here, aided by Lenzi's taut direction. Suzy Kendall (Torso, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) is given more to work with than in the other two giallo films she's appeared in and delivers a strong, emotional performance. While stilted, English dialogue does effectively convey the ambiguity between the characters. Spasmo has got to be one of Lenzi's better-written films, co-scripted by the esteemed poet and playwright Massimo Franciosa. The excellently edited finale where the characters' troubled past is revealed via projected old home movies is a triumph of visual storytelling.

Hard to believe this atmospheric, colourful mystery was directed by the same man as Cannibal Ferox. Combination of vibrant images and good storytelling make Spasmo the most satisfying thriller Lenzi has directed. Repeat viewings allow one to appreciate the richness of composition, nuances of Kendall's acting, complex plot architecture and Morricone's music. Well-acted, stylish and genuinely thrilling, Spasmo should be the film to remember Lenzi by.
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