Day 3 put generational conflict at the forefront of the SFFF and the kids were far from alright. It also marked the Festival’s greatest distance from the horror genre, moving into the rock-doc, the coming of age film, and whatever kind of trash bag meltdown The Greasy Strangler may be. That’s no criticism of Jim Hosking’s film; just a statement of fact. We’ll get to 2016’s most notorious film soon enough, but first things first…
Brendan Toller’s Danny Says (2016) plays like a stream of consciousness autobiography of music publicist and manager Danny Fields. The film’s steady flow of talking head interviews, archival footage, and animated sequences briskly presents Fields’s education as a Harvard Law student, his careers as a music journalist and studio publicity director, and his role as a pivotal figure to the New York music scene and seminal acts like the Stooges, the MC5, and the Ramones. Like an 18-minute set by the Ramones, Danny Says is often moving on to its next subject before you realize you’ve left the previous one, giving the film an exuberance in keeping with Fields and his no frills faith in great art. There’s plenty of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll throughout, but the film succeeds by neither glamourizing or condemning these moments. Danny Says is Fields’s film, the story of a tastemaker par excellence who didn’t merely discover musical genius but provided them with the context to be embraced and appreciated. Listening to Lou Reed’s reaction to hearing the Ramones for the first time, calling them “every parent’s worst nightmare” and “the best thing I’ve ever heard,” is stupendous and alone makes Danny Says worthy of celebration.
Teenage Cocktail (John Carchietta, 2016) functions as a cautionary tale on the ills of sex, drugs, and live streaming. Annie (Nichole Bloom) and Jules (Fabianne Therese) are high school lovers with designs to flee their stifling and insipid small town lives. Webcam modelling becomes their fund-raising method for escape but plans go sideways when they devise a plot for one big score. Teenage Cocktail is most successful in its airy, dreamy moments of teenage decadence and frivolity, but becomes leaden when Carchietta stops showing and starts telling, letting his camera become static and the mechanics of the script become discernible. Worse, the film’s genre-specific conclusion, revealed at the movie’s in medias res opening, lacks the inspiration of Teenage Cocktail‘s best moments, when its youthful passion and ambition direct its aesthetics.
A surprise favourite of the Fest was Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), based on John Wells’s YA novel. John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) is an isolated sixteen year old in a small Minnesota town, working in the family’s funeral home and struggling with behavioural issues he believes are indicative of sociopathy. When actual murders begin occurring in his community, John starts investigating but the suggestion that a real monster may exist forces John to face his own dark side and the possibility of true evil. O’Brien’s film at first seems lo-fi underwhelming, shot on location on 16mm and dressed in indie amateurism, but strong performances by Records in the lead role and Christopher Lloyd in a pivotal dramatic role captivate and I Am Not a Serial Killer continually surprises as its plot unfolds, becoming eerily more fantastic within its mundane setting. Unlike Teenage Cocktail, O’Brien’s film trusts its viewers by refusing to hold their hands, recognizing that uncertainty to be an essential source of tension between the audience and the movie’s central mystery and between the audience and the film’s troubled protagonist. I Am Not a Serial Killer is a welcome reprieve from so many young adult adaptations relying on beautiful youngsters and bewildering SFX to carry their loads.
All of this leads to SFFF’s heavily hyped midnight screening of The Greasy Strangler (2016), a wacko tale of a greased-up serial killer in run-down Los Angeles and a bizarro rivalry between sensitive son Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) and his outlandish father Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) over an alluring woman named Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo). With its ubiquitous nudity, monstrous genitalia, and reduplicating randomness, The Greasy Strangler seems like an outright assault on the midnight movie’s demise in the face of “My List” self-curation and smart device streaming. Director Jim Hosking creates something that proudly resists an easy description (or consumption), producing a film that might be best described as Quentin Dupieux on a mix of acid and Spanish Fly.
SFFF programmers deserve great credit for finding Gwilliam (Brian Lonano, 2016), possibly the only film that could credibly open for The Greasy Strangler. Gwilliam, a freaky tale of back alley sex between an ex-con and a … Gwilliam, was by far the most memorable of Day 3’s short film program that also included Headway (Nicolas Romeiu and Yohann Grignou, 2016), Luxury (Lust) (Cameron Macgowan, 2016), and Anxiety #5 (Jesse Foster, 2016).
We’ll be back with our review of SFFF’s massive Day 4 soon. Cheers!