I had planned to wind up MMC!‘s coverage of the Chattanooga Film Festival with an imagined Arrow Video edition of Ryan Prows’s Lowlife (2017) but no sooner had I done my research and began writing did Shout! Factory announce a Blu-ray edition of the film slated for release on August 7. I’m usually pretty stoked to cross any film off my list of potential MMC! subjects as their circulation is far more gratifying than writing about them here, but I’m a little disappointed not to discuss Lowlife at greater length. I have stumped for Lowlife a fair amount already so let’s instead spend some time with three of Prows’s earlier shorts films, all of which seem to be working through some of the themes and concerns at play in Lowlife and all of which should be included as special features on the upcoming Blu-ray edition.
In case you’ve forgotten, here is a quick refresher on Lowlife taken from the film’s press kit.
When a simple organ harvesting caper goes awry, a twist of fate unites three of society’s forgotten and ignored: EL MONSTRUO, a disgraced Mexican wrestler working as hired muscle for a local crime boss. CRYSTAL, a recovering addict desperate enough to arrange a black market kidney transplant to save her husband’s life. And RANDY, a loveable two-strike convict fresh out of prison, cursed with a full-face swastika tattoo and a best friend guilting him into some hair-brained kidnapping scheme.
As the sordid lives of these small-time criminals collide, they must fight tooth and nail to save a pregnant woman from a certain, and surely gruesome, death.
Probably the only thing that improves upon Bo McGuire’s astonishing short, Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers (2017), is that the film is available on his website right now to see – click HERE to visit his site and watch! The 15-minute short is an experimental fantasy of some family drama that resists easy description. McGuire labels it on his site as a “lyrical meditation exploring personal family relationships, archetypes and myths through a variety of means & textures” and a rough cut to a feature-length “transgenerational docudrama,” while the Chattanooga Film Festival offered this synopsis – “A failed poet takes up cinematic arms when he returns home to Hokes Bluff, Ala. to find his aunt has locked his drag queen uncle out of the family home.” When asked about his inspiration for the short by Indie Grits, McGuire offered this:
Gail Bryant was a lady from my hometown of Hokes Bluff. She had a tick where she would snap her neck to throw her silver hair to the side. One day Gail was snapping that neck and the next day she was in the ground. That pissed me off. The same thing happened to my Nanny and Papa without the neck snaps and that really pissed me off. Then my Aunt Sharon went behind everyone’s back and tried to sell Nanny and Papa’s house, and Meryl Streep got up on the Oscars hollering, take your broken heart, make it into art.
McGuire, the self-described “queer son of a Waffle House cook and his third-shift waitress on the corner of George Wallace Drive in Gadsden, Alabama,” crafts a Southern Gothic dreamscape that is equal parts John Waters and Terrence Malick. Steeped in corner store pageantry, Socks on Fire veers from scenes of straight documentary to magical realist reveries, with McGuire appearing in oscillating roles of interested relation, impartial chronicler, co-conspirator, and mystical trickster. While often ostentatious and unabashed, McGuire never stoops to exploitation but rather preserves an air of respect and poetic gravity throughout the short. It is McGuire’s greatest success here, creating a kind of cinematic eye dialect from the iconography of slim cigarettes, pick-ups, fireworks, Crimson Tide merchandise, and nature’s damp, inevitable power. It’s a mini-masterpiece and I can’t wait to see Socks on Fire in its full, feature-length glory!
Shout out to the Chattanooga Film Festival and to Bo McGuire! I was lucky enough to spend a little time with Bo (even catch a screening of Rock Steady Row with him) and he’s as affable and charming a guy as you’re likely to find. Bo was definitely a personal and cinematic high point of my CFF experience. Thanks Bo!
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Tigers Are Not Afraid.
Issa López’s festival-favourite is a darkly magical tale set in the real world tragedy of Mexico’s violent drug war, where thousands of murdered and missing people result in countless orphaned children forced onto the streets to fend for themselves. When her mother disappears, a young girl named Estrella uses one of three wishes granted to her to ask for her mother back and finds herself haunted by a vengeful ghost. Estrella takes up with a quartet of street kids led by Shine but the boys have their own problems, pursued by a vicious gang intent on reclaiming a lost iPhone. Blending artfully immediate handheld cinematography and convincing fantastical digital effects, López creates a realist fairy tale that stands as a prescient statement on Mexico’s deadly drug cartels and a hauntingly magical fairy tale.
- 2K digital transfer, approved by director Issa López, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New interview with López, acting coach Fátima Toledo, and filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
- Tan Callando, López’s 1994 student film made at Mexico’s National University, with introduction by the director
- New English subtitle translation
- PLUS: An essay by novelist Stephen King
I’m back and recovered from the four-day whirlwind that was the Chattanooga Film Festival! Parties, lectures, and workshops abounded at the CFF, but I was there to watch movies and watch movies I did. I can happily say that I went to 21½ screenings and that I’ve now seen 49 of the feature films and shorts shown at the CFF (and I’m still catching up with more titles). A lot were good, some were great, and a few were regrettable. MMC! is all about the movies I love and so here are my top
ten twelve picks from the 2018 Chattanooga Film Festival.
(My apologies to those films that I missed. You can find a full account of the CFF’s films and my takes on a large number of them at my Letterboxd list devoted to CFF 2018.)
With the Chattanooga Film Festival just over a week away and with a stacked program stuffed into only 3½ days, careful planning and difficult prioritizing is required to get the most out of this year’s CFF. MMC! takes this opportunity to celebrate this year’s bounty and offer a quick preview of the CFF with a “Trailer Tuesday” devoted to making some hard choices.
1. Lowlife vs. Madeline’s Madeline vs. WTF
The CFF’s opening block of films is a doozy, programming Ryan Prows’s wonderful Lowlife opposite Josephine Decker’s Sundance darling Madeline’s Madeline and the WTF (Watch These Films) block of short films. I’ve already expressed my admiration for Lowlife, which is both an excellent pastiche of 1990s New Hollywood Violence and a canny take on MAGA-era America, and with director Ryan Prows in attendance for a Q&A and Carey Williams’ short Emergency accompanying it, that’s a hard to miss screening. Madeline’s Madeline came out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival with great reviews, reportedly a coming of age drama/experimental film about a young actor who joins an acting troupe and immerses herself in her current role rather too deeply for comfort, and the WTF block of shorts has some really intriguing titles including Laura Moss’s Allen Anders, a found footage presentation of a notorious stand-up performance from 1987, and John F. Beach and Jonathan Hoeg’s The Accomplice, about a man who discovers his unwitting participation in a bank robbery through a series of answering machine messages. All of these screenings reappear later in the CFF schedule, but that doesn’t really make the choice any easier!
It’s another splendid month of announcements from the Criterion Collection. Without any doubt, I’m most interested in the release of Frank Borzage’s Moonrise (1948). This is mainly due to my fascination with MoMA’s recent program, Republic Rediscovered. Presented in two halves, with the first having wrapped up earlier this month and the latter half arriving in August, the series is presented by Martin Scorsese and the Film Foundation and offers 30 new restorations (compliments of Paramount Pictures) from the acclaimed poverty row studio, Republic Pictures. Moonrise will join the Criterion Collection in May and screen as part of the program’s second half in August. Until then, enjoy Gina Telaroli’s wonderful trailer.