Welcome to 2020!
MMC! kicks off a new year of imagined releases of favourite movies (and various other miscellany) with one of 2019’s favourite short film discoveries — Matthew Rankin’s Negativipeg (2010). Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (2019) was a favourite of the 2019 Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival and MMC! happily gorged itself on Rankin’s various short works as well. Both the shorts and Rankin’s first feature are typified with DIY inventiveness, satirical humour, and spectacular visuals that easily inherits the prairie postmodern tradition of filmmakers like Guy Maddin and John Paizs, however this post celebrates an outlier in Rankin’s filmography.
Negativipeg is a fascinating documentary on Rory Lepine’s 1985 encounter in a 7-Eleven with Winnipeg rock legend, Burton Cummings of The Guess Who. Lepine, who was 19 when he put the boots to Burt in that North End Sev’, served 4 months in prison for the beating given to Cummings and the incident became emblematic of the longstanding tension between the musician and his former hometown, neither of whom felt loved enough in the eyes of the other. While lacking the visual wonder of Rankin’s later work, the short is captivating and easily stands as the most Winnipeg-like thing I’ve ever seen on screen – the shuttered homes, the bleakness of winter, Lepine’s particular accent and his code for life in the North End, the love-hate relationship toward Cummings and the ongoing question of his local credentials after getting big, and the Pizza Pops. Rankin dresses Negativipeg in droll Errol Morris-like eccentricity and incisiveness, creating something that is equal parts hilarious, tragic, and perplexing and all conveyed in an exceptionally local vernacular. As wonderful as Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (2007) may be, Rankin’s Negativipeg may cut even closer to the bone in revealing the city’s essence.
Short films led the charge on the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s third day with an eight film block of female focused shorts and another two short films that could have probably fit into the same section. Readers of last year’s coverage might recall my frustration with shorts that offer little more than spooky premises or creepy contexts, however you’ll find few such complaints amongst Day 3’s titles. Yfke van Berckelaer’s Lili (2019), an MMC! favourite at this year’s Buried Alive Film Festival, was screened, as did the Chattanooga Film Festival short, Sydney Clara Brafman’s gory and brief The Only Thing I Love More Than You is Ranch Dressing (2018). Adele Vuko’s The Hitchhiker (2018) was an entertaining blend of female road trip goodwill, real world violence, and well-timed supernatural intervention and was probably the easiest short to enjoy on Day 3. Valerie Barnhart’s Girl in the Hallway (2019) offered a true crime tragedy that powerfully wrestled with guilt, grief, and inaction through pained and worn stop-motion animation. Daniel DelPurgatorio returned to the SFFF with In Sound, We Live Forever (2019), a beautiful short in the agrarian horror mode that finds two young lovers beset by a monstrous killer in the rural American heartland. The short looks gorgeous, contrasting the serenity of its pastoral present against the intimacy and then terror of its past tense soundtrack, and it elegantly pivots into the full present tense to depict a desperate escape and a grim conclusion that posits the monstrous violence of the genre but also a kind of existential smallness that makes its horror seem almost meaningless.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Phenix City Story.
Corruption, brutality, and vice plagued Phenix City, Alabama, for 100 years, so who would dare to change it? Based on real-life events and filmed on location in what was called Sin City USA, director Phil Karlson’s semi-documentary tears this jolting tale from its Pulitzer Prize-winning headlines and tells the story of those citizens who risked their lives to bring down the burg’s syndicate of thugs and murderers. Signalling the end of stylish film noir and pointing to the crime-busting exposés that followed, this classic B-noir remains indelible for its shockingly transgressive violence, its unsettling authenticity, and its subtextual awareness of the struggling civil rights movement.
- New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Phil Karlson: The Core of Fact, a short appreciation featuring writer/film historian Alan K. Rode
- New interview with critics and one-time Alabamans Jonathan Rosenbaum and Nathaniel Thompson
- Historic photos of Sin City-era Phenix City
- PLUS: An essay by critic R. Emmet Sweeney
The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s final day kicked off by wrapping up its body horror retrospective with Philip Brophy’s Body Melt (1993). MMC! imagined an Arrow Video edition of the film earlier this summer, back when word of its restoration began circulating. The film now has a packed Blu-ray release compliments of Vinegar Syndrome, bringing this lesser known wonder to the world. The SFFF paired Body Melt with Chris McInroy’s practical effects-based We Summoned a Demon (2018), a fun and goofy short about a couple of guys who just want to be cool and end up summoning a demon. Overall, a fun way to start the Festival’s end.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Birds of Passage.
In 1970s La Guaira, Colombia, an indigenous Wayuu family gets swept up in the newly-booming marijuana trade and their lives and traditions are forever fractured when greed and passion overtake their tribe’s honor. Based on the true origins of drug trafficking between the United States and Colombia, filmmakers Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego resist the lurid glamour of narco-crime cinema and instead present a film alive with ethnographic authenticity and Shakespearean tragedy. Brilliantly colorful and fiercely prideful, Birds of Passage traces the familiar downfall of a criminal empire in an unfamiliar setting.
- 4K digital master, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Tension and Revision, a MUBI interview with directors Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego at Cannes
- The Word Messengers, new interviews with the cast and crew
- Behind the scenes footage
- New English subtitle translation
- PLUS: An essay by film critic Jessica Kiang
There’s a running joke in Bill Watterson’s Dave Made a Maze (2017), a film about a man who builds a massive cardboard maze (bigger inside than out) and then gets trapped within it. As Dave’s friend Gordon (Adam Busch) repeatedly points out, the maze is full of traps, making it, in fact, a labyrinth. Day 3 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival offered a disparate collection of films – a comedy recounting a slacker’s epic quest in a DIY fortress; a trippy, coming-of-age, prom night parable; a genre-mixing, science fiction blockbuster; and a dreamy descent into a housewife’s trauma and a cult’s terrifying prophecy. Each offers its own twists and turns, finding new dangers as they progress through corrugated caverns, genre conventions, and layered realities. In fact, they’re all labyrinths in their own ways.