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 Jazz on a Summer’s Day.
In his sole effort in filmmaking, celebrated fashion photographer Bert Stern surveyed the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival to create a now-classic document of ’50s America and capture some of the most stunning images of live jazz ever brought to the silver screen, featuring performances by Louis Armstrong, Anita O’Day, Thelonius Monk, and Dinah Washington, as well as rock and roller Chuck Berry and gospel icon Mahalia Jackson. Stern, with assistance from editor and co-director Aram Avakian and jazz producer and musical director George Avakian, brings onscreen jazz music from smoky nightclubs to the colorfully sunny days of affluent Rhode Island, infusing these images with his distinctively clear and uncluttered aesthetic. Juxtapozing the Festival with footage of its audience, of life in and around Newport, and of the ongoing America’s Cup yacht races, Jazz on a Summer’s Day immortalizes the breezy cool of the era before it was overtaken by rock music and the tumultuous Sixties.
- New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New audio commentary featuring jazz and film critic Gary Giddins and radio host Tom Reney
- New introduction to the film by Giddins
- New interview with musician Keith Richards
- A Summer’s Day, an interactive documentary with director Bert Stern with additional scenes
- Jammin’ the Blues, photographer Gjon Mili’s 1944 short film with optional audio commentary by Giddins
- Selection of unreleased performances and footage
- Stills gallery, featuring the work of renowned photographer Bruce Davidson
- Optional captions identifying artists and song titles
- PLUS: An interview with Stern with John Guida and an essay by historian Arik Devens
MMC! was lucky enough to see Kier-La Janisse’s latest Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat Cartoon Party and the best of the program was Jerry Lieberman’s Huff ‘n Puff, an anti-smoking PSA for the American Cancer Society that riffs on the story of the Three Little Pigs with some strange gallows humour. We could only assume that the Big Bad Wolf died just after the short ended. The short seems to have been part of a larger campaign that included an illustrated story offered as a pamphlet. (If anyone knows the year this animated short was produced or released, I’d appreciate the info!)
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents A Face in the Crowd.
Before he brought Mayberry, North Carolina, into American homes and became an icon of moral rectitude as Sheriff Andy Taylor, Andy Griffith burst onto cinema screens as Lonesome Rhodes, a charismatic drifter with a canny, down-home wit and an avaricious taste for status and influence. After charming Arkansas radio reporter Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) and becoming a local media star, Rhodes leverages his growing popularity into national television fame and a trusted position among political and industrial power-brokers. Gradually Rhodes is corrupted by his own success and his laid-back attitude gives way to a monstrous off-camera personality. With stand-out supporting performances by Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, and Lee Remick, director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg create a roaring statement against grassroots fascism, advertising fakery, and the pernicious influence of television on the political process.
I don’t know about you, but it’s cold where I am. And it’s not going to get warm for a while. It’s all enough to make you lose it a little. Just ask Winston (Matt Kelly), the titular character of Aram Sarkisian’s award-winning short film, — Winston. I saw — Winston on the second day of the 2017 Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival and it completely drew me in. In my Festival Report, I commented:
Aram Sarkisian crafts a snowy hell of murder and paranoia in —Winston (2017). Fevered letters recounting one man’s hatred for his neighbour offer a window into the main character’s descent into Poe-inspired madness and Sarkisian’s knack for stark design and affective montage (along with some great voice-acting) make —Winston a tiny masterpiece in the macabre.
Seeing it again, I’m further struck by Sarkisian’s intensified atmosphere, particularly those shots simulating a camera view struggling to maintain stability amid winds (and probably blood loss and slipping sanity). — Winston won the Short Film Audience Choice Gold and was my #4 film of the Festival. It’s still excellent and a great way to kick off 2018 at MMC!