Wednesday, June 1, 2011
THE FILMS OF RENE DAALDER -
COMING TO ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES
JUNE 8 – 12, 2011
In my world, Rene Daalder is best known for “Massacre at Central High”, a glorious little 1976 teen killer flick with the ample qualities of both a delicious potboiler and a smart, fresh independent film about violence. It fits that rare category of film that I place “Ms. 45” in, but inarguably it’s infinitely more playful. Beyond that I didn’t know who Daalder was; and when I heard Anthology was showing “Massacre …” as well as the director’s other features, my curiosity heightened. Further reading revealed that he’d also made the classic-era Punk film “Population: 1”, done a lot of work in effects (X-Files, Brainscan, Robocop 2, and many others) … AND that he was a friend and assistant to Russ Meyer; as if that revelation wasn’t enough, it seems that Daalder is also responsible for pieces of the Sex Pistols film “The Greatest Rock and Roll Swindle” … and trust me, this list goes on.
Rene Daalder is known for being at the forefront of many different aspects of art, special effects and filmmaking; so very much so that summarizing his art into one program could have several different angles from which to approach. It’s impossible that a better approach could have been taken than the one taken by Anthology Film Archives; New York’s most diverse Cinema is even topping themselves a bit with this quite obscure, absolutely wonderful series.
Daalder’s features remind me in a way of Buster Keaton. The magic of Buster Keaton is so often in his ability to make nearly-magical humor from the most mundane and common physical surroundings. It doesn’t matter if his only tools are a pile of paper garbage, a dollar bill and a broom – Buster manages to twist reality into any color of hilarity he wishes, and thusly paints a masterpiece each time. It’s from this school that Rene Daalder has graduated with honors. It’s interesting to think that Daalder is so successful creating wildly unique special effects for other films, for in what I’d call his most personal work, Daalder seems to have a similar ability to Keaton. In his most recent film, “The Terrestrials”, Daalder, in a manner seemingly more casual than most directors would display, takes things available to him – a houseful of brilliant and drug-addled, young Santa Cruz college students, access to Timothy Leary’s personal archive, his own experiences with drugs, science and art, his wild imagination; using video old a new to assemble a “sci-fi documentary” (Werner Herzog’s “Wild Blue Yonder” pleasantly comes to mind). It’s an absolutely incredible journey, and while the viewer can have crushes on the subjects of the film as if it were a romantic teen comedy, it’s at the same time that elements of this real story are being twisted into a science fiction parable that also works alongside the life and teachings of Dr. Timothy Leary, who makes many appearances in “The Terrestrials” via archive footage. It’s rare that achievements of this kind of creativity can be matched with a film’s content and watchability, and the combination of these elements places “The Terrestrials” extremely high on the list of films to not miss in NYC this summer - this is a brilliant, and refreshingly original piece of work.
Another major factor of interest regarding Daalder is how he’s consistently made films over the years. Perhaps with bigger gaps in some places, but without a doubt - this guy was never NOT working. Like his ability to put things available to him in front of the camera, certain periods of his career indicate that he had no qualms about utilizing this methodology behind the camera as well. During the 90’s Daalder found opportunity in the fascinating direct-to-video / direct-to-cable world. Now, when young Mike Hunchback was cutting his teeth in the world of esoteric cinema consumption, Michael J. Weldon’s seminal Mag “Psychotronic Video” was one of the only trustworthy sources for information. Daalder’s films “Hysteria” and “Habitat” are excellent examples of what a 90’s Psychotronic film can be. As much as the direct-to-video world had its majority of drek, it didn’t mean that the occasional nugget of gold wouldn’t slip out from time to time. Basically, if approached with a solid script and idea, the people producing these small/mid budgeted films had no reason to interfere with it (unlike major studios) and even less a reason to interfere if they had a real director on their hands. The freedom allowed by this situation made it possible for Rene to create, with his typical, ferociously unique and artful concepts, two completely delightful films that wouldn’t EVER have been able to come from a major studio. It’s not a world that most understand. I really learned a lot from reading the reviews pages of “Psychotronic”. There, nothing was subject to extremely negative scrutiny, at least not for reasons of budget and content. All these films had a fair shake between those pages. I began to watch films with a very open mind, knowing that although I may be about to watch something with a small budget, I was also potentially about to watch something totally unique. I can’t applaud Anthology enough for the inclusion of these films in their Daalder program. “Habitat” and “Hysteria” belong to our most recent cinematic ghost town, and films of this ilk are hardly in vogue with those who don’t still use their VCRs regularly. “Habitat” brings into question extreme concepts, of both an ecological and existential nature. Having seen Daalder’s “Here is Always Somewhere Else” (talked about later here) put these interesting, somewhat cyberpunkish flourishes into amazing perspective – this is conceptual art and straight-to-video science fiction blended perfectly together; with absolutely no pretension involved.
Again and again marrying what was at his disposable with his vivid imagination, Daalder repeated this success with the unbelievable tale of madness and individuality, “Hysteria”. Starring Michael Maloney, Amanda Plummer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, and Patrick McGoohan, “Hysteria” is a very fresh take on the concept of “group-mind” study and possession, with fun and clever metaphors on society and the murky definition of identity. My devolved eye couldn’t help notice not only the invigorating inspiration from Tod Browning’s “FREAKS”, but also the black humor of the film’s concept – “If everyone is crazy, does that not make insanity ‘sane’?”. Although I’m sure you all agree with the sentiment, I’d be very curious to know how many times YOU checked your email, facebook and text messages in the duration of reading this … see what I mean? That’s just ONE characteristic of the existing group mind of today’s society. Now put your damn phone away I’m almost done …
“Here is Always Somewhere Else” is undoubtedly the crown jewel of the series. While the other films are diamonds indeed, this documentary is the piece that makes all of them relevant as works of Rene Daalder. When Daalder immigrated to the US he did so with his friend, artist Bas Jan Ader. They both took journeys with their art as well, but Daalder admits that his own was then a more commercial (though not exclusively so) involvement. The sea becomes a major player in the film, as Ader’s thoughts on gravity (the subject of several of his pieces) eventually shift into an obsession with the Ocean. Ultimately, Ader took a small boat to water alone, with an artistic, conceptual influence in hopes of crossing the Atlantic Ocean. He was never found. I don’t want to say too much (this documentary is nothing less than essential viewing), but Daalder’s hypothesizing on the reality and potential meaning of his friend’s death and disappearance is riveting beyond belief, and absolutely territory that’s uncommon for the medium of film as a whole. It's one of the most significant discussions on the limits of art that cinema has yet produced. Rene and Bas Jan’s relationship was that of friendship and enormous respect; without being too deliberate, Daalder manages to incorporate himself in the doc at various times. Perhaps most humorously as he exposes his cocky former-self upon the debut of his first feature “The White Slave”, and most fascinatingly when he reveals the deeper, hidden, Ader-inspired influences that ended up in “Massacre at Central High”. In many ways, it’s that reveal alone that wraps a bow around this program and makes it a real gift. It’s an awesome indication that the cinema of Rene Daalder is a unique and ever-changing organism, and organism so concerned with its intense natural progression that no change in environment can stop it from evolving to higher levels of meaning and execution; and therefore glaring, glorious originality.
ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES
32 SECOND AVENUE NEW YORK, NY 10003
THE FILMS OF RENE DAALDER
To be screened:
MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH
1976, 87 minutes, 35mm. With Robert Carradine.
–Thursday, June 9 through Sunday, June 12 at 7:00 each night.
THE WHITE SLAVE
1969, 103 minutes, 35mm-to-video. In Dutch with English subtitles.
1, 2, 3, RHAPSODY (1965, 15 minutes, 16mm-to-video)
–Wednesday, June 8 at 7:00 and Sunday, June 12 at 9:00.
1986, 77 minutes, video. With Tomata du Plenty.
JE MAINTIENDRAI (1973, 25 minutes, 16mm-to-video)
–Wednesday, June 8 at 9:30 and Saturday, June 11 at 9:00.
1997, 103 minutes, video. With Balthazar Getty, Alice Krige, and Laura Harris.
–Thursday, June 9 at 9:00.
1998, 91 minutes, video. With Patrick McGoohan, Amanda Plummer, and Emmanuelle Vaugier.
–Friday, June 10 at 9:00.
HERE IS ALWAYS SOMEWHERE ELSE
2007, 78 minutes, video.
Plus, films by Bas Jan Ader, including:
I’M TOO SAD TO TELL YOU (1970, 3.5 minutes, 16mm-to-video)
NIGHTFALL (1971, 4 minutes, 16mm-to-video)
–Saturday, June 11 at 5:00.
2010, 84 minutes, video.
–Sunday, June 12 at 5:00.
For more info be sure to check out Rene’s website:
And of course: