Indie Corner


By • Nov 30th, 2008 •

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The night after Election I am relaxed, happy, writing this column, and I have on my TV, a tasty treat from TCM Underground: 1962’s THE WORLD GREATEST SINNER. Directed by and starring Timothy Carey, the slurred-speaking giant from Kubrick’s THE KILLING and PATHS OF GLORY, this is such an oddball curio it just has to be seen. Carey plays an insurance agent who quits his job and runs for President under the moniker of God. Director Carey and his cameraperson look like they patched this disjointed weirdie together in their sleep. An early indie that was made amongst the outsiders of the outsiders, SINNER features one of the first music scores by gonzo music-man Frank Zappa. (As a footnote, Carey, in Sweden, moved heaven and earth to arrange a screening of this most eccentric political drama to Ingmar Bergman. It never happened)

Ever since SUPER SIZE ME – Morgan Spurlock’s expose of fast-food – burst onto the documentary scene, docu film-makers have jumped into the pool with their kindred visions of how unseen powers make us more self-destructive. Next came James Scurlock’s MAXED OUT, which focused on how credit card debt strangles the lives out of us. Follow this with Robert Greenwald’s WAL-MART- HIGH COST OF A LOW PRICE, which showed Wal-Mart’s psychopathic thirst for profit. (Greenwald’s name doesn’t sound like Spurlock, but he did direct 1980’s kitsch-classic XANADU.) This alerting us to America’s self-destructive glut continues with Doug Benson’s SUPER HIGH ME (Where Benson pulls a Spurlock by staying high on wacky weed for 30 days!) and finally we have Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis’ relaxed and engrossing KING CORN.

For generations, the corn industry put bread on the table for many Midwest Americans. Cheney and Ellis, two pampered young Bostonians, decided to buy an acre of farm-land in Iowa and try their hands at growing corn. They learn by doing, and come harvest time, these yuppies-turned-corn-farmers put out a healthy acre, but they learn that large farming companies have muscled out the small struggling farm families. Also, they find out that very little of their corn becomes side dishes for hungry Americans! Much of it is fed to cattle, so the cattle can get fat and tasty and wind up as fast food, or else it winds up as fructose corn syrup, a key soft-drink ingredient.

According to KING CORN, and I’m afraid Cheney and Ellis are right as rain, drinking fructose-laced soda pop and eating burgers from chubby cows will promise gloomy circumstances for us. I watched KING CORN the same day my doctor warned me that my cholesterol was too high, so yeah, I was paying extra close attention. What set KING CORN aside from Spurlock, Michael Moore and many other film-makers was the straight forward style of film-making. Super-flashy film-making tends to distract from the narrative of these documentaries; we are paying more attention to the editing, the flash, than to the content. KING CORN lets the camera settle, relax, allowing us to pay attention to Cheney, and Ellis and what is happening to their new farmer friend

COYOTE COUNTRY LOSER by Jason Neumann looks like it was filmed in corn county. Jack Proctor (Beau Clark) is a drifter who wanders into a Southwestern town and becomes a radio DJ opposite the lovely Lauren (Nikki Boyer). Guess what happens next? Very good… romance… or the promise of romance. Had Sean William Scott and Elizabeth Banks been in this film, it would do decently, but it’s too much like a Hollywood romantic comedy and too little like a quirky indie project to be remembered. There’s very little to make this film stand out. Now THE HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS… BOUND TO LOSE is a great, quirky documentary. I’m going to remember this movie more because it twists the typical documentary style and makes it unique. From the first moments of the film, where we see interviewed subjects laughing, having a great time, we know the energy is going to remain high. We follow fiddler Peter Stampfel and guitarist Steve Weber as they form the psychedelic folk group “The Holy Modal Rounders” in late1960’s Lower East Side. There is priceless footage of places like Manhattan’s St. Marks Place from that era, a place that became a hippie/beatnik Mecca of the US. The musicians we follow are funny, creative, and self- destructive. We can’t keep our eyes and ears off them. Couple this with interviews with Monkees group member Peter Tork, musician/actor Sam Shepard, and movie cult icon Dennis Hopper (Hopper used The Rouders’ hit, “You Wanna Be A Bird” in his breakthrough hippie classic EASY RIDER.) Even if you are not into the timeless hip folk music, Sam Wainwright Douglas’ documentary will hold your attention.

Election 2008 had to be the most exciting election since 1968 (Mainly because, as a child, I had nightmares of a giant bug with Hubert Humphrey’s face!) I was happy as all get out with the outcome, because I get the feeling Obama is gonna be very good for arts funding. (More on that later) I watched Milton Levine’s documentary, PRESIDENT, EVERY AMERICAN NEEDS ONE. I watched, and I watched, and watched, and wondered, what is Mr. Milton’s point? I figured he loved Terry Gilliam’s old Monty Python animations where still photo portraits have cartoon moving mouths, and say silly things. Well, Milty does this with everybody from FDR and Nixon to Barack. While the works of Spurlock, Scurlock and Ellis (sounds like a law firm!) have focus, and keep us viewing because we are constantly learning, Milton’s doc rambles, and tends to show off it’s “documentary style” and cartooning abilities

I would love to make a political documentary comparing the John McCain/ Sarah Palin team to a similar team in the Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS: Rotwang, the mad scientist, and Maria the robot. Both teams have a wild white-haired dude who likes war, who then teams up with a woman with winking problems who give scary speeches.

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One Response »

  1. Hey Glenn,

    Did you ever get a chance to watch and review our film, 4th and Long?



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