When a nine year old from Chicago named Randi Peters uploaded the first episode of the 'Octocat Adventures' in March 2008, the crude MS Paint animation, hyperactive voice acting and Freud-bothering content ensured that the video soon went viral - not Susan Boyle viral, but fairly contagious all the same. Inevitably YouTube commenters began to debate almost instantly whether this really was the work of an American kid, particularly as, as the episodes continued, the jokes started to become gradually more complex and sophisticated, whilst retaining the coarse art style and unfettered child-like imagination also found in something like Axe Cop. By the end of the fifth episode, though, the jig was pretty much up, and it was clear that Randi Peters might not exactly be who he said he was. See for yourself:
On the excellent ‘geek’ blog Topless Robot there’s a whole category of posts titled ‘Impressive Acts of Nerdery’. There’s a variety of things in there to cater for everyone– someone hand-farting the theme song to Duck Tales, note for note; more recently, the whole world of Studio Ghibli created in Minecraft, and a video detailing a group of friends’ attempt to try every single pizza mentioned in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with predictably unpleasant results. Fan made videos and trailers are by far the most popular entries in this category, however, and it’s in these shorts you can find some of the most passionate and painstakingly detailed film-making anywhere at the moment.
There are hundreds of amateur film-makers who are putting together YouTube videos that homage their favourite films with such skill that in many cases they’re putting the creators of the original work to shame (let’s call a spade a George Lucas here). I mentioned in my piece for Den of Geek on high-concept films that the blockbusters of the late seventies and eighties have inspired a fervent level of fandom that only seems to increase as the years go by – it may of course be because these films were the ones the amateur film-makers of the 2000s watched when they were kids, and so we could reasonably expect to see a load of Transformers and Pirates of the Carribbean videos in 20 years time.
I’m not sure though – so many perfectly formed universes came out of that particular period (Star Wars, Robocop, Terminator, Back to the Future, and dozens more) that I think we’ll still be revisiting them for many years, although unfortunately it will likely be in the form of the cynical, bloodless reboots that take up multiplex space every summer in the hope of establishing or restarting a ‘franchise’. If there’s stillgreat home-made stuff made by people who deeply care about the material , however, it’ll make the endless remakes a little easier to swallow.
Even in this congested field of fan-made awesomeness, the alternate ‘Film Break’ sequence for Gremlins 2 made by Belgian film-maker Sacha Feiner, a lifelong Gremlins fan and special effects designer.
If you’re not familiar with Gremlins 2, there is a fantastic piece of fourth-wall breaking where, in its original theatrical run, the film appears to break on the projector. Shadows of gremlins in the projector booth appear, before the film is replaced by a black and white film of ladies playing tennis. There’s then a short scene of Hulk Hogan in the audience screaming at the gremlins to put Gremlins 2 back on, before the film restarts again.
In the VHS version of Gremlins 2, the film break effect is replaced by one of a VCR freezing, then segueing into more gremlin tape mischief and a scene where John Wayne has a shootout with gremlins dressed as bandits.
But what of the DVD version? Well, when pressed as to why there was no sequence shot for DVD, director Joe Dante claimed that there was no budget for something like that. Feiner took this statement as a personal challenge, and over the course of two months, with a budget of just $3000, created a DVD version of the film break that is just awe-inspiring in its pure craftsmanship. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen it, so *mild spoiler alert*: the Raiders scene in particular is absolutely mind-boggling. *end mild spoiler*
Here it is then - be sure to check out the making of (also embedded below) for a look at just how Feiner managed to pull it off. Amazing stuff.
I love trailers. Absolutely love them. Back in the early days in the internet (when I was 13-14) viewing trailers was pretty much all I used the web for, besides reading Ain’t It Cool News and sending lovelorn MSN messages to rightly disinterested and uneasy teenage girls. I downloaded the grainy Quicktime trailer for The Phantom Menace along with everyone else. Same with Fellowship of the Ring.
I can’t help but feel that trailers have lost a bit of their luster for me in recent years – the accepted wisdom is that now trailers give away too much of the film, yet I really don’t think that’s the case. If anything, older trailers are just as bad if not worse about giving away plot details. Check out this After Hours trailer – or rather, don’t if you haven’t seen the film, because it’s beat for beat basically the entire film. Granted, After Hours doesn’t have much of a plot, so it isn’t the end of the world – but how about this trailer for Chinatown? THE END OF THE TRAILER IS ALSO THE END OF THE FILM. Old horror films are particularly bad, with Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street both being guilty of showing every single murder that takes place in their respective climaxes.
I think the problem with modern trailers is not that they give away too much – it’s more that they are more transparently prepared by a marketing company, as opposed to the film-makers. There are some notable exceptions – the recent Muppets trailers have a lot of fun with trailer tropes, and David Fincher puts some really good trailers together, with the fantastic The Social Network trailer recently blowing minds. (I have a friend who has seen upcoming The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trailer and reports it’s similarly awesome, with another great cover of a classic song…)
On the whole though film-makers seem a lot more reticent to become involved with trailers, which is a shame because it is basically a chance to make another little short film, with just as much potential for imagination and craftsmanship as there is in their feature length counterparts.
Someone who understood this totally was perhaps the greatest and most influential of all directors, Alfred Hitchcock. In this wonderful trailer for The Birds, embedded below, Hitchcock himself delivers a monologue on the history of birds that is both hilarious and dripping with sarcastic menace. There is only a couple of seconds of footage from The Birds itself at the very end, yet it’s still a wonderful advert for the films whilst also being a great short. Also, despite its irreverence, it is actually a great compliment to the film itself – it casually brushes off and pre-empts an unanswered mystery in the film that could have proven to be a sticking point for audiences, who might have left the film asking “Why did the birds attack?” Hitch’s typically sardonic response, issued in the form of this fantastic trailer, is: “Why wouldn’t they?”
I’ve inadvertently been establishing a loose theme in some of the film articles I’ve been writing in the past week. First there was last week’s look at La Cabina, and how that and Forklift Driver Klaus played not insignificant roles in accelerating the mental deterioration of eighties insomniacs watching late night Channel 4, then there was my lengthy (some might argue unnecessary) digression on Demolition Man in my Julia’s Eyes review and how its early evening screenings on ITV in the nineties left me mildly traumatized as a kid.
This is almost certainly a combination of rose-tinted specs and de-sensitization, but the days of truly weird and scary TV seem to be over. It’s been along time since the halcyon days of La Cabina, and even something like Jam was over a decade ago now. It’s a shame, because that feeling of pure WTF is one that only films screened on TV can really give you.
There’s an anecdote about Charles Bukowski that I’ve always liked: on installing his brand new cable television, the first thing he switched on to “happened to be Eraserhead. I said, 'What’s this?' I didn’t know what it was. It was so great. I said, 'Oh, this cable TV has opened up a whole new world. We’re gonna be sitting in front of this thing for centuries. What next? So starting with Eraserhead we sit here, click, click, click — nothing.”
Depressing end to that story maybe, but imagine seeing Eraserhead and, for a fleeting second, thinking that that is what all future TV would look like? Magical. And scary.
Anyway, this brings me to The Cat Came Back, a very weird animation that used to broadcast rather incredibly as part of children’s programming blocks in the nineties – either in between kids programmes of before a family film like The Three Musketeers. On re-watching it, I’m convinced it must have been edited a bit (the ‘What the ffffffffff…’ surely would never have gone out at 11 AM), but on the whole it’s exactly as I remember it – utterly horrifying.
The set –up is similar to a lot of Looney Tunes cartoons – irritable person or animal is pursued and tormented by cute yet malevolent person or animal. But where the Looney Tunes cartoons are anarchic and hilarious, The Cat Came Back is actually genuinely unsettling.
A big part of this is the scribbly, hyper-caffeinated art style by Canadian animator Cordell Barker, which has more in common with indie cartoonists like Bill Plympton and Don Hertzfelt than Walt Disney and Chuck Jones. But it’s the sheer dread that’s infused throughout the whole cartoon that is the most affecting thing about The Cat Came Back: the cat’s dead, unblinking eyes as he methodically destroys every single thing in our unfortunate hero’s life, the droning, haunted repetition of the chorus, which turns a novelty song into something existential and terrifying, and the ending. My god, the ending. *shudder* The pure, unfettered horror of those closing moments are not something that should rightfully be exposed to tender, developing minds. It makes the ending of The Mist look like the end of It’s a Wonderful Life.
For all I know the BBC might still be showing this on Saturday mornings, but if I’d have to guess I’d say they probably aren’t. They really need to, though, so if anyone from the BBC is reading this (they’re not), pull your fingers out and start blowing some minds by putting this on after/before Fireman Sam once again. And if you can’t get the rights, just screen Rejected instead. Either or, really.