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Vague Visages Writers’ Room: April 2018 Revelations

In the Vague Visages Writers’ Room on Slack, freelancers were asked to comment about new discoveries from April 2018.

D.M. Palmer (@mrdmpalmer)

I’ve been delving into the work of writer/director Joel Potrykus. The Michigan native makes low-budget character pieces which chart the lives of people who find themselves on the fringes, whether as a result of pursuing their recondite obsessions or being guided by a faulty moral compass. Buzzard (2014) is a grimly comic study of chronic arrested development, while The Alchemist Cookbook (2016) is an enigmatic work full of comic juxtapositions and low-key tension. What makes Potrykus’s cinema of unease so effective is its absolute lack of comic affect; the comedy creeps up on you. Potrykus has an incisive eye for human weakness, delusion and paranoia, but there is an underlying affection for his subjects.

Walter Neto (@wfcneto)

Dangerous are the paths of memory, for we remember things more closely to the way we felt about them than by the way they really happened. Yet we cannot avoid spending a lot of time thinking about past events and trying to make some sense out of them, even though there is no use in doing that — the past is already past, and its bridges are long burnt. With his poetry book Night Sky with Exit Wounds, the Vietnamese-American writer Ocean Vuong seems to reference this alluring effect that the past has on us. In the bittersweet “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong,” there’s an intimate conversation between a voice from Ocean’s past and the poet himself: “Ocean, don’t be afraid. The end of the road is so far ahead, it is already behind us. Don’t worry. Your father is only your father until one of you forgets.” Heritage, memory and nostalgia are the threads the hold the poems together, and Ocean manages to create something so personal that it’s sometimes hard not to feel like one may be bribing into someone else’s life, a voyeur of the past. However, it is so beautifully written that I long to stay there sailing in past’s waters for as long as possible. As “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” goes, “The most beautiful part of your body is where it’s headed. And remember, loneliness is still time spent with the world.” Through Ocean’s poems, we are invited to deliberate about our own history and contemplate that some deeply personal experiences are yet so universal that they are what connect us as human beings.

Stefen Styrsky (@stefen_styrsky)

I found Dead & Buried at the bottom of the 80s-nostalgia rabbit hole. First, I watched the three original Alien films in quick succession just to refresh myself on how they all played off one another, and seeing Dan O’Bannon’s name as Alien’s writer jogged my memory. I recalled that he wrote and directed one of those “throwaway” entries of 1980s cinema, but a favorite of mine, the comedy-satire-horror The Return of the Living Dead. I wondered if it held up after all these years and decided to give it another go-round. I can tell you watching it is like drinking a cocktail made of that decade’s teenage pop-culture: music videos, zombies, punk rock, after-school specials and, god help us, even Sixteen Candles. Surprisingly, I found the movie had aged quite well.

Here was a guy I could trust for some solid entertainment. I decided to check out what else O’Bannon had penned and directed. That’s how I landed on 1981’s Dead & Buried, a film I’d never seen until this month. It takes place in the New England coastal town of Potter’s Bluff. Early on, a visiting photographer gets assaulted and burned alive by a group of locals. Needless to say, this attracts the attention of the sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino). A string of increasingly unexplainable events eventually prompts Gillis to seek out advice from the town’s coroner, William Hobbs (portrayed by Jack Albertson, the grandad from the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). I won’t say more than that, but I will mention that Dead & Buried strikes an almost perfect balance between well-developed plot and gory thrills. Each seems to get its due, making the movie a satisfying experience. It has a strong Lovecraftian, Salem’s Lot (TV) vibe mixed with proper doses of The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt-like twists. The irony about my discovery is even though O’Bannon is listed as the writer, he apparently wrote little of the story and actually demanded his name be removed from the credits.

Dead & Buried is the perfect midnight film for when you’re in that kind of mood. Turn off the lights. Watch it in the dark.

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