Sep 13, 2019

What's Old Is New Again



The other night, as part of our continued fall reboot, we watched the new Shout! Factory Blu-Ray of the 1971 Hammer horror classic, Blood From The Mummy's Tomb. Our third issue included a long review of the film, which was then just released by Anchor Bay (now long out of print). ESR #3 came out of the printer the night before our first public appearance, at Canzine 2001. It so happens the 2019 edition of Canzine occurs this weekend. We’re not tabling there, but the event fittingly coincides with the Blu-Ray release, and our long delayed re-launch.

This is just another curious case of déjà vu felt in the past week, as we prepare our return to print. This narrative should just be a sequel, picking up where we left off. Instead, life right now feels like a 12-inch remix, where patterns are being repeated. 

Last Friday, I attended Killer B Cinema’s screening of 3 Dev Adam, their first such event at a new venue, See-Scape on Keele St. In 2018, they held monthly shows at The Imperial Pub, where our Toronto Film Noir Syndicate also had screenings in the first four months of the year. During that time, it was a great micro-cinema collective happening, with two different film groups sharing the same venue, and promoting each other. As usual, Lizzie and Zoltan put on a tight, solid program Friday night, and I wish them every future success at their new location.

Shelf Life

On Saturday night, the Royal Cinema presented a “25th anniversary” screening of Paul Bartel’s final film as a director, 1993’s ultra rare Shelf Life. I didn’t know until arriving that they projected Bartel’s own 35mm print, which had recently been unearthed at AMPAS! In 1995, the late actor-director showed this film at Toronto’s (now long gone) Euclid Cinema. He toured the film in several cites with the reels under his arm, in true indie fashion, but the movie sadly did not find a distributor, and has remained in obscurity. 

Although it never had an official home video release, I rented a squiggly VHS bootleg of Shelf Life in the early 2000s. Whatever my thoughts of it at the time, they were no doubt influenced by the conditions under which it was viewed. Let us just say that seeing Shelf Life in its proper milieu greatly enhanced my appreciation. The film has been touring, with its three cast members, in the same word of mouth fashion their director tried a quarter century ago. I hope this time it finds its deserved audience. 

A while back, I held a Facebook poll: should I continue with the issue numbering that we left in 2012, or start the next one with “Volume 2, Number 1”? Both of my Facebook friends unanimously voted for the latter, and I agreed with that decision. When Jean-Luc Godard returned to commercial filmmaking in 1980 after a long layoff, he had referred to his then-new project, Sauve Qui Peut, as his “second” first film. I get what he meant. After our own Sabbatical, this return to the printed page feels like I’m starting The Eclectic Screening Room from scratch all over again.

Once we re-launch the website in the next few weeks, we move right into the first new print issue in over seven years. Preparing this “new” first issue mirrors that feeling in the fall of 2001, when everything had to get done myself. 

In the past three years, I’ve twice attempted to resurrect ESR. I had called for submissions, and some work did trickle in. Other pieces were to come, and didn’t materialize, largely because I didn’t proactively follow up, and that writers probably surmised I wasn’t serious enough about it. Sure, life once again got in the way of revisiting ESR, but deep down I sensed I still wasn’t ready. Therefore, in this new attempt at re-launching the publication, I don’t want to disappoint more people. I need to earn their respect all over again. 

Oh. And why was ESR already into its third issue when it made that first public appearance eighteen years ago? I wanted to produce a body of work to show people (and myself) that I was serious about it. 

Two things of note did get printed during those seven years away from ESR. The first issue of Eurofantasmo was done as a birthday screening giveaway. (Its second instalment, “the all Carroll Baker issue”, awaits completion.) The other, more personal publication however, was made for an audience of one: me!

On the way to retaining my writing headspace, I felt it therapeutic to re-read some of my own words. One night, I printed a forty-page, digest-sized compendium of all the sixty-odd film reviews I had submitted to the IMDB early in the last decade.

These pieces were usually posted during my lunch breaks, while chowing down on French fries with mustard from Mr. Tasty, written in order to “stay in shape” between publishing. Whether or not my opinions of the films would change, I’d now certainly use different words to voice them. These reviews hardly rival André Bazin, but they possess the clarity, and perhaps boldness, that I’ve lacked in recent years.

Because the reviews specialize in (but are not limited to) Grade Z genre movies or underground-experimental cinema, they appear focused thanks to my personal identification with both of these forms. Whether they are perceived as (respectively) lowest common denominator trash or highbrow art, these kinds of films share a common theme: they are works made from hunger. 

In those days, when it was a miracle to still have five bucks in my pocket by the next paycheque, I felt a kinship in the hand-to-mouth existence of these filmmaking renegades. The insistence to make these unconventional movies, despite little means, mirrored the desire to get my Xeroxed words into the world. It was essential to life!

Sinthia: The Devil's Doll
This urgency came to mind last night as I finally got around to watch Ray Dennis Steckler’s 1970 Freudian nightmare, Sinthia: The Devil’s Doll. Somehow I missed this during the old days, when early issues of ESR featured a semi-regular Steckler gush-a-thon. What would I have thought of this, uh, “thing” back when I wrote about that murky expression found in underground movies viewed in musty basements, or in 60s sexploitation films on high-contrast VHS tapes from Something Weird? 

I could just picture myself hunched over that old Mac IIsi, wolfing down something from Mr. Tasty, buzzed on the second pot of coffee, comparing its dreamlike narrative to the psychodramas of the New American Cinema, where different timeframes fold into one another, and separate characters represent multiple things. I also might have referenced Kenneth Anger in its makeup, art direction and lighting colour palette. Last night’s reaction however was similar to how your stomach feels like a boulder after taking meds without food. 

In the IIsi days, I probably would’ve said that its excruciating tedium is necessary to attain its unique language, and how it meretriciously plods towards a new cinematic form, while under the pretense of a sexploitation film. One day later, while replaying the movie in my mind (much easier to have seen than to sit through), I do concede that there is something going on beneath its lumbering execution. I believe what I would’ve written after all.

What’s old is new again.