I may have mentioned this tale before - I don't recall - but I had an observation of the gulf between the filmmakers and the military types and enthusiasts once in October 1987, when my Civil War reenacting regiment was being used as extras in the filming of some camp life scenes in Gore Vidal's Lincoln (1988). We were near the Powhatan prison complex in Southern Virginia, generally mucking around in camp for the cameras. The campfires were kept stoked all day by propane tanks, and various fey second unit producer types were flitting about the tents.
One fellow - I'm almost certain he wore his sweater draped on his shoulders - thought he'd set the scene for us, and proceeded to tell us about the American Civil War. Us! Civil War reenactors! Guys who spend nearly every waking moment reading books on the subject, buying reproduction gear and examining stitching and manufacture to ensure that it looks precisely like a soldier would have worn at Gettysburg or Antietam! I can't remember the exact words of his little speech, but we all found it hilarious. It went something like, "Okay, gather around! This is the Civil War! It was horrible... and brutal... and a terrible, terrible thing. Brothers shooting brothers in a civil... thing... You men are in camp. You might die horribly. Or get sick or shot - I dunno." Somewhere around here or after more of such prose he started to notice reenactors grinning broadly or holding back laughter and got angry, abbreviated his sermon and walked off in a huff. We all cracked up.
Another feature of this shoot I found interesting were the makeup ladies running around patting fake dust and dirt on everyone's faces and uniforms. I have lived in reproduction camps for days at a time; I have never seen anyone as dusty and dirty in camp as I have after the makeup ladies left them. Not even boys at a scout camp! Geez.
I had to pick up some medicine for my daughter yesterday, and so, during the half-hour wait, I decided to dine at the nearby Popeye's. Big mistake. I had a meal that sat like a greasy lump in the pit of my stomach. While there, I saw on the wall what satirist James Lileks would call a Quisling chicken. In case you're not familiar with the term, a Quisling is named after a Norwegian who gave active assistance to the Germans in his country in World War II. A Quisling chicken or pig is an accommodationist. His role in life is to develop your appetite to eat his friends and fellow animals - perhaps even himself. A suspect character.I watched a unique and interesting work last night, Gang Tapes (2001). I'm not sure how I stumbled across this one on Netflix... I think I must have found it on a search for 1950's juvenile delinquency flicks. Anyway, after the success of The Blair Witch Project in 1999, independent filmmakers noticed that a new, inexpensive aesthetic was in town, that of the do-it-yourself cinema verite style created with the use of small, handheld camcorders. This is one such production.
The plot of Gang Tapes is that a white tourist family, while on vacation in Hollywood, gets lost in Watts or Southeast L.A. and has their camcorder stolen during a car-jacking. The remainder of the film is seen through the viewfinder of the fourteen year-old junior gang member who keeps the camcorder for himself. He records cruising in cars, Watts street life, gang meetings, crack cocaine manufacture, parties, beatings, knifings, hospital visits, shootings and a funeral. Needless to say, things do not turn out well, and a fatal conclusion is assured. Oh, I'll give it away: He records his own shooting. It was quite an engrossing film despite the fact that I only understood about half of the dialogue - I'm too white and nerdy. (By the way, that's uber-Mormon Donny Osmond doing those hilarious dance moves.)The question is... is Gang Tapes a neo-noir? It has a central crime - more than one, actually - and it also has the fatalistic atmosphere common to many noirs. The life-seen-though-a-camcorder trick substitutes for the spoken narrative style found in film noir. And yet... no, I don't think this is film noir at all. Which is not to say that you can't have a film noir with only black folks in it, you instead have a black interest film - it's not that. (After all, the first Shaft film was neo-noir.) It's that the independent small filmmaker gimmick of using a camcorder denies the "film" part of film noir. This was not meant to look like an edited, assembled film, and it doesn't. I'm going to coin a new phrase specifically for this work: It's found noir, the sort of thing a public defender might find in an evidence box at L.A.P.D. headquarters.
Now let's move onto the polar opposite of Gang Tapes - Joni Mitchell. I digitized her 1977 double Lp Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, only a few of the songs on it I have ever come to appreciate. Guess what? I found others I liked! I still haven't listened to her sixteen minute impromptu Paprika Plains, which takes up an entire Lp side. Maybe I'll save that for a long car ride. But this is the kind of album an artist does to fulfill an expiring contract; it's very freeform and unstructured. A favorite tune on it is Dreamland, where Joni chants to the background vocalizations of Chaka Khan and some conga drumming. I've always liked the lyrics: Walter Raleigh and Chris Columbus/Come marching out of the waves/And claim the beach and all concessions/In the name of the suntan slave/I wrapped that flag around me/Like a Dorothy Lamour sarong/And I lay down thinking national/With dreamland coming on/Dreamland, dreamland/Dreamland, dreamland (Dream on, dream on, dream on)...