Tuesday, 26 May 2009


'Cinema became so high-concept it consumed itself by 2001. What we see on our screens now are echoes and ghosts' Jean Baudrillard,1

The enigmatically named Hypperson has set about turning children's quasi-facts into fictions, and his huge-budgeted creations have almost created a new genre. What if? cinema if you will, although that doesn't satisfy, because all speculative fiction is such a query; Logistics Cinema, perhaps, as suggested, not without spite, by cultural expert and thinker Graheme G.
Before this behemoth, Hypperson had already garnered attention for his expensive debut China World Suicide (2005) which was about a bankrupt Chinese government in the near future trying to organise an attack on the United States. The film is largely made up of discussions between Chinese scientists as they argue about the veracity or otherwise of the statement which every schoolchild knows: 'If everyone in China jumped on the spot at the same time, it would cause a tidal wave big enough to flood America'. Is the hypothesis plausible? The top brass, ludicrously, seem to think so, and enforce training drills to create synchronicity. After a practice strike on Hawaii, China faces diplomatic meltdown and mutual destruction with it's main plan.

Septemdecillion is itself more than an investigation of an unprovable query: Of course, every British child knows the probability (or otherwise) of every person on the planet fitting onto the Isle of Wight (the island off the South Coast of England only 147 square miles of land in size), and Hypperson does not concern himself very much with the theory: He simply begins the film with everybody in the world waking up on the island. No one knows how they got there, and indeed, we never really find out. Instead, the film concentrates on the havoc that would be wreaked in the wake of such an event: The unattended nuclear weapons, the unmanned power stations, the empty parliaments; food and sanitation issues, impossible crushes, splintered communities. The two hours of the film are a hectic scramble, as we watch confused familes looking for one another, concussed rioters fighting, aggressive swimmers diving for the mainland, petulance and preaching, pushing and posturing. In long early scenes, we hear a babble of noise from which only minor details emerge. Amidst the panic and fear, we occasionally see a good samaritan attempt find order, or a veiled prognosis from a professor, or a Doctor administering bandages to crushed children, but the camera leaves, the outcome of these minor incidents lost in the dizzying spectacle of seven billion stories. The camera, whirring around, simply cannot choose a starting point, and is strangled by gasping narratives.

A sequel: Septemdecillion Squared (2009) was ill received by a sceptical public, whose boredom at Hypperson's philosophical musings was evident. The plot this time, was a slight variation: Everyone who has ever lived on Planet Earth wakes up in 2020 on the Isle of Wight. Piles and piles of people, from different eras are there, on that 12.5 by 25 miles of land. The supernatural shock of humanity being confronted with her own refried pasts sends such a jolt through her body that the island becomes an angry bloodbath, with piles and piles of writhing fights. 'I essentially want to keep making the same film, but with slight environmental changes. My films are experiments, and I am a scientist.'2 Universal declared no interest in financing further Hypperson productions after the failure of Septemdecillion Squared, but he has vowed to continue, and is plotting back-to-back sequels in 2011: Septemdecillion: Manhattan and Septemdecillion: Moon recreate the scenario but in the respective locations. 'Moon' will essentially concentrate on the Earth. Says Hypperson: 'If everyone wakes up on the moon, and then dies, what happens on Earth. The image of overgrown shopping malls is an appealing one to me.... I am also a film-maker concerned by the grammar of the medium. When, in a horror film, a girl leaves her shower to investigate a noise, I find myself horribly distracted by the fact that she hasn't turned the water off, which bothers me far more than the inevitable intruder. The Septemdecillion is an attempt to create a horrific situation, and then tidy it up'3

Indeed, the film climaxes with a series of everyday banalities: a shopkeeper finds looters have done just a little damage to his shop. The President finds his red button untouched. Refugees board buses. Ferries run at all hours. A baby is delivered safely. Pockets of reunions take place. Food is passed around. The gradual, fearsome crawl of the everyday dulls even this most supernatural of experiences.

Septemdecillion Directed by Hypperson Produced by Ron Elegant, Hypperson Written by Hypperson, Dane Bowers Universal Pictures Release Date US: June 2007 UK: July 2007 Tagline: What if?

1. Cine Dreams, Fourth Estate, 2007
2. Film Bizz interview, October 2009
3. Film Bizz interview, October 2009

Monday, 4 May 2009

SPOOF! (Vincent Michelle, 1992)

'Haha! That guy is dressed just like that other guy from that other film and I'm laughing because I know that guy and want that guy to know that I know that other guy!'

Above is the telling evidence, uttered by a cinema patron in an early scene of Spoof!, the 'most knowing film of all our times'1 according to Jacques Derrida. Perhaps the coinage of this film has been devalued by the numerous sequels (Spoof IX is currently in production), a possibility that seems both unfair and, given the soiled and hybrid nature of the work, entirely apt. Spoof! is a patchwork of borrowed scenes, stitched with echoes of hundreds more, ever growing. Cinephiles find value in the number of obscure references to other films gathered therein, the volume is voluminous! Entire websites are devoted to listing and discussing each one, and recent estimates suggest that the 89 minutes of Spoof! contains nods to over nine hundred other movies.

Beyond the broad plot, which is itself a shadow of the 1980s/1950s nostalgia interface, referencing Back To The Future (In 1985, Michael J Fox goes back to 1955 to make his Dad cool), Peggy Sue Got Married (From 1987 Kathleen Turner wakes up at her high school prom back in 1960, realises her husband is actually cool) and WOAH! (From 1986, Andrew McCarthy is a high-school geek who wishes he was as cool as the Beats... and then wakes up in 1952 in Greenwich Village with a goatee and a roll-neck! He wows them all with rapping ('Journal time lozenge breath berating monster howitzers/ Spending thyme and mummy on biscuit bread/Time travel time travel your kids will love it/ Time travel time travel your ancestors too' he spits, quoting Erik B and Rakim's Sweat Science), we swim with Jim (Bobby Dean), a rock'n'roll obsessed dreamer who opens up a portal into a third dimension in his VCR. The deluge of cinematic shrapnel through which he must slog to get The Girl (played by a different actress in each scene) and save The Day (an unnamed date of ultimate status quo) is ever-multiplying and confounding. Sure, any dunce can spot the references to Chronological (Michael Mann's 1986 no-flashback thriller, starring Kurt Russell) and Allerednic (Tim Fresh's 1992 speculation about a man (Jim Broadbent) who seeks to unravel time by writing a backwards play, in which Cinderella, despite the assistance of her kind step-brothers, becomes poor); but it takes a certain brain overful with pop candy to notice that one entire scene in a bar is a word-for-word lift from the script of Merchant Ivory's Cats, Period (a fanciful retelling of Henry James' 'The Europeans' with a completely feline cast) or that the line 'Square meal fo' a real square', uttered by Jim as a kiss-off to a bullying janitor after hitting him with a sack of potatoes is a steal from the Richard Pryor vehicle from 1981, White Folk Sho' Love It (When Black Folk Tell 'Em What Fo'), the use of which here inspired Susan Sontag's essay about white musicians' appropriation of black musicians' work entitled Gray Arias.

One scene revolves around a joke about the (often somewhat cheap) trick of movies containing quick glances of other films on TV in the background (overused in the early stages of oh so many slasher flicks, when a video store clerk, for example, or a young child, playing with the remote control, turns on a scene from, say, The Blob, both foreshadowing and mocking the horror to come). Finding a motel in the town of Referentia, Jim shacks up for the night with The Girl (in this scene played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Stuart Masterson and Lauren Bacall 'channelling Montgomery Clift' as she later would put it 2), and the desk clerk, unable to tear himself away from the movie on his scratchy black and white television (the movie is Elephantitus Gigantus, the 1972 Indian horror movie that spawned that country's seminal contribution to the slasher canon ('Calcutta Cutters' as they became known in the west), and not, as many Spoof! viewers seem to believe, Pingu Fun: Zombay, which is Elephantitus Gigantus' far more widely seen sequel (the difference being, of course, that the former sees a family in rural India summoning the god Ganesh to save them from blood-hungry neighbour zombies, and the latter sees the action move to the city)) delivers such poor customer service that Jim desperately attacks the TV, causing channels to change at random, giving us a plethora of images to deal with.3

How does a spoof end? With a played-out confrontation, of course. The unnamed, unrounded Villain whose 'badness' is never clarified is killed, the credits, overlapping with comedic intrusions, roll, and movies are just movies and films are just films, and ever shall we watch, good upon bad, bad upon good. 'Art has endings; life does not,' Jim says to The Girl (Rene Russo, Moira Shearer, Mariel Hemingway, Margi Clarke), quoting both Frank Sinatra (who utters the line in gangster biopic Li'l Fwankie (Tony Tesla, 1963)) and Clint Eastwood (who, invoking Sinatra, utters the same line in his film of the life of painter Mondrian, Red Line Blues (1991), and we fade out to a shot of red velvet curtains, which open, revealing more red velvet curtains, which open, revealing yet more red velvet curtains.

Spoof! Directed by Vincent Michelle Produced by Vincent Michelle Written by Vincent
Michelle Starring Bobby Dean, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ray Charles, Balthazar Getty, Mary Stuart Masterson, Lauren Bacall, Priscilla Presley, Jeff Daniels, Brooke Sheilds, Kevin Kline, Little Richard, Rene Russo, Moira Shearer, Mariel Hemingway, Dan Ackroyd, Pierce Brosnan, Robert Mitchum, Margi Clarke Paramount Pictures US Release Date: March 1992, UK: March 1992 Tagline 'So Good You'll See It Twice!'

1. Spin, Spin, Spinoza Penguin Books, 1998.
2. New York Times interview, Jan 1996
3. The movies from which these scenes are ripped include Sudden Def Syndrome (from 1988, the first movie in the franchise which stars middle class rapper Bore-Jwah-Z as super street-cop Titus Syndrome) Perchance, Methinks (Jean-Louis Fiscal's attempt at period nonsense)
Natural Lore (bestial fantasy romp starring a teen Benicio Del Toro), Alice Cooper Presents Louis Cypher: Guitar Legend ('The Devil [inevitably] Has The Best Tunes!), John Ford's Stagecoach, Conspicuous Absinthe (yawnsome 70's sex 'n' booze 'comedy'), Punchline (The 'Burning Orphanage' group (so-named because of the line 'comedy today is about as funny as a burning orphanage', the infamous kiss-off from Tony Hancock's suicide note) of anti-comedians attempt to 'destroy comedy' by poorly delivering, to the point of absurdity, one hundred of the oldest jokes), Cabin In The Sky (Vincente Minnelli's 1943 Faustian jazz opus starring Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington), H.M.S.Lovesick (British psych-out from 1982 in which a warship in the South Pacific Ocean hears word of nuclear conflict and goes crazy), Cheadle (Don Cheadle's autobiographical debut), Parentheses (Jean-Luc Godard's English language expression of fear of offices and attached language), camp robot drama Short Circuit II, and Italo-Druid horror Stonahenga. The plot of Spoof V, in a twist of self-referentiality too far for many, actually revolves around a fan of this particular scene from Spoof and his belief that the sequence of films shown betrays some kind of cosmic code that, if unscrambled, bestows huge power on the solver. And in a way it does.