FilmJerk Favorites

A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| Sergio Leone |||
Sergio Leone

Leone’s career is remarkable in its unrelenting attention to both American culture and the American genre film, exploring the mythic America he created with each successive film examining the established characters in greater depth.

Only his second feature (a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo), Leone's landmark "spaghetti western" caused a revolution and features Clint Eastwood in his breakthrough role as "The Man With No Name". This classic brutal drama of feuding families wasn’t the first spaghetti Western, but it was far and away the most successful up to that time.

Plot is of minimal interest, but character is everything to Leone, who places immense meaning in the slightest flick of an eyelid, extensively using the extreme close-up on the eyes to reveal any feeling, as demonstrated by Clint, who squints his way through this slam-bang sequel to A Fistful of Dollars as a wandering gunslinger that must combine forces with his nemesis to track down a wanted killer.

The final chapter in the groundbreaking trilogy follows Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach as they form an uneasy alliance to find a stash of hidden gold. Leone focuses on his central theme as they find themselves facing greed, treachery, and murder, showing that the desire for wealth and power turns men into ruthless creatures who violate land and family and believe that a man’s death is less important than how he faces it.

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Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film

By BrianOrndorf

October 6th, 2006

While it fails as a true overview of slasher films, the documentary “Going to Pieces” wins points by spending some time focusing on the lesser offerings of the genre. Blessed with interviews from the genre’s top names, it’s a great primer on what went down in the 1980s, and what we should expect from the future.

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film

Slasher films have ridden a looping, twisting roller coaster of notoriety over the last 30 years. They’ve gone from being the toast of the town with their highly profitable grosses and hypnotic power over audiences to volcanically loathed for their unoriginality and social irresponsibility. “Going to Pieces” expands on Adam Rockoff’s 2002 book to visually explore the history of the genre, including new interviews with some of horror’s greatest artists and forgotten footage of the genre in its throat-slitting prime.

“Pieces” starts off rather erratically, establishing the infamous pictures that played a hand in getting hardcore gore and unforgettable violence up on the screen (“Psycho,” “Peeping Tom,” “Last House on the Left”), but immediately sprints past the details to get to the granddaddy of them all: “Halloween.” Using John Carpenter’s classic as a starter pistol for all bloodshed to follow, “Pieces” hits a splendid stride by being informative about the films discussed and also providing the fun of memory and hilarity with clips of some of the lesser genre offerings.

What delighted me about “Pieces” were the conversations held about movies such as “Prom Night,” “Happy Birthday to Me,” and “My Bloody Valentine.” These are not films discussed often or given proper DVD supplementary attention, and while only minutes are spared to converse about these features, it’s fantastic to see the creators finally get a chance to defend their pictures, along with placing their films in the proper context of the era. Most of the documentary is devoted to lasting powerhouses such as “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” yet “Pieces” finds insight in making time to spotlight the smaller films that fleshed out both the greed and filmmaking ingenuity of the 1980s.

“Pieces” doesn’t have much running time to do anything more than dip a toe into the extensive history of the genre; it’s disappointing to see the doc rush through ideas on gore and marketing just so the filmmakers have enough time to make room for the already well documented “Scream” boom in the mid 1990s. Tangents following the debacle surrounding the “Silent Night, Deadly Night” release, or Siskel and Ebert’s war against misogyny in slasher entertainment, appear to have enough meat on their bones to pad out an entire film. These sections are breezed through to provide a wider net of the genre, sometimes blocking the natural movement of the documentary storytelling.

The interviews in “Pieces” trot out the usual suspects (John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tom Savini, Sean Cunningham, Greg Nicotero, Rob Zombie), and to give these talking heads a little more personality, director Jeff McQueen keeps his camera moving while requesting some to stroll through a “spooky” location as they explain their history with slasher films. It’s a potentially cheesy idea, but successful in its attempt to keep the film from getting slogged down in details. Still, it’s hard not to giggle when McQueen captures John Carpenter strolling around a graveyard to give his interview.

The last act of the documentary is devoted to “Scream” and its copycats, leading up to 2006, where “Saw” and “Hostel” are presented as examples of how the genre has slingshot back into another golden age, much to my dismay. I can’t argue the massive box office receipts, but I could spend another 1000 words on the lack of quality of some of the more popular titles.

The summation of the doc is interesting: successful cinematic innovation breeds insatiable greed. “Pieces” touches upon the cyclical nature of horror films and the thirst to capitalize on a trend. So, if you’re like me, and are considerably discouraged for what passes for thrills these days, don’t fear. Hollywood producers have already begun beating the same scary ideas into the ground. See you in 2011.

Since horror films are traditionally overlooked from a historical perspective, “Going to Pieces” is a terrific encapsulation of the era and the product. It’s a lean encyclopedia, but for fans, it touches upon some titles and celebrities that have been long forgotten.

“Going to Pieces” airs Friday, October 13th, on the Starz cable network.

My rating: B+