All posts by Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is the director of Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes!, voted Best Experimental Film in the 2004 New York International Film and Video Festival (which can be downloaded from DownloadHorror.com here), and the feature W the Movie. He writes the column "Alfred Eaker's Fringe Cinema" for this site, covering the world of underground film, as well as regularly contributing essays on other subjects.

THE WILD AND ZANY WORLD OF TODD M. COE

Todd M. Coe is one of those secret finds that is all too tempting to keep secret.

Todd M CoeTodd’s animated shorts evoke the decade of the 1970’s, which  he is hopelessly in love with.  Drive-in commercials, exploitation, cheesy horror, 70’s adult  posters, variety show television specials, low budget spaghetti westerns, robots, the rock group Kiss, Aaron Spelling cop shows, feathered hair, plaid bell bottoms, and, of course animation are all manna from pop culture heaven for him.

Todd could undoubtedly add a few thousand items from that decade to the list, such as one of his favorites (and the delightfully of it’s period) Paul Lynde Halloween Special ,with Donnie and Marie Osmond, Mrs. Brady, Witchie Poo and Billy Barty all trading groan worthy barbs with the inimitable and much missed Mr. Lynde. Todd discussed this perennial favorite in a series of emails and his enthusiasm was admittedly infectious.

Todd is a post-modern, eclectic “slapstick surrealist”.  His four shorts can be seen on both youtube (his channel is called school pizza) and on his website—http://www.toddmcoe.com/—where you can also view his numerous illustrations, drawings and paintings.

Todd pours his obvious love of subject into all of his amazingly detailed work and, boy does he pour it on, like a good oozing heap of Aunt Jemima syrup.

Taking a tour through Todd’s website is an inspiration. After a near fatal overdose from the increasingly bland overkill of Tim Burton’s monotonous school of animation, or even more monotonous, bland Japanese Animation, Todd’s work is a much needed breath of fresh red, white and blue air.

Don’t be surprised to find yourself humming the Love American Style and SchoolHouse Rock’s Conjunction Junction theme songs as you take the Todd M. Coe ride.

I certainly did, and now I’m really fighting the urge to throw in a video of the Banana Splits, locating my 45 record of Styx’s Mr. Roboto, re-read my Green Lantern comics, fall in love with the Farrah posterall over again (God bless that angel’s soul), take a whack at the etch a sketch, and pour myself a big bowl of Crisp cereal. I doubt I win that fight.

Thank you much Mr. Coe.

HEART OF THE BEHOLDER (2005) & THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)

Still from Heart of the Beholder (2005)In 2005, Ken Tipton made a labor of love, an indie film called Heart of the Beholder, regarding the true story of the initial video release of Last Temptation of Christ and the effects it has on a family who owned a small video chain in St. Louis, Missouri during the 1980s.

The CFD, Citizens for Decency, arrived when the owners of the chain chose to carry  Martin Scorsese’s controversial film.  These God-loving red, white and blue, flag- waving Americans came out in droves to harass, bully and literally threaten their employees, family, business and life.

These are the same Americans who undoubtedly burned Dixie Chick albums when that group criticized God’s ambassador here on earth, little George W, and are the same Americans who still visit the Heart of the Beholder website telling Mr. Tipton and company that they are going to  hell while undoubtedly pleasuring themselves at the thought of the filmmakers frying  for all eternity.  Heart of the Beholder is a damned important, desperately needed film.

Although Heart of the Beholder got good reviews and even won some festival awards, predictably, no distributor would touch it.  One would surely think that the making of the film would have brought in some support, perhaps from Temptation‘s producers, Scorsese, etc.   Continue reading HEART OF THE BEHOLDER (2005) & THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)

IN A WORD, “CHAPLIN”

Any hip, against-the-grain aficionado with an appreciation for the surreal, the avant-garde, and the experimental will tell you flat out that there’s no comparison: it’s Keaton over Chaplin.   You simply have to concede Keaton’s superiority because Chaplin was too accepted, too famous, too popular, too sentimental, too rich, too pedestrian in directorial style, too populist, too egotistical, too narcissistic, and nowhere near as prone to risk-taking as Keaton.

That was THE prevailing thought from the 60’s until quite recently and accurate only in theory because, like Beethoven, Chaplin really can’t be overrated, while Keaton certainly is (i.e., The General).

That doesn’t mean the above comparison has no truth and, naturally, it would be preposterous to say that Chaplin did not make some truly terrible films (King of New York and A Day’s Pleasure are people’s exhibit A).

However, Keaton’s  experimentalist stature is grossly exaggerated.  He was certainly the most innovative of the “A” list silent clowns, but was nowhere near as much so as either  the recently re-discovered Charlie Bowers or Harry Langdon, who, as blasphemous as it may sound, really had more memorably etched, modern characterizations (Chaplin did say he only felt threatened by Langdon).

In hindsight, Keaton’s innovation, which  surfaced  only  sporadically, seems suspiciously unintentional, even if his best films are indeed brilliant and highly innovative—The Playhouse and Sherlock Jr.

Years later, when working with Samuel Beckett on Film, Keaton revealed his  impatience with experimentation by loudly grumbling.

One walks away from Keaton’s best films feeling impressed.  One walks away from Chaplin’s best film unforgettably  moved.

Chaplin in City LightsThere is hardly a more profoundly artistic, emotionally overwhelming ending than that of City Lights .  It remains the most memorable ending in screen history.  Montgomery Clift declared it the  greatest screen acting he had  seen (that’s saying quite a bit from an actor of Clift’s caliber, but perhaps he had not seen Falconetti in Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, which is hardly acting in the gauged sense).

City Lights deserves all the acclaim it has received.  It is Chaplin at his most spiritual and at his most expertly balanced (the pathos does not draw attention to itself, as in many of Continue reading IN A WORD, “CHAPLIN”

REQUIEM FOR TIM BURTON & JOHNNY DEPP

Apparently Pee Wee’s Playhouse: The Movie is actually in production and is slated for a 2011 release.

There has always been an uneasy relationship between avant-garde and outsider art. In 1985, Tim Burton and Pee-Wee Herman brilliantly thumbed their noses at any pretense of tension between the two with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Herman and Burton seemed refreshing fresh air to a relatively young medium that was dangerously growing stale with mass manufacturePee Wee's Big Adventured Hollywood product.

Of course, Herman went on to produce what was possibly the best television program in the last twenty years with Pee Wee’s Playhouse, that is until some uptight Florida cops busted him when they caught him pleasuring himself in an adult theater (which is bit like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500, one would think). This was during the heyday of the now practically extinct video store. Panic ensued and everyone from the Blue and Yellow Giant down to drug stores yanked every Pee Wee video from the shelves. Oddly enough, not too long after O.J. Simpson was accused of decapitating two people, those same video chains were in a panic trying to get every O.J video into their stores, which is quite a commentary on American mores: Hmmm, let’s see, it’s much worse to masturbate than to kill people. Now would I rather my child grow up to have a healthy sex life, or be a mass murderer?  (PS: On September 12th, 2001 those same corporate video chains were hustling to get all the Nostradamus videos in, feeding off American paranoia).

Meanwhile, Burton showed much promise.  The flawed Beetlejuice and Batman lived up to that early promise. Despite the absurd Hollywood fight ending, Edward Scissorhands was a Continue reading REQUIEM FOR TIM BURTON & JOHNNY DEPP

THE EXQUISITE CHAMBER WESTERNS OF BUDD BOETTICHER, PART FOUR: COMANCHE STATION (1960)

This is Part Four in a four part series exploring Budd Boetticher’s 1950s Westerns starring Randolph Scott (known as the “Ranown cycle”).  The films previously discussed in the series were Seven Men from Now (1956), The Tall T (1957), and Ride Lonesome (1959).

If The Tall T is bleakest, and Ride Lonesome a fan favorite, then Comanche Station (1960) is the most poetic and artistically accomplished of Boetticher’s Ranown cycle of westerns.

Comanche_StationThis was the valedictory film for Ranown and was intended to be actor Randolph Scott’s as well (two years later he was talked out of retirement to make the sublime, yet slightly overrated Ride the High Country with director Sam Peckinpah and co-star Joel McCrea).

Scott emerges from a cubist landscape, first as a majestic silhouette, then as a haunted, chiseled ghost, continuing his vain, decade-long search for his (most likely dead) wife, abducted by Indians.

The native Americans here are portrayed as little more than savages, and Nancy Gates, the heroine he winds up rescuing, is a delicate object of prized beauty, rather than fully human.  These quibbles aside, once again Boetticher’s stark, stripped down sense of composition is replete with complex characters and ambiguous mores.

Randolph Scott embodies a beautiful purity here, more so even than in the other entries. His endless years of wandering through the vast, arid western desert, searching for his lost wife, echoes Orpheus searching for Eurydice in hell, or in a seemingly pointless purgatory.

Comanche Station is a brooding post-modernist work which stems from allegories found in the most potent, forceful biblical tales and mythology.  Claude Akins is the primary, King Saul-like villain; he has committed mass murder, intends to kill both Scott and Gates, does not hesitate killing his own man, and yet admires Scott and even saves him from a terrible fate.

Skip Homeier and Richard Rust are Akins’ latently homosexual henchmen (in a poignant scene, Akins complains to Scott of Homeier’s “softness”).  The scene in which Homeier carefully lifts Rust’s dead, arrow-ridden body from the creek permeates a tender fragrance like that found in the story of David and Jonathan from the biblical Book of Kings.  Homeier is touchingly simplistic, not truly wanting a life of crime, but clueless as to any other way of life.

Scott’s hero looks like a figure culled from a Cezanne canvas.  He is at first misjudged by Gates, but will eventually be her savior, reuniting her with her family, the stains and scars of her past laid to rest. There is no such redemption for Scott.  Station ends where it begins, and the tree from the finale of Ride Lonesome reappears here, symbolically haunting, in the middle of a river.

Pessimistic repetition is the Kafkaesque curse of Scott’s ghost, who will never find his wife, nor even a destination.  The final scene in Comanche Station, like the Ranown cycle itself, sears itself into memory.  These westerns are hopelessly undervalued by the bulk of mainstream audiences and critics, but for the initiated—as blasphemous as this may sound—this brief collaboration by a group of artists, lead by obsessive, inimitable auteur Budd Boetticher, rivals the best in American cinema (and, yes, that includes the films of John Ford).

THE EXQUISITE CHAMBER WESTERNS OF BUDD BOETTICHER, PART THREE: RIDE LONESOME (1959)

Ride Lonesome (1959) was the first of Boetticher’s “Ranown” cycle to utilize the new CinemaScope process, and it does so impressively. The rich color and expressionist framing of desert canyon rock would only be topped in the series’ final entry, Comanche Station. Most fans of the cycle consider Ride Lonesome the best entry. While that remains debatable, it is certainly, in terms of composition and pacing, the most perfectly structured. It is also the most elegiac and, surprisingly, optimistic.

Still from Ride Lonesome (1959)Amongst a memorable cast, Lee Van Cleef etches out an unforgettable, albeit brief, performance as the murderous brother of  James Best (later known as the bumbling deputy in the TV series Dukes of Hazard) , who is prisoner to Randolph Scott’s bounty hunter. Naturally, things are more complex than they seem. Scott wants Cleef to catch up with them and for a very personal, startling reason: Cleef hanged Scott’s wife years before. Along the journey Scott meets up with the beautiful Karen Steele, and a pair of pseudo-outlaws in Pernell Roberts (Trapper John M.D) and a shockingly young (his first film). Roberts and Coburn want Best for themselves, since turning him in, dead or alive, will gain them amnesty from their crimes. Naturally, there is sexual tension between Steele and Scott, yet the potential for relationship is doomed by Scott’s obsessive thirst for revenge.

Ride Lonesome is, easily, Boetticher’s most optimistic film (as optimistic as Boetticher can be and still be Boetticher). Scott’s eventual handing over of Best to the two repentant outlaws is a pleasant surprise. The villains are hardly two-dimensional. Cleef, having committed a heinous crime, earnestly begs for his brother’s life, only to fall on Scott’s deaf ears.

The four males desire and vie for the widowed Steele (her husband having been murdered by the Apaches). At first she is mere ornamentation, as the women in the Boetticher films sometimes tend to be. Later, Steele’s character somewhat evolves into mother, latent lover, comforter, but short of fully developed person. Full development of female characters and weak scoring are the two biggest flaws in the otherwise outstanding Ranown cycle.

Boetticher still finds time for adroit comic touches amidst the overwhelming ironies and the final, haunting, lyrical image of the burning tree that Scott’s wife died on. Steele leaves her protector there, in the desert, alone. He will never be happy, nor find contentment. Indeed, one is left with the ominous feeling that the ravaged Scott himself will die there, never leaving this spot. This final shot sears in the memory.

To summarize: Ride Lonesome is as optimistic as Boetticher can be and still be Boetticher.

Next week: the final and poetic Comanche Station.

THE EXQUISITE CHAMBER WESTERNS OF BUDD BOETTICHER, PART TWO: THE TALL T (1957)

Shot in a mere twelve days, The Tall T is one of the most remarkable westerns in a decade that unquestionably belonged to the western genre.  Burt Kennedy scripted a pure, taut, and crisp script from an Elmore Leonard short story.Still from The Tall T (1957)The Tall T is an actor’s film. The first surprise lies in Maureen O’Sullivan’s performance as homely, whimpering Doretta Mims; a performance that can almost be seen as a bookend to her far different, equally superb performance as the independent, strong-willed, sensual Jane of Tarzan and his Mate (1934). Here, she is the newly married, timid wife of unsympathetic louse John Hubbard. By film’s end she emerges from self-pity’s well, dress coming off shoulder, hair loosed down and radiating a fire akin to Prometheus unbound as she is pressed up against the pure, granite-hard, phallic form of .


Scott’s character is one of his most interesting and fully developed in the Boetticher cannon. The film opens with Scott visiting  friends at the Way Station.  Upon Scott’s departure, the young , amiable, grandson of the station manager gives the laconic cowboy a penny for some rock hard candy from the town store. Naturally, the good-natured Scott promises to do so.  However, on the way back to the station, Scott, more animated than normal, loses his horse in a bet in a scene evoking archetypal good old boy western humor.  The calm before the proverbial storm.

Taking a stagecoach on the way back to the station, Scott has a bit of camaraderie with old buddy and stagecoach driver Arthur Hunnicutt (a character favorite in dozens of westerns, he typified the grizzled sidekick) who is transporting newlyweds O’ Sullivan  and her louse husband;,John Hubbard (surprisingly, a standard stock coward, nowhere near as developed as Walter Continue reading THE EXQUISITE CHAMBER WESTERNS OF BUDD BOETTICHER, PART TWO: THE TALL T (1957)

REFLECTIONS ON THE 48 HOUR FILM FESTIVAL & THE “9” DIARY.

“Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema” is a column published on Thursdays covering truly independent cinema: the stuff that’s so far under the public radar it may as well be underground.   The folks making these films may be starving artists today, but they may be recognized as geniuses tomorrow.  We hope to look like geniuses ourselves by being the first to cover them.

48_hour_film_festival_4July 31st -Aug 2nd, the 48 hr Film Festival came to Indianapolis, sponsored by the Big Car Art Gallery.  Jim Walker of Big Car curated the event.  30 Indiana film making teams signed up to participate, including the Liberty or Death Team of James Mannan and Robin Panet.

Jim and Robin approached me about six weeks ago, inviting me to participate in this year’s 48 Hour Film Festival.  Since I assisted in last year’s event with them to do Hallow’s Dance, I was a tad reluctant to do all this again.  However, they shrewdly threw out a couple of temptations when they told me they wanted to do something surreal, which is my forte, along with inviting me to write and direct with Robin.  Jim would be producing.  If I recall correctly, my response was something akin to “Oh, alright, goddammit.”

For those who don’t know the set up of the festival, it goes like this: the teams go in on Friday night at 7:30 pm and draw a genre out of the hat.  Jim drew Horror, which was apt as this is Jim and Robin’s forte. Then, everyone is given the same character name, his profession, a line of dialogue, and a prop.

The character name was Professor Sherman Kane, the prop was a ball and the line of dialogue was “I’m not talking to you”.  Now the teams leave, write their script, shoot it, edit and turn it in by 7:30 pm on Sunday night.  Showing of films: Wednesday and Thursday evening at the IMA.

48_hour_film_festival_1I would imagine the whole idea for said festival came from Roger Corman.  The story is well known among film aficionados.  Corman had finished The Raven 48 hours ahead of schedule, with the actors, including Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson, still on contract for the remainder of the shooting schedule.  That night Corman went home, wrote a script called The Terror, came back the next day and shot it within the 48 period.  The problem with this story is that The Terror is indeed a terror to Continue reading REFLECTIONS ON THE 48 HOUR FILM FESTIVAL & THE “9” DIARY.

THE EXQUISITE CHAMBER WESTERNS OF BUDD BOETTICHER, PART ONE: SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956)

In a brief span of four years, from 1956 to 1960, Director Budd Boetticher, writer Burt Kennedy and actor Randolph Scott collaborated on a series of seven “chamber westerns” which rank as one of the most rewarding achievements in the art of American Cinema.

Seven Men from NowWhile a number of prominent film critics, historians and luminaries have rightly praised the “Ranown” series (named after Boetticher’s production company), attention is often paid to the fact that Boetticher produced the series on a shoestring budget.  Thus, despite praise, the series and Boetticher himself are relegated to a second tier, “B” level, as if the monies poured into these films somehow affect and dictate their intrinsic value.

To the contrary, the Boetticher/Kennedy/Scott westerns are in every way equal to the larger budgeted collaborations of Ford and Wayne, Daves and Ford, Leone and Eastwood.

With these sparse, psychologically complex works, Boetticher did as much for the American western as Val Lewton did for the American Horror film in the 40’s.

The breakthrough Seven Men From Now (1956) was a long way from Ken Maynard’s white hat and bottle of milk atop a horse named Tarzan. It’s also far more aesthetically modernist, more taut, more complexly developed in character than the later, ultra-stylish westerns of Peckinpah and Leone (the exception being Peckinpah’s slightly overrated Ride the High Country, also starring Randolph Scott with Joel McCrea). Very few films in the genre can boast as richly developed characterizations. The Delmer Daves/Glenn Ford films along with the Anthony Mann/James Stewart cannon can arguably be mentioned in the same breath.

Seven Men From Now establishes Boetticher’s Ranown canvas. Randolph Scott was an actor of beautiful limitations and the director utilized Scott’s mere presence to compositional advantage.  The actor’s weathered face parallels the expressionistic, Cezanne-like rocky terrains.  Boetticher takes equal advantage of his hero’s range to etch a morally ambiguous personification.

Scott, out for revenge, seems, at first, to personify the mythological old west code of right and wrong.  He is ancient, laconic, sips coffee, and projects a virtuous nobility with a mere shifting of the eyes.  That is until his foil, Lee Marvin (superb here) astutely recalls how Scott had no qualms about stealing a friend’s wife.  Even Walter Reed, as Gail Russell’s weak, cowardly husband, surprises in an act of redemption. The power in the Boetticher films lies in the riveting conversations and in a shrewd slicing of viewer expectations.  There is a disconcerting, hushed quality throughout the film, even in those conversations, which project a tense, quiescent air of revelation.

Next week: perhaps the bleakest film of the cycle, The Tall T (1957).

MAYA DEREN: AT LAND (1944)

Maya Deren’s At Land (1944) opens with a scene of fearsome waves crashing against a desolate shore.  It could almost be described as Debussian, save for the unsettling dead and total silence that continues, unabated, throughout the film.

Maya Deren's At LandThe exotic Deren appears, emerging from a sleep, like a mermaid spit ashore from the crashing waves.

Deren begins slowly climbing a massive, twisted, dead tree trunk; the figure of Deren/Eros embarking on her great existential journey.

The nymph (her face adorned with child-like innocence) slithers on her stomach across a dining room table, populated with faceless corporates.  They do not take notice of her, preoccupied with idle chatter and many cigarettes.  Her eyes focus on a solitary figure, playing chess at the table’s end.  By the time she reaches that end (there are brief, repeated, struggled, exploratory diversions through a mass of shrubbery) she finds the player has just left and, as she gazes at the board, the rest of the room’s occupants are also leaving.

Telekinetically, she moves the chess pieces, until the pawn (one of eight) falls through a hole in the table.  She attempts to retrieve it and finds herself  back on the shore, then on a country road, walking and talking with a young man (represented by five different men).

She cannot keep up with the man and he leaves her behind as he disappears into a cabin, shutting the foreboding door behind him.

Determined not to be abandoned, she crawls under the log cabin but emerges in a contemporary, nearly abandoned home, laden with furniture, covered in white sheets.

It is not the young man she finds, but an older, bedridden man (figure number six), under a white bed sheet.  They silently stare at each other, identify Continue reading MAYA DEREN: AT LAND (1944)