Cinematexas 2000 By Mike White. “This isn’t a film venue, this is where Sonny Corleone bought it,” I said, looking at our dubious surroundings...
“This isn’t a film venue, this is where Sonny Corleone bought it,” I said, looking at our dubious surroundings. I checked and re-checked our map and, sure enough, across from some overgrown vacant lots and nonfunctional gas pumps was a corrugated steel warehouse that served to host the feature-length Parallax View films.
My new bride and I came to Austin for the Cinematexas festival. It looked like a lowbrow good time for newlywed cineastes. Unfortunately, between the week’s stormy weather and some poor choices in programs, Andrea and I ended up thoroughly drenched and disillusioned. Before the week was out, we only managed to catch one program of shorts in the UT Competition Program that struck a pleasant chord.
The filmmakers at the University of Texas know how to keep things short, if not always light-hearted. Films and videos included appearances by hand puppets, baby snatchers, and a Mexican wrestler shilling products outside a mini-mart. The latter was one of a handful of oddball characters in Mark Jones’ Minutemen, a near-post-apocalyptic elliptical comedy that provided a fair share of belly laughs.
Meanwhile, over at the International Competition Program, we were wasting our time. One film, Josef Dabernig’s Jogging was so bad that it prompted me to boo when it was over. Now, I just don’t do that on any sort of a regular basis. Meanwhile, I cried great big teederdoodles over the waste of celluloid that was Albert Sackl’s “Hey look I’m naked” movie, A Day Full of Variety.
I thought we’d be safe checking out shorts in the Parallax View program but films like Cervando David Martinez’s A Frog in the Well made me long for another filmmaker to tackle this documentary’s subject while Keith Sanborn’s The Zabruder Footage: An Investigation of Consensual Hallucination forced me to leave the theater with great haste lest I run up to the projection booth to set the print aflame. Please, does the world really need twenty minutes worth of John F. Kennedy’s head exploding forwards, backwards, frame by frame, and in fast motion? This is nothing I couldn’t do while watching JFK with my remote control.
On the last bright and sunny Sunday that we were in Texas, we made the trek to South Austin for Can Dialectics Break Bricks?, the brightest spot of our nebulous vacation.
When I was thirteen years old, I was addicted to a show on my local NBC affiliate, Mad Movies. It was a half-hour show in which an old black & white film was condensed and re-dubbed, creating a completely new story through voice-over. Mad Movies is the creation of The L. A. Connection, the comedy troupe responsible for feature length outings such as Blobbermouth, Reefer Madness II: The True Story, and Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters.
Years later I’d see this technique used again (though not as effectively) in Woody Allen’s What’s Up Tiger Lily?, a re-dubbed version of Senkichi Taniguchi’s Kagi no Kai (Key of Keys). Allen stayed within the parameters of the yakuza story, turning it into a covert operation to recover a missing egg salad recipe. Little did I know of the length of this tradition of recontextualizing images. Nor did I realize its potential political ramifications until The Parallax View opened my eyes to the French Situationalist movement.
For an in-depth study of the tenets of the Situationalists, watch Guy Debord’s heady film, Society as the Spectacle. Based upon his book of the same name, Debord’s film plays like a ninety-minute lecture. It’s as important as it is dull. Rather than watching Society, it’s easier and far more entertaining to view the Situationalists in action via René Viénet’s Can Dialectics Break Bricks?, a detournment of Doo Kwang Gee’s The Crush (aka Crush Karate).
Simply put, detournement is the practice of taking a pre-existing object and putting a new “spin” on it. In this day and age, consumers and media watchers constantly witness the phenomenon but there is often no critique behind it. All too often, this technique plays into a simple regurgitation of pop culture, which provides consumers with the warm comfort of familiarity. More than homage or plagiarism, detournment employs original material for a separate agenda. Rather than being haughty, however, Can Dialectics Break Bricks? takes several cues from What’s Up Tiger Lily? by employing an Asian film for its basis and using humor to present its ideas.
The characters of this chop sockey film speak of The Revolution and make pointed jabs at the filmmakers’ contemporaries and the film plays as an anti-intellectual tract. Instead of death, a far worse fate faces the heroes of this movie: these punchy proletariats become part of the bourgeoisie. “He’s become a manager!” cries one upset Asian after the demise of her comrade. Indeed, placing the dogmatic phrases of revolution into the mismatched mouths of these karate characters definitely puts a point on the inactivity of armchair provocateurs.
Restored by Keith Sanborn, the English subtitles and monochromaticity (courtesy of a faulty SECAM to NTSC transfer) of Dialectics helps give an important distance from its China via France roots, providing a more fulfilling viewing experience. Remarkably, Can Dialectics Break Bricks? proved so satisfying thatbetween viewing it and hanging out with the creators of The Collegians Are GoI can fondly recall our quasi-honeymoon in Austin.
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