Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
If Camp is the Pagan Savior of the B Horror, this Film is Dreadfully Puritan.
Susan Sontag wrote that naïve camp
is more satisfying than self-aware camp, and in some cases, camp can actually raise the bad up from the floor. Having it's own aesthetic sensibilities, camp is not easily distinguished from poorly constructed films. Occasionally, films are fortunate enough to enter into camp by way of their poor construction and certain fetishistic detail. Sadly, I must report: there is no camp to save Urban Legends: Bloody Mary
Farfetched death #1: The many uses of our genitals.
Truly, its absence of camp is suspicious, as the Urban Legend
films are based on the premise of audience awareness and as such are filled with their own brand of seldom-clever tongue in cheek. What the film does accomplish, by way of clearly efficient plot points, is the inclusion of a series of symbolic traits that stand as legendary references for the concept of Bloody Mary
Note the vaginal gash and white sweater mimicking bridal veil.
Beginning with the origin story of their local Mary Banner, the audience is summoned from the flashback by the film's teenage pajama-clad protagonist. Curious (as nubile girls tend to be) the girls intone the name of Bloody Mary. Nothing happens and the girls go to sleep. Mysteriously, the three girls are abducted in the night from their slumber party. When the protagonist's brother finds out that the culprits are none other than the three most recognized football players in the high school, the characters learn that local history is repeating itself.
A Sony Home Entertainment release, this picture is proof that B pictures are still made the old fashioned way: by those with money. And perhaps this is the disease that caused the film's symptomatic malady.
Farfetched death #2: Burned by the grotto. One of the film's many sacred canals.
Symbolically, the film is a veritable Da Vinci Code
. Like any other cautionary tale, the coding both damns and favors the virginal
. Proof of death is seen in phallic terms, and total absence (absence often referred to in the process of storytelling) is its feminine counterpart. Though it contains rapist allusions and some scrambled porn, the world of the film is interestingly devoid of sex. Even the pornography, which is mostly heard, (the man sounds bored with fake pleasure [think Ron Jeremy] and the woman squeals as if wounded) is wholly disinteresting to the soon-dead, 40-swilling, football player who watches it. Cleverly, the origin story includes veiled allusions to unwanted sex. When Mary is drugged and struggling with her homecoming date, her assailant says, "Mary, it's just a little prick". And that's the last thing virgin
Mary hears. Following this, Mary dies by way of a device that looks strikingly like a chastity belt.
The vaginal wound on the rapist's hand, juxtaposed to the lock that keeps Mary a virgin into the afterlife.
Directed by Mary Lambert, the production design of the film features copious canal like passageways, which the camera penetrates like a jock after his first generic six-pack. And though this suggests some cleverness on the part of the director, the making-of featurette dispels any suspicion that she was "in on the trick".
I wanted so badly to find the film a brilliant ode to this puritanical cautionary tale. And to an extent it was. The writers had some ideas about the connotation of the legend ( to name a few: Mary's virginity, her reason for violence, or the "place" her victims go) and that is what makes you want to keep watching. To an extent, viewing the reprisal of these mythic stories constructs a new mythology, and that part of the urban legacy is marvelous. But sadly, this film is about as exciting as the fake scrambled porn it features, and I was left feeling about as excited as the soon-dead jock, but unluckily, without the beer.
Somewhere in Los Angeles Tony Okun means well. Cinematically, he does almost nothing else well.
Okun's documentary is every bit an independent production, the work of one man that I would call a labor of love if it seemed anyone had actually labored over it. Instead, The Park
been put together from a few weekends of mini-DV footage and released to the world through DVD-pressing services
and Netflix. The good news here is that soon it will be as easy to make and release your own film as it is your own album. The bad news, of course, is most of the product will doggedly subscribe to the Terrible school of filmmaking.
Okun sets out to explore a decent, worthy thesis: parks are a crucial piece of the urban environment and give great opportunities to those living nearby. I once read that good documentarians, once they have found their subject matter, have the skill and the good sense to get out of its way. Failing to do this is the first, and mortal, blow Okun deals to The Park
The filmmaker narrates his own movie in a creepy, bedroom hush that bespeaks inappropriate touching, not filmic intelligence and exploration. He forces an odd structure onto the film, invoking a strange sort of Q & A with title cards issuing generic prompts like "Why is The Park good?" and the annoyingly catch-all "Stories from The Park" with a series of interviewees answering. Any of these people, given a consecutive chunk of time on screen and left alone by Okun's incessant editing, would tell an interesting story. The material is there. The park in question does look to be an interesting place, but Okun wants very much to force some personal structure about learning what The Park "means to people". In doing so he steps on every interesting story and character he finds.
This mismanagement of people and material also makes what could have well been a fascinating series of documentaries a very, very padded 70-minute film. Okun uses slow-motion, useless montages, odd semi-recreations, and repetition to fluff out and fill in his light-weight wonder.
does have the occasional interesting moment. For some reason most of them have to do with going to the bathroom in the park. And, as if to further prove the documentary is padded and wholly without merit, a bundle of outtakes after the credits, intended to be a humorous coda, reveal that one of the interviewees -- who has heretofore offered his opinions on the park straighfacedly -- was recently institutionalized and thinks he's God and Santa Claus. Interesting stuff, to be sure, but something the viewer should have been apprised of earlier.
The idea of the local, guerilla documentary is a great one. People who live near an interesting park and take the time to catalogue its vital role in the neighborhood should be commended (although, obviously not in this space). They should also be the filmmakers most capable of letting their story come to them on its own. That is their biggest strength as budget-less, roving cameras.
As it happened, before I watched The Park
I watched the frist three episodes of the Discovery/Times channel's series Off to War
. The show is made by several Arkansas documentarians who got themselves embedded with the 39th Brigade of the Arkansas National Guard
and their families and taped them as they went to war. The producers' equipment is similar to Okun's, but Off to War
does one thing very well: narration-less and barebones, it gets out of its characters' way and allows their story to become the movie. Score one for Arkansas in its epic battle with Los Angeles to produce, low budget, powerful documentaries about community.