CELLUDROID Sci-Fi / Anime / Fantasy Film Festival
When good things happen to quiet people and why you should be excited
What follows is the slightly belated review of the Celludroid Sci-Fi / Anime / Fantasy, held over the last weekend of August. Erp, talk about delays.
The Celludroid Sci-Fi / Anime / Fantasy was the first of what will hopefully become an annual event at the Labia, similar to Horrorfest and X-fest, except, you know. The sci-fi / anime / fantasy genre. All three events are put together by Paul Blom, the same guy who organizes the SA Horrorfest and X-Fest, and well done on that man.
Shown at the festival were B-movie cheese treasures such as Destroy All Planets, featuring Japanese dudes in rubber suits tearing up cities, and Ed Wood’s atrocious Plan 9 from Outer Space, and Akira, apparently the token anime film (however, a cherished classic).
I was supposed to review the movies I saw (which sadly doesn’t include all of them), but there is honestly no way I can critically review and weigh the positive and negatives of a giant cosmic turtle named Gamera saving the Earth from a giant squid who’s actually hidden in eight Japanese people. (I’m did not make this up. I saw it.) Destroy All Planets is a Noriaki Yuasa by-product, and is part of series of movies from a Japanese film company, Daiei, pumped out to piggyback on the smash success of Godzilla. It’s part of the good ol’ man-in-a-rubber-suit-destroys-cardboard-city, and it’s glorious – up to a point. Know why it’s so hard to actually find these kind of movies in DVD rental stores? Because they are fucking terrible. Unless surrounded by a group of similarly enthusiastic aficionados or whatever complimentary distractive device, the movie will begin to claw away at your patience like a hungry infant once the fighting monsters give way to the insufferable dialogue and plot development of the stupid humans – in these movies, the hyoo-man protagonists tend to be little kids, and they simply spend too much time trying to make them loveable. Remember that this is a 100-minute movie which was really made without irony – they genuinely try and feed you a plot, amidst the drawn-out Monster vs. Monster montages. Visibly low-budget, even for the time, these movies actually frequently make use of recycled footage from previous films – remember how they used to do that in The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers? To kill time in Destroy All Planets, the nefarious alien badguys throw the audience a bone by reflecting on how Gamera, a giant, planet-loving, cosmic-dwelling, boy-scout-lovin’ turtle, came to be, and how many different types of monster asshole he can rip up – and they don’t condense them, either. It’s a full six-minute battle, complete with villain origin story, every time.
Of course it’s fun watching in a small audience, and it kind of goes without saying that the majority of the viewers are, well, a little geeky and strange – and I mean this in an affectionate and very self-aware manner. It is infinitely more bearable sitting through this when a couple of wits begin to ad-lib Simpson’s dialogue for the monsters, and there’s a happy camaraderie about it – we’re all in this horrible, horrible thing together. I have very fond feelings for giant monster movies, but I confess that this is more a fanciful preconception which has not really been stemmed by any solid childhood nostalgia – unlike the regular Saturday afternoon Japanese monster movie features from 90’s American cable networks, these B-monster movies were never really pumped through South Africa en masse – and let’s face it, networks bank on showing the public things that more than a handful of geeks will enjoy. The market for it may be a little bigger than the twenty or so people in the theatre that day, but it’s still not enough to pump decades of bad filmmaking into a channel until our eyes ooze out from too much nonstop-rubber-monster-suit-action – as much as I’d truly love that, I confess.
B-monster movies, and sci-fi horrors in general, really, will take second place to predictably big blockbusters, and there’s not much worth in repeating why – it’s a buyer’s market the audience for crowd-pleasers is bigger. Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, South Africa’s favourite new brag-boat, opened up in just under 4000 theatres across the US. In South Africa, it’s being shown in around 80 cinemas. There isn’t so much a lack of appreciation for good monster flicks in SA, as there is a lack of distribution. Die-hard fans are left to order obscure titles online or through other means, and it becomes an obsessive hobby, when really, it shouldn’t. Yes, it’s an achievement to score a find like the 80’s The Thing from someone. It’s a delightful novelty, but it’s also trash, and some people will just not find their cup tea to be made delightful by monsters and buckets of the greenest blood. Five minutes into Destroy All Planets, my friend started whining, and after fifteen, started whinging in earnest. She left after twenty and didn’t come back.
Science fiction is neither a newly discovered treasure in this country, nor is it by any means dying. Nine times out of ten, if I start a sentence with “Science fiction…” in front of my parents, their automatic response is to harmonize “Double feat-uuuure..” – and probably so do their friends. Now I’m not about to use The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a foundation for science fiction, as this, I feel, was more of an outlet for my hippie folks to outgrow secret vices with their friends, and is something I will happily not spend too much time thinking about. Sex and cross-dressing aside, however, the point I’m trying to wrestle out is that TRHPS is founded on a certain existing camp horror spawned from American cinema, and the cult status is tied to that as an element too. The movie combined elements of Frankenstein, Dracula, Nosferatu, The Wolf-Man… while this is very arguably not the main centre of appeal of TRHPS, he genre helped to create something very identifiable. Hell, that movie ends with space aliens shooting fucking lazers at a bastard creation not of God’s hands by a mad scientist. Yeah yeah yeah, blah-blah burlesque-transvestite-transgender musical… this movie is totally packed with monsters and aliens.
Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space used to be voted IMDB’s worst movie ever, but has since lost it’s place due to the pure cult following it’s accumulated – how can anyone make a movie that bad? Parts of the movie were shot at night and day, and then not-so-seamlessly mashed together in post-production, with the result being the entire audience (all twelve of us) cheerfully chiming “Night!” “Day!” “Night!” “Daaaay!” with every single scene change. Bela Lugosi, playing the role of a some reanimated vampire, has a clip wherein emerges from a forest to squint and hiss vaguely before gather up his cape and slowly shuffling back like the faded old man he is. That clip is used like three times with no explanation. Foreshadowing, maybe? Hell, I couldn’t concentrate on any fucking plot, I was struggling too much trying to figure out how many days had passed in the movie’s timeline. Or laughing at the awful, pointless dialogue and acting. The best line of the movie is an older cop assuring a rookie cop with ambitions of promotions that “We’ll get you out of that uniform in no time”, which became the audience’s favourite ad-lib for the rest of the film. I want for the internet to give up on LOLcats and start putting that phrase into every single image macro until our inboxes flood with them. Was there a point to this movie? In a very bad Orson Welles way, sure, but who could keep track?
Not every film was terrible, however. Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic Akira (1988) does what good anime does – confuse the fuck out of you for fifty minutes until everything begins to make sense, and then drags you in. It’s a beautiful film, and breakthrough for its time – it was one of the first feature-length anime productions to animate lip-synched dialogue, and the fluid grace of the film comes from more than 160 000 animation cells.
I’m delighted that this festival is set to be an annual event (I’d strongly argue for monthly, because seriously, we need this!). While attendance was never really staggering, I really feel like a much bigger market (at least in Cape Town) exists for this, and is in need, really of more advertising and underground word-of-mouth.
While I’d missed Plaguers, Bane and Automatons, I’m really glad that this venture has started up, and sincerely hope for Paul Blom, and fans of good ol’ sci-fi horror cheese, that this continues and grows – while there is a lot of collector’s pride in finding and declaring ownership of rare gems, it is occasionally rewarding to be shown these films instead of us having to feverishly trawl torrents for bad-quality rips of movies that were bad-quality films to begin with.
Check out the site, and show some support by becoming a member on Facebook. I reiterate, begin campaining for monthly screenings! These guys needs support, this is just too much of a bad good thing to fade away:
Also, look out for the upcoming SA HorrorFest, "The Best Halloween Event in Africa", in October, also hosted at the good o’ Labia:
Thanks Paul, and thank you, science fiction.
In the end of Destroy All Planets, the film climaxes with, okay, this squid that had been kept captive on board of the spaceship, which turns out to be their supreme leader. He decapitates all of the crew (gloomy-looking Japanese men) and similar squidly beings emerge from their headless host’s bodies. Then, they all merge into the leader to make one big mecha-squid, who goes serious mano-o-mano on Gamera – this fight is intense, and the squid very nearly has Gamera by the turtley short and curlies when, get this, he gets stuck by being flipped over on his back – the natural kryptonite of turtles the world over. He’s lying there, with his little legs flailing and his head poking in and out of his shell like a stubborn turd, which allows the space squid to jab at Gamera’s soft underbelly multiple times with his pointy head, and it’s pretty gruesome – Gamera’s blood flows viscous and blue, and the idiot boys crouch behind the sand dune and yell “Fight him, Gamera! Fight him!” God, if I was that turtle and I saw a way out of this, priority number one after making calamari out of that thing would be to bleed all over the boys, Tyler Durden style - “You don’t know what I’ve been through, haha, you don’t know what I’ve been through!” Then he’d grind their faces into the cement like he did to Jared Leto. Gamera somehow wins anyway, I think by flying up into space and leaving the squid there or something – the squid freezes in space but Gamera doesn’t, because the bitch has rockets for feet, and proceeds to destroy the remains of the ping-pong-ball spaceship. And everyone’s happy, the scout councilor makes fun of the boys for being trouble-makers while they pout and cross their arm.
Gamera goes back to his watery lair to brood and think turtley things. Probably shit like “Where are the female giant turtles?” Or I don’t know, maybe not thinking thoughts like that is the cause of the connection he seems to have with little boys.
It’s way intense.