Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Film Reviewers: Getting it Right. Getting it Wrong.



By Scott Shaw
            When you create something, it is always curiously interesting to find out how other people view it. When you create something with art as a basis; be it a painting, a piece of literature, a photograph, or a movie, mostly people describe how they feel about it – if they like it or if they do not.
            As we all come at art from our own preconceived notions and personal tastes, I always find it curious how other people come to define my work. Sometimes they get it right. They understand what I was doing. Other times they get it totally wrong.
            I guess that is the basis of art, at the sourcepoint the creator understands what they are doing and why they are doing it. And, in most cases, the creator likes what they have created. Someone who was not involved in the creation – someone who has no vested interest in the work, may not understand the creative source-process and they may not like it. That’s just life. That’s just art and the interpretation thereof.
            As I have written in various places in the past, and even in an article I wrote, “Film Reviews: Fact or Fiction,” as many of my films have been reviewed in magazines, books, and on the Internet over the years, I find it very interesting when the reviewer gets things right and more particularly when a reviewer get things wrong but presents their words as facts.
            Now, I’m not speaking about when people hate my films and totally rip them. That’s fine with me. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. Whatever… I’m speaking more of when someone does not possess all of the facts, but writes as if they do, and presents the overall process incorrectly.
            Recently someone sent me a copy of a book where the author mentions a couple of my films and one film made, (at least in part), by my Zen Filmmaking friend, Donald G. Jackson (RIP). The book was pretty good. My stuff got discussed in the, “Honorable (and Dishonorable) Mention,” chapter. That was fun and amusing. But, the author got a few things wrong. Let me explain…
            In one chapter, he discussed Don’s film, Pocket Ninjas. I believe he got his source information from the Internet, because he states that Don and the executive producer were trying to make The Roller Blade Seven for kids. This is not true. This was not at all the basis for that film – though I have seen it detailed as such on the Internet. Don was simply obsessed with roller skates and later roller blades from the 1970s forward. He came up in the era of pretty girls on skates. So, he would integrate that into his films whenever possible. Plus, though he never personally trained, he loved the martial arts. As such, he would also feature the martial arts in his movies wherever possible. Thus, was the basis of Pocket Ninjas.
            The author also attempts to detail the relationship between the executive producer and Don in the book. Again, I guess he got the information from the Internet because it mirrors what I have seen but it is essentially wrong. The executive producer did not come to Don; Don had our friend Mark Williams (RIP) write a script based on an idea he had. He then took the script to the executive producer.
            I had previously worked with the executive producer and he is a very nice guy. Don had also known him for years.
            The executive producer was a formalized filmmaker; he had no intention of making a Zen Film. Pocket Ninjas was in no way a Zen Film. Bad, yes. But, not bad because it was a Zen Film.
            In the book, the author details Don’s removal from the film. But, he gets it wrong. The reason for the relationship collapse and Don being pulled was that the executive producer felt Don was letting production fall behind. Don, on the other hand, blamed the producer, who became the credited director. It was one of those common Hollywood dilemmas. Nothing new here… But, we all still remained friends.
            That’s the story. I hope the world will finally get it right.
            The author also discusses The Roller Blade Seven and Max Hell Frog Warrior in his book; explaining that they are two of the best-known Zen Films. Maybe…
            Roller Blade Seven is certainly, without a doubt, the most well known Zen Film, as it was released theatrically, on T.V., and by other methods around the world. Actually, Max Hell is somewhat lowered down the list. Here in the U.S. there has been a certain amount of talk about the film. They even mentioned it on the HBO T.V. show, The Newsroom. Thanks! But, the fact is, other Zen Films such as: Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell, Guns of El Chupacabra, Undercover X, Hitman City, Vampire Blvd., Vampire Noir, and Super Hero Central have all been much more widely distributed. But, that fact would be impossible to know unless someone asked me. ...Which no one did.
            The author also makes an attempting at describing Zen Filmmaking. Certainly, I realize that is a bit of a complicated matter. :-)
            And, the problem is, most people who talk about it, don’t really get it. But, this author provides a fairly good overview. Good job!
            In his description of Zen Filmmaking, however, the author details that in Zen Filmmaking shots are often repeated. The fact is, to date, this is only true in the two films he mentions. It is not a common trait of Zen Filmmaking. The basis for this technique being used in the two discussed films is, Roller Blade Seven was the first Zen Film. We set up that film-style in that movie which we created in 1991 and 1992. Don and I did not make another film together until 1996 when we created Toad Warrior, which later became Max Hell Frog Warrior.
            When we reconvened as filmmakers, we decided we wanted to capture some of the essence and energy of Roller Blade Seven, which is why I wore basically the same outfit and we again employed that editing style. But, no other Zen Film that Don and I made as a team or that I have made employs that editing technique.
            This is one of the things that those who watch a Zen Film commonly misunderstand – particularly the two films that were detailed in the book; Zen Filmmaking is constantly evolving; it is never a stagnant art form. Each film brings with it its own unique sense of creativity and artistic expression. And, the two discussed films are very different from every other Zen Film ever made. Ultimately, that is the essence of Zen Filmmaking, embracing the moment and allowing the creative environment of each film to guide you down the road to cinematic enlightenment.
            But, as was embraced by P.T. Barnum and Andy Warhol, “You may have gotten a few things wrong but thanks for the publicity Mr. Author.”

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