**** out of ****
If you can recall the John Waters film Cecil B. Demented, I want to be friends with you. It’s not widely regarded as one of Waters’ best, feeling rushed and perhaps TOO over the top (this phrase does not exist for John Waters), but it holds a special place in my mind and heart. Demented depicts a rag tag group of anarchist independent filmmakers who, in the face of Hollywood domination, look to make a film by any means necessary - including (but not limited to) kidnapping Melanie Griffith.
Through many a guerilla style shoot and rampage, Cecil’s crew are shown to be more than willing to die for the cause, to die for the camera, to die for the cinema. “It’s just a movie!” his mom yells. To buffs and obsessives (like myself), she does not and will never “get it”. One of the best filmmakers of today, Sion Sono, does “get it” and then some. He has crafted a film that is just as playful and creative in its satirical take on the filmmaking process, as it is sincerely sentimental towards it and movies in general. Oh, and it’s bloody as all hell.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? has been described via a pull quote on its poster as being “Mankind’s Greatest Achievement”. For those like me who live in the second and third screen of media oversaturation, and think of events in terms of camera angles and dramatic dialogue, this statement rings true and can’t be argued. It exists at the wonderful cross section of pure affection for a medium and absolute criticism of those wanting to be in it. “Make a damn good movie, even if only once.” the projectionist at a dying arcade/theater tells a group of amatuer filmmakers (who call themselves “The F___ Bombers”). Armed with 8mm cameras, they set forth on a path that leads them to digital video, which they begrudgingly accept. A series of unfortunate events leads to them being offered the project of a lifetime; to shoot a real Yakuza war on 35mm film stock!
Everything that follows and precedes this opportunity is hysterical. Thugs obsessed with commercials, actresses wanting “kick ass roles”, Yakuza leaders ordering foot soldiers to string up lighting rigs according to a filmmaking book, and even men cut up and covered in blood stopping mid action to let a young director give them cues. When a gang rival, in the midst of battle, monologues on the merits of realism vs. fantastical styles of shooting film, while limbs are flying left and right, you just can’t help but chuckle.
Would Why Don’t You Play in Hell? work as an American remake? It would be very difficult to do beyond the superficial, that’s for sure. Something would more than likely be lost in translation, and that something would be… the edge. The enthusiasm. The energy. To see a movie about movie making from the point of view of another culture somehow lifts a hidden curtain that we in America have between our perceptions of reality and reality itself. We’d have different expectations for an American made movie than we would for a foreign made one. Almost like mainstream feelings towards silent and sound pictures. Sion Sono uses all this to his advantage and thus is able to make his film universal to movie lovers everywhere.
While Cecil B. Demented took some time to grow on me, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? holds as an instant classic. It’ll more than likely register differently to non cinephiles, but that’s ok. It’s not looking to convert anyone, but rather to poke some fun at the subject it loves.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is currently screening at Indywood now until December 11th, and will return to New Orleans at Zeitgeist from January 2nd to the 8th. It is also available on iTunes, Amazon and other VOD platforms.