I thought last month's Chinatown/Zodiac: Director's Cut double-feature at the Walter Reade was going to be impossible to top for the rest of the year, but yesterday afternoon's "Film Comment Selects" one-two punch of hard-to-find 1980s documentaries from filmmaking duo Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines might have actually topped it. More so because I hadn't seen either of them before.
Unlike Seventeen, Demon Lover Diary was directed solely by DeMott, but that's because Kreines is the film's main subject. Along with filmmaker Mark Rance, the three friends drove to the bleak Midwest to help a "friend" named Don make a horror movie. But when they got there, the nightmare began. Shot on grainy reversal 16mm film, Demon Lover Diary feels like the immediate precursor to films as diverse as American Movie, Baghead, and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. As funny as it is, there is a growing threat of danger throughout. I couldn't tell if this was really there or if I had seen too many films and was transferring that feeling to what was happening on screen. By the end, I discovered that I was right.
What to say about Seventeen? Let's start with wow. In a critical sense, the last act feels like it loses its focus and starts to unravel into a rough assemblage of scenes, but at the same time I want to stress this: I did not want this movie to end. It has one of the best party scenes ever, fiction or doc, which begins innocently enough, but derails into the type of drunken idiocy that makes Heavy Metal Parking Lot look tame. The night culminates in the harsh light of day, as one of the preposterously irresponsible fathers makes good on his threat to go fishing. Standing on a pier under a bright sky of full-blown daylight, he slurs the following line: "I usually don't stay up this late." It is just one classic delivery in a film that is jam-packed with them. While there are enough wow moments for several features, the wall-to-wall Top 40 music pretty much guarantees that Seventeen won't be coming out on video anytime soon, which is a seriously major shame.
Speaking of Mark Rance, it just so happens that this particular "cast member" of Demon Lover Diary—who becomes the film's outright hero when he sweetly makes out with one of the film's pretty actresses—is responsible for this week's most exciting new DVD release. Eagle Pennell's previously lost 1978 classic, The Whole Shootin' Match, which inspired Robert Redford to start Sundance, is getting a royally gorgeous three-disc home video treatment from Rance's Watchmaker Films (I just learned that they'll be releasing Sergei Dvortsevoy's pre-Tulpan documentaries very soon—hot damn!). On one disc is the feature-film itself (read my Hammer to Nail review to see just how much I loved it). The second disc has many goodies: The King of Texas, a film made by Rene Pinell (Eagle's nephew) and Claire Huie that works as a wonderful companion piece to the movie; Pennell's first short, A Hell of a Note; and an interview Rance conducted with Pennell in 1981. The third disc is a CD of music made by Chuck Pinell (Eagle's brother) for both The Whole Shootin' Match and The King of Texas. Completing the multi-media experience is a booklet that collects reviews, reflections, and essays by critics and those who worked with Pennell.
As a tribute to yourself for having missed yesterday's incredible double-feature at the Walter Reade, I suggest you drown your sorrows by buying The Whole Shootin' Match on DVD. This isn't one to Netflix. Purchase that sumbitch.