Heather Drain is VIDEO WATCHDOG's newest contributor, appearing for the first time in VW 160 (on its way to our subscribers now). Her work has also appeared in the pages of SCREEM, ULTRA VIOLENT, THE EXPLOITATION JOURNAL and several other publications, and her blog Mondo Heather can be found here. The only predictable thing about Heather is her unpredictability, and her Favorite Discs list takes a different approach than the others I've posted here, being written in paragraph form, amounting to fewer than five titles, and veering entirely away from our staple genres of horror and fantasy. However, since our point in publishing these lists is to direct VW's readers to interesting and offbeat DVD releases which may have escaped their notice, Heather's endorsements certainly fill the bill. - TL
By Heather Drain
2010 has honestly been one of those blur years, when plenty of great stuff has come out but, due to circumstances, finances and creative ADD, I have not had the chance to properly devour a lot of the discs that have come out this year.
That said, there have been a few recent standout titles that I have had the good fortune to watch. Before going into my brief but mega-worthy list, I will preface it by saying that, yes, one of the four titles was technically released in 2009. But as someone who prescribes to the notion that years do not end and begin cleanly and instead bleed into one another, it works. Plus it's my Favorites list and I will fudge if I want to! Anyway, off to the titles!
First up is the Tribeca film release THE WILD & WONDERFUL WHITES OF WEST VIRGINIA. A documentary produced by Johnny Knoxville's company Dickhouse, this is a gritty and unforgettable peek into the famous/infamous White family from Boone County, West Virginia. They garnered national recognition back in the day for patriarch D. Ray White's unique brand of traditional Appalachian folk dancing. In the wake of D. Ray's violent death, his son, Jesco White, took up the mantle and got even more notoriety thanks to appearances on the DIFFERENT DRUMMER series on PBS. The popularity of that led to the now cult shorts, DANCING OUTLAW and DANCING OUTLAW 2: JESCO GOES TO HOLLYWOOD. Between then (1994) and now, Jesco, along with his bad-ass sister Mamie, have become underground folk heroes. The White family has even been immortalized in numerous songs, the best being Hank Williams III's “Legend of D. Ray White,” which is well utilized in the film.
Charles Bukowski had the quote that nobody suffers like the poor and this fact is all too clear here. The heartbreak of being stuck in a poor, working-class rut, thanks to locale, class status, an extremely faulty system and self destructive behavior that is often the result of the prior factors, is deeply felt. Being someone who has worked and been related to people very similar to this family, it hit especially close to home. The biggest impact, though, is seeing the charismatic Jesco and Mamie, who both are the big survivors of the brood, dealing with the shrapnel of life around them. While you get a good peek into the younger Whites, it is these two that will stay with you long after the disc has played.
Speaking of folk heroes, there's also Troma's two-disc release of Phillipe Mora's MAD DOG MORGAN. While I still feel like this film probably should have been in the hands of a company like Criterion, since it is basically an art film more in the vein of someone like Sam Peckinpah than, say, Lloyd Kaufman, it is still nice to have this film in print and getting some cherry extras. It's a beautifully made film with one of Dennis Hopper's best performances as Dan “Mad Dog” Morgan, an Irishman with a good heart who ends up becoming an outlaw and bush ranger in the wilds of Australia. For anyone used to seeing Hopper playing manic-eyed and occasionally scenery-gnawing characters, it is refreshing seeing him playing such a vulnerable man.
A film that has absolutely nothing to do with Australian folk heroes or documentaries but does have a connection to dancing is the Amero Brothers' cult adult film musical BLONDE AMBITION. Video-X-Pix went all out for this release, complete with a beautiful print, a well-written booklet, a B&W promo card of star Suzy Mandel, two small strips of the negative and two commentary tracks, the first being from John Amero himself. If you're not familiar with the man, John (along with his brother, Lem) was a pioneer in the world of fringe cinema, helming such early sexploitation gems as THE LUSTING HOURS and, later on, BACCHANALE. It's a great commentary from a warm, talkative man. The second one is from none other than the late, great Jamie Gillis. While Jamie's part in the film is a glorified but funny cameo as an effete porn director, his commentary is also fun with a lot of good stories from the days when the adult genre had real actors and filmmakers. The film itself is a frothy and charmingly silly musical comedy centering on the ambitious Kane Sisters, Candy (Dory Devon) and Sugar (former BENNY HILL actress Mandel.) The sex is secondary to the film making, so even if seeing the dirty hula in action isn't your bag, the odds are still good that you will enjoy this film.
Another disc that rocked my world in 2010 was the documentary about the classic Canadian progressive band Rush with RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE. This Zoe Records release has lots of rare, behind the scenes footage, some dating back to their pre-Neal Peart days, this film is a dream with the perfect mix of live performances and interviews, giving a rounded view of this amazing band. It's another two-disc beast with loads of extras, so it truly is a prog rock feast.
So when you think of this year's releases, as we begin to edge ever so closer to 2011, please think of gritty documentaries, history-based art films, MGM styled musicals with enough skin and sequins to please the eye and of course, Canadian progressive rock bands. I know I will!