James was a big genre fan. He was ten years younger than me, but he'd seen what I considered an impressive number of movies from all corners of the world. His knowledge of genre was deep. He asked for my phone number because he intended to call me. He didn't indicate what the call would be about, but he insisted on having my number. Reluctantly, I gave it to him.
Twenty-four hours later, at seven-thirty on a Saturday morning, James from Canada called. After introducing himself and thanking me for the number, he told me that my first movie, Marauders ('87), had changed his life.
"How did you see it?" I asked him, not sure how to respond to his confession.
What if Marauders had changed the life of James in a bad way? Perhaps the purpose of his long distance call was to blame me for a rash of personal misfortune?
A less likely scenario: What if James was calling from the grave (ala the "Night Call" episode of The Twilight Zone)?
"There was a VHS at our video store," James said.
"Really? It must have been a pirate copy. The film was never released in Canada," I explained, pretty sure now that James wasn't using a fallen phone line in a cemetery to call me.
Years earlier, I did make the stupid mistake of sending a 1" master of the film to an LA-based distributor run by a trio of unbelievably sleazy Indians. When I met with them, they promised the world, as distributors often do. They delivered fresh air.
It was my first lesson in dealing with distributors. Just don't.
The film also turned up unlicensed at Midnight Video, a popular gray market destination.
I contacted them and instructed them to stop selling it. They complied.
"What do you mean it changed your life, James?" I continued.
James hesitated before answering. "It felt real. I know people like that. It made me want to make films like that."
And there it was. The film connected with James.
Marauders is a basic but energetic exploitation film with a New Wave/Flock of Seagulls/John Foxx/Ultravox design sensibility. It was my first feature. It was made for a bag of peanuts.
It's not Antonioni.
The storyline is simple. Set in Melbourne, it is the story of two thugs, JD and Emilio; JD begins his day by murdering his mother; Emilio shoots his wife in the head due to a misunderstanding.
En route to meet Emilio for a day of boozing, JD is struck by a car driven by David, who gives him the finger.
After David drives on and picks up his school age girlfriend, Becky, who he plans to rape at his father's country house, Emilio and JD follow the couple, eager to exact revenge for the callous the hit and run.
While waiting to kill David, the thugs rape a young woman who's in the wrong place at the wrong time and steal liquor from a local bottle shop. The townies then form a lynch mob to hang the thugs for the rape and the theft. Meanwhile, David and Becky get an unexpected knock at the door.
Unrelenting violence ensues until almost everyone is dead.
For James's sake, I truly hoped he didn't know people quite like the characters in my movie. If he did, he wouldn't have been alive to call me.
His colleagues had to be less impulsive than the Marauders cast.
On James's Canadian dime, we chatted for two hours. We discovered that we liked many of the same genre films. He was not familiar with the non-genre films I seem to champion until I'm blue in the face (The Elementary School, Forbidden Games, Le Grand Chemin, The Tin Drum, My Sweet Little Village, Gregory's Girl), but he was a very decent guy with wit and sharp intelligence.
James kept in touch and would send me reviews, by email, of films he had just seen. I kept him abreast of the new Japanese titles I would receive regularly from my dear friend and fellow director in Tokyo, Tomoaki Hosoyama.
Japanese take on John Waters' Desperate Living.
At the beginning of December, James asked me if I'd be interested in writing reviews on imdb with him. He would write some, I would write some. But we'd share a pseudonym and a password.
I liked the pseudonym idea. At least back then I did.
I encountered a strange phenomenon around 1999. I'd only been on-line for two years at that time, and I didn't participate in any forums in the first twelve months. I didn't know where they were, and I didn't understand how they worked. Eventually, I posted to a couple using my real name. It was usually an opinion on a film I liked or disliked. Just an opinion. I wasn't grandstanding or demanding to be heard. I was just explaining why I liked or disliked something.
I began to receive streams of very angry messages from mostly anonynmous senders. They were in direct response to negative comments I'd made.
For example, if I said that the ending iof a movie was unsatisfying, the response I would get would be: "How can you say that, you fuck! That last movie of yours sucked!"
Another one I remember clearly was a reply to a comment I'd made about Ron Jeremy. The original comment went something along the lines of: "Sad to see Ron in another pathetic vehicle for his talents." I wasn't criticizing Ron, I was criticizing a particular movie he was in. I got a venomous reply from another anonymous writer who ranted: "Isn't Ron in one of your new movies, you hypocrite!"
These are just two examples of close to fifty messages I received in response to various comments.
It was as if the writers felt that a filmmaker had no business commenting on other people's films. Even worse, there was the implication that I was a hypocrite for finding fault with the films of others when my own films were less than perfect.
In my posts, I never compared anything in my films to the films I was commenting on. It was just my opinion. When somebody expresses an opinion, there ought not be an assumption that the expresser of that opinion holds themselves above the work discussed. They don't.
A filmmaker's opinion on a film is no less or more worthy than anybody else's. I'm sure I bring a certain bias to a review and I know I have a hard time just relaxing while watching a movie sometimes, but all that really matters in film criticism are these basic questions: Is it good or bad? Why's it good or bad?
It doesn't take a filmmaker to answer those questions, and being a filmmaker shouldn't preclude you from answering them, either.
The aggressive messages I received felt very personal, and they made commenting on movies not much fun at all.
So when James suggested that we write under a pseudonym, I liked the idea a lot.
The first review we published under the fertilecelluloid non de plume was Cannibal Holocaust on the 29th of December, 2003.
The fourth review was a film of mine.
James insisted on reviewing it, and reviewing all my films (at least the ones listed on imdb. anyway).
Trail of Passion was the film I'd come back to Australia to make, and I'd just delivered the final cut; it wouldn't be distributed for six months.
Knowing that James was sympathetic to my work, of course I let him review it under our pseudonym. I didn't try to sway his opinion on it, but I thought his was a more than fair review. Probably too fair.
In the subsequent years, James reviewed all my films and close to fifty other films from other directors. He was always generous with me, and I, in turn, was generous with my encouragement of his filmmaking ambitions. Unfortunately, he didn't get to make the films he wanted.
James died of cancer in 2005. His mother emailed me on his personal account, which was slightly creepy.
I hadn't heard from him for a month, which was unusual, but I figured that work commitments or relationship issues had gotten the better of his time.
James never mentioned his illness to me. He'd been fighting it for four horrible years.
In retrospect, I did find it perplexing at times that James's contributions to our pseudonymous partnership were few and far between after the first six months. His initial enthusiasm about reviewing seemed out of balance with the number of reviews he ended up posting.
Now I knew why.
James's ashes were scattered at sea in Nova Scotia.
I miss his enthusiasm and love of cinema.
He was a true Apostle of Pulp and an AAA-rated human being.
While reviewing as fertilecelluloid in the last couple of years, I would receive inquires from some of the other excellent reviewers such as Humanoid of Flesh (aka Embalmer) and the multi-pseud "Dan" about my true identity. They would use my correct name (guessing it by matching my reviews to things I'd said in interviews) and ask me if I was him? I always said no. I felt bad doing this, but I didn't want to be seen to review films as a filmmaker. I wanted to review films as a fan. I was a fan first. An anonymous one.
A worrying trend on imdb was creeping, irrational censorship. For no stated reason, you could have your review deleted because of one "abuse" complaint; "abuse" could be the use of words like "breast", "Christ", and "lesbian". If someone -- just one person -- didn't like your tone, their complaint could result in the deletion of your review.
I was feeling very apprehensive about continuing to contribute to a fucked-up regime that sanctioned bullshit like that.
Friday the 13th (2009) was my last review there, the 803rd.
Around Xmas, I received a brief call from James's ex-wife. She wished me Merry Xmas and asked me if I intended to retire fertilecelluloid.
The answer to that question was an answer I'd already arrived at two months earlier when I decided to start blogging.
I'd never blogged before, and I didn't know how to do it, but I knew that in order to spread the riches of my passions, I'd have to start being myself on-line.
And that's why I'm here.
Thanks to all the terrific followers, fellow bloggers, and anonymous browsers, I'm having a great time.
It's a community I'm so happy to make a contribution to.