Coinciding with the Federal Election, on Day 3 of the Sydney Underground Film Festival I had Unhung Hero, Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector and Birdemic: Shock and Terror scheduled. After lining up and filling out my ballot paper, I had a productive meeting with fellow Graffiti With Punctuation writers and Blue Jasmine panelists Maria Lewis and Lisa Malouf in a Newtown park. From there Lisa and I made our way to the Factory Theatre for the first of two documentaries about penises,Unhung Hero.
REVIEW: Unhung Hero
Just when Patrick thought he could not be humiliated any more - his live on air marriage proposal was rejected - he learns that one of the reasons was because his partner thought his penis was too small. His insecurities about this trait, which already had been a point of ridicule in the past, reach an all-time peak and he decides to find some answers. Is he really that small, and if so, can this 'affliction' be changed?
We follow Patrick on his endearing global journey as he visits ex-girlfriends to find out what they have to say, travels to Korea, the nation believed to have the smallest penises, to see how he shapes up there, attends sex shows and chats with condom manufacturers, pornstars and medical professionals amongst others in search of enlightenment and a boost of confidence. What he learns is fascinating (and amusing) for us, a little upsetting for him. What he considers doing to himself is often truly shocking. I thought the film struck the right balance of tone.
Will Patrick make a rash decision or will he learn to live with what he has and not be influenced by a culturally cultivated expectation? I was thoroughly entertained by this documentary and really got behind Patrick - a comedian/actor - who was bold to allow himself to be the subject.
[rating=3] and a half
REVIEW: Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector
Up next was Adjust Your Tracking, which might have been really interesting if I hadn’t already seen another documentary about the community of VHS collectors, Rewind This, a few months back. While that covered every avenue of the rise and fall of the VHS era, the fostering of a subculture and the recent transitions courtesy of new formats, online downloading etc. – Adjust Your Tracking focuses almost exclusively on the collectors, but has stretched this material over a feature length. After about forty minutes, it becomes repetitive. Some of the passionate (and certainly nutty) collectors interviewed here also feature in Rewind This. This confirms that they are the most hardcore collectors around, but also means we hear some of the same opinions and stories.
Film lovers who enjoy reminiscing on their visits to the video store, perusing the titles in search of that hidden gem, or collectors who spend hours sorting through dusty antiques for that missing piece in their collection will definitely relate to these guys. Whether you have the same taste in films – these guys seem to love schlock horror, and the poorer the quality of filmmaking the better it is it seems - any buff interested in preserving a tangible collection will appreciate the nostalgia and passion these fans have for the VHS format.
What is admirable about many of these guys is the fact that they cling to this format – a ‘dead format’ for most – because a lot of their collections can only be found on VHS. These films never hit cinemas, and they have never been re-released on DVD/blu-ray. It is like they are relics nearing extinction. A lengthy stretch of the documentary is focused on what most collectors believe to be the most rare of all tapes – the awful-looking Tales from the Quadead Zone – and the Ebay bidding war that was cultivated in an effort to own it.
As I mentioned, for the first forty minutes or so this is an interesting, entertaining, if visually dull documentary. We are taken into the homes of these oddballs and through their collections, and the filmmakers are clearly film lovers themselves desiring the have these eccentric voices heard. They discuss the pleasure they find in their treasure hunts. They are all asked the same questions, photographed sitting in the same positions – usually on their couches surrounded by their floor to ceiling collections, while one is immersed in a pool of coloured balls - and their answers don’t vary that much. After a while, this structure grows tiring, and what was initially amusing soon becomes tedious. This is not a handsome, cinematic documentary either, but the titles used to identify the interviewees are in the form of old VHS tags, which is a nice touch.
REVIEW: Birdemic: Shock and Terror
What can be said about the romantic thriller, Birdemic: Shock and Terror? It featured at the Sydney Underground Film Festival as part of a novelty event called ‘Worst Films Bingo’. We were given a bingo card on entry, and when we see some of the most notoriously outrageous events we mark them off our card. There were a few curveballs – for example, my lone square left unchecked was “Natalie offers sex for a gallon of petrol”. It doesn’t actually happen in the film.
What does happen over the course of the excruciatingly bad 92 minutes? Barely anything. Rod, a hotshot salesman having a string of good luck, reconnects with Natalie, an ex-classmate who has become a model, and a relationship inexplicably blossoms. They double date with some friends, Rod meets Natalie’s mother and succeeds in attaining funding for a convoluted solar panelling project. Then birds start attacking. Just wait until you see the effects. In a nonsensical transition, peaceful shots of the idyllic small town turn into a barrage of squawking birds and bombs. Natalie and Rob find themselves repeatedly under threat – tension is never aroused, only fits of laughter - banding up with another couple and their two kids as they try and escape the town. They stop for candy, picnics by the beach and to procure gasoline, fighting off each attack with coat hangers and plastic guns. They meet a couple of environmentalists along the way who divulge lengthy monologues about greenhouse gases and global warming and how humans are to blame for the birds attacking. Remember, this is a film with a message. To further accentuate this, the aforementioned double date was to the cinemas to watch An Inconvenient Truth. Come on. There are even nods to Hitchcock’s The Birds, which at least proves that James Nguyen has seen one film.
This is a new level of incompetence, and yet it appears to be made with seriousness and sincerity, as if the director is oblivious to the incompetency. How this is possible, I don’t know. There is in the vicinity of an hour of ‘wasted time’ – pointless, ugly looking shots of cars driving and characters walking, scenes that substantially overstay their welcome – as well as deplorable sound design and dialogue, inept acting and ridiculously cheap effects. Though it is understandably made on a budget of less than $10, 000, you have to wonder why Nguyen even bothered. This might in fact be the worst film I have ever seen. The first half was fun in that I couldn’t believe what I was watching and had a good time laughing along. Then I just got bored.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.