Film Maudit 2.0 (2022) with "Straight to VHS"
A documentary that's meant to be shown at The Bang Bang Bar.
I wasn’t quite convinced that either the direct-to-rental flick Act of Violence in a Young Journalist or, the documentary of which I was watching, Straight to VHS, were truly real, at least not until the ending. Straight to VHS, with all of its trickery and treats, felt as though it were a commentary on obscurity and obsessions inside of a mockumentary, which would’ve been just fine on its own. However, as the film progressed, so did the assurance of its honest if embellished approach. Not to suggest that a mocked-up doc is just a lie, or that there can’t be honesty in lying, but this particular movie is true to its word and, yes, to its subject matter and to itself. It’s real, folks. Really reel.
Starting off with an auto-tracked trailer for that video-shot film at its center, Straight to VHS sets things off like the spirit of a paranormal investigation, sort of. In his feature directorial debut, Emilio Silva Torres wields his affection for lost and found cult cinema like a kid showing off his Christmas toys. But Torres isn’t just a show-off, as he’s genuinely dead serious about his research and his passion. Seeking out any information he can on the production of Act of Violence and its director Manuel Lamas, proves very difficult, with participants unwilling to discuss matters on camera or at all. I suspect that some of these obstacles were true, but how they’re articulated suggests, yes, some “storytelling.”
It’s the legend of the hunt we’re seeing, not the loneliness of the search.
Phantasmagoric and challenging, this documentary delves into surreal horror, morphing often as if a monster going through a transformation. I’m a sucker for Uruguayan cinema, and this flick goes right to my heart. The walls break here and there, cracking open new perspectives of the story, and new ways to trick and treat. Why can’t the film be “straight?” Because beasts aren’t always bad, and hunters aren’t always noble. A man making this movie (not necessarily the director but a director) finds Lamas through some home movie tapes and some all too creepy communications through time and VCR. Only fire can quell this realized facade, and only rewinding can move things forward.
Living and breathing in a Twin Peaks-like world, Torres’s search for Lamas takes on different forms as it goes through three different chapters, each designed as its own genre, all fitting the same overall tone. First comes the doc, then the horror, and finally the sentimental thesis. So much playing at play, but does the substance match? Yes.
Discovery of another film and of the making of itself, Straight to VHS is both progressive and self-aware. It comments on its own style and reasoning for its style while crafting a tale out of what it finds in and around Act of Violence. Is this all aggression? Is the film a violent act? Maybe a little, but sensitively done at least - if that’s possible.
Beyond Werner Herzog, beyond David Lynch, Straight to VHS might be a new kind of way to make and understand documentary and essay filmmaking. The only other film in recent memory to compare this to would be Landlocked (which was also screened at Film Maudit 2.0). Both films are real and reel or, to put it another way, both films are true and truer. Truer? Honest. About? With Straight to VHS, it’s memory and magnetism, it’s nostalgia and obscurity, it’s lost and found, it’s death and birth. Not life, but birth. Suddenly, I’m blushing.
F is for Fake, and E is for eject. It could be that Torres and Lamas are one and the same indeed, or that both share the same cinematic body. Was Lamas a fiction of Torres? Vice versa? The tape finishes, and auto rewinds before ejection. Before escape.
Write that down, someone. Make it real.
Straight to VHS is currently touring the festival circuit. It was screened at Film Maudit 2.0.
Sincerely Yours in Moviegoing,
You can find my thoughts on Landlocked below: