Film Review: Dog Dick and Manuer (2014)
James Bell is a Michigan filmmaker whose work tends to focus on the bizarre and controversial. I am reviewing two of his short films in anticipation for his upcoming feature, Tantrum. These shorts are disturbing, experimental works that will be sure to leave the viewer wanting more. His films have elements comparable to those of the films of Harmony Korine and David Lynch. Due to these glaring comparisons, I am not sure if I can fully explain what I saw when I watched these movies. That, however, is the great thing about these types of cinematic ventures. The films are very visual, forcing the viewer to take from them what they can and leave the rest. They both also have some disturbing footage, that will definitely offend some viewers. Therefore, I can easily tell the uninformed viewer that they will either love or hate these films. I, for one, love these types of movies. I am a huge fan of artists that do their own thing and force their viewers to really think about what they are seeing. It takes me to my art house favorites: the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch. Films doused in surreal and savage imagery are there to make the viewer squirm. Beyond film there are other artists, like author William Burroughs and musician Tom Waits, that play by their own rules. All of these artists are, at times, the only ones that really know what the hell is going on in their work.
Dog Dick aka The White Trash Holocaust is a documentary film that focuses on some of the crazier characters that are actually running around in real life. It is a lot like Harmony Korine’s Gummo. I enjoyed Korine’s work as the writer of Kids and director of Gummo, but I feel like he is really losing his shit with films like Spring Breakers. Oh shit, that’s the second time I’ve hated on Spring Breakers on this blog this week. Back to Dog Dick. This is a documentary style film, shot in real-time on an old school camera. It is full of conversations the filmmaker had with members of his family and some people just wandering the streets. He manages to come across some pretty interesting individuals. You know these people. The types of people who go to public parks to do weird sex shit. The type that hang outside of the flea market doing weird stuff. Or the type that enjoy playing with the carcasses of dead animals.
This film was highly controversial due to the treatment of numerous real animals in the film. Bell did what he had to do to get his name out there. The actions of some of the people in this film have made him an infamous underground filmmaker; but, the animal treatment in the film is not done in a cold-hearted manner in regards to the filmmaker. He was capturing reality. The alternate title, The White Trash Holocaust, after all, warns the reader that they are about to see reality in a frightening way. The films frighten the viewer by making them see the world differently. You will definitely view people in the street in a different way after watching this film. It makes you realize that everyone has a back story, even the guy that you step over in the park and forget about by the end of the day.
Manuer is about an alcoholic bum, who discovers he has an interesting gift. This film is much shorter than Dog Dick, but much more powerful in my eyes. I feel like he is making bold statements in this short film. He wastes no time or film. You can tell that everything in this film was meant to be there. It is very well planned and has a much more linear story line than Dog Dick. Although it is a different type of film, I could see much more maturity developing in the filmmaker’s craft with this excursion into the darker side of human reality.
It is comparable to Dog Dick in regards to the idea that it is forcing you to look at people in society that you have been ignoring. There are many differences though. It is not shot as if it is a documentary. This makes it feel more like a movie with a narrative structure. There are only a few characters; but, they are very easy for the viewer to care for. In fact, if you watch this film and don’t react to the main character on a deeper level there is something wrong with you. Whether you relate to him or not, he will make you think about your life in a new way.
This film is stronger than Dog Dick for me, because it has some deep dark metaphors with which I had to contend. I have a personal connection to this film on a metaphoric level. At least, the way I perceived the metaphors in the film were important to me. I think it made statements about hopelessness and addiction that only someone who has dealt with it in their own life, or the lives of their loved ones, will understand. The best thing about this film is the fact that it is open to different interpretations by different people. Some may find a deep connection with the female character, while some will be able to analyze the child’s story in the film.
As a horror website, this second film also relates much more to the overall content of this page. The last few minutes of the film contain a scene of intense and horrific gore. This gore is not only a fitting and memorable climax in regard to aspects of the horror film. It also enhances the metaphors surrounding addiction and the decay it creates on the addict’s mental and physical state. I was very happy with this film, much happier than I was with Dog Dick. Although they are both good, and worth ten bucks, I feel like Manuer was a much more personal and effective story. It was also much more creative. I could refer to Manuer as a James Bell film and not a James Bell film that is a lot like Gummo. The originality, imagery, storytelling, and gore in Manuer have made Bell a filmmaker that I will follow in the future. I, in fact, have already pre-ordered his new film, Tantrum and you should too.
The pictures used in this post are from the director’s online store. You can buy DVDs, wall art, and pre-order his new film by clicking here.