Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Pass the Kool Aid: Death Bed: The Bead That Eats

Like many I came to this film through the erudite comedy of Patton Oswalt. Mentioned in his 2007 CD Werewolves and Lollipops, the film's major claim to fame is, of course, a title so brilliant in its simplicity and descriptiveness that it would remain unmatched until Snakes on a Plane saw the light of day some thirty years later. And much like said Sam Jackson vehicle, Death Bed cannot come even close to living up to its majestic monicker. The film was pieced together by one George Barry for a few thousand dollars of his own funds, starring acquaintances and family members, over a period of five years. Comparisons with one Edward D. Wood jr. are inevitable as the film bears the same hallmarks of amateurishness, technical ineptitude and inexplicable passion. Every single technical element in the film, whether direction, acting, sound (all horribly post-dubbed) or editing range from painful to pathetic. Yet there is no denying that some demented vision drove Mr. Barry forward, a determination which mingles the impressive with the incomprehensible. Five years of hard work, constant setbacks and that little thing the rest of us call reality seem to have little to no effect on Barry's absolute faith in his ability to create a motion picture and get it released despite his obvious lack of cinematic talent. And it is exactly this determination, so humorously noted in Oswalt's aforementioned routine, that makes the film worth seeing. Anyone who has ever harbored dreams of artistic accomplishments knows that the most important aspect of art is not talent, skill, resources or luck (all of which help a great, great deal) but rather faith, meaning an absolute sense of purpose, resolution and certitude in one's own abilities, no matter how unhinged from reality that particular certitude may be. As Rodin said to a young Rilke, the secret of art is "il faut travailler, rien que travailler" ("One must work, nothing but work"). And work is what Mr. Barry did. For five years he slaved away at this strange little film, the only artistic credit to his name, only to see it fall into oblivion as even the schlockiest distributor wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.

Yet the fates love a man who disregards them. Death Bed found its way to England in a pirated version that made its way around the cult cinemas and grindhouses, amassing a sizeable audience of admirers. Mr. Barry only found out that his film had actually seen the light of day in the early 2000's after chatting with people on internet websites devoted to horror films. To his surprise he found himself having a conversation about a film which very much resembled his own forgotten masterpiece. Soon afterwards a legitemate copy of the film found its way to DVD.

The film is a remarkable affair and well worth seeing. It has moments of pure surreality and occasional glimpses of authentic horror. The imagery is often surprisingly inventive, especially when depicting the digestive process of the bed. (It should be noted that the preceding sentence is one which I most assuredly never expected to write in any context during my entire life.). All of that being said, it is a terrible film, but its terribleness arises out of amazing passion and devotion, the true cornerstones of art. As such it is a great deal better than most Hollywood films, the great majority of which are undoubtedly made with craft and technical skill but are often listless, boring and painfully mediocre. If one is going to be a filmmaker then it is better to be Ed Wood than Christopher Nolan (to quote the Light Within Light motto) and Mr. Barry has definitely succeeded in channeling Wood's demented spirit. There is nothing as antithetical to art as mediocrity and playing it safe and no one can ever accuse a man of playing it safe when he spends five years of his life making a film about a demon-possessed bed that eats people.

1 comment:

siggi_magg said...

I often find lackluster films more helpful in finding new perspectives in film viewing and seeing films as art. When you're working with "known" pieces of art within the film milieu, there are always some pre-conceived opinions for this or that particular film that often clouds what that film-text is trying to show us. Thos opinions or either created by our own history with the films; childhood memories, love for certain actors etc. or within the extensive text by film scholars and internet bloggers. It seems that lackluster films or often freed from those restraints.

Where would you locate Michael Bay in your passion ( vs. school) criteria for art? He seems truly passionately in love with his CGI robots, and yet his films cannot be described as works of art. Is it just a matter of time (starting work on his fourth Transformers), or is it in the nature of all CGI-Hollywood-summer-blockbusters not being able to show any depth or philosophy within its boundaries.