Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bizarro-Worthy Reading: The Films of Larry Buchanan by Rob Craig

Texan Larry Buchanan was a true original: a director whose box-lunch budgets, oddball subject matter, exaltation of female archetypes, and obsession with conspiracy theories of all stripes made him as perfect a textbook demonstration of the auteur theory as Orson Welles or David Lean, for God's sake. Author Rob Craig puts forth these arguments with eloquence and academic sharpness to spare in The Films of Larry Buchanan, his exhaustive critical examination of Buchanan's oeuvre.

Buchanan dabbled in several genres throughout his career, but part of his fame came from his revisions of others' work. In the late 1960's American International Pictures commisioned the director to helm made-for-TV remakes of some of their most successful fifties sci-fi thrillers: The Day the World Ended became The Year 2889; The She Creature spawned Creature of Destruction; and Invasion of the Saucer Men begat The Eye Creatures, among others. These movies featured B-movie actors like John Agar, John Ashley, and Francine York, and served as Bizarro comfort food for bored kids back in the day. Viewed with a jaundiced modern eye, the results prove almost minimalist in their sparsity, frequently funny as hell, and strangely fascinating.

The director also expressed a distrust of political and social authority to rival Costa-Gavras, and many of Buchanan's original features explore some truly wild conspiracy theories. He filmed The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, a speculative docu-drama in which President John F. Kennedy's alleged assassin survives to face a courtroom, in 1964--decades before Oliver Stone turned his fixated gaze on the Kennedy assassination with JFK in 1991. In Beyond the Doors, the drug-and-alcohol-related deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison are blamed on a government plot to subvert the youth movement of the 1960's. And Buchanan paints the life and controversial death of Marilyn Monroe with sordid brushstrokes in Goodbye, Norma Jean and its 1988 sequel, Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn.

The Films of Larry Buchanan covers every single nook and cranny of Larry Buchanan's career with the kind of magnifying-glass detail normally reserved for the Kurosawas and Fellinis of the world, and that exhaustive approach merits some major props from this corner. Craig (who also helms the throughly awesome Kiddie Matinee website) could occasionally be accused of over-interpreting the films discussed, but his arguments hold water admirably, and it's incredibly refreshing to hear Carl Jung and Ingmar Bergman seamlessly, elegantly cited in the context of movies like Mars Needs Women and Curse of the Swamp Creature. If that treatment of bizarro cinema doesn't make you mightily happy, you've stumbled onto the wrong blog (and the wrong schlockologist) by mistake, Bucky.

As you can likely surmise, Buchanan's body of work is eminently, wonderfully Bizarro-worthy, Fiends and Neighbors. Stay tuned...

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