Friday, February 4, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Opening Night

The one that started it all (for me) starts again. Two movies, let's just jump right in.

First up, Gregg Araki's KABOOM. I'm trying really hard not to write it opened the festival "with a bang" but it's (including as a double entendre). Araki introduced it as both his most autobiographical and most off-the-wall film he's ever made. Thomas Dekker (THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES, ALL ABOUT EVIL) stars as Smith, the most consciously ordinarily-named character ever. He's a college student who has sex with all kinds of people--he doesn't describe himself as gay, straight, or bi, just "undeclared" in a bit cleverness that let's you know Araki hasn't forgotten what college was like. He has weird dreams and then starts meeting the characters from his dream in a story that spirals into cults, witches, psychic powers, and doomsday plots. And Araki regular James Duval appears as his typical stoner character with a pretty awesome twist.

I'm no stranger to the weird world of Araki. I saw THE DOOM GENERATION so often it practically became the film of my college experience. And I always new of his career but hadn't really followed up. I even missed MYSTERIOUS SKIN when it was out. But tonight I only half paid attention to the Q&A because I was on the Amazon app on my phone buying pretty much everything of his that's out on DVD (NOWHERE only had used copies for $75, so I'll continue to shop around).

And just to play the pull-quote game, I'll reprise my tweet here (with thanks to Marvin and his Illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator): KABOOM was so earth-shattering I now have a better view of Venus.

And then I stayed for TRANSFORMATION: THE LIFE & LEGACY OF WERNER ERHARD. Mr Erhard and his EST seminars were well before my time. Here's the nutshell summary I got from the movie: it's a "human potential" movement, but for the mainstream middle class, not hippy-dippies. It's about seeing reality clearly (the main mantra is, "what is, is. What isn't, isn't.") The methods are confrontational, he'd start a seminar by yelling, "you're all assholes who don't know your ass from a hole in the ground" (to which I always thought, 'then how do I know I'm not actually a hole-in-the-ground-hole?' His movement quickly gathered popularity, attracting tons of followers including the expected celebrity wackjobs. And just as quickly there was a backlash--first against the 'no victims' message which allegedly included telling real victims (e.g., rape victims) that whatever happened they did to themselves. Then personal allegations--he abandoned his family, he molested his daughters, etc., culminating in a devastating 60 Minutes piece. And so he fled the country. The movie mostly interviews his defenders (director Robyn Symon talked about her frustration getting his attackers for interviews), which opens the film up to easy charges of bias (or as one audience member commented, it feels unfinished). Judging by the audience, which was heavily stacked with (former?) Erhard followers, it was a cathartic feeling of closure and/or completeness for many of them. For me, it only transformed me into a bored man who had trouble staying awake.

Due to technical glitches, TRANSFORMATION started late, so I didn't have time to run to the opening night party. That is, I could've run there and immediately turned around to catch BART. But no worries, there are plenty more parties (including the Lebowski party Saturday night!) So let's just pretend I had my own party by sneaking a few beers into the theater and drinking during the movies. It's easy to pretend that, because I did. Hooray for multi-tasking!

And that's how Indiefest 13 started.

Total Running Time: 163
My Total Minutes: 220,840


Howard Schumann said...

What happened to the comment I submitted? Are you afraid to have your false information about Werner and est challenged publicly? How sad.

puppymeat said...


I don't know what happened to your comment. I didn't delete it. I do have the original comment, since they are all e-mailed to me. So I'm posting it below:

Jason, your comment on Werner and Est is full of inaccuracies. It appears that you have never taken any of Werner's programs.

To begin with, no training ever began with Werner yelling at anybody. The training began with a welcome and a discussion of the ground rules. Werner made his points clearly and directly always appealing to a trainee's sense of what works and what doesn't work.

It is quite clear almost immediately that the trainer is coming from love and support.

Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world took the training including people of all ages and from all walks of life including professionals in every field.

There were no rape victims in the portrayals of the est Training. In the documentary, Werner is talking to a participant in the Training, whose story was that she was an "orphan", not a victim of rape.

The "molested his daughters" has been widely reported by well recognized news organizations (Time Magazine, Boston Globe, The Times in London, ABC News) as being recanted and untrue. (You may remember, this was made clear in the film.)

The 60 Minutes broadcast has been repudiated by CBS News and they long ago removed the tape and transcript from the public. (I don't know if you are aware of an article in The Believer, May 2003, where the author says "The '60 Minutes segment was filled with so many factual discrepencies that the transcript was made unavailable." She had apparently tried to get a copy from CBS and got shut down in her request.

Werner never fled the country (I assume you mean the US). Werner lectures at Harvard, United States Air Force Academy, Texas A&M are all recent and any little search would have shown this information - Werner is free to come and go in the US at his will.

Your comments denigrate a great humanitarian who dedicated his life to making others great.

puppymeat said...


My response:

As far as I know, all your comments are true. You are certainly correct that I've never taken any of Werner's programs. And I'm not interested in them. Not that I think they'd help or hurt, but they just seem to be offering something I'm not seeking.

I write this blog about movies, not about self-improvement movements. I certainly wasn't intending to critique EST, just the movie TRANSFORMATION. In re-reading my review, perhaps I gave a slanted view. You could get the impression from my review that TRANSFORMATION is some sort of hatchet job on Mr. Erhard. Far from it, it's a commercial for him. And that bored me. Again, because I'm not seeking what he's selling.

I will repeat that the audience was full of Erhard's followers, and they all seemed to like it. All the people I knew who were there as movie fans rather than Erhard fans agreed, this movie offered nothing for them.

Howard Schumann said...

Thank you for posting my comment and thanks for your very generous response. As a fellow film critic, I also had many reservations about the film.

However, I think it is unfortunate that many reviewers have used their feelings about the film to repeat many inaccurate statements about Werner and Est that seem to have become part of the "conventional wisdom."

Since I owe so much to Werner and his programs (as does every member of my family), I feel it important to correct what I feel are misstatements whenever I see them.

Thanks again for your honesty.