Week 2 of Fantasia goes round the world, and culture-jams our own backyard
If the Fantasia festival ethos were a long-winded bar joke, then Popaganda: The Art and Crimes of Ron English would be its punch line. Pedro Carvajal’s intimate, decade-in-the-making portrait of English is wide-ranging and playful, and worthy of introducing the man who, it is said, slaughtered Joe Camel.
Readers of Adbusters throughout the ’90s will be familiar with English as one of the men who invented culture-jamming, and whose favourite art medium is a second-degree felony in the U.S.
English has, to date, hijacked over 1,000 commercial billboards. His victims have included the Joe Camel campaign, in which his hand-painted portraits of Mrs. Joe Camel "smoking for two," among other things, fed to his theory that if one billboard in thousands belonging to one ad campaign was altered, viewers would never be able to look at said campaign with an absence of cynicism. English’s artistic acumen and intellectual brilliance changed what could have been an amplified version of Hitler-moustaches-with-a-sharpie-marker vandalism into high art, accessible to all. (Though English did, it should be noted, add Hitler – along with Bill Gates – to the pantheon of 20th-century heroes and geniuses featured in Apple’s Think Different campaign.) It seems a bit as though Carvajal learns his craft in the process of making the documentary… production glitches slightly mar the footage of English’s early billboards, but by the time the doc blooms into English’s period as a "gallery" artist and designer of rock record jackets, all that matters is the breathtaking weirdness of English’s art. By the end, he is again engaged in jamming and hijacking billboards during the furor of last year’s presidential election… putting English’s imagination to good use.
Speaking of putting imaginations to use, week 2 of Fantasia has some wild and woolly weirdness not to be missed. In addition to a quartet of spectral Thai bloodbaths (see above) there are several cinematic events of note. The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie’s latest slasher epic, will be shown in the presence of the director, as will The Dark Hours, a brand new Canadian thriller with good buzz by Paul Fox (the director and cast will also be in attendance). Both of these will be released in the near future (the former this summer, the latter in the fall), but there are also some one-time screenings in Fantasia’s garden of international delights.
El Lobo is a Serpico-esque period thriller about Basque terrorists that will have you on the edge of your seat. Breaking News, Johnnie To’s latest, is a half-Peckinpah, half-Marshall McLuhan-esque tale of cops, criminals and the news media set in Hong Kong. Silmido is a gritty and riveting Korean military drama based on a true story of betrayal and political loyalties. Neighbour No. 13 is a Takashi Miike-esque horror flick about kid bullies and the nerd’s revenge – an alternate-personality horror flick cut down the centre with pretty much the sickest animated sequence since Itchy & Scratchy.
Mark Lamothe of Fantasia admits that though the festival’s demographics are split 65/35 per cent in favour of the boys, he and the other programmers have been consciously making choices aimed at attracting the fairer ticket sales – movies like My Sassy Girl a few years back, as well as "pretty much anything anime works pretty well," in his words.
To wit, a few zany romantic comedies are on the program: Tetsuya Nakashima’s Kamikaze Girls is about as bubblegum as semi-automatic machine-gun fire, and Please Teach Me English is a zany Korean rom-com.
Last but not least, Harry Cleven’s Belgian Trouble (Duplicity) stars Benoît Magimel as a set of twins separated through family trauma when they were 6. Typically European, the movie concerns itself with the twins’ getting mixed up with each others’ wives and laying claim to children, and yet there’s something about the flick that sticks – and there’s no denying that the denouement contains something Polanski-esque that adds an art-house edge to week 2.