Thursday, May 26, 2011

Talking to Cinema Zinester Mike White About Impossibly Funky Film Criticism

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2011 at 1:55 PM

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Back in the days before the Tomato Meter reduced movie reviews to mere percentages, Cashiers du Cinemart was giving new life to film criticism with its DIY spirit and edgy views. What began in 1994 as a cut-and-paste-andXerox zine is now assembled into a handsome anthology: Impossibly Funky: A Cashiers du Cinemart Collection, edited by founder Mike White. Criss-crossing between cult, mainstream, indie, and arthouse cinemas, no movie was safe from CdC, no filmmaker too sacred to be spared from the critical scalpel or the sarcastic lip. The critics at had attitude, style, and incendiary opinions. They were as likely as to provoke fanboys as to gain loyal followers, evinced by White’s two video essays on Tarantino, "Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?" (1994) and "You’re Still Not Fooling Anybody" (1997), two prescient examples of the mixed-media critical form that has been gaining momentum in recent years. In short, CdC’s opinions were fun as hell to read and continue to shed light on under-recognized areas of film culture.

To further spread the Impossibly Funky gospel, Mike White is taking to the road this summer and bringing with him some of his favorite movies, beginning this Friday at 92YTribeca, where he’ll be screening George Armitage’s 1990 PI flick Miami Blues and Jim Sherman’s 1981 Rocky Horror sequel Shock Treatment. And next Wednesday, he’ll be invading the reRun with Greydon Clark’s 1976 cult classic Black Shampoo. For more information about the book tour, visit Impossibly Funky online. White spoke with us over email earlier this month.

Today, anyone and their cousin can go online and find any number of alternative film websites or even start their own—but back in 1994 you were forging new territory. Was there much of an indie film zine culture when CdC started? Any other mags that you could look to for inspiration?
When I started CdC, it felt like the heyday of film zines. There were some great ones out there: Mike Accomando’s Dreadful Pleasures, Mike Plante’s Cinemad… So why not join the other Mikes with my own brand of mayhem? I got my greatest jolts of inspiration from Colin Geddes’s Asian Eye, Rich Osmond’s Teenage Rampage, and Steve Puchalski’s Shock Cinema. Those were the zines to which I aspired.

How the heck did you even distribute the magazine in the pre-Internet age?
Like pimping, it ain’t easy. These were the days of little distro houses. It was all very punk rock—and I mean that literally. Punk had set the stage for homegrown music distribution and doing the same with zines was a ‘natch. I dealt a little bit with that but lucked out by finding a few distribution centers that would accept the rough-hewn version of Cashiers du Cinemart. I got my big break, however, when Tower Records picked me up. They got me into stores around the globe and in front of people that never would have found me just by checking out Factsheet Five.

What was the selection process for the book like? You had 15 issues to choose from, right?
Fifteen issues as well as a few odds and ends. I met with two of my friends, Lori Higgins and Mike Thompson, along with a list of everything that had been in the issues along with stuff that had ended up just living on the web. Mike had been with me from the beginning while Lori was a newfound fan. Between the three of us we picked out pieces that gave a history of the zine as well as some of our favorite pieces. The original list ran twice as long as what ended up in the book but I had to kill a lot of my favorites. Maybe I’ll bring them back for the sequel.

Impossibly Funky looks great, and the cover is fittingly funky! Who designed it?
The guts of the book were proofed and designed by Lori Higgins. The cover was drawn by Jim Rugg of Afrodisiac fame. Jasen Lex did the coloring. I love what they did.

What are the qualities that you like to see in a film critic or review?
I always enjoy criticism by folks who know their film history and can look beyond just the superficial binary criticism (or, as my friend Mike Thompson calls it, “the thumbs”). Don’t just tell me that the movie is good or bad while recounting the events on screen. Tell me where it fits within the larger context of cinema. Of course, not all movies merit that kind of discourse. I’m also all about simple popcorn turn-off-your-brain movies as well. When it comes to those, however, I tend to read reviews afterward, if ever.

What contemporary critics/publications do you read regularly (whether film or otherwise)?
I still read Shock Cinema and the occasional blog but I feel like an old man, preferring print to screen. Luckily, there’s still a wealth of film books that I have yet to read with new ones still coming out. The latest that I’ve devoured, Destroy All Movies, is informative and funny.

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How big is your video collection, how do you keep track of what you have, and what is your most prized movie?
Until spring of 2010 I had a huge video collection. After seeing the first season of Hoarders, I decided that I had to purge. Now I’m down to maybe a couple hundred DVDs and a few thousand DVDrs (backups of my VHS collection). This year I hope to alphabetize everything rather than just keeping them in order in my head. My most prized movie is my original VHS tape of Black Shampoo. The sentimental value makes it priceless to me.

Favorite movie snack?
Milk Duds, just like Simon Dunkle.

As part of your book tour, you're screening Miami Blues, Shock Treatment, and Black Shampoo—why these particular movies?
A lot of Impossibly Funky deals with overlooked movies and that’s where Shock Treatment comes in. Also, there’s a piece in the book all about Charles Willeford, the author of Miami Blues. I love the adaptation George Armitage did and wish that he had made the other Hoke Mosely books into movies.

Black Shampoo ties in very well with Impossibly Funky since I have a whole section of the book dedicated to that film. I’ve been a fan of that movie since I was 17 and it was something of a dream come true to interview the cast and director, Greydon Clark. Since then Greydon and I have become friends and he gave me carte blanche to show any of his movies while I’m on tour. Thus, I’m also screening Angel’s Brigade in Montreal as well as Satan’s Cheerleaders and Without Warning in Schenectady.

Your thoughts on the demise of independent video stores? Can the Internet possibly make up for it?
I’m bummed that video stores are closing—even the corporate ones—as I love browsing movies, seeing the cover art, and getting my fingers dirty on the dusty shelves. Indy video stores were always a great place for knowledge-sharing and finding some off-the-wall flicks. As it is now, it feels like there’s a collection of just a few films that get written about online. Or, people write about obscure stuff that it’s a chore to find. There needs to be a happy medium. The other problem is the overreliance on scoring systems versus good criticism. It goes back to that binary system I mentioned before. It’s good, bad, or a Rotten Tomatoes score. Can’t there be more?

Lastly, is CdC16 really the final issue?
I’m going to see how this whole “print on demand” thing goes. If I don’t lose my shirt maybe it’ll be a new avenue, though people will still say that I’m crazy for just not blogging more and sticking by print.

You can access Cashiers du Cinemart archives on the web at impossiblefunky.com. Mike White is also co-host of the podcast The Projection Booth.

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