There's no denying in the age of let-it-all-hang-out reality TV, YouTube, blog devotionals and celebrity pudenda, we are inundated with the rawest, most personal aspects of other people's lives. But independent filmmakers have shown their ability to compete either with greater lyricism or greater shock, and the latter is served up in spades at this year's Atlanta Film Festival.
Films that pan for their own blood-and-guts gold are in abundance at this year's festival. Giving even the Anna Nicole paternity circus a run for its money, Zoo (Wednesday, April 25, 7:30 p.m.) was one of the buzz films at this year's Sundance Film Festival for its still-shocking coverage of a 2005 News of the Weird-worthy event involving a Seattle Boeing engineer, an emergency trip to the hospital with a perforated colon and a horse. The man's gruesome death opened up a media hellfire on the heads of the tight community of Pacific Northwest horse-fuckers. Director Robinson Devor tends to favor gorgeously photographed Americana in his artful doc, with a debt to Errol Morris, over scandalous footage. But there is just enough verbal description of man/horse love among these zoophiles and brief snippets of homemade videotapes to up the "ick" factor. Despite all the sensitive lensing, empathy for these men who love horses may not go as far for many viewers as the filmmaker intends.
A subculture of an entirely different stripe, but equally concerned with questionably gory pursuits, Flesh and Blood (Saturday, April 21, 11:15 p.m.; Thursday, April 26, 2 p.m.) centers on Phoenix body-modification artist Steve Haworth. A man known around the world for his willingness to go where no tattoo artist or surgeon has gone before, Haworth specializes in giving his fans what they want. What his clients want are transdermal implants, bolts in their skull to which metal spikes can be screwed for a metal mohawk or, in one man's case, a face stitched, molded and tattooed to resemble a jungle cat. When the thrills of making his patients into human pin cushions wanes, Haworth begins experimenting with suspending his friends by their skin wounds from meat hooks.
Now that's good eating.
The more tiresome and self-indulgent aspects of extreme body modification are revealed along with the kind of gore that may leave some viewers spending half the documentary hiding behind their hands. Patients for Haworth's particular form of surgery don't use anesthesia, but by the end of this gore opus, some in the audience may be begging for a hit of the stuff.
The recreational bloodletting in Flesh and Blood tends to look like child's play compared with the real blood and anguish of Soldiers of Conscience (Sunday, April 22, noon; Wednesday, April 25, 4:30 p.m.), about American soldiers serving in Iraq who have asked for conscientious-objector status. Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan's documentary features some shockingly gruesome images of death and cruelty our willfully sanitized media have compliantly swept under the rug. The point, as one ex-soldier articulates, is clear: If we are going to ask our troops to kill in our name, we can't look away from the reality of what that entails. Soldiers of Conscience eschews sensationalism for the larger mission of showing the responsibility we all take when we ask soldiers to kill in our national name.
If viewers come to Blue Blood (Saturday, April 21, 8:30 p.m.; Monday, April 23, 12:45 p.m.) hoping for posh, Merchant-Ivory types with tousled hair and locked jaws being beaten to a bloody pulp, they probably will be disappointed by director Stevan Riley's rather mild bloodletting. Most of the Oxford University boxers chronicled in the documentary seem more working- or middle-class eggheads than blue bloods, and the amount of time they spend in the ring bashing noses pales next to the sweaty time logged sparring and training. The story of the annual boxing bout between the students at two elite British colleges, Cambridge and Oxford, Blue Blood follows the blood, sweat and tears as a host of wannabe Oxford pugilists strive to be members of the prestigious "Blues" varsity boxing team.
And finally, blood literally fuels Alex Orr's homegrown horror-comedy Blood Car (Thursday, April 26, 10 p.m.; Friday, April 27, 5:15 p.m.), which envisions a slacker trying to invent a car that runs on wheat grass at a time of $32-a-gallon gas prices. Blood Car begins like an amusing cross between the satirical shlock of Little Shop of Horrors and the political urgency of Who Killed the Electric Car?, and it's particularly amusing when the vegan inventor blubbers over killing squirrels so he can fuel up his vehicle and date a hot chick.
Nevertheless, the film feels like a great short film unnecessarily expanded to feature length, and a subplot involving government conspirators lacks a certain internal combustion.
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