Friday, January 16, 2009

Incredibly Strange Creature

Ray Dennis Steckler died recently, and if you haven't seen any of his films, you're missing some entertaining examples of improvised action, mixed genres, and general weirdness. Not many people create art on their own terms, much less make a mark. But Steckler carved out his own identity. His movies possess the same energy as early-60s garage rock, and probably cost as much to make. Yet they are like nothing else.

Here's part of the extensive final action sequence from my favorite Steckler film, "Rat Pfink A Boo Boo," 1965. The costumes are thrown together, though Boo Boo's mask is inspired, especially compared to Rat Pfink's common ski mask, which hides his identity in a bland way. Function decidedly trumped fashion there.

The fighting reminds me of what my friends and I filmed on Super 8 in the mid-70s. We used my rural front yard to stage a kung fu epic, which began in the standard manner, but soon became bizarre as our characters defied gravity, time and space, crudely realized with stop-motion techniques and cheating close-ups. The end result wasn't as fluid as Steckler's fight scenes, but we did have disappearing ninjas and leaves that cut throats. The end shot was me chasing down my tormentor, who's driving at 60 mph as I ran alongside his car, overtaking and forcing him off the road and into oblivion. How did we get that shot? It'll be in the memoir.

Dig the use of the gorilla as the climax to the action. Steckler's homage to King Kong? Or to the Three Stooges? In Steckler's cinematic dreamscapes, any combination was possible.

And here's a nice musical number from the same film. Apparently, Steckler had to pad for length, so he stuck in some go go scenes to fill out the running time. A valuable lesson for any young filmmakers reading this.