I really miss my friend Hugues Barbier. I met him sometime around 2010 or so, when he showed up in town and started bringing in odd genre films through Fantastic Fest to play at Cornell Cinema. Through him, I was able to connect with some really exciting genre people for interviews. Jim Mickle brought his excellent vampire apocalypse film “Stakeland” to town, and a few years later he was the toast of the indie world for his film “Cold in July.”
Hugues moved a while back (I knew this town wasn’t big enough to hold a guy like that) but the Ithaca chapter of Fantastic Fest is still going strong, with recent screenings of good horror-action-splatter stuff like “Color Out of Space” and “VFW.”
Whenever I think of Hugues, I always remember that he hipped me to Quentin Dupieux’s “Rubber,” one of the weirdest and yet most compelling films I have ever seen. I’m sure one of the reasons I responded so strongly to a movie like “Rubber” is that I spend most of my days watching conventional American narrative films, so anything weird like “Rubber” would appeal. It’s all about this rubber tire in the desert that realizes it is a sentient being with dangerous powers of destruction. You know, that old chestnut.
Quentin Dupieux, who also spins French techno music as Mr. Oizo, is back with another incredibly strange film. “Deerskin” (2019, 77 mins., Greenwich Entertainment Virtual Cinema) is available on VOD for fans of offbeat and unusual cinema.
Films like “Deerskin” are difficult to review, because what’s original and unique about them should be left to discover as a surprise. So, let’s see, what can I tell you? In “Deerskin,” we meet Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) driving somewhere. He stops off at a rest stop gas station, stuffs his jacket into the toilet and kicks it with his foot. It turns out he’s driving to meet someone to blow all his money on a fringed deerskin jacket. The seller throws in a digital camcorder.
The guy takes a room in a small village hotel, where he meets the local bartender (Adèle Haenel of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”). He tells her he’s a filmmaker, she tells him she’s an amateur film editor, and they begin collaborating on his latest “project”. And then the deerskin jacket starts talking to him…
That’s all you’ll get out of me. “Deerskin” is a complete success on its own bizarre terms. Its rules are its own, but at least it plays fairly by them, and like all good films, the resolution is both surprising and inevitable. If you’re tired of the same ol’ same ol’, the conventional and the ordinary, “Deerskin” should croggle your head for 77 minutes.
The first images we see in Rachel Mason’s “Circus of Books” (2020, 86 mins., Netflix) are home-video camcorder footage of an ordinary family making a meal in the kitchen, just another document of everyday life. But the mom and pop in the video are Barry and Karen Mason, the owners of a gay porn bookstore in Los Angeles called “Circus of Books.” From 1982 to its closing in 2019, the store was a major hub in L.A.’s gay community, and Barry and Karen ended up producing gay porn films in addition to the store.
All of this was kept secret. All the Mason kids knew was that their parents ran a bookstore, and they never went near the place. And now their daughter Rachel has made a rather amazing documentary that proves yet again that truth is stranger – and more interesting – than fiction. Just the saga of the Mason family business would be a story worth telling, but Karen had a successful career as a journalist, and Barry was one of the special effects technicians on film like “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
The film is also about the Mason’s kids coming to terms with their parents’ other life, and again there are surprises that are best not revealed here. I love documentaries that take me into other peoples’ lives, and while I have no interest in gay porn, I also say to each their own. Everyone has their struggles, and the more specific the human behavior onscreen is, the more universal it can be.