It’s not difficult to explain the value of this complete retrospective in the Torino Film Festival, dedicated to John Landis. According to Landis himself an author receives this kind of tribute mostly when he is “finished” as a director and his career is over. This is not the case. The sense of the humoristic expression used by the director of unforgettable masterpieces like Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Trading Places (1983) and Into the Night (1985) is kind of different. We know that his place in the new Hollywood of these bad years – “bad” for the cinema, for the world and for the history in general – is less important than in the in 70’s and 80’s. Landis did not realize very important films and projects (his last very personal film is Innocent Blood, 1992), because of Hollywood’s judgement against his intelligence, his deep ability in destroying common sense and respect for institutions. An establishment such as the one that rules the U.S. in this period is the worst nightmare a filmmaker like Landis, who grew up with the offbeat culture of the 50’s and 60’s, could suffer. And we can imagine the consequences of this situation for his brilliant inspiration. In other words: while Landis’s idea of the cinema did not change in these years, the American cinema did.
In this new context Landis’s humoristic description of American society, using and mixing every type of films (from comedy to horror, from the spy-story to the western, from the thriller to the musical), seems too strong and too politically un-correct for the big bosses of the studios. So – for him and for other great American authors – it’s almost impossible to make more mainstream films. This bad guy of the American cinema now directs independent films, like his last Slasher (2004), which we watched in Torino during the film festival. Slasher, the great and most important surprise of this retrospective, is not only a bizarre documentary about a man who spends his life selling used cars in every place using his voice, his clothes, and his wit and cutting (slashing) the price to surprise the people. Of course he is a professional liar, perfect to entrap the common folks. At the same time his job and his methods recall the style of the last presidents of the United States, like Bush Sr., Clinton or Bush Jr (in the first sequence of this low-budget film we can listen to some of the speeches of these presidents). Everybody knows that they are really good at starting wars. After the White House parade, we meet the main character of the film, the professional “slasher.” In this way it is possible to understand the sarcastic similitude. Now we know that Landis is also a serious American non-fiction director, like Wiseman, Morris and Moore.
We have to recognize that Landis continues his personal war against the establishment of Hollywood and that his films continue to bomb the system. The studios refuse to give him the money necessary to realize an intelligent blockbuster. But it doesn’t make any difference to him. Landis doesn’t need big money to remain brave and complex. The author of The Blues Brothers has remained himself. We had no doubt of this; nevertheless the Torino retrospective – screening also the episode directed for the TV series Dream On and the videos for Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Black or White – has offered the best demonstration of his vitality, inside or offside Hollywood.
Anton Giulio Mancino
© FIPRESCI 2004