"If I think about the future of cinema as art, I shiver" (Y. Ozu, 1959)

USA 3 - Ash vs Evil Dead (Sam Raimi)

Monday, 22 February 2016 11:40

Giona A. Nazzaro

 

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME

- I can’t really trust my eyes these days.

-There is nothing wrong with your eyes.

Sometimes what you think you saw,

is exactly what you saw.

 

It really is simple. Everybody’s been talking about how television is actually better than cinema these days. So Sam Raimi must have thought that the best way to get a new Evil Dead instalment off the ground is to “fake” a TV series. Of course: Ash vs. Evil Dead is a TV series. Moreover, a very good one indeed. However, there is a lot and more in it and it feels like prime Raimi filmmaking. In terms of mythology, Raimi once again brings back Bruce Campbell as Ash. He is his very own working class-slash-everyman and main co-conspirator. A working relationship that recalls John Ford’s one with the Duke or Frank Capra’s with Jimmy Stewart. It’s that deep.

Ash works at a ValueShop and lives in a trailer park. You got the idea. Ash is white trash. Mind you, not of the racist kind, even though Asian babies freak him out (as he puts it with a smile on his face). Ash is a survivor, even though he is not the brightest guy in town. Certainly haunted by survivor’s guilt, he doesn’t want to talk about what lies not so forgotten back there in the woods or in that cabin. Or in that shed for that matter. Still: the things that haunt him are the ones that define him. Tough luck. So, in order the keep evil from his doorstep, he has to blend in. Become exactly like all other low-paid-job Americans that just didn’t survive the subprime bubble and keep struggling on. Sometimes, from time to time, they are also shipped off to a faraway country to uphold the American way to export freedom and democracy. Ash is just one of them. He was promised a Frank Capra dream but instead has been dealt the worst deck of cards ever and has become the smart-talking Rambo of the netherworld. Once guys like him rode on white horses, saved the day and got the girl. Now? Not so much. And everyone else is cooler too. All Ash ever wanted was to live in Jacksonville and go fishing (the genius-like ayuasca trip in the fourth episode, where the American Dream becomes bad Eighties advertisement). That was his dream as well. They promised he could have it. Make no mistake. Even though Sam Raimi may want to disguise himself as the übernerd, he is first and foremost a political filmmaker. Not in a direct Michael Moore sense, but in a more classical one. Smarter one.

 

Ash vs Evil Dead (Sam Raimi)

 

As a storyteller he belongs in the very same lineage that spawned the early monster movies and The Three Stooges. Raimi loves Victor Fleming and Sam Wood, but obviously, he has also seen Japanese and Italian horror movies. Of course, the unforgettable imprint of the seventies horror wave is there too. Hooper, Romero obviously, but also the less quoted and noble ones of the bunch like Ted V. Mikels or David E. Durston. Therefore, his politics are the result of a deep understanding of American filmmaking by a generation that nevertheless completely embraced what came after the demise of the studio system (check out his filmography to have a better understanding of how Sam looks at the things in the world). It is no surprise that Raimi branched out in television long before TV series became the talk of the town. There is the understanding that since B movie filmmaking doesn’t exist anymore - i.e. cheap, quick, inventive filmmaking where to experiment with the form and question the status quo - the smaller format of TV would allow a change of pace that an industry dominated by the tent pole business does not consider an option anymore. Therefore, is it any wonder that in a TV-series dominated landscape Raimi reverses the trend? Make a movie. Only cheaper, and sell it as TV. Of course: Ash vs. Evil Dead is exactly how television should be. Sharp, quick-witted, smart, subversive and outfitted with a totally punk in the in-your-face attitude. Ash vs. Evil Dead is on the 45-rpm side of the business. The 30-minutes-per-episode speed is the exact equivalent of the perfect 3-minutes song that ruled the air before the LP came along. And, if you pay closer attention, while each song-slash-episode has a distinct riff, there is always something else going on in the subtext area. Case in point, the militia gun crazy survivalists rescued by a Mexican, an African-American cop and a Jewish girl (episode 6) or as in episode 4, the issue of Mexican traditional knowledge and culture. Each episode is immediate as a perfect pop song produced by the likes of Phil Spector or Jack Nitzsche and just as quick as a tweet. Sam Raimi is a political filmmaker because he completely understands how the perception of the different speeds in the realms of contemporary image production works. While never tempted to mimic it with faster and faster editing, he just goes for the jugular of incisive filmmaking. Every frame counts. Every cut is as necessary as the one that preceded it. The movements of the camera are always defined by the narration. The opposite never happens (and this explains what is wrong with films today). Of course: pop references abound, but that is just the name of the game. What’s really at stake here, is the way a certain movie fluency (most commonly epitomized by Quentin Tarantino’s work), steeped in the tradition of classic American filmmaking, keeps on having fruitful conversations with contemporary kinetic energies without losing its creative identity. There is something exquisitely political in the way Raimi keeps working inside the same boundaries, while tirelessly reshaping his world and his best-known characters for a new generation of viewers and – yes – consumers. Sam Raimi, as he already proved in Oz, films obsessively the machine of cinema itself. Sometimes, it is a cabin lost in the woods. Sometimes, it is a Darkman that recalls a certain Quasimodo, sometimes it is a monster, a Spiderman, that reshapes the city it lives in. The different genres are canvases on which to rethink the machine that brings everything to life. This machine is so perfectly oiled that it works flawlessly also in the hands of those who could be considered lesser directors such Michael Hurst or David Frazee. His most misunderstood film says it all: for the love of the game. Raimi loves his games. He is serious about them as any child would. Ash vs. Evil Dead may be one of Sam Raimi’s smartest and most theoretical games ever.

 

 

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