“Moricz’s work assaults the viewer with a whiplash barrage of familiar plot lines, trite turning points, and cliché characters spouting simultaneously banal and inflated rhetorical dialogue, all infusing narratives propelled by a poignant and urgent anxiety derived from the tensions of everyday life.”
Filmmaker Bob Moricz, born in 1973, is the son of Hungarian émigré parents. He arrived here as a child and has remained an ambivalent outsider who never entirely assimilated into American culture even as he absorbed a flood of pop cultural models and conventions; a young stranger negotiating the complex immigrant’s dilemma of trying to adapt and fit in while remaining always an ironic observer of our media-permeated social and mental landscape, of our quietly and not so quietly anxious domestic trials.
This first long-form movie is a takeoff on the slasher genre and features a histrionic student’s pursuit of a psycho killer who incongruously walks around his suburban neighborhood wearing a mask. Gutwrenched presages many of Moricz’s characteristic gestures such as manic characters spouting hyperbolic platitudes and the first appearance of a masked character that will evolve into a very significant trope in his future work. Stylistically there are the rapid pace, visual instability, abrupt transitions, underscored by the effective sudden transitions from metal power chords to lyrical classical music on the soundtrack.
Moricz’s films are a resonantly uneasy combination of the disparate influences that got mixed up inside him in America’s cultural whirlpool. He absorbed the images of notorious exploitation directors such as Doris Wishman, Michael and Roberta Findley, Russ Meyer, Andy Milligan, Jess Franco, and Jack Hill alongside those of high-art film exemplars such as Bunuel, Fassbinder, Harmony Korine, Oshima, Koji Wakamatsu, and Bela Tarr. To this incongruous co-mingling was added the work of several avant-garde filmmakers: Jack Smith, Maya Deren, and most tangibly that of his friends and mentors George and Mike Kuchar.
But perhaps one of the most profound influences on Moricz was free jazz, Albert Ayler, Alice Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman. In its time and even today, free jazz presented real challenges, defying all notions of conventional harmony and melodic structure; abrasive, dissonant, daunting, and refusing to cater to popular tastes and consequently greeted with hostility and dismissal. He also discovered inspiration in the work of modern classical composers such as Gyorgi Lygetti and Karlheinz Stockhausen. This music to a large extent provides a template for Moricz’s filmmaking, as does the cutting-edge underground and art rock that he draws on for the impressive and at times jarring scores for his films.
Moricz takes all of this and blends it in his cinematic cuisinart, emphasizing plots largely derived from “debased” popular genres such as Universal horror, ’70s exploitation, overwrought Douglas Sirk-style melodramas, and soap operas. These mutations of enervated and familiar formulas are deployed to delineate a stressed-out suburban landscape of failing relationships, dysfunctional families, confusion, frustration, and hostility. The characters speak in language and utilize gestures borrowed from an all-pervading popular culture, their distress framed in the terms of cliched daytime TV canned advice and superficial self-help book angst. The dialogue is an ironic and camped-up revision of the banal histrionics of everyday America. The performances are at times borderline amateurish and always over-the-top — and the actors far from central casting. With the exception of a handful shot on Super-8, the majority of his films are shot quickly on consumer video cameras.
Like many aspiring to a career in filmmaking, Moricz first got a job with a small traditional production company in San Francisco, landing a position as PA right out of high school and quickly advancing to location manager. He soon found himself in an environment where very little creativity was in evidence. There were long dull stretches where no decisions were ever made and nothing much got produced while his colleagues droned on endlessly about Spielberg and Lucas et al.
Inspired by Cinematic Cesspool, he wrote a fan letter to George Kuchar and was pleasantly surprised to be invited to attend his AC/DC Psychotronic Teleplays class at the SFAI in Studio 8 and participate in the proceedings. Subsequently he was allowed to drop in on the course from time to time and became friends with both George and Mike Kuchar, who played occasional cameo roles in some of his films.
After obtaining a BA in English Literature and a teaching certificate, he endured an agonizing five-year stint at a high school in a depressed area with inadequate support from the school district. (His encounter with abandoned and alienated young people would become the basis for his recent feature Bumps, 2009, just as his experience temping at mental health facility provided the fuel for Felony Flats, 2011).
As he continued making films, Moricz “perfected” what he refers to as his Machine Gun style, shooting quickly with no money and small crews. This allows him to avoid the pitfalls of protracted production schedules as well as to tap his own intuition. It entails going into each project with a firm idea of what he wants, including a rough script and making sure the actors have the general idea of what he wants but with an openness to improvisation. The benefit of this approach allows his unconscious to leak through in the course of decisions made too quickly to be censored or rationalized. He shoots a great deal of footage and then works intensively in post-production to edit the footage into the fluctuating coherence that comprises his highly idiosyncratic cinematic maelstrom.
The majority of Moricz’s shorts and short features assault the viewer with a whiplash barrage of familiar plot lines, trite turning points, and cliché characters spouting simultaneously banal and inflated rhetorical dialogue, all infusing narratives propelled by a poignant and urgent anxiety derived from the tensions of everyday life.
Not surprisingly, Moricz has had difficulty finding an audience for his films and has encountered a corresponding difficulty in finding film festivals willing to program his work. Experimental or avant-garde festivals reject them because there are too many recognizable narrative elements, too much “entertainment”; and more mainstream festivals reject his work because its treatment of narrative is too fractured, too provocative, and too abrasive. Some kind of story is told, but huge chunks of the standard expositions and transitions have been left out. The films succeed in alienating every side of the film world. Audiences come in with a set of pre-existing expectations, either avant-garde or narrative, and Moricz frustrates all of them.
A typical viewer wandering naively into a Moricz movie for the first time can reasonably be expected to make a series of knee-jerk responses, dismissing the films as vulgar, obnoxious, chaotic, lowbrow, cheap, and amateurish. No doubt this viewer might also clasp his hands over his ears, recoiling from dissonant and at times abrasive soundtracks. This initial scandal of conventional expectations thwarted, indecorously so, will frequently prevent many viewers from taking the time to look more closely. In addressing the basis for such responses, Moricz cites the Japanese concept of heta-uma, which he renders with a word of his own coinage “terriblincredible” or “practically unwatchable . . . giving form to ugly feelings stemming from lack of power and constant threat.”
One of the extreme inadequacies of commercial filmmaking is a reliance on the “realistic” and the “believable” — the world represented in the cinema must mirror the world in which we live so a paying audience will come out in droves to see it so the investors can make a profit. This over-reliance on realism keeps people from diving into more challenging and figurative realms. In my cinematic world, this reliance on realism does not exist. I call what I do hyper-non-realism. The emphasis is to make the non-real terrain of the emotional and the psychological, which are more real than reality since they inform, warp, and transform reality . . . rather than mimicking a reality in a standardized fashion . . . I take issue with realism.
Within this private cinematic universe of artfully jumbled extremity, one can detect several repeated behavioral and visual motifs that frame and enunciate a number of troubling thematic undercurrents. These include the frequent presence of masks; the anxious and ambivalent nature of relationships, particularly between the sexes; male hysteria and female intransigence; as well as the frequent recourse to doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, or other “repairmen” of what the enveloping media presents as normality.
To what degree his childhood experiences as a young immigrant trying to wear the right expression or to adopt the appropriate vocabulary and gestures to win acceptance by his new peers informed the adoption of masks as plot devices and visual motifs one can only guess. In two early short features the masks are simple: in Gutwrenched the hockey mask of routine slasher movies; in Rod Rhyebold Must Be Destroyed! (1994) the appropriation of an ill-fitting Michael Myers’s Halloween mask worn by a cut-rate revenge-seeking latter-day Phantom of the Opera. However, as his career progresses, the device evolves and accumulates greater resonance and suggestiveness.
Moricz acknowledges an admiration for ancient theatrical forms, particularly the Japanese Noh and Kabuki theater, yet the masks that he deploys have none of the aura of tradition or artistic prestige associated with Noh masks. Rather the masks donned by his duplicitous characters are the banal mass-produced commercial objects of American popular culture. Yet the grotesque rubber reproductions of the faces of JFK and Tor Johnson are utilized to profoundly disturbing effect in the brilliant Rich Little Richard the Third vs. the Crack Whore Marine Corp (2009), a flagrantly anti-realist contemporary reimagining of Shakespeare’s Richard III.
So, what kind of world compels such a mania for disguise? A world where human connections are rarely simple or unalloyed with issues of power or with potential rejection or humiliation, a world where relationships are fraught with resentments and barely controlled hostility. The Presentation of Self in this particular Everyday Life is a risk not to be assayed lightly; the jeopardy to one’s self-image and security are too great.
This is literally the case in A Big Ass Lust for Speed, which begins with a man awakening to the sound of a disembodied voice, instructing the male protagonist to cut off his penis. In The Midnight of My Life, a witch controls the movements of men or punishes their insubordination with death. In Palace of Stains, the exposition reveals that a murderous daughter of one of the competing dynasties had years earlier seduced the jock boyfriend of a young woman from a competing dynasty, castrated, and lobotomized him. Dumped on the outskirts of town, he becomes a hooded cannibal attacking hikers. But even this monstrous, hulking male gets his ass kicked by one of his female would-be victims and then ultimately gets lovingly put out of his misery with a bullet to the brain by his former girlfriend.
In general, the male actors in Moricz’s movies tend to be more compelling figures, possessing more camera presence and acting ability than do their female co-stars. The male characters have a lot more to do, emoting, gesticulating, engaging in histrionic and highly rhetorical dialogue. On the whole, the actresses tend to be relatively impassive or flat, plain and low-key, yet strong and self-contained and more often than not getting the better of their more flamboyant male counterparts.
In these dysfunctional families, children are largely absent (and when present are played by dolls). There are obvious pragmatic reasons for this; no-budget underground films of a controversial nature are unlikely to include many child actors. When they do appear, they are endangered. At the climax of Love’s Lazer, the overwrought father expresses loathing and disgust at his offspring and demands that his wife endorse his desire to kill it — and when she doesn’t, throws it from the top of the stairs. In another bizarre short, The Slaves of Destructo, a monstrous mother appears to give birth to an infant (doll) and then to beat it to death. One of the women in The Big Fat Period treats a baby doll as a real baby, fretting over it endlessly. In this world, children are not only absent but welcome. These are not happy families.
The father of the Montgomerys is a harried, corrupt businessman who has lost the family fortune. He suffers the storms of one son’s abduction by Turkish gangsters for unpaid debt, followed by his own reluctant banishment of his other son over a false attempted rape accusation made by his calculating wife (played by an actor in drag). Weary of life and knowing that without money his wife will leave him, he will ultimately commit suicide.
The patriarch of the Cosgraves is a murderous tyrant rendered literally monstrous as a result of being horrifically burned in a car accident that he engineered to get rid of his wife. He is paranoid, convinced that everyone wants to eliminate him for his money. And indeed there are a host of contenders for the fortune, including several illegitimate daughters as well as the daughter he tossed into a mental hospital to silence her for misdeeds she witnessed him commit. His two loyal children, a son and a daughter, dutifully get rid of the unwanted would-be legatees. Pere Cosgrave’s reign of terror is terminated suddenly by a concealed assailant with a pistol.
The third father, the head of the Grieper family, is a fundamentalist preacher given to extramarital activity in order to populate the world with Christian soldiers. His long-suffering wife finally poisons him. Unlike the other two patriarchs, he survives and, realizing the error of his ways, repents and begs his wife’s forgiveness.
In Love’s Lazer, after the couple’s respective brain surgeries, the husband becomes increasingly florid in his talk and leaves home to avenge himself on the doctor and get it on with a grotesque hooker. In contrast, the wife remains at home, but she too has changed. When an intruder enters the house, still naked from her bath, she blows him away with a pistol. She then comes on to and gropes the cop who comes to interview her about the incident. In the climactic scene, he becomes an intruder in his own house, bent on laying waste to their conventional domesticity, which she defends with deadly force.
The same familiar trappings of suburban relationship turbulence and sentimental melodrama are present The Bloody Maw of the Man Wolf. In the opening montage, the happy couple stroll and commune with each other with all the stylistic trappings of clichéd romantic cinema. There is then an abrupt shift to the register of psychological thriller as the distraught husband shares with his girlfriend his fears that he might be responsible for a recent series of murders. We cycle rapidly through sub-genres of emotional breakdown, addiction drama, and low-budget horror as the (obviously fake) werewolf stalks a victim in what is a compression of the traditional horror scene of the monster killing its victim. Every scene is a quotation from popular genres or from televisual “feminist” discourse of self-protection. To all this is added an ambiguous suggestion of adultery. The murders began with the death of one particular woman whom the husband mentions several times, as if his possible infidelity with her was the rupture that cursed the sanctity of the relationship and rendered him monstrous. A mysterious man, a doctor of lycanthropy, arrives to advise the girlfriend about her beloved’s affliction and, after teaming up with her and her younger sister for a full-moon hunt, whisks the tranquilized Man Wolf off to Switzerland for a special treatment that will free him from his dread condition. The happy ending arrives with the reunion of the happy couple, who break out into a full-blown power rock love-anthem music video, once again underlining the way in which every aspect of our contemporary reality is viewed through the prism of media-devised models.
Richard, played by Moricz himself, seems to be a paranoid, suffocating low-level middle-class salary man suffering from a massive inferiority complex and an overflowing cauldron of thwarted ambition, desire, and resentment. The prosaic suburban locations tear the Shakespearean machinations and poetic rhetoric down from their lofty heights and transforms them into the self-inflating ravings of bitter, backbiting, dysfunctional blood relations seething with all the unresolved or unspoken venom that has built up between them, caught up in their own petty megalomania.
Richard comes off like the haunted, isolated, emotionally stunted perpetrator of a murder spree where he takes out his whole family. In this context, the Shakespearean edifice is fragmented and compacted into a sordid chamber play, a febrile psychodrama. Indeed, the contents of the film may be simply the contents of Richard’s troubled mind. He dreams of Anne while humping an inflatable sex doll; the murder of her children is enacted upon two toy dolls; his initial murder of Edward and his own climactic assassination are performed by masked men in business suits. The word “doppelganger” flashes on the screen just prior to Richard’s end, suggesting that his killer is a double of himself, an avatar of his own self-loathing. His mother Margaret is portrayed by an actor in drag wearing clown makeup, face contorting hideously in tight close-up as she declaims the Shakespearean text. At one point, Richard stalks the exterior hallway of a drab apartment high-rise, taking to the roof to overlook the city like a usurper to the throne surveying his kingdom. Here it is more like an impotent nobody gazing in thrall at an impossible dream of efficacy and power.
In this film, masks are used to their most chilling effect. Richard dons a JFK mask to strangle Edward, struggling horrifically before a floor-level camera in a blown-out white room, the grinning caricature of Kennedy’s face as he throttles his hapless victim imbuing the whole scene with an additional frisson of disquiet. Plastic army men and pro wrestling action figures, cheap commercial stand-ins reflecting the ubiquitous images of degraded heroism manufactured by our media-saturated environment, play the roles of Edmond and his army as it arrays itself toward the end of the film against an increasingly anxious Richard. It is possible that these figures are inhabitants of his mind, leftovers from childhood and adolescence, former occupants of a boyhood bedroom where he aspired to great things only to fall short. They populate his boomerang dream of conquest and retaliation. In a hemmed-in little world of entrapment, any thought of action carries within it the idea of the inevitable reaction. One cannot imagine the heights without also imagining falling off them.
After a proliferation of genre-inspired films, Moricz began to tire of the familiar elements that had comprised his filmmaking for most of his career. He also decided to move from Sacramento, where all of his early films had been made, to the very different climate of Portand, Oregon.
The soundtrack shifts constantly from mismatched bits of music and then frequently degenerating into harsh electronic static, suggesting the main character’s radically separate and alienated state of mind. The flow of images mirrors the aural component. The camera drifts, uneasily surveying a meaningless environment of storefronts and traffic, focusing on something and then continuing to drift, cutting on this aimless movement to yet another uneasy, drifting shot. A world of disquiet and incoherence is suggested, yet there is a rhythm and subtle internal gestalt that propels the portrait of a hopeless outsider in a landscape devoid of compassion or real help forward. It is in this film that Moricz’s free jazz influences are perhaps most evident.
It is his second film to concentrate on social problems and leave the riffs on generic conventions behind. As in Bumps, the violations of conventional narration, the abrupt transitions and elisions become more obvious. Since the subject matter of both films lacks the inherent unreality of his earlier genre spins, Moricz finds it necessary to increase and intensify the distancing devices in order to maintain his ideal of hyper-non-realism. Bumps and Felony Flats are powerful explorations and disruptions of the social problem genre, once again demonstrating Moricz’s original vision and methodology. However, at times one feels a certain anxiety that there will be a loss of the resonance and dynamic interplay between the generic and the domestic that existed in the earlier films. It is possible that these two most recent films represent markers in a transitional phase in the director’s film practice.
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Though offered distribution deals, Moricz refused them because of a threatened loss of control over his work and disadvantageous terms. Therefore, he makes his work available via http://www.etsy.com/shop/beyondthebeyond, selling them as handmade art objects.
There has been only very scattered critical responses, primarily short reviews in publications and websites including Bad Lit, The Oregonian, Willamette Week, Portland Mercury, Bright Lights Film Journal, wickedchannel.com, Cinema Journal, filmmaker, and Underground Film Guide.
Aside from these I have had to rely on my viewing of Moricz’s films and several e-mail exchanges with the director.
Bob Moricz Filmography
AS DIRECTOR: Felony Flats (2011, 88 minutes); I Am Ugly and I Want to Die So Why Don’t You Just Please Fuck Me (2010, 70 minutes); Overdose in the Hospital of Love (2010, 50 minutes); Bumps (2009, 70 minutes); Autobiography by Ghost Writer (2009, 1 minute); It Came and Went And It Was Nothing (2009, 10 minutes); The Terrible Toothache (2007, 15 minutes); The Slaves of Destructo (2007, 8 minutes); The Big Fat Period (2007, 14 minutes); A Night in the Life of Doris Dolores (2007. 15 minutes); Palace of Stains (2007, 65 minutes); Spree! All the Way to Mexico (2006, 15 minutes); Nothing Is Good (2006, 7 minutes); Bog People official Xiu Xiu music video (2005, 3 minutes); Midnight of My Life (2004, 64 minutes); Love’s Lazer (2002, 20 minutes); Slut Shack (2001, 6 minutes); Empressed (2001, 11 minutes); A Big Ass Lust For Speed (2001, 37 minutes); Hot Black Milk (2001, 25 minutes); Bloody Maw of the Man Wolf (2000, 25 minutes); Medicus Rex (2000, 13 minutes); Rich Little Richard III Versus the Crack Whore Marine Corps (2000, 25 minutes); Kash House Meat Cleavage (2000, 25 minutes); Brainbox (1999, 20 minutes); I Love You Don Lobo, Fuck You Don Lobo (1998, 15 minutes); Shoe (1998, 6 minutes); Rod Rhyebold Must Be Destroyed (1994, 70 minutes); Gutwrenched (1991, 65 minutes); Floorspace (1989, 12 minutes); Sea Breezes (1989, 10 minutes); The Eternal City (1988, 10 minutes); Scenes From the Asylum (1983, 12 minutes); Revenge of the Red Death (1983, 5 minutes); Curse of the Red Death (1983, 5 minutes)
AS ACTOR: Supernatural (2011, dir: Jeff Guay); Coven of Tthe Heathenites (2009, dir: George Kuchar); Principia (2009, dir: Jeff Guay); Te En Video (2009, dir: Victor Olid); Camera Tricks: This is George Kuchar (2008, dir: Ronaldo Barbachano); Queen Conga (2006, dir: George Kuchar); Phantom of the Pine Barrens (1998, dir: George Kuchar)