US, 2003, Dir. Brock Morse
6/13 – 9:30p Broadway
6/15 – 6:30p Broadway
Asbrey of Westender (Blake Stadel) is a medieval swordsman, trailing a crew of brigands in an attempt to reclaim his dead wife’s ring. Shot in verdant Oregon forests, the film’s first half is fairly pedestrian fantasy fare, dimwitted sidekick, flashing swords, rope-bound slave girls, and all. Stadel has an action-hero’s presence; however, a more judicious use of raging tantrums by the script might have been advisable.
The film veers off unexpectedly in the final 45 minutes to depict an arduous desert crossing by the troubled, angry warrior. The last section of the film is nearly wordless. The light and beauty of the landscape against which the character sheds his armor – literally and emotionally – were remarkable.
When at journey’s end, a climactic battle resolves the hero’s quests, the return to genre conventions is a letdown, reading as an appeal for consideration as a back-door pilot.
(posted to the Tablet SIFF Board on June 10)
In writing for Cinescape, I became aware of the large numbers of downright kooky independent genre films being produced. I don’t mean so much films that are created with even the least possibility of being distributed in the conventional manner – I mean works whoch are created by obsessed individuals and their extended social networks.
For whatever reason, many of these films are genre works, probably because genre works thrive in the context of marginalized subcultures. People that don’t believe they have access to the center of the culture seek smaller-scale arenas in which to define themselves and their work. From these isolated environments, great works can emerge, and any lover of punk rock or the science-fiction short story will immediately understand my interest in zero-budget indie genre filmmaking.
In the case of Westender, I was disappointed in my hopes for an avatar of this concept of film. It’s relentlessly commercial in production values and displays the common accidental misogyny of a certain style of pulp fantasy writing. This misogyny is most notable in the “mercy killing” of a dying woman, apparently a rape victim – probably intended to convey the idea that the warrior’s code includes mercy, it effectively reiterates the rape, which otherwise would have remained offscreen. Rather than feeling I’d learned something about the character, I felt I’d learned a bit about the age and judgement of the filmmakers.
Despite these flaws, the desert segment of the film was successful on its’ own terms. Inevitable comparisons to Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars aside, the film’s most direct debt in this segment is to A Man Called Horse.