Photo by Jipsy Nastie flanked by TM Sisters.
Aiden Dillard's Death Print Movie Premiere
The Colony Theater, Miami Beach
Afterparty at the Vagabond, Miami
Saturday, August 7, 2009
Better Than: Whatever the leathery South Beach cliches at Segafredo next door were up to after they were done laughing and pointing at the amassed premiere crowd.
A few minutes into the premiere this past Saturday night of Death Print, the latest full-length feature from local left-field director Aiden Dillard, the movie's overall theme became clear. Sure, there was a plot about the bloody battle between a rogue Cuban communist operative and a vengeful vigilante art dealer, but what we were watching was PS14: The Movie.
If terrorists had dropped a bomb on the screening, the downtown Miami bar and its spiritual-sister establishments would have suddenly lost a large chunk of their patrons, promoters, and entertainers. Forget yelling "fire" in this crowded theater, a call of "open bar" would likely have caused more of a serious stampede.
In his introductory speech, Dillard, shorn of his old mullet and clad in a dapper pastel suit, described his film as a a "tongue-in-cheek homage to the '80s Death Wish series starring Charles Bronson." That's sort of true, although Death Print is actually 10 times less gory than those films, and 10 times more semiotically tangled.
Dillard's great triumph here is perhaps not so much in his plot, but in assembling a thinly veiled fictional movie yearbook of the latest class of local art, music, and entertainment personalities. People like the mammoth Dania Beach indie pro wrestler Maximum Capacity, the scavenging vintage-detritus-obsessed artist Clifton Childree, the flawlessly hour-glassed fetish queen RubberDoll.... They and their Death Print costars were already characters just waiting for a movie. As such, Dillard largely just let their freak flags fly, casting most of them as themselves, proper names and all. Click here for a full list of them, as there are too many to mention; major set locations included White Room, Sweat Records, and, of course, PS14.
The plot? Oh, here it is, as best as I understood and can summarize. The movie's main star is local car dealer/boxer/director/actor Ted Vernon, who plays an art dealer named, well, Ted Vernon. At an opening one night at his art gallery, a rowdy fellow in Communist garb named Arthur Basel (get it?) spots a rococo painting in the show and goes ballistic. (He's played by Nassie Shahoulian, a.k.a. promoter Notorious Nastie.)
Turns out, although everyone in town thinks he's just an artist playing at communism for shock value, he really is one, and his father died in Cuba protecting this painting. (Fidel took it from Batista and gave it to the elder Basel, for reasons that escaped me). In retaliation, Art poses as a fetish photographer charged with shooting the cover of Otto von Schirach's new album, Sniff the Handbag. Ted Vernon's daughter, Ursula (Jillian Mayer), apparently is an aspiring fetish model; when she shows up for her test shot, Basel stabs her. Vernon finds the body in his gallery, and enlists some unlikely detectives for help: Maximum Capacity and RubberDoll.
The rest of the movie is an acid-soaked cat-and-mouse game between Vernon and Basel, as each tries to reclaim the painting. Eventually RubberDoll is dispatched to infiltrate Basel's inner circle and pose with von Schirach.
Local artists the TM Sisters, as themselves, also star, mostly just being their cute selves and heading up a sub-plot in which they, too, try to find the painting. To get it, though, they must solve a bizarro scavenger hunt arranged by "Uncanny Clifton" (Childree). This part involves synchronized swimming saltwater vampires, and a Sweat-set scene in which Oly Vargas plays vinyl records backwards with her finger, singing the results and finding a godly message hidden in Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice."
...Yeah. Don't worry, at the end, after some shoot-outs around some hot cars from Vernon's real-life collection, Basel is vanquished, the good guys prevail, and the TM Sisters ostensibly get to sell Vernon a bunch of their work as thanks for their help. And, to Dillard's credit, Death Print is his most -- well, if not accessible, per se, comprehensible work to date.
He has semi-famously released a couple films through notorious schlock house Troma, and as such, those featured over-the-top, zero-budget gore and twisted smut. Although there are a few spilling intestines in it, Death Print is surprisingly low on blood, and although RubberDoll's cleavage simply cannot be contained, she stays pretty much clothed, in a series of jaw-dropping couture latex ensembles. One can only imagine the vast amounts of patience, and perhaps talcum powder, employed in each of her costume changes.
A few other random conclusions drawn from this film: First, Ted Vernon is a very, very lucky man. He's rich, gets to do pretty much whatever the fuck he wants, has a hot wife who's a good enough sport to also appear in his movies, and can act the sensitive, reluctant tough with spicy aplomb.
Second, watching Jose El Rey get killed on screen, even though he's just a character, is strangely sad. I even heard a few Awwws around me.
Third, the TM Sisters are our scene's true renaissance women. Apparently they can make cutting-edge multimedia art, swim synchronized, and competitively quad-skate, all without mussing their meticulously applied eyeshadow. Rad.
Finally, Notorious Nastie is, surprisingly, a very gifted comedic actor. Sure, as Art Basel in Death Print he plays a character pretty much like himself: a gruff-voiced prankster who gets off on being a provocative contrarian. There is even a cinematic appearance by the dummy he uses in his occasional shitty-on-purpose ventriloquist act. Still, his line deliveries were probably the most natural of all of the cast, and his facial muscles have a delightfully elastic quality. He can pass quickly from boiling outrage to scheming deviance to supercilious charm with the inflation of cheeks and the raising of eyebrows. His sense of comic timing, too, is uncanny.
Death Print clocks in at a snappy hour and a half, give or take, and zips along with black comedy that is mostly intended. Much of the fun of the movie comes in picking out faces from along the Biscayne Corridor and watching them act with varying degrees of success, or in recognizing just where they are delivering their lines. You pretty much have to be from Miami to "get" all of this, but, hey, forget everybody else -- we exist in our own parallel universe anyways.
That was certainly clear at the afterparty, in the appropriately weirdo-filled setting of the Vagabond's weekly Back Door Bamby party. Newly minted movie star Otto von Schirach took over the club's inside stage for a full set around 1 a.m. and got the place jumping with his outer-space bass.
Artists, fetishists, hipsters, gym queens, club trash -- all bumped joyfully to Schirach faves like "Dance Like a Ho," and especially Miami Bass Warriors tunes "Bro That Chick's a Baser" and "Going Back to Calle Ocho," supplemented live by Jose El Rey and Debbie D. If music makes the world go 'round, Shirach and his cohorts are keeping their special, pan-subculture microcosm spinning wildly, gleefully on its off-kilter axis.
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Personal Bias: Who hasn't abused substances, eaten ice cream with, or worked with, for, or against somebody in this movie? This is artsy incest city, bro.
Random Detail: Great RubberDoll line, said to Ten Vernon to reassure him of her undercover detective skills: "You'd be surprised how many killers have fallen victim to my latex dresses."
By The Way: You can read the stars' full bios, check out several promo clips, and look for upcoming screening info at watchdeathprint.com.