Movie #1L S&Man:
I think I've mentioned before how much credit I give to expectations in shaping our viewing experiences. I can think of no better example than the film I just finished: J. T. Petty's S&Man (Oh yeah, here come the spoilers). I spoiled this film for myself by reading too many reviews before I watched it, so I knew going in that it was a mix of fiction and nonfiction filmmaking. When I made the decision that it was something I wanted to watch, I had specific things I wanted from the film. Foremost, I have long been fascinated by the phenomenon of underground faux-snuff horror. From the moment I knew it existed, I immediately scoured the web for accounts of what films like August Underground and the like depicted. Yet, I was terrified of actually watching the films. In S&Man, I saw a way to become acquainted with these films without actually having to view them. I also wanted insight as to what exactly drives people to make these movies. The fictional aspect of S&Man was barely even a consideration.
In terms of what I was looking for, S&Man was a bit of a disappointment. The clips it showed from these movies, while somewhat distressing, were short, and I'm sure left out the most shocking scenes of depravity. The interview footage, while fascinating, also disappointed because they were so heavily edited that it seemed they were cutting out the most captivating parts. Of course, I don't know that for sure, and I'll give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and assume they were cutting around some unusable footage.
What surprised me about this film was how well-done the fiction sequences were. The actor portraying Eric, maker of the S&Man series, was entirely believable, and I loved how his answers to the interviewer's questions hinted at something more sinister going on. I will admit to being disappointed by the ending, but I give credit to J.T. for repeatedly hitting on the theme that a real-life death on camera looks more fake than a special effect.
All-in-all, S&Man was a massively thought-provoking viewing experience, both in its documentary and fiction film aspects. It's one of those movies that forces the viewer to think about where we draw the line between what is acceptable healthy voyeurism (because come on, all movies are voyeuristic) and what is sick and wrong. Many of the real underground films shown in the movie strike me as highly fetishistic, and leave me with no desire to watch them. I've long been fascinated with the question of why I personally enjoy horror, and where my own boundaries are. S&Man actually has helped clarify this for me. It seems the majority of these underground faux-snuff films are for those who identify with the killers and rapists they depict. The thrill I get from horror invariably comes from identifying with the victims. I watch horror because I am by nature a fearful person, and feel the need to watch atrocious acts as a way of coping with my own fear. After all, better the devil you know...
The other surprising thing about S&Man was how likable the actual underground filmmakers were. Bill Zebub, while he comes off as kind of disturbed, has got a great sense of humor and honesty about what he does. He knows he's not making narrative films that you can compare to what's showing at your local cineplex. He realizes he's making jerk-off films for people who literally get off on violence. And Fred Vogel of August Underground infamy, is very articulate about what he does, and comes off as an otherwise normal, relatable human being. I found this to be comforting.
So while the film was not without its flaws, its redeeming qualities more than made up for them, and I've got to give J.T. Petty credit for constructing a wholly original, thought-provoking film.