Saturday, 12 April 2014

Hiker Meat and Rough Cut: The Art of Making a Film That Never Existed

How do you explain the unique eccentricity of Hiker Meat, Jamie Shovelin's latest creative enterprise which is currently showcasing at the Cornerhouse in the form of an exhibition and a film, the latter entitled Rough Cut?

Well, it goes a bit like this. Imagine the only cars you liked were luxury cars but rather than build a new one you wanted to create a luxury car that never existed. But you wouldn't create a completely new luxury car you'd just recreate the bits that fascinated you the most, perhaps a walnut and rosewood dashboard (Jaguar), the finest hand crafted Parthenon-styled radiator grille (Rolls Royce) or a hand stitched driver's seat upholstered in the softest calf skin imaginable (Bentley). It would be a master class exploring the craft behind some iconic elements of the best luxury cars ever.

Now transfer this creative process to the horror film genre and you get my drift. Jamie's fantastic creative conceit is to deconstruct some of the key elements of the best of low budget slasher celluloid horror and re-examine every aspect of their aesthetic by recreating them in his own vision.

Rough Cut, and its supporting exhibition, documents the development of the project and its entourage of actors, film crew, sound technicians and set builders, all of whom head en masse to Grizedale in the Lake District. Here, their mission is to recreate a film that never existed by happily drawing upon a plethora of references to over 1,500 film clips from a portfolio of exploitation films produced in the 60s, 70s and 80s that have established the horror genre as more than just a cult, but a filmic language all of its own.

My initial reaction to the whole enterprise was that perhaps this was all a bit self-indulgent, too considered and aware of itself. However, as the film unfolds you begin to realise that Shovelin's forensic approach to understanding the components that make this particular horror genre so compelling is a powerful journey of creative self discovery, and an invaluable resource for film goers and filmmakers alike. The power and the validity of the project come from its obsessive re-examination of the whole process.

Although we never get to see a complete film there is an outline framework of a plot which provides the context in which to explore a range of elements essential to a classic horror film such as location, sound effects, costume, plot development, camera angles, dialogues and the all-important primal scream.

In this instance the plot revolves around hitchhiking girls picked up by truck drivers who lead them to what seems like a utopian freethinking university summer camp (ripe with the possibilities of copious amounts of sex, drink and drugs) whereupon they become victim to man eating monsters. We're talking mid-1970s, hot pants and skimpy tops for the girls and college sweats, jeans and sneakers for the boys. We're also talking fun lovin' California, as re-imagined in the Lake District. Sounds implausible? Shovelin's artistry and filmic forensics make it truly convincing, softly anarchic and occasionally ironic.

What I really enjoyed were the various genre points of reference that helped give creative steer to the execution of each element under examination, not least the final scene where the two protagonists flee from an exploding house. The house in question is based on the iconic Bates Motel from Psycho, remodelled in a Lake District landscape and blown up by carefully controlled ballistics. Pan out from this scene to a 1970s Chevy heading down the desert highway with a menacing sense of foreboding and you have Hiker Meat as re-imagined by Shovelin and his team doing their craft 70 miles north of the Cornerhouse.

In the end, the plot is largely insignificant as we only ever see fragments of it and its promotional trailer. Nevertheless, what is so enjoyable is the way every detail of each component is scrutinised to the point of perfection. Which brings to mind two famous quotes by French director Jean-Luc Godard, who said “every story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order”. He also wisely said that it wasn't the devil but “god” that was in the detail.

Audacious in concept and, yes, occasionally ironic and self-knowing, Rough Cut the film and Hiker Meat the exhibition are fine examples of adventurous and experimental art commissioning which, thanks to the vision of the Cornerhouse, enables the likes of Jamie Shovelin to help us revisit the niche genre of exploitation B-movies.

Take it as seriously as you want or, like Shovelin and his fictitious Italian film director Jesus Rinzoli, laugh at the madness of it all.

Words: Tom Warman
Images: courtesy of Cornerhouse

The exhibition continues until 21 April.

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