Festival Files- Fantastic Fest 2022: ‘A Life on the Farm’, ‘Attachment’, ‘Lynch/Oz’

Is it simple luck or does the adage that we make our own luck apply to the thin barrier between notoriety and anonymity? What creates a David Lynch or a Harmony Korine while the weird humanity of someone like Charles Carson (or thousands of others) is lost in the film (tape) strip abyss? Whatever the cosmic algorithm, perhaps Oscar Harding’s documentary A Life on the Farm will atone for that oversight and provide Mr. Carson his long overdue appreciation.

The documentary begins in Somerset, England where Harding remembers a weird VHS tape his family watched back in the day. In it, a sweet (and very English) older man invites the viewer on various trips around his farm where we get to watch all sorts of oddities. From a cow giving birth to the burial of his pet cat (and even more macabre examples of his views on life and death when he keeps the body of his deceased mother around the house for 3 days after her passing), Carson’s vision of self representation feels tailor made for the anyone-can-film-anything VHS culture that is forgotten treasure for hosts of obscure found footage enthusiasts.

And that’s exactly what happens as Harding and a variety of other VHS cultists eventually discover Carson and share his homemade movies to the world. His unique soliloquies, bizarre scripted (?) anecdotes, and pop art creations are brought to a wider audience for all their kitschy glory. 

At first, it’s easy to observe Carson in slack-jawed fashion. But beyond the nervous weirdness he imbues through his videotapes, A Life on the Farm hits a staunchly humane tone as it winds down. Like everyone who stumbles upon or shares these videos, we want to know more about this character. There’s a depth behind the oddness. Neighbors reminisce about him. Affectionately, it seems he gave specialized tapes to various members of his community.  We slowly open up Carson’s world and find out he was married, had a brother, and then, slowly, lost a battle to time that went unnoticed by virtually everyone around him. And, perhaps most surprising of all, his story did reach the masses after it’s discovered some of the collage art featured in many of his videos once won first place in a British photo awards show. What begins as an uneasy found footage ode to something akin to Psycho (1960) crossed with Winnebago Man (2010), A Life on the Farm eventually blossoms into a sweetly rendered character study of a man endlessly alive through the lens of his camera. Too bad it’s about twenty years too soon. The film ruminates what Carson might have done with internet video today. Or, perhaps, in the case of Carson’s unique sensibilities, maybe the vestiges of old VHS tape are the most fitting aspect for an idiosyncratic but genuine figure such as him.

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My tastes for film typically skews away from the fantastic towards more realism. Even though Gabriel Bier Gislason’s Attachment ends up investigating some pretty freaky ideas of Jewish mysticism and exorcism, what shines through brightly is the relationship between Maja (Josephine Park) and Leah (Ellie Kendrick).

Invoking a meet-cute of the highest order (bumping into one another in a Danish library), Maja and Leah become lovers almost immediately, shown in a neat ellipsis of time as their legs slowly inch towards one another underneath a table as they talk. One morning, after an especially violent seizure, Leah’s leg gets hurt and Maja decides to travel back home to London and help with her care. What Maja finds there is a devout Jewish mother (Sofia Grabol) who proceeds with some strange rituals and an uncle (David Dencik) whose knowledge of something comes through in almost every conversation.

Trying to hold their relationship together in spite of Leah’s family and their overpowering religious traditions plus some odd occurrences (i.e. Leah’s creepy sleepwalking and a candle in their bedroom that just won’t go out), Maja eventually discovers some terrifying secrets.

Watch for this film to release on Shudder in October.

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Like sitting through a college film theory course with various guest speakers storyboarding their ideas before us, Alexandre O. Philippe’s Lynch/Oz attempts to do the impossible- decode the dazzling, esoteric universe of David Lynch. And since Lynch himself is always hermetically sealed when translating his own work, this is probably the closest we’ll ever come to deciphering it.

Unlike he did with his hyper focused deconstruction film on Hitchcock’s Psycho titled 78/52 (2017), Philippe takes a different approach here, relinquishing most of the control and giving the conspiracy theories and hidden messages for others to run wild with. Filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Morehead look at the false realities inherent in both Lynch’s work and The Wizard of Oz. Karyn Kusama- who apparently had a front row seat to the now infamous early 2000’s New York Film Festival interaction between Lynch and an audience member when asked about the connections in his work to that 1939 film- adds her personal recollection to a filmmaker she greatly admires. Critic and writer Amy Nicholson looks at the audible and visual motifs both share. But perhaps the most moving sections belong to filmmakers David Lowery and John Waters.

With Waters, his usual sardonic outlook shines loud and clear. As the closest person to a “peer” of Lynch, even he stumbles around the idea with less persuasion than anyone. However, when he begins to connect The Wizard of Oz with his own maturity and influence as an independent filmmaker, Lynch/Oz resonates with the magic of Hollywood history so many of these types of films aspire. Yes, it temporarily edges away from the central idea of David Lynch, but it swerves right into the passionate creativity of another person influenced by a film 80 years ago.

Likewise, David Lowery explores the moving image mysteries that developed him as a child and future image maker, from Pinocchio (1940) to the urban legends behind both The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland’s supposed curse post-film existence. I understand that both of these portions seem to stray from the hard core intended purpose of over analyzing the connection between Lynch and Oz, but they’re fascinating glimpses into the inspiration of others and what makes them create. It also proves the magic of The Wizard of Oz continues to be a gift for movie fans. Yes, it helped inspire a David Lynch, but also energized so many others. And hopefully even more to come.

Stay tuned for continuing coverage of the 2022 edition of Austin’s Fantastic Fest.