Sydney Underground Film Festival 2018 - shakers, movers, killers, players


Barbara Rubin & the Exploding New York Underground

Friday, September 14th, 8.30pm

Referred to as the Joan of Ark of underground cinema, Barbara Rubin’s contribution to the hugely influential scene that emerged out of the Big Apple in the mid-60s cannot be understated. Though she’s not as recognizable as Andy Warhol, she was just as instrumental, and in many ways the pioneer that inspired Warhol to embark on his own underground ciné endeavours, certainly she introduced him to The Velvet Underground. She was just 18 (going on 30) when she made Christmas on Earth (which she originally titled Cocks and Cunts), which played with double projection (a smaller frame projected inside another larger frame) and depicted free love in a way that shocked and fascinated audiences - even those minds wide open Manhattanites!


Rubin was as passionate and dedicated as she was demanding and stubborn, quickly making friends with fellow shaker and movers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Smith, and making a name for herself at whatever function or event she attended, or crashed. She kept a long-standing correspondence with her early lover and lifelong friend Jonas Mekas, and it is the ageing Mekas who shares some of the letters she wrote him. Many others of the period share colourful stories of Rubin and her commitment to the avant-garde film scene. 

Rubin died tragically at the age of 35, following the birth of her fifth child. This concise documentary, made by Chuck Smith, traces Rubin’s career from maverick teenager through to her radical shift in ideology when she married a French painter and mystical religious teacher and moved to France. But it is the period between the mid and late 60s when Rubin was the “moving force and coordinator,” as Lou Reed describes her influence on the artists of that time and place, that is most fascinating. An incredibly furtive and unbridled period, where culture and art and social mores collided, and it’s wonderful for Chuck Smith’s doco to lift Rubin from the kaleidoscopic, carnal chaos and put her on the pedestal she rightly deserves.  


Wobble Palace

Saturday, September 15th, 5pm

I know what you’re likely to say, you’ve seen one mumblecore indie relationship comedy of sexual misadventures you’ve seen ‘em all. But no! There is always another one that manages to charm with its egocentricities, its visual flair, with terrific performances, and effervescent dialogue. Eugene Kotlyarenko’s curious take on a pathetic relationship that really needs to end is the ripe juicy fruit worth biting into. Co-written with his co-star Dasha Nekrasova, Eugene (as Eugene) is, well, quite frankly a cuck (to quote Paige Elkington’s photographer character), a dishevelled narcissist who dresses appallingly and sweeps his long hair into a flowing toupee. His partner Jane (Nekrasova) is also a vague narcissist, but less obnoxious in her millennial angst. 

These two mean well, but they’re in a serious rut. The movie takes place over a few nights leading up to the infamous US election that saw Donald Trump takeover the Oval Office. Essentially it’s a comedy of manners, or errors to be precise, but it’s shot through an endearing gauze of melancholy, much of which is enhanced by Sean William Price’s gorgeous cinematography (he shot the Safdie brothers' Good Time in a similar wash of vibrant colour and retro flare). 


So we follow Eugene attempting to get laid via Tinder hookups, and his reckless treatment of bills and general lack of household hygiene. Then we follow Jane as she muses with her bestie (played by Elisha Drons), tries her luck with a skater boi, and indulges her needs with a douchebag named Ravi (Vishwam Velandy). But eventually - at a Halloween party where Eugene is dressed hilariously as Nosferatu - the two unlovers decide its time to talk turkey. Though its characters might likely irritate the pants off of some, Wobble Palace is poignant, engaging and frequently amusing, with genuinely memorable performances, especially Nekrosova, she’s one to watch for sure. Y'know, I think its one of my faves for the year. 


King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen

Saturday, September 15th, 9pm

You may not recognise the director’s name, but you’ll no doubt have heard of some of his cult classic movies, especially It’s Alive, Q - The Winged Serpent, The Stuff, or Hell Up in Harlem. Larry Cohen is a living legend, a prolific screenwriter for both television and the movies, and as a director, Cohen is the other side of the DIY coin, with Roger Corman on the flip. Cohen is a true filmmaker, a renegade spirit, a man on a mission, and Steven Mitchell’s documentary is a loving tribute to the tenacity of Larry and his approach to filmmaking. 

Featuring a huge array of talent spilling forth the often amusing tales of working on a Larry Cohen picture, or having had some involvement with the man, including Joe Dante, John Landis, Martin Scorsese, Mick Garris, Eric Roberts, Fred Williamson, Michael Moriarty, and many more. But Larry himself isn’t shy at waxing lyrical about his own work, describing Q as “the best big monster movie after Kong”. 


Just as entertaining as Corman’s World, the Roger Corman documentary from a few year’s back, King Cohen’s career in low-budget feature filmmaking, where he’d often shoot on the streets of Manhattan without a permit, taking advantage of a street parade in order to get high production value at minimal cost, or using restoration workers high up on the Chrysler building doubling as gunmen trying to shoot down the giant winged serpent. Where there was a way, Larry had the will. He was the guerrilla filmmaker that could teach Robert Rodriguez a few lessons! Although much of Cohen’s technique would give Health & Safety a headache, and certainly there is much that Cohen got away with that would be impossible with today’s strict filmmaking practices. Oh, and take note budding screenwriters for a link to ten of Larry's unproduced screenplays at the end of the credits. 


Christmas Blood

Saturday, September 15th, 11pm

A Norwegian slasher flick, known as Juleblod in Scandinavia, directed by the suitably named Reinert Kill, who has been making movies since he was 9. A bunch of pretty young women rendezvous in the small snow laden township of Honningsvåg for a booze-laden yuletide reunion. Sanne (Helene Eidsvåg), Elizabeth (Karoline Stemre), Ritika (Haddy Jallow), and Annika (Kylie Stephenson) arrive at the snug pad of Julia (Marte Sætren) to celebrate Xmas. Soon after Katja (Yassmine Johansen) and her boyfriend Christian (Andreas Nonaas) join them. But, Julia’s recently deceased mother was one of the many victims on the long list of a demented serial killer (Jorgen Langhelle), who savagely murdered dozens of folk many years earlier, was shot by police and incarcerated. But, of course, he’s just escaped, and donned his favourite Santa suit, armed himself with a sharp trusty axe, and has also arrived in the sleepy village of the midnight sun, with one thing on his psycho mind. 

Forget plot, as there is precious little in that department, for Kill is much more interested in the shenanigans of his soon-to-be offed protagonists. Who will die first, and how violently will they die? Kill certainly knows how to swing a camera, and he lays on the atmosphere with aplomb. The performances are solid, if a little distracting - whilst almost everyone takes in Norwegian (Elizabeth is a mute), Annika delivers her lines in Aussie English. But who pray tell is the killer Santa? And will police detective Rasch (Stig Henrik Hoff) save all the girls before another silent night, deadly night is done and dusted? 


Christmas Blood is one of those stalk and slash (or should I say stalk and split) flicks that demands to be seen with a keen cinema audience after several pilsners or maybe some mulled profondo rosso. It’s the kind of movie you hurl comments at the characters on screen; “Run faster you idiot!” and “Look out behind you!” But too late, the axe comes crashing down, and blood is splattered all over virgin snow. Or in this case, slutty snow. While there is no real rhyme or reason to this slay ride, it’s a fun frolic, easy on the eye, with some decent kills (although I wanted it to be gorier!), and it’s lean, mean style will be appreciated by the purist horror hounds.


The 12th Sydney Underground Film Festival screens 13th - 16th September at Factory Theatre, Marrickville. For more information, ticketing, and the complete SUFF program visit