Saturday, December 29, 2007

Best DVD Label in the Business


I'd like to share with you some information about my good friends Jerry Chandler and Don May Jr. of Synapse Films. I had the pleasure of producing and directing a documentary about them in 2006, which has received some good press and generous comments (you can see it on the following Youtube link). And here's part one for you right smack dab in the middle of this post... I was also humbled when journalist, author, publisher, critic, and film scholar Tim Lucas paid me some handsome compliments on this project. He's know Don for "...half his life" so it was fine praise indeed!



There was also a write-up recently on them in the Detroit reader The Metro Times found here - the editor contacted me to make some comments on them which I was only too happy to do. Between my documentary and Jim McFarlin's article (and countless other links on the web), you can find out everything you need to know about these two cultural saviors, but I'd like to share with you some personal reflections about these two gentlemen.

I met Jerry and Don several years ago and we bonded instantly. I first met Jerry at his nephew's wedding, we got nice and shit-faced and had a great time. Shortly after that, at Cinema Wasteland in Cleveland, I finally met the ubiquitous Don. Our love of odd, eccentric, and transgressive cinema formed an instant super-glue and I've been pals/colleagues with them ever since. Don and Jerry's knowledge of exploitation film is damn near incommensurate. Don is a legend in the business, gathering accolade after accolade for two decades now and Jerry is a businessman par excellence, whose market instincts are only matched by his passion and knowledge of the field he loves so dearly.

I try and get together with Don as often as possible, but between our two schedules it's often dicey at best (I had a great time with Don a few months ago at a local post-production house as he color-timed the latest 42nd Street Forever release). But, I prefer to get them together - they form a sort of symbiotic being, especially when there's some drinky drinky goin' on. They are without equal in the DVD distribution and restoration industry. Love em'

Here are my top five favorite Synapse releases in no particular order. A damn near impossible list to put together.

Street Trash (1987) is one of the most original (if not the most origianl) horror films of the 1980s. A brilliant blend of grand guignol splatter-pop and social commentary, Street Trash was lovingly restored and given the royal treatment by the good folks at Synapse (they even went so far as to include a sticker of the infamous "Tenafly Viper"). Recently, Don and Jerry went all out and put out the super special meltdown edition (pictured). If you have not seen it, you won't believe your eyes when you finally do.

Brain Damage (1988) Brain Damage is a lot like Street Trash, not in content, but in aesthetic and general tone; both landscapes are made up of Surrealistic psychological nightmare worlds. Brain Damage is a brilliant little comedic gem of a film, one of Jerry's all-time favorites and one of mine too. If you haven't seen Brain Damage OR Street Trash, you are in for a truly great ride - buy em' both and have a double feature. You might even be bold enough to buy some ripple, Boon's Farm, MD 20/20, Thunderbird - etc, and make an audience participation event out of it!

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (aka "They Call Her One Eye") 1974 A remarkable film. The rape/revenge motif soars to new heights in this Swedish exploitation classic. The extraordinary Christina Lindberg plots revenge against her captor and his syndicate, who are responsible for the death of her parents and her current predicament - addicted to heroin and forced into prostitution. One of the primary influences for Tarantino's Kill Bill series, Thriller sings in a much higher register if you ask me. The most frightening aspect of this film is the level of realism it achieves in its first act. You are repulsed at the relative ease with which Frigga is abducted, drugged, hooked on the drugs, and then sold as commodity to disgusting johns' who abuse and rape her.

Night Train (1999) is a hard film to summarize as well as categorize. It is a very postmodern text, infusing historicism into its every frame. Many critics have called it a mix of German Expressionism and film Noir (of which these two cinematic movements are very closely associated) and they are quite right to do so. The other elements that make up the film are of a low-modernism, much like Noir's domestic roots, but director Les Bernstein injects soft-porn, snuff, and classic Exploitation tropes into the mix creating a visual feast in the process. A rare and fantastic film - it oozes danger and seediness. Please check it out.

Vampyros Lesbos (1971) This is where it all began for me as well as for Synapse. It was the first dvd I purchased from them and it was the first feature film that they put out under their newly formed label. What can one say about Vampyros Lesbos? Do we talk about the exquisite Soledad Miranda and her tragic death? Do we talk about the confluence of high and low art (the subtitle of this blog) embedded in its aesthetic? The amazing soundtrack? It's stunning Turkish locations? Jess Franco in general? Of course we talk about ALL of these things when discussing Vampyros - but not in a tiny capsule designed to merely point out my favorite five Synapse releases.

There are too many honorable mentions to actually list here - suffice it to say, I love their entire catalog - over 70 films now. Happy New Year Don and Jerry.

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