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Red Dirt Rentals / 11.14.14

Image via Sundance Selects
Screenshot from "Bound By Flesh" featuring Daisy and Violet Hilton.
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Usually, when I compile each week’s Red Dirt Rentals, I try to have a cohesive theme running throughout the piece, featuring everything from old horror flicks to recent indie films. Usually I do this by stacking and sorting the films I receive in one of these said categories and, no matter how tenuous the connections, figure out a way to make them work.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve received really more than my fair share of documentaries, but there was one stack the continued to grow: the pop-culture doc. Typically, many of the fact-based films I’m sent deal with politics or some other deadly-serious malfeasance going on in the world, but this week, it’s refreshing to focus on some of the weirder and wilder aspects of our American entertainment landscape.

Landing on the moon first is Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video (Virgil Films). Few other art-forms over the past 30 or so years have really influenced teens and beyond like music videos and, above that, the creation of MTV. This doc is a rather studious take on this history, from the early days of shorts and Scopitones to the parental scourge of Madonna and Beavis and Butthead. It’s an informative but dry 78 minutes that should entice music geeks enough into at least one viewing.

One guy that never got MTV airplay, sadly, was punk legend Johnny Thunders and in Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders (MVD Visual), you really begin to understand why.

Uncompromising and unequivocally individualistic, we follow Johnny from his humble beginnings into becoming a member of the New York Dolls, from his heroin addiction to becoming king of the NY punk scene with the Heartbreakers. A thorough film from the director of the seminal Rise and Fall of the Clash, be prepared to make a list of records to search for after viewing.

While the punk scene was raging in New York, so was the angry baby that was the burgeoning hip-hop scene. And out of that scene came taggers—the impoverished and unheralded heroes of the underground art world that used subway cars as their canvases. The groundbreaking 1983 PBS documentary Style Wars (MVD Visual), beautifully remastered on Blu-ray, is a candid look into that sub-culture, done with honesty, heart and reverence, capturing a place and time long gone in one of the most definitive movements of the hip-hop struggle.

Ten years earlier, in 1973, another acclaimed documentarian, Tony Palmer, went inside of the then-shocking world of Playboy magazine in Hugh Hefner (Gonzo Multimedia). Once believed to be everything that a man should aspire to be, Hefner is surrounded by beautiful women and all the materialistic goods money can buy, but what Palmer succeeds best in is capturing the actual pathetic shallowness of his lifestyle, the plasticized facade of forced excess, something which, as the publisher continues to keep it going at almost 90, just becomes sadder and sadder.

But even his story is no match for that of Daisy and Violet Hilton, two of the biggest stars of the first half of the 20th century who also just happened to be conjoined twins. In Bound By Flesh (Sundance Selects), we learn the tragic life story of the sisters, born connected at the thigh, as they are abandoned and bought into show-business as babies, raised as captives by unscrupulous promoters, attaining Hollywood infamy for their sexual dalliances and, ultimately, cast aside and left to live out their old age as grocery clerks in the middle of nowhere. Totally captivating as it is thoroughly entertaining, Flesh does its duty by bringing these complicated cult icons back to the forefront of pop-culture ephemera.

Finally, from two twins to Two-Face, the sweetly geekish Legends of the Knight (Virgil Films) chronicles the world of real-life Batmen, costumed faux-caped crusaders who’ve dedicated their lives to overcoming their own obstacles to give back to their communities through this beloved superhero’s mantle and his overwhelming need to make neighborhoods safe again. From making sick children’s wishes come true to inspiring people to just walk the straight line a little more unwavering, at first glance, it might seem like a tribute to nerdish delusion, but underneath is a wonderful story of hope and inspiration that’ll put a smile on any Joker’s face.

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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