Adam Rifkin has made a number of interesting films over the past few decades, perhaps most famously as director of Detroit Rock City and writer of Small Soldiers. As a kid in the 70s and 80s, he was a big fan of movies and knew he would end up making them someday, but for the time being he used a Super 8 film camera (which many families had before the advent of camcorders) to make his own movies with friends and family. Several other directors did this as kids also, but this is the first time a collection of such films has been released for home viewing. Recommended
The Adam Rifkin Film Festival consists of 22 short films, two of them being mash-ups of random bits of live action and animation done by Rifkin from roughly age 8 through 20 with his family's Super 8 film camera, which many families had for shooting home movies in the years before video camcorders came around. Rifkin includes an onscreen introduction asking the audience to please "be kind" when watching these as he was quite young when they were made, and he never expected anyone outside of his friends and family to ever see them.
Each film is introduced with onscreen text giving the title and a bit of context, though it doesn't stay onscreen long enough to read all of without pausing. His very first film is "The Lady Giant", done in the style of monster movies he had seen on TV where his sister Lauren stomps on a model village in the family backyard. The next has his grandmother wearing a number of monster masks. His friends soon join in on the following films and they naturally get more complex as he gains experience- he gets several kids together for a parody Apocalypse Now trailer that had the neighbors calling the cops thinking a real war was going on. Parodies of movies of that era are a highlight of this set, there's also a "Cheep Version of Alien" that makes the best of the limited resources. The longest film runs nearly 20 minutes and is called "Murder Can Kill You", a darkly humorous take on a serial killer story. The final film "Shuffle Shuffle Step Step," made as Rifkin entered college, is also darkly humorous about a man driven insane by an upstairs neighbor who dances loudly late at night.
Rifkin says that early on he knew that he would eventually become a professional moviemaker, and although he did these films mostly for fun he also ended up learning a lot of techniques that proved useful in the "real world". Some of his skills shown here are quite impressive- using the camera's ability to shoot single frames, he has his actors appear to be floating across a sidewalk and also does some animation experiments using cutouts similar to Terry Gilliam's Monty Python work. It seems a shame that his mainstream films haven't really given him the chance to use these skills with a larger budget.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Adam Rifkin Film Festival invades your home video collection with a new Blu-ray release from Dekanalog and OCN Distribution. Pressed on a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard case. If you order through Vinegar Syndrome’s website, you can snag an exclusive slipcover (Limited to 2,500 copies) featuring art by Bob Fingerman. A standard slipcover-free version is also available.
Most of these films are transferred from the original Super 8 film elements and look great for what they are- 8mm film frames are so tiny that they are barely visible to the naked eye unlike 35mm, which means more film grain is visible, but these transfers could pass for 16mm at least. The elements are very clean with little dirt or scratches, and the color is natural showing no signs of fading or any artificial enhancement decades later.
A few films are taken from VHS tapes that were transferred by Fotomat in the early 80s. These naturally don't look as good but are perfectly watchable, they are encoded in 24fps however when 60fps would have been proper. The final title in the "Festival" titled "Pervis Proves His Worth" was in fact shot on black and white videotape and encoded in the wrong frame rate on this disc, making the action look choppy rather than like live video as it should.
The mono audio is encoded in 2-channel DTS-HD MA, and flagged for output in PCM if you have secondary audio enabled on your player even though none is present on the disc. Obviously one should not expect reference audio on a release like this, but it at least serves its purpose. The dialogue in the films sounded like it had been recorded later and often improvised; in the extras Adam Rifkin explains that all of his films were transferred to VHS tape by Fotomat, and he then used the VCR's audio dub feature (which records over the audio track without affecting the picture) to add sound at that point. He had a cassette player on hand to play music, most of it taken from the Clockwork Orange soundtrack.
Six interview segments feature Rifkin, his sister, and friends who appeared in the films, shot in present day via web conference. Rifkin explains his frame of mind and such when he shot these films, and the rest provide their memories of appearing in them. Some of them went on to work in the movie industry as well while others headed into different professions.
A printed booklet also includes further liner notes about Rifkin's early years which is an interesting read.
A unique hidden extra, found by continuing to hit "Down" after the last visible menu option, is an episode of Phil Donahue's syndicated talk show from 1981, which Adam Rifkin and his sister appeared on. The subject of the show was how kids dealt with divorced parents, and his mother's divorce attorney was connected with the show and arranged for them to appear along with several other kids in similar situations. Rifkin appears to be the oldest of these guests and gives insight that often makes the studio audience laugh.
This was taken from a home off-air recording, sadly the commercials were manually cut out and even more unfortunate is it's encoded on the disc at 24fps rather than 60, so the entire program has a glitchy appearance similar to early internet videos and not how it looked on the air. This unfortunately happens far too often.
This is a great disc both for aspiring filmmakers looking for inspiration, as well as those who just want to relive the 70s and 80s. Taken at face value some of these films may look amatuerish and a bit incoherent, but those involved were quite young at the time and one should also consider that this was decades before the likes of YouTube were even thought about. Today one can shoot something quickly and cheaply and have it available for the whole world to see, but back then you were lucky if you had access to any type of camera or knew anyone who made these type of films and was willing to show them to you.
I'd love to see surviving similar work from other filmmakers who went on to create bigger things get this treatment in the future. Recommended!