SF IndieFest 2013
By Don Simpson | February 10, 2013
Director: Paul Bunnell
Writers: Paul Bunnell, George Wagner, Steve Bingen, Mark D. Murphy
Starring: Will Keenan, De Anna Joy Brooks, Reggie Bannister, Les Williams, Creed Bratton, Jed Rowen, Kate Maberly, Paul Williams, Kevin McCarthy, Heather Provost, Katherine Giaquinto, David Slaughter, Morris Everett, Rebecca Burchett, Sara Grigsby, Caroline Macey, Christine Romeo
Johnny X (Will Keenan) and his loyal band of outsiders have been exiled to Earth for their refusal to conform to the planet’s societal guidelines. Soon after arriving on Earth, Johnny’s girlfriend Bliss (De Anna Joy Brooks) makes off with his “Resurrection Suit,” a full-body devise that gives the wearer the ability to puppeteer others. Bliss makes a beeline for a desert diner where she woos the local soda jerk, Chip (Les Williams), into joining her wherever she is going…
All the while, King Clayton (Reggie Bannister) is trying to figure out a way to make good on his promise to have the fabulous grin of Mickey O’Flynn (Creed Bratton) grace the musical stage again. There is just one small snag, it would take a biblical miracle to get Mickey upright and performing music again. A resurrection suit sure would come in handy right about now…
Don’t worry, the schlocky story will make perfect sense once you settle into this absurd teen-melodrama-cum-musical-cum-science-fiction flick. With a near-masterful array of highly-stylized musical numbers, writer-director Paul Bunnell transports the audience back into the luscious black and white world of greasers, soda jerks and rock ‘n’ roll. You see, Bunnell does not need 1.21 gigawatts of power and a flux capacitor, he sends the audience back to the 1950s via a trusty old 35mm camera stocked with the final reels of Kodak’s black and white Plus-X film stock (shot by cinematographer Francisco Bulgarelli) and some top notch production design (Lawrence Kim). Filtered through Bunnell’s sublimely bizzaro mind, everything in this world is a bit off-kilter. The musical performances are oh-so-slightly dusted with LSD, tripping out with subtly disjointed rhythms and strange vocal harmonies; the dialogue, on the other hand, is meticulously crafted and purposefully stilted. Oh, and what about that ridiculously fantastic cameo by Paul Williams???
Bunnell probably could have dreamed all of this up during his own fever-pitched nightmare, but The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is drenched in references (some more obscure than others) to teen films, B-movies and midnight cult classics from the 1950s and 60s. The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is drenched with a loving nostalgia for the campy style of filmmaking that few modern day directors have attempted to replicate. Sure, John Waters has successfully gone there (Cry Baby ), so has Tim Burton (Ed Wood , Mars Attacks! ), and Robert Lee King’s Psycho Beach Party (2002) tried really hard to go there too; but Madeleine Olnek’s Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (2011) might be the only recent example that shares the same gleefully geeky bombast as The Ghastly Love of Johnny X.
It might have been nice if Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist (2011) or Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves (2012) took advantage of the remaining reels of this Kodak stock; but, you know, I am sort of glad that Bunnell used it in his madcap send-up of a seemingly lost style of movie-making. Bunnell’s punk rock move to shoot this particular production on the last of the Kodak stock echoes the messages of irreverance and nonconformity found throughout The Ghastly Love of Johnny X. Just as Johnny X rebelliously leaves his home planet with the resurrection suit, Bunnell has scurried off with this iconic film stock to show the studios exactly how it should be used. Besides, I bet in the history of cinema more B-movies were shot on black and white film than studio productions. In that way, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X reminds us that while studios all but abandoned black and white film when color came along, low-budget productions continued to shoot on black and white. So, it is only fitting that a film like The Ghastly Love of Johnny X should mark the definitive end of Kodak’s black and white film. God save black and white film!