Category_Collecting, Category_Groovy Stuff, Category_VHS, Category_Weirdness -

Indie NY Filmmaker Doron Max Hagay releases PERFECT THOUGHTS on VHS! Self-help Junkies Beware!

Almost as a rule, when I’m solicited to explore an upcoming or current VHS release, the genre of the film virtually never strays too far from the horror persuasion. And… I mean… rightfully so. LUNCHMEAT is firmly rooted in and predominately fascinated with the weird and wonderful escapes that reside in the sprawling horror / sci-fi / weirdo arena. But as every ardent cinephile knows, pinning yourself to one particular genre is a fast way to appreciation stagnation. So when NY filmmaker Doron Max Hagay shot me a message about his new film Perfect Thoughts and its limited VHS release, I was thrilled to see that the film had no inklings of horror in its presentation. The fact that another type of filmmaker (read: someone other than a stalwart horror aficionado) was recognizing the VHS format as a viable way to spread their film to potential audiences was exciting if only by mere principle.

PERFECT THOUGHTS Director Doron Max Hagay enjoying a nice bever-age amidst some of his other work! Seconds later, he was kicked out for having a drink in the store.

Now every VHS enthusiast has their own reasons why they love the format, and more times than not, one of those reasons is that distinctive dingy, deteriorated look that the format lends the film. Hagay explains why he thought the VHS format was so befitting for the release of Perfect Thoughts: “I think the implications of 'dubbing' and a resulting bootleg aesthetic factored heavily into my choice to put Perfect Thoughts on VHS. I liked the idea of reducing video quality in the dubbing process to tell the story about a girl's self-discovery through the process of reading a self-help book. I also opted to shoot the film on an older camera, instead of the super speed HD cameras that are used frequently among my peers. Both choices felt like strong ways to visually communicate my position on the narrative. I also love the way VHS ages versus DVD, which can scratch and instantly become unplayable.” As for the film itself, it’s an experimental mixture of suggestive body horror and the struggle to find personal identity. The main character is a nebbish girl who’s controlled, manipulated and sometimes berated by those surrounding her, most notably by a self-help guru’s assistant who is seemingly using her love interest only to spread the germ of his boss’s theory: a book called “Perfect Thoughts”. Through all this, she has mysterious and thoroughly disgusting growth under her arm, which also causes friction between her and those around her. So, why did the director choose to focus on a self-help book and it’s purveyor to take on an antagonistic shape? Hagay explains, “I felt really strongly about the idea of someone experiencing some kind of bodily horror while reading a self-help book. I think a mix of the work of all the directors I love inspired the idea… I know some people who mostly read self-help, and when I went to college and discovered philosophy I began to feel really intensely that self-help books were the McDonalds of spiritual and philosophical work. I find self-help books to be so embarrassingly banal and intellectually degrading. I knew I had to address this position without being too cynical or negative about it.”

Super-Fun and Groovy Promotional artwork for PERFECT THOUGHTS created by Becca Hartz! Click her name for more rad illustrations!

As the film progresses, the bump growing under her arm worsens and seems to correlate to the increasing tension and anxiety that invades her life. But when she finally exposes her attraction to the guy pushing the self-help, and she gets what she wants, her anxieties and her bump disappear. There’s a strongly suggestive sexual undertone to the lump as it explodes and it secretes a viscous, pearly liquid and in explaining how it happened, she states that she was itching it and it had a “red flower tip”. Suggestive? I’d say definitive.

A flyer for the VHS release and double-screening held at Spectacle Theater in NY! Booze and Romance? PERFECT.

The way Hagay operates his camera and the freedom he grants his actors creates an atmosphere of stark realism and has the tendency to remind one of a low-budget Robert Altman. His lengthy, continuous shots absorb you into the character’s world, giving the audience a decidedly voyeuristic angle on everything. The action isn’t overly dramatic; it feels like commonplace existence. Now that might seem like it would make the film vapid and amateurish, but in stark contrast, it lends the film this plausibility, effectively transporting you to a world where this could actually be happening. Hagay also seems to be experimenting with sound in an almost Altman-esque manner: you can’t always make out everything each character is saying, and the casio-driven score seems to drift in and out amorphously at times. The film has its shortcomings with some uneven acting (though the bulk of the performances are really quite good) and technical errors (you can hear the floorboards squeaking as Hagay moves around his characters at one point), but overall, Perfect Thoughts is an endearingly awkward and harshly genuine look at the dark comedy of social and personal error.

The full package for the VHS release of Hagay's PERFECT THOUGHTS which mimics the cover of the self-help book in the film. DIY or DIE.

But what’s extra exciting about Hagay’s video release of Perfect Thoughts is that it evidences VHS releases are now blooming beyond the ardent horror community, beyond the “found footage” frenzy and turning up in varied avenues of indie film culture. I asked Doron about what he thinks of the current VHS resurgence and his answer shows that even though his genre inclinations may show difference, his appreciation for the format and the joys it can bring are strikingly similar. Hagay said, “I'm not so sure I know much about the re-surging interest in VHS outside of the way my friends and I appreciate it. I know that when I picked up a VCR not too long ago it opened a library of movies to me because every day, I guarantee, someone somewhere is throwing out a box of VHS tapes or dying to get rid of tapes. It's a format of economy. Also there's a huge catalogue of forgotten material that exists only on VHS, and it's mainly B-movies and novelty such as instructional videos… stuff that was lost in the conversion to digital. This kind of material, which YouTube has now become the leader of, is perhaps why VHS is an interesting and exciting format for people to collect now.”

I believe it just may be, Doron. You can check out Doron Max Hagay and all his independent endeavors by clickity-clicking on over to his blog HERE. Groove on, and feed that VCR everyday. You just might see something you never knew existed.

Josh Schafer

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