Rogue Cinema at 13: A Reflection – By Roger Carpenter

 

It has been said that all good things must come to an end. As Rogue Cinema celebrates its 13th anniversary, owner, editor and all around good guy Duane Martin has announced an end to the webzine. In the Internet Era where anyone can create an online forum and many populist e-zines, blogs, and websites disappear just as quickly as they appeared, a thirteen-year run for a small, boutique webzine is a fairly monumental occurrence. Duane and all of his associates should be proud.

In preparing for my comments, I sat down to reminisce and reflect a bit about my run with Rogue Cinema. I must admit, while I wasn’t an original member, I have been an associate long enough that I had to go back and do some research to locate my first appearance, which was in the July 2009 issue.

It was around that time that I changed professions and found myself with a good deal of extra time on my hands. I was used to working round the clock seven days a week and my new occupation required much less time. Thus it was that I began searching for something to fill those extra hours. I flirted with creating a blog of my own and even started one, but I lost steam almost as quickly as I had thought of the idea. So I searched around on the web and managed to come across Rogue Cinema. I wrote a couple of reviews and sent them off with a short message asking if there would be interest in an additional writer. Soon enough, Duane contacted me and I was off.

Duane asked if I was interested in receiving screeners. Wow! Was I ever! I was simply trying to find an outlet for my writing and was planning on reviewing films in my personal collection or films I saw in the theater or via streaming. It never occurred to me that I could receive screeners. Thus, my very first review was for an indie film called “Reprisal”, along with an article entitled “Treasure Hunting: DVD’s vs. Bootleg Tapes,” a short trip down memory lane when rare flicks could only be obtained through the grey market and a reflection of how DVD’s had changed that market, for better or for worse. This was July 2009.

The next issue, August 2009, found me writing about the 35th anniversary of the seminal Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its influence in horror as well as a review for another indie horror film entitled “Livestock”. Shortly thereafter, I actually found myself in Boston on a business trip, where “Livestock” was filmed and arranged an interview with the co-creators of the film. This was my first exposure to actually interviewing filmmakers. The trio proved to be exceptionally nice and we spent a lovely afternoon discussing the film in question as well as films in general. When I look back on this, I was truly naïve as I remember thinking how lucky I was in getting to actually travel and meet these filmmakers for an interview. It never actually occurred to me that other interviews could be conducted via phone or email. I was still a newbie!

By my third issue, September 2009, my writing exploded across Rogue Cinema. In addition to the aforementioned interview with the creators of “Livestock”, I contributed no less than 16 (!) reviews for that issue. My output continued that way pretty much for several years, prompting Duane to marvel at the sheer number of reviews I was able to pump out. I really enjoyed this creative outlet. Not only was I able to develop my own writing style for reviews, but I was able to meet some fabulous people, receive tons of cool screeners, and expand my viewing to genres I rarely, if ever, bothered to think about.

Here are some personal high points:

  • Getting to know one of the most fearsome and ferocious indie horror directors out there, Ryan Nicholson. I discovered him quite by accident early on in his directing career and have been following him ever since. He and I are very much like-minded when it comes to the type of films we enjoy. After a couple of film reviews, I reached out to him for an interview, to which he readily agreed. He was thoughtful, articulate, answered my questions thoroughly, and even complimented me on the questions I had created for the interview. This interview appeared in the April 2010 issue.
  • In late 2009, I was excited to see an independent horror film premiering in my own small town where it was lensed. I attended the premiere and really enjoyed the film. I was extremely impressed by the production value and professionalism and wrote a review which I also posted to IMDb. I thought nothing of it for a couple of months until Duane reached out to the Rogue writers asking for some extra filmmaker interviews for the next issue. So I did some research and located these hometown filmmakers and sent an email. The reply I received was astounding to me. In part it read, “There you are! We have been searching for you for weeks after the fabulous review you posted to IMDb. We are so thrilled with your review and would love to do an interview.” It hadn’t really occurred to me at this early juncture in my writing career that I had the power to affect these filmmakers in such a way. They asked permission to use a quote from my review on the second printing of their DVD cover. Of course, I agreed and again, thought nothing more of it until one day I was with my young daughter in the local library. We were perusing the new DVD section when I heard her exclaim, “Dad! Oh, my God! Your name is on the cover of this DVD!” She was mightily impressed and, I think, pretty doggone proud of her father, which is a good feeling for a parent to have.
  • I was randomly assigned a couple of screeners by a new filmmaker in upstate Michigan. These were small, independent dramas, which really aren’t my cup of tea. But I had a job to do, and I always took my job as seriously as these filmmakers did. After all, they used their own time and money to create films for which they bravely put out for others to critique so, regardless of the quality, I always tried to be objective and find kind things to say. But this director’s film blew me away. It was incredible, as was the second film, which was more of a comedy. This started a lengthy professional relationship between he and I and I became his requested reviewer. His films were always short of money but high on quality and he never made a bad film. Unfortunately, I lost touch with the director when I took a hiatus from Rogue Cinema. While all of his films are worthy of watching, Michael McCallum’s debut, “Fairview St.”, is an absolute tour-de-force of drama and a must-see film. Miss ya, buddy!
  • Distributors became good colleagues as well. I developed a great relationship with Breaking Glass Pictures who distributed everything from tasteless horror and exploitation to adult-oriented cinema, and even niche documentaries. I enjoyed seeing them all. In fact, I became the reviewer for all (or nearly all) documentaries for quite a while, as well as for anything Duane thought was downright weird and unclassifiable. Duane always tried to match reviewers with films they were most comfortable with and many reviewers aren’t interested in documentaries. Thus, I learned way more than most people about topics as wide-ranging as The Ugliest Dog in the World Competition, the international barbershop quartet competition, tattoos and tattoo artists, the resurgence of burlesque, the L.A. Kiss or Kill music scene, and Frank Zappa’s two record labels, Straight and Bizarre. I loved it all!
  • Another really good guy who has become somewhat of a friend and colleague is Clint from MVD Visual. Now MVD represents several labels, none as important to me as Arrow Video USA. If you aren’t familiar with Arrow Video, suffice to say they are the Criterion of horror/exploitation/Japanese releases. Arrow is what Blue Underground, Shout! Factory, and others wish they could be. And their releases are expensive, for good reason. In an era when many big distribution companies won’t give the little guys the time of day, Clint has been my most important resource for a long time. He is responsive, kind, and—instead of telling me what I need to cover—he allows me to make requests.

Of course, there are also the odd negative experiences, such as viewing a film entitled “The Name is Roggels (Rugg-ells)”. As I stated previously, I have always maintained an awareness that indie filmmakers really put themselves out there when they release a film. Many of them write and direct their films, help to finance the film, and live with the film for years, from the original idea through to release. I am painfully aware of this and, while some of the films I viewed were simply terrible, I always tried to soften my criticism as best I could and look for positives along with the negatives. I agonized over the writing of my review for the above film. It took days of rewrites to establish the perfect balance of criticism. But when my review was released, the filmmaker took exception to the review (seen in the October 2009 issue), emailing both Duane and myself and demanding both an apology as well as the removal of the review. I was humiliated—not for myself, but for Duane. It was still relatively early in my writing career for Rogue Cinema and I always wanted to do the very best for Duane, if for no other reason than to express my appreciation to him for allowing me to be a part of something very special. The one thing I never wanted to do was cause him any trouble. So I reached out to Duane to apologize and to ask his advice as to how I needed to respond. But just as I hit “send” on the email, I received an email from Duane—copied to me and sent to the filmmaker. Simply put, Duane lit the filmmaker up. He defended my writing and my right to express an opinion and suggested that if the filmmaker wasn’t up to accepting criticism, perhaps she ought to change careers. I knew I already liked Duane, but that’s the moment I knew he was a stand-up guy. I cannot express the amount of gratitude I have for Duane regarding this particular episode.

Of course, there were a couple of films I trashed—always as carefully as possible—whose filmmakers still asked permission to use a quote from my review. I learned the hard way that slick editing can make even the worst reviews sound fabulous. Thus, one film has me quoted as saying something like “…grindhouse filmmaking at its best…” when what was actually said was closer to “If you want grindhouse filmmaking at its best, look somewhere else.” See what they did there? So if you see my name on any cheap indie horror films, shoot me an email and ask—many of those quotes are accurate while some simply are not. I never found this insulting; rather, I was always amused and fascinated by the creativity of some marketers.

I also wasn’t particularly insulted but was absolutely entertained by the filmmaker who took issue with my review of his druggie-vampire film. Instead of attacking me directly, he opted to reach out to Duane and ask if he could write a series of articles documenting the trials and tribulations of marketing an indie film. Of course, Duane jumped on the chance to have a real indie filmmaker document the making of an actual indie film, as I would have if in Duane’s place myself. And so, over several issues and several articles, the filmmaker pulled quotes from my review and attacked me through his writing, while never actually reaching out to me. I never told Duane about this because he was an innocent party and not privy to the actual intentions of the filmmaker. Besides, it was amusing to me but also, I’m sure, an accurate portrayal of the pain of birthing a film and putting it out there for the critics to tear apart. (I’ll give you the specifics privately if you’re interested, Duane.)

In the summer of 2012 I was promoted at work and went from 50 hours a week to 70 hours a week. My production for Rogue was inversely proportionate to the increase in work hours. I stuck it out for another 18 months, but by summer of 2013, my production was limited to just a handful of reviews. No interviews, no original articles. Just two or three reviews. I finally emailed Duane and told him I was going to have to step back for a while. Typical of Duane, he told me he was shocked I’d lasted as long as I had (he knew my work hours and other personal travails) and thanked me for my service. I finished my first tenure with Rogue Cinema with a whimper: one film review published in the December 2013 issue. Duane and I kept in touch for a while, but as typically happens to people, we lost touch after a few months, both of us being extremely busy. But I always checked on Rogue Cinema each month to see what was up and to stay connected to something I genuinely loved and enjoyed.

In April 2015 my wife became disabled and lost her job. In addition to working 60 hours a week at my regular job, I picked up a second job working 20 hours a week to make up for the lack of income. I stopped even bothering to look on Amazon and other sites for the latest DVD releases. I didn’t even hit the $3 bins at Wal-Mart anymore. Every penny was needed for more important items. I didn’t purchase a single DVD or Blu-Ray from April 2015, and that continues even now. Sometimes adjustments to your lifestyle need to be made. No complaints. It just is what it is. For the longest time, I just pushed my love of film out of my mind. Frankly, I didn’t have time anyway. Certainly not working two jobs. But one day in October 2016 a client missed his appointment and I found myself killing time on the Internet. I eventually clicked onto IMDb, found a rabbit hole, and started my descent. A couple of hours later I discovered that Arrow Video UK had started a US branch and had been busily releasing special edition Blu-Rays for over a year. I couldn’t afford them. Hell, I couldn’t afford a $3 DVD at Wal-Mart. So I reached out to the company and, lo and behold, an old friend replied to my email: “Hi, Cary, you may not remember me, but I used to send you stuff all the time. I’d love to send you some more. Just let me know what you want.” I was both shocked and pleased that someone who likely received dozens of requests a month would remember my name, and very grateful as well. So I then reached out to Duane, who welcomed me back into the fold, and I started writing again.

And so it comes full circle. I never have enough time but I make sure to write a few reviews each month, I receive some very cool stuff, and I’ve rekindled several friendships….only for Duane to announce just a few months into my second Rogue Cinema tenure that the site has run its course. I don’t blame him. Similar to many of the filmmakers we have all supported over these last 13 years, Duane is really a one-man show. He pays for the server space. He manages the screeners each month. He writes reviews himself. He posts all the material to the site, typically in a single, feverish, all-night session. And he works, too. So, just as he said to me when I stepped back the first time, I say to him: It’s been a good run. I can’t believe you lasted as long as you did. I wish you well. I hope at some point in the future you find the time, energy, and devotion to start again.

Thanks for the mentorship as well as the friendship. We live on opposite sides of the country, but I hope, after all these years of maintaining an Internet friendship, one day we can meet in person, have a beer, and reminisce about the Late, Great Rogue Cinema.

Cheers!