Snuff: A Documentary about Killing on Camera
Dir. Paul Von Stoetzel
I decided to set some rules for myself going into this attempt at Halloween movie watching. I set a minimum of at least 1 documentary, 1 silent film, a film from each of the important era's: studio Hollywood, 70's exploitation, a recent film, and at least 1 film from the major centers of horror films outside of the US: Italy, Japan, the UK.
So, I start this year with a doc about the most notorious and mythic of all horror films, the snuff film. However, unlike other documentaries I've seen, this doesn't celebrate the development of the urban legend which has built the mystique around the snuff film and its effect on films and other media (cf. the episode of the UK's series The Dark Side of Pornography entitled "Does snuff exist?" for that). Rather, this is a deeply sobering film that looks into the absolute worst desires of humanity. This is an interesting turn, however, the film has an internal tension: it lacks enough interviews to feel like an adequate sampling pool for a talking heads doc, but the few it has have stories which, in and of themselves, would have made interesting films on their own. Instead we're given a depressing and ethically questionable inquiry into how a culture could produce people who would want to create snuff films.
History isn't the focus here, but it gives just enough to give you an unclear background, with most of it not starting until Vietnam (all questions about early cinema, Edison's morbid fascinations with death, the role of spectacle in the grand-fathers of the mondo film could have been interesting) and even then the film leaves out important developments in the mythical pseudo-genre: Crime scene photography, Peeping Tom, the Manson Family, Paul Schrader's Hardcore, Videodrome, the Charlie Sheen Guinea Pig incident, and most importantly the Zapruder film (and all of it's pre-video copies and bootlegs).
While it's history and focus are a bit off, this film does raise important issues about the implications of viewing violence and the responsibility on behalf of the viewer when consuming images.