I consider Damon Packard one of just a few contemporary filmmakers who are currently tapping into a new film aesthetic that is, as of yet, not completely born. In other words, when you are watching a Damon Packard movie you are watching the future of film.
There are others – Guiseppe Andrews and, to some degree, Bruce LaBruce – but Damon Packard stands above them for his knowledge of film and American culture as well as his ability to express, through film, the philosophical foundation of this “new aesthetic.”
The question he addresses through his films, and I’m trying to be brief and clear but it might not be working, is how to make art that addresses the aesthetic “dead end” of contemporary culture, a culture that indulges in aesthetic self-satirization like a coprophilious cannibal, without one’s art becoming indistinguishable from or even contributing to the cultural artifacts, destructive systems of production, or cultural issues being addressed.
That’s a tough nut to crack for an artist. I have a feeling Cronenberg is attempting to deal with the same problem in his recent film COSMOPOLIS and, I’m hoping, in his new film MAPS TO THE STARS. We need to look to more daringly independent filmmakers like Packard, however, to see how it’s really done (and I love Cronenberg). No matter how ironically on-the-nose MAPS TO THE STARS ends up being, however evasively or directly it dissects contemporary culture, it will likely only be a pale shadow of Packard’s FOXFUR.
Not technically a horror film (though it contains some bloodletting and innard spilling), FOXFUR nevertheless directly addresses some of the most frightening aspects of our time: the complete submission of our culture to paranoia, fear and violence from the top down to the bottom; the collapse of reality into fantasy; the destabilizing effects of postmodernism on identity and culture, and the manner by which these conditions are exploited for the control or survival of an integrated identity. This isn’t done through an “objective” analysis of American culture, it’s done through the lens of a subjective, unreliable narrator indistinguishable from its context, your context, or the context of the film…and I’m not even sure that means anything.
I would venture to call FOXFUR the first entirely successful post-postmodern film.
EARLY 70s HORROR TRAILER, on the other hand, is most certainly “horror.” Created before 9/11 – before Packard’s current aesthetic had bubbled to the surface and matured – EARLY 70s HORROR TRAILER reveals the level of aesthetic concern Packard is capable of while being less challenging (and more catering) to the sensibilities of a contemporary viewer (or their nostalgia). It is, quite simply, the most accurate reproduction of the 70s horror aesthetic I have seen any contemporary filmmaker do…period. Sure, it’s simply a short montage rather than a narrative film, but what a montage! It is the perfect audiovisual realization of a certain kind of dreamy, cozy surrealism that horror genre fans (like myself) live and die for. At the very least, apart from delighting the horror fan, it should serve to show how deliberate the visual (and narrative) choices are in Packard’s later work.
This man is a contemporary genius, folks. Check him out.
Because my summary is so abstract, I’m also linking to a great in-depth article and interview published through Fandor’s website.