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Damon Packard Interview - Extended Version for Tabletmag.com

Words: Steven A. Basso

Interview: Brian Kidd

Filmmaker Damon Packard is somewhat of an enigma. His love for film began at the bright and candid age of 11. Packard recalls being mesmerized and inspired by the glitz and glamour of early ‘60s and ‘70s television, thus creating the path that lead to his amateur filmmaking debut in the ‘80s with “Dawn of an Evil Millennium” which, oddly enough, started off to be a short for film class.

While growing up, Packard was mostly inspired by Steven Spielberg. Mind you, Packard states that Spielberg’s earlier works of the ‘70s and early ‘80s were his most influential and awe inspiring. Other inspirers include Ken Russell, John Boorman, Ralph Bakshi, Donald Cammell, Don Coscarelli, Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Donner, Francis Coppola, Martin Scorcese, William Friedkin, Jerry Scatzberg and Bob Fosse to just name a few.

Packard’s love for ‘60s and ‘70s cinema shines throughout his work, especially in his most recent film “Reflections of Evil.” Here, we’re innocently given over to Packard, not knowing what to expect until we’re fully exposed to his raw and in-your-face style of filmmaking prowess and ingenious editing aptitude. The first segment of the film shows Tony Curtis-fully clad in his trademark white suit and sporting leather gloves-praising Damon Packard. In actuality, Tony Curtis is referring to Charles Bronson; the crafty flick artist had cleverly overdubbed his name for Mr. Bronson’s. Its here that we’re given but a taste of Packard’s strange and sometimes unorthodox method of filmmaking; distortion of sounds; twisting and morphing the actors, skewing them into haunting images. It is also here that we first discover Packard’s surreal sense of humor.

Following the ten-minute Tony Curtis introduction, unnerving clips of television commercials from the 1970s burst into view, after which Bob-the main character of the movie, played by Packard himself-comes into play. The first thing you notice about Bob is that he is extremely overweight and unkempt, draped in dirty laundry and shouting at the locals. You aren’t really sure what to make of this until Packard takes us back “some months earlier” with Bob attempting to sell watches on the street. He is rejected left and right with a wide variety of insults ranging from a simple “no thank you” to an all out “man, I will kill you.”

Bob’s love for food becomes quite apparent after several minutes into the movie. Throughout the film, cakes, miniature cupcakes, fast food, soft drinks, and every other assortment of sweets imaginable are inhaled with a gluttonous rage. We soon discover that what seems to be an obsession is nothing less than pure excessive addiction when Bob plunges himself into a pit of at least forty cereal boxes, with whipped cream, milk, and bowl in hand-all this while his cantankerous grandmother (who he randomly visits as a solace from the streets) jeers at his disgusting demeanor.

An overall sense of paranoia and fear start to set in as Bob interacts with other people on the streets of L.A. Vagrants shout obscenities at one another, armed with hatchets to steel rods; crazy street dwellers scream at walls and point at helicopters hovering overhead; passer-by’s accuse Bob of insulting them. In one scene a seemingly schizophrenic young man standing on part of the Hollywood Walk of Fame asked Bob “What are you looking at? You’re fucking FBI.” Nearby an Elvis impersonator is swiveling his hips; he bellows to Bob in a morphed, demented voice as he passes by, “man he’s fucking crazy.”

As crazy and chaotic as this film is, Damon Packard is communicating a very distinguishing message about American society: that we are violent and unpredictable, and even the most innocuous individual can be corrupted and victimized by modern society.

About the film Packard stated, “I really wanted to sort of carry this message about this sort of general atmosphere of anger and people on the fringe of madness and insanity…”

Tablet spoke to Packard one midnight as he was driving through the California desert.

“Yeah I love the Carpenters; I was just listening to them. I have everything they’ve ever done,” Packard said over his dysfunctional cell phone while driving his 1988 Lincoln Continental down California’s Highway 10. Packard had just finished his night-job delivering medical supplies including, IV kits, bags of pills and morphine to elderly inhabited convalescent homes.

During our conversation, it became apparent that Packard has become distraught and uncertain about his future as an independent filmmaker. Although he still possesses a giddy laugh and film-buff enthusiasm, in regards to his own work, he is drained of inspiration, working a futile job with no real future. As he intermittently worried about his jalopy breaking down, he gradually lifted the shroud of mystique.

During college you studied philosophy, why not film?

That I made up (laughter). I wrote that in my bio for a joke. I had a couple years of college and that’s about it. I went to film school mostly to borrow equipment and meet people.

How were the ‘70s a better era in film?

The ‘60s and ‘70s were just such a completely different time and dimension than now days. Not just all the good films and everything and growing up and being influenced and inspired by them. (Is that a cop there? Oh nevermind.) But the whole atmosphere of the time and the working conditions then, the possibilities that existed gave a lot of people a chance to make films that would never had a chance at any other time. People from the later generation, the boomers, have a different perspective say it wasn’t that great but I tend to disagree. I think it was just more interesting.

What was the idea behind “Reflections of Evil”?

It was a combination of different ideas. Originally it was an hour-long episode it was going to be a night gallery episode. It was kind of a character based on me. I didn’t want to play it originally but I eventually had to. You know out on the streets trying to sell watches and living with this wicked grandmother in Chatsworth…

So this was semi-autobiographical?

Well (laughs) it was exaggerated semi-autobiographical. It was obviously exaggerated I mean I’m not, you know?



How did you assemble the cast?

Mostly through advertising at Backstage West and going through headshots and resumes. Some people I knew like Julie who is Nicole Vanderhoff who was in the early ‘70s horror trailer.

Is this kind of a critique on Hollywood?

Not so much to what people have made it out to be. I mean I didn’t consciously have it in mind while I was making it. It started off as a shorter film and expanded into a two-hour plus feature. I didn’t have any deeper meaning commentary while I was making the film.

I really wanted to sort of carry this message about this sort of general atmosphere of anger and people on the fringe of madness and insanity…

Within that, was there a script or was it improvised?

Well, there was a treatment. It wasn’t the kind of story you could kind of write out in a script with dialogue. There was a treatment and that is all I really needed. I wrote it in a way where I could fill in all the sequences with improvisation and elaborating on different things. I kind of like working like that, I’ve made most of my films like that. I don’t think that I’m incapable of shooting a normal film with a script it’s just how I like working. I wanted this film to have a documentary improvisational style to it. A lot of films in the late ‘60s were experimenting with that.

Like with your grandma in the movie, the interaction seemed so natural that…?

That was all improv. I told her what to say. You know, I had an idea with the dialogue, it was all coming from real life actually. Some of it…It was actually pretty difficult trying to get an interesting performance out of her for awhile, because she had a very theatrical background where she’s used to dialogue. The way I like working is just saying “just go with it; say what you want.” (laughs).

Right now, what is the typical Damon Packard day like?

Yeah, the typical day now. (I hope that’s not my car; it smells like something burning. I think that’s coming from outside. Yeah, I think it’s a factory or something.) Ummm, the typical day right now is just nothing. I mean it’s just survival. I’m sort of helping some guy out with this Star Trek project … It’s a pretty silly take on “Evil Dead.” Like the main character is a stranded security officer on an alien planet…

So what sort of films would you ultimately like to make?

I’d really like to turn around and make something like, a film like “A Patch of Blue” or “To Kill a Mockingbird” or something with a charming subtly to it-a gentle, thoughtful film.

Sure, you’re joking…

No I would really like to make a film like that. I don’t know if I’m capable of it or ready for it. Maybe I’d have to do some growing. But I would like to make something like that…I want to make like a Bergman film. I want to do an intelligent European film: an emotionally delicate, intelligent European film.

“Reflections of Evil” can be purchased by visiting bijouflix.com

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