The Item

on January 28, 1999 by Ray Greene
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   Trapped under the spotlights for a question and answer session after the festival debut of his feature film "The Item," writer/director Dan Clark raised the right question: "Excuse me, but I'd like to begin by asking, `How did my crummy little exploitation movie ever get into Sundance?'" Clark's humorous aside neatly summarized the prevailing Sundance word-of-mouth opinion of
   "The Item"--a blood-drenched Tarantino-type caper comedy crossed with "Alien," with a penis-shaped critter from hell as the valuable commodity at its center.
   "The Item" was a Sundance groundbreaker: It's the first feature-length narrative ever to be accepted into the Dramatic Competition category which was originally shot on digital beta videotape and then transferred back to film. This makes Clark and cinematographer/editor Michael Mayhew low budget visionaries by Sundance standards, although other festivals have been accepting video-created narratives for the last several years.
   What really sets "The Item" apart, though, is that it's ultimately a morality play masquerading as a midnight movie. When the Creature escapes into the wider world, he doesn't destroy his captors by the usual chomping, stomping and slicing tactics, but by talking them through their darkest fears and deepest insecurities. As a monster, the Item turns out to be part Jiminy Cricket, part Eraserhead, and part Sigmund Freud-a stroke of cleverness that elevates "The Item" well above the usual threshold of accomplishment for this sort of exercise.
   In a sense, Sundance did "The Item" a disservice by sticking it into the Dramatic Competition beside all those fussy art films. The proper advance venue for Clark's down-and-dirty blood opera is probably the American Film Market, where "The Item" would have been shown beside the latest from its exploitation brethren at companies like Troma Films and Roger Corman's Concorde/New Horizons. Corman in particular has long argued that exploitation titles are routinely among the most thematically complex movies made, so he would probably recognize his own high-minded approach to a lowbrow commercial form in the work of Clark and his collaborators.
   "The Item" proves it's still possible to be both an adrenaline-fueled pulp movie maker and a man of ideas. As standard-bearer for a type of American independent filmmaking that is too often neglected and overlooked at events like the Sundance Festival, Clark deserves kudos for his achievement. Starring Dawn Marie Valesquez, Dan Clark and Dave Pressler. Written and directed by Dan Clark. Produced by Don Asher. Action/Horror/Drama. No distributor set. Not yet rated. Running time: 99 min
Tags: Dawn Marie Valesquez, Dan Clark, Dave Pressler, Don Asher. Action, Horror, Drama
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