Last year, Richard Myers was represented by his film AKRAN, a fascinating impressionistic journey through personal memory and sexual pain. This year he has come up with an even more devastating and complex work, entitled DEATHSTYLES. Both films suffer from excesses in length, and overloading of content, but having stated these weaknesses one can only marvel at the dazzling technical brilliance and powerful creative force at work in both of them.
DEATHSTYLES contains multi-fragmented images and episodes strung together in a horizontal motion of continuous action that moves like the relentless swinging of a giant scythe of death. It is a modern equivalent of “Dante’s Inferno” ... a journey by car through the landscape of today. The various horrors are fashioned out of everyday scenes and people from typical plastic towns and cities. The machine-gun pacing of the film leaves little time for contemplation of individual scenes, but the accumulation of the total film is powerful, demonic and quite disturbing. New York contains hordes of pulpy repulsive people but DEATHSTYLES reveals the disease to be more widespread. DEATHSTYLES is full of their faces, ugly and suspicious, crouched in their automobiles like monsters in armor. Myers’ film is a baroque death chant.
At various times the tone of the film reminds me of Godard’s highway crash scene in Weekend with its surreal nightmare mood. One of the most interesting aspects of DEATHSTYLES is the constant use of image within image. Small movies and events appear on street billboards and signs, to help catalogue the journey of the protagonist’s death, and the death of civilization itself. No need to invent images of Hell, they are all around us now. The staged sequences seem like fragments from some other epic in some other time; eternal, continuous, but related to the present. The sound track is cut much like the film ... overlapping fragments of sounds and phrases run counterpoint to the images. The nightmare journey with the destruction of the hero—by his transference to a TV image which, in turn, had been transferred from movies of himself that were appearing more and more often in the setting and environments he was passing through. The final dehumanization: from living being to electronic image.
I do not hesitate to state that I consider it one of the really great ‘personal’ films, and certainly the most important film to come from the experimental cinema in the last few years. It is the kind of film that grows in complexity with every viewing. DEATHSTYLES has a sense of time forgotten ... a sense of innocence juxtaposed against the present. One of the concepts that prompted the film’s creation was an idea from the Cakuntala: ‘that which seemed a moment since disjointed in diverse parts, looks suddenly like one compact whole. Wondrous the chariot’s speed, that in a breath, makes the near distant ... and the distant near.’ Myers’ film contains the universal mystic sense that both Emshwiller’s Relativity and Markopoulos’ Twice the Man evoke. Films that involve you, each in their own way, in a living experience.”
Bob Cowan, Take One magazine
That is most remarkable about Myers, a young Ohioan, is his gift for giving universal meaning to an intensely personal, highly abstract vision of life—and with almost no recourse to any conventional narrative devices. In both AKRAN and in this film DEATHSTYLES ... Myers is preoccupied with making us aware of how we are constantly being assaulted by the media with an avalanche of dehumanized sex and violence. A powerful evocation of America both past and present ... DEATHSTYLES is a stunning evocation of the brutalization of our daily life with rampant commercialism and vulgarity. That Myers works in the Midwest is much to his advantage, for better than any experimental filmmaker on either coast, he is able to capture the chaos that infects mainstream America.”
Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
The Kenyon Film Festival gave me a chance to see DEATHSTYLES for a second time, and I am ready to take a flier: Myers may be the best personal filmmaker working in the country today. DEATHSTYLES is at the same time simple and complex. Its simplicity lies in the assumption that everything in the film is seen or imagined by the protagonist, a fairly uncomplicated young man preoccupied with sex and death. There is a corresponding simplicity in the photography, for Myers totally avoids the superimpositions, negatives, color filters, photographic distortions, and other devices whereby filmmakers frequently express inner experience. ... The complexity of the film lies in the immense number of disparate images and sounds which manage to cohere, offering a single emotional effect in this vast mosaic of montage.
The title is of course a twist upon the word lifestyles, and the point of the film seems to be that life, as Myers observed it in 1971, is much akin to death. Repeated visual equations of physical death to spiritual death are subtle but clear; visions of the protagonist lying dead in a glass-topped coffin are paralleled by views of living people staring gloomily out of car windows; newsreels of the shooting of the Kent State students are matched in dreadfulness by a woman’s voice calmly wishing the National Guardsmen had killed more; a mashed car in which death must have occurred is balanced against long lines of cars immobilized by traffic tie-ups; frames of the Kennedy assassination are counterpointed by two soul-coarsened old shopkeepers peddling Jack and Jackie masks (the horror, as Kuprin said in Yama, is that there is no horror); the paralysis of human grief in several static scenes of funerals is dissolved by radio and magazine huckstering of funeral services and tombstones. Clearly, what this haunted young man sees all about him is death in life.
His other preoccupation is sex, which bombards him from the soundtrack in the form of sermons against, commercials for, and casual obscenity; together with the monstrous images of his own fantasy. ... thousands of images crowd upon our consciousness, and sometimes three or four sounds are heard simultaneously. And perceived. That’s the genius of this film.”
Edgar Daniels, Filmmakers Newsletter