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The Permanence of Film, The Impermanence of Life: ‘Your Brother. Remember?’

The Permanence of Film, The Impermanence of Life: 'Your Brother. Remember?'

The movies remain the same; only our relationships with them change.  Your favorite movie as a child still possesses the identical series of shots and cuts from twenty years ago — unless your favorite movie as a child was made by George Lucas, obviously — but your reaction to those shots and cuts may be totally different now.  I might have thought “Ghostbusters” was just a really funny movie with crazy special effects in 1984.  Now I might see it as a more poignant story about how life — and death — seems to conspire against us (with crazy special effects).  And while I look quite a bit different than I did back in 1984, the Ghostbusters themselves, Venkman, Stanz, Spengler, and, of course, Zeddemore, haven’t aged a day.

The permanence of film and the impermanence of life is the subject of a very interesting movie opening this Friday at Brooklyn’s reRun Theater.  It’s called “Your Brother. Remember?” directed by a talented DIY filmmaker named Zachary Oberzan.  As a teenager, Oberzan and his brother Gator loved to make their own VHS versions (sweded, we’d probably call them today) of their favorite movies, immortal classics like the infamous snuff compilation “Faces of Death” and the Jean-Claude Van Damme kickboxing film “Kickboxer.”  Their recreations, though limited by budget ($0.00) and shooting location (their family’s house in the woods of Maine), were surprisingly precise.  Zachary and Gator play all the roles (with an occasional assist from their sister), with dialogue perfectly transcribed from Glenn A. Bruce’s “Kickboxer” screenplay.  They were dedicated to getting the movements, the costumes, and the props as close to the real thing as possible.

Plenty of ’80s kids borrowed their parents’ camcorders and tried to make their own movies.  But in 2009, Oberzan took things a step further.  He returned to his family’s house in Maine and reshot his “Kickboxer” and “Faces of Death” reshoots, approximating the original sets, lighting, and costumes as closely as he could. Oberzan’s choice to maintain the exact look from his original videos accentuates what’s changed in the interim: namely Oberzan himself and his brother Gator, who, as interviews and musical “reenactments” make clear, has struggled with drug addiction and spent time in jail since he last played the role of Kurt Sloane, cornerman to his brother, martial arts champion Eric Sloane.  In “Kickboxer,” after Eric is paralyzed in a fight with a Muay Thai master, Kurt (Van Damme) decides to train in the art of kickboxing and avenge his brother’s defeat.  When he becomes skeptical of his eccentric trainer’s methods, he’s reinspired by the trainer’s admonition: “Your brother.  Remember?”

“Your Brother. Remember?” brings together clips of the original “Kickboxer,” both Oberzan family reproductions, and narration and commentary delivered, theatrically, in a bad, stilted JCVD-style accent by Oberzan.  It’s like a home movie and a supercut combined: Oberzan’s reshoots function as film criticism, pointing out the silliness of “Kickboxer,” and then the reshoots on the reshoots function as self-criticism.  The meaning of Oberzan’s source material has changed as well; when the first Oberzan “Kickboxer” was shot, it was just two kids goofing off, expressing their exhibitionism and desire to become actors by imitating a silly Van Damme movie.  Twenty years later, their choice of targets feels incredibly poignant; “Kickboxer” is the story of two brothers moving in different directions, and the sacrifices one makes to improve the life of other.  You could describe “Your Brother. Remember?” the exact same way.  In this film, history repeats itself in reverse; first as farce, then as tragedy.  

This is an interesting weekend to see “Your Brother. Remember?”  Hollywood’s new Friday offering is “American Reunion,” which brings together the original cast of “American Pie” thirteen years later.  Some of them look fantastic (Jason Biggs has barely aged a day); some of them look fantastic and artificial (Tara Reid seems lucid and sober and at least 25% non-biodegradable).  Still others have had their own Gator-esque trials with substance abuse (Natasha Lyonne, who pops up for a cheerful cameo).  The original “American Pie” is set in stone, or at least locked on celluloid, but looking at those iconic teenagers now aging into their thirties lends a certain amount of poignance to the first film that wasn’t there before.  It’s especially true during “American Reunion”‘s closing credits, which include images of the actors as teenagers in 1998’s “American Pie” and which remind us, in an almost alarming way, how much time has passed in the interim.  

“Your Brother. Remember?” is like that, only the reminders of the past aren’t confined to the exit music; they’re intercut throughout the movie so that past and present are in constant conversation and the faces of death are more than the images from a schlock exploitation film.  They’re also the reminders everywhere we look that little by little we’re getting older, even while the movies we love remain forever young.

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