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Cigarette Burns (John Carpenter, 2005)

 

     Created for the Masters of Horror television series, Cigarette Burns engages with film culture with a much greater degree of wit and interest than the vast majority of theatrically released features. Telling the tale of a rare film expert who goes in search of a mythic movie that only received one screening before being recalled, it is really a dark satire of an obsessive brand of cinephilia which prizes obscurity and rarity over quality. Its fixated protagonist moves through a world of cinematheques, film festivals, and projection rooms as he draws closer to his holy grail. Throughout his quest, weíre constantly reminded of cinemaís perverse and questionable power to shape ideas and film fandomís ability to divert lives. Itís a witty attack on moviemaking and movie viewing, that builds both power and mood as it progresses. The narrative climaxes with a spectacular death scene, in which a rare film collector (Udo Kier) literally throws himself into his work, in order to create an avant-garde film. This sequence comes across as one of moviedomís purest eviscerations of navel-gazing and the proverbial death of cinema.

 

     Fittingly, Cigarette Burns is made with enough craft that its cinematic obsessions donít embarrass it. Carpenter, a true master of horror, renders this tale with far more atmosphere than other directors have managed during the course of the television series. Although thereís a great degree of gore on display here, the real horror accumulates during a series of dialogue exchanges during which the people who encountered the lost film describe their brush with its unsettling contents and the extreme aftereffects it has had on its audience. Even though it is all too willing to show you horrible sights, this is a movie that operates primarily in the subconscious, working most of its disturbing magic behind the scenes. Cigarette Burns is, without a doubt, similar to Carpenterís surpassingly creepy Lovecraft homage In the Mouth of Madness. This time out, a literary text has been switched for a cinematic one, which turns a genuinely scary premise into a wry commentary on our twisted desire to manifest our own worst fears whenever we subject ourselves to a horror film.

 

74

Jeremy Heilman

07.21.08