Get ready to watch something strange.
Filmmaker Oscar Harding grew up near farmer Charles Carson. Carson would give the family his homemade video tapes, which seem like he was hosting a TV program but he was all by himself. Or he was surrounded by cows giving birth. Or puppeteering his stuffed cats. Or wheeling his dead mother around so she could see the farm one more time before she went into the ground.
Carson was…well, the jury is out. Was he an outside artist? An early adopter of posting videos online before there was the internet? Or maybe someone with some deep mental issues?
Beyond getting to see the actual videos, the film also speaks to Karen Kilgariff (My Favorite Murder), Derrick Beckles (TV Carnage), Everything Is Terrible and Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher from The Found Footage Festival to learn why the videos are artistically important while also, yes, just odd.
“There we are, that’s life on a farm.” Carson says this several times and it makes me think about how he came from a world that is a constant circle of life and also so removed from the city that he may as well be an alien. He would keep giving these tapes, stories about life on the farm to his friends and neighbors. Were they entertained? Shocked? Upset?
Yet this movie never laughs at the man. It points out that he may have had issues, but he also saw death in a different way than we do. Perhaps by looking at it with a sense of humor, he was ahead of us, people who might look down on him and think him uneducated. I see him as a man with no guile, one with a sense of humor that could be surreal but he may have never encountered that art himself. He was, in a sense, a unique island of a man whose video output lived beyond him, made its way to people who could keep it alive and now, miles and decades away from a man long dead, we can appreciate what he left behind, even if it’s a video of him holding up a huge piece of afterbirth.
I got the opportunity to speak with Oscar Harding about this film and I’m excited to share the interview with you.
B&S About Movies: It’s interesting that within the film you had very different reactions to Carson himself, his mental state mostly.
Oscar Harding: I had someone seek me out that works in hospice care. Death positivity is a big angle to this and he was getting really excited and said, “People in my industry need to see this film.” That’s been a big reaction to Charles on that side. People who liked the film — even if they don’t like the documentary — they love him. The reviews say, “The documentary is OK, but I just want to see more of Charles.”
I completely agree, because if we had more footage, it would be a very different film, probably a stronger film. But as I’ve said before, we were interviewing his cousin Charlie who told us, “It’s a shame you didn’t come by a few years ago.” He had 200 of Charles’s tapes. He was moving and he didn’t think anyone wanted the tapes, so he threw them all out hundreds of tapes and they’re all gone. So for all I know, the little bit of footage we found in the film is all that exists of him. And I hope that’s not true. I hope someone in England sees this and realize there’s very clearly an appetite for more of his work and rightly so. I hope we find more because we spent months trying to track down as much as we could. There’s one guy who claimed he had a mixtape. He said, “I think it’s locked away in a shed somewhere.”
So every few days, we go into the shed and there was always an excuse. It was a busy weekend. The padlock is rusty. Call back a few days later. And then he just stopped answering our calls.
B&S: Was Charles literally making each person their own tape?
Oscar: You know, he’s in the middle of nowhere and he doesn’t have resources like you might in a big city. He’s doing all this at an advanced age in that place. But he’s doing it! Like it’s not easy to learn how to do this stuff. And then do custom edits for so many different people! He really took his craft seriously. And that was one of the things that really impressed us about it.
B&S: I’m obsessed with the Shot On Video era because the Cousins brothers who made Slaughter Day were making films beyond their technical abilities because they didn’t know they had those limits.
Oscar: I find that stuff so much more impressive than like a master filmmaker. You know, Scorsese was lucky he had the education. He worked with Corman and went to school but look — these guys are in London like Charles or the Uganda filmmakers that make action films like Who Killed Captain Alex? and people might make fun of the bad CGI of the helicopter crash, but that movie was directly influenced by him living through a civil war and seeing that happen for real. Those filmmakers are the most interesting to me.
B&S: They’re also pure and not in on the joke.
Oscar: It’s like the people who set out to make a bad movie thinking they’re going to make the next The Room. Meanwhile, Tommy Wiseau wasn’t trying to make a joke, he genuinely set out to make a masterpiece and it is raw, unfiltered vision. That’s why people love that. And that’s why a movie like Birdemic, well, it’s in on the joke. It just doesn’t land in the same way. It’s not authentic.
B&S: How much footage did you have to work through to find something great? The Found Footage Festival guys always bring up how much of this kind of stuff used to exist in thrift stores and it was just the work of going through boring footage to find something incredible.
Oscar: We got very lucky. And again, because we had the work of a filmmaker that he edited, he structured it intentionally. He’s got setups to gags and not all of them land. But, you know, once you get past that initial watch, I’ve said it a million times. It’s true. I think everyone who watched this for the first time and in the early section, they’re going to laugh at him and at what he made. It is bizarre and insane and you don’t get the context. But then once you start to learn more about why and how he was making these videos, you are laughing with it. Because you realize there are jokes in there that are intentional, that are meant to land.
This is the kind of filmmaking that won’t be taught in film school. This stuff is every bit as important as the French New Wave. You’ve got to learn about every aspect of filmmaking. Like you know your example. I feel like I would learn more talking to them or watching their stuff than being the millions guy watch Pulp Fiction. But you know, I really like Tarantino. (laughs)
B&S: The guys on The Cannon Canon podcast always say that most film students are going to make low budget genre film anyway. Why not study that? Study how the camera work and editing in Ninja 3: The Domination fakes a helicopter crash and doesn’t show it and you never realize it.
Oscar: We’ve all made our fair share of shit. I certainly have made some horrible stuff. But you know, they always forget to tell you that Scorsese and all these major directors all started out doing low budget crap for Roger Corman. But that’s important. They didn’t just come out of the box as master filmmakers. They made low budget trash.
I always think about the French New Wave. And I get the historical importance of it and the fact that they changed the form. I can respect all that. But I’m sorry, the auteur theory is a bunch of bullshit. Like my name is on the credits. I wasn’t present for at least half of the shoot because the pandemic, I didn’t edit the thing and I didn’t do the score. It’s an obvious humble thing to say of that everyone helps make the movie but it’s true. This is not my film. It’s a film I kind of brought to fruition with my two partners, but it sounds as good as it does and it’s got the empathy that it has because of the crew.
B&S: I love that at face value, you could just have made fun of Charles. Look at this weird farmer trying to make videos. But you allow him to be human and show that he’s actually an artist.
Oscar: We’ve found that the movie plays best at genre and horror festivals. The kind of people who get into trashy stuff and exploitation and horror, I feel they get it more because they’re more sympathetic to the context. It’s a harder sell in a festival with more conventional movies.
This is not like an award season movie. This is not a blockbuster. This is all the outsiders and the weirdos who get it because that you know, Charles is one of them. I’m one of them. You’re one and you know that the horror genre has always been a haven for black storytellers, queer storytellers and people like us It’s more accepting. And you can say more profound stuff, you know, like the political allegory in District Nine. It gets across better than just a conventional apartheid drama. You just do it in a more intelligent way.
B&S: Yet normal people will get upset and say, “They’re making Hellraiser too queer.”
Oscar: Go back and check out who wrote it and directed the first movie. (laughs)
B&S: How did you get all the big names within the found footage world?
Oscar: Back in 2019 when we started filming, we didn’t know Charles’s life story at this point. as we were working on it, COVID happened. It sucked because we sat here for months and couldn’t do anything. I thought, “This is found footage.” Let’s do some research. That’s when we found out there was the Found Footage Festival and Everything Is Terrible!
I met Nick and Joe backstage at a show and showed them footage of Charles and they didn’t know me, but they watched it and became such big supporters, introducing me to people like Karen Kilgariff and Davy Rothbart (FOUND Magazine) and backing the Kickstarter.
Koo Stark took about two years. Understandably, you know, she’s very, very careful about her image because the UK press treated her the same way they treated Princess Diana and Megan Markel. They made her life a living hell. So that took a lot of trust and developing that relationship. She’s wonderful and she got it almost instantly with Charles. She didn’t really understand that she was part of this guy’s story. She just hosted a show he won on. But she was the hardest person to get and the nicest surprise to get her right at the end.
B&S: What directors influence you?
Oscar: Kenneth Branagh, Guillermo del Toro, Edgar Wright — who grew up quite close to Charles — and Danny Boyle. Oh — Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, Sam Raimi, William Friedkin…
B&S: Raimi is the influence for every Shot On Video director I talk to.
Oscar: You know, he’s one of the weirdos who struck gold. I mean, honestly, compare any of the superhero movies now to what he’s doing with those first two Spider-Man movies where they’re just so wonderfully goofy, insincere and shot like a kinetic horror movie. I don’t want to be like yet another guy talking badly about Marvel movies, but I guess I’m just sad that they’re not making comic book movies. I miss the era of Hollywood that was trying to make stuff like The Shadow, The Phantom, Raimi made Darkman. Dick Tracy is one of my favorite films of all time. They’re just comic book movies. They’re great.
I don’t like when filmmakers try to directly copy the comic book look. You can try and recreate a panel but you don’t get the exact feel of it right. When you do it frame by frame, panel by panel, it’s an expensive experiment, but I’ll just read the comic book.
B&S: Have you had any extreme reactions or upset reactions to your film?
Oscar: I think once people find out that Charles was a human being behind it all and a family man and realize that he was a lot more profound than you might think, it’s not as shocking when you just watch the footage.
B&S: You don’t sledgehammer people over the head with it though. That’s why I loved the film so much.
Oscar: We had a remarkable editor, Hannah Christensen, who should be editing every film in Hollywood right now.
There was a scene in a British TV show called Cucumber and there’s a death sequence in that show that inspired me. I really wanted to go all out hopeless and relentlessly dark when Charles’ mother dies and when he gets close to death. Hannah came in and said, “He has to find peace at the end. You need like that moment of calm, because otherwise you’re going to lose people. It’s too relentlessly bleak and cruel.”
She was bang on the money. I trusted her. And it worked a lot better the way she edited it.
B&S: That’s awesome that you can give her that credit. I think that’s part of what makes you so talented that you realize that the team can all be creative and it’s their movie, not just yours.
Oscar: Thank you. It’s not even trying to be nicer and to be humble. I mean, it’s true. This is not my film. It is our film. And, you know, my hope is that, especially Sam Paul Toms and Hannah, the next Marvel movie that comes out they’re scoring and editing it.
B&S: Do you think Charles had any influences?
Oscar: I really do think a lot of his work was just pure Charles Carson. He may have watched The Goon Show or known about Monty Python. I couldn’t say that for sure. I just love the fact that this is a guy who didn’t grow up obsessed with film and then discovered it later in life because he’s bringing in life experiences compared to the rest of us who bring in all these pop culture references.
He wasn’t inspired by anyone, like the old Hollywood directors, because he didn’t grow up watching anyone else. I would argue he — a lot of those directors — is stronger because of that. If they’ve got any influences it’s from the theater or literature or radio plays.
B&S: There’s no nostalgia in his work.
Oscar: I think one of the problems right now is that there are incredibly talented creatives. More talented than me for sure. And it’s just this kind of slightly cannibalistic thing of, I grew up on nostalgia, I’m gonna do my take on nostalgia. And then you know, everyone steals and that’s fine. But it’s just I don’t know. I think it’s harder and harder to get like interesting stuff instead of people saying,”Let’s make another Ghostbusters.” Not to sound like an old man like yelling at the cloud. (laughs)
For example, in the new Hellraiser, it’s got its issues, but I really liked it. The smartest thing they did was someone asked at the q&a, “Why isn’t Pinhead wearing leather?” They had a really intelligent response. “Clive Barker was inspired by the BDSM clubs when he was making that and Hellraiser was his thing to start with. Now, we looked at what could be the new version of that and they looked at extreme body transformation and the Cenobites are wearing their own modifications.”
I thought that’s an interesting way to update something. I think that’s how you reinvent stuff and you do it in a clever way now.
This movie was part of the Another Hole in the Head film festival, which provides a unique vehicle for independent cinema. This year’s festival takes place from December 1st – December 18th, 2022. Screenings and performances will take place at the historic Roxie Cinema, 4 Star Theatre and Stage Werks in San Francisco, CA. It will also take place On Demand on Eventive and live on Zoom for those who can not attend the live screenings. You can learn more about how to attend or watch the festival live on their Eventlive site. You can also keep up with all of my AHITH film watches with this Letterboxd list.