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"I hate flying, right. I'm a back seat driver and ...you know, somebody says, 'Well, don't worry about it. If it ain't your time to go it ain't your time to go.' What if it's the pilot's time to go? What do you do about that one, huh?"
DVD ReviewMichael Bennett is a man who appears to be on the brink of a breakdown. He can hardly sit still, talks wildly, drinks alcohol for breakfast, and is at home for only six days a month. He is also is a remarkable car salesman, so good in fact that he travels around the country helping dealerships liquidate their lots. In the car industry, Michael is called a "Slasher" because he slashes prices in order to sell a minimum of 30-40 cars in a single weekend.
John Landis' documentary Slasher, made for the Independent Film Channel, is a salad bowl of themes and moods. It contains the cynicism of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, especially with the opening sequence that highlights the famous lies of America's presidents (from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush). Simultaneously, however, it contains interesting moments of triumph. Bennett may never be able to relax while working and there is no way he'll be able to clear an entire lot of used cars, but he has a wife and two daughters that he can always look forward to seeing when he returns home. The radical variances between moods makes for an interesting, but unbalanced, viewing experience.
The subject of this documentary is Bennett's trip to the Chuck Hut Toyota dealership in Memphis, Tennessee. Bennett is appalled to learn upon his arrival that the dealership only manages to sell 40 cars per month. The salesman and manager, Clarence, look forward to his arrival, hoping that he will turn their dwindling sales around. The humidity and Elvis paraphernalia get only brief mentions from Bennett and his partners, DJ Kevin and mercenary salesman Mud, as they prepare for the upcoming sale. Landis and his editor, Martin Apelbaum, employ jazz music and jump cuts to make for a viscerally thrilling experience as the men explain their plans.
Listening to Bennett and his associates is the most interesting element of the movie. On repeated occasions Bennett speaks about how he can't stand car salesmen who lie, but in the next breath he brags about how he suckers people into thinking he's giving them a deal. Technically he isn't lying to the customer, but he is certainly misleading them. He is right in asserting that people unfairly assume that a car salesman lies, but his behavior and attitude don't do much to dispel that notion either. There is a sense that Kevin, who not only works with Bennett but is also a friend, is at times embarrassed by the loudmouth antics his friend pursues. Unfortunately the relationships are only hinted at, so much of it remains a mystery to the viewer.
This is Landis' first venture in the realm of documentary filmmaking, and he succeeds mostly. Everything that builds up to the car sale is exciting and entertaining, with interesting observations about the life of a car salesman. It is clear that Landis both pities and admires this vocation. Unfortunately, the actual depiction of the sale is a disappointment. Bennett becomes lost in the shuffle, with Landis redirecting his attention towards Mud for an unbearable amount of time. He also follows a few of the people home after they purchase a car, but this is completely inconsistent with the rest of the documentary. Until that point, Slasher has been about the men who sell you a car and the process that goes on behind the consumers' backs. These vignettes of the customers realizing they have disappointing cars comprise another topic for another film.
John Landis made a name for himself in 1978 with Animal House. Now he has taken the risk of entering into new territory in the middle of his career with mixed results. He has the aesthetics down cold, with great editing and clear images from the digital video. Unfortunately, the storytelling is confused during the second half of the documentary. Instead of focusing on the life of a car salesman, Landis attempts to tell a more epic tale, but he doesn't have enough time to develop it. Michael Bennett is a truly interesting character, it's a shame Landis loses sight of that.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Slasher is presented in a nonanamorphic, single layer 1.78:1 widescreen transfer. The fact that the image looks dull, with bland colors and two-dimensional images, is a result of the source material being shot on video. Despite the shortcomings of the format, the images do look good considering. Grain is present in lowly lit scenes, but it is not distracting. Fleshtones are accurate and the minimal amount of detail captured by the video is present. There are no noticeable problems with the transfer, in terms of edge enhancement or compression artifacts, but the image is not an feast for the eyes.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Stereo 2.0 sound mix protrudes from the front soundstage with clear, pleasant results. Dialogue is audible and the jazz soundtrack has a load of pep. A scene with rain falling gives a nice feel for the environment on screen. There are no flashy sound movements between the speakers, but the documentary's comment would not support such gimmicks. The sound mix as a whole is not dynamic, but it is nice.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, The Legend of Ron Jeremy, Lost in La Mancha, The Smashing Machine, The Weather Underground
11 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Landis, Chris Kobin, Martin Apelbaum, Gary DePew
In relation to Slasher, there are biographies provided for John Landis, producer Chris Kobin, line producer Gary DePew, and editor Martin Apelbaum. The biography text cards are brief and superficial. All four men contribute for a feature-length commentary that contains many silent pauses and jokes being made amongst themselves. Occasionally a story is mentioned about how the movie originated and some of the struggles inherent in making a documentary, but it primarily consists of amusing tangents. There is also an IFC "Making Of" featurette (07m:53s) that features very brief glimpses of behind-the-scenes footage and an interview with Landis. For the most part, this is an extended trailer for the movie with highlights from the documentary. The final feature in this set is 11 deleted scenes, totaling for a runtime of 8m:49s. Most of the scenes are under a minute in length and wisely cut out.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsDocurama has done well with Slasher. The movie is an enjoyable, if not wholly satisfying, experience. The transfer accurately reflects the source material and the sound mix nicely presents the soundtrack. The extras include additional information that helps in better understanding Michael Bennett, but there isn't anything that really delves into the process of how the documentary got made.
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