‘Blinded’ by the (Video) Light
by Eric Rampson
Mark Pirro might not be a household name – unless, of course, that household contains a family miraculously well-versed in ultra low-budget titles like A POLISH VAMPIRE IN BURBANK (1985), CURSE OF THE QUEERWOLF (1990), or NUDIST COLONY OF THE DEAD (1991) – but he is a prolific and accomplished filmmaker. The aforementioned productions, drawn from Pirro’s filmography, are a combination of “shock” horror and eccentric comedy. His latest feature, COLOR-BLINDED, is much different. The sense of humor remains intact (the ongoing, and hilarious, scatological references), mixed in with supernatural elements (the New Age mysticism, embodied in a potion), but this film is, down to its core, a romantic comedy.
COLOR-BLINDED centers on a pair of African-American friends, Melanie (Luella Hill) and Tess (Verda Bridges). Tess is a tireless self-improver, having been dumped by her white boyfriend, Phil (Jim Rainey). After spotting Phil at a restaurant with a new, white girlfriend, Tess begins to plant the seeds of doubt into Melanie’s mind about the intentions of her own white beau, Dave (Luke Vitale). Melanie questions Dave’s love and, by accident, takes an elixir originally given to Tess by the assertiveness seminar guru to “grant her her heart’s desire.” Trying to fall asleep that evening, Melanie wishes she could be sure that Dave loves her, that he isn’t just playing with her as a toy until a beautiful white woman comes along.
Melanie wakes up the next morning to find a gorgeous, blue-eyed, blonde-haired white woman staring back at her in the mirror thanks to the magic potion. As her newfound alter ego, “Ivory Snow,” Melanie proceeds to tempt Dave to see if skin color really does matter to him.
The film is full of witty dialogue and interesting film technique, and Pirro manages to coax solid performances out of his actors, well designed lighting schemes out of basic equipment, and a true “film” look out of video footage. It was this last aspect that truly grabbed my attention. As a wannabe filmmaker, I’ve played around with video, and its greatest weakness has always seemed to be just that – it’s freakin’ video. The finished product ends up looking like A) a high-school Spanish class project, or B) HOW STELLA GOT HER TUBE PACKED, but Pirro got around all that using a technique called “Pirrovision.” By employing several filters that are part and parcel of the Adobe Premiere desktop editing software, he made his video movie look like a 16mm, black-and-white film.
I mean, it really looks like film. Really.
Sure, there are moments when certain lighting effects or a camera angle will let a little of that “video look” come through, but for all intents and purposes, this movie feels like it was shot on film. Hurrah for Pirro and the deadly blow he has struck against that nasty video stigma encircling all our moviemaking dreams!
This computer-based flexibility has really excited Pirro. “Before COLOR-BLINDED, I had only shot film,” begins Pirro, running the gamut from Super8 on POLISH VAMPIRE, QUEERWOLF, and NUDIST COLONY to 35mm on DEATHROW GAMESHOW (1987) and BUFORD’S BEACH BUNNIES (1992). “I had edited on video in the past, but [only] linear. In the making of COLOR-BLINDED, I got more and more into digital technology. I’m still amazed at the control one has now. Once [the film] was in post-production, I never had to leave my home editing suite for anything!” On how all this new technology has affected his filmmaking in general, Pirro says, “It’s brought more control to me, especially in post-production. In the past, I’d always have to rely on a sound designer, composer, someone with an editing facility, etc. All that is no longer necessary. With the new technology, you can literally do it yourself.”
Pirro sees this digital revolution, coupled with the industry’s current emphasis on independent films, as “a wonderful thing for first-time filmmakers.” In discussion, Pirro talked of his early days and the capital one had to scrape together to put even a small film into production. With costs dropping, since video is now a viable and, as always, much cheaper alternative to film, anyone with the hankering can pick up a camera, gather a few friends, and start to shoot the Great American Film.
COLOR-BLINDED is not just notable for its technical aspects, though. Oh, no, no, noooo, quite to the contrary. The movie is also notable in terms of Pirro’s long career. After the horror-comedies of his earlier work, why would Pirro make a romantic comedy, albeit in his trademark offbeat style? Pirro quips, “You can only tell so many stories about vampires, queerwolves, werewolves, and nudists. It was only a matter of time.” Pirro still set out to make this story in his usual way. What is the “usual” way? “I’ve been referred to by others as offbeat, unusual, bizarre, sick, and out there. I guess if I had to make a judgment, I’d have to say my style is irreverent.” COLOR-BLINDED is irreverent. The story takes potshots at New Age mysticism, misogyny, and race relations from both sides of the issue. Beyond that, the combination of a white, male filmmaker presenting black females as his main characters in a racially driven picture might have been touchy. Was it? “Nope,” says Pirro, “although there were some early development questions about keeping the line, ‘She’s reneging’ … but funny is funny.”
For acting talent, Pirro also stuck to his S.O.P. (that’s Standard Operating Procedure, ya mooks). “My first films were cast mainly with Universal City Studios tour guides whom I met when I was a guide there,” he remembers. “Today I will put the casting information in various trade papers … or just go to a good restaurant and ask the waiters.” Some directors consider actors to be a necessary evil, while others are considered to be “actors’ directors” that relish collaboration. Where does Pirro fall? “I get along with most actors. However, I’ve always had at least one actor on every film screw me up. In COLOR-BLINDED, the original lead actress was fired after two days because she developed a bit of an attitude. She was then replaced by Dani Leon,” a veteran of POLISH VAMPIRE and the stage version (yes, the stage version) of NUDIST COLONY OF THE DEAD.
Pirro’s script is ambitious and humorous. To be honest, it doesn’t hit all the time, but few films do. Pirro’s film wisely hits at the critical moments – the jokes are always funny and the important moments shine through. His actors do a great job with the script, led by Verda Bridges’ truly stunning comedic performance as Tess. “So, Eric, is it a good movie?” you, the reader, ask. Well, yes it is. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and suggest that you run out and try to find a copy now because it’s well worth the visit, if ya ask me. Or, even if you don’t since this is my article and I’ll feel free to dispense advice at the drop of the hat to a captive audience.
As for the future, Pirro elaborates that, “I’ve been working on a screenplay entitled J2K: JESUS 2000. It’s been a slow project in creating and I may shelve the concept or at the very least change the title. As one gets older, I find it’s tough to keep the comedy on the cutting edge; I suppose it’s mainly because there are so many younger writers out there that have a better grasp on it. I also have three other scripts in the works. So whatever one gets finished first and is funny will be the one.”
If he’s worried about cutting-edge comedy, I don’t think he has to be. His ideas are out there and strange, and that’s naturally going to lead to funny, weird films. More importantly, though, Mark Pirro has a love and energy in his films that’s just gonna make everything okay. And that, folks, is what making movies is all about.