God didn’t make Rambo; I made him!
In the ’80s, Americans found a new brand of movie hero that corresponded precisely with Reagan-era conservative values. Ripped, vengeful and violent, action stars like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson and a beefed-up Bruce Willis helped reestablish myths of rugged individualism, militarism and machismo through an awesome display of fire power and pectoral muscles.
The bang-bang decade that saw the releases of “First Blood,” “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon,” “The Terminator,” “Robocop,” “Top Gun,” “Batman,” “Predator” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” may seem like a distant memory in these leaner Obama days. But the superheroic display of tough guys wreaking havoc continues to have resonance — particularly for the legions of boys whose impressionable minds were shaped by the time, and who are now, some 25 years later, playing out those fantasies once again on screens (with a limited budget).
The story of “Rambo” alone has spawned two recent indie film retellings. In 37-year-old UK director Garth Jennings’ 2007 “Son of Rambow,” two British lads attempt to remake “First Blood” in their neighborhood with a home video camera. And while “Son of Rambow” largely plays its action movie references for laughs, New York theater maven-turned-filmmaker Zachary Oberzan’s no-budget “Flooding with Love for the Kid” (playing at New York’s Anthology Film Archives this week) seems more emblematic of fan fiction. Made by himself in his 220 square foot New York apartment, the movie is a fascinating, self-serious, artisanal reclamation of its source material.
While many fan films are parodies, others pay homage to the original texts — as was the case with “Raiders: The Adaptation,” the shot-for-shot remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” made, over the course of several years, by two Mississippi kids in the ’80s. The video-clerk-homemade films in Michel Gondry’s 2008 “Be Kind Rewind” — “sweded” takes on such era hits as “Ghostbusters,” “RoboCop” and “Back to the Future” — draw laughter, but not because Gondry is making fun of them. The film’s protagonist, a movie-mad Jack Black, never takes his amateur filmmaking less than seriously. For him, and his community, remaking the movies is a deeply personal act of re-appropriation.
Most of the time, this process of video-made reverence goes hand in hand with reliving the filmmakers’ youthful obsessions. Jack Marshall, a director and executive producer on the fan-series “Star Trek: New Voyages,” explained during a 2005 podcast about their productions, “For people who grew up with that series, the overwhelming sense of childhood that washes over you when you walk onto that set, it’s amazing. It’s like going to the home that you grew up in,” he continued. “Everything is familiar; everything is in its place.”
Zachary Oberzan’s return to Rambo as a 35-year-old man also stems from childhood first impressions and a sense of nostalgia. “I was 9 or 10 years old,” recalls Oberzan, about the first time he saw “First Blood,” Ted Kotcheff’s 1982 adaptation of David Morrell’s novel about a mistreated Vietnam vet. “I remember staying up late at night to watch it, and I was very taken by the film, as many young boys were, for a variety of reasons: it’s about being falsely accused, rebelling against authority and the incredible resourcefulness and this superhuman ability to survive.”