Dan Zukovic: The Culture is Going Down On Itself (Still)

Episode 14 January 02, 2024 01:33:22
Dan Zukovic: The Culture is Going Down On Itself (Still)
The Exile Hour
Dan Zukovic: The Culture is Going Down On Itself (Still)

Jan 02 2024 | 01:33:22


Show Notes

"The camera has unbound daemonic Western imagination. Cinema is sexual showing, a pagan flaunting. Plot and dialogue are obsolete word-baggage. Cinema, the most eye-intense of genres, has restored pagan antiquity's cultic exhibitionism. Spectacle is a pagan cult of the eye." —Camille Paglia

Dan Zukovic (c. 19??) is a North American writer/director, actor, and musician who exists within a rarefied lineage of American actor/auteurs that take on a wide variety of film & television roles in order to fund their own uncompromising & visionary films; projects that fall outside the bounds of the conventional marketplace, typified by themes, elements, and/or subject matter that often call into question the motivations and machinations of said marketplace, as well as the culture at large.

Much like the groundbreaking 20th century composer Edgard Varèse, Zukovic's own films are few in number, but stand apart as richly complex worlds unto themselves, often containing a shocking degree of prescience and cultural/psychological insight into the time periods from which they emerge and what's likely coming down the pike—time capsules beyond time. His films are characterized by a Hitchcock-like employment of fetishized visual symbols & imagery, mercilessly sardonic humor, and a devilish use of dialogue that borders on the Shakespearean.

Zukovic himself emerged from the Vancouver punk scene of the late 1970s as a member of The Gargoyles. He wrote and directed three incendiary short films, Now Renting (1993), Conjurer of Monikers (1994), and Vertman (1994) in addition to several works for the stage, before releasing his debut feature The Last Big Thing (1996) which is probably the most explosively scathing and hilarious cinematic indictment of nascent hypermodernity, with its increasingly cathexis-like obsession with pop culture and what Zukovic's character Simon Geist describes in the film as the "LA fame need". The film is something of a gnostic millenarian followup to Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust. The movie tagline is: "The culture is going down on itself... go ahead, Scream!".

Following a limited theatrical release, The Last Big Thing sporadically aired on the Showtime channel for a number of years, allowing the film to experience something approximating the phenomenon of a "cult" following, although it still remains something of an obscurity (as of this posting is still unavailable to stream or purchase on DVD). Bob Sagat and Norm Macdonald likely drew elements from the movie for their 1998 black comedy Dirty Work.

As the 1990s independent cinema era came to an inexorable close and the technocratic internet age rose towards unprecedented prominence and power, Zukovic managed to release his second independent feature, Dark Arc in 2004. Zukovic playing one of the three leads—his character Viscount Laris is reminiscent of the eccentric recluse and dandyish aesthete Jean des Esseintes from Huysmans' novel Against Nature—becomes enmeshed in a "sicky eccentric" love triangle. Like des Esseintes, Laris attempts to escape his own time which he views as an aesthetic wasteland in which the [decadent] culture has become inundated and deluged by an inescapable and seemingly endless glut of mediated images, both ephemeral and meaningless in their consumerist design & intent.

His form of escapism consists primarily of carrying around a personal "image horde" with him at all times—a carefully curated retinal museum containing only the most enduringly charged and powerful images collected over his lifetime, used to counteract the daily visual morass. Laris selects an image or series of images from his horde, sometimes framing certain aspects of them, and then gazes upon them with full intensity for extended periods (often under the influence of his favored substance, tincture of opium) before blotting out his vision entirely with a pair of fully enclosed blindglasses. The film is Zukovic at his most Shakespearean, darkly obsessive, and bizarrely fetishistic.

In 2014, Zukovic released his third feature Scammerhead, a wildly ambitious techno-accelerationist international neo-noir shot and edited over the course of eight years in myriad locations across the globe. Zukovic plays the lead Silas Breece, a fast-talking, fedora wearing, pin-stripe suited, and Bluetoothed visionary hustler with a Napoleon obsession and a highly checkered past involving a smorgasbord of various scams, schemes, and identities, all with their own elaborately constructed personae. Breece starts to get in over his noggin when his hustle-du-jour of scamming high-risk wealthy investors, whom he refers to as "party boys", attracts some more nefarious high-level organized crime figures. Unable to resist, he persuades them to invest their millions into a variety of increasingly outlandish high-end/exclusive investment projects destined to never get off the ground.

Similar to Guy Grand in Terry Southern's The Magic Christian, each successive doomed project is more far-fetched and absurdly grandiose in scale than the last, getting Breece in increasingly hot water with an international syndicate of mobster "party boy" investors known as The Consortium. Breece is capital personified and incarnate, reaping the fullest enjoyment from taking the biggest short-term risks, perpetually kicking the can down the road regardless of who or how many he potentially takes down with him when the cursed bull invariably bucks.

Unlike the classic gemeinschaft social relations of the old mob that Breece seemingly venerates, he is local to nowhere and personally tied to no one. He’s a genuine outsider whose excitement comes in the form of "pulling shit", letting the chips fall where they may with reckless abandon. The film features an unforgettable performance by legendary character actor Alex Rocco, who died less than a year after the movie's release.

Most recently, Zukovic returned to the short film format for the first time in nearly 30 years with the soon to be released Mississippi Blood Slide. Zukovic takes on the lead role once again playing Jed Gintlin, a possibly deranged, delusional, and unhinged middle-aged neophyte of the slide guitar who is determined to become the all-time greatest slide guitar player not by practicing and refining his abilities over a longer expanse of time, but simply by drilling a hole in his glass slide and filling it with Mississippi river water sourced from Southern cities that are well known for their rich musical legacies and traditions. When this approach fails to improve his playing, he gets the idea to start injecting other kinds of fluid into the slide (and down his own gullet).
Some of Zukovic's other acting roles include performances in Days of Our Lives, The X-Files, Puppet Master 4, One Life to Live, Matlock, and Oliver Stone's The Doors.
Streaming/download links for Dan Zukovic's films:

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