Remarking on the high cost and trenchant exclusivity of the cinema, Jean Cocteau famously suggested that film would only become an art when its materials were as inexpensive as pencil and paper. Of course, he was being slightly facetious, but with the arrival of digital video technology and the rapid decrease of its expense in the last decade, just about anyone nowadays can make a feature-length film with some gumption and a meager amount of cash. With this in mind, it’s downright incredible to witness the inventiveness that no-budget filmmakers employ to set their work apart from the millions of yahoos running around with Flip Minos and too much time on their hands. To even come close to creating an “authentic” mise-en-scène without the aid of set design or good lighting is itself a major feat, but to naturally maintain an audience’s suspension of disbelief without recourse to anything save a performance and some props is nothing short of a miracle.
Realizing the opportunities presented by recent developments in cheap digital technology, director Zachary Oberzan set out to make a feature-length adaptation of David Morrell’s debut novel, First Blood, in his 220 sq. ft. Manhattan studio apartment with nothing more than a single camera, editing software, and roughly $96. Playing all of the characters himself and superimposing poorly rendered photographs of Gulf gas stations and country roads where germane to the Rambo narrative, Oberzan surprisingly creates a convincing cinematic environment out of pretty much nothing. Whereas Ted Kotcheff’s 1982 adaptation of the novel served primarily as a vehicle to boost Sylvester Stallone’s acting career through a relatively black-and-white story of good guy vs. bad town, Oberzan focuses on the central ambivalence of Morrell’s admittedly slipshod book. In Flooding with Love for the Kid, as in the book, Rambo and Sheriff Teasle are equally sympathetic characters—victims of the horrors of their respective tours of duty, the former in Vietnam and the latter in Korea. Each man broken in his own way, each tragically unable to reconcile civilian life with his respective wartime brutality.
To say that Morrell’s First Blood is deeper than Kotcheff and Stallone’s 1982 film adaptation of it is akin to comparing a rivulet to a creek—both of them largely insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The fact that Morrell’s novel was essentially a semi-pulpy and exploitative story of gory violence and psychosis makes it all the more apparent that Oberzan has a certain genius about him. Taking into account the impossibility of making his apartment look even remotely similar to the locations depicted in Morrell’s novel of post-Vietnam War alienation, the director leaves his dwelling pretty much the way it is, with a futon, refrigerator, DVD collection, and unwashed dishes clearly visible throughout high-tension sequences of Sherrif Teasle’s obsessive manhunt for Rambo through a wild Kentucky forest. While this seems like it might inspire laughs and plant ironic tongues firmly within their cheeks, the film has an uncanny way of rising above its piss-poor set decorations.
Oberzan has crafted something remarkably transcendent with Flooding With Love For The Kid, a singular piece of art based upon one of the most insignificant of the Vietnam War novels of the early 70s. By attuning his gaze toward the murky ethics presented by Morrell’s basic story, he crafts a hypnotic story of the inevitable tragedy that didn’t make it into the final cut of Kotcheff’s action movie—Rambo and Teasle both die, and Teasle, in his last moments, realizes the sick love he feels for his enemy. “I shot him, and all at once I didn’t hate him anymore.” This is the essence of what Morrell was grasping at, something that Oberzan has captured through sheer determination… and $96.