Dangerous Men Dir. John S. Rad

[Drafthouse Films; 2015]

Styles: action, thriller, art brut
Others: Miami Connection, Twin Dragon Encounter, Ben and Arthur

There’s a pretty decent stock of pieces online right now that do an excellent job of laying out the mind-boggling details surrounding the production of this film. That director/producer/editor/production designer/composer/set decorator John S. Rad (born Jahangir Salehi Yeganehrad) was a personal filmmaker to the Shah of Iran and had boatloads of cash and cars and a pet horse for his daughter before the revolution caused him to flee with his family to America with virtually nothing. That it took him 26 years from start to finish to make Dangerous Men owing to his insistence on not taking money from any outside source — leaving him in the unenviable position of being able to shoot only tiny snippets here and there between raising more money at his day job as an architect. And I’d encourage you to seek those pieces out, because it really is a pretty remarkable story (told primarily by his daughter, Samira Wenzel). However, the reason I think as highly of this movie as I do (and the reason I hope you will, too) is the sheer single-minded insanity of it. If you’re in the right frame of mind, everything that exists outside of what’s happening on this screen won’t matter while what’s happening on screen is happening.

Owing to its fraught production schedule, Dangerous Men functions more like three loosely related vignettes bound up with the themes of violence (both sexual and the regular kind), revenge, and, much lower on the list, justice. Capitalizing on some pretty rote touchstones of the sexploitation genre, Rad’s camera lingers far too long (and because of this, pretty comedically) on female bodies in various stages of undress. However, what separates Dangerous Men from other sexually violent films of the 70s and 80s is the odd and almost alien way the director approaches sexuality — and pretty much every other human interaction, come to think of it. Watching the way Rad’s characters interact is something truly singular, not particularly mind blowing, but compelling in its own right. And it’s compelling not merely because it’s so shoddily made; there’s an undeniable intentionality to the weirdness of this movie that sets it apart from merely badly done works of cinema.

By the time the first arc in Dangerous Men has just stopped without even a pretense of conclusion, we’re pretty much beyond the point of caring about the particulars of the story, because what’s unfolding on screen somehow transcends the limitations of its laughably juvenile narrative. Even without knowing that it wasn’t possible for Rad to continue the story since the people playing those characters were significantly older by the time he could finally afford to keep going, it somehow makes sense that the director would completely abandon the central focus of his film to shift his attention to a loosely related yet-no-less-violent storyline with characters from the first arc being taken over by other actors. And while there isn’t much tying the three story arcs together, it’s impossible to overstate just how inappropriately and quizzically Rad uses his limited, self-produced score. A recurrent, oddly happy and upbeat synthed-out theme rears its head seemingly at random throughout the film, regardless of the tone of each scene in which you’ll find it. It’s also a kind of messed up earworm, and everyone I know who’s seen it can’t get that weird happy/funky tune out of their heads for at least a couple of days. So I guess you’re warned, now.

Dangerous Men presents an opportunity for to examine what it is that makes outsider art/art brut compelling, and how one can square the vagaries of “so bad it’s good” movies with their sometimes unintended and certainly unforseeable importance. Rad seems to be thinking of humanity in a way completely foreign to our understanding, and he was single-minded enough to spend 26 years making sure this unique (though pretty poorly realized) vision of his was presented exactly the way he wanted it to be. There’s something to be said for that, no matter what structural, emotional, or artistic failings this film might have (hint: it has plenty). There is no satisfying denouement in Dangerous Men. The film just sort of stops after meandering down an only barely tangential plot thread. To be completely frank, if the intriguing circumstances surrounding this film’s construction were missing, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Dangerous Men this many years after it was finally completed in 2005, but I tend to take issue with those who would say that events surrounding the creation of a film itself shouldn’t factor into its relative merits. This film is a tour de force, a weird art object that engenders a deep desire to come back again and again to view it, if only to try and comprehend more and on a deeper level why it is that you still want to watch such an ostensibly bad thing. It’s lovely.

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