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This Old House

Dream homes for dreamers

Director Chris Smith has an eerie way of getting into the heads of some very peculiar characters. His movies prove the point that life is sometimes stranger than fiction. Smith's second documentary, American Movie about struggling filmmaker Mark Borchardt, garnered him rave reviews and left an indelible (whether you like it or not) memory. His latest work, Home Movie, is no different.

The doc looks at five unusual homes and the inhabitants that occupy them. The homes take center stage and the people living in them fade into the background as some seemingly nice but freaky inhabitants. You are introduced to five states in which the homes are located: Louisiana where a house boat that sleeps eleven (comfortably) floats in the middle of a bayou; Illinois where a futuristic home brings new meaning to the term "wired"; Kansas, where a peace lovin', drum-circle playin', middle-aged hippy lives in an abandoned missile silo; a tree house in "the most remote land on earth" in Hawai'i; and cat heaven in California.

If thoughts of old ladies festering in houses full of cats and furballs disturb you, then steer clear from Bob Walker and Francis Mooney's place. The total comfort of their cats (who knows how many they actually have, but they're all fat) is their highest priority. They've spent over $10,000 on renovating their home to create a giant playpen for the felines.

This couple is the scariest; they even turned down their college bound niece when she asked if she could stay at their place because it would take away from their cats' frolicking space. The light that shines through Bob and Francis' eyes when they talk about their cats could burn a hole through a dog.

All of the homeowners are varying degrees of bad accidents - they're so disturbing that you want to look away yet you just can't peel your eyes from the screen. Everything in Ben Skora's house is electronicized, from the chairs to the toilet. His "friend" (you never know if she's his partner-in-crime or his lover) is a wanna-be actress/wanna-be psychic who strives to be as famous as Julia Roberts and who also wants her mother to teach her some psychic skills so that she can find missing children. Enough said. Skora's house wins the prize for having the coolest door and sucking away half the town's electricity.

The Japanese cult actress Linda Beech lives in a tree house in the middle of freakin' nowhere in the rainforest of Hawai'i. Of course, she has a waterfall going through her backyard, so that adds to its appeal. How someone as old as her can live as roughly as that is a miracle in and of itself. In one scene, she rattles about obliviously, and then hugs the tree on which her home is built. However, her insightful, charming banter and the fact that she has a gen-u-ine houseboy saves her from being seen as a just another crazy old lady livin' in the woods.

The other two homes are just as bizarre. Ed and Diana Peden seemed to have missed the bus for San Francisco. So they settled for a missile silo in Kansas. As Ed talks softly about the "negative energy" in what used to be the control center and is now his living room, complete with lava lamps and patchouli incense, he marvels that merely pushing a button could have "killed millions of people in Russia." You get the feeling that one day Ed's gonna snap. Maybe living underground, surrounded by concrete and thinking of death will get to him. But as his wife brags, "We have the biggest basement in town."

Bill Tregle is the white trash version of The Crocodile Hunter. He spends his days with his father curing alligator and croc heads. Ironically, he seems like the most down to earth subject of the entire film. He lives simply and lives on a houseboat that just missed the cut-off for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. For a couple pieces of wood nailed together, he has made a nice place out of his home.

Smith tries to be as unobtrusive as he can in terms of his editing all while doing something as intimate as sneaking about strangers' homes with a camera. In the end you feel you got taken on a very interesting and entertaining, if not voyeuristic, ride through these peoples' lives. Plus, it's always nice to see people that are more screwed than you. This is a light documentary that you can sit back, relax and enjoy. These might not be your dream real estate but, as Mr. Tregle quips, "This is what we call home."

Also playing with Home Movie is the cult-classic Heavy Metal Parking Lot by John Heyn and Jeff Krulik. The two filmmakers grabbed a public access camera and went to capture the goings on at a tailgate party before a Judas Priest concert at the Capital Centre in Largo, Maryland in 1986. The footage looks like that of a home movie, which makes it all the more eerie. They interview groups of people, mostly men (but, then again, who can tell the difference through all that feathered hair) standing around their Camaros drinking bad beer and bragging about being on drugs.


Home Movie
1 hour 20 minutes

Starring Linda Beech
Directed by Chris Smith