Egosploitation is about bad moviemakers pretending to be things they are not: cool, desirable, popular, wise, tough, etc. Their filmic endeavours are essentially just outlets for an over-inflated ego. Commonly, these endeavours take the form of genre movies, but whether it's an embarrassing old man pretending to be Steve McQueen, or an embarrassing young man pretending to be Jean-Claude Van Damme, genre movies feature stock characters that audiences understand and want to see. Theoretically. Crucially, the egosploitationist wants to be the archetype for the same reasons the audience want to see that archetype on screen. That creates a symbiotic relationship, a degree of two-way communication between filmmaker and viewer that can influence both parties. The dream-cypher character at the centre of the movie might be an entirely narcissistic creation, but it's one audiences know and are attracted to. That it makes us laugh is usually down to the egosploitationist being so woefully unqualified to be Steve McQueen or Jean-Claude Van Damme. In other words it isn't the idea, it's the execution that's funny.
Give me all the Breen
Steve Barkett is not Steve McQueen, but it didn't stop him pretending
"Something big's about to happen. Something... evil."
-Steve Barkett in Empire of the Dark
There are a smaller number of more ambitious egosploitationists who do have funny ideas, and they usually deal in melodramatic constructs rather than merely painting themselves as the one-dimensional hero of a genre movie. In many ways their alter egos, the dream-cyphers they create for themselves, work in similar ways. Although there tends to be more focus on righteous wisdom than physical prowess, they're still shoddy imitations of aspirational cinematic archetypes. While that means they may be familiar to audiences, they are likely to be less clearly defined and more idiosyncratic caricatures.
Tommy Wiseau in The Room. Don't trust anyone
"They betrayed me, they didn't keep their promise, they tricked me, and I don't care anymore."
-Tommy Wiseau in The Room
Whereas the first group, the action exploitationists, just want to be something, this second group also wants to say something. In the case of a movie like The Room, Tommy Wiseau wants to be the popular guy. But he also wants to tell us how friends, lovers and employers cannot be trusted, how they will inevitably betray you, how people have darkness in their hearts. In Ben & Arthur, Sam Mraovich is less interested in what we think of him than in what he thinks. His movie is a diatribe about (what he sees as) the politically endorsed marginalisation of the American gay man. This is the point at which commercialism starts to give way to evangelism, where the movies become more selfish and inward looking. All egosploitationists lack self-awareness, so if their creative objectives require them to express deep feelings and beliefs, they often reveal more of themselves than real filmmakers might. They don't know the limits and can't see when they've reached them. Without understanding how artists tend to channel and interpret their thoughts, the egosploitationist will just lay them bare. That ham-fisted frankness adds another layer to the appeal of egosploitation, and can make kitchen sink schlock that little bit more interesting than genre movies.
Neil Breen in Fateful Findings
"I'm feeling less stable!"
-Neil Breen in Fateful Findings
Pushing egosploitation as far as it will go, and affording us horribly detailed glimpses into their psyche as they do it, is a third group; one with not the slightest concern either for audiences or cinematic conventions, and its poster boy is Neil Breen. Neil Breen's movies eschew all familiar structure, scenarios and archetypes. They're one-way transmissions projected straight from his subconscious onto screens that don't deserve such ignominy. Totally unfiltered by cinematic language, they wash over you in waves of egotistical absurdity. Neil Breen has claimed to be completely uninfluenced by other filmmakers, and is clearly unfamiliar with how narrative and character work in normal movies. I believe he sees himself as an abstract artist, but if a filmmaker is going to go abstract it's arguably even more important for them to understand film grammar. Neil Breen not only doesn't understand it, he believes he doesn't need it. In thinking he knows better, he is only giving audiences what he wants, not what they want. He and his films exist in a vacuum, nothing but Neil Breen's mindbrain has impacted on them. That's big part of why he's the best example of an egosploitationist, his movies are the most selfish, the most inward looking and the clearest manifestations of another human being's unguarded subconscious. That would be good if he were a great artist.
The results of one of Neil Breen's regular moralistic massacres
"I have eliminated those who pollute the planet's natural resources."
-Neil Breen in I Am Here... Now
I've written before about the wonder that is Neil Breen. On the day of his 59th birthday I thought it might be more fun to think about the extraordinary shit he gets away with. His movies are like hypnosis through narcissism, we excuse Neil Breen all sorts of appalling behaviour because he's, well, he's The Breen Machine! His characters are seen as cuddly weirdos, but what they actually are is terrible monsters. Like an actress from a 1990s Miramax production, I feel compelled to highlight this misconception.
In Fateful Findings he ignores his depressed wife, instead banging on incessantly about his own non-problems, until she finally commits suicide. Within minutes, and with no sign of remorse, he's shacked up with someone else. Most of his movies end with the genocide of those he deems somehow unfit to live. By the time he made Pass Thru, his most recent work, the list of unworthy pariahs extended well beyond the politicians and businessmen he started with, and the insurance, motor and pharmaceutical industry workers he took against soon after. He now also singles out accountants, bankers, lawyers, those from 'educational and environmental systems', the media, security guards and reality TV show contestants(!?). To want everyone working within all those industries to be dead is sociopathic. Anticipating who will be added to the list for his next movie is just a matter of considering who's likely to have pissed him off this year. Mass murder is not an acceptable reaction to disillusionment with an industry or institution. And when he's not unleashing genocide, Neil Breen has a penchant for incomprehensible evil. In Double Down he develops bioweapons for use on the public, and has rigged the world's major cities to explode if anything ever happens to him. Think about that. If he falls down and bangs his head while skipping about on one of those rocky banks in the Nevada desert, millions of innocent people will die.
Stop touching younger naked women!
Given that Neil Breen's characters are so obviously projections of his idealised self-image, we should be genuinely concerned by what they get up to. But, at the end of the day, they are still characters. What of Neil Breen the man? We can assume he's pretty lazy, but more troublingly he seems extremely sexist. In Double Down the actress playing his wife is obviously horribly uncomfortable with the nudity expected of her, and seems to cringe every time Neil Breen paws at her. I Am Here... Now is full of young women, none of whom have been allowed to wear a bra, with their blouses hanging open to the navel. There's absolutely no legitimate reason for it and it looks plain weird. In Fateful Findings a schoolgirl obsesses over Neil Breen and tries to seduce him. And there's altogether far too much of him touching, kissing and stripping younger women in unjustifiable circumstances.
That, in a nutshell, is why Neil Breen appears to be a creepy psychopath. Rather worrying, then, that I love his work so much.
VIDEO: I, Breen: Why I Love Neil Breen
VIDEO: Announcement from Neil Breen
Copyright Neil Breen
I Want More Breen