Film discussion

8mm – Throwback 20

So, what happens when you mix a post-Con Air Nicolas Cage with a post-Batman & Robin Joel Schumacher and a story involving underground porn and snuff films? You have 1999’s 8mm.

20 years on from its release, 8mm is far from being the first, second or third recommendation of a Nicolas Cage prior to his 2000s parody turn. However, when looking for a weird, pre-parody Nicolas Cage film that is not Con Air, then without doubt, one of the best recommendations would be 8mm.

8mm is, essentially, about the journey of Nicolas Cage’s Tom Welles from regular, married, private detective to borderline psychopath. Welles is hired by Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter) and her attorney, Daniel Longdale (Anthony Heald – yes the creep from The Silence of the Lambs), to track down the origin of a snuff video found within a safe belonging to a recently-deceased but financially well-off husband. Welles’ journey takes him through a sex shop,where Joaquin Phoenix’s hilarious Max California works, to the underground porn video sales, and to sadistic productions of harder porn and snuff.

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Now famed for memes, an array of direct-to-video releases and Mandy, Nicolas Cage’s career in film, to put it lightly, sometimes leaves one speechless. On the “Crazy Cage Scale”, 8mm lacks the god tier qualities found in the likes of Con Air and Face/Off during Cage’s 1995-98 career peak, but it is wild enough in story content alone to be close to the top of the scale. Despite this, there is a notion that 8mm is a forgotten film from Cage’s career, almost from an era ranging from Face/Off to The Wicker Man where the only films remembered are Gone in 60 Seconds and National Treasure.

Dismissing the Crazy Cage scale etc. for a moment, and observing what 8mm is actually about, it is arguable to suggest that, as a film, it really is a product of its time and could not be made now. 8mm’s lack of possibility to be made in 2019 is not because of its vulgarity here and there, but because of pornographic movie consumption being parallel to watching videos on YouTube, and no longer having a meaningful or infamous presence on VHS. Do people even buy porn mags anymore either? Additionally, 8mm is quite remarkable in that it is a film about porn which is not a drama or comedy. Preceding 8mm’s 1999 release, the acclaimed Boogie Nights and porn-parody Orgazmo were both released in 1997 (US), and then fast-forward to 2008, you have Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

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Unlike Boogie Nights, 8mm was not received well by critics and did not receive any Oscar nominations like the PTA hipster hit. Instead, its sadism and general vulgarity were criticised. Despite the 90s possessing a slight revisionism of being 100% edgy and dangerous, 8mm was a little too hot to handle. But maybe the hottest aspect of 8mm was its director, Joel Schumacher, directing this film straight after Batman & Robin – from Bat-nipples to dodgy porn, essentially.  

Ultimately, how is 8mm remembered? Ironically, the early 90s was slightly contagious of films centering on the erotica of sex (Basic Instinct and Slither), but come the end of the decade, you are presented with the vulgar and malicious sides of sex, in 8mm – the 90s started with the good, and concluded with both the bad and ugly. 8mm is great in that it was ballsy enough to attempt a story exploring this side of pornographic film. Like many great films, 8mm has a sequel: 8mm 2. And like many direct-to-video sequels, 8mm 2 has no connection to the original film.  

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