This weekend brings a pair of documentaries about strange forms of notoriety to the Carlton Cinema in Toronto: Slaughter Nick for President and Skull World. Both films are hilarious and inspiring looks at people who love what they do and deeply appreciate the efforts of those around them. One of them just happens to be a down on his luck actor who finds out that a character he played on a crappy TV show has become a folk hero overseas, and the other is a Clutch loving metalhead who uses his creative side to create all out cardboard carnage. They are both independently produced labours of love well worth your time if you aren’t all doc’d out from last weeks massive festival of non-fiction filmmaking.
In Slaughter Nick for President, Canadian actor Rob Stewart looks back on a moment best left forgotten in his career. Actually, maybe his time on the short running, cheeseball early 90s late night CBS beach set cop thriller Tropical Heat isn’t so bad compared to where he’s at in the beginning of the film. He’s hovering around 50 and forced to move back in with his parents in Brampton after not getting much work. To his shock and surprise, his immaculately chest-haired character of Nick Slaughter has become a kind of pop culture icon in Serbia, where Tropical Heat was not only one of the only North American shows that aired during the torturous post-Civil War period the country experienced, but the character was one of the only genuinely good guys that people could regularly spend time with at home.
A crowd favourite when it played at NXNE, Stewart teams up with co-directors Marc and Liza Vespi to chronicle his first journey to the country to take a look at his almost unexplainable and seemingly irrational fame (or at least in his eyes, anyway). There’s something genuinely tender and sweet about watching Stewart not really know what to say about this appreciation he’s receiving and he pays it back to the subjects he interviews in spades. The film also speaks to the part of all of us who have strange things that can help us through the darkest time. It’s one of the best example of unpretentious pop culture examinations of the year and that also works as a canny bit of self-promotion that doesn’t reek of someone begging on hands and knees for a comeback.
As for Skull World, the story of Box Wars impresario and jean jacket enthusiast Greg Sommer from filmmaker Justin McConnell, the film follows in a kind of similar “heart on its sleeve” vein. It’s a tale of the friendship between the filmmaker and his subject, metal, and just generally going out and fucking shit up in the name of fun.
Following around one of his best buddies, Sommer (a man in his early 30s who splits his day job time between graveyard ditch digging and film production), McConell takes a look at the labour of love that is Box Wars: an all out LARPing styled battle where people make elaborate armour, weapons, and costumes out of cardboard and battle it out in something that looks like a war breaking out at a GWAR mosh pit.
Not only is a great and nerdy look at something that brings its main subject a lot of happiness, but it’s also a love letter to never growing up while having to deal with unexpectedly grown up responsibilities. Some of the film’s most interesting moments aren’t in the carnage, but in simple scenes where this metal dude has to look into getting liability insurance or when he gets bummed over how school kids gravitate more towards using the weapons than getting creative with their costumes. Box Wars might not be for everyone, but the film is definitely a crowd pleaser. It rocks hard as fuck, which Sommer would undoubtedly appreciate.
Both films screen this week at the Carlton and both come with Q&As for evening shows on Friday and Saturday. Since they screen back to back they make for a really fun double bill.