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Life Is Beautiful - R.I.P. Andy Copp

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Andy Copp Mutilation ManAndrew Copp was a DIY underground filmmaker, a film teacher, and a ravenous horror and fringe cinema fan.  He is best known for his first feature film, The Mutilation Man (1998).  In 2011, this grim and brutal film received the limited-edition VHS re-release treatment.  Stamped on the grimy, blood-smeared VHS box art was the tag line: “Life is beautiful.”  These three words seem to contrast Andy’s film starkly, as it is packed to the brim with pain and suffering.

When I first saw The Mutilation Man, I appreciated its aggressive, straight-faced, unblinking approach to horror and brutality, as well as the unconventional techniques Andy used in making the film.  Shot on 16mm and Super8 film, The Mutilation Man looks zero-budget rough – but Andy knew how to make the jagged edges and unpolished surfaces work for, instead of against, The Mutilation Man’s gritty and nightmarish tone.  I found the uniqueness of the film, as well as the tenacity of its dedicated director, incredibly inspiring.

Andy was part of the late-80s-through-late-90s DIY movement that included a dozen or so filmmakers who managed to make feature-length, direct-to-video films with almost no money, a very small crew, and extremely limited resources.  There were probably hundreds of people shooting micro-budget movies at this time.  However, only a few standout directors made movies that received reasonably successful US and foreign distribution.  Considering how small and niche-oriented these indie films were, they gathered a remarkable amount of attention, as well as significant fan adoration.  Essentially, these directors were making movies out of thin air.  Love or hate the finished films, the accomplishment of completing each project is impressive.  

The paths these filmmakers would follow over the next two decades were as disparate as the filmmakers themselves.  Some stopped making movies.  Some graduated to working with bigger budgets.  Some continued to toil in the micro-budget trenches, refusing to abandon filmmaking, even though their budgets, crew, and resources had improved little over the years.  Andy fit into this last category.  Making his films would never get easier, yet he kept at it.

In the early/mid 90s, my career took root as I became a part of this DIY movement.  Therefore, I always considered myself connected in spirit to the other filmmakers in this canon – as if we all fought in the same war, or survived the same earthquake or something.  Though we never worked together, Andy and I were, in a way, part of this same small club of misfit filmmakers.

When Andy wasn’t making one of his movies, he assumed the role of film journalist, educator, and mega-fan.  He wrote constantly about films.  He taught community college film history classes.  Strike up a conversation about indie / underground / fringe / cult / experimental / genre films with him, and you’d enjoy an in-depth, educational discussion on the topic.

Two movies I directed were released in 1999: Ice From The Sun and Scrapbook.  Andy ran a cult-film fanzine called Neon Madness, and he contacted me to ask for an interview.  This interview, which focused on Ice From The Sun, represented my first contact with Andy… and, I believe, my first interview about that film.  Andy would go on to put considerable energy into spreading the word about Ice From The Sun and Scrapbook.  I’m far from a household name, but I’ve been fortunate enough to see print magazines and film websites all over the world run reviews, interviews, and articles about my movies.  Small websites and tiny fanzines have written about my films, as have Rue Morgue and Fangoria.  Film magazines overseas have printed articles about me in languages I can’t even read.  But Andy had beaten them to it.  He was among the very first to write about my movies, urging film buffs to check ‘em out.  He was the perfect blend of film authority and fan.  I have never taken for granted his enthusiasm for my work, and I’ve been deeply appreciative of his continuing to hype my films, right up to my most recent feature.

Over the years, Andy and I would cross professional paths multiple times.  In 2003, The Mutilation Man was released on DVD.  I owned a DVD authoring and post-production business at the time, and my company was hired to author The Mutilation Man DVD.  The entire project was conducted via email, phone calls, and The United States Postal Service.  Andy and I were never even in the same state, but working with him to put together the DVD of his film was a wholly positive experience for me.

Five years or so later, I finally met Andy Copp in person.  I was a featured guest at a horror convention in Indianapolis, and he walked up to my table.  As we talked shop for about half an hour, I realized my assumptions about Andy were true: he was a very down-to-earth, nice guy.

We continued to cross paths in subsequent years.  He did a piece for his blog, Exploitation Nation, about Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave (1978), and he invited other filmmakers and journalists to contribute to it.  I submitted a few paragraphs about Zarchi’s achieving a stark, impactful tone on a very low budget.  

Andy Copp Mutilation ManOn top of his many other pursuits, Andy also ran a film program called Independent Shadow Cinema that screened indie/cult movies at a theater in Englewood, Ohio.  In 2011, he licensed a little-seen film I co-directed called China White Serpentine (2003) to screen as part of the series.  I was honored he included this film in the program.  It would be among the last of his many enthusiastic endeavors to introduce my work to new fans.

I’ve recently learned that Andy Copp took his own life this past weekend.  

Those who were close to him are no doubt dealing with considerable grief.  I, myself, have found the news difficult to deal with.  The indie film community lost a good man, and Andy will never know how many lives he impacted in the most positive way.

The subject matter of his films was always bleak, confrontational, abrasive, and designed to unnerve the viewer.  He also tended to gravitate toward this sort of movie as a film fan.  Yet Andy always seemed gentle, generous, respectful, and truly interested in contributing to the happiness of others.

The darkness of the films Andy made and loved may seem out of sync with who he was as a person, but I think this represents life in general.  Only by confronting the low points can we truly appreciate the highs.  Adversity and alarm build character, and make the short time we have on this planet more - not less - meaningful and fulfilling.  I believe Andy was embracing this fully when his film work was at its most sinister.

In those few critical moments when he made that final, irreversible decision, I wish Andy had latched on to the one thing that makes the darkness worth confronting… the one thing that makes all the puzzle pieces click together… the one thing Andy himself helped make true for the people who knew him:

Life is beautiful.
    
Thanks for reading.

- Eric Stanze

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