THE BOOTLEG FILES: GOODBYE, 20TH CENTURY! Image

BOOTLEG FILES 247: “Goodbye, 20th Century!” (1998 Macedonia freak-out flick).

LAST SEEN: It is available for unauthorized download on several online sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Released on VHS video in 2000.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It never made it to DVD.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely.

I recently received an e-mail from a fan of this column (a rather boisterous young Portuguese movie lover who writes for Wikipedia – hello, out there, you wacky Lisbon delinquent!). The e-mail asked if I was familiar with a 1998 Macedonian movie called “Goodbye, 20th Century!” I nearly lost my breath when I saw that title, because I was responsible for bringing that movie to the United States. And the fact that you probably never heard of the movie is also my responsibility.

About 10 years ago, prior to writing for Film Threat, I was involved in publicity for independent film companies. In addition to do the standard PR shtick, I was also on the lookout for possible new acquisitions for my film distribution clients. In early 1999, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences released their list of titles that were entered for the Best Foreign-Language Film Award. One title that grabbed my attention was “Goodbye, 20th Century!” That was the Macedonian entry in the Oscar race. I received the contact data for the film’s production’s company via the Academy, and shortly after an NTSC VHS video copy arrived at my office. (This was in the era before DVDs – and that is an important aspect to this story.)

Not knowing anything about the film except for its Oscar-targeted pedigree, I put the video in my VCR and watched the film. Actually, I was blown away by the film. “Goodbye, 20th Century!” was not your typical Oscar fodder. It was a loud, wild, bloody, virulent explosion of noise and emotion. To use one of the most tired cliches on record, I never saw anything like it.

The film, directed by Darko Mitrevski and Aleksandar Popovski, consists of three stories set in different points of time. The first story, running 40 minutes, takes place in the year 2019. The future looks like one of the “Mad Max” movies – except everyone is speaking Macedonian rather than Australian-tinged English. In the midst of the madness is a man named Kuzman, who is a prisoner of a leather-clad tribe. A firing squad prepares to blast Kuzman to his maker – but despite receiving endless rounds of bullets into his body, Kuzman does not die. Unable to kill him, the nomads banish Kuzman to the vast wilderness. Wandering about with the curse of eternal life, Kuzman meets a strange man who offers him a clue on how to escape immortality and enter the realm of death. (I won’t give away more – you’ll have to see this for yourself to see what transpires.)

The second story only runs three minutes. It takes place in 1900 and it is purportedly the first time that a wedding was ever captured on film. The sepia-toned silent film (with a running Macedonian narration) shows a happy bride and groom after they are wed – but a slight problem arises. It seems the bride and groom are brother and sister. When the members of the wedding party discover this, the newlyweds don’t enjoy very much time in wedded bliss.

The third and final story is a 40-minute piece that takes place on New Year’s Eve, 1999. A man who works as a street corner Santa Claus returns to his dreary apartment building at the end of his shift. The building’s tenants are gathered together for a wake. But this is not your run-of-the-mill wake: the tenants are a rough, surreal bunch sitting in a circle around the open coffin. The faux-Santa keeps his red and white suit on while he joins the mourners. Somehow or other, the sense of grief devolves into a sense of violence. In the midst of the madness (which involves the Sid Vicious rendition of the tune “My Way” playing on a boom box), everyone starts to assault the Santa into a bloody pulp. But jolly Ol’ Saint Nick has a surprise up his sleeve – and it comes with enough bullets to wipe out the room full of mourners.

So what the f**k does any of this mean? Your guess is as good as mine, and that’s why I loved “Goodbye, 20th Century!” at first sight. It is a brilliantly enigmatic offering that could be open to a myriad of interpretations. All of the stories involve violent confrontations against isolated figures – the immortal Kuzamn, the doomed newlyweds, the assaulted Santa – but outside of being victims of attack, there seems to be no common ground. Or perhaps the film offers some deeper context about Macedonia’s painful birth in the midst of the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars?

I shared the video of “Goodbye, 20th Century!” with my client Salt City Home Video, a small company that specialized in straight-to-video releases. The client was liked the film and was willing to see if they could expand into theatrical releases. Having a foreign-language film with some degree of Oscar cred seemed like a great way to start, so Salt City acquired the U.S. rights and I was put in charge of booking the film’s theatrical exhibitions. I then played the film in the Light+Screen Film Festival, a weekly underground movie series that I was hosting and programming in New York. The audience that turned out for the film loved it, so I was secure in knowing I made a good choice. Or so I thought!

Acting as a distribution agent, I got off to a fast start. My dear friend Dennis Nyback, a celebrated film archivist, was programming an art house theater in Portland, Oregon, and he agreed to book “Goodbye, 20th Century!” for a week’s run. Then a museum in the Midwest (I cannot recall which one, unfortunately) agreed to book the film for a three-day run for its art house cinema. And the Darress Theatre in Boonton, New Jersey, a mixed-arts venue that staged concerts, live theater and occasional movies, opted to run the film over a weekend as a quasi-midnight movie (the show started at 11:00pm).

Needless to say, I was heady with excitement: I couldn’t believe that I booked those theaters so quickly, considering this was the first time I ever tried to arrange for movie screenings. Well, I had reason to celebrate those successes – as it turned out, those were my only successes in booking the film. No other art house venue wanted to touch “Goodbye, 20th Century!” It was viewed as being uncommercial, too violent and not good enough for release. Most damaging to my efforts was the failure to get a New York City venue to play the film. Without that, the film’s commercial theatrical chances were doomed.

I tried to build momentum for the film by beefing up the online reviews – after all, this was 1999, the year of “The Blair Witch Project.” Alas, my efforts were a mixed bag. There were some good reviews, most notably the sublime Rob Firsching at the Amazing World of Cult Movies, who wrote the film was “an impressionistic howl of rage and despair from a country which has lived on the brink of war for years, a nightmare without beginning or end. One gets the feeling that it has driven everyone concerned a bit mad, and that is where ‘Goodbye 20th Century!’ succeeds the most: without showing a single glimpse of actual Balkan fighting, it portrays the horror and insanity of the conflict in a way that a mere war film would be hard-pressed to achieve.”

But on the other hand, the equally sublime Dustin Putman of TheMovieBoy.com (and he was one of the first critics to see “The Blair Witch Project,” too!), wrote this: “Even if the film is trying to be earnest, that doesn’t erase the blatant ludicrous and misguided nature of the narrative, in which a farting wheelchair-bound woman; a tattoed, nude hussy who has sex with her brother in a bathtub; leather and iron-clad futuristic men; and an old lady who gets her brains blown out by Santa, all figure into the story.” Sadly, for my efforts, most of the critics were closer to Dustin Putman than Rob Firsching.

(The movie was reviewed on Film Threat by Merle Betrand, who gave it a mixed review. Merle’s comment sums it up: “Like staring at the mangled carnage inside the shattered, ripped-open sides of a derailed train car, ‘Goodbye, 20th Century!’ held me in its highly distasteful trance.”)

“Goodbye, 20th Century!” was released in 2000 on VHS video by Salt City. However, the film made even less impact on video versus theatrical release. Salt City (which became SRS Cinema) did not renew its rights to the film and chose not to release the film in the U.S. on DVD. To date, “Goodbye, 20th Century!” has yet to receive a U.S. DVD release. Considering it is a film that offers an apocalyptic view of the 21st century from a late 20th century vantage point, it is not likely that it will be on DVD any time soon.

However, “Goodbye, 20th Century!” did not disappear completely. It did get a New York screening – on December 22, 2006, at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater as part of an off-beat Christmas series. And the film can be found in unauthorized downloads from several bit torrents sites – just do a Google search and you can find it. Apparently, my aforementioned Portuguese fan found it there (I suppose the film never received much screen time in Lisbon, either).

Needles to say, “Goodbye, 20th Century!” never got an Oscar nomination and was never widely seen. I never made an attempt to book movies across the U.S. And…well, there’s no happy ending here for that story, is there? Oh, well, as Donald Rumsfeld once said, stuff happens. And as the pistol-packing Santa says in the film’s last moment: Goodbye, 20th Century!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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