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Rambo: First Film

Stripped-down Rambo: Zachary Oberzan in Flooding With Love for the Kid

A feature-length video-film made for less than $100, Flooding With Love for the Kid retells the story of John Rambo, the Vietnam vet made iconic by Sylvester Stallone, who starred in and co-wrote the 1982 film loosely based on David Morell's novel, First Blood. Actor Zachary Oberzan, 36, adapted, directed, shot and edited Kid within the confines of his 220-square-foot Manhattan apartment — and, with the assist of his own costuming, makeup and rudimentary Final Cut Pro compositing capabilities, plays every role. The resulting lo-fi head trip recasts the Rambo story as a psychodramatic duel between two veterans of different generations with opposing motivations, ultimately bonded in death as tragic iconoclasts.

After a successful theatrical run in New York, Kid comes to L.A.'s Cinefamily for one night only, May 29. Just don't call it a remake — and don't go in expecting a comic Stallone impression or the mockery typical of viral video.

"There's absolutely no irony in it whatsoever," Oberzan says. "It is not a YouTube farce, it is not a parody, it is not a remake of the 1982 movie First Blood." He is so serious about the endeavor that he refers to himself in the third person. "It is a man taking a novel he very much loves, and creating it cinematically with what resources he has available — in this case, no money, and my tiny apartment in Manhattan."

Oberzan first flooded with love for First Blood at age 10, when he saw the film during a free trial of HBO. He discovered Morell's novel shortly thereafter. "The book was very different in many ways from the film version. I always wanted to make a film true to the novel, as opposed to the Stallone version that everyone knows."

Kid is actually an offshoot of Rambo Solo, a theatrical monologue Oberzan wrote about First Blood and developed with the Nature Theater of Oklahoma. "The theater piece ends with me musing on the prospect of making this whole film by myself in my little apartment. I say, 'Well, I'll just use what I have, rather than waiting to get the things that I need.' As I started developing the theater piece, I decided to take myself up on that challenge."

Made in his off time while working as a secretary, Oberzan's film is very much a frustrated actor's showcase. The technical excellence of his performances — physically daring, vocally exaggerated, never subtle but precisely characterized — stabilizes a solo act that might otherwise seem demented. Oberzan says his go-it-alone method was inspired by First Blood itself.

"I've always been a fan of action movies that dealt with a lone individual in hostile circumstances," he says. "It became a bit of a metaphor when I ended up making this film. In the book, Rambo is completely on his own and has to do everything without help from anyone. So I had to do everything myself."

Kid may invite comparisons to Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a no-budget remake of the Lucas/Spielberg blockbuster made by suburban teenagers that, like Kid, has been championed as an experimental film. While the charm of the Raiders remake is in its unknowingness — the kids making it don't know what they're doing, don't know their pretensions will later be laughed at by audiences, and by themselves — what's interesting about Flooding With Love for the Kid is that Oberzan knows exactly what he's doing, and he's not doing it for laughs. He's an adult consciously, and very soberly, re-creating the conditions of childish play to better sink into the obsessive mind-set of the lone hero.

It's this dialogue between the passionate playacting of childhood and the controlled, analytical impulses of adulthood that seems to be Oberzan's real area of interest. His next project is a "two-thirds film, one-third live theater" piece called Your Brother. Remember?, tracking the parallel lives of Oberzan, his brother and another '80s action icon, Jean-Claude Van Damme.

"That is a remake," Oberzan says. "A shot-by-shot remake of films I made as a kid with my brother — we would remake Jean-Claude Van Damme films from our living room with props that were handy. This whole process of making Flooding With Love was completely precedented in my childhood."

Your Brother. Remember? recently premiered in JCVD's hometown of Brussels, but the action star was unable to attend. "I tried to get in touch with him to invite him, but he was in Cannes promoting The Eagle Path, his own film, which he wrote, directed, produced and starred in." For the first and only time over the course of our conversation, a winking knowingness seeps into Oberzan's voice. "The levels of meta just keep adding up."


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