Night School Interview: Jef Burnham

You know you can’t resist reading this article.

As part of the wildly popular Facets Night School program, Jef Burnham will present Of Lasers and Loincloths: Genre Hybridization in Yor, the Hunter from the Future” at midnight on Saturday (or Sunday morning if you’re a stickler.) In preparation for this epic event, I sat down with Jef to gather his thoughts.

Can you tell us about Yor, The Hunter from the Future and why you chose to lecture on it?
When I asked what kind of films Lew and Joe were looking for for this summer session, it was put to me like this: “Think of the craziest shit you’ve ever seen.” The first thing that came to mind, really, was the roller coaster of insanity that is 1983’s Yor, The Hunter from the FutureYor is an Italian-Turkish co-production that was initially produced as a four-part miniseries for Italian television, but was subsequently edited down to a brisk 88 minutes, dubbed into English, and released in the States by Columbia Pictures. The film stars Reb Brown as Yor, an affable, loincloth-wearing, genocidal maniac of sorts, whose quest to liberate the oppressed people of the future/past results in most of them dying horrible deaths. And yet the film seems to truly believe that he is a hero!
The film seemed to me the perfect fit for this lecture series since a large part of its inherent craziness is rooted in the myriad generic modes the film adopts as it progresses. Much of my recent research outside of Yor has dealt with the limitations of genre classifications as rigid frameworks that reject hybridization. And while Yor falls easily into the broader classification of science fiction, that classification ignores the many nuanced generic shifts in Yor as it progresses from a tale about prehistoric man complete with dinosaurs through to its climactic laser battle.

What first piqued your interest in this movie?
Reb Brown. It’s as simple as that. Although I had previously encountered his work in the made-for-TV Captain America movies, I, like many who have developed a fondness for Reb Brown in the last 15 years, first took notice of him in episode 820 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, featuring Space Mutiny. For as much as they riff on him in that episode and as often as he’s overlooked, Reb Brown is a truly unique figure in the history of action cinema. If you watch, say, Uncommon Valor or Strike Commandoyou’ll see what I mean. With his monstrous physique and trademark screaming, he has a way of tapping into something primal in viewers, of forcing your body’s testosterone production into overdrive. And it was my fascination with this persona that drew me toYor in the first place.
I came to find out, though, that the film was also helmed by the “Maestro” of the Italian genre film, Antonio Margheriti, who had collaborated with Paul Morrissey on Andy Warhol’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and directed Cannibal Apocalypse (1980). Surely, I thought, there can be nothing wrong with this picture. Unfortunately, however, when the film was dubbed into English, Reb Brown did not get to voice Reb Brown. This is the tragedy of Yor. We really only get an inkling of what he was doing in the role. That said, Margheriti utilizes a number of action set pieces throughout that do much to visually compensate for the loss of Reb Brown’s voice in the presentation of Yor as a hyper-masculinized figure. So it’s not a total loss in that respect.
What sort of experience should viewers expect when they come in for your presentation?
In addition to my lecture on Yor and genre hybridization therein, there will be prizes, a special guest, and quite possibly men in loincloths. But in short, I’d say viewers should expect to have their minds blown!
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