Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Meat Is Murder [Ravenous (1999)]

From http://www.impawards.com/1999/posters/ravenous_ver1.jpg

Dir. Antonia Bird
Czeck Republic-United Kingdom-USA
Film #30, for Tuesday 30th October, of Halloween 31 For 31

It is sad to think that to have a film for this season directed by a woman, I have to specify a slot in the season to do so, as it slowly closes, when I should have gotten a few in the 31 selections without any specific design to have a gender balance but because there are enough films in existence. I could have had a whole season of 31 works all directed by men just by coincidence, which is startling when I consider it more and more, and while every aspect of film making is just as importance and can be contributed to by women, especially in the case with Ginger Snaps (2000) (Review Here) and its screenwriter, the obvious disparity despite the many women who are making films now is disorientating. Thankfully there are many existing female directors since the beginning of cinema and they are growing in quantity, but the vaster amount of films directed by males that dwarfs it is still a great deal to take into consideration. The fact that, as a male writing this, these words can be interpreted as patronising adds a further problem, in that the apparent disparity, even if it’s a little off from reality, is liable to make film viewers and critics pay more attention to a director’s gender than her work and its merit. I have always viewed gender politics through the metaphor of an unmarked minefield, the path unknown and the ground within a step liable to detonate and harm anyone on multiple sides. Considering the Millennium was ten years ago, the fact that we’ve yet to get a balance in gender within a single global industry like cinema let along remove the lingering bigots and glass ceilings is embarrassing. I can thankfully say that Antonia Bird, in terms of a director, created a film called Ravenous which deserves immense merit by the film’s own qualities. That it slipped into obscurity is a cruel and pathetic act by fate.

Set in 1847 during the Mexican-American War, a soldier (Guy Pierce) is sent to an isolated fort consisting of a skeleton crew and a potential new page in his life where nothing will happen for a long while except getting drunk or being bored for years of his career. Bursting this potential life is a stranger Colquhoun (Robert Carlyle) who stumbles to the fort frost bitten by the torrential snow fall outside and claiming to be a survivor of a party that descended into cannibalism. Warned by one of the Native American members of the fort about the legend of the Windigo, men who become powerful from eating other’s flesh and developing an endless hunger for eating other people, the soldiers at the fort will find themselves dwindling in number and suspicious food substances in the stew.

Within the first image of the film of two quotations on a black screen, Ravenous stands out as much as a black humoured piece as well as a horror film set in 19th century America. Set in a period of American history, off to the side of the Western Expansion of immigrants usually depicted and before the Civil War, which is fresh for me to see onscreen, this immediately starts as an engaging blend of the macabre and the sickly humoured. With a small cast of various nationalities, it has the closed sense of isolation fitting for the story, within the yet-open expanses of the landscape around them, and adding a sense of the dramatic of theatre without sacrificing the fullness of a cinematic work. The story itself is also a fascinating blend of mythology and the tropes of the western, British perspective and the American culture blending into an outsider’s viewpoint of the country without descending into an arch pastiche. Even with the upscaling levels of violence and humour, there is never a sense that one is viewing an over-gritty imitation or descending into clichés of westerns. That it is set in a period where the variety of immigrants was prominent in unchartered land, also allowed an actor as talented as Robert Carlyle to work with his normal accent, adds a sense of the lawless where the country was yet to fully form as the United States of America and these acts of cannibalism could go completely unknown by the existing populous. The acting is solid as well, not just from Pierce and Carlyle, but from the whole of the cast.

Continuing the analysis of music scores I have done multiple times in this season of reviews, the score by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn is exceptional by itself as with the other great soundtracks I have talked about. Albarn may be immediately known for his music career – Blur, Gorillaz and his many other projects – but Michael Nyman is a very well regarded musical composer, his most famous work with Welsh director Peter Greenaway, his eclectic and unconventional work matched by a specific pristine sounding use of string instruments that is Nyman’s trademark until they fell out after the production of Prospero’s Books (1991). My musical knowledge of Albarn is very limited, but the folk and blues rock influences sound clearly like his contributions, while Nyman’s use string compositions blends effortlessly with it to create something that stands out. When the shift to the scenes of growing intensity take place - director Bird using editing or lack thereof and the acting of Pierce or Carlyle to depict growing insanity as the starting pieces that work fully - its blending of types of music prevents it from becoming invisible but is put together so that it supports the visuals and acting fully.

It’s relegation to being a under viewed gem is tragic considering it stands out in terms of quality and the individuals involved in various areas of the production. That it is as much a British made horror film too also adds to the disappointment that a great genre from our country, partially shot in the oppressive yet beautiful Eastern European countryside, is forgotten when disappointing and minor ones get credit. That Bird went back to television, her career before involving TV series and a couple of films, is also sad as this showed a director who could have progressed to films just as good or greater. If this review can introduce more people to this film, it could hopefully improve its status.

From http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/ravenous/w448/ravenous.jpg?1289437626

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

On Her Majesty’s Supernatural Service [Hellsing (2001-2002)]

From http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/lt/hellsing.jpg

Series Director: Yasunori Urata
Japan
Work #29, for Monday 29th October, for Halloween 31 For 31

Horror is not as prevalent in Japanese anime as I think it would be, despite the ease and creativity animation could give a creator, in its vast catalogue. Even the well known aspects of Japanese horror in cinema – from Ringu (1998) to body horror and splatter – are not as vastly replicated in animated form despite the prominent amount of horror stories in manga. When straight-to-video works known as Original Video Animation were prominent - opposite to the traditional use of the term in that, excluding terrible examples, they were usually well (or incredibly well) animated and allowed more adult or experimental content - horror anime was more common, the bizarre one-offs and short form adaptations of manga mixed which genre works which were far more bloodier and gruesome in content. Even after the Japanese economic bubble crashed, and killed off the more experimental works, the 1990s still had OVAs and a great deal of them which were still gruesome or horror related in tone, going on to laserdisc and DVD later on. Without the concerns of censorship a TV series could suffer from, and the time and allowance to be different in content, the OVA allowed the distinct type of horror in Japanese culture, of the supernatural to the manipulation and distortion of the body, to exist prominently, blending into other genres, such as the versions of The Guyver before the live-action films. Bar the few exceptions, including Hellsing Ultimate (2006-ongoing), the more faithful to the manga reinterpretation that followed the series I am reviewing, the OVA is less prominent and has left a huge gap for the kinds of anime that can exist including the horror ones. There are TV series in the genre, but not that many; for more examples actually exist in hentai (pornographic anime), taking advantage of the lack of restrictions because of its porn content to include horror, but since I’ve seen none of them I can thankfully dodge the topic of how uncomfortable mixing violence and sex could be. Most of the existing horror works, as mentioned, are usually blended with other genres, Hellsing as much of an action series as well as horror.

Set in an alternative England, the thirteen episode series follows a secret government organisation that destroys vampires called the Hellsing Organisation, lead by Sir Integra Hellsing. Their ultimate weapon is however a vampire named Alucard, who along with a penchant for red trench coats and desiring a good vicious fight, is also a lot more noble, more powerful and more psychotic than most of his peers and vampire lowlife, making him a perfect tool for the organisation. With Seras Victoria, a policewoman turned into a vampire by Alucard who has to deal with her new undead life as a member of the force, the organisation has to deal with a swathe of artificially made vampires over the country, attacks on their headquarters and the Vatican approved vampire hunting organisation wanting to reclaim Protestant England back.

Upfront, this version of the original manga by Kouta Hirano is flawed and is the product of the often fragmentary nature of a lot of Japanese anime. The art form has a history of series and works which are left unfinished, or ending up with multiple versions and contradictory ones, pockets of dimensions, spin-offs, versions without endings, and parody spin-offs to make the late Kurt Vonnegut’s head spin. Some were designed only to interest people in the original manga, a concept that doesn’t translate to Western anime fans when said manga isn’t released over here. Some were financially stalled, had producers who closed down, or were unsuccessful in getting any sequels commissioned, leaving abrupt and unfinished conclusions to them. A few, like this version of Hellsing, were started before the original manga was actually finished, catching up with what the author has completed and leaving the anime creators to create new story shifts and endings. This version of Hellsing had to design and thread a new plot into the exiting material, starting off following the original story but by the halfway line ending with a new conclusion and new villain. In the more faithful version of the manga, without spoiling too much, it involves the Third Reich, as you do, while this version pushes a new plot involving artificially made ‘freak’ vampires. In thirteen episodes only, it can feel abrupt when plot strands and characters are introduced throughout and end in single episodes. This version has been viewed as immensely flawed, and there is also the factor of the studio that made it, Gonzo, who were known for making great looking works before their bankruptcy and being remade into a smaller studio, but were also notorious for anime fans for erratically toned and/or incompetently put together anime. I have thankfully avoided most of their worst work, and I will actually defend some of it, but the erratic tone is obvious in Hellsing.

Nonetheless, I will argue this version of Hellsing is not that bad. It’s flawed but as I will continue in this review, it has its virtues. While it’s been years since I saw it, Gonzo made a vampire series that they still need to be all punched in the face for in Trinity Blood (2005), what started off as an interesting if silly blending of vampires and science fiction but, if one was to show the progression to the final episode on a graph, would make a perfect straight line down into god awfulness involving space vampires. Once it gets into its stride after the first few episodes, Hellsing on the other hand starts to become more and more better. It is a standard, gun fetishising, action work with horror and the amount of strong gore acceptable for TV, but the black humour and giddy tone of the whole thing is clear and engaging. It is ridiculous, and with an anti-hero who is very sadistic, grazes on the ceiling of political incorrectness and is very edgy, but as a reinterpretation of Western vampire lore and British culture, I have to admire this knowingly lurid and revealing series. As an Englishman, I love the fact that the original source, from another country, was playing with my culture and had done their research too, whether it’s our obsession with form and presentation to the divide between the Catholicism and the Protestantism in our history as shown in two episodes. Despite the need to create its own ending, the creators managed to keep the original tone of the original manga and managed to make it a solid series. Even when it occasionally recycles scenes from previous episodes in the last ones, it manages to still have an immense punch to it.

In terms of the depiction of the British, I decided to view this series for this season with its English dub instead of the original one. For the most part, I listen to the original Japanese dubs for anime unless they are not available. English dubs when I still watched anime with them on could be incredibly stiff and lifeless, and anime’s history is littered with some of the worst dubbing and voice acting in any medium. But for Hellsing I wanted to go back to the English dub both for nostalgia and, as a story set in England, because it was decided that the cast should be voiced by mostly British voice actors. Some incidental characters sound wooden, and at first American actress K.T. Gray, voicing Seras Victoria, wavers a little in her accent in the beginning episodes, but after a while, as Gray gets into character fully and very well, the decision to have British voice actors, with an English script that clearly had more British colloquialisms and our creative use of swear words added to the material, turned out to be an inspired one. A great example of this would be British born actress Victoria Harwood as Sir Inegra Hellsing, who backs up her words as the leader of the Hellsing Organisation fully just in Hardwood’s voice.

One of the biggest reasons why this series, and the concept, still succeeds is the personalities of the character which the English language voice actors flesh out as well. The main character Alucard could have been terrible, a vampire whose abilities means the character could have been too powerful for there to be any risk and danger to be felt by the viewer, and with a sadistic streak that could be off-putting, but the sense of charisma is clearly prominent in him, both in look and how voice actor Crispin Freeman manages to convey him in voice. The same can be said of all the major and prominent characters, even the villain introduced near the end who isn’t from the manga, all having a distinguished look and personality to them that, while hyper stylised, makes them distinct. Regardless of the plot focus, the characters are treated with enough respect to make the material still work. It also emphasises that the original author Hirano in his use of Western culture goes as far as drawing upon archetypes and pre-existing characters for his own. Helen McCarthy, one of the most prominent British authors and speakers on anime, on an episode of the American podcast Anime World Order, suggested that Integra Hellsing was a concoction of a Gerry Anderson character and Emma Peel from the TV series The Avengers (1961-1969); the sense that Hirano managed to tap into the British concept of the stiff upper lipped, tough and charismatic women of our pop culture who are fetishitically sexual but still strong is clearly obvious. That he went as far as calling a weapon in the series the Harkonnen, kept in this series and the later OVAs, after a character from Dune says a lot about how he meshed together entertainment with legend.

The other aspect that helps the series immensely, and makes it worth seeing, is the great music. Beyond the use of Mr. Big’s Shine, still the least conventional choice for an ending theme for an anime that yet works perfectly, it is very varied and well made, adding to the bipolar mood of the series. It is probably one of the most distinct soundtracks I’ve heard in a while, one that doesn’t fall back on J-pop and incidental music but tries to be unique to the show.

All in all, the series is far from the best but it still stands up well and is far better than a lot of fellow series that failed miserably (like Trinity Blood), possessing a distinct style to it that would pass on further with Hellsing Ultimate, far more faithful, far more violent and far more perversely humoured than its predecessor, but is yet to be fully finished or released in the West as of yet. Until that changes, I am glad to see that this version, one of the first series I owned before my twenties and never reopened until this season, was still good. It did concern me with the first three episodes, the worst of the whole series, that it would turn out to be a disappointment on a re-viewing, but after them it manages to be something of immense merit despite Gonzo’s reputation and the flaws it has.

From http://tu.tv/imagenes/videos/h/e/hellsing-zombie_imagenGrande.jpg

Monday, 29 October 2012

Dreamt By Hand [Dreams That Money Can Buy (1948)]

From www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDReviews23/
a%20dreams%20that%20money%20can%20buy/title%20DREAMS_THAT_MONEY_CAN_BUY.jpg

Dirs. Hans Richter (with Max Ernst, Fernand Leger, Man Ray, Marchel Duchamp and Alexander Calder)
USA
Film 28th, for Sunday 28th October, for Halloween 31 For 31

My introduction to early 20th century art movements probably started with the erotic. I will openly admit, as a young lad, that I would look for images of the opposite sex naked to the point of looking through art books in the secondary school library. What happened instead was my first encounter with the Surrealist movement, which punctured dreams and used them for the basis of their art; the erotic was significant in the paintings and images I saw, but just as important were the profound images, the scathing and subversive ones, the beautiful dreams and the depictions of nightmares throughout them, going beyond a misguided lad’s mere curiosity to someone who discovered art and how powerful it could be. Melting clocks, stilt-legged elephants, faces propped on sticks in the groundless space in sleep, many images in these compositions, from The Persistence of Memory to The Eye of Silence, will remain with me for the rest of my life. Then I went on to learn about other movements from this period or before including the Dada movement. From there, my appreciation for the arts has grown more and more, bleeding into my love of cinema as I delved into experimental films. The members of these art movements themselves experimented with cinema too. Un Chien Andalou (1929) is the most famous, becoming one of the most well known experimental films in existence as, a melding of the disturbing with the unreal, it disrupts conventions of cinema even now eighty or more years after its release. The following film I’m reviewing is a fascinating attempt back in 1948 that could have brought the avant garde to the mainstream if it had done well in another reality.

Almost an anthology film, the establishing plot that starts Dreams That Money Can Buy is of a man (Jack Bittner) who is able to give people dreams and decides to sell his services to pick his life back up. Intercut between this are segments by artists Hans Richter, a famous artist and experimental director himself, was connected to that vary in tone, theme and type of materials used within them. It is better to go immediately into the segments themselves then dabble...

From http://i1062.photobucket.com/albums/t487/Hawkmenblues2/88312a4e.jpg

Opening and Inbetween Segments (Directed by Hans Richter):  Intermediately linked between multiple genres, the whole film is nonetheless appropriate for a month which emphasises the supernatural and the unreal. While it can be argued to be a slight parody of cinema, Dreams... is far interesting as a reflection on dreams as an abstraction and liberation of our emotions. All of this is done in a cod-Film Noir template and the whole film was designed to appeal to the whole public, making the results even more unconventional. The dubbing of dialogue and internal thoughts over the scenes of the actors gives the film a dream-like logic before it actually gets to the dreams.

From http://www.johncoulthart.com/feuilleton/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/dreams1.jpg

Desire (Directed by Max Ernst): Using as many practical effects as possible without over filling the scenes with them, Dreams... is very much a work placed within the fantastical even if it is too close to avant garde cinema to be fantasy. Ernst’s segment is a stereotypical example of this that is still very effective, a baroque and sexual dream in which a woman recounts an encounter with nightingales within a lavish bedroom and home, the dead pulling themselves out from under the bed and twisting into themselves. If one takes into consideration the era it was made in, this segment is still effective, mixing with the macabre and the lavish effectively in the limited, fog covered rooms presided by Enrst himself in a small role. It also establishes that, while some of the segments have clear messages, some of them are designed to convey meanings just through the mood and presented images themselves that cause one to feel they are watching an actual dream. The monologue of the woman that makes up the segment is highly stylised and unconventional, breaking down what words and phrases should mean if you listen closely, continuing a concept prized by the Surrealists of stream-of-consciousness, presented through the distorted speech and sentences she utters that are layered over the images post-synch. It is one of two segments that could be put into the supernatural category and works for what it is.

From http://www.virtual-circuit.org/blog/files/1hgfk4h4.jpg

The Girl With The Prefabricated Heart (Created by Fernand Leger): Not all the segments involve actors however. Sculpture and object craft was an established part of these moments, going as far as Marcel Duchamp (one of the other collaborators for Dreams...) developing found object art where ordinary materials were art by themselves, notoriously shown when Duchamp took a urinal, signed it, and placed it in an art gallery. Leger’s segment is a perversely whimsical, but sweet musical following the emotions of a female mannequin, made of man-made material but facing the troubles of a suitor she does not love and who will take away her independence. With a song that sounds like it is from a Disney film, it is quite magical and shows a very take on animation as Leger turns almost human mannequins into moving beings through stop-motion and basic mechanics. It is ingenuity at its best, the sugary sweet tone never mawkish and turning cold material into warm characters, something only dreams (and a good artist) can create for an audience.

From http://i1062.photobucket.com/albums/t487/Hawkmenblues2/cd532dd5.jpg

Ruth, Roses and Revolvers (Directed by Man Ray): The paradox of such radical arts being made for a mainstream audience is one that reflects the situation of these 20th century art movements were going through at this period. They were supposed to be radical and against conformity, but one of the most well known artists Salvador Dalí became part of mainstream culture and talk shows later in his life. It does however make the film more peculiar in its slightly rough melding of the two sides, the anthologue-esque structure liable to being erratic in tone as actual anthologies can suffer from. Man Ray’s segment can almost be a reflection of this danger with their art as well as any type of cinema, a film-within-a-film watched by the segment’s characters where the audience have to copy the actions of the pale faced man onscreen. It does incorporate other aspects within it, but emphasis on art and its pliability is the clearest aspect. That this interactivity/manipulation of the audience is predominant in children’s programming adds a twisted page to Man Ray’s idea.

From http://i1062.photobucket.com/albums/t487/Hawkmenblues2/ca0c0ddb.jpg

Discs (By Marcel Duchamp) – Images of rotating circles, and of a nude woman going down stairs fragmented and covered (and uncovered) with dots, one of the most abstract of the shorts and closer to some of the original experiments in cinema from decades earlier involving shapes and the manipulation of them. It is hypnotic, its plying of fragmented images and almost three dimensional shapes effective at its short length, breaking down how one perceives images through the eyes and their form. This is not necessarily a pretentious concept as well; as infants and toddlers we are fascinated by shapes, and how they move and how they are put together, and on a basic level something like Discs takes this to the perspective of an adult who goes back to this fascination but uses it to break down the blasé passing of ordinary life where everything around you is rudimentary and taken for granted. Unlike some experimental films, I can see these sorts of films like Discs being far more effective and understandable for anyone because the crossing of animation and visual collage can be understood on a surface level by anyone and doesn’t need a potentially vague message or meaning behind it. Even if someone was to attempt a naval gazing interpretation of such images, the images as images explain themselves fully by their own accord.

From http://i1062.photobucket.com/albums/t487/Hawkmenblues2/d284f7d0.jpg

Ballet and Circus (Both created by Alexander Calder):  Highlights of the whole project, Calder follows the idea of creating everything that is onscreen with creations made from wire and simple mechanics. The first of his segments Ballet is devoted to mobiles, the images of them turning and spinning in the air at their own whim as much of the effect as the creations themselves. It isn’t wrong to suggest how we are fascinated by wind chimes, moving in their own accord depending on which way the wind blows, is visible in this and its main concept. Circus is just a joy, a literal circus where the viewer as the patron sees a show by wire and mechanical creations. The similarities to toys and dioramas with moving parts are clear, but there s a sense of childlike joy I got seeing these creations move. Calder even shows hands (his own?) moving some of his creations, regardless of the rule of showing animation as its own world when it is the creation of objects and figures moved by its creators in various ways that the art form is about. It also has a black sense of humour, as the injury and death rate for employees (and wire circus lions) is exceptionally high.

From http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/dreams-that-money-can-buy/w448/dreams-that-money-can-buy.jpg?1289451290

Narcissus (Directed by Hans Richter): The bookend of the frame story and the final segments that ends the film completely. The most nightmarish part of the film, it follows a character based on the protagonist, his true self, ostracised from society when he suddenly turns blue. The piece is about the struggle of conformity against independence reproduced as the most surreal and sinister of the pieces, the blue ‘Narcissus’ blocked by random men who believe in blocking others for the sake of it and various routes – a cord to a goal, ladders which lose their rungs – in front of him as a maze. He loses his friends and ordinary life but, as the self analysing monologue admits as it goes through the segment, his attempts to be normal again are prevented by how he has changed as a person. The look and tone of the piece would be replicated in later films, especially from the 1960s onwards, but using the worn yet blooming colours the film is painted in, the segment is the perfect way to end the film. Every sequence is referenced in part to a personality who is being given this dream and their personal issues, Narcissus giving a narrative end for the protagonist but also poking at the whole concept of the film, the desire to have dreams that make us whole when in fact they are fragmentary and are ends with countless lose threads and remaining materials left. From the erotic randomness of Desire, the first short, to the use of everyday materials to create new realities in others, Dreams That Money Can Buy ends up being a dissection of the idea of dreaming and its base compounds even if the premise is childishly simple and the project was designed to introduce people to new artistic concepts. The contradictions of the film’s purpose against Narcissus - where the protagonist is offered to enjoy his life and society, the post-World War era the film was made in amplifying this, but ignores it for his free thought even if it will doom him - is as much as part of the dream logic of the whole film. By dissecting, by accident or purpose, this idea it fits a month, and autumn season, where picking apart reality is intrinsic even in wearing costumes and going trick or treating, but also fits the concept I uphold greatly as a person of questioning reality, even in the smallest of ways, when it is more unreal than we pronounce it to be.

Dreams That Money Can Buy though is one of the few in this season though that is directly tied to an art movement or two. Dreams... was viewed as a complete failure when it was first released, and while many now still see it as a flawed film, I will actually defend it as far more better than merely a flawed gem. It’s major mistakes, the Film Noir trappings and satire, actually make it a far more interesting film if viewed in a new light, a trinket like those in the film – a scrapbook of cut-out pictures, a picture, a blue tiddlywink, an object so innocuous even its name sounds like fairytale language, that opens into the darkest segment Narcissus – that leads one on into a dream. As an introduction to these artists as it was intended to be, it is a success if you give it your time, and is a good beginning to anyone wanting to dabble in the avant-garde but are afraid of the vast catalogue of films in existence.


From 3.bp.blogspot.com/-9IwCA_toXaI/
TgNf4sq90cI/AAAAAAAAAv4/62EmfDt7RK0/s640/Dreams+that+money+can+buy+girl.jpg

Sunday, 28 October 2012

“Have you ever had… an Egyptian Feast?” [Blood Feast (1963)]

From http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/blood-feast/w448/blood-feast.jpg?1289453010


Dir. Herschell Gordon Lewis
USA
Film #24, for Wednesday 24th October, for Halloween 31 For 31

At the beginning of October, I was contacted by the website Video Swapshop to write reviews for them. My delayed 24th film for this Halloween project is one of the reviews that is published on their site, and can be viewed here.

[Note – My delayed 12th review for the blog was completed a few weeks ago for Videotape Swapshop as well, but will be delayed until during November or later. My apologies for any inconvenience but it will eventually be posted.]

The first phase is hallucination... [Body Melt (1993)]

From http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/body-melt/w448/body-melt.jpg?1313599007


Dir. Philip Brophy
Australia
Film #20, for Saturday 20th October, for Halloween 31 For 31

At the beginning of October, I was contacted by the website Video Swapshop to write reviews for them. My delayed 20th film for this Halloween project is one of the reviews that is published on their site, and can be viewed here.

The Candid Eye [Central Bazaar (1976)]

From http://img.filmous.com/static/photos/85223/poster.jpg

Dir. Stephen Dwoskin
United Kingdom
Film #27, for Saturday 27th October, for Halloween 31 For 31

From http://img13.imageshack.us/img13/7135/vlcsnap8502.jpg

[NOTE: This review has screenshots with near and full frontal nudity and are NOT SAFE FOR WORK. I hate the idea of having to put this warning just because of the final image mainly, but I have to take into consideration it may not best in every local to view these pictures there. I intended to screen-cap them myself from the DVD but the technology failed me miserably, so I have had to use ones of varying sizes from other locations like my other reviews, especially since I did not want to make it seem like it was a film just of women in various states of undress for titillation and involves men as well. If you are fascinated by what you see, the DVD is still available in the United Kingdom from our retailers.]

From http://img20.imageshack.us/img20/5485/vlcsnap11352.jpg

The following film that I am writing about wasn’t intended to be part of this season at all. It is the sort of obscure and unconventional cinema I like to dig myself into when I’m watching films in my everyday life, especially as a British Film Institute release from an organisation known for releasing obscurities like it. An experimental film, in which the late director Stephen Dwoskin filmed a group of volunteers in his house for over a week like a proto-Big Brother, it has nothing to do with the horror genre, but within its two and a half hour running time Central Bazaar became a far more fitting choice for the season than what I was originally going to review. Allowing the individuals, male and female, to channel out their emotions and passions fully, Dwoskin affectively filmed a psychological session that lasted a whole week or so, all filmed in a red covered room with no open windows, preventing the individuals from knowing when it was night or day, and affectively creating a ritualistic tone close to Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) (Review Here). There is a danger in putting this in the season that I could seem subconsciously puritanical on a surface level, full of full frontal male and female nudity, or even homophobic or phobic of transgenderality, with scenes of sexual interaction between men and cross-dressing. This sexual nature, nearly about to become pornographic in a group massage scene later on if penetrative sex was to have taken place, is actually beautiful once I got passed the disorientating tone of the film within the first half, a continuation of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963) in bright colour and fantastical costumes that shows a shedding of shame and a liberated nature to the volunteers’ interactions with each other. However, a sense of unease for very different reasons stays continually with the viewer throughout the whole film.

Central Bazaar is as truly experimental as that word implies an attempt to create a film different from conventions whether it works or not. This is an exceptionally difficult film, consisting entirely of prolonged images and sequences of the individuals interacting in front of Dwoskin’s juttering camera as it collects together fragments of them, their interactions and the objects around them. My head did hurt throughout the film, trying to grasp, not the meaning behind the images, but what lead to them being put on screen. It is a difficult film in the truest sense, compounded by a score that, while brilliant, is utterly unnerving for most of the film’s length. It is this score that contributed the most to this film being added to the season, a sonic noise that moves betweens electronic sounds to unsettled gramophone music for children.


The film can be seen as a mirror to our repressed desires, literally shown by real people within the circumstances, but interconnected to it is a disturbing yet necessary relinquish of emotions less than desired by the viewer. Unlike Flaming Creatures, an American experimental film which realised perverse joy through a low budget glamour of Hollywood cinema, Central Bazaar for its moments of pleasure is undercut by a downward drop in most of the scenes. The painted white faces, naked bodies covered in glitter and masks can become grotesque or battered down by the anxiety of those behind them. Then the facades start to crack, with individuals starting to weep and needing to be comforted by someone with them, or in the worse cases, violence starting to take place even if its implied, from wrestling between a woman and a man, to a squabble between four of the men with one in blackface punching the one who has him in a headlock on the floor in the chest repeatedly. The sense of madness is permeable, effecting me as the film went on, its two and a half hours going through a delirium, and sensuality between it, before spending the whole of its final quarter, in full detail, creating a sense of exhaustion in the viewer as the volunteers onscreen start to remove the makeup and feel the effects of the days, the red curtain behind the camera evoking David Lynch and the insanity he portrayed in his films later on.

Halloween as a season seems to evoke the liberation of desires both pleasant and unsettling to people. Horror films do this as well, purging one through the gruesome while allowing you to have pleasure at the same time. The origins of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome from a Halloween party where patrons went as ‘their madness’ is brought to mind for me in the case of Central Bazaar, a trance-like mood throughout it that sucks you in as the individuals involved act out their nightmares as well as their desires, the horror of seeing people in this presentation at first altered into a sympathy for them tinged with the horror of seeing their joy grounded by the stress they exhibit on their faces. Is it exploitative on the director’s part to have made this film? It is from the perspective of a voyeur, but unlike reality TV we are with the participants rather than gloating at them, showing for me the horror of the outside world and its restrictions as well against what is shown onscreen. Three occasions the individuals talk or sing to the camera, and at one point one man pretends to be a living puppet whose ‘strings’ are pulled by the other participants, the theatrical self-recognition of their situation in these moments obvious after viewing the film. The cathartic material, that will be pretentious and unbearable for most to sit through but fascinating to others, is fitting for this month as it is a season, beyond the horror films and candy, of releasing deep emotions, dressing up in costumes and letting one’s  desires come out behind them. Again, Central Bazaar is not for everyone, but it pulled me into its madness and I have to praise it as a brave experiment which has a power to it. It left my mind battered but rather than being vague and arch, its devotion to raw emotions made it potent rather than cold experimentation. And unexpectedly, shot in the United Kingdom by the American Dwoskin, I have a great British entry finally in this season that is not in the horror genre at all, showing that our history of neglected experimental cinema in the British Isles may have far more bite over most other films made here.

From https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-o5PYSPd7MLE/S6ykJpKSMjI/AAAAAAAAAuM/wyBjTW2F3O4/bazaar.jpg

Saturday, 27 October 2012

History Shows Again and Again... [Godzilla Vs. Megalon (1973)/Godzilla Vs. Hedoran (1971)]

The videotapes that lead to this review themselves.

Dir. Jun Fukuda/Yoshimitsu Banno
Japan
Films #26 a) and b), for Friday 26th October, for Halloween 31 For 31

Godzilla Vs. Megalon (1973)
From http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/godzilla-vs-megalon/w448/godzilla-vs-megalon.jpg?1313425025

It must be noted that these films were viewed on videotape. I have to thank my grandmother on my mother’s side for letting me use her VHS player while she was out shopping, and to the unknown individual who donated these (and maybe the third I sadly didn’t pick up) to the St. Barnabas Lincolnshire Hospice charity story in the nearby town. I also have to thank that St. Barnabas store for having this sort of thing on their shelves. For me, charity stores, if you have the patience and look frequently, can be a gold mine for obscure or good finds – the best for me so far is the whole of Les Vampires (1915), Louis Feuillade’s legendary silent serial, on DVD for £4.99. Getting hold of videotapes of difficult-to-find films (or what I presume is obscure until I notice them on Amazon) has lead to me going back to my vague childhood memories; for 60p for both tapes, that went to charity, I have gone back to before I was ten years old. I have flickering, miniscule memories of seeing an all-day showing of Godzilla films on a satellite station (TCM?), the only images I still remember involving Mechagodzilla and a cockpit within his chest. Unavailable on British DVD (excluding the original Godzilla (1954), King Kong Vs Godzilla (1962) and a rare out-of-print Destroy All Monsters (1968)) these films have not been accessible despite the mainstream and cult legacy of Godzilla in the West. Perversely though the videotapes I’ve gotten are from 1998, the year Roland Emmerich’s infamous botch of the character was released, suggesting the sad possibility that Godzilla films only got released that year in the UK because of the American film, or that Emmerich failed so miserably that British kaiju fans dropped in numbers drastically afterwards. Regardless of this, seeing these two, scooped up the day before and abruptly put together for a tantalising double bill, was wonderful. I couldn’t write a review of one or the other, and while their credentials as films for Halloween come into question, my pass for Guyver 2: Dark Hero (1994) (Review Here) allows it to work; anime, manga and a vast deal of Japanese pop culture which deals with monsters and science fiction can be linked to Godzilla, his radioactive shadow casting a shade over everything from the Power Rangers to splatter films like Meatball Machine (2005). Its influence over Western culture, from American 70s rock to Leos Carax films, is just as intimidating, the ‘God’ in its name evoked in an earlier review for this project and instantaneously pictured just by thinking of the name. Godzilla is literally a king of global pop culture even to those who never saw the films.

Godzilla Vs. Hedoran (1971)
From http://im.glogster.com/media/10/39/25/8/39250892.jpg

In the first film I viewed, Godzilla Vs. Megalon, a robot Jet Jaguar is taken by the populous of q underwater kingdom, Seatopians, to assist their creature Megalon in their war against the surface world after a bomb test provokes them. Naturally Godzilla becomes involved, while in Godzilla Vs. Hedoran, he must go against a creature fed by pollution who will decimate Japan under clouds of sulphuric acid gas that will burn away anything it covers. The first kaiju films I have seen in years, I have some precedent for them from this year after acquiring a few of Toho Studio’s other science fiction films from the decade or so before. Bright in colour, the monsters depicted onscreen through men in rubber suits are distinct from Western depictions of monsters through their presence and form. Combined with extensive model work in full vivid colours and Toho’s monster films turn completely artificial objects into living, breathing creations; the physical objects, despite being fake, already have tangibility but are pushed into a fuller interpretation of this through these two films. Regardless of his slightly goofy eyes in Godzilla Vs. Megalon, Godzilla feels fully alive, the actor in the costume jumping about and making gestures despite the limitations of the dinosaur arms. The fact that, in both films, the monsters gesticulate and make expressions to each other, completely unexpected from ingesting b-movies all these years where the monsters were mindless hordes, fleshes out the rubber immensely. Since fighting is the predominant aspect of these films, it is surprising how vicious they are. The fact that the men in the costumes in Guyver 2: Dark Hero were martial artists may have softened up the visceral nature of that film’s fights, even though there were incredibly painful looking stunts. That the men dressed up as Godzilla and the other kaiju are not using martial arts makes the fight sequences look brutal, causing one to image the bruises the actors must have gotten bashing into each other on the sets. That the fight that takes place in Godzilla Vs. Megalon at the end reminded me of pro-wrestling and a two-on-one gang fight added to the painfulness of it. But it’s not just that the fights looks suitably forceful that is a testament to the actors, but that Godzilla comes off as a charismatic vagabond who wanders Tokyo and Monster Island in content, only to get involved when asked to, or in Godzilla Vs. Hedoran, when a toxic being threatens to cover his homeland in poisonous material.

Godzilla Vs. Megalon (1973)
From http://monsterhunter.coldfusionvideo.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/GodzillaVsMegalon3.jpg

Godzilla Vs. Megalon is rudimentary in plot and structure, concentrating more on Jet Jaguar, a creation from a nationwide competition won by an elementary school child made into a character, with Godzilla brought in at the end. It does however pass its short running time entertainingly. Godzilla Vs. Hedorah however is a far more weirder film from a few years earlier. Blatant and unsubtle in its environmental message, it still manages to be a strange and compelling film far more connected to the pop art and culture from the Sixties then 1971. Animated sequences intercut with the narrative jostle for your attention with scenes in a nightclub with psychedelic backgrounds of lava lamp liquids and skeletons, and in one unexplained scene, a male character viewing the patrons and staff with fish heads, not taking into account how the concept of Hedoran the sludge monster and its affect on the environment is unconventional to most monster movies. This film is far more closer to the odd air of Toho’s The H-Man (1958) than a Dinoshark (2010). Even on videotape, the picture quality slightly darkened and softer in image, these psychedelic and bright images, played with brilliantly when the film briefly goes to sombre black-and-white, adds to the film’s tone. The content is weird by itself as mentioned however, with images of the sludge on the seas, flowers wilting and dying in sped-up fast-forward, or the effects of the sulphuric acid clouds, when skeletons are all that are left of people after Hedorah passes over them, combining into a disturbing yet still playful movie, a melding of body horror, the vaguely cosmic, environmental panic, experimental techniques, candy colours and rubber monsters creating a flawed if heady brew. Viewing both films on dub only videotapes, with English dubbing that fits the content, it makes the films more uniquely artificial worlds of their own. I would watch the original language visions of the films if possible, but I can understand why these dubs, out of nostalgia and humour about them, are as much part of the Godzilla legacy in the West too.

A stranger aspect of Godzilla Vs. Hedoran (1971)
From
2.bp.blogspot.com/-ocp1r6oT5KM/
Tr78N8mj2kI/AAAAAAAAE4E/ULFwGSemmto/s1600/Godzilla_Vs_Hedorah_man_Like_Skeletons.jpg

And it must be said that, as with most Japanese culture, these films tackle universal and national issues. Godzilla Vs. Megalon does address the issues of bomb testing subtextually, but it is Godzilla Vs. Hedorah which takes its environmental message as the central plot point. Even then, seeing the destruction of buildings and the hazards that take place reminds me that Japan has been a country plagued by earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural or manmade disasters. The original Godzilla was a reminder of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and despite their lighter and cartoonish tones, bearing in mind Godzilla Vs. Hedorah’s gristly aspects, these films still address the fears of a country digested through entertainment, allowing people to fear the effects shown onscreen but feel relief from them through the magic of giant monsters wandering around model cities.

Godzilla Vs. Megalon (1973)
From http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/godzilla-vs-the-smog-monster/w448/godzilla-vs-the-smog-monster.jpg?1312569407


The experience of watching them on VHS tape was interesting. I am grateful that the better quality format of DVD took over, and I have no real nostalgia since, while I did grow up with videotapes, my father got a DVD player very early in the technology’s existence and I spent my teenage years watching film on it and going through post-2000 cult figures such as Takashi Miike. I have to admire the format though for what it provided and have utter dismay at how ungracefully it was shoved to the side into obsoletion without recognition. If Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers (2009) wasn’t enough to prove to me the aura of VHS could still be useable, as Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998) also showed, then the ability to get hold of these Godzilla films and other such materials for a pittance on tape emphasises the recognition the format needs. Yes, I could probably import these two films from the States, which I am considering, but the complete unavailability of certain films like this in Britain, let alone those unfortunate ones unavailable on DVD anywhere in the globe, means that video still has an importance if you need to get access to something difficult to find and is not on YouTube. As a film fan, it feels clear that I may have to invest in a second hand video player at some point, or hope these films get DVD releases, or otherwise all I have to get to them is the rare chance of them being shown on TV as there are no eclectic cinemas near me. Even the act of rewinding the tapes back to the beginning after viewing the films wasn’t as laborious as I remembered it back in my childhood, barely eating up time and allowing me a breather between watching both films one after another. The sense of cinematic history, even if the films are not the best, and they have been compressed onto videotape from fourteen years ago, is a lot in hindsight, asking myself how many areas of cinema I can dig into if I look as much as I am now. Second hand DVDs that were released in Britain by themselves already include vast numbers of obscurities and gems you never thought were available, taking into account battered disc cases and the lesser quality of the film in some releases, but taking in VHS as well as imports and the internet you can drown in this medium. Throughout this season, as it is near the end, I feel like I want to concentrate more on films that fascinate me fully, rather than look into mainstream and dramatic films I felt I had to look into as well, and plough through as many as I can. Considering how eclectic my choices to review, and with five days to go, it has emphasised how my passions go for the least expected or varied of tastes not just in film, and while it would make me a terrible connoisseur let alone a festival programmer because of my erratic cherry pickings, it nonetheless varies my choices in a way that paradoxically fit together perfectly like hands in gloves. With my double bill of radiated, giant lizards, I’ve also finally gotten to a sub-genre I’ve taken years to get to; yes, I did see a Gamera film from the 1990s before now, but I may have blanked out in the middle of that film so I’ll cheat and not count it.


And where else expect Godzilla Vs. Hedoran (1971) do you see a giant lizard propel himself in the air like this?
From http://www.reviewbusters.org/images/movie/godzilla_vs_hedorah_001.jpg





Friday, 26 October 2012

Lady Stay Dead [The Living Dead Girl (1982)]

From http://media.screened.com/uploads/0/2709/596710-livingdeadgirl_poster_large.jpg

Dir. Jean Rollin
France
Film #25, for Thursday 25th October, for Halloween 31 For 31

I may have started watching films made from the late French director Jean Rollin this year. Amongst all the discoveries and re-evaluations over the last three quarters of the year, I may have seen Zombie Lake (1981), the film that Rollin took over from Jesus Franco, within the early months. Regardless of one’s opinion of Zombie Lake, it did not follow the conventions that I have heard about Rollin’s cinema. The Shiver of the Vampires (1971) however felt closer to the reputation he developed. If you are in the wrong mood for the film, with its melding of sexploitation, slow mood and psychedelic rock to a horror narrative, it would come off as pretentious and difficult to sit through, but looking back at it it grows as something memorable from this year’s viewing.

The Living Dead Girl pushes my interest in Rollin further. When she is brought back to life by toxic waste, Catherine Valmont (Françoise Blanchard) becomes an undead being who feats on the blood of other people. Her childhood friend Hélène (Marina Pierro), who made a blood pact with her, attempts to bring Catherine back to being human and provide her with fresh food, but the paradox of a ‘living dead girl’ is too much for Catherine and the outside world entrenches into their environment. Rollin for me was always depicted as making films involving vampires and sexuality, a crass simplification in hindsight but one that was foisted over him as any filmmaker is forced with a simplified off-colour description of their work. The Living Dead Girl has nudity and gore, but it is far from his suggested reputation of lesbian vampires. It is as much a very artistic film as a horror film, creating a distinct piece that feels out of place even with the later French horror films of the 2000s. As with any country’s cinema, French films have a specific thought process to them, clearly willing to push the content to more idiosyncratic and self reflective tangents over clear narrative and topic lines. The film is more about its mood, following Catherine and the traumatic stasis she is within after death. Completely unable to communicate vocally for most of the running time, her friend Hélène tries to help her, only to have interference from an actress who becomes obsessed with Catherine. With the specific palette and look of a French film from the 1980s – the earthy architecture and countryside against the shell suits of certain cast members – The Living Dead Girl stood out immediately for how well put together it was visually, wide establishing shots and claustrophobic close-ups in closed areas adding a sense of space as most of the film is set at Catherine’s old mansion home and its crypt vault underneath the ground. With access with such a grand location, Rollin used the setting fully, something that was also significant in The Shiver of the Vampires and adds to his moody take on horror tropes.

Attempting to write a review merely on the mood for The Living Dead Girl is difficult, but if you are able to settle into its slower mood, its unconventional tone feels for more liberating while still retaining the paint red gore of European horror cinema. There is a moment later on where the film seemed to be drifting along without purpose, but this was dispelled as it lead onto a climax that ties the treads together fully. As a slow burning film, a unique vampire/undead story, it plays with the ideas of obsessive relationships and the concept of immortality in a new way for me. All exquisitely shot, it surprised me to think Jean Rollin was dismissed as he was as he kept a level of artistry comparable to well regarded art film directors from the country of France; that he worked in horror cinema and with content such as nudity and blood must have been the reason why sadly, especially since individuals like Jean-Luc Godard used the later contents in his filmic experiments to great critical acclaim.

The Living Dead Girl was a great film. With only The Shiver of the Vampires (and to a lesser extent Zombie Lake) before this, it turned out to be an unexpected surprise. French horror cinema has risen in quantity and acclaim since the 2000s, but for me the spots before this boom, Rollin and films like Baby Blood (1990), are far more interesting, not that dissimilar in look and tone to other French dramatic and experimental cinema aside from the extended gore sequences. Unlike the later horror films that have absorbed the influences from popular styles of the genre, a film like The Living Dead Girl feels very specific to its country of origins and retains an individualistic take on its central subject matter, more about the effect of the images to convey everything rather than an elaborate story, but by the climatic sequence, working perfectly.

From http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lm1rngVjtz1qzdvd4o1_500.jpg

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Shake Your Bones [Corpse Bride (2005)]

From http://userserve-ak.last.fm/serve/_/6354807/The+Corpse+Bride+Soundtrack+Theres+been+a+grave+misunderst.jpg

Dirs. Tim Burton and Mike Johnson
United Kingdom-USA
Film #23, of Tuesday 23rd October, for Halloween 31 For 31

I have not kept up with Tim Burton as a director, but he does fascinate me. Mars Attacks! (1996) and Ed Wood (1994) stood out very well, and while it was Henry Selick who deserves the credit for bringing The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) on screen, Tim Burton still created the story and the characters originally. As an animated film where a groom-to-be (Johnny Depp) unexpectedly becomes wed to an undead bride (Helena Bonham Carter), Corpse Bride promised a similar film like Selick’s, only with Burton  in the directorial chair with Mike Johnson.

Going into Corpse Bride though there were the thoughts - as the first scenes of a gothic Victorian town are shown, and a quiet and shy protagonist played with quite a rich vocal intonation by Depp is introduced - of how Tim Burton has been viewed as becoming almost a parody of himself to other film viewers and critics. In Britain, one of the satirical comedy programmes on the BBC, which parodied celebrities, had a sketch of what Christmas would be like at the house of Burton and his real life wife Bonham Carter, Burton presenting Bonham Carter a Christmas tree covered entirely in black; it’s a cheap joke but one that sticks in the skull like a well time knife of a rouge. Part of this can be partially blamed on Burton himself, but baring in mind I have not catched up with his later films yet, it feels more the case that a legit auteur, who in following a basic trait of repeating his obsessions in each of his films, has unfortunately had his fascinations swallowed up into consumer product. This is a shame as the influences Burton and Corpse Bride show – German Expressionism. Hammer Horror (with Christopher Lee wonderfully voicing a priest), Universal and American Horror (including a Peter Lorre worm of all things) amongst others – are all distinct entities that exist beyond the weight of a mere plastic collectable of Frankenstein or Dr. Caligari in a comic book store. Either of those figures would be great, and I would gladly have either on my shelf; the problem lies more when the ideas behind them are ignored and they are merely seen as empty pop trivia images and memes. Sadly Tim Burton’s individualist style has been devoured by shop store Goth and emo culture.

Corpse Bride is immensely flawed. It has it humour and the entire cast is game and doing their best, but with its premise, which involves the protagonist’s original wife-to-be (Emily Watson), the ending to wrap up the tale is obvious. This is signposted further by Richard E. Grant sliming it up as Lord Barkis Bittern, the obvious villain of the piece. That does not mean the film has little of interest though. Visually, or artistically as a world created entirely from imagination, it is spectacular to see, avoiding becoming cliché by its populous of imaginately shaped characters, sharing similarities to Aardman Animations’ work, enhanced by its large British cast, and bizarrely in its more bulbous characters to the illustrator Ralph Steadman, most well known for his illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The cast as it is helps flesh these creations out as well in their idiosyncratic voices and vocalisms to match the varying body designs. The film is very macabre visually too, including material that, if it wasn’t depicted in such a cartoonish way, would be incredibly morbid. Involving the dead, including a large cast of skeletons and rotting corpses including the Corpse Bride, the filmmakers are allowed to bring a ghoulish sensibility without coming off as pointlessly gross, as with the case of the Corpse Bride which manages to convey the utterly beautiful with decay very unexpected in most cinema let alone PG rated animation. This sense of fascination, with liberal doses of black humour and enjoyable creepiness, is prevalent in Burton’s work, only to be pushed any further by Henry Selick in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Like Selick’s film, Corpse Bride also has songs and musical number as well, suggesting that along with Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), that Burton is just as obsessed with musical theatre as with horror stories. The songs don’t completely work, but there are choice moments where it all gels together. Another aspect that Burton has been lambasted about, along with continually casting Johnny Depp in his films, is the repetition of using Danny Elfman to compose his films’ music. Again, this is a key part of traditional auteurism, continuing new films with the same collaborators, thus creating an expanding single entity through multiple films that goes against human nature of being bored with repetition. If Burton was to start producing less and less quality films in this frame of scope, which I still need to figure out for myself, than this would be a significant problem, but Corpse Bride avoids this partially. The music, excluding the few unsuccessful compositions that try to make ordinary conversations into lyrics, is very good, the standout involving Danny Elfman himself, as a character Bonejangles, as the lead vocalist; with its swing-like mood, it reminds you that before he was a film composer Elfman was once part of a band called Oingo Boingo and that, with his brother Richard Elfman, he helped create the cult film Forbidden Zone (1982), an un-PC, delirious tribute to early 20th century music and show theatre though bright eyed madness. The irony is that, considering Corpse Bride’s humour and tone, you can see shades of Forbidden Zone in this family friendly film which, combined with the influences of Tim Burton, adds a potentially gleeful subversion to it all.

It is a shame that however this subversion is damped by the narrative of the film, based on folklore but smoothed down too far, obvious in what will happen without a great deal of magic or life to it. Around this problem however is a cinematic world which entices me to return back to Tim Burton’s films. His directorial obsessions are in danger of becoming a parody of itself, but every director who develops a singular cinematic personality is in risk of doing this, and it does not take away the fact that his obsession with the underachiever, the looked down upon, the monsters and the undead brides, is full of tenderness while he still revels in a severed arm joke or two. If emo hipsterism does actually exist, it sadly will distort his vision out of context, but it will be blamed on the culture around such a director’s work that pulls it out of its emotional context into hollow images of black clad ghouls. Unless Burton’s later films fall into clichés and laziness, if I get around to them, it will remain this way to interpret the issue. The final answer will be to see the films, from Dark Shadows (2012) and Frankenweenie (2012) to the earliest ones like Beetlejuice (1988), and contrast them, seeing if my theory is solid or if Burton is exactly like that parody on a BBC program, at home at Christmas with Helen Bonham Carter, presenting to her the most pathetically tiny, black covered Christmas tree and discussing how it fits how he views the season in an inane manner. Corpse Bride borders in the middle, but still suggests the promise that Burton is far more interesting than merely making everything black and grim looking.

From http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/corpse-bride/w448/corpse-bride.jpg?1298978311

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

More Slasher Than Slasher [StageFright: Aquarius (1987)]

From http://retroslashers.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/stagefright.jpg

Dir. Michele Soavi
Italy
Film #22, of Monday 22nd October, for Halloween 31 For 31

When Italian genre cinema is at its best, they are rich in style and distinct in their filmic textures. Even at their most minimal in plot or narrative, the Italians were able to still succeed because the emphasis on the visuals was pushed to the point that it conveys all the emotion and effect needed. Michele Soavi’s StageFright can be summarised in a single sentence – a psychopath in an owl mask picks off a theatrical troupe in a locked theatre. The film comes closer to an American slasher movie than the ones traditional in Italy, following an elaborately dressed killer murdering a group of people one-by-one. The plot is very slight, the kind that would get immensely criticised for its lack of depth; the slight nature of it does affect the quality of the overall film, but for pace reasons. The rest of StageFright avoids this by Soavi turning the overall work into a kinetic, immensely lurid hybrid that is far better than it could have turned into.

Owl Mask considers some practical DIY.
From http://cdn.chud.com/9/9e/9edfe47c_Stagefright1.jpeg
Drenched in late 1980s style, the film is a basis for Soavi to push camera movement and use of images as far as he could go. The premise of a slasher film can easily become redundant in its inanity if not done well; the stripped down nature of the genre however can allow emphasis on the tenseness of the situation to be taken to its fullest. An understudy of Dario Argento, his influence on Soavi is obvious, using the focus on moving camera shots, and the use of colour and light, to take StageFright’s minimal premise and push it into a far more quality work. The characters are surface-level, the violence is over violent, and the owl mask the killer wears is impractical in reality, but playing in a clearly artificial world, Soavi allows these aspect to still work. For example, the owl mask, a giant owl’s head from the stage play the theatre cast are practicing, is a striking presence in the film and stands out in genre cinema despite its ridiculous size. Soavi even uses the feathers from it brilliantly as a frequent motif in the narrative. Like Argento, the style of the film is excessive on purpose to emphasis the intensity of the horror onscreen.

The style of the film and your reaction to it is the same as to the music within it. If it is off-putting, the excess is too much, full of saxophone flourishes and synth, but if you can engage with it or love its excess, especially for me as I used to play the saxophone until college, then it adds to the lurid nature of the film, and as a score adds to the effect of the dramatic scenes. Italian genre films and their stylism is at its best when the directors also use it carefully even when it is intentionally saturated in tone. With the score for example, Soavi brilliantly contrasts it with use of silence for certain sequences, especially the highlight near the end involving a key, which adds to their intensity, and classical music. The same logic is used by Soavi for composing the visuals, excessive in style – extreme close-ups, a breathtaking 360 degree pan of the theatre soundstage, first person prowling cameras – but put together with immense consideration. Regardless of the content, the editing of the scenes together is probably StageFright’s greatest virtue aside from its style.

As his debut, Michele Soavi started off especially well. It is what it is, but while Italian genre cinema had plenty of highs, just from seeing a few films from my perspective, there are plenty of terrible ones too. Since the Italian industry would soon after this film die off, this can be seen as one of the last hurrahs before the dearth of the 1990s would take place. Only possible to make as it was in the 1980s, StageFright is a film which takes such a replicated and grinded-out concept and breathe life into it, an act which is refreshing. I did suggest I would do a slasher film for this season; it’s an Italian one, and probably doesn’t legally count, but this is my slasher choice, far more its sub-genre emphasised tenfold than some of the American ones and much better for it.

Owl Mask resting after a night's worth of killing.
From http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Zgz5J0rQu6w/TuEnPW571WI/AAAAAAAAAGY/8WSoq6mfSOY/s1600/owl-head-deadly-movies.jpg