Monday, 29 April 2013

Mutant Disco [They Eat Scum (1979)]


Dir. Nick Zedd


To someone who does not love or admire They Eat Scum, a barrage of criticisms could be rained down. It looks cheap they would say, amateurish, badly acted, not good in terms of structure, and just tastelessly disgusting. It was clearly made out of Nick Zedd’s own resources yes, and it does quality as amateur cinema, but “amateur” is not an inherently negative word, and viewing this film, I myself have to reassess how I use that word from now on. An amateur creation can be far more interesting than the “professionally” made work. That’s why the term underground art was created for and creations within said term have knocked to the kerb overground creations in terms of quality. It was the creation of a New York based movement known as the Cinema of Transgression, made with what was available at hand and, with Zedd as one of the main individuals of it and a manifesto writer, making intentionally provocative and tasteless films designed to startle and amuse. Truly cheap, awful work is lifeless, lazy rehashing of generic tropes ad nauseum or pretend to be intentionally bad with no charm. They Eat Scum is the opposite to all this, keeping with its punk rock content in terms of mindset rather than being a dull gooffest. When a character, so enamoured with man’s best friend, sucks off their male poodle, people will raise their eyebrows to this differentiation but tastelessness needs creativity and a sense of craftsmanship, at any level, to work. Nothing in this film is half-hearted and contrived, but feels like a gleeful poke in the eyes that works whether you reveal in it or feel like you’ve got poodle spunk in your mouth.


Episodic, it is centred on the actress Donna Death and starts off with a family – Death as the daughter, who is the lead singer of a famous death rock band who encourages a death cult of cannibals out of her fans, a son with a “very” close relationship to his pet poodle, and a very religious father. From there you go through shady managers, canine prostitution, ritualistic genital mutilation, twin sisters, chaos and digs at disco that, far from being cruel jokes in this newer era, are actually funny and leads to one of the best moments which the quote of the review’s title is from. It’s also, as mentioned, a celebration of punk music, including filmed performances of punk bands in their messy audio glory. I wonder if Zedd saw Jubilee (1978) and was directly inspired by it, Derek Jarman’s anarchic series of vignettes about the growing punk culture at the time and made in a way just as antagonistic and intentionally ramshackle as They Eat Scum is meant to be. It’s the unpredictability that makes They Eat Scum rewarding. Only seventy or so minutes long, it never drags into the mire of tedious plotting. It has no hesitance in its content and has no issue using music, such as the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, that may have not been paid for. It even introduces, unexpectedly, a scene of stop motion animation that was my personal highlight of the film just for the sake of it.


And it is fun. Shot on Super 8, it is the product of a decade before where a micro budget film automatically brings up the image of something interesting or at least worth seeing (usually) than a cheap zombie/slasher film or CGI sharks. It was intended to shock the viewer or gives some un-PC entertainment to those who got the joke, and its do-it-yourself, take-no-prisoners aesthetic is ultimately rewarding. 


Thursday, 25 April 2013

A Man Vanishes (1967)


Dir. Shôhei Imamura


Documentaries are a fickle genre for me, divisive as I wonder whether they are actually “documents” that attempt to be neutral with the material. Documentaries became popular in the 2000s but many of them should have been called opinion films – especially from the Michael Moore school of reporting that has been blasted for their presentations – and many films, from talking heads to animated montages, look identical with a similar style that feels less like a document than a television commercial. Only documentaries on films, like Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008), avoid this while still retaining this flashier post-music video aesthetic, unlike the work of Frederick Wiseman or essay films, because they feel like film resource books that have been made into multimedia film works, the areas that are slight in them not effecting how much information they have already. The genre is immediately affected by editing, a basic tenant to filmmaking unless the material is uncensored, raw footage. Editing affects the reality shown and what “truth” actually is which is why documentarian Michael Moore, for example, has been lambasted by the left wing as well as the right. The subjective truth is viewed as the ultimate truth, acceptable in an essay piece, which purports the creator(s) view of the world, but not acceptable if it’s supposed to be subjective or proposes to pull the curtain back on the Wizard of Oz and views it as a vital event to do so. Imamura, drifting away from fiction cinema at this point in his career, realised the fallacy of this and admits it. A Man Vanishes is fiction, explicitly said by the director onscreen, even if it’s completely truth.


Imamura wanted to tackle nearly thirty cases of disappearances but instead, for the first film produced by the legendary Art Theatre Guild (ATG), concentrated on the case of Tadashi, an employee of a plastics firm, who leaves in his absence a murky ordinariness, of petty white collar crime and a fiancée who is both questionable in her behaviour but, as the film goes on, is as much the subject of the resentments she and her older sister have for each other and how it may have involved the  to-be husband. A Man Vanishes is a difficult film even when I have made for myself a diet of meta- and avant garde films that have a rawer aesthetic. My view, my grade, on the film drastically fluctuated through its 130 minutes. It was as much, as critic Tony Rayns comments on the film on the UK DVD release extra, a creation from very limited technological means. Hidden cameras were used at times, Imamura knowing the moral duplicity of this and covering the peoples’ faces with black oblongs when they did not give permission, but even when filming with people who did they were unable to record direct sound for a lot of the footage. Instead it is interlaced together as a separate audio track played over silent scenes of interviews and what the filmmakers are doing, eventually becoming obvious that the lip synch is wrong and that, with conversations not connecting with the images onscreen inherently, that we get a stream of conscious thoughts melded with Cinéma vérité. This first viewing, as it will be for viewers unexpecting of what they see, was for me attempting to grasp this all, the individuals involved, the people connected to Tadashi and the filmmakers, the moments where secret cameras were used and weren’t, and this rough, raw aesthetic which eventually becomes an explicit critique on what subjective truth is as well.


As the film goes on, and the bitterness between the sisters becomes central, A Man Vanishes feels like one of Imamura’s fiction films from the ones I’ve seen. Note, this is not because A Man Vanishes feels like something like Pigs and Battleships (1961), but because Imamura was so good at capturing life in his films something like Pigs and Battleships feels realistic even to a non-Japanese viewer in the 2010s. Like many works of this late sixties, early seventies period that I have been bit-by-bit getting into, from films like this to the Osamu Tezuka manga Ayako (1972-1973), the real life individuals (or characters in a fictitious work) are old enough to have lived through, or grew up in, the Second World War, maybe having seen the Japan of before, and are living through a technologically/culturally/politically turbulent era for the country. This spikes the universal issues of human nature tackled in works like A Man Vanishes ­ - of family tensions, one’s place in humanity and society, sex and sexual relationships – and is confounded further by the country’s strong spirituality and connection of it to normalcy, moments in the film taking place where a female medium is hired to contact Tadashi and the spirits of his family to locate him. This adds an ominous supernaturalism to the events that charge head on into the lack of relevance to spirituality that some of the individuals feel. These various conflicts are radiant in Japanese cinema and Shohei Imamura would tackle all of the ones mentioned in his follow up, the grand scale, nearly three hour film Profound Desires of the Gods (1968), let alone the films of his I’ve seen and yet to get to.


When the fiction of the film is blatantly shown, its theatrics, as Imamura steps in as the puppet master of A Man Vanishes, it eventually stands up as a great creation. Even when the fictitious is revealed, the reality beyond Imamura’s control, and how people divide and clash with each other, stands unshaken and above him, the film cameras, microphones and the man who waves a clapperboard a crowded mass within the frame of another camera up above along with the participants they’re filming. They are actual people stuck in the centre of life along with their subjects, and while Imamura had no real intention of investigating what had happened to Tadashi, his absence and the people connected with him still control the film from Imamura with their repressed emotions and their attitudes. Admitting a sadistic dream of mutilating cats to the camera, us, the wife is an ordinary, plain old human being, but as Imamura’s work enforced, human beings show as many complexities as an onion has many skins or an orange has chambers. Documentaries of the most part now are stupid and pointless in their existence for ignoring this complexity, which is why A Man Vanishes is difficult to watch but ultimately rewards more.


Friday, 19 April 2013

Mini-Review: This Transient Life (1970)


Dir. Akio Jissoji


A provocative little film if there was any. A young man commits incest with his older sister, blossoming into a full relationship that is discovered by a monk who knows the family well. It is revealed over the nearly two and a half hour film however that the man’s behaviour goes beyond this, weaving himself sexually and transgressively with other people as he goes on with his goal to learn how to make Buddhist statues from a master woodcarver, the reason behind his taboo acts more deeper than the flesh. The main crux of the film is fascinating. It is very much a social realist drama in its centre – of morality, of religion (specifically Buddhism in Japanese culture), of sexuality and of individual isolation within human society – but it does not fall into the trap of what is stereotyped as an issue film. Tackling a very spiritual issue by its end in such a controversial way, it prefers to be restrained in its content, far in away more so than the dramatic swoops of more well known films, only switching from this with the more fantastical hallucinations the main male character has. You are not on his side, but you do not hate him, the characters in the film very complicated and compliant in the events that take place, including the ones that hurt them, both good and bad. The monk in particular could be viewed as the moral compass of the film or the most complacent and guilty party for not intervening in any of what takes place. If sinlessness is the true virtue, it must be won by engaging with the world then presuming to be higher than the sinner, as the sinner can be right in how a sinless life can lead to no true reward but is still guilty in their acts destroying others.


This Transient Life is also an exceptional example of cinematography, stunning black and white photography, textured and rich, whether scenes are set in brightly lit environments or choked by shadows. It is very sensual and erotic, which compounded with some of the scenes being incest feels like deliberate provocations to get the viewer to think for themselves on the taboo. A surprising amount of Japanese art and pop culture tackles incest, for titillation and for serious dissections of morality and human behaviour, This Transient Life very much breaking down what morality is though a very confrontational protagonist who is himself, along with everyone else, scrutinised and sort through by the unconventional camerawork. Director Akio Jissoji has no limit to how a camera should move or be angled at onscreen, shades of Michelangelo Antonioni in moments where the camera leaves the people and tracks the geographic environment around them, the manmade and nature, with numerous types of camera movement and placement involved. Scenes take place shot in unconventional angles, and the camera moves as if it’s a character by itself, anxious and as much viewing the environment around the people onscreen, looming over them, as well as being as close to them in every detail as it can, their most intimate moments, especially the pleasures of sex in lingering images of naked skin, as significant in the camera’s eyes as the temples and buildings of the place depicted. That this director went on to make Ultraman films as well as more of these abstract works makes his filmography even more enticing rather than unexpected. The final results that make up This Transient Life are exceptional.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Mini-Review: Visions of Ecstasy (1989)


Dir. Nigel Wingrove
United Kingdom

The following link is to the only film, short or feature length format, that has been banned in the United Kingdom for blasphemy, a film that I have wanted to see for years, and now have written a review for here just for you the reader:


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Death May Be Your Seleção (Eden of the East (2009-2010))


Dir. Kenji Kamiyama

[Note: This is a review of all the parts that make up this property – the original eleven episode television series (2009), and the two feature films King of Eden (2009) and Paradise Lost (2010) – as one single entity. I will not include spoilers, but the bigger issue of reviewing this in these terms is how the opinion one has for the work contrasts from just reviewing the television series by its own and the whole together. It may also mean you will have to acquire more than a single DVD set to get all the parts of the entire narrative, so take note.]

If there is one virtue to Eden of the East that stands above all else, it’s how different in manner and tone this is from most anime that is released in the West. Its prime focus, whittling it all down, is its director-writer scrutinising his country’s sociological and economic situation and, through a science fiction, political thriller premise, offering up his own hope for the future of Japan through entertainment. Missiles are a motif of the work, but it is just as likely, if more so, for a major plot turn to take place just from a piece of internet technology or a mobile phone, military hardware having less effect than ordinary consumer technology in a country where such things of mobile communication has its own urban legends and pop cultural connections. Envisioning its world through the eyes of restless youths, shut-ins and NEETs, the latter young adults not in employment, education or training, it’s a story where a single specialist phone can make the Prime Minister of Japan say “uncle” on public television. It’s very much a creation of the late 2000s and of this decade, even at five years old now, still relevant now for Japanese and non-Japanese viewers, and fascinating storytelling of the period only a few years ago you can view from a distance.


On an improvised trip to Washington D.C. by herself, the young Japanese woman Saki Morimi (Saori Hayami in Japanese, Leah Clark in English) has an odd encounter with a Japanese man her age, completely naked and welding a pistol in one hand and a phone in the other, outside the White House, finding herself becoming enamoured to this mysterious person calling himself Akira Takizawa (Ryōhei Kimura in Japanese, Jason Liebrecht in English). With no memories of who he is, Takizawa discovers that the phone is a specialist one where, with up to ten billion yen only accessible on it available for his use, he has the ability to do almost anything through a mysterious female contact called Juiz (Sakiko Tamagawa in Japanese, Stephanie Young in English), who proclaims him as a savour of Japan. With such power in a single phone comes great responsibility, realising he is in a game where he has been fostered into trying to save Japan with this phone at his disposal, slowly recovering his memories with the help of Saki and her friends while dealing with the consequences of this predicament, both what he may have done before he lost his memories and the other users who have these phones as well, all called Seleção and trying to win the game or do what they desire with the resources they have. Wanting to literally punch the person who set the game up, Takizawa has to deal with the consequences of having a whole country on his shoulders and doing what he feels is best for it.


The original television series juggles political drama, latent romance, comedy and this mild science fiction idea together in a way that succeeds by its end. The only real flaw with it, by itself, is that it was clearly halted from having enough episodes needed to tell the whole narrative that was planned out. It goes with a considerate beat, and makes a full narrative arch, but with the following theatrical films afterwards, it’s clear that Eden of the East needs more than those eleven episodes to fill out the wider storyline. This causes the whole project to have some flaws with its pace and presentation. The series itself is perfect in structure baring a couple of episodes surrounding a character known as the ‘Johnny Hunter’, which in  a second viewing works for characterisation but has a contrived wrap-up of that scenario. It suffers a lot more in the first theatrical film King of Eden; it is needed as it is structurally, but it repeats the beginning of the series somewhat pointlessly and feels like it covers less in eighty minutes than what a single twenty minute episode from the series did. Thankfully Paradise Lost, as the ending, corrects this problem.


It’s amazing how subdued Eden of the East is over these different pieces. It is very idiosyncratic, far from a Dragonball Z-likw work or a major fad series usually based on a Shonen Jump manga. This series is anchored down by its emotional core, specifically around the character of Saki whose handling as a character perfectly symbolises the whole project as a whole. In the wrong hands, she could have been all the worst stereotypes of the passive, waif-like female character, Kenji Kamiyama writing all the characters, even minor ones, well. Even if she could still be accused as being a one dimensional character, getting perilously close to this in the first half of King of Eden, there are two factors that prevent this and also solidify the narrative. One, that despite Takizawa being the cool, confident male hero of the story, everyone including the antagonists have their moments to speak in the spotline and that the events that take place are not pushed forward by coincidence, but by a single word utter at the right time or an available laptop which levels the playing field for every character to contribute something. It’s also clear, having her open and close the whole story narrative wise, Saki is the clear protagonist even if she’s not in every scene or has the final-final sequence of the entirety of Eden of the East. Reversing the usual trope in anime where it’s a male in this position with a mysterious female love interest (or two or three or a whole illicit boudoir of high school girls and foreign exchange students), she is the audience surrogate who is having to understand this all and weaves the proceedings for us together around a concise arch she can learn from and we, the viewer, get the best from with her as the placed narrator of the series. At the centre of Eden of the East, she works perfectly as the anchor to prevent the entire story from becoming vague and float off into ramblings about Japanese economy; the growing love story works in this, rather than being an arbitrary contrivance like in another anime, making sense to flesh the whole story out and to make sure everything – from the political talk to the oddest Dawn of the Dead (1978) tribute you could ever see – work together fully as a single tale.


This emotional core allows the original TV series to (potentially) work by itself as it concludes a solid character arch, and allows, even with the faltering pace in the first film, for everything in the entire proceedings to keep consistent. The closing films do not, in any way, top the ending of the final episode of the TV series, which will disappoint some, but this work from the beginning is an immensely talky, leisurely paced work when you loosen the genre tropes wrapped around it. It’s more difficult to pigeonhole than a lot of anime, and by the final film, it is clearly the creation of a director-writer who wanted to explore his feelings about his country, old enough to have absorbed any the political strife in the Seventies in Japan when he was growing up as a child, and also see the country’s economy blossom and burst in the eighties. He can also look forward, through what he concentrates on in this story, while staying entertaining and comedic even in its more serious parts. He follows in the same distinct school of director-writer Mamoru Oshii in expressing his philosophies through these genre films, and that he is famous for his spin-offs of the Ghost In The Shell films, which I need to see, is befitting him.


The fragmentation of the whole project mars it slightly, which is the only real fault of Eden of the East. Beyond the annoying issue, as always been the case with anime, of having to acquire every part of it, and having to contend with expensive prices and DVDs not being available, it does have a real effect in making it drop in quality with The King of Eden film. Everything else succeeds. The TV series caps itself off well, despite only having eleven episodes and leaving you wanting more, and by the end of Paradise Lose it successfully closes the story off if you don’t view the story as being the ending of the TV series but a drama. It manages to survive the potential chaos of splitting off the whole story into three pieces and it still shines from it, so much so that even the series’ end credits is a great pieces of short film making by itself in its stop motion, paper animation. The desire from the animation company Production I.G.  to make something different is clear to see and they all really put their hearts into this, flaws or not. That its not based on a manga, a videogame or tie-in, but an original creation that was fully thought out, makes it even more refreshing.

And this is strange even to the characters in the series. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Nazarene Cross and the Wolf (1975)

Dir. Leonardo Favio


Based on folklore, The Nazarene Cross and the Wolf tells the story of the seventh son, the last surviving son, of a widowed mother who is said to be cursed by the Devil into becoming a werewolf. He is left to lead a happy life, viewing it as a joke, until his love for the maiden Griselda brings the Devil to him and begins the curse at the next full moon. It’s great to widen the palette and see these primordial and universal legends, of man becoming a beast, from numerous perspectives, as is the case for Argentina’s official entry for the Foreign Language Academy Award for its year. Its annoying films like this are difficult for English speaking viewers to see outside of nefarious means though. Nazarene Cross... is not pulpy enough for a traditional genre label, closer to drama even with its fantastical story and a soundtrack from Italian genre cinema, but even boutique releases of movies from countries beyond the likes of Japan and Italy are limited unfortunately, with only Mondo Macabro, to my knowledge, in the United States waving the flag for multiculturalism in this area of film.


Nazarene Cross... is not perfect. It is very much a film of the Seventies, but unlike cult movies, it does not have necessarily a distinct visual look that stands out more, even if it is very well made, having a classical look, within a rural setting, that has moments that stand out, particularly a trip to Hell near the end, but is not constantly baroque or dreamlike in tone. It does avoid wearing out its premise, folktales better off as very short length works due to their concise natures unless a filmmaker can elaborate on it carefully, which is to its advantage. The only real flaw is that, while it starts to work as it goes on, the werewolf itself is botched in presentation, going for an actual wolf rather than a wolf-like humanoid, but not really working on a supernatural level compared to the emotional sadness added to the transformation later on. The emphasis on the culture, the more dryer, sparser landscapes shown in Latin American cinema frequently and the iconography, shows a clear grasp on a folklore that is lost in a lot of Northern American cinema unless it can escape internally or set itself in a minority community or the countryside, this film set in a part of some older period but timeless in appearance. These films from countries that don’t get the time or day they deserve as much seem to be more connected to their land and cultural heritage while others like Britain have seemed to forgotten theirs to their disadvantage. Even places that used their cultures to create great films in the past, like many European countries, have been lackadaisical in this in the last decade, with only Japan as a major cinematic country that has continually emphasised its traditions, taking their legends with them to current day. Far from suggesting a patronising tone to viewing something like Nazarene Cross..., it would be probably healthier if films like this, which has been forgotten about outside of Argentina, along with the celebrated works were more available and viewed. There is something very harmful about the consumption of only the new in cinema, even from film writing, for urban-set stories, technologically heavy works behind and in front of the camera, and aggressive post-music video style aesthetics, compacting human emotion and thoughts into cramp, claustrophobic mindsets that do not allow from breathing space or pause, and seem to abandon the useful tales and emotions from that country’s folklore, even in art cinema that is supposed to be the opposite of all of these aspects. The old chestnut of someone becoming so sick of the urban life that they desperately want to escape to the country applies to the viewing of cinema and storytelling in general, the cityscapes perfect for thrillers and Kafkaesque nightmares, fantasies that manipulated the buildings and streets or film noir, but not places connected to the basic human fears or desires personally through their appearance unless a protagonist has manipulated them to fit this. Within another werewolf film like An American Werewolf in London (1981), the city is a place that amplifies the darkest of the story, or contrasts absurdly with bestial nature, not remind one of old folktales and beliefs. When it does in a fantasy or horror film, it’s usually because the characters have gone to the magic store, a religious temple or library full of occult materials, and talk to people connected to old beliefs like a priest or the local gypsy fortune teller who speaks in ominous messages. If ideas generated from these folktales are brought up in environments separate from these, in shopping malls or from the mouth of a Mark Zuckerberg-like person, this discrepancy becomes part of the issue becoming tackled by the story even if it wasn’t an intentional one.  


This is significant with this film as, obscure or not, this one of the most successful, if not the most successful, box office hits in Argentina still. This is interesting as, in vast contrast to another box office smash like Titanic (1997), which takes traditions (historical/mythological/cultural) and pulls them into the context of the newest technology available and newest tastes, this feels like the cinematic and musical tropes that were new in 1975 were pulled back into the context for this folktale as mere tools for it. This is important as, for a purposely simple tale, Nazarene Cross... has aspects to it which really do not conform to the homogenised nature of what one thinks of a box office hit, particularly its more complicated take on the Devil within the religious strand of the film. In only a few pieces of dialogue, the film’s take on this figure is vastly different in a surprising way that is great. My knowledge of the late Leonardo Favio only extends to this film, but just from this, and the fact that he was a musician as well as a film director, suggests that in vast contrast to someone like James Cameron, mainstream or not, Favio wanted to be more honest and down-to-earth in his depiction of this folktale rather than rebuild it to fit the aesthetics available to him in the period. The Nazarene Cross and The Wolf would only work for a slighter amount of people – this kind of honesty and reverence for traditions does not extend well to a mainstream mindset that has to be assessable for everyone and has the current and the future in its mind only – but this honesty makes it rewarding even if its flawed and a bit dated now. It is a folktale that is told well over ninety minutes or so, and is better for it.


Monday, 8 April 2013

Mini-Review: Violent Summer (1959)


Dir. Valerio Zurlini


Melodrama deserves to be reviewed on here as much as horror and action cinema is. To ignore the genres I’ve missed so far would be hypocritical as a film fan who claims to watch “everything”. It is a genre that amplifies real life situations in ways that seem over elaborate, in a reality when these problems are frequent for many people, but they have enough a semblance of real life that draws us to them. Set at the dawn of the end of World War II in Italy, Violent Summer pushes the melodrama into a more contemplative area. A young man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and an older widow (Eleonora Rossi Drago), who’s lost her husband to the war, develop of a romantic relationship, divided by the hostility it creates from her family and his friends, and the falling apart of Fascist Italy, close to home as the man’s father is a high ranking member of the Fascist party as it is being decimated. It is fascinating to think, at least for two films including The Conformist (1970), that Trintignant has played two characters placed near the end, or aftermath, of Benito Mussolini’s rule of Italy and the end of the Fascist state, both of them – one a noble, charming man stuck in his fate, the other a void, both admitting to wanting to be part of the crowd despite being opposites – liable to encounter each other within the cinematic depiction of this era face-to-face. The use of the historical background clearly shows how the lives of the populous (the characters and their fellow ordinary people) were punctured by the chaos of the war, a fighter plane flying so low at a beach, lost, that it frightens the people on it, showing the lack of boundary between the war front and home.


It is an elegantly made film, beautiful in cinematography with one sequence, of fireworks and a night of celebration set to an American song, which stands out as well as pushes a key emotional thrust forward. As a drama, it stands well, Trintignant and Drago making compelling leads, Trintignant’s distinct, handsome face, from another era of masculinity, and Drago’s natural and graceful beauty shining through. The divisive element of the film, which prevents it from being a great work, is whether it is actually satisfactory as a dramatic work by its end or not. As a melodrama with lush orchestra music and scenes of heightened emotion, you have to be able to suspend your disbelief to be emotionally connected to the characters, which applies here still despite the obvious political undertones. The divided and antagonised relationships between the lovers and everyone around them has a sense of the completely believable, the horrible awkwardness when a friend becomes hostile to someone they know having passions for someone they believe they shouldn’t. There is however an issue though to whether certain turns in the characters actions and story shifts, especially in the last scene, feel perfectly considered or too abrupt. That will be up to you to decide if you go and look for Violent Summer for yourself to see. 


Sunday, 7 April 2013

March 2013 in Film


Best Film of the Month
1. Dance of the Seven Veils (Ken Russell, 1970/UK) – 10/10
2. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959/USA) – 10/10
3. The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973/Spain) – 10/10
4. Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2010/Japan) – 9/10 [Anime Series]
5. Content (Chris Petit, 2010/Germany-UK) – 9/10 [Rewatch]
6. Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955/France) – 8/10
7. From Russia with Love (Terence Young, 1963/UK) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
8. City of Women (Federico Fellini, 1980/France-Italy) – 8/10
9. Freezer aka. Freeze Me (Takashi Ishii, 2000/Japan) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
10. Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012/UK-USA) – 8/10

Pretty much a month of slowly delving into the best of cinema in films like Rififi, an attempt to push back my taste in films further than the nineteen sixties which is successful so far. It also shows just how consistency or patterns really do not quantify where you can find great work. I am not that fond of the James Bond films, but when they are done exceedingly well, two appear on this list, while an obscure work from Federico Fellini managed to be a hidden gem. The two worth mentioning are Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt and Dance of the Seven Veils. The former is not for everyone, but it is the sort of experimentation and bravery I want more in Japanese anime, completely tasteless and childish, but clearly made by talented people with no restrictions in whatever tangents they desired over thirteen TV episodes. The latter should be impossible to see, technically illegal to see because the Strauss family have suppressed it until 2019, but Ken Russell’s controversial documentary on the composer is available online, quite easily, and is exceptional. Like Fellini, once you become comfortable with his style, Russell is a truly talented director.

Biggest Surprise of the Month
1. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (John Hyams, 2012/USA) – 8/10
2. Night Train Murders (Aldo Lado, 1975/Italy) – 8/10
3. Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012/UK-USA) – 8/10
4. Dragon Lord (Jackie Chan, 1982/Hong Kong) – 8/10
5. My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946/USA) – 8/10

John Hyams’ film justifies itself in being at the top of this list because I hated the first film in Hyams’ reinterpretation of the series. Taking heavy influence from Enter The Void (2010), Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is an unsettling and strange melding of action cinema, body horror and science fiction, one that is compelling and suggests that straight-to-video action cinema, even though this did get a cinema release in the US, has the potential to be as brave as this. It was released straight to DVD this year in the UK, so it is in the running for my best of 2013.

Discovery of the Month
1. City of Women (Federico Fellini, 1980/France-Italy) – 8/10
2. The Day the Earth Caught Fire (Val Guest, 1961/UK) – 8/10
3. Thief (Michael Mann, 1981/USA) – 8/10
4. Dragon Lord (Jackie Chan, 1982/Hong Kong) – 8/10
5. Holy Flame of the Martial World (Chin-Ku Lu, 1983/Hong Kong) – 7/10
6. Boccaccio ’70 (Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti and Mario Monicelli, 1962/France-Italy) – 8/10
7. Savage Messiah (Ken Russell, 1972/UK) – 8/10

We can thank the British DVD company Masters of Cinema for the number 1 entry. If they weren’t a boutique of gems before, they might become it this year.

Biggest Change of Opinion
1. Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (Steve Roberts, 1980/UK) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
2. Freezer aka. Freeze Me (Takashi Ishii, 2000/Japan) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
3. Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965/France-Italy) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
4. Terror At The Opera aka. Opera (Dario Argento, 1987/Italy) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
5. Tokyo Godfathers (Satoshi Kon and Shôgo Furuya, 2003/Japan) – 8/10 [Rewatch]

It took a single rewatch to make a film I found boring on the first viewing a bizarre and hilarious piece of absurdism, hence why Sir Henry at Rawlingson End is at Number 1. This category is necessary as I question my opinions on films I’ve seen years ago and rewatch them, my tastes shifting as films like those on this list improve for me.

Most Divisive Film of the Month
1. Behindert (Stephen Dwoskin, 1974/West Germany-UK) – 6/10 [Rewatch]
2. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012/USA) – 8/10
3. House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977/Japan) – 7/10 [Rewatch]
4. Visions of Ecstasy (Nigel Wingrove, 1989/UK) – 6/10
5. Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012/UK-USA) – 6/10

As the review I did on the blog states, Behindert has virtues but is a minor work from the late director. Number 2 and 3 could be controversial choices, but they need to be there. The Master is a great film, but I don’t know exactly why, while House is good but is far from the weirdest film ever made but more a curiosity from the Japanese mainstream in the seventies.

The Most Underrated Film
1. Savages (Oliver Stone, 2012/USA) – 8/10
2. Freezer aka. Freeze Me (Takashi Ishii, 2000/Japan) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
3. City of Women (Federico Fellini, 1980/France-Italy) – 8/10
4. Dragon Lord (Jackie Chan, 1982/Hong Kong) – 8/10
5. Night Train Murders (Aldo Lado, 1975/Italy) – 8/10
6. Terror At The Opera aka. Opera (Dario Argento, 1987/Italy) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
7. Arirang (Kim Ki-duk, 2011/South Korea) – 7/10
8. Street Fighter (Steven E. de Souza, 1994/Japan-USA) – 7/10 [Rewatch]
9. Marquis De Sade’s Justine (Jesus Franco, 1969/Italy-Liechtenstein-USA-West Germany) – 7/10

I keep questioning the general consensus from film critics, and since I did a review of it this month too on the blog, Oliver Stone’s Savages needed to be on top of this list. Kim Ki-duk’s Arirang walks a fine line between pretentiousness and art, but it’s clear that, even in a dark moment of his career where he shut himself off from the outside world for three years, he is able to scrutinise and criticise his sadness for egotism, and more importantly, turn himself into a character from his films, a conflicted, self destructive individual who lashes out at himself as much as others. With this in mind, to dismiss it as an ego project seems like a cheap comment.

The Most Overrated Film
1. Almost Human (Umberto Lenzi, 1974/Italy) – 4/10
2. Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore, 2012/USA) – 5/10
3. Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, 2008/Argentina-France-Germany-Netherlands-Spain) – 5/10
4. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, 2008/France-USA) – 3/10
5. The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1945/USA) – 5/10
6. House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977/Japan) – 7/10 [Rewatch]

House only appears on this because it far from justifies the tagline as one of the weirdest films ever made. It is completely separate from the other films on the list, including a Disney film which failed to live up to its critical praise and inspired premise, and two art house films which felt paper-thin on viewing, which is worse for Liverpool since Alonso  has made at least one masterpiece from what I have seen. Almost Human takes the top spot as it is the film people with knowledge of the Italian poliziotteschi subgenre bring up as one of the best movies from it. It doesn’t really stand up for me to be brutally honest.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month
1. Almost Human (Umberto Lenzi, 1974/Italy) – 4/10
2. Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore, 2012/USA) – 5/10
3. Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, 2008/Argentina-France-Germany-Netherlands-Spain) – 5/10
4. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, 2008/France-USA) – 3/10
5. The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1945/USA) – 5/10
6. Family (Takashi Miike, 2001/Japan) – 3/10

(Almost) identical to the list above it. Again, it smarts how Wreck-It Ralph turns a great concept into the usual plot line of an obnoxious person slowly becoming a great person that is repeated to death in a lot of multiplex cinema. It’s a hollow plotline that could be read to be a justification for the more obnoxious behaviour people have of this generation coming through our pop culture, but my real disappointment is that Wreck-It Ralph fails to be a tribute to videogames even a non-gamer like myself, who used to play games, could have loved, and is yet still being praised as a great film despite this glaring fact.

[Non] Guilty Pleasure of the Month
1. Mad Bull 34 (Satoshi Dezaki, 1991/Japan) – 7/10
2. Starcrash (Luigi Cozzi, 1979/Italy-USA) – 8/10]
3. Sinbad of the Seven Seas (Luigi Cozzi and Enzo G. Castellari, 1989/Italy-USA) – 6/10
4. Undefeatable (Godfrey Ho, 1993/Hong Kong) – 7/10 [Rewatch]
5. Street Fighter (Steven E. de Souza, 1994/Japan-USA) – 7/10 [Rewatch]

The others are all ridiculous, but the four episode original video animation Mad Bull 34 has to be put on top of the list because its content is completely undefendable. From the era where anime only meant violence and sex in the West, it is completely offensive, yet why I can still see merit in it is because there is much worst in existence, including non-anime works, and that the work cannot be taken seriously at all. Considering its original source material was written by the man who created Crying Freeman, Lone Wolf and Cub and Hanzo the Razor, you should be going into this like I did knowing what to expect.

The Para-Bizarre Film/Scene/Work of the Month
1. The final episode of Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2010/Japan) – 9/10 [Anime Series]
2. Holy Flame of the Martial World (Chin-Ku Lu, 1983/Hong Kong) – 7/10
3. Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (Steve Roberts, 1980/UK) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
4. Starcrash (Luigi Cozzi, 1979/Italy-USA) – 8/10]
5. Grenade Underwear etc. from Mad Bull 34 (Satoshi Dezaki, 1991/Japan) – 7/10
6. House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977/Japan) – 7/10 [Rewatch]
7. Flying Head from Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 aka. Zombi 3 (Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei, 1988/Italy) – 2/10

House only gets on this list because it still has some strange aspects. Frankly, the inclusions above are far and away more strange and bizarre than it could ever be. Number 1 has been in my mind for the rest of the month since I saw the TV series, and while the rest of twelve episodes could have been included on the list, the final episode takes the biscuit, use of live action and a post end credit segment sealing the impact of the whole thing.

Worst Film of the Month
1. Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 aka. Zombi 3 (Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei, 1988/Italy) – 2/10
2. Demons 6: De Profundis aka. Il gatto nero (Luigi Cozzi, 1989/Italy) – 2/10
3. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, 2008/France-USA) – 3/10
5. Family (Takashi Miike, 2001/Japan) – 3/10

You can find out why the top two entries are here through mini-reviews on the blog.

The Steven Seagal Award For Best Worst Scene
1. The Religious Discussions Crossed with Softcore Lesbian Sex Scenes in Sacred Flesh (Nigel Wingrove, 2000/UK) – 6/10
2. Flying Head from Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 aka. Zombi 3 (Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei, 1988/Italy) – 2/10

Attempting to have serious discussions on the nature of sin, only to become a string of softcore sex scenes between nuns, is going to be silly. If you view it as softcore titillation, the nunsploitation film Sacred Flesh has some reward. Just don’t view it as anything else.

The Person(s) (And Concepts) of The Month
1. Roger Deakins, Director of Photography for Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012/UK-USA) – 8/10
2. Arisa Ogasawara and Mariya Ise, main voice actresses for Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2010/Japan) – 9/10 [Anime Series]
3. Taku Takahashi and TCY Crew, music composers for Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2010/Japan) – 9/10 [Anime Series]
4. Yoshiaki Umegaki, voice actor for Tokyo Godfathers (Satoshi Kon and Shôgo Furuya, 2003/Japan) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
5. Christopher Gable, principle lead for Dance of the Seven Veils (Ken Russell, 1970/UK) – 10/10
6. Jackie Chan and the Stunt Team of Dragon Lord (Jackie Chan, 1982/Hong Kong) – 8/10
7. James Caan. for Thief (Michael Mann, 1981/USA) – 8/10
8. Harumi Inoue, main actress of Freezer aka. Freeze Me (Takashi Ishii, 2000/Japan) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
9. Ken Russell
10. Raul Julia, for Street Fighter (Steven E. de Souza, 1994/Japan-USA) – 7/10 [Rewatch]

Honourable Mentions - Jack Palance, for Marquis De Sade’s Justine (Jesus Franco, 1969/Italy-Liechtenstein-USA-West Germany) – 7/10; Trevor Howard, for Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (Steve Roberts, 1980/UK) – 8/10 [Rewatch]; Tangerine Dream, music composers for Thief (Michael Mann, 1981/USA) – 8/10; Marcello Mastroianni, for City of Women (Federico Fellini, 1980/France-Italy) – 8/10; Federico Fellini; Scott Antony and Dorothy Tutin, for Savage Messiah (Ken Russell, 1972/UK) – 8/10; Jules Dassin, for Rififi (1955/France) – 8/10]; Kim Ki-duk; John Hyams, director of Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012/USA) – 8/10; The Special Effects Team of Starcrash (Luigi Cozzi, 1979/Italy-USA) – 8/10; Elle [and His Voice Actor Hamilton Camp] of Starcrash (Luigi Cozzi, 1979/Italy-USA) – 8/10; Chris Petit, director of Content (2010/Germany-UK) – 9/10 [Rewatch]; Whoever donated 1990s WWF Wrestling PPV DVDs in one of my local charity shops; The Practical Effects Team of Holy Flame of the Martial World (Chin-Ku Lu, 1983/Hong Kong) – 7/10; Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti and Mario Monicelli, for their work on Boccaccio ’70 (1962/France-Italy) – 8/10; James Mason, for North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959/USA) – 10/10; Luigi Cozzi; Salma Hayek, for Savages (Oliver Stone, 2012/USA) – 8/10; Michael Fassbinder, for Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012/UK-USA) – 6/10; Michel Gondry; Viewing Disney Animation on Super 8 film; Eddie Constantine and Anna Karina, for Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965/France-Italy) – 8/10 [Rewatch]; Alpha 60 from Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965/France-Italy) – 8/10 [Rewatch]; Henry Fonda and Victor Mature for My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946/USA) – 8/10; Lou Ferrigno and John Steiner for Sinbad of the Seven Seas (Luigi Cozzi and Enzo G. Castellari, 1989/Italy-USA) – 6/10; Bizarre and Long Forgotten 90s WWF Wrestler Gimmicks like Mantaur and Adam Bomb

The Bond films were stylish, but Deakins has taken the series to a new level of visual look that is jaw dropping and I hope continues in the series. Of all the inclusions on the list and mentions, the references to WWF wrestling might be a surprise, but thanks to an unknown donator of DVDs, I can now see the strange period before wrestlers like Stone Cold Steve Austin made it big and have evidence that, while I love the decade, the nineties in general is probably more dated and peculiar than any other. Voice actresses Arisa Ogasawara and Mariya Isedo deserve the second spot on the list for helping make such a divisive series work which the charisma of their performances. They also take English language swearing, particular Ogasawara’s use of the word ‘fuck’, to a level of artistry that even live action work cannot compare, just scrapping at the glass floor of David Mamet ‘s throne.

Dishonorable Person (Or Concept) of the Month
The suppression of Dance of the Seven Veils (Ken Russell, 1970/UK) that will last to 2019

Dishonourable Mentions - Sam Raimi, for Oz the Great and Powerful (2013/USA) – 5/10; The Late Nineteen Eighties for Destroying the Quality of Italian Genre Films; Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei for Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 aka. Zombi 3 (Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei, 1988/Italy) – 2/10; Sushi Typhoon for Yakuza Weapon (Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi, 2011/Japan) – 4/10; Eran Creevy for his disappointing follow-up Welcome to the Punch (2013/UK-USA) – 3/10;

It seems cruel to have Sam Raimi on the mentions list, but I want better for him, and like Wreck-It Ralph, it’s the same plot of an arsehole redeeming himself that feels vacuous. Eran Creevy appearance here is soul crushing, since I remember seeing his micro-budgeted debut Shifty (2009) on a cinema screen years ago and being impressed by it. Unfortunately, and I probably should have put co-producer Ridley Scott and the people who put Welcome To The Punch into production on the list instead of him, Creevy has ended having his follow-up become the sort of tedious film that we get stuck with being made in the United Kingdom when we all know our country can make better.

75 Works Watched In March
24 Rewatched Works
51 New Works Seen


Saturday, 6 April 2013

(No Longer A) Mini-Review: Pitfall (1962)


Dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara


Pitfall is a fitting follow-up from Death Laid An Egg (1968), two political films with abstract tones. But Pitfall’s politics, set within miner’s strikes and evoking the post WWII political strife of Japan, is more upfront, and while Death Laid An Egg is a testament to technical skill and unconventional editing, Pitfall is a completely lyrical piece. A man is killed by an unknown male dressed completely in white, watching on at everything that takes places as a newly born ghost and wanting to know why he was murdered. In ninety minutes, the debut of Hiroshi Teshigahara manages to develop a full, fascinating narrative whose mysterious tone, questions left unanswered, makes it more compelling and emphasises a bitter political commentary that can be seen within its allegory. But Pitfall is more than this, to be expected from a director whose next film after this was Woman In The Dunes (1964).


For the most part, even at its goriest, perverted and questionable, Japanese cinema is calmer, considered and methodical in tone than their Western counterparts, the sense of contemplation emphasised in Buddhist and Shinto belief, as well as their other types of art, explicitly practiced. Even the exceptions, like director Shinya Tsukamoto, have embraced this tone for certain works when it seems appropriate, even melding it with the contrasting, more violently toned mood within the same film. Pitfall is as much about its visual and audio texture as its content. Teshigahara’s film, shot in deep focus, rich monochrome, is of sweat, blood, grains of sand or mud, the sodden shirts and skin of the characters in the hot sun festishistic and yet real, showing layers to human beings physically we take for granted. The story’s ominous tone, written by Kôbô Abe, is emphasised by this aesthetic of liquids and substances, natural or not, being graphically lensed, the murder that pushes the film into its more supernatural territory having a more impactful tone for the mess created to the participants and the pond land it takes place in. Even in animation, Japan and its countless artists have emphasised the small details of life like this, from the famous rainfall of Seven Samurai (1954) to their obsession with cicadas and their noisy cries, offering a view of terrain, natural or manmade, that pushes the cinematic image further than films made in other countries. This methodical, contemplative tone causes you to think about the content more and gives it greater impact on the viewer. It is filtered through a percussion heavy, unconventional score by Toshi Ichiyanagi, Yuji Takahashi and Tôru Takemitsu that is comparable to Death Laid An Egg. In contrast to Guilio Questi’s film though – a Godardian genre piece steeped in baroque gestures and chique aesthetics – the score set over the naturalistic, supernatural Pitfall is more gradual, less tense and underscoring the mood rather than about to break out in frenzies compared to Death Laid An Egg, whose score perfectly matches a more lurid take on murder and the noises of hundreds of chickens in a battery farm together. As the ghosts of an abandoned village merely drift along like ethereal mannequins, the ordinary industrial countryside of rock quarries and mines becomes more fantastical, the border between the living and the dead only existing because the ghosts cannot be heard or seen. The actions of the mysterious man in white, and what entails, evokes a scathing damnation of how the Japanese public may have been treated by their government, a message like with Death Laid An Egg’s that is more potent in this current recession, while also still being the machinations beyond such petty reality, white the colour of death in Eastern culture and the man comparable to Death itself in his on-looking nature.


I have only seen two of Teshigahara’s films, already mentioned by title in this review. There is still The Face of Another (1966), science fiction on the concept of identity, his later work, and a visual essay-like documentary on the work of architect Antonio Gaudí. I want to see them all. Once Pitfall was a mere curio from the British DVD company Masters of Cinema, unfortunately so out of print now it sells for silly money; now it’s far and away more necessary and greater in its slight but rich ninety minutes than more known films. On rewatches you realised how lucky you were to have watched some films for the first time many years ago, even when you hated them then, and like fine wine, some like Pitfall become superior to others in every way. You realise what you ingested with your eyes and ears back then, when you couldn’t even appreciate a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie properly as an adolescent let along a complex, lyrical film like this, and enjoy it while being grateful for being older, even in your early twenties, to be able to appreciate it now.