Saturday, 14 June 2014

The End is the Beginning....

I will be frank and say that this blog will no longer be continued. I feel its a mess with no goal. In its place is the following with said goal... Cinema of the Abstract

None of the reviews from this blog will be removed. But it has no been made into a blog that will hopefully be what I want it to be now.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Nuits Rouges (1974)


Dir. George Franju

Pulp has an inherent artistry that is badly ignored. You can tell, even if you can't say how, when a story or a work defies the best of what the word means. No matter how unrealistic the set piece that takes place is, it makes logical sense within a great work of pulp as part of the world it builds. A western can satisfy going through all the usual tropes even as a chamber piece. An animated science fiction work can work a complete lack of realism with a tangibility. This applies to every genre or concept. It's mood. Franju, to his testament, took immense concern with this sort of idea - in an article, The Haunted Void based on an interview with Tom Milne, he went as far as dividing the kind of films he did in three categories. The cinema fantastique, le cinema de l'insolite (the unusual), and le cinema de l'angoisse (anxiety). In his defined terms, it's the concern of utmost respect for the material whether it's completely seriousness or a willingness to be silly on purpose without undermining the importance of the content. That it's about the unusual, the fantastical, the angst generating, mood and tone. What is not seen but felt. There are countless ideas in this area, about the notion of emotional reaction - the fear of the unknown, the uncanny, the erotic or pornographic, to defined cinematic ideas like Alfred Hitchcock's bomb-under-the-table metaphor. All of these examples, including Franju's, and more, are powerful when done properly. Unfortunately, you don't need to rant about the current climate to say that these ideas don't get their due. Which is strange to say when there are countless examples of filmmakers, critics and audiences praising the concept of pulp and yet it's still neglected in places. Probably because its dismissed compared to art house films a lot of the time even now. Fitting a French film I'm reviewing, France has contributed a great deal in this area, from the auteurist theory to the running joke about them loving Jerry Lewis  films, contributing to a consideration of this area of cinema they deserve praise for as cineastes. French takes on pulp in their own cinema from what I've seen, for the most part, have always been rewarding and their reflective tones add as much to them.


This is as much of interest as, while not connected to his work, co-writer and star Jacques Champreux is the grandson of legendary Les Vampires (1915) director Louis Feuillade, the same tone of pulp aesthetics celebrated as in his grandfather's work is here as well. Also interpreted in a longer TV mini-series, which I am clamouring to see, Nuits Rouges follows a man without a face (played by Champreux), a man of disguises, head of a secret crime syndicate of black masked individuals, a thief, murderer and dabbler in illegal activities to boost his power and wealth. His most distinct trait is a cloth, crimson red mask, the only visible features uncovered being piercing, sadistic eyes. Learning of the potential lost treasure of the Knights of Templar, he murders a historian connected to the subject, and left with nothing, targets his son and anyone who possibly has clues to the whereabouts of that treasure. By any means necessary to reach his goal will be done - automated taxis, henchmen including an alluring femme fatale assistant, even the creations of a deranged brain surgeon, lobotomised people who can be controlled like walking corpses to perform assassinations. In his way is the son of the murdered historian, his girlfriends, a hired detective, the police force, and the greatest threat, a sect of the Knights' Templar not at all happy with one of their members being killed. A series of set pieces are loosely connected by this narrative, as if the film is an entire serial set within a hundred minute feature, the characters existing to represent their archetypes, absurd situations taking place, and a knowing humour mixed with moments of ghoulish brutality. A minimalist work in style. Loose narrative threads that play out in natural exterior locations and closed-in interior ones, with a muted colour and aesthetic look baring the use of deep, blood red. White Franju undercut the influence of Feuillade, there is still comparisons to be made with Les Vampires in that both used straightforward styles, limited use of camera movement if none, but inherently were dreamlike in tone because of how the content was depicted in such ordinary environments. So casually do events take place that it pulls one into a logic separate from conventional reality, with anything from kidnappings to police pursuits being performed with heightened tones. The characters have enough to them that you engage with their situations, yet by being minimal in characterisation, it creates a celebration of this type of plotting for the sake of it. Like his take on Judex, Franju can make the completely absurd sound in the context of the film's structure, and the intricate parts of the this content is clearly a Herculean task in having had to pull off. To be able to make a film that, as pulp, carries weight to the images and can accept the fantastical into its core without jarring is enough as it is. It's even more of a challenge if you don't use a self-reflective, stylised framework to express the content.

Very subtle uses of the camera are used, a close-up of a small detail given monumental importance. Despite the lack of camera movement, it frames scenes within rooms and exteriors with a scope to them that emphasises the events about to take place. Like the best pulp, one doesn't need to concern yourself with concrete, logical continuity, instead enraptured by the scenes carefully woven together at the right times so they build off each other and never become disjointed. Every criminal act is enthralling in its tenseness, every death stings, every plot point is exciting in ways not found in boring mainstream films. To be able to make the film as it is, despite being simple on the surface, the director probably had a difficult task on his hands with this. The work is a paradox, between classic turn-of-the-century crime thrillers and the seventies, the cars and technology of the time mixing with intrigue and suspense from a long gone era. It helps to add a fantastical picture to the film, more so now decades later, and places Nuits Rouges amongst the genre films of the era which exist in their own ghostly worlds, Euro pictures that feel alien even now. Like them too, this had the benefit of a Seventies synthesiser being used, adding a nice motif and thus proving its out-of-time placement when it was release was to its advantage. The film's roots lay in an older era in terms of how the story telling is, but that doesn't make it predictable on the first viewing nor the second when you know how the story concludes, as the events seen exist in themselves and, thankfully, have originality and jest to them that is sorely missing in newer films. It helps too Nuits Rouges avoids having contrived subplots and plotting additions that usually undermine genre cinema, no pointless romantic story to speak of for example, and instead lets the spectacle of the main plot, and its own tangents, engage the viewer.

When stripped down to its bare essentials, like here in Nuits Rouges, the concept of pulp storytelling is shown to have incredible artistry. Again, its perplexing to say that this kind of artistry is given its needed due, through fans of this sort of cinema, and yet is not, dismissed and with most critical accolades given to the stereotype of the art or morally improving picture, a dicey world of failed and contrived storytelling when it disappoints, when it badly needs the rigor of the genre pictures' filmmaking. Admittedly, pure luck is involved in some of the best of genre filmmaking, and everyone has encountered it at its laziest and worst. But when it works, the emphasis on a sound and study craft is lionised in these films the most, one that is badly ignored when you see how many throwback or homages to older cinema fail so completely. They are the filmmaking that led to Manny Farber to create the term 'termite art', the 'white elephants' opposing them not elaborate art films for me, but those films that are big, unwieldy and overrated movies that the moment you find one flaw completely destroys their foundations and collapses them, while the termites work silently and do make a big song-and-dance of their creation finally when they prove careful or at least rigorous style is the best way forward for the best films. In comparison to the magic of Judex, Nuits Rouges is the meat-and-potatoes of these sort of crime storytelling devoted to completely for a whole feature, of Machiavellian villains, a grittiness that is nasty but can given way to humour, and a constant pace where even the dialogue scenes have a trajectory to them. It manages to be merciless in its violence yet somehow be appropriate for children to watch according to the British film certificate on it, a contradiction its perfect craft allows. Its precarious in its plotting, yet manages to succeed, where the Knights Templar can suddenly be reintroduced near the end and not undermine what's happened before. Champreux sits in the centre of the creation he helped bring to life, almost bloodshot eyes piercing through everything in the mask, and managing to make the character dangerous even after his first scenes have him dressed up and impersonating an old woman running a sewing materials store. No one around him is allowed to merely be boring and paper-thin, everyone in a series of events that leave no random individual being shown onscreen with no contribution. Even if they exist only to die, it still hurts, good or bad, for them to kick the bucket. The film proves no illogical concept should prevent a film being a great piece of art, and a film like this in fact shows the illogical is a craft that outclasses realism in cinema at its best. Mood, tone, what makes you jettison trite attitudes like dismissing the reality of a film, is of the greatest importance in a film like this, verisimilitude that of its own world with its own logic, not yours you bring as a bias to the film. That this film can do this without heavy stylisation, which manages to be its own style, makes Nuits Rouges such a rare treat to see when, surprisingly, this is not as easy as you'd presume to film and make.


Thursday, 22 May 2014

City of Pirates (1984)

Dir. Raoul Ruiz

Nobody can say why you go chasing a pirate down
the street but such a state of affairs makes possible
a certain number of anxiety dreams. Was it the pirate,
you ask yourself, or was it the paranoia?
from 'When the privateers returned from their pillage' by Steve Spence

There is no Johnny Depp in eyeliner complaining about why the run's gone in City of Pirates, a film by the late Chilean director Raoul Ruiz, a film made to be intentionally difficult to gain cohesiveness over, nor are there galleons or people walking the plank. A pirate can denote something outside of law and order, and honestly, it's too literal and tedious to immediately go to Depp when the idea of a place suggesting pirates is far more mysterious and befitting this film's dreamlike structure.  Many viewers will complain that there are no actual pirates in the film, nor cities of any kind, dismissing the allegorical versions offered. Personally I wasn't disappointed, the lights that seasonally brighten up on a bush in a character's "Garden of Allegory" representing the ones readied for a war between pirates and the country of Spain, but some may be taken aback by the fact that this never becomes important for an overall narrative, merely detail in a world to add character, and that one should be concerned for the battle on this plant when its discovered Spain has lost.

I admit to finding the film a struggle to sit through in the beginning, but in dealing with the film, the issue of what I brought to it in terms of residue biases is part of the subject itself. Isidore (Anne Alvaro) comes into contact with Malo (Melvil Poupaud), a young boy who is in fact a killer, descending into a non linear trip that includes murder and an island where a man Toby (Hugues Quester), owner of the Garden of Allegories, has an entire family living in his head. It felt too close to the stereotype of pretentious art cinema originally. But befitting the film, either it was intentional, or that I fully absorbed the tone of it, and avoided forcing my own subconscious tagging by narrative cinema onto it.That Ruiz partially improvised the film, creating dialogue just before shooting scenes, was a dicey thing to do, in terms of how it would affect the tone of the work, and I'm still at the stage as a viewer, while falling in love with City of Pirates by the end, that the opening quarter of difficult films like this can frustrate me until I acclimatise to them. I've only seen four of Ruiz's films and one short, from a man who made over a hundred films, shorts and television work. As well as difficulty in actually seeing his films, including this one, sadly you can have critical writing be very vague when it comes to the maze-like nature of his work - like the key needed to unlock the mystery in the centre of his The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1979), the description needed to entice you into Ruiz's world, rather than make it sound like obtuse navel gazing that'll put the casual viewer off being curious, is usually missing.

Yes, many viewers will find City of Pirates' completely disinterest with linear cohesiveness frustrating and dismiss it, but the film is far from obtuse. Again for a second review in a row I can reference Un Chien Andalou (1929), and how it was made with every rational idea purposely excised from the finished work. With City of Pirates, anything that connected together the content in terms of a narrative was removed during the editing process. Ruiz, and I dare stake this claim, in a film set by the ocean as depicted in lush almost candy-like colours - hazy burnt pinks, oceanic blues, blistering oranges - despite seeing little of his work, is an individual who suits the metaphor of the Chinese boxes well. Even if the conclusion is there by the end, the greater significance is that the route through the films seem to be continually expanding as you go along, and altering into more and more tangents as they go. Like the following too:

As a film, any plot for it boils down to the protagonist tagging along with the child as his "fiancée", after he (or likely she) has murdered her adopting father, only to be pushed into an increasing sense that she herself is hiding a more homicidal person within her. What the draw of the film is, the greater importance clearly, is how this is represented. It's worth remembering too that City of Pirates is a film that's playful in tone. A lot of my problems with the film disappear when the adoptive father leaves quite violently, in an unintentional shift in tone, or possibly on purpose. The beginning of the film is jarring against conventional norms of narrative cinema. A sentient white ball that bounces by itself, the mother talking to the dead, random appearance by policemen, and the one unfortunate aspect that was either Ruiz intentionally mocking pretence or something that flaws the film a little, the use of actors quoting very descriptive poetry. I'm not a fan of poetry where elaborate vocabulary for whole verses is common, rather than use of metaphors, grounded yet imaginative verse, or completely visionary or intentionally nonsensical wording choices. There is still the poetry in the rest of the film, usually in duelling voiceover, debating existence and life, but it's not as problematic. That the more irritating aspects of the dialogue were all quoted by the father, who is continually offering his adoptive daughter/live-in maid money as if soliciting sex behind his wife's back, it is the possibility that its intentional.

It becomes clearer than mood and fluxations of it drives City of Pirates, and what appears to be slight and close to pretentious drastically changes if one remembers what their dreams are like. Far from a cheap defence, it's a remainder to reconsider the context for viewing a film like this then the critical opinion. Dreams can have narratives, but they also dispense of any 'rationality' and inherently disregard notions of storytelling which required a 1-2-3 creation of characters and story. In this context, the film works perfectly. After a beginning stumble, it works as an increasingly darkening dream. One that is clearly humorous. One that has black humour and purely unconventional images. The most distinct, in the beginning, is the camera from inside the father's mouth, looking out between the teeth at his wife inspecting them.

City of Pirates

Instantly with this image, you should realise this is a deliberately absurd work. Especially if you use an example not from the film like this to emphasis the absurd camera shot -

Justin Quinnell's Smiley Cam Research Project
Large portions of the film are like this. The protagonist lost amongst a potential lover who offers her everything from radios to food, to Toby himself, where the mother of the family inside his head never heard from but only heard of from the other individuals juggled about from his consciousness. Surrounding this Ruiz is technically accomplished at making the shots seen have a distinction and a logical, tangible frame to house these illogical aspects. In dreams, the depth is gained from the resonance of the images and the events, not the background behind them. The meaning and emotions felt are already there for you beforehand as, in deep sleep or day dreaming, you are pulled away from the necessity of having a rationality to all that you encounter or sense. The difficultly one may have in trying to gauge with 'difficult' films, books and such materials could easily, possibly, maybe, be removed if you could go through them as one would encounter dreams in sleep. Maybe even the poetry I had a bugbear with may have made more sense in the film's place if I could have fully embraced the film in a resting state fully open to its content. The film's too deliberate in tone to be merely random, even if partially improvised, and the film's technical brilliance means that obvious motifs can exist which string together.

It's darker content reveals itself to be a fully darkened core to the work rather than mere shades to it. I can laugh and include the ridiculous juxtaposition of images just before, but parallel as well in City of Pirates is an incredibly uneasy film while still being tongue-in-cheek and playful. Nasty in its violence, the boy floating paper boats made of money in a river of a man's freshly split blood. Almost Italian giallo in its use of knives and blood spillage:

City of Pirates
Dario Argento's Deep Red (1975)

With Toby, despite a friendship taking place, his treatment of Isidore at first, locking her up in a prison cell, is immensely unsettling. When its changed into a friendly relationship, it's not a jarring and offensive shift. In dreams, opposites can sleep so much closer together while in the everyday the idea of them moving into being different and one-and-the-same equally is disturbing. The same applies to Malo, the killer boy, sarcastic but with the halo of a cherub. No wonder, when actor Poupaud grew up, you'd want to hug him in François Ozon's Time To Leave  (2005). But the boy is also a serial murderer and rapist. Later he takes on the status of a deity for murder, more of an entity. (Alarmingly Ruiz makes one of his names Peter Pan.) The childish innocence of the tone - pirates, bright colours - is hiding a tragic tale. A woman who lost romance, as she explains her backstory, and, in the symbolism, may be a killer as well. The film is open to interpretation. You can argue she's a mass murderer. Argue, with a shot of a man's face reflecting at her in a mirror, that it's the guilty of a man by proxy of his anima. That everyone's dead and this is purgatory as viewed as a coastal paradise of hazy, post-shooting highlighted, eighties colour coding. It's a not a cheat, a con, for Ruiz not to answer this, to be intentionally vague. His job here clearly was to make a waking dream. Dreams inherently have each viewer/listener of them making their own interpretations of what they mean.

There's always been a paradox in that, structurally, cinema is of audio and visual content. Even when either is removed, the lack of either and the sense of this takes up the gap left. However, the paradox, is that narrative is seen as more necessary within films. Narrative is not inherently of cinema, especially as editing, or lack thereof, is more of the connection of images in new meanings. Dreams are of the same idea. (So, fittingly, Sergei Eisenstein and Salvador Dali can exist in the same club house). Even if a narrative exists, like you wakes up naked in class on the day of an exam you haven't prepared for, my own experiences in dreaming have shown that the sensation of progression, through events, is more dictated by the effect of what happens than a story with a beginning, a middle and an end being shown. How narrative got to be the main priority in cinema is probably the result of theatre and novels influencing the material filmed, through either can remove it from themselves as well. Unfortunately, this means City of Pirates is seen as experimental because it negates the importance of narrative cohesion. My difficultly with the film at first is as much a subliminal printing of all the Hollywood films we see as children. This is important as I had difficulty writing this review - asking why I suddenly loved the film halfway through, when my mind originally was numb through the first quarter, and what I got from it when I loved viewing it. Sensations. The sense of dread, curiosity, wonder. The last image has stuck with me. Two women talking by a window. A man with a rotting face points a gun at the side of his skull. The women become skeletons even though without ligaments, muscle, a tongue or a vocal box they couldn't talk. Death. Unease.

A woman lost without love who'd likely slit her adopted father's throat for a lark and deep seated revenge against him. Her adopted mother doesn't care about the various murders, and still loves her. Death still existing from a child, completely against the notion of childhood innocence. Fittingly comparable to the last film I reviewed here - The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears (2013). I know too Ruiz was an exile from Chile when it became a dictatorship. When Isidore is imprisoned, was that on his mind? Yet he's still playful. A white ball, clearly on a string above, being spun around the mother's head as if possessed by the dead feels too whimsical on purpose to be a fault tonally. There is no need for Ruiz to have to divide this from the serious side of the film, as the viewer should themselves and the film is structured so these abrupt parings make sense together. The conscious structure of these irrational pieces was ignored by me at first, which I regret when I finally noticed and understood them. Rather than hold one's hand, the film lets you feel when you react to individually in seeing said images. With this film in particular, it emphasises for me the absurdity of letting narrative being a driving force when images and sound are the more important factors for a film. That, and as taking its cues from dreams, it already possesses a cohesiveness, but that cohesive structure belongs from something, dreaming, where the rational to have something explain all of itself to you, rather than take from it what you can, is literally asleep and not allowed to be involved in experiencing the dreams. With City of Pirates the point is to experience the sense of dreaming it. The try and make a narrative out of it makes little sense to do and is patronising to it and yourself.

Images, in order, from the following sources:


Thursday, 15 May 2014

Top Tens: 2008

While looking at this page, in tribute to the highest ranking film on the list, I recommend playing Rivers of Babylon by Boney M in the background. This was the year I really got into cinema as a medium. Ironically, none of the films that got the most critical praise, or most of the ones I liked back then, are on the list below. 2008 is an incredibly strong year, but to have such a list I had to watch a lot of bad and average films to find the gems. It was worth it, but looking at the ten selections (and honorable mentions) below, something like The Dark Knight is so far from my tastes now, regardless of my actually opinion of it, that it feels like an alien language if I was to rewatch it again. Not out of a hipster, elitist attitude, but literally in a completely different mindset at points in what I admire in film making from current critical views of the medium, even in my vacuous entertainment. Genre blurring or taking dramatic stories and depicting them in unconventional ways dominate the list, and if anything, the noughties (sic) was a decade where these two traits were pushed further even compared to the nineties. Sometimes too much but with these ten examples it was done perfectly.

Ranking 2008
(In Order as of 15th May 2014)

Tulpan (Dir. Sergei Dvortsevoy, 2008
Waltz With Bashir (Dir. Ari Folman, 2008) 
The Headless Woman (Dir. Lucrecia Martel, 2008)
Historias extraordinarias (Dir. Mariano Llinás, 2008)
Love Exposure (Dir. Sion Sono, 2008)
Pontypool (Dir. Bruce McDonald, 2008)
The Sky Crawlers (Dir. Mamoru Oshii, 2008) 
35 Shots of Rum (Dir. Claire Denis, 2008)
Kaiba (Dir. Masaaki Yuasa, 2008/Anime Series)
Goodbye Solo (Dir. Ramin Bahrani, 2008)

Honorable Mentions (Also in Order of Preference):
Redbelt (Dir. David Mamet, 2008); Rembrandt's J'Accuse (Dir. Peter Greenaway, 2008); JCVD (Dir. Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008); Not Quite Hollywood (Dir. Mark Hatley, 2008); Vinyan (Dir. Fabrice Du Welz, 2008); Synecdoche, New York (Dir. Charlie Kaufman, 2008); Of Time and the City (Dir. Terence Davies, 2008); Il Divo (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino, 2008) 

I didn't include Steve McQueen's Hunger because, honestly, I need to rewatch that film. A part of me wonders if it'll stand up or will lose its power drastically on another viewing.
Screenshots, in Order, from the Following Sources:

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Top Tens: 2007

Ah, a good year. It was 2008 when I got into cinema fully, but judging from this year too - if you see the whole list here - 2007 was as important. The fact that many films were only getting released in 2008 in the United Kingdom meant that a lot of the films being mentioned below had an impact along with those from the following year. Yes, There Will Be Blood is not this Top Ten, nor Zodiac, but any of the films mentioned here are strong enough by themselves to be included.

Ranking 2007
(In Order, of Preference, as of 11th May 2014)

Heartbeat Detector (Dir. Nicolas Klotz)
My Winnipeg (Dir. Guy Maddin)
You, The Living (Dir. Roy Andersson)
Import/Export (Dir. Ulrich Seidl)
The Man From London (Dirs. Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky)
Correspondances (Dir. Eugene Green/Short)
No Country For Old Men (Dirs. Ethan & Joel Coen)
Persepolis (Dirs. Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi)
Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (Dir. Hana Makhmalbaf)
Nightwatching (Dir. Peter Greenaway)

Honorable Mention:
XXY (Dir. Lucía Puenzo)

Screenshots, in order, from the following sources:

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears (2013)


Dirs. Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet

As a side note, the viewing of the second feature length film of the directors of Amer (2009) does come with a strange anecdote of going to see it. There were tests being run just before a 3.20pm screening, and after some delay, the first images on the cinema screen were mute clip from The Truman Show (1998). If Jim Carrey had actually been in an avant garde psychodrama cribbing from the texts of giallo films from Italy, my head would've exploded. I have no grief with said cinema just to let the reader know. The screening was late but all the trailers usually played in front of films were skipped, and the film was presented to its best as a visual and audio barrage, so I have nothing to concern myself with. It's just that odd moment is very memorable.

It's befitting the type of film The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears is that this kind of breaking up of cinematic conventions was done by accident before the film actually started. Done completely sincerely, it nonetheless takes the conventions of the giallo, a murder mystery story, and inverses them. Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) arrives back in Belgium from his work abroad, only to find his wife Edwige (Ursula Bedena) is nowhere to be found. The building complex they are living in is a maze of hidden secrets and perplexing circumstances surrounding the environment. The fellow occupants have their own hidden sides, and nothing is what it seems. Joined by Detective Vincentelli (also played by Klaus Tange), reality becomes less and less tangible as the walls hide older ones, a killer is clearly within the building, and the circumstance are so severe Kirstensen even becomes his own killer, victim and witness at the same time one restless night. It is not a good comparison to say this is close to an original giallo. They could be campy, schlocky and significantly different even when they were stylish and artistic. For all their abstract moments, even Dario Argento's, they had a simple narrative that was followed closely. The Strange Colours... has a narrative, unlike Amer's three segments, but is likely going to be the more difficult of the two for people because it purposely goes away from what is easily understandable, using symbolism and outright surrealism for plot points. The film is very unconventional on purpose, the experimental style of the directors made clearly apparent again like in their previous work rather than for them to be making a throwback film. Umberto Lenzi's Eyeball (1975) this is not, a trashy and wonky Italian pulp film, but violently nasty, pulsating with sex and weird imagery, as much Art with a capital A and a sensority experience.


It feels right on point that critic Anton Bitel, in Sight and Sound magazine reviewing the fillm, suggested this was a treatise on the mind of a psychologically damaged man, Kristensen's possibly. When the Detective and the protagonist are played by the same person, it immediately suggests, to paraphrase a title of Video Nasty film, that this is nightmares of a damaged brain we're seeing. Amer, despite its three separate pieces that made its whole, had an obvious connective tissue - the growth of a girl into a woman, puberty and sexuality inbetween - while The Strange Colours... jumps from its narrative tracks to follow the mental environments of its characters. This is furthered by the trademark style of the directors, an exceptional and total cinematic flourish. It's not just the striking use of colours. Or the unconventional use of ordinary objects. It's the obsession with the smallest of details, amplifying them greatly. Rarely in films do you get the sound of leather stretched. As the sole other person in the theatre with me said, afterwards, there was an extensive use of added sound effects. Concerning one with all the aspects of a film - visuals, sound, editing and so forth - with as equal care never feels apparent in quite a lot of cinema when you many movies. Far from giving attention to itself with this, pushing you away from engaging in the film, it is as immersive as a dream, no matter how abstract the film around is, all interconnecting in a way perceived to make rational sense. Instead of becoming impatient in wanting a standard A-to-B narrative, which is a danger when viewing a work like this, this has its images and scenes connect together by themselves in a way that explains what is going on that you have to be willing to follow on their own accord.

When the detective has his own flashback to previous assignment, involving voyeurism and vengeance with red wrapped "sweets" and rings as claws, that seems to have no connection to what is originally taking place, it's clear it's not as random as Kristensen points it out to be in being mentioned as the film goes along. It's just one part of a clearer connected tissue of moods and ideas. The anxieties and lusts of a male where his wife interchanges with many other women, sex and death juxtaposed and combined as the apartment complex becomes a host of a single mind than a building. Turning an all changing entity of photo-optic tricks in the opening credits, that can house the most sadomasochistic acts, including an uncomfortable situation with glass, to the curiosity of a young boy. Never has the goal that Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali had in mind with Un Chien Andalou (1929) been a clear reference point for a film that is also indebted to a specific area of cult genre cinema, but it's the case with The Strange Tears..., especially the notion of removing anything that had an obvious explanation but using a well known narrative structure to construct a film around this irrational material. Everything has a purpose or is designed to juxtapose in unconventional ways. It becomes very obvious what has happened to Edwige, but the reason why it has happened, and the individual involved, who may be connected to the disappearance of an older man years before, as seen in someone else's flashback, is left a mystery. And it becomes more and more obvious as the film becomes more unconventional that the individual responsible is not necessarily a mere killer, and that something more complicated is going on. When a box of toys suddenly appear, with spiked wheels and erotic imagery amongst them, or a chapter on the desires of a woman, likely Edwige's, plays out involving a bowler hat, stop motion straight from Jan Svankmajer, and an inspired scenario taking place onscreen which uproots conventions of a chase sequence from giallo or slasher films. Even the title, a beautiful one, turns out to be a very obvious reference to something the viewer sees in the end but also hides so many potential signifiers within it, particularly with the amount of wounds and injuries that are inflicted to the human body. The previously mentioned scene of Kristensen literally being duplicated and taking on multiple roles against himself, harming himself, eventually, long after the film ended, becomes the obvious sign of the hidden paranoia of his that becomes more obvious as the other scenes play out.


It's not that rare to see experimental artists use pop culture that is seen as un-progressive and below high culture for a source of inspiration. Actually, its more common than you'd think. In most cases it's the reasons the material were criticised for that are the aspects latched onto by the artists to replicate in their work, Andy Warhol the obvious example. There is definitely a fan vibe to this film when the protagonist, part of an intercontinental telecommunications company, has so many main themes from Italian giallo on vinyl and plays them at convenient moments, the film littered with tracks taken from the original inspiration and providing the theme of Killer Nun (1978) an expecting resurrection as a tense and inspired ditty that gets into your head. And The Strange Colours... inherited the lurid side of the giallo - the nudity, the sexuality, and the linking of death and said sexuality together that'll be shocking for some viewers. A razor blade and a woman's anatomy, an image repeated multiple times, is something that you see at the beginning of the film and lets you in on what to expect for the rest of the running time. I admit I was concerned the film was going to get silly or undermine itself with questionable content, especially from a scene early on where a woman is completed naked on a balcony of the apartment complex for no discernible reason. But when, around then, it seemed to progress dangerously close to tasteless, fitting as it references giallo, not a good thing when it's trying to be a serious avant-garde film too, the equal opportunities attitude to both genders in what happens takes place and a much more complicated tone is revealed by the halfway point that prevents it from being mere ultraviolent softcore. Its a work of pure style, I confess that, but its a gem of this because it uses its style to create a tone of fear linking with anxieties of sexuality and violence that gives a depth to the proceedings. Using the ability of dream logic to transform moods into sensations that are more than enough to have a profound effect on you. The works that take their influence from "disreputable" objects tend not to stick with the structures and meanings of the originals, and transport them into a new context. As Kristensen becomes more entangled within a situation that becomes more of a cloud over him for the viewer watching the film, the sense of reality being altered that is apparent in giallo, where each plot twists changes the rules of how everything works, is here as well but with a significant difference. Each piece of information in a giallo, far from a breadcrumb to get one home, is a further complication in these films, but there's a conventional narrative surrounding them nonetheless which is not found here. Dropping the conventional narrative, this is no longer a stylish pulp journey for the sake of twists and turns that a giallo usually is, but concentrates itself, using the sub-genre's style, on the sensation of tension and sensuality. While Amer was about female sexuality, this is clearly about male sexuality. Amer had danger, death and fetishism, but this feels more chaotic, nastier and paranoid in tone to the earlier film. They mirror each other, but this one feels the more intentionally horrific once it gets to its ending, all stemming from a complete lack of understanding in femininity once you get what its title originally means. You could argue the reason why Amer ended as it does is explained in this film like a metaphorical prequel, although rewatching Amer is a must for me now.

After the viewing, when the lights came up after the end credits finished, I was the sole person in the screening room, the other individual who watched the film having already left as (presumably) the end credits rolled, creating a sense of having been dropped back into real life suddenly. It was startling. With its blasts of sound, heavy percussion based music cribbed from the original inspirations, visual manipulations and moments of editing that felt like a knife piercing flesh, it felt like the sensual overload I went into the screening hoping it would be, having left me disorientated for a long while after the viewing. The lights of the nearby bathroom were a heady, sickly yellow of artificial lighting, a cramped claustrophobic toilet cubicle with a grill behind you when you sit down. What's behind the grill, something I actually asked myself jokingly but with curiosity. Complete blackness. Maybe behind it, what was a respectable art cinema with modern architecture hid a secret or two like is found in the film when a wall is broken down. While The Strange Colours of Your Body's Tears doesn't provide intellectual meat to leave on, its a film that causes you to look and listen carefully around you when you leave the cinema and step back into the real world, causing one to see it through senses and emotions. Everything pulsated when I got on the train for the long way trip home, even though it was a bright English afternoon and no one was being killed by someone in leather gloves nearby like an Argento film. Probably the reason giallo was the object of obsession for the directors Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet is that it's the sub-genre where style and what is seen, felt and heard was so extravagant and obsessed over, from the music to the colours. And a story of murder and sex is always about sensation too even if it's pure fantasy. What's truly cinematic is when you can feel a film, not just look at pretty pictures on a screen. With a success rate of two out of two feature films, a great segment in the wildly varying (but underrated) The ABCs of Death (2012) and short features, the duo behind this are few of the only individuals who take reference from the history of cult cinema seriously and create results that actually have virtue to it. Not through indulgence, sarcasm, or merely presuming to replicate the older films, but by turning it into their own voice even if its divisive and for only a few. It's going to feel like hell for me waiting for their next film now. Even a short would suffice!


Sunday, 4 May 2014

Sleepless (2001)


Dir. Dario Argento

First of all, after Opera (1987), my viewing of the films of Dario Argento has been spotty with a few gaps. Yet to see Mother of Tears (2007), haven't seen Trauma (1993), The Phantom of the Opera (1998) and Dracula 3D (2012). Aside from this, I've seen all the important films of his. All there is left, beyond those mentioned above, is the obscurer works. If a drop of quality has taken place, it's not the horrible downward spiral that I've heard others describe his career as having become. Instead it's a wider issue, beyond even Italy's genre cinema having declined taking its toll on his aesthetic rigor, but horror cinema in general being underused. This issue is in fact part of cinema in general, regardless of there being a climb or decline within it. If you can make a film fully through how you desired it to be, it'll be a miracle. A director with films under their belt are not safe from outside factors. Less budgets, cheaper camera, popular tastes that'll date films etc. Argento is a working filmmaker, in a profession first, that involves for more production costs than other mediums, and is an auteur secondly through the fans and critics, us, that see his films. And there are also times when the audience may have missed something that wasn't an outside influence or necessarily bad either. Once having found quite a few of his films, on the first viewings, dull, which I openly confess to having thought before rewatching those specific films, I've had a more complicated experience in my admiration for the director's work, able to see his major work at least twice. Argento has always skirted the schlocky and absurd in his prime era of giallos and supernatural horror - hockey plots, out-of-the-blue plot twists, obvious special effects. His films are legitimately great because of his style and that he can take these potential flaws in any other director's work and clearly embrace them in a baroque tone intentionally. And it's clear how deliberate it can be as well.

He would have seen having his protagonists be amateur sleuths in trying to solve murder cases, over the police, as fantastical in nature, but it's clearly done on purpose and I cannot help but think of the suspense of disbelief that exists in genre, especially crime stories. Unfortunately the virtues of suspending disbelief and embracing the clearly unrealistic has been lost on me for some time before now. It's also been lost in a lot of genre cinema. I blame the desire for realism and logic in narratives for having done this, even though both of them are mythical creatures in films purporting to be documents of reality. To embrace suspension of disbelief, which finds its biggest reservoir within the pulpiest of works, knowing flagrant in realism, is to intentionally enjoy films (or books, games etc.) that play within their own made-up realities. Even The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970), Argento's debut and most restrained work, has absurdities within it. Then he eventually went as far as having a monkey welding a razor blade in a film a decade later and likely knew how ridiculous it was. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971) were films I liked on the first viewing, and the likelihood was that they are the most streamlined and less-tangent filled films by him. After ...the Crystal Plumage, the films became more and more expanded, more tangent filled and clearly breaking to pieces the narratives they had on purpose and probably from the haphazard nature of many Italian genre cinema of the time. The most obvious example of this, was Deep Red (1975) and its extended screwball comedy sequences with David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi; the fact that most of it was removed from the shorter English language release of the film more than likely altering how viewers would react to his film, not seeing how tongue-in-cheek and peculiar he actually was. Plots in his films were lurid and not logically rigorous, more inclined to the spectacle of pulp, Four Flies From Grey Velvet (1971) getting its title from a scientifically impossible concept to catch the killer straight from sci-fi or Victorian gothic literature. If there was a peak for this expanding and divisive excess it was undoubtedly the eighties. Inferno (1980) is the most abstract film of his, Opera pulls the carpet under its viewers' feet, and Phenomena (1985) is clinically insane. And that's not discussing the use of Iron Maiden and Saxon in the mid and late eighties films.


A film like Giallo (2009) still carries the hallmarks of this auteur. As does The Card Player (2004), The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) and, returning to the film of this review, Sleepless. I don't see a sudden damnation in mediocrity to the pit of the worst of cinema fans have proclaimed it to be with him. Filmmaking, even from an outsider who hasn't picked up a camera, is such a chaotic, arbitrary bastard of a career to be an artisan in when public taste, money and resources are variable and have such a drastic effect on the final product. Those who've been championed in horror cinema especially have been just as effected by this - see John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, George Romero and so forth. Add European directors like Jess Franco, whose career was a roller coaster. Or go further, and beyond just horror films, like with Takashi Miike, a self proclaimed working director who, at one point making five films in a year, is clearly dependant on making films to live and has to do so by following what he will be able to work on, which is something I am having to accept with my disappointment with his later mainstream films. Auteurs or people with unconventional ideas are a pain in the arse for producers to work with, and as new talent exists, older veterans have ended up being ignored. A director who can keep a rich filmography usually works with whatever their budget is, even if its low, and is the equivalent of the mad lord isolated in a tower by themselves, sustained by those who've cared to listen to them. Yes, Argento and many director are countable for some really bad ideas in their weaker films - Adrian Brody's wonky accent(s) in Giallo for starters - but it's probably hell to get these productions off the ground let alone with little compromise. We forget as viewers it's a job, which can be as arbitrary as any other job we have, paid or unpaid.

A series of murders from 1983 have seemed to begin again many years later. The killer was said to have been a man with dwarfism, yet the fact that he apparently committed suicide, and the newest killings follow the originals' traits exactly, suggests that this was likely wrong. The son of one of the original victims Giacomo Gallo (Stefano Dionisi) is brought back to Turin, reacquainting himself with a crush of his past and intending to find out who actually killed his mother. Also brought back in is the original detective of the case Ulisse Moretti, played by the legendary Max Von Sydow, long retired but bringing himself into the case again as memories and his desire to close it too returns to him. The film's a throwback to Argento's first giallo films, less about who the killer turns out to be, but the labyrinth of the plotting. Giallo are more inclined to the notion of spectacle - the effect of the plotting, throwing its protagonists in the deep end, the gory deaths. It's a nasty film when it wants to be, a strange balance of cruelty and the absurd. Absurd is the right word. Argento has a clear bombastic ridiculousness to his work, sincere but winking. The same here. The spectacle of the first act, where a prostitute inadvertently gets involved with the killer and an incriminating blue file, shows the director's virtue of the elaborate. A prolonged set piece on a train. Two women involved. An inherent creativity to Argento that, dare say it, was found up to Giallo for all its failings. This is of course the film where Goblin, the Italian progressive rock band that created haunting scores for Argento's most well known films, came back together in some form to create another. The title theme sends shivers up the spine with the guitar lick that carries it, but again it proves great metaphor for an intentional, mischievous pomposity in Dario Argento's work. Music to shake the ground with but embracing excess like a starving man to food.


The problem with Sleepless, if any, is not to do with the film's story or structure. His best work, including Suspiria (1977) and Inferno, is full of lengthy dialogue scenes and expedition. Odd tangents with no connection to the main plot. My original boredom with a lot of his films was because he got more excessive with this sort of thing, which I didn't go in expecting when I wanted lean, taught thrillers. The implausible nature, the lashings of said exposition, all the tangents, and it's clear, especially here, that Argento is in adoration of this as much as making the most stylish or tense work possible. I cannot but suspect, as we have scenes of Sydow by himself and his pet tropical bird figuring out old information on the murder case, explaining it to himself and us the viewers implausibly, that the director adores and fetishes the junky, over explained tones of a pulp paperback as much as their heightened tones and the mystery. Once you jettison the conventions of "good" narrative writing, it's obvious Argento loves the clearly implausible, the pointless, the all-the-sudden, the inane, and far from a detraction, it actually here is shown to be one of his best auteurist traits once you embrace it.

The real problem with this film is seeing how it occasionally looks daub visually. Thankfully this film has the style of the older films. But I have to get through the obvious flaw that, from around this point, and The Stendhal Syndrome, something was clearly an obsacle he put up as a director or outside groups forced upon him where his films lost their lustre from the past films. Not surprisingly it mirrors how  horror cinema became more and more obviously treated like the fast food of the medium, which effected many of the old auteurs' films. Yes, films were churned out in the days before I was born, but its feels even more obvious within the last few decades when directors known for distinct personalities in their work are minimal. Moments in this film, there are the troubling signs of how cheaper his films were becoming at least in look if not budget, clearly a compromise from the films of decades before. When you're a director known for style and elaborate camera movements, a restriction in making the films is not a good thing. The good news is that, while it would unfortunately begin to really undermine his films from The Card Player*, the style of the earlier films is still here, such as a lengthy tracking shot following along a carpet to an event that is magnificent. What has to bared in mind is that, when he started, Argento was working with Vittorio Storaro as his cinematographer, who the same year as The Bird With The Crystal Plumage did the same task with Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist. This is the same in other areas of the film's production, with Ennio Morricone as the composer. The older eras of horror cinema had a fluidity between actors to technicians switching between art and pulp cinema, particularly with Italy and Japan, without bias against either. Unfortunately Argento has to work with what he has now. With this film though he was still able to make material that shines. Considering the cinematographer for this film, Ronnie Taylor, shot his film Opera, it makes sense for the style to be there still. And of course, speaking of acting, there's Von Sydow. Sydow can leave any film with his stoic dignity shining through, as a great actor able to be good in even an awful film, as can be proved in seeing him in Judge Dread (1995) with Sylvester Stallone. The transition from Ingmar Bergman to his later films is surprising, but to bring his gravitas to this film was inspired, and in seeing him add conviction to the sillier aspects, proves why he's such a good actor. In fact no one is bad in the film in a jarring way to be honest. The cheesy English dubbing is far from the worst I've seen and still adds a lot; I'm endured much, much worse.

The modus operandi of the story is how a pretty nasty nursery rhyme penned for the film by Asia Argento, the director's daughter and actor/director in her own right, and from the very Grimm end of children's literature, infects someone enough to carry out a series of murders inspired by it against women. It's bizarre, but Argento has revealed in the bizarre plot ideas for four decades or so now. Taken seriously, as a director criticised for his violence, the notion of a work corrupting someone both returns back to the plot of Tenebrae (1982), and the result here becoming a playful nod to the more exaggerated of stories that does nonetheless reflects on this issue even for a lurid plot thread. Argento did consider the notion of the dangers of a piece of creative art at least with his work. The dwarf character blamed for the original murders becomes more of a tragic figure, ostracised for what he looked like when, frankly, the killers with the exception of Phenomena have been normal people hiding corrupted minds. And, without spoiling Phenomena, even that film is a lot more complicated, for an intentionally silly film, on that matter too. It says a lot of where the director/co-writer's heart lies in his preferred stories when this character is said to have been a pulp thriller writer who read aloud his latest creations gladly to the neighbouring children, the mix of the sick and the fun apparent especially here in Sleepless. Length and structure wise, the film does feel stretched, but it escalates quickly and, surprisingly, closes out its epilogue with end credits playing over the footage. Abrupt defiantly, but at the same time, it befits the material as much that it ends with the macabre jolt and soon after finishes so that it stays in mind.

It's unfortunate Dario Argento's work has dropped in quality over the years, but it's somewhat of a parody that, the further a director's career is, the more divisive and in danger of compromise it is. Its less that directors loss their creativity, too variable in individual cases for me, and I'd argue that with Argento, though he may be guilty in his compromise, that clearly the effect of less resources have plagued these films too. The circumstances to get these films made were likely to have had a drastic effect on what we would see. It's clear here as well that the intentionally silly and fun side of the man, even for the sadistic violence, was made more pronounced in a film like this. Maybe Giallo, with Adrian Brody sucking a whipped cream can nozzle at one point within it, was actually meant to be a comedy, and Argento wasn't covering his tracks? I'll see Dracula 3D when it's possible to acquire it, and be baffled by why a giant CGI mantis was included, but unless he has completely gone mad, I can't help but think he must have found that mantis people were able to see in a leaked production trailer to be funny as well as what he wanted for the scene. It comes apparent that, as well as the potential problems in making these films that is inherent in the industry, the knowing absurd of the man's work that has always been there has made itself more obvious as the films continue. As fans we've probably taken Argento's work too seriously in tone when they may have been ultraviolent romps in plot twists and abrupt surprises as Sleepless is. It makes complete sense of great moments from his first films that were nonetheless strange. He started with an extended dialogue scene whose punch line was that someone was sustaining themselves by raising cats to eat, and that should remind us of this side of the director that we've ignored, and realise its been in all the films he made afterwards.

Note: * Which makes no sense since Benoît Debie, of Spring Breakers (2013) and Enter the Void (2009), was the cinematographer. I'm baffled by this despite actually liking the film.


Saturday, 26 April 2014

Top Tens: 2006

Sexuality permeates this year's list, along with drifting away from reality and the presence of some obscure films. Checking the full list of all the films I've seen from this year as I go along, you can see that big, acclaimed works have not even got past the label 'Average'. In their place is one of the first films that I saw depict real sex onscreen, which is also one of the sweetest comedy-dramas I've ever seen, and the last feature David Lynch has made of yet, the first of his I ever saw, leading me to wait in hope he comes back for one or two more in the 2010s. An absurdist Norwegian film and a dramatic thriller from Tajikistan, Satoshi Kon's last ever feature film, two entries from the (Sadly) forgotten Destricted anthology on sexuality, and the tasteless genius of Neveldine/Taylor amongst the list.

Ranking 2006
(In Order as of 26th April 2014)

Shortbus (Dir. John Cameron Mitchell, 2006)
INLAND EMPIRE (Dir. David Lynch, 2006)
Lights in the Dusk (Dir. Aki Kaurismäki, 2006) 
Fantasma (Dir. Lisandro Alonso, 2006)
Crank (Dirs. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, 2006)
Paprika (Dir. Satoshi Kon, 2006) 
To Get To Heaven First You Have To Die
(Dir. Jamshed Usmonov, 2006)
The Bothersome Man (Dir. Jens Lien, 2006)
Hoist (Dir. Matthew Barney, 2006) [From 'Destricted']
Impaled (Dir. Larry Clark, 2006) [From 'Destricted']
Images, in order, from the following source: