Friday, 31 January 2014

Two Films From Jess Franco...


The Devil Came From Akasava (1971)
Dir. Jess Franco

Another Franco film. Different from the others yet very familiar like siblings. The same key is used with a different melody. There is a stone that is able to turn base metals into gold in ...Akasava. It also assaults the person who has contact with it without a protective suit on with radiation that kills you instantly. A paradoxical item of harm and lust, a Mcguffin if there ever was one which can yet effect the small narrative further because it can be implemented as a murder weapon too. Making it useful to use against people trying to claim it. Even then there are multiple groups who'll kill each other off the normal way, leading to secret agents and Scotland Yard having to get involved.

Small, limited sets are broken down into pieces of edited sequences. To Franco it's not the narrative that is of the most importance but the moments and the mood of them. The erotic dancing that a female secret agent (Soledad Miranda) does in a cover is of as much importance as a chase scene, lingered over for prolonged minutes until it's as much of the position of being there as well as the titillation that is of importance. It's too pronounced how Franco stretches out eroticism and violence in his films to say that they're just sluggish genre films, but a clearly disarming tone to them that encapsulates how much of this is very unreal cinema. The characters here are trapped in plot circumstance and twists that have taken place before, many times before, and the arbitrary nature of this actually makes the genre clichés fresh and entertaining. So close to being aesthetic messes, even though people may be divided with Franco's work, that they are completely unpredictable. Always abrupt when someone does turn the tables on another, but some moments, like the disposal of a body, actually show the director could as much make great scenes through conventional scene structure too. Suspicious people are actually working on the same side. Old women are not what you perceive them to be. The clichés of the sci-fi and thriller, despite the clear budget restrictions, stand out because the restricted tone prevents Franco from padding the twists out until they lose their effect. Although even then his cinematic style, mood before plot, meant that this is prevented in his films already.

A lot of his great virtue is that, looked down on for his apparent sloppiness and disregard of structure, it's clear he was concerned for the structure of his films, but in terms of everything else but the plots. They are transitions. He cared about the sexuality of the human body. The sharp shock of a death. Films improvised on the huff. Contrivance like the reality has been drastically changed, even if this was not even considered by the director. ...Akasava doesn't really repeat any plotting from the films I have seen, and actually stands out as a unique film so far in viewing his work, somewhat fittingly ironic because in another person's hands this is insanely generic material. In his hands he was clearly obsessed with the cinematic image inherently as it was. Plot moments suddenly happen in his work, jarring you because the scenes before were so languidly paced. His obsession with the female body, possible contentious opinion on a male director's gaze on feminity notwithstanding, was as much about canvassing the screen in the female body (the breasts, lips, skin, pubic hair, all) in close-ups that at least showed the whole female body as part of real woman and belonging to her fully. Rather than parade a questionable attitude of putting women behind a glass screen and, while letting you look, seeing it as an abstraction of titillation. Instead of what Franco did and made it matter of fact even in a softcore tone. And he at least had women who were in control of their sexuality, in both films covered here in Soledad Miranda, than mere images, even if the characters were one dimensional pulp. Of course these films were exploitation. Of course Franco could show complete apathy with some of his films. Of course some of them fail miserably or purport tedious schlock. But with the ones I've tries to defend there is always a sense, even if it was sordid or made of tired conventions, that he impassioned and wanted to bring the viewers into them with his overload of incredibly long scene times, of characters wandering through rooms and corridors trapped in a haze, stuck in the environments on repeat by this point in his films, and sexuality less of a quick porno but a long, lingering sensation.

In having made as many films as Franco did, they start to meld together, not into pointlessness of their existence, but connecting and reflecting each other. They are very much genre films sold for their nudity and (hastily composed) action in closed hotel rooms and buildings, cut off from the rest of the world, but viewing as many of them as I have has introduced me to a slowly building universe. Happy to see Howard Vernon appear, a distinct face that, while he never got to work in Universal horror films from the thirties sadly, he did get his own world of horror films through Franco and to work with Jean-Luc Godard on Alphaville (1965). Introduced again to Franco's trademark of extreme zooms from afar. How isolated those interior locations actually are, and how even the exterior ones are cut off from all in their secret narrative. Films whose stories drift along. The fact that it's difficult for me not to repeat myself with these reviews is not a detriment to the late director but the sense of films which easily splice together into a single, self referential and formed entity. When you end one Franco film, you can transition into another and continue the atmosphere of the films in the next one....

She Killed In Ecstasy (1971)
Dir. Jess Franco

Same year as the first film covered. Same universe. Maybe happening in the same time frame or another reality where these people lived completely different lives from the ones in the other film. A young doctor is barred from his career by four other doctors for an experimental that, despite intending to extend the lifespan of humanity, used human foetuses as guinea pigs. He loses his mind and eventually kills himself. His wife (Soledad Miranda again in a different personality) goes about taking revenge on the four doctors. It is a small film, only seventy or so minutes, and manages to be immensely economical in structure and yet retain the trademark prolonged, languid mood Franco made his trademark, abstracting scenes by their length and keeping the camera on moments longer than most directors. What makes this film stand out is that its brisk length allows the film to never sag, yet it's still intentionally slower paced, pulling you into the film fully if you can engage with Franco's (usually) erotic horror cinema.

As the gorgeous Miranda stalks the screen getting her revenge, the film like his best for me so far (eg. Succubus (1968)) is thick in mood and also with real visual richness. At his distinct, Franco could still make exploitation films, quickly, that stood out in a clear auteurist style, despite being a director-for-hire in his style and hundred plus filmography, and significantly different in their presentation and said style even if work was dismissed as rudimentary. The music, having seen a lot of films, and listened carefully to the soundtracks, in these films are memorable or legitimately great, especially jazz and world music used. The films, lurid horror and erotica, are constructed around simple plots but their concerns are the sense of everything but that plot except to get to the new twist, Franco more obsessed with the decor, the naked flesh, the sense of time passing. Even the compromised aspects of these films and his working habits, having to moved through numerous countries in co-productions and making countless ones within the same year, added special traits to them that are noticeable despite only seeing twenty or so films from a hundred film catalogue. The closed, limited interior sets, usually memorably well decorated, add a real sense of claustrophobia, tight reality for these characters, especially as Miranda's character becomes much more of a stalker in a prolonged sequence of her following a doctor she wants to take revenge on. Since Franco, in the sixties and seventies at least, had a tendency to cast the same actors, many recognisable to me now despite not remembering their names, it makes the films like a reoccurring dream. The same beings repeating cycles of revenge, erotic death and horror, especially as the films repeat plot points and narratives in different presentations. She Killed In Ecstasy is a reinterpretation of Venus In Furs (1969), of a woman using her sexual body to seduce people and kill them. Even if sadly her life was drastically cut short in real life, Miranda, as a woman who transforms into a being of sexual desire who can seduce both genders, was able to be a prescience onscreen immortalised in how Franco idolised her, the same with The Devil Came From Akasava where she is seen as an employee for a spy group who can switch between the alias of a prostitute and an erotic dancer and yet seem above them in her sexuality and beauty. Howard Vernon is able to become this recognisable face in the director's work, and since Franco cast himself in secondary roles countless times, he himself became a distinct face immortalised in these films too. It's also befitting he's in his own work, making himself as much a creation of his own films, while significantly, not using them as an excuse to be a lead, but always the interesting minor character in physical appearance and behaviour, and not afraid of killing himself off with his own stories.

Together with The Devil Came From Akasava, these films' minimalist attitude to plotting actually make plot swerves and twists, even ones usually cliché, become different because they are made into unexpected moments within the long sequences of the film. The plot in She Killed In Ecstasy is slight, but if you can gauge with the atmosphere led presentation, you'll engage fully with it. Both films co-exist within the same type of filmmaking context that is clearly distinct to Franco only. Even a director like Jean Rollin, who crossed paths with him in taking over Zombie Lake (1981), who also mixed the erotic with the languid, and are put together within the same part of Euro genre cinema, has a clear difference to Franco in presentation. Contrary to the appearance given to him even by cult viewers who see him as only a schlock filmmaker, Jess Franco if he is still to be a schlock filmmaker was yet clearly his own, distinct of a filmmaker in how he presented his material and in how many of films interlink very clearly together. At this point the films are now going to be intentionally melded together by myself because, despite the difficulties a hundred film or more career in terms of trying to find it all let alone complete, I cannot look at these films without them being part of one giant concept that connects fully in their mirroring of each other. The virtues I've stated for these films can be said for others I've seen, and they all befit each other if the director's work was treated like this fully.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Celluloid Wunderkammer Review: The Phantom Empire (1935)


Dirs. Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason

Dare you go into the underground world of Murania? Can a cowboy defeat a death ray? Can country singer Gene Autry save Radio Ranch, and what did I actually think of this American film serial? All of this may be answered if you follow the link here. A film serial was cover before, but not combining cowboys and robots.


Monday, 27 January 2014

Most Meaningful First Viewings and Re-Evaluations of 2013 Part 7: The "K"s and "L"s

Kagemusha  [International Cut] (Akira Kurosawa, 1980)
Just the international cut, but even in the edited form it stand up incredibly. I sadly neglected Kurosawa last year; I hope to rectify it in this one. 
Karel Zeman
(A Deadly Invention (1958), Baron Prásil (1961), On The Comet (1970))
To try and describe Zeman's style of combining live action actors and animators is impossible to fully describe without at least images. But the results create new worlds, period adventure combining with a childish sense of imagination to create spectacular results. The filmography is not available in English speaking countries to see easily...although I've heard rumblings of the ever reliable Second Run releasing one on DVD, unless I've imagining rumours in hope someone does release Zeman's films one day. Just for an excuse to watch giant squids, dinosaurs on the moon, and steam powered vehicles. A mini-review of On The Comet is available here.
Ken Russell
(Dance of the Seven Veils (1970), The Music Lovers (1970), Savage Messiah (1972),
Altered States (1980), The Lair of the White Worm (1988))
All hail Russell. He should be celebrated as one of the most memorable and interesting British directors we've had despite. His ability to take the biopic, which is usually a generic bread crumb trail through a person's life without depth, and infuse it with that needed depth was a great virtue. His decisions to take these films and turn them into surreal dreams filled with high art and vulgarity breathed the stories with life, more so when he took the material seriously no matter how absurd the content was. In terms of fictional stories, Altered States shines and the intentional cheesiness of The Lair of the White Worm has stayed with me since seeing it. People have called him overindulgent and perverted, but this willingness to mix the crass and sombre is far more realistic of how life is. Its also more closer to how the British actually are contrary to other opinions.
Keoma (Enzo G. Castellari, 1976)
An utter surprise. The moment when the first flashback takes place, existing within the same reality as the protagonist (Franco Nero) to view his own life for a moment, the film jumps up as an inspired take on a genre that wouldn't last in the Italian film industry against horror and sci-fi. It can be seen as taking some questionable turns, especially in the score, but all these risks are what makes it stand up as a good and inspired western. Suddenly I realised I really like the films of Castellari immensely as much for their technical depth alongside the entertainment in them. 

The Key/All Ladies Do It (Tinto Brass, 1983-1992)
I'll defend Brass. Softcore both films may be, they at least celebrate sexuality rather than making it eye rolling, or diseased and sick like in many nihilistic, and more approved of, art films. Even if All Ladies Do It has dated immensely, it's not the sexuality, fake penis and all, that's tacky but just the music.
Key Largo (John Huston, 1948)
Think Humphrey Bogart. Think Edward G. Robinson. Think of being trapped in a location unable to leave. Think being stuck with individuals with volatile tempers and frayed emotions. Think of failed masculinity. Think of wanting to see more John Huston films.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976)
Even if the acts are not good, you desire for strip club owner Cosmo Vittelli (Ben Gazzara) to succeed because you fall in love with his kindness and charisma. He wants to give a show for his customers, even if they're ill-advised art performances, and the performers try their hardest to do something memorable for the patrons, and they are all human beings with more to them then their work. They're all the underdogs, and being able to follow them this intimately, you see the world from their eyes. A crime film mixes with a drama, with no distinction in either side, a character study that just happens to have Cosmo having to clear his debts to the mob if he can kill a Chinese bookie for them. You can see the potential in cinema to expand itself into new lights and perspectives. You could rearrange genre tropes into reflective, quiet moments, this being one of the most accessible of Cassavetes' work. And you could concern yourself to prolonged moments of dialogue, especially as seeing this version allows me to see Timothy Carey's unpredictability able to add more life to these characters' onscreen. It's a beautiful film in fact, that just happens to be melancholic and deeply sad by the end. Far from mere talking, it's a film about talking where the director is just as concerned with how it was set up and framed, putting to shame examples of pointless dialogue exchanges in American indie films I've had to put up with. The extended improvisation was to extend the characters, not to merely be realistic.
Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961)
I find myself still as lost with this film, returning to Marienbad, but compelled by the visit to it. And really, it feels like being within the central hotel, as lost as others in there as you follow behind the camera down corridors full of elaborate decor. You'll lose the game of what it "means", like the game of match sticks played repeatedly, but it's clear this was the wrong way to go about understanding the environment and the people within it. The issue is not whether you were at Marienbad before or not, but to realise that the existing time frame as much as the reality is up for question, folding forwards and backwards into itself causing you to repeatedly question yourself. A link to a review of mine can be found here, but my opinion on the film has likely as altered as much as the memories of the characters, loving the film even if its confused me.
The Left Handed Gun (Arthur Penn, 1958)
The western as interpreted as a serious character drama. You may find Paul Newman's twitching, mentally unstable interpretation of Billy the Kid strange, but it's a drastic and interesting change to the legend, the portrait a compelling one of someone who really was not in control and was inevitable going to be damned for his willingness to make incredible mistakes. Around him is a well made, distinct work that backs him up.

Legend of a Fighter/Iron Monkey (Woo-ping Yuen, 1982/1993)
I don't just like d-movie martial arts films. The genre can be as much of an art, and even if there are films I feel are superior to these two, they show the evidence that Woo-ping Yuen is as celebrated in the West as he is, and requested to work on Western films as a fight choreographer, for a reason. As a director, Woo-ping is just as concerned with setting up the film narratives around the great fight sequences so that the characters and their tales are both compelling and add to the spectacle of those fight scenes. This is cinema that celebrates the wonders of real human physicality, the body allowed to be a breathing object celebrated as the actors both act and show their abilities.
Leonardo Favio
(Chronicle of a Boy Alone (1965), The Dependent (1969),
Nazarene Cruz and The Wolf (1975))
Another discovery that widens my knowledge of South American cinema, this time an Argentinean director of immense talent who has never been mentioned in any of film history materials I've read, and is almost impossible to see the work of. These three films, the best, are so drastically different from each other. Chronicle..., a beautiful looking monochrome film about an isolated boy, making a potent pairing with the equally great Maurice Pialat film L'Enfance nue (1968). The Dependent, an unnerving odd black comedy which you're hesitant to laugh at, evoking David Lynch before he even got to making a feature length film. And Nazarene Cruz..., reviewed here, a glossy but humanist werewolf tale whose greatest virtue is that it concern itself with the characters' emotions even when it gets melodramatic and montage heavy. Together, these three films make for a fascinating image of a filmmaker who should have his day internationally for one of these films, if not all, at some point.
Louis Malle
(Murmur of the Heart (1971), Lacombe Lucien (1974), Black Moon (1975),
Au revoir les enfants (1987), Milou en mai (1990))
This year I was introduced to Louis Malle. A second hand DVD box set caught my eye, and all five films from it are here. Four of them I adore, although my favourite is Murmur of the Heart, for its frankness, honesty and a brave ending that wouldn't be allowed to happen in today's culture as it did, with the little talked about Milou en mai following behind for being playful, fun, and co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière, suddenly becoming a Luis Buñuel film even if it's too sweet to have teeth. Even Black Moon, the one so out-of-place in the group at first, the "failure" for being too random, is still such a great film for being so intentionally random and making sense all together (read a review of it from me here). I want to see more of Malle's films, falling in love with him already. There's another box set that was released in the UK, and I hope to find it second hand (or cheap) at some time as well.
Lucio Fulci
(Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), The Beyond (1981),
House by the Cemetery (1981), The Black Cat (1981), Manhattan Baby (1981))
I was already in the Fulci fan camp by the end of 2012, but in 2013 this factor was solidified. It's strange that he hated making horror films in his famous later career of the early eighties, because for the potential criticisms of plot structure with his work, films like The Beyond stand up as superior to more logical and carefully structured horror films for the oppressive mood and dread that is felt in his movies. They are unsettling, strange and death in them is felt through decay and gristly gore effects. The slowness of his work added to this mood, and the dreamlike logic of the films made them legitimately feel like nightmares. Manhattan Baby is dismissed as a terrible film, but it startled me in how dread inducing and unnervingly weird it is, leaving a hair raising image in my mind still of taxidermy birds that freaks me out despite having only seen the film once back in January. Even if he was a director for hire, hated some of the work too, it was clear he was still ready to do his job and do it well. With the people behind the camera working on the films as there was in the boom of Italian genre cinema too, the films have a craftsmanship that raises them above the dismissing views of them they got, and make them vastly superior from "smarter" horror films from now that lack of the aesthetics and sense of real eeriness to them.
Going through meaty, cinematic films with the images from the following:

Sunday, 26 January 2014

You're Under Arrest Specials (1999)

Dir. Junji Nishimusa

Probably one of the least thought about difficulties with being an anime fan is that franchises, even small ones, can be split up into multiple works - sequels, prequels, spin-offs, comedy specials etc. - from the successful (or well loved) original. We don't get most the merchandising or tie-in material to the original anime. In some cases we don't get the original source material said anime is based on. Franchises which have multiple continuations, if they're released separately, or only a piece is released, can lead to some problems with context missing. Or you can find a piece second hand in the store and are left to work with it only, like is the issue here for me writing this review. One result of this is that, if you continue with the franchise or not, you'll end up with an inherently different perspective on it from others because the fragments are connected together uniquely to you and/or the context was different in registering it. Or you could just evaluate the one piece by itself and see if it is followed to in the other parts if you look for them. One of the most peculiar examples of this is Sailor Victory (1995), which is the last two episodes of four, the first two a high school comedy drama, the last two a Sailor Moon/robot series parody with the same characters in new positions and contexts. Only those final two episodes were actually released in the West. To assess part of this franchise here, You're Under Arrest, I can only gamble and judge this material by itself as it's the first time I've been in this world.

Five episodes. Normal twenty four or so length each. Four segments per episode. From the same manga author of the famous Oh My Goddess! franchise, you follow two female traffic cops, Natsumi Tsujimoto and Miyuki Kobayakawa. Natsumi is as hot blooded as her red hair, with superhuman strength and compulsive in her behaviour. Miyuki, blue hair, a car obsessive and tech head with a disturbing ability to create security systems that use very violent methods to ward off potential thieves and trespassers. Two other female officers join them to create the main four person group of protagonists. Yoriko Nikaido, nerdy with glasses and black hair. Aoi Futaba, blonde, who is actually a man dressed as a woman all the time, not only accepted as a woman by her fellow officers, but is portrayed, with a female voice actor, as a very sexually attractive individual drawn to be beautiful. Thankfully a joke punch line that undercuts her femininity is dashed, and for the most part she's as sexualised as the other women when the episodes occasional do this. (In fact, in a work with very little sexualisation, she's the one that gets the most glamour shots, which is the one sole virtue of interest with the work for how this implies something very radical). Aside from these four, there are two males in the key cast, higher up in rank in the department including their section chief. All the sections of each episode are played for comedy. The scenarios are hijinks associated with the perils of the job as traffic officers, although its exaggerated and only occasionally has them deal with actual traffic related crimes like speeding.

It's pretty light hearted. At least in tone. Despite some mild titillation, the female characters, especially the main two, are allowed to play off each other as comic foils and being legitimate bad asses in their job. They are too good at their jobs, but it's always to the horror of their boss. Sadly the mini-specials are very lazy and bland. The first half really undermines this strong female prescience by having NEARLY EVERY IF NOT ALL the segments being about perverts, dirty photographers and numerous thieves of female underwear. One episode, if not more, every segment of it, is all about perverts and panty thieves. Its incredibly jarring in its laziness and willingness to do this for every part, not necessarily because of how questionable the attitude could be seen to be, but what it says about Japanese men if this is what is made for a (clearly) male audience. God, one hopes that there's not a level of truth to the amount of panty thieves seen in this, including one who steals them, rather than gets them from willing women, to make a blanket out of that, once he lays in, he claims will make him possess them! When it gets past this oversaturation, it's a breath of fresh air. Even then though, it's not a boost in the quality of the jokes or tiny stories anyway. There is nothing particularly in the writing that stands out barring the unique aspects of the four police women when they are allowed to breath, but no where do their personalities get written fuller to add up to a fully interesting comedy work.

The whole package feels average. It's very, very cheap looking, very obviously in the transition to using animation drawn on computers from 1999 onwards. I have a crush on dated computer effects, for their breaking of reality to the fantastical in their fake appearance, but not here or most of this transitional anime, when stilted animated buildings and cars in long shot jerk onscreen against the hand drawn animation. The pop songs for the opening and ending are annoyingly bad. Its milquetoast to an extreme. And despite some moments of good humour, this piece of the You're Under Arrest franchise, by itself for me, is a pointless quickie, which contributes nothing of interest aside from two things, a positive and a negative. A positive that, even if the franchise failed to do so if I get to it, the idea of two bad ass female cops, one super strong, the other a tech head, even as traffic officers, would make a cool pulp story. The negative is God's annoyance in me using His name in vain about how many times the segment stories were about men stealing women's underwear. A bored writer or two lead to me using religious names in irritated and baffled exclamations I may have to apologise for if the Christian afterlife actually exists. Thanks anime.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Knickers Up In A Twist: Colorful (1999)


Dir. Ryutaro Nakamura

Over sixteen episodes lasting six minutes each, Colorful explores a situation that can be pretty awkward for heterosexual men, or awkward for the women depending on what happens. It can happen in any situation, but this anime concentrates on men obsessed with women. Sat across the other side, walking past, on the bus or cramp train. Sexual objectification is a potential issue, but it's as much an issue of code of conduct, and also how one reacts in such a situation too. The male notices the woman. The human eye has to see a person in their entire figure to make a picture of them, but it does so in fragments too to get a full image. Sexual attraction to the other person, male or female, could be involved. It also depends on one's reaction to areas of the human body that are considered sexual. And what one can image in your head when an image suggests it to that individual onlooker. The woman's legs are bare under a skirt or shorts. They may be voluptuous and/or wearing very revealing clothing. Is it okay to notice? Ignore it? Is it ok to look? Is what my sister once said, that a brief glance at a person's figure is okay, gawking at them too far, or is it more complicated than this? Colorful is about the even more potentially awkward situations. The main trope, although amongst others, is the accidental glimpse of a woman's underwear - sat or getting out of a car, at the top of jeans crouched, a gust of wind. There are other situations too - the sight of a person's bra, of their cleavage leaning over, accidentally brushing against them, a strained skirt button. Also in this series the men are flat out gonzo for these sorts of situations, or perverts, looking out for these moments like hawks. How, when the situation happens, they discombobulate with all the facial distortions of a Looney Tunes character, the absurdity of it revealed.

Anime is pretty notorious for its sexual pandering, especially now as it's taken to an extreme level, discomfortingly so at times as an anime fan as this sort of thing is now getting the front pages of Netflix and is becoming what anime is perceived to be. The near-nudie shot - ironically actual nudity not that prevalent despite the era of ultra-adult anime of Ninja Scroll (1993) - has been around for decades. The gag where a male character falls on a girl and has his hand on her breasts by accident, only to get his head kicked in has been bread-and-butter in sex comedy humour for as long. The schoolgirl with breasts bigger than the pumpkins you can get in supermarkets in October is getting nearly as old. The accidental exposure of a girl's knickers by various means too. The border between harmless sexuality and just crass sexism is up to debate in most cases, some shifting to the latter pretty quickly, and that's not including those that cause you to frown at how lifeless and just un-sexy they. How they make sexuality and erotic desire, in their lameness with these jokes, a commercial regurgitation when animation should allow for some of the wildest and imaginative sexual fantasies, and the most beautiful romances, to be depicted. Yet the clichés are still being used because, to use that old phrase, if it ain't broke, why fix it? I'm faced in the medium, as a fan, with how much this is a sellable commodity, for good and the truly abominable, the beautiful, sexy and fun with that which makes me find my male gender unsalvageable in their misogyny. Colorful at first is wonderfully hysterical in kicking this aspect in the teeth. A male sees a woman, or goes out of their way to see one in a compromised position without them noticing, and react in a way, whether they see anything or are thwarted, that is utterly comical in how rubber faced they are drawn in reacting. That and how they can be thwarted or compromised themselves in the various sketches, when the woman realises what's going on, if they're flying low, or claimed by a haunted lamppost.

Originally made for segments for a television program, the work is also presented as a series of abstract vignettes with reoccurring characters. Two male friends obsessed with women, particularly their English language teacher who does amazing things with her tongue when showing how to pronounce the letters "L" and "R". A female athletics student and her male coach, who views her with pride in her abilities and holding back his lust. An American tourist who desires to be a film artist and to see "the upside down Mount Fuji", which doesn't leave much to the imagination when I finally realised the metaphor after the viewing of the series. The tone of Colorful is abrasive structurally. Segments over each episode's six minutes involve repetitious and distorted imagery between them. Multiple animation styles and aesthetic presentations co-exist together, and the music is drum-and-bass and electronic. The series doesn't match at all to the director's more famous work Serial Experiments Lain (1998), but the willingness at improvising and mixing different artistic styles, while staying in a consistent tone, is there between them. The results in the first few episodes are rambunctious, bawdy and manic.

The major issue with the series is that even over sixteen episodes, that are only six minutes long each, less than two hours, it wears out its key joke and premise quickly, never going anywhere else with it. It stops being about the absurdity of heterosexual male sexuality but just an excuse to see hand drawn women's underwear with them not being a willing participant in the erotic side. Most are just one dimensional background for jokes, and the reoccurring female characters don't get to be in on the joke. There's also a lost potential in flipping this idea on its head and imaging a heterosexual woman taking the position as the voyeur that's never considered. The jokes, like those in the West about this sort of thing, also eventually get to punch lines that may be offensive to some or at least eye rolling depending on how you view what a situation like this would be like in reality. A male inadvertently eyes up a fat or old woman, and is viewed as a joke, whether its sexist not even needing to be touched upon because the joke is lame already. One joke even goes as far as a different type of person wearing women's panties, a lame joke before you even consider if its offensive or not. By some time, the abstract tone of the series sadly becomes repetitious as well - it plays with the same notes, never expanding them into more bizarre and imagining flourishes. Moments in the last episodes do shine. The reoccurring characters help, especially when the American's final segment, with a friend from his country, becomes an image within an image and a bickering argument, of accented Japanese that even namedrops Woody Allen you can only hear. Ideas fall into the best of psychotronic imagination, that was part of reason why I feel in love with anime in the first place, where the truly unexpected takes place and is used to its potential even if more to the idea could have been done. Such as a high school girl the size of a kaiju appearing from Tokyo harbour; the obvious underwear joke is there, but its more funny for the matter of fact tone and details like what happens when a phone the size of a monument starts vibrating. It's a shame that the series doesn't play in this sort of area more often and just continues the same joke over and over again until it become tasteless or unfunny.

The episodes were probably not meant to be seen one-after-another, but each time the programme slot was on in Japan, but the joke is still one note the more its repeated and the original laughs are lost. It's a fascinating curio, with some great laughs, but it really doesn't live up to its premise. An entire level of satire or goofball humour with the idea of the male libido that it doesn't take advantage of. You don't even see any actual nudity or sex either, which adds a strange note to this criticism. It teases, in the sex and humour, but eventual you call its bluff as somewhat repetitious and get a little bored with it.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Most Meaningful First Viewings and Re-Evaluations of 2013 Part 6: The "H"s, The One "I", and The "J"S

Hades Project Zeorymer (Toshihiro Hirano, 1988)
The obvious flaw with Zeorymer is that it's a big work - the original manga is borderline erotica from what I've researched on it, adding to its strange linage - that needed far more time to flesh out of the characters and plot. The result of this is that events happen at breakneck speed and characters leave with only a bit of screen time. But what is here is a central concept that has a jaw dropping amount of dramatic depth to it. Where the hero, a boy forced into becoming a pilot for an experimental war machine, ends up becoming far more sadistic and evil, the longer in the robot he is, than the terrorist group he's been forced to fight. The terrorist group, who want to take over the world, despite their slight screen times, are far more human and empathetic then the heroes, so that their deaths against a war machine, the Zeorymer, which is virtually unstoppable, is horrifying even for their enemies in its callousness. The concept of freewill is brought it, and even the lead heroine is a being whose physical existent, in animation, is a startling piece of body manipulation. For the flaws this is the sort of work that encapsulates the greatest virtues of anime beyond the legitimate masterpieces, that whether the final quality, ideas are seen that are rarely seen in motion picture sci-fi, and are stuck in your brain, in idea and appearance onscreen, the same way body horror is in the medium.
Half A Man aka Un uomo a metà (Vittorio De Seta, 1966)
De Seta, another director I've been getting into through, has been a divisive individual. I've been exceptionally cold to his work, but this one, so different from the realism of his short documentaries and Bandits of Orgosolo (1960), the one that might be dismissed as the empty experiment, has had the more impact. It's very stylish yes, which is something others could dismiss, but its take on a man's complete inability to speak aloud his true thoughts, in a mix of memories, flash forwards and the sense of depth and atmosphere of the locations he is in, has an effect that is compelling. A link to a review can be found here.
The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963)
With this, a man I knew only as a journey man of films like Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) stakes a significant claim, with The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Curse of the Cat People (1944), alongside being the editor for Citizen Kane (1941), of being an incredibly underrated filmmaker. In front of me is a whole filmography of a man who was willing to do whatever work the studio wanted his to do, along with some well regard works particularly in the musical, but The Haunting by itself suggests an incredible technical director who knew how to juggle character dynamic with the sense of emersion in the world depicted. It's an unnerving film, where the house in the centre literally comes alive at points, but it's just as important for the contributions of the small set of actors and their characterisations. 
The Heisters (Tobe Hooper, 1964)
Eggshells (1969), which got a limited edition release alongside this thanks to Arrow Video and their set for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (1986), was worth the wait to see, but its messy, experimental tone is a bit difficult to judge on a single viewing. This short however was an utter joy, bringing up the amount of borderline slapstick humour that clearly exists in his films, especially the Chainsaw films.
Holy Flame of the Martial World (Chin-Ku Lu, 1983)
Next time I'll watch this with the original Chinese language track. But already it stakes a claim as one of the most peculiar martial arts films from Hong Kong without getting into the areas of body horror or gross out. It's a testament to basic areas of practical effects, and is the holy book on the art of  wire work, as you will have never seen it used in such elaborate and utterly insane ways where actors are flying around, for real, like paper kites. What makes its better is that such an insane film is still as obsessed with creating its own mythology, probably constructed from real legends, creates memorable characters just before they speak, and make sure that it's the notions of skill, focus, learning and teamwork, even if magic is involved, that wins the day instead of cheap scriptwriting. Western fantasy films have in many cases, except if they were Italian, lacked the sense of interest in them for me because they were never able to be this unpredictable, yet rich in mythology and skill of the people in front and behind the camera. Seeing a film like this, with the ridiculous English dub, it's no wonder people got enamoured with Asian pulp movies.

Horrors of Malformed Men (Teruo Ishii, 1969)/Singapore Sling (Nikos Nikolaidis, 1990)
Thank you Synapse, I only wish your DVDs were available to buy in the UK without having to import them. Unfortunately the BBFC, the British film classification board, has to take some blame for this alongside the state of cult cinema in this country. Singapore Sling may be too extreme still to pass, but the costs to have films classified, which has to be done, means that it limits the gamble on stuff like this. Thankfully labels like Arrow Video, and more arthouse ones like Second Run, have managed to sustain themselves and bring out obscure gems, but we have no way near the amount of material the Americans do on DVD and Blu-Ray. Two films that break transgressions in shocking ways, both based on pulpy sources with almost meta levels to them. Horrors of... compressing together the works of an author so legendary in Japan his work has bleed into their cinema so many times before, the other film noir as interpreted through a Greek filmmaker's world as an absurdist black comedy. Horrors of... was suppressed from being shown in Japan, one of only a few, and considering some of the shocking films allowed to be made from there, the other banned from being shown in the UK and being the only film (unfortunately) that has been made available of Nikolaidis in English speaking countries. Sexuality and violence are prevalent, family roles are undermined and both films show this in distinct, bold visual choices that cause them to exist between exploitation and arthouse cinema. Both of them are great works. Singapore Sling was reviewed here
Invasion Earth: The Aliens Are Here (Robert Skotak, 1988)
This is, and it's not meant to be an insult, a real C-movie. A limited budget, a small story of an alien invasion involving brainwashing people with their own films as they harvest them, and using countless clips from older American (and occasional Japanese) sci-fi films to pad out the thin running length. But the result has an unexpected result. The film itself is fun in a silly way. It's a shame its slightly ruined by an offensive and criminally unfunny running joke later on about Japanese tourists, but still manages to be fun despite this. The real interest of the film thought is the thing that it does to pad out the length. The barrage of edited images from other films, of buildings being destroyed by giant beasts, aliens and radioactive monstrosities has an effect of letting you see an entire decade's worth of subconscious fears, from the fifties and early sixties, that the USA felt. Even if the flying saucers were comically fake, the palpable sense of terror and paranoia of the destruction of the status quo, or just mankind, is striking in these countless and length montages of all the best parts. Fear of others, on the Earth and outside it, fear of inside one's body, fear of life itself. Plus seeing these clips, I was enticed by the potential wealth that fifties American sci-fi may have for me when I get around to it fully. It evoked, even before seeing them all, great areas of genre like nineties anime or Hong Kong martial arts films where ingenuity and imagination, even against low budgets or poor scripts, mixed perfectly with mythologies and obsessions of the time to create works that were memorable and at least showed something bottled up, fears or dreams, in the creators at the time. Not bad for a C-movie I got on a second disc from Hollywood DVD to evoke these thoughts.

Jackie Brown/Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 1997/2009)
This year was the start of a re-evaluation of Tarantino after a dissolution with him. Admittedly I've not included Pulp Fiction (1994) on this list, because despite my positive thoughts on the film, it's the weakest aspects of the director. These two films however usher in what is the best of him, that for all his fan boy enthusiasm, gorging on the collection in the video rental store he once worked in, he's used these genre reflections to actually tackle intelligent ideas. With Jackie Brown, an older couple falling in love. Inglorious Basterds, the nature of propaganda and communication as a weapon. The progression as he's gone on in his career shines out now. Maybe I'll actually like Death Proof (2007) on a second viewing.
Jacques Rivette
(Duelle (une quarantaine) (1976), Noroît (1976), Secret Defense (1998))

Also this year I went through a few Rivette films. It has been an erratic road with the director - highs, such as rewatching Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), and a film like Le Pont du Nord (1981) frustrating me immensely. But he has always been of interest in all the films I've watched this year. Completely breaking up and remoulding what the structure of cinema should mean, it's been hard to gauge with some of the films, or parts of them, but when it leads to the ending of Noroît, a revenge tragedy reinterpreted by an all-female crew of pirates crossed with an abstract dramatic play presentation, it's absolutely worth it.
Jean-Luc Godard
(Contempt (1963), Alphaville (1965), Sympathy for the Devil (1968))

Another French New Wave director who broke down the structure of cinema and remoulded it into something truly unique to him. Two rewatches of films that have grown in quality, the third a key film that's growing in my mind. I'm happy. Alphaville is reviewed here.
Jean Renoir
(The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936), Partie du Campagne (1936),
The River (1951), The Golden Coach (1953))

Another French director, but from another era whose type of humanity is sorely missed now. Black comedy (Monsieur Lange), a complex drama that has only a fragment finished but has more power than longer works (Parties du Campagne), and a full colour feature (The Golden Coach) full of life. The River stands out even above these, such a small movie growing in power the more I think of it, realising how good it was when I realised the depths within its smallest drama. I add Renoir to the growing list of directors I'm obsessing over now.
Jeff Keen
I was unfair to Keen. Between watching the boxset of all his experimental films from the BFI, I was still in the transition to appreciating the virtues of form and creation even over narrative or "understandable" meaning. Now I appreciate what the late British experimental director did, making what was effectively home movies that were yet a collage of films, toys being melted, pop culture and everything he had at hand melded together into fully visceral shorts. If I had started watching the films a little later, I'd appreciated his work much earlier than now as I write this
Jess Franco
(The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962), Succubus (1968), Venus in Furs (1969),
 Dracula: Prisoner Of Frankenstein (1972), The Curse of Frankenstein (1972),  Female Vampire (1973), Blue Rita (1977), Voodoo Passion (1977))

It says something when I had to cut down the amount of films I've seen this year to the key ones of interest for me. I had seen a few films before last year, but prompted by the unfortunate passing of Franco, I decided to fully dive into his work. I'll be within it for a long while, barely scraping it within 2013. Not every film is good, but my admiration for the late director is not only because he was legitimately talented, but the repetitions and similarities between the films adds to their interest, blurring them together into a fascinating mass of exploitation films fed by dream logic and jazz improvising. It's not that surprising that Orson Welles and Fritz Lang liked films of his; he was an exploitation director, he squeezed whatever resources he had, and could be completely bored with the work like with Bloody Moon (1981), but barely into the filmography, even the softcore films have moments where a distinct mood, a striking visual flourish or an abstraction of reality takes place, making them stand out from many hack works. Expect a few more Franco films to be on a list like this at the end of 2014. Reviews of Franco films can be found here.
Les Jeux des anges (Walerian Borowczyk, 1964)
And starting in 2014, I plan to look into the work of Walerian Borowczyk, starting early at Christmas 2013. These early animations already show that his reputation for just euro-softcore is very distorted, putting forward another European director who will stand up for me finally getting around to his career. It'll be interesting to see The Beast (1975) again.
Jigoku (Nobuo Nakagawa, 1960)
Hell is internal. Another film imported from the US. A film that's left a giant scar in my brain from its imagery. It's as much a film about the protagonists' own guilt, his friend an evil doppelganger, as a literal descent into hell. Its reputation is earned, not only in its final, lengthy chapter, but also in how nihilistic it is of humanity. A film to choke back bile with. 
Jim Jarmusch
(Down by Law (1986), Night on Earth (1991), Dead Man (1995))

Despite my returning love for Tarantino, and two legitimately important films against one, Jarmusch in hindsight should have been the American director to grow to his status instead. Maybe its because, alongside starting in the early eighties, he had already carved out a solid career trajectory already, and because his films were less obvious in presentation than Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction. But Night On Earth is certainly superior, if not Mystery Train (1989), than Pulp Fiction as a work surrounding small stories that connect together. Dead Man, re-seen, stands out as one of the boldest films made in the nineties, certainly the least expected place for the western to go, even with the likes of El Topo (1970) existing, and while made in the later eighties, Down By Law was utterly charming and soulful. Jarmusch is more subtle despite the clear reference points - the music choices more for context than impact, the dialogue behind tone in priority or to build up the characters before it - and while I'm in love with Tarantino again, its Jarmusch who'll probably be one of the my favourites to come from the American independent/indie generations of the eighties and nineties between the two.
Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
Johnny: How many men have you forgotten?
Vienna: As many women as you've remembered.
Johnny: Don't go away.
Vienna: I haven't moved.
Johnny: Tell me something nice.
Vienna: Sure, what do you want to hear?
Johnny: Lie to me. Tell me all these years you've waited. Tell me.
Vienna: [without feeling] All those years I've waited.
Johnny: Tell me you'd a-died if I hadn't come back.
Vienna: [without feeling] I woulda died if you hadn't come back.
Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.
Vienna: [without feeling] I still love you like you love me.
Johnny: [bitterly] Thanks. Thanks a lot.

José Mojica Marins
(At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964), This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (1967),
Awakening of the Beast (1970), Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968))

A director I needed to evaluate. More so than Jess Franco, someone who was posed with restrictions, and someone still making exploitation films, but creating fascinating ones more interesting than mere titillation and violence. His work, in these four films I saw in 2013, has a unique, discordant tone to them, a material nature where, literally with opening credits in one film, they were literally scratched onto celluloid. Their tangents away from narrative make them even more compelling, and it's not hard to be taken aback by their jumps into complete nightmarish imagery, Jigoku as retold in a low budget Brazilian film in one case. In fact I prefer the films not in the Coffin Joe trilogy mentioned above, Awakening... and Strange World..., more than the official films, because this sense of tangents and his obsession with monologues about life's meaning, while drifting from point at times, where becoming even more pronounced and memorable than mere horror shocks. Knowing of films like this makes global cinema much more interesting than the tiring pursuit of "respectable art" from other countries.
Joseph H. Lewis
(The Big Combo (1955), The Halliday Brand (1957), Terror in a Texas Town (1958))

Much more interesting than "respectable art" from the US. Terror In A Texas Town, reviewed here, is a small, not very long western but its stuck with me immensely, for the performances, the quick but fully formed narrative, and being very well made. The Big Combo suffers from a protagonist who gets on the soapbox too often, but you cannot deny its virtues in the acting, grittiness and its sumptuous cinematography. I also feel I was unfair to The Halliday Brand, reviewed negatively a little here, as its grown too just in how incredible its visual aesthetics were too. These are b-movies that give the a-list ones a run for their artistic money while still being pulpy.
Jubilee (Derek Jarman, 1978)
We're still waiting to see if this future will take place in Britain, even more so considering where the social conditions are going. Hopefully Adam Ant will be there too to sprawl himself on a stage floor in passion of the song he sings in this too.
Justine’s Hot Nights (Jean-Claude Roy, 1976)
And to finish off this post, admitting that softcore is fun just for the sake of titillation. Although, for a film that was clearly cobbled together, low budget, as a series of scenarios randomly put together, there's a charm to this that is horribly missing from softcore today; whether the gender politics are up to question is for debate, but modern mainstream erotica and porn feels like a debasement of your own sexuality as well as women's. This, it's just as memorable for the opening ditty accompanied by comedic illustrations as it is for the nudity, so naive and wide eyed in its presentation rather than cynical. And admittedly as my first encounter with this sort of French softcore, I wonder if a lot of its distinct is just for the fact its French.
Soaking images from the following sources:,uehIQnBEGGTzFKkWXCW_9Gt1jhFRaxiGFNHXSLvJVQbr1KuxdEchg8sj7pZfqcWRe7yTowcBU2QO1XItR_PzSA%3D%3D.jpg