Thursday, 27 February 2014

Most Meaningful First Viewings and Re-Evaluations of 2013 Part 11: The "T"s

Takeshis’ (Takeshi Kitano, 2005)
That this area of Kitano's career has been dismissed compared to the rest, this being the first of the three in these meta-autobiographic works of his I've seen, is sad considering this film is so alive with wit and interest. Complete absurdity start to finish, as one critic perfectly described this period of his work the creation of a man who is free. Skewering Hana-Bi (1997) ay the end, the film that broke Kitano into the West for many, he both reflects on his career throughout this one with a satirical light and showed he had more than enough creativity for another decade of films.
The Tatami Galaxy (Masaaki Yuasa, 2010)
Rewatched this last month and saw Kaiba (2008), the director's earlier TV series, making this one fresh in my mind again. If only more Yuasa projects were as available as The Tatami Galaxy was, as he already stands up as a potentially great anime auteur whose ability to tackle with human emotions alongside visual creativity is rewarding.
Taxi zum Klo (Frank Ripploh, 1981)

Theorem/Pigsty (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1968-9)
Expect more Pasolini films to be seen as monthly lists at least for February. He is becoming one of the most interesting and rewarding filmmakers I've going through the work of.

They Called Us ‘Les Filles du Roy’/A Scream From Silence (Anne Claire Poirier, 1974-79)
A type of cinema I haven't seen a lot of. A fascinating documentary in the former, the later a deeply unsettling film which, while once finding its later half's cerebral discussions too disconnected on the theme of the damage of rape, has stayed throughout the year and become more powerful.
They Eat Scum (Nick Zedd, 1979)
Sometimes complete rawness is more rich. Transgressive, course rawness. Funny too, especially with a habit of making jokes against disco, and I'm a fan of disco music.
Thief (Michael Mann, 1981)
This Must Be the Place (Paolo Sorrentino, 2011)

This Sporting Life/O Lucky Man! (Lindsay Anderson, 1963/1973)
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (Michael Cimino, 1974)
This is a great way to show anyone who distinct seventies cinema could be, and why its missed as badly as it is by many.
Time to Leave (François Ozon, 2005)
Tomu Uchida
(Souls in the Moonlight Trilogy (1957-58-59), Chikamatsu’s Love in Osaka (1959),
Yoshiwara: The Pleasure Quarter aka. Hero of the Red Light District (1960), Fugitive from the Past (1965))
If only Uchida's work, like many other under appreciated Japanese directors, was available in the West. There's large gaps in the global view of cinema, and any of these films I've been lucky enough to see would fit perfectly into it.
A Touch of Zen (King Hu, 1969)
Two Orphan Vampires (Jean Rollin, 1997)
I've developed a habit of praising maligned or obscurer works by well known directors even over their more well known work. I hope this trend continues.

Images from the following sources:

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Seeds of Memory: Kaiba (2008)


Dir. Masaaki Yuasa

Within basic, rudimentary knowledge of any form of creativity, even doodling on paper, it is made very clear how small details can alter the results of a creation. A single note of an instrument can be bent with modification, or a change in the blowing/plucking of it, to make a new sound or change how the original note is played. Shading, dimension etc. can alter a drawing, which anyone having done a secondary (high) school art class could attest to. Altering certain details can depict certain human emotions in a clearer way - the difference between the passions of jazz against the aggression of heavy metal, and both styles can be modified to convey different emotions than the ones I've given them in this example. But by changing notes, words, lines sketched on a page, whatever is in front of you, it's also possible to present more abstract concepts such as internal states, dreams and memories. Animation, which is inherently about using basic lines to creating moving images, is perfectly able to do this, as is the case in the twelve episode series Kaiba. In the distant future, a young man wakes up with no memories. He has two distinct physical traits - a birthmark that is a symbol and a giant hole directly through his chest. The only potential clue about his past is a locket around his neck with a blurred picture of a girl his age in it. In the universe of Kaiba, memories can be preserved and commodity. People can be preserved on chips and change bodies. Memories can be altered. Of course it's the rich who have the privilege while the poor go as far as selling their bodies if need be to support their families. In this universe the protagonist goes in  search of the girl pictured in the locket and discover who he is, even if it means spending a large quarter of the series in other bodies than his own.

To clear aside the one major flaw of Kaiba, from the same director of The Tatami Galaxy (2010), it's that at twelve episodes it does shorten the potential journey and possibilities it could have gone with its premise. The first six travel around the universe set-up, exploring what memory means to human beings, while the last six deal strictly with the key narrative with the ideas thought about wrapped around it. It does feel abrupt when the switch happens; if any series could justify twenty four episodes, when many procrastinate at that length, it's this one if it was written and planned well. But one has to be grateful for the series even existing. The series as a whole is inventive and imaginative, using creativity to depict a concept that is both to reconfigure the story in a new way but also bring in a melancholic attitude to the nature of memory's mutability. Immediately the visual look and character designs are instantly noticeable. In another review, they might be called "childlike" or "cartoonish". Instead I would say it's a distinct, bold and colourful one. Character designs to be sympathetic for. It benefits the series because the result allows for a greater fluidity to the animation. For a series that isn't really about action set pieces, the few times they happen, in the first episode no less, are impressive. The series' look also leads to two distinct virtues. That this is an animation willing to push itself to the most vivid things you could create from just your imagination possible, a completely alien new world onscreen even if aspects are recognisable. It actually evokes the great René Laloux's Fantastic Planet (1973) just in the level of interest in the flora and social life depicted in the background of locations. This is combined with a very thoughtful view on the concept of memory.

Kaiba takes immense joy in the notion of memories. Depicting the mind as a library of  books full of past thoughts and images. As seeds and liquid. Its fascinated with how they could be preserved and how people could continue to live beyond their original deaths. Unfortunately in such a world it means this ability to preserve and remove memories leads to greater remorse for their loss. The girl the protagonist is trying to find is likely part of a terrorist group who oppose the technology able to manipulate memories and bodies. As he travels through the universe in the first half, we also see various implementations of this technology and the repercussions of it when matched with the complicated emotions human beings have. The animation in style, composition and tone depicts this without weightless exposition. It's not difficult to compare  Yuasa's style and thoughts to Mamoru Oshii and the late Satoshi Kon, the former in his cerebral takes of his ideas, the later in manipulating reality depending on his characters' mental states. But Yuasa is different from them. Oshii is concerned with philosophy greatly. Kon's key obsession was dreams. Yuasa even above these two directors' take on it is directly obsessed with human emotion. Relationships and interaction, friendship and communication, is important in his work. He has no issues with tackling love and even sex head on, and it says something that the series can make a subtle reference to menstruation, without making it seem abrasive, in one episode when most anime now has developed an embarrassing track record in portraying women. The series even goes as far as play with a queer/pan-gender take on what being able to switch bodies could mean, not a great deal barring one episode, fitting titled Masculine Woman,  but enough to be an idea as fully formed as other within the series.

The series has no issues with melodrama being used to convey its ideas, pulling at the heartstrings and making the director vastly different from Mamoru Oshii. The best episode is the third in the whole twelve series, but is a great beginning for a story that continues as highly in quality long afterwards. A character is introduced, leaves halfway through in a way that is heartbreaking, and in a nicely wrapped up little story, when I'm usually not fond of episodic anime because the stories are weakly put together, makes a dramatic and philosophical point that strikes home fully. That this character, while long gone, still exists physically for a large portion in the series for a while adds a very inspired move by the anime, in forcing home the the subjectivity of what the body and mind mean, disturbing in its implications, but also in how she still "exists", and the queer/pan relationship that happens with a secondary character, suggests a glory in someone being allowed to still live even if they're technically dead. If the series could have been twenty four episodes long, with this level of quality still there, moments like this episode could have been allowed to be even more powerful, even if the final work in reality is still something special in its own right.

Particularly for a series clearly made in the era where anime is created with computers rather than hand drawn cels, very noticeable even to a novice like myself when you see enough anime, Kaiba nonetheless shows far more of the amount of talent human hands and minds are capable of in building its world. Everything in this was clearly designed, such heady ideas through the simplest visual flourishes allowed to be taken as far as they could. Its baffling the series never got a wide release in the English speaking world; maybe in anime fandom its "weird", but the story and ideas are conveyed in ways that are fully graspable without having to work with them as other anime required. Oshii was difficult with the celebrated Ghost In The Shell (1995) even before the divisive sequel, but his work was released over here. Kaiba is unconventional because, if one takes the simplest and obvious of changes in something, a colour palette, character style, how everything is conveyed by what is drawn, its furthest, there's somewhat of a paradox that, when even the simplest of modifications of image or sound are avoided in more mainstream work, something that does them looks more experimental. With this series this is strange to have taken place. A legitimately beautiful, gentle opening and closing song are wrapped around each episode, rather than something really trite like is an unfortunate case with other works, setting up the notion of love that can even overcome the loss of memory and multiple bodies that is the eventual key theme for the whole series. Despite the jarring jerk in the plotting in the middle, the series does indeed fully run with the notion of how human existence and interaction could be drastically altered, in reality and philosophically, but that notions of love and kinship could still exist despite the burdens created. Far from naive with this message, Yuasa also has the advantage of realising how badly human beings can negate this and harm themselves, as seen in realistic terms in The Tatami Galaxy, even if his heart is for the happy endings. The notion of fate or the strength of eternal love in these two works isn't the sappy, asinine debacle is its usually turned into but a true optimism for good of people to be able to exist together regardless of the fact reality can be completely undermined. The last episode of Kaiba suddenly turns into Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997), completely within the bowels of the human mind like that film becomes, but rather than the violent catharsis and destruction of what was before to even consider healing, this ends with reconciliation of what existed before instead.

Anyone can do this. On a written page. Painting. Film. Sculpture. Anything. Knowledge helps improve your ability to do this. In trying to depict these ideas to a wider audience however a problem arises. Anyone can do this, but to widen the palette and tools, you're stuck with issues of commercialism. It's actually not encouraged in the mainstream to even modify a slight aspect of what you're doing to be different unless you have the money and ego to go forth with it. Music has the most freedom because, even before MP3 distribution furthered the ability to reach new audiences, musicians can play the most unconventional music possible and find a way to get it distributed, the most uncommercial acts and musicians able to develop cult followings and reputations. Art in general has the advantage that, despite the questions of what "art" is, that many different manifestos and techniques have opened up what it is as expression of thought. Literature and writing in general is helped by the fact anyone can write an idea or mood down on paper, since paper and a pen is easily available, although as someone who wants to become a fiction writer myself, I dread when it comes to actually trying to publish the novel I presume I will make; even if the internet (again) has made it possible to distribute one further, the issue of whether the most interesting works, like in music and art, eventually rise to the surface will happen with novels now is something I'm worried about, the desire just to cause one person to think enough for me to have succeeded. Moving images unfortunately have suffered in this area because the cost of making them. The great creators have managed to make films regardless of this but were still handicapped by distribution. Animation has greater flexibility, but unfortunately the perception that it's for children, and like Disney or Pixar has been a severe handicap on it. Thankfully Kaiba managed to get made. This proves that you can always have hope even if the final work is never financially successful. Although it's on a roll of a dice in a lot of cases. In fact Yuasa had to use Kickstarter to fund his last animated work, a mere short. The further sadness is that I could only see Kaiba through the kindness of a person online in a way considered very un-Kosher in some eyes. It's annoying because Kaiba is bold in style but not alienating, very clear in its ideas. Very simple, understandable ideas merely stretched as far as they can go, through characters who are only real in their voices but living through the few pen strokes people made on computers. The thing that avoids making this epilogue completely sad is that the work being reviewed is a testament to how the simplest bendings and modifications of the moving image, animation, led to something that was great.


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Most Meaningful First Viewings and Re-Evaluations of 2013 Part 10: The "S"s

Sakura Wars Franchise
(OVA 1 (Takaaki Ishiyama 1997), OVA II (Susumu Kudo, 1999),
TV Series (Ryutaro Nakamura and Takashi Asami, 2000)
A flawed set of works. The first is the best but it was designed to wrap around the original source material, a videogame combining dating simulation with strategy, so huge narrative gaps are left. The second suffers from being an early work with computer made 2D animation, but has a lot of interest. The series sets up the characters, but its technically a prequel and suffers from generic plotting. But they still shine with virtues for me. The later 1920s Japanese setting, even if fictionalised with proto-steam punk, is grabbing, and the significance of how the female characters are treated as all being significant ] is something that stands out immensely. Even if they could be seen as clichés, they're treated with respect, with no sexualisation in any of the pieces I've seen, and the importance of the original Japanese voice actresses behind them, all contributing the singing in the music as well as acting, to the point that they became loved for playing these characters over and over again can be seen. It gives what are videogame adaptations as lustre of class that did stick out in these anime even with their major flaws.
Samuel Fuller
(The Steel Helmet (1951). Park Row (1952), Shock Corridor (1963))

Completely blunt. Subtlety is vacated in these films for Fuller's sledgehammer tone but to great effect. It's a bluntness that's passionate and backed up with the ability to make the most out of limited means. And with Park Row he did have the means and pulls off one of the most tantalising, continuously moving camera shots I've seen in a long time.
Santa Claus (René Cardona, 1959)
Definitely a strange film, but it manages for all its kitschy tone to actually be legitimately sincere and sweet in its message. Its dismissal as a terrible film to laugh at is insulting really - it's camp, but its heart was in the right place. Certainly a damn lot more bearable than Santa Claus (1985) with Dudley Moore which does deserve more stick for its content. Link to a review here.

Seconds (John Frankenheimer, 1966)/Serial Experiments Lain (Ryutaro Nakamura, 1998)
Two completely different toned works. One an animated television series, the other part of a paranoia trilogy of films from an acclaimed American filmmaker. Yet they lingered together as siblings, brother and sister, ever since last year when I was compiling my best of viewing for that December. Both about the meaning of existence when their different traits are boiled away. One through the notion of being able to have a new life, the other through completely transferring yourself out of your physical flesh. One is unable to accept his new position, the other is lost as someone presuming to be her acts independently. One is of the meaning of one's life, the other brings in the concept of a new God being created. Both individuals are lost in a world that makes no sense, with people acting upon their lives, but one of them may in fact be in more control that she may believe. Two very different works but they make perfect sense next to each other in hindsight.
Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmüller, 1975)
"The ones who don't enjoy themselves, even when they laugh. Oh yeah. The ones who worship the corporate image, not knowing that they work for someone else. Oh yeah. The ones who should have been shot in the cradle... Pow! Oh yeah. The ones who say 'Follow me to success, but kill me if I fail... so to speak.' Oh yeah..."
Shameless Films Back Catalog
(The Frightened Woman (Piero Schivazappa, 1969), My Dear Killer (Tonino Valerii, 1972), What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (Massimo Dallamano, 1974), Night Train Murders (Aldo Lado, 1975), Killer Nun (Giulio Berruti, 1978)

Not all of the films were perfect, the weakest being My Dear Killer, but a lot of the reason why my interest in seventies and early eighties Italian genre films has grown this year is thanks to the British DVD company Shameless, these films all contributing something of interest in style and content. The good news is that the company, after a long time of inactivity, is coming back with a couple of Italian films getting UK premiers this year on DVD, which I hope is a continuation of the great work of theirs I'm finally catching up to. 
Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (Steve Roberts, 1980)
Admittedly on the first viewing of this film, I really couldn't grasp a lot within it. Able to have a grasp of what is exactly is going on, to understand what kind of absurd oddness the film plays within, it grew immensely in the second viewing. It's the first proper connection I've had to something from Vivian Stanshall, someone I will have to get around to in my interest in absurdist humour made in Britain, and this is an acceptably bonkers work to begin with.
Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
Bond films vary for me. Sean Connery's from what I've seen, the first, have been the best while the others have not really stood up well at all. Neither am I a fan of American Beauty (1999) since the day I grew up. But Skyfall did stand out exceptionally well. It feels like a significant film than a mere sequel - the performances, the tone, the incredible Roger Deakins cinematography - giving it a justifiable importance to its spectacle and means it doesn't coast on being flag waving for my country in favour of being an actually engaging narrative.
The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973)
Just gorgeous.
Something Weird (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1967)
Definitely lives up to its title. It appears that a potentially strong area of American genre film has opened up for me to investigate like Lewis's work - from between the sixties and eighties, the peculiar works that don't really belong in a specific genre but go in any direction depending on who got cast and how much the budget was there that day. The kind of films Something Weird, the DVD company who took this film's name as theirs, release. Unfortunately at the start of this year the founder passed away, but I hope the company still continues, not only for the significance of all the films they preserved and made available, but because I fancy importing more films like this one on DVD to collect.
Song at Midnight (Weibang Ma-Xu, 1937)
Growing on me. A luscious, gothic melodrama which has continually been in my mind for the fact that it feels completely uninhibited in its content. Willing to have the political message it has, and go as far with it as it does, to have the gothic nature close to actual horror, and never letting the doomed romantic story get lost between the disfigured faces and dank, cobwebbed courtyards. Areview can be read going into more detail through here.
Spookies (Genie Joseph, Thomas Doran and Brendan Faulkner, 1986)
What happens when a film is unfinished, and said footage gets used to create a new film years later? Spookies is what happens, where you can see the joints, but the creation that tries to hide them is fascinating to watch. This is also the movie with mummies that make farting noises too, already bizarre to the standards of American genre films without the back story of the production having to be known. Its closer to Something Weird than just another dull horror film from cross the Atlantic thankfully.

Starcrash/Contamination (Luigi Cozzi, 1979/1980)
Luigi Cozzi in these films feels like he actually finds immense enjoyment in his work. Legitimate enjoyment like a child with a construction set. Yes the special effects might not be completely what he wanted them to be in some areas, and the content in absurd, but its joyful, fun and delights in its bubblegum nature. Even when Contamination has the gore it's not cynically made. Even Demons 6: De Profundis (1989), which I slagged off in a review on here, while Starcrash got an immensely positive review here, is growing for me from the first watching just for how intentionally absurd it felt in its existence.

The Story of a Three-Day Pass/Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1968-71)
It's not surprising Van Peebles, especially the later film, helped bring in an entire series of African-American driven cinema in the early seventies. Read the review of Sweet Sweetback... here, just to see proof why it led to the blaxploitation movement.
Straight on Till Morning (Peter Collinson, 1972)
After falling out of love with The Italian Job (1969) and finding Fright (1971) to be bland, it's surprising the same director, having reviewed the film here for the Halloween series last year, created something this special out of nowhere. That it's a film that has been ignored is sad, considering that it's from the same period really dull period Hammer House films were being made that are more well known. This is truly a horror film and of a vastly better quality.
Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950)
The monkey's funeral near the beginning perfectly encapsulates the world the protagonist and the audience enters, one that at first glance is pathetic and completely disconnected from reality, but at the same time you not only feel sadness and sympathy for it, but see the grandeur of it, that once flourished, and regret that it was buried away from the public, not just in filmmaking but general human emotions.
A Swedish Love Story (Roy Andersson, 1970)
And finally, a film very different from what Andersson would get to from the last few decades onwards, but already assured in visual composition and immense interest in human relationships. An image of fleeting light over a woodland has stood from his debut film the most.
Images from the following sources:

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Videotape Swapshop Review: Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! (1967)


Dir. Giulio Questi

Mentioned briefly in the current series of all the films I liked watching from last year, which I promise is going to get finished at some point, I've became a lot more fonder of this film than (the still positive) review that you can read here stated. The tone of the film is not comparable to a lot else in the spaghetti western sub-genre I've seen, the mixing of the politics and the bizarre not common at all. The only thing it really compares to is the director's giallo film Death Laid An Egg (1968) that, for you the reader, you can read a review of here too. The fact that Questi didn't make a lot of feature films, and that barring Django Kill..., the others are not available to see is disappointing. That he's making short films completely by his own for the last few years or less though is something to be happy about however.


Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Most Meaningful First Viewings and Re-Evaluations of 2013 Part 9: The "N"s, The "O"s, The "P"s and The "R"s

Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957)/Ringu (Hideo Nakata, 1998)
Ordinary objects as tools to carry death. Modern technology, videotape, is no longer new and is still carrying the curses of Tourneur's film and centuries before. Night of the Demon is still modern in how the sinister is not distance from ordinary reality when it in fact lies within a conventional human environment, be it written on paper and recorded on tape.
Noisy Requiem (Yoshihiko Matsui, 1988)
The messiness of real life - the more abstract and transgressive this film became, the more it yet felt closer to depicting real despairs. A review can be found here.
North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
It's amazing to think how Hitchcock could create tension from ordinary circumstances, to continue a theme. The reflection off a television screen can catch you out. A crop-duster, from the famous sequence, can be used to scare but the wait in a bus stop in the middle of nowhere is just as alienating. There's no sanctity to walking on top of American monuments when the web of human intrigue becomes involved, and for a film seeping with melodrama and exhilaration, it came from a normal man being seen as an un-normal man, and that point is never ignored.
Odin: Photon Space Sailor Starlight
(Eiichi Yamamoto, Takeshi Shirato, Toshio Masuda and Yoshinobu Nishioka, 1986)

A folly I cannot help but love. It's surprising how hated this film is in the anime community, although considering its length and structure, its greatest flaw is its indulgence without completely thinking out the dangers of stretching itself out as it became. But the earnestness, the visuals and animation, and just the ludicrous excess in making it, from an era of economic boom that will not appear again for a long while globally, gives its an energy that is heady. A review can be found here.
The Old Lady and the Pigeons (Sylvain Chomet, 1998)
Even before his feature debut with The Triplets of Belleville (2003), Chomet proved he was incredibly talented and imaginative with a short that can manage to juggle the macabre and the light hearted with ease.
Out for a Kill (Michael Oblowitz, 2003)
I may have stated on this blog that I have no real interest in Steven Seagal after a brief delving into his films. But this one, while of questionable merit, stands out for me as a bizarre totem for straight-to-video action, when it is not legitimately great cinema but an excess, if made into an absurdist work. It was films like this that informed me of the existence of the country of Aruba, which I never knew existed before, made to look both like China and Eastern Europe. Seagal is the usual individual he became with these films, and frankly was when he was a Hollywood star, but he's in a work that is just on the precipices of falling to pieces, yet manages to survive by being such a close-to-shambolic mess. All the quality wavering aspects of these films are literally put together by themselves to make up this one film, and while not very justifiable in its existence, the result is compelling. The same revenge story repeating, after being done over and over again, with not only the scenario slightly different, but the film around it being a prop of curiosity in itself.
Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2010)
When very intelligent and talented people purposely set out to make the most offensive and ADD riddled work they can. Its derivative, its tasteless, it's too structured around being based on American animation like Dexter's Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls, but for me it transcends this by not giving a damn. It takes a scorched earth policy to the notion of being commercial for an audience on either side of the globe, Japan or English speaking countries, yet is still inventive in its content. Simplistic but stylised animation which gives the advantage of higher depth in movement and fluidity, a willingness to go for intentionally ridiculous ideas, such as cutting to real models exploding, and actually creating memorable female characters in the lead that, perversely, are far more stronger than others in anime despite one being written as an nymphomaniac. With this Hiroyuki Imaishi made himself stand out further from the pack as an anime director, with just as talented people working under him on the production, and now he has his own studio I hope for him and anyone working with him continue to creating such beautifully constructed works of self sabotage. I have not been catching up with his latest, Kill la Kill (2013-ongoing), as each episode is being released, so I wait for the whole series to be released with great optimism both as the first series his studio is working on and for more from him.
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid [2005 Special Edition] (Sam Peckinpah, 1973)
I was cold to this film to be honest seeing it. The structure difficult to engage with. But I keep thinking of Slim Pickens by the edge of the river, Bob Dylan's Knockin' On Heaven's Door playing, and a shiver runs down my spine.
Paul Verhoeven
(Business Is Business (1971), Turkish Delight (1973), Katie Tippel (1975),
The Fourth Man (1983), Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), Showgirls (1995))
Thanks to parents who has no issue in letting me see Starship Troopers (1997) when I was eleven or twelve, the man who probably was the first film director to have a drastic effect on what I saw films as; even if I just wanted to see the gore and sex, and didn't understand the satire, films like his made in Hollywood were so drastically different to any others. How he managed to build the career he had in Hollywood when his Dutch films got global attention is unbelievable in hindsight, none of them liable to be ever made in the current era. I was able to view almost all his Dutch work now, and revisit Turkish Delight, and I am even more amazed he even caught Hollywood's attention. Dramas which did not hold back in mixing the vulgar with the serious. A comedy drama based on the testimonies of real prostitutes (Business Is Business) that juggles slapstick comedy with the dramatic. The final Dutch film he made before going to Hollywood, The Fourth Man, is an immensely dreamlike and peculiar concoction that keeps pulling the rug out from under you. His Hollywood films I saw this year didn't compromise this. Rewatching Total Recall, reviewed here, he ended up making a film that completely questions its own existence as an escape. Rewatching Basic Instinct, which I hated once, it's The Fourth Man redux but playing with American cinema archetypes. And then, reviewed here, I saw Showgirls, and it's not possible to see it as a terrible film or awful camp, as many do, when put aside the other films mentioned here. It's too deliberate in its transgressions and gonzo content....too perverse to swallow, which is probably why its seen as badly as it is. Revisiting him in these films, Verhoeven still proved to be someone whose work I could obsess over. His style is out-of-place in these politically correct days, but his lack of shame is blistering now.

Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons/Riddles of the Sphinx (Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, 1974-77)
It's great that the BFI released this on Dual-Format DVD/Blu-Ray. It's a shame it was a limited edition release only. Avant-garde films released by them are still in print, most of them made by men only with very masculine content. Why did they choose to change this procedure when it came to two feminist dissections of how women are portrayed in society? Bad timing or it's a questionable plan of design that doesn't make sense when there's far less accessible works released by them that didn't get releases limited to a thousand copies or so. Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons felt like the superior film of the two, despite being an extra, because its subject of dissecting the archetype of the Amazon warrior was immediately rich and its experiments were memorable, such as co-director Peter Wollen, while reading an incredibly long monologue to camera, dropping the cards he's reading it from and the camera looking at the previous ones in close-up as he is reading from later ones. But Riddles of the Sphinx, about representations of women and motherhood, is likely to grow on me. Moments in its have stayed in my mind. A sequence devoted to a tilting maze game which uses liquid mercury instead of a ball bearing. And especially the many scenes that are shot with a continuous circular panning shot. The sensation of following a camera all around, in a circle, in the centre of the room is one of the most significantly memorable for me of this year, even over more well known movies, or ones I preferred more, for opening my mind and senses to more possibilities of how a film can depict what is in front of it.
Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
One of the most elusive films in Bergman's canon, from what I have seen, but only in that, while the central idea is completely simple, a woman's psychological trauma, the presentation doesn't aim for easy answers and instead places you in the middle of this other reality, where emotional distress alters all around it. Its more cold than difficult, placing itself as one of the bolder works of the late auteur in terms of presentation and tone.
Peter Greenaway
(Vertical Features Remake (1978), The Falls (1980),
A Zed & Two Noughts (1985), Drowning by Numbers (1988))

Returning to films I've seen before, and seeing one I haven't (Drowning By Numbers), I am definitely not the viewer who found two of the films here utterly pretentious like I did long ago. Instead I admire the level of depth with the works. Admire how Greenaway likes to play games with the viewer. Become awed by the level of technique craftsmanship his films have, and yet in the earliest films here could stretch minimal amounts of material into expansive imaginary worlds. And be baffled in how other people viewed him as pretentious like I did once when his humour is upfront, The Falls both one of the best sci-fi films made in Britain and one of the funniest things I have seen. There is a review for A Zed & Two Noughts here, and one for The Falls here.
Pink Flamingos (John Waters, 1972)
Finally got around to one of the most important cult films ever made. I admired the lovable perversity of it. How for all its rough edges it was charming and weird at the same time. And yes, seeing Divine eat dog faeces made me gag. A review can be found here.
Pistol Opera (Seijun Suzuki, 2001)
A film with such a complicated history for me since viewing it twice this year - it's the only film on this blog, here and here, which has had a re-review for it when I finally grasped its tone and attitude. It's an improvisation, layered over a basic plot of assassins killing each other for rank supremacy, but the whole film is Suzuki wanting to do what he desired for visual or contextual interest with no regard for plot. It's completely un-commercial, but the surprise is, when I gauged with its tone on the second viewing, i.e. actually had context for how the basic plot was structured, it actually becomes such an energetic work that is completely on point without drifting. The point its making though is filmmaking for filmmaking's sake, an uninhibited canvas turned into the equivalent of the Exquisite Corpse game. Which is not surprising considering its director got so bored making b-movie crime films he made Branded To Kill (1967). Having seen that film many years ago, I should have remembered the experience of that so I would have got the film on the first time. No, I was probably expecting a live action, "zany" cartoon like an idiot. Thankfully the second viewing gave me better than that, manga meeting avant-garde theatre, which is a rare delicacy.
Pitfall (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1962)
Another Japanese film rewatched. Cold to it at first many years ago. Seeing it again, as this review shows, I encountered a hypnotic and mesmerising film, mixing political drama with the supernatural and raw. It's a testament to the power of Japanese art at its best, but it's also films like that have pushed me, away from the seventies, into loving sixties cinema the most. I have many films to go, but in a time of freedom in terms of content and experimentation, in a decade where political fluctuation encouraged such experiments to take place even in lurid genre films, the sixties is growing as a powerhouse of incredible cinema, many amongst the best I have ever seen. Now I need to watch my DVD copy of Woman In The Dunes (1964). I think I may be ready to fall in love with that film if this earlier Teshigahara, his debut in feature filmmaking, was already this accomplished.
Prata Palomares (André Faria, 1972)
Chaotic and suffers from its desire to be politically confrontational cinema, but this film shows a passion and fire that is missing immensely from a lot of filmmaking now. I do not want to suggest anything controversial, but it's clear that, with digging into films from Brazil from this period, where the political power was oppressive, that passion and fire unfortunately could only come from desperation and a desire to fight for an ideal, while many films now are just lacksidasical and lazy without a real goal behind them outside the cinema screens. A review can be found here.
Radio On (Christopher Petit, 1979)
Again a film I once hated. Did I suddenly develop a double, only instead of being evil and having a goatee, I suddenly loved these art films that most would dismiss as pretentious? It's about the journey, not themes, but the mood. Listening the music, looking out the windshield of the moving car. Some brief exchanges of conversation between characters take place but they are for their own sake rather than for a dramatic plot. For me a film like this is of great virtue because, learning to expect something very different from a film like this, I can see the value in what its director really wanted to achieve. A snapshop of Britain at the cusp of Margaret Thatcher's England. Whether you hate her politics, defend her or are on the fence, the grey England depicted, beautiful in its motorways but also oppressive in its concrete and characterless flats, fells tangible. Enough to want to play Kraftwerk over it.
Reflections of Evil (Damon Packard, 2002)
It's an utter shame, because its director decided to use copyrighted material, a huge chunk of this was removed, meaning I only saw a butchered fragment of the work. I do believe that copyright is needed to protect people from being conned out of money they deserve for their work, but in terms of "remixes", parodies and artistic reinterpretations, I side with those who want to be creative with this material. And in the case of Damon Packard's film, the man, God bless him, put the film up on his own YouTube page for people to see without any cost, clearly more interested in the artistic endeavour. He would have put up the original four hour version of the film, from the pieces that are up, but I suspect, if I could make a wild guess, that the copyright issues deprived that from happening. It's a rough, hellish mess of ugly-beauty and amateur-genius. Again another completely uncommercial work, and for a very small audience, but even in a fragmented form this has stayed with me. The continuous fighting and violent arguments taking place randomly on the streets, as if a rage apocalypse has taken place. The nightmarish hallucination Packard's main protagonist feels within a movie theatre, standing out for actually filming within a cinema for real and making trailers an instrument for alienating the audience. That fact he goes further than this and manages to film inside an actual ET ride at Universal Studios, turning it into Dante's Inferno for anyone age three and up, is incredible even if the film around it is a viewed as a crazed mess. A theme park is made into purgatory and it's amazing a man who loves mainstream Hollywood cinema, from how it figures into the film, uses it to create hellish imagery, not only taking a swipe at Steven Spielberg early on but going further than even John Waters went with a film like Pink Flamigoes, or Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt did, in terms of tastelessness by depicting the least appropriate film tie-in ride you could ever make. Content that bold and out-there is what these extreme low budget could do at their best.
Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955)
The completely silent, extended bank robbery is a masterpiece. But the film around it, the preparation, the set-up of the character's, the drama of the fallout of the heist, is just as admirable in the skill and care taken with them.
Roujin Z aka. Rôjin Z (Hiroyuki Kitakubo, 1991)
An immense underrated animated film. Even now, especially with the aging population of Japan being far higher than the youth, and that's not taking into consideration that globally people are living longer in general, the message of the film is strong and actually more relevant in this era. Its imaginative and distinct. Everything one could ask for from a feature length anime. And again, along with the other nineties anime I've seen in 2013, I look back and wish more stuff life this was still being made. Gambles and bold creations are still being made, like with Hiroyuki Imaishi, but more stuff like Roujin Z with completely un-otaku related subject matter would be refreshing.
Images cared for from the following sources: