Thoughts On: March 2018

31/03/2018

Isle Of Dogs - Style, No...

Quick Thoughts: Isle Of Dogs (2018)

In a dystopian Japan, all dogs are diseased and so are exiled to an island of trash.


"Well... that was something different." The words of a befuddled someone who I walked past as I left this movie - apt words if I may say.

Isle Of Dogs is Wes Anderson's second venture into stop-motion animation, one filled with sardonic comedy and innocuous irony, but distinctly lacking in character and weight. Anyone who has seen a Wes Anderson film will know exactly how this will look, save a few elements of framing that deal with depth of field more than Anderson really has before, and most probably with the intent of giving this a Japanese, or Kurosawa, aesthetic. The style, however, does not carry the film very well. So, whilst it is nicely composed and easy on the eyes, I found Isle Of Dogs to be rather mindless and boarder-line boring. With too many plot strands and no heart, no characters worth knowing and connecting to, this very quickly becomes a sequence of things happening--that is all.

Anderson's style then ultimately serves as a vehicle for rule-bending and breaking, for subverting and blowing up screenwriting tropes. And whilst his style has always facilitated such things, within the likes of Bottle Rocket and The Grand Budapest Hotel the precise and contrived tuphlodrama allows Anderson to reveal sides of humanity - a kind of stoically naive humanity - that more classical narratives employing more typical formal strategies cannot. Such access to the inner-workings of characters justifies and necessitates Anderson's style, but it can become a masturbatory exercise for his fans that is quite blind to narrative without a focus on character and theme. This is true of Isle Of Dogs; attempts to be quirky and different fall null when it becomes very clear that there is no heart, no genuity and little personality behind it all.

In the end, though this has garnered highly favourable reviews, I have to say that this is a so-so movie, one I gladly sat through, but wouldn't really care to see again.







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29/03/2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - The Best Star Wars Movie?

Thoughts On: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Rey attempts to support the dwindling Rebel force by reaching out to Luke Skywalker.


I never loved any of the Star Wars movies, but The Last Jedi is undoubtedly my favourite - I may even say it is the best after a few more watches. Imperfect, but completely aware of the Star Wars formula that it almost begins to work past it, The Last Jedi takes some major risks and rises up to the seeming impossible.

Confronted by all that is lacking about the newest installation of Star Wars - some touches of clunky dialogue, some structural issues, plot holes, weak characters, etc. - it is important to just take a moment to ponder upon the actual creation of this film. How hard would it be to write even a mediocre Star Wars movie? With the vast expanse of a Marvel movie, but a stronger sense of narrative meaning, a world of greater depth, and a much more confined realm of possibility in terms of narrative arc, a Star Wars movie seems impossibly demanding. Not only must nearly a dozen characters need to be juggled and given arcs, but multiple thematic journeys need to be established, set pieces constructed and everything brought to a neat close. Johnson does an astonishing job in these regards - and though he is credited as the single writer, there is probably a huge team around him.

The greatest achievement of The Last Jedi, I believe, lies in the script's ability to deal with the past and present. This balancing act in the screenplay is brought to life incredibly well with old characters returning, new characters developing, CGI meeting models, old cinematic techniques meeting newer ones and old themes being subverted and built upon. This meeting of old and new is essential for The Last Jedi as it is the first of the new Star Wars films to have to truly bear the weight of the franchise as it continues on. The Force Awakens had so much going for it in terms of hype and nostalgia. It did a pretty good job in managing things, but didn't fully excel in any place, I felt. That was ok though; it managed to revive Star Wars and it introduced a new world fairly successfully. That was enough. Rogue One was a so-so movie from what I remember (which isn't much). It filled in a gap and, itself, was filler. It stepped out of the realms of a true Star Wars movie and seemingly set up a new kind of film, the side-Star Wars flick. The Last Jedi continues the main story and it had to live up to The Force Awakens. Not only does it do this in my view, but it easily bests its predecessor. (I won't bother comparing this to the older Star Wars movies because... let's not).

Just like The Last Jedi is about a possible death of the past, so is the existence of the film itself. How are you suppose to deal with a legend that has grown old? Do you kill it off, burn its constructs to the ground and start again? Do you support and nurture it for as long as you can? Or, is there another way?

The narrative of The Last Jedi has some answers, and they're not bad. However, The Last Jedi itself is more of a question than anything in my view. It attempts to glean what is good from the old Star Wars films - some characters, the tone, score, world, etc. - but also brings some new elements to the fore whilst tweaking what was maybe lacking in the past; a concentration on what it really means to be good and bad as just one example. But, there is a definite sense of incompletion about The Last Jedi that leaves its success questionable.

Some of the greatest, most respectable Hollywood films of all time (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, 2001, Citizen Kane, etc, etc.) balance art and entertainment, meaning and spectacle. Each film has its own sense of balance, but the two parts form a true whole in my view. Star Wars has its meaning, it is embedded in the classical familial and dark-light conflict, and it has its spectacle. Lucas originally found a balance between meaning and spectacle via epic melodrama. He seems to have done this so that the drama could encapsulate meaning and contend with the action. It was because his archetypes were so precise and brilliantly constructed - Darth Vader is one of the most iconic film characters ever for very good reason - that Lucas could contain his two intense elements. It was the likes of Luke, Leia, Ben and Vader that were right-part god and right-part human that they could carry the weight of, and then confront, the ridiculous scale melodrama and action. When we come to the prequel trilogy, we simply had weak characters - too many. The melodrama got out of hand and everything spiralled out of control. With The Last Jedi, we again have some solid archetypes, and so the melodrama - which, notably, isn't as intense as the original trilogy (a good thing I believe) - works with the greater scale action.

The Last Jedi, however, changes up the ratios of its ingredients. As said, the melodrama isn't as intense and the action is far more vast and complex. The action then takes on a lot of the drama - just compare the final showdown of Return Of The Jedi, which is all about the exchanges between Vader and Luke, to any of the newer action sequences, which are fuelled by action as well as character. This change isn't bad, it just is what it is: change. All that matters is that there is a sense of harmony among the multiple parts, and I believe that this is achieved pretty well. However, the synergy isn't optimised.

Conjuring the most affecting and poignant flares of narrative meaning in its surreal-ish sequences, The Last Jedi really struck me and certainly deserves much respect for the risk it takes in possibly losing its younger audiences. However, this meaning is contained to Rey's character arc and is further confined to the second act of the film. Every other character has an arc and along with it comes meaning, but, whilst some learn about humble sacrifice and the value of patience and hope, all is outclassed with the work done on Rey's discovery of potential in darkness. This idea of good flourishing from the dark is central to the Star Wars narrative, but, it has never really been questioned too well; good and bad are pretty black and white. The Last Jedi tries to explore the grey better than any film before, and it makes some strides. Alas, the sheer amount of plot lines encroach upon Rey's joint path with Luke and Ren, and the more work that goes into all else is to the detriment of the central meaning. In addition to this, the action becomes a little too ridiculous, infected by the contrivance of melodrama and made slave to plot. As a result, the fun in The Last Jedi is constantly called into question by glaring plot holes and iffy character decisions. What's more, there is simply too much going on in the third act to keep track of time and space relations.

The problem that The Last Jedi suffers from is that it is trying to do too much. Its characters are split too far apart and there are too many plots for the narrative meaning to be given any real focus. The ending is then very dissatisfying and weighed down by construction; you can feel Johnson trying to bring everything to a close. The questions asked of the main character should have lead the way and dictated structure, but, the Star Wars formula overwhelms all; it demands too many characters go on too many character arcs and there be too much plot that facilitates an awful action. I honestly don't know if there's a solution to this problem. Maybe a longer run-time, less characters, less action, a single and driving plot line?

Pasted all over The Last Jedi is a series of questions on how the next Star Wars is going to turn out. Will it be able to better balance action and drama, spectacle and meaning? Will it be able to sustain the Star Wars formula, keep up with all of its characters, yet still do more and say something slightly different, something deeper and more meaningful, and still show us something incredible?

Who is to know? But, The Last Jedi is a really promising feature that I hope up and coming Star Wars films take some notes on. It's not just about the grand Star Wars narrative, world and characters. It's not just about comedy and the minor characters - though these are increasingly important features. It's also about saying something more complex and having characters go to places that others haven't yet. That said, what are your thoughts on The Last Jedi? Excited for more?







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The Astounding She-Monster - A Definition Of 'Money Grab'

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27/03/2018

The Astounding She-Monster - A Definition Of 'Money Grab'

Quick Thoughts: The Astounding She-Monster (1957)

A creature from another planet that is concerned about human's advancing technology lands in the woods.


Two of my major weakness in life are brilliant movie posters that I know won't deliver what they promise and movie titles with needless adjectives in. The Astounding She-Monster ticks both boxes with ease.

This 50s nuclear movie follows two thieves and an alcoholic woman who holds a gun some of the times, but spends most of her time complaining, that kidnap a suburban housewife before running into a creature in a skin-tight suit (a 'nude dame') who has a death-touch. They run away to a guy who lives in a cabin in the woods and they spend the rest of the movie exchanging bland dialogue, toiling upon contrived conflict, running out into the forest, back to the cabin, out into the forest, back to the cabin...

Before the excitement begins, we are treated with some of the most insipid narration ever put to film, narration that asks us rhetorical questions, thinks talking down to the audience is storytelling, tells us when every major character enters the screen, and is ultimately only there to mask the fact that the director shot a good portion of this film as a silent picture to save money and to take the opportunity to ransack whatever sound library he had access to as to find the most ridiculous sound bites he could. (A dying bear and a screeching leopard apparently sound identical).

The whole movie was supposed to be shot in a week with $50,000, but was spat out in 4 days with only $18,000. Who knows where that $32,000 went? And who knows how they sold this to distributors for $60,000? Director, Ronald V. Ashcroft, cuts costs with very few locations and only one somewhat inventive shooting technique: he seemingly puts a liquid or gel before the lens to distort the image of the She-Monster to imply she is radiating... stuff. (We're constantly told what by the characters, but its hard to pay attention to their garble). What's more, Ashcroft had this edited in his own living room and uses about 10 medium shots. With almost everything shot in cheap and easy wide shots, this 62 minute film feels like a good two hours - I even had to pause it to nap at the 30 minute mark.

The acting throughout is just... eh... despite the fact that the characters constructed are somewhat intriguing - well, at least the jarring presence of the drunk woman is. You're never told why the thieves come together, no characters really develop relationships, have lives or any personality. We just have a selection of weird caricatures in a stuffy cabin - and a dog who dies. They sit in a forgetful script whose only success is that it has all of its plants put into place 5 pages before pay-offs. With that one bit of structure nailed, the screenwriter must have though his job was done.

A few interesting details about the film's production is that it was supposed to be called 'Naked Invader'. That implies that this possibly had plans to exploit the oncoming and snowballing sexualisation of cinema. And what's more, the brilliant poster used a nude pin-up girl, Madeline Castle, as a reference - which certainly confirms that this was wanting to use sex and the female body to sell a cheap B-picture. Click here to see a comparison if you must.

Beyond all of that, there really isn't much to be said about this film. It's a transparent money-grab that shamelessly makes its buck trying to provide am empty morality tale about humanity's fear-induced aggression. A poster, not a film, The Astounding She-Monster needn't be seen by anyone.






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26/03/2018

Eraserhead - Cinema As Association

Thoughts On: Eraserhead (1977)


This is the first post that will explore some of the films that inspired and informed Book 8 of The DSU.


Eraserhead for me was - as I imagine it was, is and will continue to be for countless others - a game-changer in regards to how I saw film. My personal journey deeper into film started when I began to fully realise that film, like plays and books, could utilise metaphors and symbols. This struck me as I watched Disney's 1950 Cinderella when I was maybe 14 or 15. Seeing the film for the umpteenth time, I all of a sudden saw the function of not just the fantasy and the fairy tale, but the selection of characters as symbolic and reflective of Cinderella and her lost parents. And so what I was trying to bring out of my unconscious was the seemingly natural relationship between a poor girl, a cat, dog, horse and a selection of mice and birds. Grappling with these entities in a conscious frame of mind, I stumbled upon a subjective reading and retelling of the film. It is due to this that I began to fall in love with film as a kind of poetry.

The next key film I saw as a 15/16 year old was Donnie Darko. This appeared to me as a film that didn't just have a poetic overtone, a metaphorical super-narrative to be teased out of my own subconscious, but appeared as having knowingly constructed this for discovery. Meaning in cinema suddenly wasn't always hidden; it could be woven into the fabric of a narrative and the world of a story. I'd have to then credit Donnie Darko as being one of the major reasons why I like to base all of my stories in sci-fi.

Cinderella and Donnie Darko are beautiful films in their own regard, and whilst Donnie Darko breaks certain rules and expectations, it is probably not the kind of film that will prepare you for the avant-garde and a class of narrative cinema that exists in a difficult place between the experimental and the classical. It was then my first contact with Polanski, Buñuel, Fellini and Lynch - later, Tarkosvky, Bresson, Dreyer, Bergman, Jodorowsky, Lanthimos and more - that absolutely blew my socks off. The kind of cinema that these filmmakers so often represent is not hiding meaning, nor is it asking you to uncover meaning. Instead, these filmmakers develop a relationship with their audience around meaning. As a consequence, you have to read the likes of Repulsion, Un Chien Andalou, 8 1/2 and Eraserhead as potentially profound pieces of cinematic art, but you also have to sustain humility, have to recognise that you are in a give-and-take relationship with meaning and that you, nor the meaning itself, can figure it out completely. This kind of meaning-making, as we have discussed previously, is bound to our own humanity and our position as individuals with potential who are ultimately looking out into the world with eyes that only want to know more. This kind of filmmaking is exploratory; it explores and it is simultaneously explored, but there is never a given notion of exploration being done. This kind of cinema, we may then suggest, is experiential: you just have to watch the films, again and again and again, that is their purpose and that is the joy of being a film nerd.

Whilst Eraserhead is a film that you can only ever seemingly watch, it is possible to say something about it. In fact, it is maybe impossible to not want to gather and say something. Eraserhead was then such an important film to me as I was beginning to investigate film seriously because it was simultaneously opaque and entirely transparent; I felt the film made complete sense, but I simply didn't (and still don't to some degree) know how to communicate that sense. This is, on one hand, an off-shoot of the fact that these are films designed to be experienced, but, Eraserhead also has much to do with classical films such as Cinderella. Like great Disney movies, to properly interact and engage Eraserhead, you have to attempt to take all the sense and logic embedded in your subconscious and grapple with it consciously. This is the ultimate and most crucial aspect of reading film in my opinion; film spectatorship and criticism is not about relating content to the real world, but perceiving films as potentially transcendent documents.

Humans are connected, however dubiously, loosely and precariously, to the transcendent insofar as we can actually conceive of such a notion of things being out of our grasp. We are also connected to the transcendent through our unconscious outputs and efforts--by our actions that we do not completely understand. Art and story are just two products of acts that we don't entirely understand the purpose of. Art and story allow us to propel the transcendent element within ourselves out into the domain of the transcendent beyond us. And this is what great movies such as Eraserhead do; they start somewhere lost within a storyteller, an artist, and they somehow struggle to find their way out into the ether, leaving trances of themselves behind on celluloid and in digital code: viewing glasses into the realm of the transcendent where the essence of the film resides.

There is, however, something very specific that Eraserhead does to achieve this, something that Disney films do not necessarily do, that Bergman and Bresson films do not necessarily do either. This something is tied to association.

Association or attribution lie at the base of many theories of perception; we cannot know of something unless we think of it in regards to something else. Such seems to be the reason why humans are so incapable of conceiving of nothing - of death, the end and before the start of all being - but are simultaneously drawn to the concept to a degree that is almost chronic. It is because we are something that so many of our significant actions - science, art, philosophy - are engaged with the nothing, the unknown, we assume must be somewhere or sometime around us. And a primary product of this engagement is the interaction with, and creation of, the transcendent - art, for example, that serves as a vessel that ventures into the nothing and unknown.

Eraserhead is a kind of film that is designed as a construct of complex association; it has content that must be engaged via complex association and a form that mimics the processes of complex association. Most classical films that we engage as primarily entertainment are only designed to be constructs of basic association. By this, I mean that it is overwhelmingly apparent that classical films, let us take Cinderella for example, closely follow pre-established rules and conventions of storytelling and filmmaking (content and form) so that they always feel somewhat familiar. (This does not mean that they can't be transcendent documents). When we watch classical films we associate their cinematic language - their construction - to the majority of films that we have already seen, and thus we watch in regards to how we watch most films. The association is basic and systematised so that the only associational work we have to do is emotional; though there are other opportunities for association (as I discovered with Cinderella) we are expected to only figure out if we like the characters, why and engage how their feelings change over the course of a narrative.

Eraserhead is so different from classical films because it does not want to be seen in regards to any other film. Eraserhead is, in fact, quite a rare film in this regard because other movies that set themselves apart from mainstream filmmaking via complex association are, themselves, associated with movements and waves. Collectively Surrealist or New Wave films become more accessible. Eraserhead is alone - you can't even compare it to other Lynch films, or, at the least, you'd have a hard time about this. Knowing of Surrealist film certainly makes Eraserhead more accessible, but this film shows no real care for psychoanalysis and so cannot be engaged as just Surrealist. In addition to this, Eraserhead is not like many other challenging films, those by Bresson or Bergman for example, because these filmmakers so often work in or near the realm of nuanced, though simple association. Taking The Seventh Seal and Pickpocket as examples, we see films that look and feel like other classical films even though you have to engage the content of the Seventh Seal, and the form of Pickpocket, via complex association. Eraserhead is distinct from these films on the grounds that its form and content are simultaneously in need of complex association. And what this means is that we have to use abstract thought and tune into flares of our subconscious to engage and grasp rare examples of material we have engaged before that can be associated with the film.

To further specify, in a Bresson film, a hand is a hand. However, because of the way the hand is shot, because of formal techniques, we have to assign it more meaning and associate greater, more abstract meaning to it. In a Bergman film, a man in a cloak is not just a man in a cloak. Because of his position in the narrative, because of the story's content, he is also not just Death, but an entity tied to a more complex network of characters and symbols. In Lynch's Eraserhead, a baby is not a baby and because of the way it is shot and structurally placed into the narrative, we have to do more than just figure out what the baby could be. Whilst form and content interact in the mentioned films of Bresson and Bergman in subtle ways, I do not believe that they interact in a way that is as complex and radical as they do in Eraserhead. The form and the content, individually, in the Bresson and Bergman films is often more complex than the form and content of Eraserhead, but it is their meeting in Lynch's film that is so spectacularly alien and in need of complex association.

It is because of the complex cinema of association that Lynch constructs with Eraserhead that the film has continued to inspire me so profoundly; challenged me to think of cinema as association and see form and content as tools that have a relationship to all other cinematic form and content that can be tweaked and manipulated.

If you're interested in seeing why Eraserhead is apart of the Kaleidoscope series, please check out Book 8 of The DSU.

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End Of The Week Shorts #50

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25/03/2018

End Of The Week Shorts #50



Today's shorts: Jailhouse Rock (1957), Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), Alps (2011), Paris Is Burning (1990), Branded To Kill (1967), The Lobster (2015), The Great White Silence (1924), Martyrs (2014), Anastasia (1997)



I'd never seen an Elvis movie before, so I thought I'd give this a go, and... yeah. An interesting slice of film history. 
Judged as just a film, Jailhouse Rock is a mediocre musical with one stand-out number (that being the iconic sequence of the title). Its sense of morality is quite strange; Elvis is a slight dick, he kills a guy, in prison he becomes an even bigger dick; he gets out, meets a girl and becomes famous, then he becomes a different kind of dick; the girl he has forced himself onto can't get over him, and nor can he get over her, and so he becomes the old dick again - also, a dick he met in jail, but likes, punches him in the throat, welcoming a happy ending. In 1957, the PTA described the film as 'a hackneyed, blown-up tale with cheap human values'. I think I agree. To make an effort to not be such a stiff, this is quite entertaining. If it could make sense of what it wanted to do and say, I'm sure I would have liked it more.



Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is loud, is stupid, is ridiculous, is... what are you to expect from a film with such a mind-numbing title? 
Featuring Tura Satana, a woman who denied Elvis' proposal of marriage; the Japanese-American Steven Segal with massive, in-your-face mammaries that I'm sure Steven Segal looks in the mirror and sees through his delusion and piss-yellow shades, this is a film that is relentlessly committed to the idea that women are deadly, fearsome and great with cars. Men should fear them - try to control them at their peril - and women who don't follow in their footsteps better cower. With no sense, no reason, just a hedonistic desire for action, these women roam around the desert looking for their own deaths. As clunky and dishevelled as you'd expect it to be, Faster Pussycat! is certainly bold and explosive. Of what value it is... I don't know. Just barely watchable.



There's a harmony and a joy that is brought into your own little world when you find a perfect movie. That bubble of harmony rings when you stumble upon a trove of flawless movies. In Lanthimos, I find exactly this. 
Alps is just one of Lanthimos' masterpieces. It is a film focused on self-sacrifice becoming pathologised, on personas entirely shrouding all conceptions of self, on wanting to be loved, on wanting to mean something to someone, on wanting to be needed. With desire becoming obsession, with wanting to please other people taking up every part of your being, what can there be left of you? And without you, hidden behind your own constructs, who is going to hold your structure of being up? 
Beautifully interlinked with Dogtooth and The Lobster, beautifully shot, beautifully written, Alps is pure genius. A personal favourite.



Paris is Burning provides a befuddling venture into the 'Ball scene', showcasing the larger-than-life world of drag shows with hints of ridiculousness, heart, comedy, genuity and flair. 
What Paris is Burning does so well is characterise these drag shows as a crafted microcosm of a wider society; within men find friends, family, notoriety, safety, competition, dreams, jubilation and success. Like the world around the drag show, it is hectic - and you could say it is especially loud to make up for the fact that it is a great deal smaller than the Big Apple it is nested in. Unlike the world around the drag show, this is a place of seeming harmony, opportunity and, to some degree, fairness. Though the values of the hyper-materialistic, celebrity-centric and fame-driven Ball scene are questionable, it is undeniable that it expresses and does much for its small culture. And Paris is Burning is worth watching for this alone



Opaquely mesmerising and opulently debased, Branded to Kill is a pure masterpiece and a product of pure technical genius. 
Starting out as a straight, nihilist yakuza flick, but quickly bumping into a Godardian girl-and-a-gun New Wave action blur, Branded to Kill initially flails at you with its loud style and rule-demolishing editing. Moving past the first 15 minutes, however, Suzuki introduces some stark and wondrous surrealism that goes onto to flirt and dance with Bretchian New Wave-isms. The end product is almost indescribable; a meaningless journey through romance, lust, fear and murder. If I was to attempt to make some sense out of this narrative it seems that this is about the spectacle of violence as a supplement for success in life. And thus this is a commentary on crime films and a poke at the audience, one that revels in Bond tropes, but exists in the subconscious. I cannot recommend this more. A must see.



I cannot exaggerate when I say that this is a perfect movie and, in my opinion, one of the great masterpieces of the 21st century. So impossibly human, tragic and romantic, The Lobster builds to one definitive question: Can the blind lead the blind? 
Do we know ourselves? Do we know our partners? Do we know what it is we're supposed to do together? A beautifully intricate dance toward and away from solipsistic hopelessness, The Lobster manifests one of the most profound and expressive sci-fi worlds ever put to screen before populating it with the most round and complete characters; their subjective being stuttering through the dead-pan script, revealed by slow motion and momentary pauses, accentuated with the clinical aesthetic and soundtrack, and emphasised by the ingenious dark comedy. Movies simply don't get much better than this.



An astounding piece of work; footage from the very first expedition to the south pole to have had a movie camera accompany it. For the first time, orca, seals and Adélie penguin are captured by the moving image in their natural habitat. And, most impressive, we are shown the towering icebergs and endless ice sheets which these explorers struggled against. 
Assembled from footage that would have been over a decade old by 1924, The Great White Silence complies a narrative around the British expedition lead by Captain Scott. Whilst, looking back almost 100 years later, the humour and pro-Empire sentiments shaping this narrative are questionable, as is the validity of the 'truth' captured, it is the small human moments of preparation and the opened-eyed gazes at an alien landscape that make this so astounding. Highly recommended.



I saw this in St. Paul's Cathedral, and though you probably shouldn't call this a movie, it is a fascinating piece of work.  
This is constructed around four screens. Each depicts some kind of elemental torture; a man buried by dirt, a hanging woman swaying in the wind, a seated man surrounded by fire, a man hung upside down and showered in water. Each shot plays out in slow-motion in an attempt to capture momentary expression like a paining may, and there seems to be a link to the idea of pain and suffering as a route to the transcendent embedded into each screen. What is most fascinating about the work is that it is a permanent installation in St. Paul's, situated in the same realm as famous sculptures, architecture and painting. This says much by itself.



I always thought to myself that Anastasia is one of the few Disney films that I have never cared for. It was only today, however, that I figured out that this isn't actually a Disney film, rather, it is simply directed by two former Disney directors. Alas, whilst Anastasia was on today I didn't really sit down and concentrate on why I never cared for it, or on the potential of this actually being a good film, I just let it play in the background. 
From what little I gathered from this film, I have to say that it appears very clunky and narratively weak. The voice performances and dialogue are all so-so. And the animation is quite ugly; the character design lacks personality and the movement is uncannily fluid, not at all dynamic in a natural, aesthetically harmonised manner. In the end, this only seems to be an attempt at making a 90s Disney film that simply lacks the quality at almost every single level of production.





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24/03/2018

Blog News


This is just a small notification to recognise that the flow of posts from the blog is going to be a little off for a short while. The series have been suspended so that I could finish off the screenplay and put up the sample, and they will kick back in gradually over the next week or so. This means more from the World Cinema Series, the final few posts from the Ghibli Series and the next post in the Bastard Cinema series. And, of course, the next Every Year post will be up - hopefully by the end of next week. On top of this, we'll soon be starting the series on the screenplay before the full thing can go up on the blog. If you've not checked out the sample yet, please check it out. The End Of The Week Shorts will be up tomorrow and more posts the beginning of next week.

Thanks for reading. Look forward to a proper post tomorrow.

22/03/2018

The Red Kaleidoscope Rainbow sample


Book 8 of The DSU is out on amazon, available to download, own and read in full as an ebook. Please check it out here:



This is a sample of the book. If you are reading on a mobile device follow the link to a mobile friendly page...


Just before we jump into the sample, this is what the book is about:

Imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital's basement, Mike, unable to communicate with his psychiatrist, Dr. Row, is tortured by delusion and put in constant violent tangles with a Woman in Red.


Before we start...

This is a story told in the rough form of a screenplay - a movie.

This format works best with lower font sizes, especially on smaller devices.

If you've never read a screenplay, you'll need to know the following:

EXT - Exterior. Found in scene headers to indicate we are outside.

INT - Interior. Also found in scene headers, but to indicate we are inside.

(O.S) - Off screen. Found next to character names.

(V.O) - Voice over. Also found next to character names.

(CONT'D) - Continued. Used to indicate continued speech next to character names.

SUPER: - Superimpose. To indicate text is seen over images.

The rest should be self-explanatory.

Enjoy...

The air trembles with manic reverberation.

Screams pierce the darkness, bringing forth with them throat-torn, searing cries for cessation.

The terror-pleas get closer and louder, overwhelming...

FADE IN:

INT. THE CELL - NIGHT

Silence...

A heavy iron door tainted with thick and flaking rust stands ominous, its contaminate orange glow crawling across the brick textures that embrace it on either side.

BAM

The door flies open, an orange mist sizzling against the gush of air as a scrawny naked man soars through, thrown by two pairs of burly, rough-haired arms into the room.

KABOOOOOM

TH-THUNK

Entrapment reverberates within the sealed walls.

Sobs begin to itch past the man's scabbed and blistered lips as he curls up, hugging his bleeding knees, his bruises resting against the thinly puddled stone and concrete floor.

The man is MIKE, his age indiscernible from an inspection of his frame; his body frail, emaciated and brittle like that of an old man, but, with the taut and grubby skin around his brow that gives way to young eyes, there seems to be a late teen lost somewhere within.

His bruises tread back from the once soothing puddles as goosepimples shiver their way across his flesh. Mike's hand skims over the concrete, finding cotton sheets - a thin mattress he stains with murk as he crawls onto it.

Laying his head down, Mike mistakes three white hospital robes for his pillow - which is a thin rag with half an inch of cotton inside at the bottom of his bed.

He closes his eyes.

>FADE OUT

Darkness.

Fine light spills through a crack under a door.

C-CLANK

Chains are taut.

MAN

AHHHHHH!!

Senseless terror bleeds past crooked brown teeth.

Splintered toenails kick against brick walls.

Wiry grey hair, tainted red--

THUMP

--smashes against the wall--

THUMP-THUMP-THUMP

A deranged figure batters his skull and pounds his feet against the walls of his tiny cell, screaming.

The light under the door cuts dead.

Darkness.

The screams remain... resounding... the voice... distorting...

FADE IN:

INT. THE CELL - NIGHT

Mike winces, the yells louder in his room than anywhere else.

The cacophony slowly thins... modulating... revealing itself to be the howl of wind.

CUT TO:

The shadow of a swinging light bulb ebbs and arcs to the crescendos of the wind's cries.

CUT TO:

Mike's eyes blink open.

His body is rattled with intense shivers. He turns his eyes up, seeing the window above his bed, the crying breeze tearing through.

Fingers curling under the cotton sheets, Mike pulls, scattering his 'pillow'. Somewhat confused, Mike unfolds the sheets, holding the fabric open to realise that he has three hospital gowns.

CUT TO:

The warm texture of wood, patterned with dark rings, emanates a natural sheen.

TSSSSSSK

Sandpaper rips against the surface.

CUT TO:

Mike pulls the first of the robes over his peeling skin.

CUT TO:

The orange flakes on the door hang precarious.

CUT TO:

Finger joints screech against one another as they are jammed and wiggled into a clasp.

CUT TO:

Mike's quivering fingers work the strings to his third and last hospital gown.

CUT TO:

The biting wind fights through the hinges of his cell door.

CUT TO:

Stood, his toes kneading against the springless mattress, Mike's gaze turns to the window again - a barred hole in the wall, no glass.

Dulled moonlight streams in on him as tears roll free from his blinking eyelashes and down his cheeks, cleaning off the grub.

Head bowed, he places his palms on either side of the square opening, watching his jagged ribcage expand and contract under his gowns.

EXT. OUTSIDE

The silver moon burns against the black skies.

INT. THE CELL

A furry, green caterpillar edges its way into Mike's window, along the inside wall and towards his fingers.

Glanced by the convulsing, tufty body, Mike pulls his hand away and then watches as the caterpillar moves down the vertical face of the cell porthole.

MIKE

(whispering)

Where did you come from?

CUT TO:

Embedded in underground grime, the caterpillar slithers.

CUT TO:

MIKE

You're lost... you're alone... Who misses you?

CUT TO:

Hundreds of caterpillars writhe in a mass of mulch: dead, wet leaves.

CUT TO:

MIKE

They all think you're insane... alone; the concrete walls... the stone... the metal.

The caterpillar moves through the metal bars, closer to the edge of the glassless window.

MIKE

... careful...

He brushes the caterpillar away from the window's edge and keeps his palm before it, a wall that it retreats from.

Lost in thought, Mike looks over his shoulder to his cell, to the glowering door, then up to the moon, a distant, pointless beacon. Meanwhile...

The caterpillar crawls around his fingers, out of the window and down the outer wall.

Realising:

MIKE

... gone.

Rubbing his hands together, Mike leaves the window to lie down and rest his frame.

EXT. OUTSIDE

Wind shakes the caterpillar as it moves down the brick wall...

A sharp cry of wind sways the brittle air.

... blown loose, the caterpillar plummets through the voidal darkness, falling inches from the blur of rock--

SPLASH

--lost in a thin puddle on the muddy ground, the ripples along its surface the only remaining perturbance of the night. Soon...

Silence.

INT. THE CELL

Alone, Mike sighs.

He brings his hands out from the cover of the sheets to rest them under his face, but in doing so he sees the RED BAND strapped to his wrist - one that couldn't have been there before.

He is confused as he puts his wrist into the light to inspect the band with an adjusting gaze...

Fear glazes over Mike's eyes.

MIKE

Impossible.

Panicked, he tries to rip the band off, first with his fingers, then with his teeth, then by slamming it against the wall.

The band doesn't give.

Helpless, Mike starts screaming again, wrapping himself up in the covers as to hide from his wrist that he holds outstretched.

INT. THE CELL - MORNING

Mike wakes, his arm under the mattress, pressed against the stone floor, as to hide the band.

A film of dust embraces the morning beams that streak through the cell.

At the foot of the door is a tray; buttered toast and a glass of water. Mike looks at it and then at his arm hidden by the mattress, hungry.

He bites his lip then pulls his arm out from under the mattress with closed eyes.

Holding his arm out in front of his face he quakes with anticipation, muttering indiscernibly.

He forces his eyes open.

Upon seeing the band, Mike immediately breaks into tears. He slams his wrist against the bed moaning 'No, no, no' over and over...

... the sheets suddenly shift...

... the fabric around Mike concaves...

... he dissolves into the mattress...

... his sobs soon lost.

INT. THE CELL - LATER

Calloused, reddened fingers pick up the tray. The arm, a pillowcase wrapped around the wrist, retreats away from the cell door.

Sitting back on the bed Mike bites the corner off of a piece of toast, an ounce of cheer finding its way to his lips.

C-CLUNK

The door opens, revealing a young psychologist, DR. ROW.

She stands in the doorway holding her breath, the corridor behind her engulfed by darkness. Exhaling, she edges into the room.

BOOOOOM

The door slams shut.

C-CLUNK

With slow measure Dr. Row steps across the room, eyeing Mike as she goes. She is cautious, but intrigued, an air of self-awareness and control brought in by her light footsteps.

Stood before Mike, she waits for his gaze to raise; he either hasn't recognised her or is so far refusing to as he stares through her white, flat-soled shoes.

She clears her throat. He looks up.

DR. ROW

Hello--

Her voice fades into silence; her lips move but nothing comes of it.

Mike watches her with apparent attention. When she smiles so does he, when she nods so does he; when she pauses, he looks down until he thinks her lips are moving again.

C-C-C-C-CRACK

The surrounding walls crumble, a web of fractures surging around the room, the brick and stone collapsing, leaving a void of darkness to loom about the periphery of Mike's spotlit cell.

Dr. Row is oblivious to the change in environment. Mike keeps his shifting eyes on the ground or her shoes as to distract himself from the change.

Approaching vibrations quiver across the floor and towards Mike's mattress.

From the dark shroud storms forth a huge man with crimson eyes, his top off and his muscles bulging.

He screams and shouts, consumed by an immeasurable rage, but, like Dr. Row, is stricken to quietude. He approaches, beating his head and chest like a territorial gorilla, inflamed gaze locked onto Mike.

CUT TO:

Dr. Row taps Mike's shoulder then hands him a piece of card with string attached to it.

He turns the material over to see a photograph of eyes facing downward printed on the card. He simply looks at her, confused.

SNATCH

Mike's SHADOW steals the contraption from his hand and straps it onto his head, over his eyes.

Dr. Row smiles with a thumbs up toward the shadow.

Mike looks at it, flat on the wall, facing his way, the print eyes on the ground, then turns to Dr. Row, who continues to talk as if nothing happened.

CUT TO:

With the man marching closer and closer...

THUD-THUD-THUD

... Mike begins to whimper, hugging his legs. Dr. Row kneels down with patient inquiry.

The man's beetroot feet slam to a stop behind her.

He bellows...

Nothing but silence.

Enraged further, the man stoops with a piercing glare directed at the side of Dr. Row's face. She still chats away.

He roars in her ear... but to no effect.

Slamming his fists against the ground, beating a futile tantrum into the indifferent stone, the furious figure exudes incomprehensible anger.

Peeping past Dr. Row, Mike whimpers helpless--

MAN

AAAARRRHHH!

He's suddenly swamped with the violent cacophony, and so snaps his eyes shut, kicking out at Dr. Row with fear, sending her stumbling backwards, toward the figure, with shock.

Silence.

Mike opens his eyes back on Dr. Row.

The angry man has vanished. But, someone else is coming; soft footsteps approach.

From behind Dr. Row, who has recomposed and is reassuring Mike (still muted), appears a sleazy skinny man wearing a suit with a red rose in the breast pocket.

His loafers slide to a stop.

He looks Dr. Row up and down from behind and then caresses her hips, lightly pecking her neck with puckered lips.

Only able to watch Dr. Row obliviously talk on, Mike grows infuriated.

The sleazeball grabs her breasts, extending a wet tongue to lick her face.

Mike bolts to his feet, fist cocked.

Dr. Row steps back in fear.

The man pulls away and backs off with a grin.

Mike steps forward, ready to push past Dr. Row, when a bald man with red skin appears behind her holding a six-foot samurai sword--

SLASH

Blood sprays out of the gaping, spluttering hose that was her neck.

Mike falls back on the bed, blasted by the red haze.

Sobbing into his pillow and cursing with feeble refrain, he tries to stop hyperventilating, his body quivering with emotional over-activity.

With apprehension, Mike turns to the dead body, opening his eyes...

Dr. Row is talking again, stern, unimpressed. She continues to do so as Mike catches his--

Dr. Row glitches.

--for a second she's is gone, replaced by a WOMAN IN A RED DRESS.

Mike watches her closely as she continues to talk, rubbing his wet face with the sheets.

She glitches again.

Mike cocks his head to the side, confused and trepidatious.

Dr. Row stops and mouths: 'what's wrong?'. In that instant, she is gone, replaced by the Woman In The Red Dress who looks down at Mike with disgust.

More a skeleton with skin, wrapped in loose fabric that should be tight, the Woman has hard, impenetrable black eyes and a man's haircut.

The figure begins to grow, stretching into a lanky giant, pummeling her hands down on either side of Mike as he shrivels, dwarfed.

The Woman chortles menace as he, again, starts to cry.

With Mike's back turned on her, she begins to shrink down to her normal size again. Quickly growing annoyed by his shielded sobs, the Woman starts beating him with open hands.

Mike can only curl up tighter and bear the beating.

Teeth grit, eyes wild, she slaps her palms down on his back, disquieting insanity imbued into her frame as her arms fly and spindly legs wobble over her impractically high heels.

The pounding stops.

Rattled and distraught, Mike turns over and opens his eyes, expecting the delusion to have ended, but the Woman isn't gone. She stands by his bedside. Her face is soft, forgiving, warm. She opens her arms.

Infantalised, his stature meek and submissive, Mike stands and embraces her.

She pulls him in tight and whispers in his ear. He listens with a growing smile until, weakly:

MIKE

Stop.

Mike pushes her away with resentment.

MIKE

I -

SMACK

She strikes his face, expecting him to pull away, but he doesn't.

Staring down at his toes, Mike's hanging arms tense, his veins beginning to throb, muscles taut, a scream itching to escape his lungs--

Mike lunges at her.

They hit the floor, Mike on top of her.

He gets his hands around her neck and starts squee--

From the darkness Dr. Row's hand touches his shoulder.

He jumps off the Woman, trips backwards, and...

CUT TO:

... is back in the cell, sitting on the bed unnervingly staring at Dr. Row's shoes with heavy, panting breath.

Returning to apparent consciousness, Mike looks up at Dr. Row's understanding smile.

She seems to have finished talking and so leaves the room.

BOOOOOM

C-CLUNK

Mike stares at the rust and then looks around at the solid walls, still catching his breath.



Thanks for reading the sample. If you would like to read the full story, check out the ebook on amazon...



To all the blog followers, we shall now open the Kaleidoscope Series where we will explore some of the films that inspired and informed this story. Keep an eye out for the first post and thanks again for reading.

Amélie - The Crystaltype

Thoughts On: Amélie (Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain, 2001)

A discussion around the movie and the construction of character.


One of the most beautiful things about art is the fact that it can capture a mode of being, contrive a person and a character, that is simultaneously infinite and singular, that is potential and is a moulded idol. Great characters, our favourite characters - one of mine is Amélie - are just this; they are human and they are pawns. They transcend both ourselves as a sloppy, confused and lost beings, stuck within ourselves with too much potential and not enough capacity, as well as themselves as idols and ego-projections meant only to massage our shortcomings and basic desires. Great characters are not human like you and me, but nor are they subservient to our humanity.

What seems to make me me and you you is our position in both space and time. We are bodies in one certain state. Because we exist in the physical world, there is a continuity in our being - we can come to see this as 'the self'. But, because we also exist in time, our mode of being is in constant flux; the persona emerges. Thus, the self is not just who we are, but the part of us that is preserved as who we are changes over hours, days, months, years and decades. You are that little piece of you that has always been apart of you and will continue to be apart of you until you are not only gone off of this earth, but pass from all memory.

Characters on film exist in space and time. However, their space and time is not infinite like ours. As a result, they can only ever be so much, and they can only ever change so much. They can only be what is put on screen, and they can only change over the course of a run-time. This is somewhat true with real people who are not ourselves; we know them only from what we see of them and for as long as we know of them. Ourselves, however... we have been there for and seen almost every moment of our being; our conception of self is incredibly deep, transcendent of the infinite space around us and the infinite time around us because we also recognise the infinite depth within us; we know our mind. Other humans have minds, we tell ourselves this--we try to as a means of getting along with them and moving forward in life. Characters don't necessarily have minds.

There is a fallacy about much of film criticism whereby we talk about characters as if they are human; as if they are free of us and we recognise their humanity. But, how easy this is to do with even the real people around us is debatable. There then emerges a Lacanian philosophy of character, one that suggests that what is on the screen is only a reflection of ourselves. This perspective bears much truth; the humanity we assign to characters is very much so us walking in their shoes, seeing them as ourselves, their humanity as, in fact, just an appropriation of ours. There is something crucial missing from this theory, however, and that pertains to the fact that we are in infinite space and time and feel that we also have infinite depth within us. If we do not know ourselves completely, and always have the potential to surprise our past self with how much we change in the future, then how can our reflections be just reflections? Do they not bear some of this potential too? Humanity is inclined to think of itself and that around it as inexacerbatable potential. Because characters are very much so a reflection of ourselves, they then do take on their own autonomy to a good degree; we assign to them what we assign to ourselves: potential. And thus characters seem to have a free will, a gift of the spectator who believes they have free will themselves, or, at the very least, some autonomy and much potential.

So, whilst characters are on screen, trapped in finite space and time, they also have limited access to the vaults of our potential. They can then awaken within us emotions and ideas that we would not have been able to access without them. And much of this is a consequence of the fact that characters are a construct of another human being. To follow this thought, in many ways, we may just be seeing through characters - through the medium of film - and communicating directly with the humanity of a filmmaker. However, there still remains the fact that all humans have potential that human constructs - films, characters - inherit. And so not only do characters have an autonomy and potential given to them by the spectator, but they also gain something from the filmmaker. From the communication between the spectator and filmmaker through character comes even more potential on top of this. This is why characters and art in general bear a transcendent quality. If humans can feel the presence of the transcendent, then we can and will assign it to our greatest constructs; and story and character are certainly some of the greatest human constructs.

Who, then, are characters? They are what we desire, they are created, they are a construct, a reflection, but simultaneously somewhat autonomous and transcendent of ourselves and their creators. Characters, great characters in particular, characters that evoke the most complex of emotions and thoughts within us, are crystaltypes.

The crystaltype is the archetype manifest; it is the plastic conceptual human. Jung deals with archetypes as mental projections, as incredibly close to conceptions of self and psychological being. Archetypes seem to be trapped in the mind. Archetypes also exist between ourselves and art. Some characters in films, for example, are shells for an idea that we provide - that idea is archetypal and they are archetypes. Archetypes are medium-level-complexity constructs of cinema. We have discussed elsewhere that impressionism can manifest archetypes. However, impressionism's limits exceed the archetype. Beyond the archetypes subjective and objective impressionism can construct are 'symbols' and 'characters':


We have previously described 'characters' in this context as having the illusion of humanity and autonomy due to their complexity. We can describe characters of this sort now as 'crystaltypes'. In being archetypes manifest, crystaltypes, great characters such as Amélie, walk around a finite space and in a finite time endowed with great potential by the spectator and filmmaker who creates them. They are then very much so contrived objects without autonomy and real potential - they are solidified in their capacity - but are solidified in such a way that they become crystals; intricate, precious constructs that reflect humanity and thus bear a transcendent quality.

Whilst the archetype is a shell, the cystaltype is a precious stone - caricatures may as well be plastic figurines. Understanding great characters as crystaltypes begins to clarify their position in art as simultaneously subservient to our desires and also out of our hands, too precious to call our own and a projection of us alone. To love someone, to believe you are in love with another, is to perceive them as both idol (a crystal object) and subjective, individual, conscious human. The idol you bear of those you love - your mother, sister, brother, father, wife, husband - is bound to the archetype. To perceive them as only the archetype, Jung may suggest, is an indication of un-individuation. To perceive them correctly, as an individuated human, requires an acceptance of their subjective being, free of our ego and desires. However, growing up and individuating doesn't mean we lose a mother, a father, brother, etc. In my view, philosophies of complete disembodiment, of entirely relinquishing desire and possession, would inform such a faulted view as this. To grow up doesn't mean we are to let go of archetypes entirely. I would question if this is even possible, to not see our mother as a mother, to see our wife as just another human and so free to operate as a stranger to us may. To grow up is to see their humanity and archetypal role merge, which leads to the creation of the crystaltype.

The human crystaltype and the fictional crystaltype are incredibly different, but are built in a similar way; archetypal role meets individual humanity. What separates character from human is the act of creation. Human-to-human relations are relations between two true selves, we create and project our own images. Human-to-character relations are relations between ourselves and the screen as a one way mirror with a filmmaker projecting behind it. Characters cannot create themselves, they are created via committee and art as communication. As a result, the crystaltype character is far more solid and unchanging than a human, they are confined to finite space and time and have limited potential: just as much as we and their maker can manage to give them. Nonetheless they can shine with transcendent meaning, and such a quality is what we describe when we label certain cinematic constructs 'great characters'.

I have discussed the intricacies of what builds Amélie into a great character previously and so won't provide this analysis again. However, for the fact that she operates as both archetype and character, object and subject, makes her a crystaltype. But, with Amélie as a crystaltype I hold close, I'll leave things with you. What are your favourite characters? What makes them crystaltypes?







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We Are Not Afraid - Look Back

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End Of The Week Shorts #50

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20/03/2018

We Are Not Afraid - Look Back

Quick Thoughts: We Are Not Afraid: Inside The Coup In Honduras (Quién Dijo Miedo, Honduras de un Golpe, 2010)


Made by Katia Lara, this is the Honduran film of the series.


We Are Not Afraid is a very dense and highly chaotic documentary about the 2009 Honduran coup d'état. The coup was an offshoot of the constitutional crisis which, itself, was a political conflict between the government in power and the masses who wanted reform. It was set off when the Honduran military forced then-president Manuel Zelaya into exile after he pushed for a constitutional referendum. We Are Not Afraid exists in the direct aftermath of the exile, and it follows a selection of activists who are in support of Zelaya and who want the coup (his exile) to be internationally recognised. In addition to this, We Are Not Afraid documents human rights abuses committed upon protesters by the military and attempts to voice their struggle to the surrounding world.

This is a pretty powerful documentary, one that, as said, is chaotic and dense but nonetheless captures the atmosphere and climate of what we can only perceive to be hectic times. So, though the coup was almost 10 years ago now, this is well worth looking back upon as expressively capturing a significant moment in time for Honduras as it unfolded:



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The Immoral Mr. Teas - Soft-Core Surrealism

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Amélie - The Crystaltype

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19/03/2018

The Immoral Mr. Teas - Soft-Core Surrealism

Thoughts On: The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)

A salesman can't escape dreams and visions of breasts.


After WWII, in the 60s and 70s especially, there was an explosion of degeneracy across popular media in America. Film was profoundly impacted by this debased proliferation of counter-cultural fervour. And the waves of independent and underground movies that this insubordinate movement rode upon is characterised as 'exploitation'. We have spoken about this a few times before, mainly with a focus on horror and gore. Today, however, we will be looking at an early moment of 'sexploitation' via Russ Meyer.

Meyer is known in the modern day largely through Tarantino and the fact that his film, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! influenced the likes of Grindhouse and Kill Bill. And it is Faster, Pussycat! that is one Meyer's most iconic films nowadays despite the fact that it was not popular at the time, a box office flop and, unsurprisingly, critically lambasted.


Faster, Pussycat! is said to be one of the best representatives of Meyer's style as an auteur. If you've seen the trailer - which is honestly one of the best trailers you can ever watch - you don't really need to see the film. What defines the film, and what the trailer captures perfectly, is that Meyer was almost the Robert Crumb of cinema; he loved powerful, cartoonishly proportioned (b-b-b-big-breasted) women.


What Meyer's films then give incite into, like a lot of pornography does - but certainly in a more articulate and mad-cap manner - is the psychology of (what you might call ordinary) men via the mind of a fetishistic, hyper-sexual, not-too-normal deviant. Meyer's Kill, Pussycat! is seemingly in conversation with his childhood, with the fact that he (like Tarantino, it must be mentioned) was raised by a single mother who was abandoned by his father at an early age. Meyer's mother is said to have not only sold her wedding ring to buy her son his first camera, but also loved every one of his films. That, in itself, says a lot considering that Meyer's was quite obsessed with domineering women, with their bodies and sexuality, their loud and unbridled personalities, and put this on film.

Having learnt how to rapidly shoot 16mm film in the army during WWII - during which he is said to have met Hemingway in Paris, who took him to a brothel to lose his virginity - Meyer moved to L.A. There he was a still photographer, who shot some of the first photos for Hugh Hefner and Playboy. He didn't remain on this career path for long, however, and decided to start making his own films.

Meyer's vision and philosophy as a filmmaker was seemingly to just give an audience what they wanted. However, this is very clearly only one dimension of his 'artistic' being. Not only was Meyer exploiting sex and the image of women, but he was serving himself and actually making somewhat competent movies. It is undeniable that Meyer's style is very clunky and unclean, but, he developed his own kind of montage, moving through a space via extreme close-ups at a rapid pace. This, combined with his lighting and brilliant writing skills (you've heard samples of his dialogue), formulates the Meyer aesthetic that really distinguished - and continues to distinguish - his films from an awful lot of the trashier trash, or, as John Waters may say, movies of bad bad taste, not good bad taste, that he inspired.

Whilst there is much you could say about the chaos that emerges from later on in Meyer's career, I find his first feature-length film, The Immoral Mr. Teas, to be incredibly fascinating - not to mention, quite alien in terms of form and content when compared to his later movies. The Immoral Mr. Teas is considered one of the very first nude films that actually had a plot and was also one of the first (soft) pornographic films to have been widely seen and exhibited outside of private, underground circuits in America. The silent era let loose quite a few semi-pornographic films, but, with the rise of even stronger, systematised censorship in America after the move into the sound era, there was no chance nudity would be finding its way to the big screen. There would have definitely been pornography of all kinds circulating in private, but the most public examples of pornography to emerge between the 30s and 50s were nudist films. These were documentaries of sorts that were shot in nude camps, and were, in some respect, promotional tools for the camps and the nudist lifestyle; they were about freedom, nature and other hippy stuff. Nudist films were... boring. What can be refereed to as 'beach ball' films, these would have featured men and women without any clothes on frolicking in fields and swimming in ponds, hitting inflatable beach balls to one another. The camera work was basic, lighting was often natural, and there was almost never any story. By the 60s, there emerged nudist films that had plots and tried to break established conventions. One example of such a film would be Nude On The Moon, which features a nude colony... on the moon - except it's very clearly Florida. However, Nude On The Moon would have rode on the wave of nude films that The Immoral Mr. Teas would have set off 2 years prior in 1959.

Again, The Immoral Mr. Teas was not like anything that it inspired, and nor was it much like that which came before it. Whilst you can see a very clear 'beach ball film' aesthetic in certain sequences that all gravitate towards ponds and leisurely activities, any one familiar with avant-garde cinema will immediately feel a strange sense of familiarity with The Immoral Mr. Teas.

The Immoral Mr. Teas fleetingly looks, and sounds, like surrealist films such as L'Age D'Or and Un Chien Andalou. Not only is Meyer's film shot as a silent picture, but it features dream sequences, dark comedy, satire, deviant sexuality, unorthodox camera angles, a repetitive Tango-esque song, a hapless man riding a bike and a kind of l'amour fou (mad love) that characterises almost all Surrealist films. I do not know if Meyer was even aware of Buñuel, but The Immoral Mr. Teas bears an uncanny resemblance to, most certainly, Un Chien Andalou. And when you watch The Immoral Mr. Teas as more of an experimental film than basic pornography, it becomes very clear that there is an irony and commentary designed into the narrative, one that picks up upon the pathological self-suppression of a man in fear of his own sexuality. What we then see across this surreal narrative is a man in a new kind of America - an America that is economically expanding via advertisements, consumerism and the tireless efforts of puny businessmen. In the spirit of nudist films before and after it, The Immoral Mr. Teas pushes back against this 'unnatural' way of being, but does so with an embrace of deviance. This isn't about accepting the human body, instead, it is about lusting after the female body, about not being able to control ones imagination, about not being able to talk to, to interact with, women. All sexual imagery in this film is then either a form of torture or a form of placation; it doesn't do anything for the man but arose and massage his frustrations.

As I watched The Immoral Mr. Tea as a film very much so about frustration and utter patheticness, it appeared to me to be quite sad. And this rather pitiable representation of the male as subservient to impulse whose needs can never be met seemingly runs throughout Meyer's films. However, it is in The Immoral Mr. Teas that Meyer actually interacts with this perception he has of men - of male sexuality and himself maybe. In his other films, Faster, Pussycat! for example, he has long given up on men. He cares only about women and their ability to dominate and smother men completely. And whilst he quashes these dominatrix archetypes in many of his films, he always does so with a clear pretence of morality; he does not believe in the educational voice-overs and the moral turn-arounds that censors would require, they only seem to serve his point. And never is this more clear that in The Immoral Mr. Teas. There is no redemption, there is nothing learnt, there is no success; a man falls prey to his sexuality and finds a way to numb away the pain of enslavement.

If you are interested in seeing this film, and even Meyer's more famous pictures, certainly keep this subtext in mind and his work may appear to have more dimension than you would have initially anticipated. Here's a link to a documentary on Russ Meyer, a link to The Immoral Mr. Teas, and here's a link to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!






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End Of The Week Shorts #49

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18/03/2018

End Of The Week Shorts #49


Today's shorts: I Am Not Your Negro (2016), Over The Top (1987), Lionheart (1990), Sansho The Bailiff (1954), Ricky Gervais: Humanity (2018), Wings Of Desire (1987), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Bombay Talkies (2013)



Undoubtedly the most sincere and true documentary and statement on black history as American history that I've ever come across. 
Inspired by/adapted from James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, I Am Not Your Negro collects footage of Baldwin and of American films to explore the face of American culture as a persona - one that has been disavowed by and disavows the American self. Not necessarily about hatred and/or love, I Am Not Your Negro is about moral poverty and wilful blindness. This absence and imperception is not commented on at the individual level, but at the macroscopic and societal level. Placing fault above the head of a culture, I Am Not Your Negro asks all individuals within to change, to look up and look within, and dare to speak, hear and do honestly. 
Like a chisel to wood, this documentary opens - what and how much is a question you'll have to answer after you watch this.



Over The Top is cheesy, meat-headed nonsense - but, it works. 
With one of the most ridiculously on-the-nose soundtracks ever put together, pulled from the deep, dark recesses of 80s pop rock, Over The Top assumes it needs no real writing or acting: Sly makes faces, the kid moans, and a song tells you how to feel. That's about the depth of the drama. Everything else that this movie is made up of is simple. Firstly there's the American philosophy of ceaseless persistence guided by higher morals being the formula for all redemption and success. How true this is, I won't comment on. Second is just pure, sweaty, bulgy, greasy, bloody, slobbery, slow motion, extreme close-up, squealing, bellowing, moaning, roaring, off-sync V.O, mano-y-mano (literally), aggressive, hyper-macho spectacle. For what it is... it works. Though you'll laugh and roll your eyes, you'll also feel your rectum tighten and twist. And when it does, you'll also have to admit that this works.



As Van Damme movies go - as 80s and 90s martial arts/action pictures go - Lionheart (or A.W.O.L) stands up pretty well. 
With a surprisingly rounded set of characters and an unexpectedly strong story, Lionheart subverts many of the more grating clichés and tropes of the genre and actually attempts to take its characters seriously, to give you a reason to care about them and find their humanity. That said, there are still some horrible one-liners, some iffy performances and no grand narrative or intricate drama to speak of. And, of course, this is a tournament film - so there is absolutely nothing that will surprise you about the structure . I'm on the fence about the editing, which uses multiple angles of the same action over and over. This kind of works, allowing the fight scenes to be slow and impactful. It's also lazy and pretty noticeable. And I have to also say that the action scenes aren't too impressive - the same old kicks and spins. All in all though, this is unquestionably one of the better representatives of the genre and Van Damme.



Sansho The Bailiff is a strong film, one that focuses the function of mercy in the world. Whilst it is shot beautifully and forms a powerful allegory around redemption and following in the footsteps of the good as to continue their legacy, I found this to be slightly lacklustre. 
This follows the son and daughter of an exiled governor into slavery, where they are made to wait for a decade before any chance of escape. Without much of a debate around the core theme of mercy put to screen through our two main characters, the drama is rather one-dimensional. There a moments in which we recognise an argument against the moral of the film - one immersed in hopelessness - but they don't bear much force. The ending, if it not a literal one, instead, one that mimics that of Ugetsu Monogatari, complexifies the film greatly. But, I would have to sit down and watch this again to see if this deserves the title 'masterpiece'. As of now, I can only say that this is a strong morality tale.



Starts off shaky, but as Gervais gets into the middle 30 minutes, he excels. Having always been pretty excellent at crafting jokes that would only work on the stage, Gervais says some ridiculous things about babies and how rich he is; subject matter that shouldn't be that funny and that certainly wouldn't translate as a sketch or written piece. 
After a sequence of these brilliant jokes, everything flattens out. It has been at least 3 or 4 years now that comedians have not shut the fuck up about people getting offended. It's nothing new, but I suppose social media makes them think otherwise. Comedians have always made these jokes, but recently they've taken over whole acts and hearing the same old shit just gets boring. Gervais takes this to new heights, not only basing half his set on this, but choosing to consistently explain how comedy works. It gets tiring. Just do your job. Be funny. Don't tell us about the difficulties of comedy.



A real let down. 
Wings Of Desire opens powerfully, sustaining an austerely magical tone as it explores the concept of angels on earth finding their meaning and purpose in the best, or the most human, of human thoughts and actions. And, it needn't be said, but the direction and cinematography are entirely awe-inspiring. The camera flies, textures emanate richness, light exudes full crispness. 
Unfortunately, all turns sour after the first hour when the film attempts to engage its characters and see a romance flourish. In short, neither the writing or the performances inject any heart into characters. They are all dry shells, clearly constructed - and drably so. Despite all that Wenders does so well, this film is let down by a selection of shoddy, ill-constructed characters, and so often boarders on pretence. A real pity considering this starts so well.



It's so easy to say this is a masterpiece - and it is. However, is it perfect? 
Today, I decided to watch 2001 with a hyper-critical eye, and when you don't invest yourself in the film, a few faults do arise. First and foremost, I don't think the pace and structure are entirely justified. Not only do we not need the early talking sequences (let's not pretend that most of the human characters actually matter much), but the space-movement-orchestra isn't as symphonic and musical as it maybe could be. There is a constant drabness about the humans that serves a purpose, but needn't be lingered on to the degree that it is. I think 20 minutes could have been chopped off of this and it would not only still be a masterpiece, but would be more accessible and poignant. Finally, this could have striven to be more visual, as in the astounding intro (which may be my favourite part of the film). 
All in all, I can't tear this to pieces, but, whilst I think this is a masterpiece and pretty much love it... I know why this isn't my favourite movie.



Put shortly, a disheartening celebration of Indian cinema. 
Bombay talkies is made up of four episodes, each helmed by a leading director of contemporary Bollywood cinema. (There is also a rather grating musical ending - a bad note to end on). I've never seen much worth in episodic movies with multiple directors. Whilst the shorts may be thematically linked, you're inevitably going to compare directorial styles and wish the entire film was based on one of its parts. Such is true of Bombay Talkies. The second episode, Star, is an excellent look at what it means to have a talent or passion which stands alone beautifully. The other episodes are underdeveloped social dramas. 1 and 3, the most lacking episodes, are clearly trying to welcome a new era of Bollywood film with controversial subject matter, but fail to produce anything at all substantial. All in all, this is a blundering mess and, frankly, a weird way to celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema.






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