Film

Abel Ferrara’s “The Driller Killer”

A few days before Halloween, I stumbled across this classic slasher flick in it’s entirety on Youtube. It’s definitely on par with other grimy Abel Ferrara films like Bad Lieutenant and Ms. 45. It was filmed in 1979 and stars Abel Ferrara himself as the tortured artist turned driller killer maniac. It’s sort of like a demented take on Taxi Driver with way more music and sex. This movie is perfect for those rainy midnight slasher cravings. Enjoy…

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Nobuhiko Obayashi…and “HOUSE”


Excerpt from “The Housemaidens” by Chuck Stephens

A pioneering figure in the Japanese experimental film scene that sprang up at the end of the 1950s, Nobuhiko Obayashi (born in 1938) had begun making short Super 8 movies in 1956, and soon became closely associated with fellow cineastes Donald Richie Takahiko Iimura, with whom he would cofound the experimental film collective Film Independant in 1964. Obayashi’s 8 and 16 mm short films almost always centered on young women emotionally stranded between skipping rope and the skipping heartbeats of first love: sprightly and painstakingly pixilated visions of female longing, of adolescents forever distracting themselves from their imminent coming-of-age with quasi-carefree (and, under Obayashi’s percussively pianistic editing strategies, graphically dazling) games of hopscotch and hide-and-seek, at once bewitched and bewildered by the mostly peripheral (though, as in his 1966 masterpiece Emotion, often somewhat comically and ominously vampiric) men hovering in their midst. Today, Obayashi remembers mainly the impact that seeing the first films of the French New Wave, particularly Godard’s Breathless, had on his and his compatriots’ sensibilities, although on the evidence of as early an Obayashi film as 1960’s Dandanko, Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren, who’d been similarly experimenting with hand-drawn and collage animation with live-action, often quirkily pixilated footage since the 1940’s, seems equally to have had his (perhaps secondhand) influence. Whatever his inspirations, Obayashi’s implementation of a variety of “handmade” filmmaking approaches (not unlike some of A Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester’s pop art stylings) seemed custom designed for a certain strain of somewhat less than radical 1960s youth culture: his was a sensibility steeped in a romanticism far more Truffaut than Godard, and as politically and aesthetically muted when compared with contemporaries like Oshima as a Peter Max might seem in comparison with Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns.

Obayashi spent nearly two years preparing the narrative and commercial particulars of his feature film debut, first concocting House‘s script from the collection of frights his preteen daughter suggested, then conspiring with the pop group Godiego (pronounced go-die-go, like the fourteenth-century Japanese emperor Go-Daigo) on the film’s assortment of pop ballads and searing synthesizer boogie, all in time for the soundtrack album to be releases well in advance of the film. Care was taken, too, to season the film with timely cultural touchstones: here an appearance by a Tora-san look-alike, there a ringer for actor Bunta Sugawara in his then popular Truck-yaro (Bastard Trucker) guise; there’s even a reference to Pure Hearts in Mud, the Momo-Tomo romance to be released as the surefire A feature to House‘s marketing gamble B. As for the myriad stylistic flourishes (faces that melt into the flame, a disembodied head hungrily nibbling on an unwary butt) that make Obayashi’s film so visually overwhelming, it was if the director had been preparing for them his entire experimental filmmaking and advertising careers. The story of a motherless teenage girl named Gorgeous who, disappointed by the imminent remarriage of her soundtrack composer father, precipitously cancels their planned summer vacation together and instead sets out with six of her schoolmates for a visit to her long-unseen maternal aunt’s house in the countryside…But who cares about the story! House is a film far more focused on the telling than the tale, haunted by more formalist freak-outs, sudden excursions into time-warping slow motion, and ludicrously lysergic, analog-age matte effects than any other twenty Japanese films released that or any other year.

The narrative, in its essence, is in fact a rather well-worn one in Japanese folklore and horror movie culture, familiar from such films as Kaneto Shindo’s kabuki-bound Black Cat and Nobuo Nakagawa’s lurid Ghost Cat Mansion. What makes Obayahi’s film so thoroughly extraordinary is twofold: first, the virtually limitless visual variations and sound design fever schemes (cocks crowing, babies wailing, piano glissandi and thunderous waves crashing on an unseen shore) with which he transforms the story’s traditional elements (which go beyond those bakemono/kaibyo components to include, among other things, various evocations of ukiyo-e illustration master Hokusai’s famous ghost-headed Oiwa lantern), to such a startling degree that Japanese audiences in the 1970s, as do audiences around the world today, found the film fresh and utterly new; and second, the obvious glee Obayashi takes in pushing the roricon (Lolita complex) richness of his subjects – a bevy of tender beauties, most of whom appear in increasing stages of undress as the film progresses – as he torments and terrorizes them. Not since the work of outsider artist Henry Darger, who ransacked children’s books to create epic collage tapestries depicting armies of oft-naked girl warriors in battle, have so many magnificently demented possibilities for simultaneously empowering, imperiling, and eroticizing pubescent young women been gathered so dazzlingly together in one place – and never at such a speed-demon pace!

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Stan Brakhage


Excerpt from “Make Place for the Artist” by Stan Brakhage

I am presenting it in writing for someone else’s future. Someone may someday realize that the living artist has the eyes of the age he lives in. They may understand that he makes his magic for the moment. Who knows? Here’s what to do:
Make place for the artist. Do it now. For you, as well as him, tomorrow is too late. Firs must come understanding, not of the work but of the worker. Give him the right conditions. Here are the conditions. This breed requires freedom. Cages kill him. Restrictions constrict. This animal is forever at war with his own limitations by nature. The rules others try to impose usually only baffle and, finally, either destroy or else disinherit him.
The artist must be given more than enough rope. He often hangs, himself for experience, however this creature has a tough neck, give him time! He is perhaps more aware of time than any other type of individual. He is an explorer of his own dualities. He embarks on as many adventures as there are in a day. These are the components of his witch brew.
It takes time, also, to stir up a magic potion. Information for opportunists – the best way to get something from an artist is to leave him alone. Contradiction is part of the honesty he exercises. It is impossible for any man to express without contradicting himself every other statement and be anything but a liar, unless he is playing a part. The artist play his part best apart…..Make place for the artist. He must never be used as a material. Those who try to hold fire either burn their hands or put the fire out.
This is a hair of a dog, given with love and expectation.

If you don’t know who Stan Brakhage is….you should. He was an American filmmaker who helped push 20th century Experimental Film to new heights. He made over a hundred films and went through so many different style periods, exploring a variety of formats, approaches and techniques that included handheld camerawork, painting directly onto celluloid, fast cutting, in-camera editing, scratching on film, and the use of multiple exposures. He also wrote many essays and letters on many topics such as art, mythology, music, poetry, war, birth, mortality, and sexuality, all of which are included in his film works as well. Definitely worth seeking out….his films are unlike anything you have ever seen.

Here is an excerpt from Brakhage Scrapbook: Collected Writings 1964-1980

To Manis Pinkwater: Day before Thanksgiving, ’64

An artist MUST act on dream instruction (day AND nigh dream structures conditioning all his being) for continuance of his art. Some have called this “inspiration,” some “the word of God,” some (more modernly) “sub-conscious feed-back” or what-you-call-it – there IS a process which governs the arts, necessities of each medium which discipline the artist’s living making it impossible for him to exist in an avoidance fo the right, the rite: and it is very encouraging, AND ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for the movement of works of art into the world at large (not to mention proper celebration of birthdays), that there be others who permit instruction, always dream structured, and act of their given sense of right, thus participate in the rite, in whatever way their form of living enables them. “Art for art’s sake” is a term imposed on the, otherwise, opening field of the arts BY a negligent or INdifferent society, a seige, as it were, which does force an, otherwise ever opening, field into becoming a fortress of “ivory towers,” etc., and/or (more modernly) a game preserve, wherein the forces of nature may play withIN strictly boundaries imposed by most unnatural game wardens, a place where natural forces are appreciated (as if one could applaud the universe) rather than experienced.


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Dillinger Is Dead

Excerpts from “Apocalypse Now” essay by Michael Joshua Rowin and April 1969 issue of Ombre rosse magazine

Where Marco Ferreri’s earlier films contained straightforward, if transgressive, allegories about characters with clearly defined goals, in a world recognizable according to the standards of cinematic realism. Dillinger Is Dead throws narrative, psychological, and symbolic common sense out the window. Dillinger‘s trajectory may seem simple – a gas mask designer played Michel Piccoli (Glauco, although his name appears only in the script) returns home after work, cooks himself dinner, discovers a gun he believes belongs to Dillinger, seduces the maid, and shoots his wife in the head – but the refusal of clear-cut logic, its contradictory symbols, and its moral ambiguity open it to endless interpretation. (Even this new approach would not be radical enough for Ferreri, however: in the late sixties and early seventies, he helped produce hard-care leftist films by Glauber Rocha, and Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Dziga Vertov Group, and, forever dissatisfied with the ability of cinema to make a social impact, he would later lament that Dillinger was too easily recuperated by the mainstream.)

April 1969, Ombre rosse
Interview by Goffredo Fofi and Ruggero Savinio


Critics have praised Dillinger Is Dead for its rigor and coherence, for the fact that there is no lapses in it.

It was easier to achieve that in the case of Dillinger than in my other films. But I should say that this sort of praise strikes me as ambiguous at best. The film owes its unity to the subject matter itself and to a set of technical choices: there is very little dialogue, for example, and that absence makes the sounds essential. Things like that.

Most of the objects and machines the protagonist avails himself of have a clear meaning. Still, we would like you to tell us something about his screening of the home movie of the hands. Could you talk about that, and also say something about the specific function of the TV clips, the underground film, and the cameo appearance of Italian film historian Adriano Apra?

The hands? It is a fetish of mine. It is also, and more to the point, an important aspect in the characterization of the protagonist: his hands, you will notice, are always busy, always manipulating something, doing things. This busyness is the exaggeration of an obsessive tic. The home movies gives this tic the chance to lead a life of its own, independent of the life of the main character. As for the TV clips, the basic ideas was to show the uselessness of language, of words that try to frame ideas by circling around them without ever getting to the heart of the matter. This is another exaggerated tic. The aim is to point up the vacuity of so much spoken language.

Do you believe that it is possible, working within a system, to make films that pull the rug out from under it and throw it into crisis?

Cinematographic channels are capable of absorbing everything. The operations required to throw the system into crisis are external to films themselves. In other words, it is not a matter of making a certain type of cinema as opposed to some other type. It would be good to break up certain organizations, form new groups…The value of the work ends up depending on factors that are extrinsic to the film, instead of intrinsic to it. The channels are the usual, age-old ones, and we are always working on unsteady ground. Cinema as an antialienation weapon – there you have a theme that has not yet received serious consideration. Dillinger might be useful to twenty people…But I make a film that will be seen and appreciated by the thousand people I probably hate the most. I mean all those characters who make up the so-called cultural world: people who haunt art galleries and art-house cinemas. A clan of the most hateful people around, or who I, at any rate, find least congenial…That’s why I want my next film to resemble my older ones. I want it to be much more provocative. I want to make a film in truly bad taste! I am not sure this is the right way to go; probably even this won’t have the desired effect. Some days ago, I saw a Cuban film called Las aventuras de Juan Quin Quin [by Julio Garcia Espinosa], and I think there is a lot we can learn from it. The film is a lesson to the public, and what is interesting is that the tone in which this message is delivered is just right: the language is such that it satisfies the public, who can relate to it, and the director as well, who can remain interested in it. The film manages to demythologize a Western hero by showing how to steal rifles and things like that. It does so in the best way: getting the public to think while being entertained.

What is the audience you make films for?

What audience? Well, that is a question one cannot afford to ignore, and one that comes up with increasing urgency in our day and age: step by step, we move forward…A film is useful if it serves some political purpose. Dillinger Is Dead is no use at all, since all it does is please the cultural ghetto. And who cares about that? Even provocation is no use anymore, for it, too, is immediately digested, along with everything else What is missing today, I think, is the impulse to render the audience, and the public in general, active. But how are we to do that? Maybe things were better-actually, things were better-at the very start, during the time of Méliès, the time of the fair booths, when, by means of the fair booths, thousands of new ideas reached the masses. We have to think seriously about the people who go to the movies, and about their money. If only it were possible to go back to the fair booth! Think about the worker who leaves his or her job dead tired at the end of the day: Why should we make him or her work yet another two hours? To please ourselves? Do we want to give this audience – we who are always working within the system, by the way – films that succeed only in pushing them aside, since it is never clear to them what the films are saying, what sense they make, and what use can they have? If this is what we are doing, then we are also robbing the workers in our turn. Obviously, it is a matter of language. Let’s take you as an example. You guys represent the politicized film buffs of Ombre rosse, a publication that is supposed to be offering the public something new. Why, then, don’t you stop using the aristocratic and technical vocabulary that tends to grace the pages of this publication and takes as you model Don Milani’s best-selling Letter to a Teacher instead?

Do you believe in the utility of an art-house circuit that would serve as a kind of countercircuit?

To do what? To screen what? In the case of Dillinger, of course, I asked the distributors to release it as quickly as possible after the premieres, in small theaters – the ones that already work a bit like a pre-art-house network. But it doesn’t matter so much. On the contrary, what exactly would be shown in this countercircuit? Films meant to educate the public in the same old paternalistic way? People are conditioned to see certain things. But maybe we ourselves are wrong. A countercircuit that includes Ponzi, Orsini, Amico, the Taviani brothers, Pasolini, Bertolucci, myself…what sort of unity would that be? What sense would that make? This countercicuit you mention is, after all, only another fruit of the same system. Soon enough, this countercircuit will become very fashionable; theater owners will notice that it is a profitable business and they’ll jump on it. This has already happened in Paris…Auteur cinema, they call it. And this auteur cinema is, precisely, an overly personal cinema. Take Orsini’s The Damned of the Earth: it is a political film, yes, but it is too difficult, too personal; the original Frantz Fanon text is quite complicated already, so try to figure out what the film will look like (I confess I haven’t seen it yet). A countercircuit certainly promotes a change of scene, and it does hold out the possibility of seeing something decent. But let’s not fool ourselves. This countercircuit is entirely integrated with the main one. There is nothing to do about that. Maybe we should do what Rossellini did in turning to television, since Rossellini, I hate to say it, is the only one who seems really to have understood a few things. The Taking of Power of Louis XIV is an important film, as important as Rossellini’s opinion on didactic cinema.

Why, then, do you keep making films “within the system”?

Right, why continue? We need to find formulas that are more popular. Are we right to provoke? Is that really called for? My ideas here are a bit confused, I am sure, but not so confused that I fail to notice that the cinema we make is useless. In situations such as ours, every form of discourse becomes personal. As such, these forms of discourse are completely ineffective, for honest and dishonest people alike. I am totally useless, and so are you. Not least because we’re missing a common political discourse to which we can refer…As for students, they cannot, with all their defects, be all that useful. This does not mean that a director should not try to break through his or her isolation and establish a common discourse. And I don’t mean by that the specialized discourse offered by morons like those aficionados of the Cinémathèque Française. That stuff is ridiculous, and incoherent to boot. Take their former passion for Hollywood films – why do they forsake it now? They are always moving to the “new” thing, but they fail to see that their discourse is always behind the times.

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Phantom of the Paradise

Just watched this wonderful gem again the other night. It had been too long, and is was nice to revisit Brian De Palma’s comical kaleidoscope vision of the absurdities of Glam Rock. Flashy camerawork (including the great “Split Screen” effect the De Palma is oh so fond of) and wonderful musical montages weaved together with “Pop Sensation” operatic tragedy create wonderful cinema. Plus it’s got Jessica Harper (yeahhhh, before Suspiria) getting down as Phoenix, an aspiring Pop Diva who becomes the object of affection of both hero and villain. Her dance moves in the movie might be just as bad as Elaine’s from Seinfeld dance moves. Some of the most awkward dance bits ever, can’t tell if she is for real and it’s funny as hell. And also the villain, a Satanic record producer named Swan, funniest lookin dude ever.

Here’s some words about the film by Fernando F. Croce
“Where Brian De Palma’s homage to cinema’s past glories in Sisters was neatly sewn into the fabric of its narrative, in Phantom of the Paradise it just about bursts gloriously at the seams. Hitchcock is here, of course, in the funniest Psycho parody ever filmed, but most of the allusions in this baroque fantasy are paraded with an eye for gothic classicism: Faust, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, among others, provide the canvas onto which De Palma splashes his overwhelming filmic mojo. The film has the feeling of having been a liberating experience for the director, in allowing him to not only bring to the fore the referential facet that runs through his oeuvre from day one, but also to sustain for the entire 92 minutes the delirium of Sisters’ transgressive concluding sequences.

William Finley, the previous film’s chauvinistic villain, gets the role of his career as Winslow Leach, the songwriter whose masterwork, a “rock cantata” retelling of the Faust legend, is stolen by Swan (Paul Williams), the unscrupulous owner of Death Records; framed and ruined, Winslow gets his face sizzled off in a smoldering record press, then dons leather suit, cape, and metallic mask to haunt the Paradise, Swan’s elaborate rock venue, as the Phantom. De Palma understands the intensity of ’70s rock as the successor to opera’s shuddering arias, and the fervent charge of music electrifies the visuals without succumbing to the meth-oppressiveness of Tommy. From start to finish, no scene feels “dead”: Whether it’s the hero’s first encounter with fickle muse Phoenix (Jessica Harper, soft and corruptible), a stint at Sing-Sing, or an audition for various musical styles, no occasion is too insignificant for a prowling POV, a handheld tilt of the camera, or any other form of wanton restlessness that De Palma’s blessedly adolescent impatience utilizes.

As in that other great musical spoof, The Girl Can’t Help It, however, Phantom of the Paradise draws withering links between product and consumer. A hipster-Mabuse figure, Swan materializes in tinted shades and golden locks to a gust of organ music and, like De Palma’s malevolent overlords, proceeds to manipulate images and sounds from inside his booth, fine-tuning the Phantom’s mangled vocal chords until his warbling is ready to be packaged and sold to audiences with bigger and more morbid appetites. In a touch worthy of Tashlin, Death Records’s main group, the Juicy Fruits, go from greasy-haired doo-wop to ’60s beach inanity to Kiss-styled pyrotechnics in the course of the film, with concertgoers literally contributing to the on-stage assembly of “ambiguous” superstar Beef (the inimitable Gerit Graham). That the loudest applause is reserved for Beef’s electrocution bears out De Palma’s awareness of how easily radicalism can be morphed into spectacle for the bloodthirsty public, the feeling that Swan’s “That’s entertainment” declaration is lined with his talent-scout’s blunter summarization (“Nobody cares about what anything’s about”).

“Dream it never ends,” Winslow sings at the piano as the camera swirls lyrically around him. De Palma’s cinema frequently draws on the medium’s oneiric affinities, and Phantom of the Paradise progresses as a darkening reverie from which escape is revealed as unattainable; the hero’s blood-sealed contract with Swan locks their souls together, and only the rebellion of protégé against master (to be later followed and enriched in Obsession, The Fury, Raising Cain) can lead to liberation, even if that means death. Earlier in the picture, De Palma stages the characters’ interlocked destinies (as well as a sly shout-out to the Welles of Touch of Evil) with parallel tracking shotsthat finally merge into a single image as the explosion of a time-bomb dismantles the split-screen’s barrier. Another blast is needed to rupture the Faustian bond connecting the Phantom and Swan, provided at the film’s splendidly tumultuous climax, a jolting extravaganza where the death of a character is scheduled to be telecast and the bacchanalian bloodletting that ensues points to the stupefying catharsis of Carrie while revisiting the turbulence—and the implicating roles of the audience—of Dionysius. De Palma’s volcanic comedy concludes with the macabre yet liberating orgiastic jousting between creation and creator, not just between the Phantom and Swan, but also between spectacle and viewer. Only the film’s audience, too caught up in the euphoria of the show, remain oblivious to the real horrors on display.”


And for your pleasure, the soundtrack…

Link: PHANTOM OF PARADISE SOUNDTRACK

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Krzysztof Kieślowski

Universality is not the neutral container of particular formations, their common measure, the passive (back)ground on which the particulars fight their battles, but this battle itself, the struggle leading from one particular formation to another. Take Krzysztof Kieślowski’s passage from documentary to fiction cinema: we do not simply have two species of cinema, documentary and fiction; fiction emerges out of the inherent limitation of the documentary. Kieślowski’s starting point was shared with all the cineastes in the Socialist countries: the conspicuous gap between the drab social reality and the bright, optimistic image which pervaded the heavily censored official media. The first reaction to the fact that, in Poland, social reality was “unrepresented,” as Kieślowski put it, was, of course, the move toward a more adequate representation of real life in all its drabness and ambiguity – in short, an authentic documentary approach:

“There was a necessity, a need – which was very exciting for us – to describe to the world. The Communist world had described how it should be and not how it really was…If Something hasn’t been described, then it doesn’t officially exist. So that if we start describing it, we bring it to life.”

I need only mention Hospital, Kieślowski’s 1976 documentary, in which the camera follows orthopedic surgeons on a 32-hour shift. Instruments fall apart in their hands, the electric current keeps breaking, there are shortages of the most basic materials, but the doctors persevere hour after hour, and with humor…Then, however, the obverse experience set in, best captured by the slogan used recently to publicize a Hollywood movie: “It’s so real, it must be fiction!” – at the most radical level, one can portray the Real of subjective experience only in the guise of a fiction. Toward the end of the documentary First Love (1974), in which the camera follows a young unmarried couple during the girl’s pregnancy, through their wedding, and the delivery of the baby, the father is shown holding the newborn baby in his arms and crying – Kieślowski reacted to the obscenity of such unwarranted probing into the other’s intimacy with the “fright of real tears.” His decision to move documentaries to fiction films was thus, at its most radical, an ethical one:

“Not everything can be described. That’s the documentary’s great problem. It catches itself as if in its own trap…If I’m making a film about love, I can’t go into a bedroom if real people are making love there…I noticed, when making documentaries, that the closer I wanted to get to an individual, the more objects which interested me shut themselves off.
That’s probably why I changed to features. There’s no problem there. I need a couple to make love in bed, that’s fine. Of course, it might be difficult to find an actress who’s willing to take off her bra, but then you just find one who is…I can even buy some glycerine, put some drops in her eyes and the actress will cry. I manged to photograph some real tears several times. It’s something completely different. But now I’ve got glycerine. I’m frightened of real tears. In fact, I don’t even know whether I’ve got the right to photograph them. At such times I feel like somebody who’s found himself in a realm which is, in fact, out of bounds. That’s the main reason why I escaped from documentaries.”

The crucial intermediary in this passage from documentary to fiction is Camera Buff (1979), the portrait of a man who, because of his passion for the camera, loses his wife, child, and job – a fiction film about a documentary filmmaker. So there is a domain of fantasmatic intimacy which is marked by a “No trespassers!” sign and should be approached only via fiction, if one is to avoid pornographic obscenity. This is why the French Veronique in The Double Life of Veronique rejects the puppeteer: he wants to penetrate her too much, which is why, toward the end, after he tells her the story of her double life, she is deeply hurt and escapes her father. “Concrete universality” is a name for this process through which fiction explodes documentary from within – for the way the emergence of fiction cinema resolves the inherent deadlock of documentary cinema. (Or, in philosophy, the point is not to conceive eternity as opposed to temporality, but eternity as it emerges from within our temporal experience – or, in an even more radical way, as Schelling did it, to conceive time itself as a subspecies of eternity, as the resolution of a deadlock of eternity.)
—excerpt from “The Parallax View” by Slavoj Žižek with quotes from Kieślowski

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People Like Us

In one of his earliest and best-known essays, Sergei Eisenstein described five types of montage, illustrating each with scenes from his own films. The first four types (metric, rhythmic, tonal, and overtonal), deeply influenced by Ivan Pavlov’s study of reflexology, were conceived to trigger distinct physiological effects in the viewer.

Now imagine if you will Eisenstein’s realization that inherent within this methodology was a collusion with the forces making life miserable for himself and his fellow countrymen. The development of his fifth type—intellectual montage—seems a natural conclusion for a troubled conscience such as his.

While intellectual montage generates humor in the hands of experts (Dusan Makavejev, Craig Baldwin), it’s best suited for works of high-minded intent (Eisenstein’s unrealized Das Kapital, Pasolini’s La Rabbia.) So what about other modes of construction, more aligned with the mischievous humor evident in Eisenstein’s drawings and familiar to his friends, but seldom on display in the films themselves? We would have to find the “lost” notebook in which he was seeking just that, formulating a sixth type of montage that deployed physiological means, but with entirely other ends in mind. Call it malapropic montage, the intentional violation of narrative continuity by inserting or assembling shots containing mismatched actors and actions into a cinematic sequence.

If Margaret Thatcher’s face launched a thousand punk bands, Vicki Bennett has for nearly twenty years been part of England’s defiant rear guard or, to use her preferred term, the “avant-retard”. Under the moniker of People Like Us, Bennett has shaken laughter loose from the most tightly-wound of listeners and, in more recent years, viewers. Putting things where they just don’t belong, her prodigious audiovisual output and stateside radio show on WFMU infuse the plunderphonia of John Oswald and The Tape-beatles with the British comic tradition in all its coarse and bawdy glory. Staying true to the principle of “share and share alike”, most of her musical and moving-image output is now available for free download through Ubuweb.

Her new video, Genre Collage, is currently touring the world as a live audiovisual performance. Produced with assistance from Tim Maloney, it relies less on the layered compositing of much of her previous video work and embraces hard cuts and classical editing syntax. Earlier videos such as Discovering Electronic Music (99) and The Remote Controller (03) drew extensively from Prelinger Archive material and other orphan ingredients, and yet achieved something far beyond the easy camp effects so common among the works of others that tap these sources.

The dark undercurrents and self-referentiality that course through the earlier videos are as strong as ever. But unlike those earlier pieces (or Bruce Conner’s A MOVIE, with which it otherwise shares strong ancestral ties), Genre Collage draws instead on narrative feature films for its source material––nearly 100 in all. Enter the Dragon commingles with the climactic shootout of The Lady From Shanghai; also appearing are Tobor the Great, The Poseidon Adventure, and plenty of Hitchcock. Peter O’Toole, O.J. Simpson, and Donald Duck are just a few of the many “guest stars”; Mary Poppins pops in as a harbinger of disaster.

Malapropic montage stands unwittingly as a testament to the power of Kuleshov’s experiments and, in turn, to the film grammar adopted by, if not invented, in Hollywood. The eyeline match especially is revealed as a nearly foolproof adhesive, and malapropic success might be measured by the degree to which adjacent elements that don’t belong anywhere near each other nevertheless stick.

Eisenstein had initially sought collision in the joining of two shots to complete a circuit and send a shock through the viewer’s emotions; later, his lost notebook seeks in malapropic montage a way of “of effectively circumventing the higher nerve systems of the thought apparatus.” Bennett, in turn, has taken Eisenstein’s montage collisions and refashioned them as bumper cars at a seaside carnival.
—excerpt from “In search of Eisenstein’s lost montage with Vicki Bennett” by Jim Supanick

See more at www.peoplelikeus.org

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Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?

Polly Maggoo (Dorothy MacGowan) is a bucktoothed, freckle-faced American girl working as a model in Paris. She is everyone’s fantasy and the obsession of television reporter Gregoire (Jean Rochefort), who is filming the gamine for his journalistic personality show Who Are You?. In between this fantasy figure and this supposedly grounded intellectual is a whole culture obsessed with Polly, fashion, and the new. The film begins with a fashion show where an avant-garde designer (Jacques Seiler) displays his new line of dresses made from bent sheets of aluminum, and the influential magazine editor Miss Maxwell (Grayson Hall, zinging Diana Vreeland) declares that he is magnificent and that he has reinvented the concept of woman. Apparently, the entire female gender was out of date.


Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (directed by William Klein) casts a wide satirical net, but since its biggest target is a staple of popular culture, it’s rather prescient of Klein to see how far his net needs to go. Though the eye of his storm is the over-inflated importance of the fashion world, his Polly is really a mirror to the society that worships her. When we gaze at her gazing at us from a magazine cover, we’re really looking at ourselves. Gregoire claims to want to get to know the real Polly, but he really wants to see her conform to his preconceived theory than truly uncover the girl behind the beautiful face. So, too, is Prince Igor imagining her for the role she plays in his own Cinderella story. His wild daydreams show her in a pretty standard fairy tale, but the longer these fantasies go on, the more an independent Polly asserts herself and the less he likes it.


Cinderella as a metaphor comes up time and again in Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? How it pertains to Polly changes with each telling, each person having their own idea of what the glass slipper would be, allowing Klein to emphasize the cruel fetish of male possession. This also ties into fashion, which abstracts the female form and jails it in absurd concoctions. More than once, Polly is accused as a con artist that is part of some great duping of the feminine mind. Playing Polly, MacGowan stays fabulously above the fray. Though she may be a cypher in many eyes, Klein lets her be a real girl, herself, never hemmed in by the camera lens.


Of course, Klein never lets anything be hemmed in by the lens. His camera is always moving, if not literally, then by never lingering too long on one shot, cutting from one elaborate staged composition to another. There is no technique he isn’t willing to employ, including using stills and freeze frame images, jump cuts that drop frames out of a sequence, musical numbers, and even animation. His sets are like art installations, populated with fads and objects of ’60s modernism; overpopulated, you might say, to the point that they look futuristic. (One would suspect Roman Coppola watched Polly Maggoo when putting together CQ.) Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? is a film that is never at rest, alive with Klein’s anarchic sense of humor, reminiscent of the cinematic practical jokes Richard Lester played with the Beatles. It’s glorious to watch it all happen.

Arguably, Klein’s inability to sit still predicts the attention deficit disorder we find in current pop culture. As much as Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? parodies the 1960s, it also seems like Klein had a crystal ball where he saw MTV, the paparazzi, and other aspects of our celebrity-obsessed media. He even beats Andy Warhol to the “fifteen minutes of fame” punch by a couple of years, shining a light on the fickleness of public taste. By the end of the movie, Polly Maggoo is out of style, and people are moving on to find new faces to love.
excerpt by Jaime S. Rich (check out his great film blog HERE

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Guy Maddin

“I work under the banner of primitivity,” Maddin has proclaimed, and for the past two decades he has invoked the codes and forms of silent cinema and early talkies, of the film noirs and color-coded melodramas of the ’40s and ’50s, in his search for the cinematic sublime. Such Maddin classics as Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988), Archangel (1990), and Careful (1992) aim to look exhumed, their tales of amnesia, incest, death, and transfiguration decked out in low-rent expressionism and dime-store surrealism. Whether shot in high-contrast black and white or aggressively artificial color (as in the exquisitely tinctured Twilight of the Ice Nymphs [1997]), the films rely on such superannuated devices as the iris, the lap dissolve, and superimposition, and on the cheap, dreamy blur provided by Vaseline, store-bought fog, and fake snow. The radical anachronism of this style is wedded to empurpled dialogue, crackly, muffled sound tracks, and a playhouse aesthetic in costume and set design, in which everything looks handmade, outsize, and illogical, keyed to the (soap) operatic passions and masochistic emotions of Maddin’s bushy-browed characters. Non sequiturs and convolutions proliferate in both narrative and style, until one is left adrift in an obscure, obsessive spectacle conjured up from disinterred art forms and private compulsions. (Though Maddin is frequently compared to David Lynch and the Quay Brothers, his funny, puzzling, and often overstretched first films have surprising affinities with the early work of German director Werner Schroeter.)

Maddin insists that no matter how outlandish his films are, they are all in some way autobiographical. Born in 1956 in Winnipeg, he escaped the laconic, Lutheran culture of the prairie Icelanders by watching films in the local cinemas, on late-night television, and, later, at home after he discovered a trove of 16 mm silent films. This mock-Canuck Cinema Paradiso account of his childhood underscores the semi-apocryphal nature of Maddin’s biography, whose formative events–his father’s Willy Loman life and early death, his brother’s suicide on the grave of his girlfriend, his own youth as a slacker surrounded by equally slothful male friends called “drones”–sometimes sound “heightened,” to use a favorite Maddin locution. An artist who invents the traditions that inspire him, is influenced by films he hasn’t seen, and makes versions of films that don’t exist and whose stock-in-trade is imagined memories and fake nostalgia…
Words by James Quandt for ArtForum

Here’s a clip of him talking about 2008’s “My Winnipeg”…

And here’s his wonderful short “The Heart of the World”

And some of “The Saddest Music in the World”

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Donkey Skin (Peau d’Ane)

“Children do not marry their parents.” In the fairy tale Blue Kingdom, beloved monarch Jean Marais grants his dying queen Catherine Deneuve’s last request: if he remarries, it must only be to a princess even more beautiful than herself. But the only one who fits the bill is his own daughter (Deneuve again), who tries putting him off with seemingly-impossible demands: dresses that rival the sun and the moon and “the color of the weather,” and then — the absolute limit — the skin of the kingdom’s treasurer, a donkey that poops gold and jewels. But just as it looks as though Mother Goose will go Freudian, it’s Deneuve’s ultra-chic fairy godmother Delphine Seyrig to the rescue, airily lending out her magic wand (“I’ve got a spare”) and then whisking Deneuve, disguised as malodorous scullion “Donkey Skin,” to the neighboring Red Kingdom. Still to come are a crone who spits frogs, a talking rose, a singing parrot, a cat and bird bal masqué (complete with an orchestra of mice), a one-size-fits-one ring that will determine the fate of charming prince Jacques Perrin, and the most insouciant of wrap-ups. Exquisite. . . the film lasts in the memory, because it gives pleasure. – Stanley Kauffmann of Film Forum


A Fantasy French Pop Musical….what more could you ask for?

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Jean Painleve

Probably no substantial dimension of film history has been so thoroughly ignored by American film critics, historians, and theorists as the nature film (or “wildlife film”): those works of cinema that purport to reveal the lives of other species. This lack of scholarly attention seems to have resulted from the mistaken assumption that nature filmmakers do not reveal any philosophical or cinematic vision in their work, that nature films merely present facts. In recent years, a few books have begun to correct this misconception, including Gregg Mitman’s Reel Nature: America’s Romance with Wild life on Film, Derek Bousé’s Wildlife Films, Cynthia Chris’s Watching Wildlife, and Science Is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé, edited by Andy Masaki Bellows and Marina McDougall, with Birgitte Berg. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule, and we have a long way to go before the accomplishments of this aspect of cinema history are appreciated and understood. In coming to terms with the immense world of nature cinema, a very good place to begin, as Science Is Fiction makes clear, is with French scientist-educator-filmmaker Jean Painlevé, whose groundbreaking work consistently revealed not only a commitment to informed science and effective communication but to the creative expression of ideas as well.
Scott Macdonald

Let’s face it…Science is Cool, Always has been. With that being said let’s focus on Jean Painlevé, the French scientist/filmmaker/theorist who led a very interesting life full of films, essays, plays, and biological research. He was a very modern thinker, and at one point was even affiliated with the Dada and Surrealist movements. He collaborated with Yvan Goll and when Man Ray needed starfish footage for his L’étoile de mer (1928), Painlevé worked his magic. His “Science” films (even though some were made over 70 years ago) are pretty stunning. And he was one of the first people to get underwater footage, by putting his camera in a custom designed waterproof box with a glass plate which allowed the lens to shoot…clever. 23 of his films available on a great 3-DVD collection called “Science Is Fiction“.

Here’s one film about Liquid Crystals…awesome electronic soundtrack starts after credits

And here’s another great one about the “vampire” bat, and it also has Seahorses and Octopuses…sorry no English subtitles

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Cria Cuervos

“Cria cuervos is a sad film, yes. But that’s part of my belief that childhood is one of the most terrible parts in the life of a human being. What I’m trying to say is that at that age you’ve no idea where it is you are going, only that people are taking you somewhere, leading you, pulling you and you are frightened. You don’t know where you’re going or who you are or what you are going to do. It’s a time of terrible indecision.” – director Carlos Saura

Set almost entirely in a large, gloomy house walled up against the chaotic life of Madrid outside. Cria Cuervos paints a haunting portrait of the legacy of Fascism and its effects on a middle-class family. Ana Torrent portrays the disturbed eight-year-old Ana, living in Madrid with her two sisters and mourning the death of mother, whom she conjures as a ghost (played by an ethereal Geraldine Chaplin). And shortly after her mother passes, Ana finds her philandering father dead in bed with a married lover. Frosty Aunt Paulina arrives to look after the young girl and her two sisters. The all-female household is completed by the children’s grandmother, mute and immobile in a wheelchair, and the feisty, fleshy housekeeper, Rosa (veteran character actress Florinda Chico), who fills Ana in on the mysteries of sex. Seamlessly shifting between fantasy and reality, the film subtly evokes both the complex feelings of childhood and the struggles of a nation emerging from the shadows.
-excerpt from DVD notes

I’ll admit…this movie is a little dark, dead parents and lonely children, harsh subject matter. But there’s so much more to this great film, it transports you into the mind of an 8yr old girl who’s split between two worlds, her make believe one and the heavy real one. She doesn’t know how to cope with what just happened so her imagination runs wild and she starts talking to her dead mother and re-lives past memories that interweave with reality. The film is not all morose though, the 3 young actresses playing the sisters have perfect chemistry making for some very memorable scenes. Also there is this amazing song by Jeanette called “Por Que Te Vas” that reoccurs throughout the film making the viewing experience even better, and you can get it below…

Link: Jeanette – Por Que Te Vas

And here’s a scene from the film…i couldn’t find it w/ English subtitles

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Mondo Cane

My first exposure to the 60’s ‘shockumentary’ Mondo Cane was a while back when my friend Schroeder came by my work at the video store and found a VHS copy of it tucked away in the Cult Classics section. He watched it and then hyped it to me for weeks knowing that I’m usually a fan of stunningly absurd films with great soundtracks. And I’ll admit I was a bet hesitant, one of my “movie snob” moments. But soon enough I whipped out my VCR and experienced the strangeness that is Mondo Cane. The film is basically a “series of travelogue vignettes providing glimpses into cultural practices throughout the world intended to shock or surprise.” At times you can’t tell if what you’re watching is real or staged. Crazy locations, the footage is outrageous, the music is very theater-esque, and I thought it was pretty fascinating either way. Ha, my other friend and co-worker John says this is fake and boring piece of shit…everyone has their own opinion. Go see for yourself, they’re on DVD. The film was done by Italian filmmakers Paolo Cavara, Gualtiero Jacopetti, and Franco Prosperi and it spawned 5 sequels and the start of the Mondo Film exploitation documentary franchise. Strange stuff.

Click HERE for the soundtrack.

And for a little glimpse of Mondo Cane…

And the sequel…

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QUE VIVA MEXICO!

QUE VIVA MEXICO! is a film gem from the early 30’s. In 1927, 2 years afters the release of his amazing revolutionary propaganda film The Battleship Potemkin, Sergei Eisenstein had the pleasure of meeting Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who was visiting Moscow and who spoke to Eisenstein “obsessively of the Mexican artistic heritage” exposing Eisenstein to the wonders of the ancient art and architecture of Mexico. And 3 years later Eisenstein found himself in Mexico with an amazing film crew on-hand. Filming began immediately and visual imagery was Eisenstein’s main focus, seeing as how they arrived without any sort of script in mind. The film is was originally supposed to be broken into 4 episodes which dramatize and explore different cultures of pre-Conquest era Mexico. Eisenstein filmed for about a year and a half until the funding for the film ran out and production came to a halt, and the film was recut in someone else’s hands. There have been various versions of this film/documentary but in 2001 it was restored to try and recreate Eisenstein’s vision and it was released on DVD by Kino Video….oh yeah!

“Having revolutionized film editing through such masterworks of montage as POTEMKIN and STRIKE, Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein emigrated west in hope of testing the capabilities of the American film industry. Quickly ostracized from Hollywood, Eisenstein, Grigory Alexandrov and photographer Eduard Tisse (at the urging of author Upton Sinclair) wandered south of the border where they began filming a highly stylized documentary on the people and volatile social climate of Mexico.
A blend of the ethnographic, the political, the scenic and the surreal, QUE VIVA MEXICO! is nothing short of brillant and remains superior to the legion of films it strongly influenced: Orson Welles’ IT’S ALL TRUE, Jodorowsky’s EL TOPO and the works of Sergio Leone. With sequences devoted to the Edenic land of Tehuantepec, the savage majesty of the bullfight, the struggles of the noble peon and the hypnotic imagery of the Day of the Dead, QUE VIVA MEXICO! is a vivid tapestry of Mexican life which takes its rightful place alongside Eisenstein’s other legendary works.”

If you can’t find the DVD at the local video store, then you can download it/watch it for free HERE on IMDB.
Below is an excerpt from the film….Check it out!

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Peter Greenaway

Excerpt from “Peter Greenaway: Interviews” by Vernon Gras

“The films of Peter Greenaway run unmistakably against the main current of present cinematic practice. They have done so from their very beginning. He is quite dismissive of the psychologically motivated plots that provide the standard fare of what he calls Hollywood cinema. Hollywood films tell stories: they translate literature with its linear narrative onto a medium that should be preeminently visual, claims Greenaway. Instead of foregrounding the image and the composition of visual elements such as we see in the long history of painting, Hollywood-style directors seem mesmerized by the “and then and then.” They are masters of building up suspense, subordinating the physical background, the site, and human forms to the need of finding out what happens next. Images function as ephemeral background to action. Visuals are subordinated to storyline. If you wish to find out what happens in a story, says Greenaway, read a book. In terms of using the potential cinema as an image based medium, he asserts most film directors seem maimed or semi-blind. They do very little with the potentialities of the visual medium and produce uninteresting, even boring films. Greenaway wishes above all to bring the aesthetics of painting to filmmaking and to diminish the influence of narrative. Cinema has its own vocabulary and syntax just as literature has its language. Why not display its idiosyncratic systems just as contemporary writers display those of literature?”

Recently, I haven’t been able to stop watching Peter Greenaway films. “A Zed & Two Noughts” and “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover” will both probably be on my Top 10 list for years to come. Most all of his films are bizarre, hilarious, and mildly erotic, not to mention they are all a cinematographer’s wet dream. Greenaway still makes films, but he’s also a professor of film in Switzerland, a painter, and multimedia extraordinaire. For the past 3 years he has been on “Nine Classical Paintings Revisited“, which is a series of video installations that are projected over classical paintings involving state of the art interplay of images, lighting, music, voices and sounds. Who says getting old is whack.

And for some snippets….

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ZARDOZ

Why the hell don’t they make movies like this anymore? Those super stylish fantasy/sci fi films that left you stunned and bewildered. Fantasy movies have been going downhill since the late 80’s with few exceptions. I miss those fantastic visions of future worlds and the way they used to satisfy the imaginative mind. And Zardoz here, pleases the “mind grapes” indeed. John Boorman (Excalibur, Deliverance) directed this film in 1974 and it has been described as being “profound”, “unbearably pretentious”, and also “incomprehensible”. It stars Sean Connery (aahhh shit) and a very young Charlotte Rampling. The storyline is somewhat thin and scatterbrain but basically, the story is set in the distant future and it involves a group of immortal intellectuals, called the Eternals, who live isolated from the brutal outside reality in a place called The Vortex. All is fun and games until one of the outsiders by the name of Zed sneaks into their utopia by outsmarting their god Zardoz. Once inside Zed becomes quite the hot item with the Eternals and all sorts of shenanigans ensue. Zardoz will satisfy all those campy fantasy cravings. It’s got awesome special effects, strange humor, erotica, references to T.S. Eliot, Nietzsche, the Wizard of Oz, and it’s got a killer rendition of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Plus it’s got Sean Connery fitted in some strange red leather S&M shit. Go seek out Zardoz and all of your favorite Fantasy/Sci Fi flicks, it’s time to revisit the future.

If you can’t find Zardoz anywhere, someone broke the movie down to 10mins for quick viewing. Peep below….

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MARIO BAVA

“An obscure cult figure during his lifetime, Mario Bava (1914 – 80) is now widely regarded as one of the most popular and influential figures of the post-war Italian cinema. Director, cameraman, editor, and special effects wizard, Bava is best-known as the man behind such stylish and innovative horror films as “Black Sunday”, “Black Sabbath”, “Blood and Black Lace”, and “Twitch of the Death Nerve”. What is not commonly known is that, before becoming a director, Bava enjoyed an equally long career as one of Italy’s leading cinematographers, by collaborating with the likes of directors Roberto Rossellini, G.W. Pabst, Vittorio De Sica, and Raoul Walsh. An even greater secret is that Bava’s workaholic tendencies compelled him to supplement his directorial career with numerous uncredited side-jobs for friends and colleagues.” – from Mario Bava : All the Colors of the Dark by Tim Lucas.”

Yes, Bava did direct a hell of a lot Horror films, but he also directed many other great films that were not all ghouls’n ghosts. He dabbled in fantasy, sci-fi, western, romantic comedy, and he even made a film based on Italian comic book character Diabolik. Fantastic cinema gems…..find and enjoy.

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Jacques Tati

Excerpt from Godard on Godard.

“With him, French neo-realism was born. Jour de Fete resembled Rome, Open City in inspiration. Less liked because more reticent, Hulot, too, invited us to savor in secret the bitterness and the pleasures of life. Yes, this moon-man is a poet, as Tristan the Hermit once was. He sees problems where there are none, and finds them. He is capable of filming a beach scene simply to show that the children building a sandcastle drown the sound of the waves with their cries. He will also shoot a scene just because at the moment a window is opening in a house away in the background, and a window opening – well, that’s funny. This is what interests Tati. Everything and nothing. Blades of grass, a kite, children, a little old man, anything, everything which is at once real, bizarre and charming. Jacques Tati has a felling for comedy because he has a feeling for strangness. A conversation with him is impossible. He is, par excellence, an anti-theoretician. His films are good in spite of his ideas. Made by anyone else, Jour de Fete and Hulot would be nothing. Having become with these two films the best French director of comedy since Max Linder, Jacques Tati may with his third, Mon Oncle become quite simply the best.”

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Buckaroo Banzai

Buckaroo Banzai is the lead character, played by Peter Weller, of the eponymous 1984 cult film, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. A renaissance man, the character is a top neurosurgeon, particle physicist, race car driver, rock star and comic book hero, and probably the last hope of the human race. In the film, his latest experiments open the door to the 8th dimension and unwittingly start an interplanetary battle for the world.

buckaroo_banzai_x

The end of the movie invites the viewer to watch for the upcoming film “Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League”. This was the real title for a sequel that Sherwood Studios planned to make if this film had been successful. Unfortunately, it was a box-office bomb, and Sherwood Studios went bankrupt. After its release on video and cable, however, BB became a cult favorite, much in the same way as Mad Max (1979) (which crawled from obscurity to spawn two sequels). Legal wranglings due to the bankruptcy prevented any other studios from picking up the sequel rights, and even years later MGM had to fight through a pile of red tape simply to get the OK to release it on DVD.

Yup!

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the Perfect Human
by Jørgen Leth.

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