Fragmented Films January 2010

“There is something in Bruno that is very unusual in the expression of his eyes,” offers German auteur/ lunatic Werner Herzog in his commentary to 1976’s Stroszek (Umbrella). That’s because Bruno S the actor had spent 23 years in a mental institution and there’s a curious detachment and acceptance of trauma in his performance. Herzog, who has never officially been diagnosed, populates his film with a mixture of actors, pimps, street hustlers and freaks. Set in Berlin, Bruno freshly released from prison befriends the prostitute Eva and their elderly possibly dementia ridden neighbour. “The borderline between reality and fiction is very blurred,” Herzog admits as we see the inside of the real Bruno’s apartment, the bar that he drinks at, people he knows. After being repeatedly beaten up by Eva’s pimps the trio elect to move to Wisconsin USA. Yet the American dream they’re chasing in Herzog’s eyes is grim and unforgiving, a cold barren redneck wasteland devoid of the opportunity they’re yearning for. Magnificent, absurd, sweet and cruel, it was apparently the film that Ian Curtis (Joy Division) watched on the night he killed himself – I blame the dancing chickens.

“The villagers are in a collective trance or sleepwalkers walking towards an impending doom,” offers a cheery Herzog in the commentary to another film he made in 1976. Heart of Glass (Umbrella) gave him an excuse to personally hypnotize the majority of the cast, setting the actors tasks then using their responses to script this strange plodding film. It results in a detached, almost otherworldly feel in this allegorical tale about the demise of a Bavarian glassworks factory in the 17th century. It’s cryptic, slow and more than a little self indulgent. Recently a writer couldn’t decide if Herzog was a pompous windbag or God’s gift to cinema. Fragmented Films believes it’s a little from column a and a little from column b, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Circuit: Series 2 (SBS/Madman) reminds us what an incredibly brutal and beautiful country we live in by taking us out to Broome and outlying indigenous communities as we follow the traveling circuit court. We’re introduced to this via a ‘coconut’, Drew, black outside, white educated, an Aboriginal lawyer from Perth now working in legal aid. Whilst the first series laid the foundation, the second really amps up the drama as Drew becomes more firmly integrated into the community. It doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff, petrol sniffing, riots, land claims, deaths in custody, sexual abuse, and the divide between the community and police. Yet it approaches it with a grace, sensitivity and intelligence that is sorely lacking on Australian TV, eschewing preachiness for drama.

Lucky Country (Madman) is a grim little potboiler, a menacing Australian period piece set in an isolated bush cabin in 1902. “Nobody gets out without a scratch,” laughs Aden Young (Black Robe), face drizzled in blood on the second disc of extras. He plays the rapidly disintegrating father of two young people who’s isolation is disturbed by the appearance of three ex soldiers. It’s a bleak claustrophobic gem from Kriv Stenders (Boxing Day), in which the dark confines of the cabin become a menacing psychological battleground and every statement feels laden with an ill defined menace.

The makers of Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job: Season 3 (Madman) are chubby acid burn outs with a fetish for the uncomfortable and wrong. They love the raw dodginess of community television and populate their absurdist sketches with real freaks, Hollywood actors like John C Reilly, and take on various bizarre misfit characters themselves. It all looks like it was made on bad 80’s videotape. And if wasn’t for the gratuitous burp and fart jokes coupled with their concerning desire to smear brown substances over their faces, you’d swear that it was a bold and incisive parody of the plastic veneer of commercial television. But it’s not. It’s just idiots being dick-heads. And it’s genius.

Did you know the ocean floor is a dazzling multi coloured wonderland? That children run across the the tops of waves in the midst of a storm? Or that the ocean is a living breathing creature? No? Well it’s all true in Japanese anime auteur Hayao Miyazaki‘s Ponyo (Madman). His whimsical tale inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid is a sweet little tale of a goldfish called Ponyo who falls in love with a boy and takes human form. It’s a visually stunning life affirming feast for the imagination voiced by a bunch of Hollywood stars.

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