Fragmented Films June 2012 (2)

There are only a handful of truly great films. Solaris (Distinction Series) is one of them. It’s often billed as Russia’s answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet whilst sharing a desire with Kubrick to create intelligent science fiction, filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker) uses the setting merely as a launching pad to grapple with some of the broader existential questions of our existence. Made in 1972, it’s one of the most unconventional love stories you will ever see, a mystical, at times hallucinatory parable of love, loss, and what makes us human. Sent to assess the crew at the remote space station Prometheus (Yes Ridley), in orbit above the mysterious planet Solaris, a psychologist discovers a crew in chaos, exhibiting strange paranoid, possibly delusional behaviour. Gradually though he too falls under the spell of Solaris, retreating into his memories and grappling with an unresolved past that threatens to consume him.

The film is an artistic masterwork, it’s visually spectacular, particularly on Blue Ray, and Tarkovsky is one of those few directors who know how to fully utilise sound, with incredible musique concrete techniques mixed with score. In fact Solaris redefined the cinematic language. At 166 minutes its effect on you is gradual, sensory and experiential. Don’t be fooled by cheap Soderbergh imitations. This is the best cinema has to offer.

Speaking of which David Lynch’s remarkable debut Eraserhead (Umbrella) has finally secured a Blue Ray release. This too redefined the cinematic language, though sent it confused and whimpering into an entirely different direction. It’s a dark, surreal and unsettling tale that has something to do with childbirth and fear of responsibility. Elevator doors take too long to close, chickens wriggle on the plate whilst eaten and miniature ladies with bad skin sing from inside the radiator. It has the greatest sound design in the history of cinema, is visually remarkable and funny as hell. No one creates atmosphere or scary cornball wrongness like Lynch. Despite Blue Velvet, or even the incredible Inland Empire, Lynch has never surpassed this act of pure artistic genius.

2008’s Ex Drummer (Siren) was one of the most audacious, dark and intelligent debuts in some time. Its bleak, at times violent humour and raw punk energy singled out Belgium director Koen Mortier as an idiosyncratic storyteller unafraid to lurk in the shadows. 22nd of May (Accent) is his follow up, a gentler more art house orientated deconstruction of a bombing in a shopping centre. It’s from the perspective of Sam the security guard, who after the explosion attempts to save victims trapped in the centre, before becoming overwhelmed and running through the streets until he collapses. This is where it enters Wings of Desire territory, with the near deserted streets an existential purgatory, populated only by victims of the bombing, who unburden themselves to Sam, some accusatory, some apathetic. Sam discovers lives with hopes and dreams, all extinguished via one senseless act, whilst also grappling with his own feelings of guilt and complicity. The finale is spectacular. Think Zabriske Point but with shoes.

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Fragmented Films March 2012

 

In cinema lore when a horrible gut-wrenching act of depravity occurs to some poor victim, the partner has the right of revenge, and anything goes. No amount of sadistic violence is too much when your cause is righteous. It’s torture porn as an expression of grief and loss, the more brutal and depraved the actions the greater the love. So when a secret agent’s pregnant fiancé is brutally murdered by a rampaging serial killer in Korean Kim Jee-Woon’s I Saw The Devil (Beyond), our hero wants to make the murderer suffer, and he wants to prolong it. So as he slices an Achilles heel or batters a groin in with a hammer, appearing suddenly out of nowhere cat and mouse style, it’s really an expression of how much he misses his beloved. It’s vicarious and unapologetic, making us complicit in his depravity and though this incredibly stylish thriller does eventually stretch the boundaries of credibility, that’s part of its bloodthirsty charm.

1991’s Sex and Zen received a certain degree of renown thanks to its imaginative use of two women and a flute, though subsequent sequels quickly descended into plotless dry humping and calculated nudity with little to no artistic merit. Sex and Zen Extreme Ecstasy (Eastern Eye) attaches jumper cables to the nipples of the franchise with a knowing eye towards both the erotic, and the ridiculous. We’re talking giant penis fountains, erotic mist that render even pious monks as sex crazed as us viewers, phalluses that can lift and spin a wagon wheel, and a gorgeous beauty with a mans voice. It’s a wholesome orgiastic assault on the senses, the most sumptuously shot sexploitation you’ll ever see. Despite the excess its message is surprisingly romantic. Sure orgies with 10 women using your recently attached donkey phallus are fun, yet it wont hold a candle to true love. Watch it with your special someone, or if not your right hand will suffice.

Italian gore maestro Dario Argento always placed style above substance, taking a concerning delight in the mechanics of murder, devising meticulously sadistic methods for characters to be dispatched in films like Suspiria. But times have changed and he’s foolishly reigned in the more hysterical aspects of his filmmaking in an attempt to compete with the current crop of torture porn schlockmeisters. Giallo (Eagle) is Argento lite, without his customary excess or inventiveness, and even the presence of Adrien Brody isn’t enough to resuscitate this turkey. He does himself no favours by calling this flick Giallo, not only drawing direct comparisons to his earlier work, but also implying it’s a definitive statement on the seedy slasher genre that he helped create. It’s not.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Madman) is a strange film. It’s David Lynch’s prequel to his television series, yet it dilutes the soapier elements in favour of a darker more absurd feel. There’s real bleak brutality in Laura Palmer’s final self-destructive days, making it a little more difficult to enjoy than his other bleak brutal films. In particular there’s a scene in a seedy backwoods nightclub barn where the grinding music is impossibly loud and they have to resort to subtitles. It’s nauseating, near intolerable to watch, primarily due to the bombastic use of sound. Ditto for Lost Highway (Madman), also released on blue ray, the first 20 minutes are pure domestic terror, before it descends into a confusing meditation on transformation; yet again it’s the sound that does the damage. “Dick Laurent is dead.”

 

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Night of The Soul (Emi)

There is a power in music. Something inexpressible and emotional. It has the ability to create whole new genres, though at its best perhaps even whole new worlds. Sparklehorse was a fragile melancholic window into Mark Linkous’ soul. There was beauty in his damaged eccentric phrasing and vulnerable wounded vocals, a weary world battered experimental countrified folk that could alternatively be tender or shrill, perhaps even violent. But with his suicide in March we realised that the dark edge was all too real. Held up for years in legal wrangling this is his last album.

It’s curious that someone who made such personal idiosyncratic music, would increasingly over successive albums thrive on collaboration and be willing to step aside vocally for the majority of these tunes. That said many of the vocalists are cyphers. Linkous’ phrasing lives in the majority of them. Except maybe Iggy Pop, who gets the one fuzzy aggressive act, or indie rocker James Mercer (The Shins), and Julian Casablancas (The Strokes) who provides lead vocals on the un Sparklehorse Little Girl. Despite a certain continuity of approach between the likes of Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips) and Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) who both appear and drop the jaw, the Linkous ghost is omnipresent, and more than welcome.

The earlier Sparklehorse albums have a personal bedroom feel, however more recently the Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley) influence has given Linkous a broadened widescreen almost symphonic grandeur. The beats really kick and the electronics are lasting. We’ve got Black Francis (Pixies), Vic Chesnuntt, who also wasn’t long for this world, Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals), even Suzanne Vega, but the real unexpected highlight is David Lynch’s vocals. His two songs are earnest sleazy lullabies, yet his nasal Jimmy Stewart drawl is simultaneously spooky, tragic, treated and genus. It’s all wrong. His photos which adorn the inner slick are of course the extremity of noir weirdness, but they highlight the desire of Linkous to extend his music beyond his world into a collective uncontrolled place of darkness and beauty. This is a raw and harrowing album, the hard won glimpses of beauty a fitting way for a great troubled talent to be remembered, mourned, but most of all celebrated.

Fragmented Films Aug 09

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Coat yourself in baby oil and throw your keys into the bowl because we’re knee deep in soft-core porno chic heaven with the 1974 French adult sensation Emmanuelle (Madman). It’s a film that brought soft-core exploitation cinema to the mainstream thanks to it’s incredibly high production values and attractive cast. It established all the cliches, with an exotic locale simmering with sexual tension (Thailand), and a young innocent newly married woman beginning a tempestuous voyage of sexual discovery when she joins her highly sexed totally sleazy diplomat husband. It’s dripping with gloss, clearly the filmmakers figuring (correctly) that if they amp up the production values then no one would mind so much that the whole film is just a pretentious excuse to get Sylvia Kristel to nude up and be dry humped by everything that moves. Actually that’s not altogether true, her husband dresses her provocatively and sends her out with a sinister old pervert who educates her by taking her to an opium den and watching while she’s raped. Nothing like a spot of deflowering to get the juices flowing. Yet that’s only the beginning in a questionably erotic film from Just Jaeckin (The Story of O), with music from Francis Lai (The Godfather).

By the time the second film comes around, imaginatively titled Emmanuelle 2 (Madman), the tables have turned for our heroine. She’s been transformed into a sexual predator, preying on animal, mineral and vegetable, grooming innocent young virgins for her marital bed and wrapping her legs around anything with a pulse. Set in Hong Kong, the couple have surrounded themselves with a bunch of sleazy ex pat swingers, where life is just one big never ending key party. The production values here may actually be better than the first, and there are some genuinely erotic moments such as a bit of three-way rub and tug action in a Bali bathhouse, but perhaps to compensate even the slightest whiff of narrative is thrown out with the bath-water and we’re just left with an increasingly tiring bunch of lushly shot scenes of nude people rubbing, licking and unconvincingly pretending to hump each other.

By our third adventure, Emmanuelle 3 (Madman) the cracks are showing. Firstly Emmanuelle has cut her hair and looks a little like a stern primary school teacher, then her love interest, the studly film director Gregory looks leathery like Roy Scheider and acts with the vitality of Keanu Reeves on heavy sedation. This time our oily couple are in Seychelles and Emmanuelle is tiring of the debauchery. The free love psycho babble of the previous films is increasingly sounding like convenient rationalisations for her husband’s attempts to get his end into the help, and even the climaxes are becoming increasingly hollow. Whilst the first film was about Emmanuelle’s physical awakening, this film is about her emotional development, realising that in her pursuit of pleasure she’s actually forgoing the one thing she truly wants. With a Serge Gainsbourg soundtrack, this is actually the best in the series, a real critique on the supposedly super cool liberated lifestyle celebrated in the first two.

Emmanuelle 4 (Madman) is a travesty, shot in the 80’s, six years after the third it’s barely related to the previous three and impossible to watch. The plot revolves around Emmanuelle, now referred to by the actors name, Sylvia, who escaping a stalker ex lover travels to Brazil to get some plastic surgery. Under the knife she goes back to a 20 year old and played by a different actress proceeds to root everyone she stumbles across, including the seedy bloke she was running from. This may possibly be the worst film Fragmented Films has ever submitted to. Within the first five minutes three characters have voice overs, then there’s this ultra kitsch screen wipe that’s an animated zip that gets pulled down the screen, inexplicably transporting us into into a studio set where the old Emmanuelle does these curious psycho sexual things to people, totally unrelated to the plot. It makes Ed Wood seem like Fellini.

After four paragraphs of beating around the bush (so to speak), lets cut to the chase. Eraserhead (Umbrella) is the greatest film ever made by anyone anywhere ever at any time. David Lynch created a new form of cinematic language with this strange malformed baby, a lush wondrous fever dream with some of the most incredible sound design you will ever experience. This is a digitally re-mastered special edition with an hilarious 90 minute making of documentary which is simply Lynch reminiscing and tangenting off about the strange band of outsiders who labored on this baby for five years. We’ve never had such insight into how this magical beast was created – it’s the holy grail.

Fragmented Films DVD Column 25th Oct 08

In the audio commentary to his 1968 sci fi sexploitation shocker Space Thing (Siren), schlock producer and shyster extraordinare David F Friedman laments that “We could show beaver but not pickles.” Some forty years on things have changed. There’s enough pickles in 2008’s Destricted (Accent) to make your local greengrocer jealous. And who knew that pickles were actually part of a beaver’s diet? 

Destricted is so rude and nasty that it comes in a black box without pictures. Yet it’s done with such high art sensibilities that you’d hesitate to tar it with a sexploitation brush. That’s despite the presence of Larry Clark (Kids/Ken Park), who’s penchant for pre pubescent boys with their shirts off never ceases to disturb. It’s six short films from some of the more boundary pushing artists around, exploring issues of sex, art and pornography. It begins with Bjork’s squeeze, Mathew Barney (Cremaster Cycle) a video artist who’s works vary from tedious to wrong, often at the same time. His piece Hoist is hilarious, a man with a pineapple shoved up his ass pleasures himself by rubbing his erect pickle against the lubed up drive-shaft of a giant caterpillar truck which has been hoisted by a crane for this very purpose. It’s so pretentiously filmed that it can’t help but confuse. Extreme French director Gaspar Noe (Irreversible) shoots his load to immediately, masturbation with the most annoying moving camera and strobe effects and Marina Abramovic, Sam Taylor Wood and Richard Prince also fiddle with their pickles and beavers to varying success. Not surprisingly the most provocative and wrongest moments come from Mr Clark. He places an add in the paper requesting volunteers to have sex with a porn star. He interviews each applicant on camera about their sexual history and relationship with porn.  Then he makes them strip so he can see their pickle. It’s terrifying. These young men’s views on sexuality have totally been hijacked by cumshots and boob jobs. Clark suspiciously picks the most pre pubescent looking volunteer, who then takes on the role of interviewer, asking a gaggle of porn starlets similar questions. He then choses the one he wishes to mount. Trust me when I say from here on in, if it wasn’t already, it’s very creepy and wrong. It doesn’t say ‘Actual Sexual Activity’ on this black box for nothing.  

Suddenly exploitation is cool again, particularly Ozploitation, thanks to the upcoming doco Not Quite Hollywood (Madman), which drags our seedy sorry cinematic past back into the spotlight like a guilty teenager caught playing with his pickle. It has the ultimate seal of approval,Tarantino theft, sorry,  homage. The person crawling around the bonnet of the speeding car in Death Proof came straight from the 1986 Australian film Fair Game (Beyond). Fair game is your classic rape revenge film, except thankfully the rape is left out. Set in an outback wildlife sanctuary Cassandra Delaney (who would go on to marry John Denver) is terrorised by three bogan Kangaroo poachers with big guns and a souped up 4×4, with evil red eyes that sounds like a lion roaring when idling.  In Not Quite Hollywood Tarantino speaks of the film’s did I just see that? moment. After destroying her house the baddies strip her nude, tie her to the front of the car like a ‘human hood ornament’ and hoon around whooping self consciously like 13 year olds who’ve just watched Destricted. This wrongness only adds to the joy. This, like Vegemite is something we can be proud of.

David Lynch’s Inland Empire (Directors Suite) is a Hollywood art film, where time, space, texture and light are all tools to be manipulated. He has moved so far beyond conventional narrative that he’s operating on levels far beyond his contemporaries. We’re talking Jodorowsky meets Fellini, epic, nonsensical exhilarating genius. His best film since Eraserhead. It’s just as painful and twice as long. Extras include some great interviews.

Fox news is worse than dumb news for dumb people. It’s biased news for people too preoccupied to have minds. You wont believe how blatant they are. Outfoxed (Dv1) is a doco that will have your blood boiling and it’s been reduxed for 2008 with extra features, offering a unique perspective about the organised right wing propaganda machine that Obahma’s up against.