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 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.