Fragmented Films Dec 09

Epsilon is incredible. On the one hand it’s an insult to the science fiction genre, limp unimaginative and cringe inducing, yet on the other it’s such a freak oddity that it will make your brain melt. As part of the 6 disc Rolf De Heer Collection (Umbrella), which encompasses his first six films, it combines some extraordinary images of sped up humanity, not unlike koyaanisqatsi, then jams it kicking and screaming into a ridiculous narrative about a superior (female) being (with a broad aussie accent) arriving on earth, encountering a good natured ocker outback bloke and debating the horrors of humanity before falling in love. It’s stilted cringe inducing death on celluloid. De Heer puts the duo in matching shirts and shoots it like it’s Neighbours. It makes you wonder how he could have been responsible for the dark wit of Bad Boy Bubby two years earlier, or even the understated beauty of Dingo (1991), which stars jazz legend Miles Davis, who you’d be positive hadn’t seen De Heer’s previous film when he signed on, the woeful 1987 outback horror Incident At Raven’s Gate. The only horror here is that they gave him money to make other films after this turkey. Yet that’s De Heer in a nutshell: hit and interesting miss.

Wake in Fright (Madman) is a film about assimilation whether you like it or not. It’s Lost Weekend by way of Deliverance, except in the Australian outback the evil yokels don’t play banjo and make you squeal like a pig, no it’s much worse than that, they get you shit-faced and take you roo shooting. The residents of Bundanyabba are grinding down English primary teacher John Grant with bogan redneck Aussie hospitality, until he loses not only his smug superiority, but everything else he thought he stood for, descending into alcohol fueled oblivion. This is outback horror, the residents of ‘the Yabba,’ the equivalent of zombies clawing at Grant, trying to make him one of them. Made in 1971 it’s one of the most vicious and confronting Australian films around. The words “Is this your first time in the Yabba? So how’dya like the Yabba?” will chill your blood.

Samson and Delilah (Madman) is a love story without words. In the extras writer/director/cinematographer Warwick Thornton suggests at 14 he didn’t have Hannah Montana‘s monologues, he threw stones at girls. It’s bleak, austere and set in an Aboriginal community in central Australia, not pulling any punches, particularly in terms of petrol sniffing. But it’s a different kind of love, one that is faced with much more difficult, gritty and harsh obstacles than your normal cinema affords. It’s a two disc set, the second features Thornton’s previous shorts and a great behind the scenes feature with the actor playing Samson participating in a diversionary youth justice group conference apologising for a burglary he committed a year earlier. Believe the hype.

He Ran All the Way is a classy 1951 noir that transcends the premise of a killer holed up with an innocent family and becomes a fascinating rumination on family and trust. It was a film tainted by the House Un American witch hunt in the 50’s. Soon after the director John Berry fled to France, it was star John Garfield‘s last film dying at the age of 39 after much harassment from Mcarthy, and it was written by Dalton Trumbo (Spartacus) under an alias, in jail at the time of release for refusing to name names. It’s part of an excellent four disc box set MGM Film Noir (Aztec) that also includes Orson Welles patchy yet still compelling The Stranger with Edward G Robinson, Robert Wise‘s classy heist gone wrong Odds Against Tomorrow with Shelly Winters, and hard man Robert Ryan, as well as the inspiration for Dragnet, He Walked by Night.

Bastardy (Siren) is a portrait of the complexity of Melbourne’s Jack Charles, actor, musician, heroin addict, homeless, thief, criminal, and member of the stolen generation amongst other things. He begins by shooting up, saying “If I hide anything it wouldn’t be a true depiction.” And what we get is the charm and ravaged potential of a man who justifies burglaries in Kew as ‘hunting and gathering on prime Aboriginal land’ starred in The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and has battled drug addiction for thirty odd years. Seven years in the making, this is raw unflinching intimacy.

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Fragmented Films 12th June 09

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When the American crime series the Wire (HBO) hit the small screen in 2002 it was television year zero. Suddenly the bullshit morality didn’t cut it anymore, ditto to models pretending to be super cops, or earnest life affirming resolutions that clock in at the end of every 50 minutes. It was all about ‘the game,’ an uncompromising and realistic portrayal of people trapped in hopeless claustrophobic worlds, lazy cops who hate their jobs, corner dealers who don’t expect to live beyond their teens, politicians fattening their pockets. There was a grim understanding that the system was broke, yet also that it is what it is. It unveiled people just like us, flawed, stupid, lazy, but also sometimes passionate and driven.

The Spiral (SBS/ Madman) is a post Wire crime series set in the seedy world of the French legal system. It’s a place of competing agendas, where career advancement, an uncompromising hunger for money, drug addiction and petty grievances are just some of the barriers to justice. It’s quite seedy, and a little vicarious, the first season starts with a women dumped at the docks with her face destroyed beyond recognition, the second with a corpse incinerated in a car boot. It delights in the slow reveal, as each investigation takes eight episodes to reach its conclusion, seemingly implicating everyone it touches in some way, hence the title. It spares few, even those most committed to upholding the law, like the idealistic hunky young prosecutor at the centre of the series, or the hard yet sexy police detective who both quickly become tainted and complicit. And then they root. It’s a constant test for all, your morality vs your chances of career advancement, to eat or be able to sleep at night. It’s compelling precisely because the characters are so compelling. In the end the crimes almost become irrelevant as you wonder who’s going to come out unscathed.

Orson Welles relationship with film is a love affair through the ages. You have the boyish precocious bravado of Citizen Kane where he is innocent yet cocky, just happy enough to get a leg over and smart enough not to blow the opportunity. Then there’s the bold slightly perverted the Trial where he’s discovered how to make film hot and already initiated a few tentative sex games. Then there’s the masterwork, A Touch of Evil, the experienced lover who could effortlessly make film purr under his fingertips. F is Fake (Directors Suite) is from of a man tired of monogamy. Made in 1975 it turns structure and genre on its head and is a bold confusing artistic montage of disparate footage woven together to create a quasi documentary tale pondering the worlds of fakes and impostors, all the while slyly tangenting away and cheekily manipulating the viewer with lies and red herrings. Perhaps more remarkable though is the fish that got away, a documentary profiling Orson’s latter unfinished work, with tantalizing clips featuring some of the most amazing editing you will ever see.

Short films are generally about as pleasurable as running your genitals along a cheese grater smeared with chilies. This is because they’re all too often calling cards for directors desperate to prove how clever they are, or are made by film students who’s only interaction with the world has been through cinema (yes Quentin I’m talking to you). Yet not always. Wasp, a story of a single mother in a UK public housing estate is incredible. It’s raw yet gripping with an overwhelming sense of dread, yet also a compassion for its characters that draws you into their world. Director Andrea Arnold won an Oscar for this in 2005 and she uses the short form like few have before her. It’s on Cinema 16: World Short Films (Warp/ Inertia), a 2 disc set with some early obscure films from directors like Guillermo Del Toro, yet also more recent work from Guy Maddin and three of the best short films Fragmented Films has ever seen from people he’d never heard of. Chacun Son Cinema (Directors Suite) gives 33 established feature directors 3 minutes to celebrate what cinema means to them. Lynch, Cronenburg, Egoyan, Ken Loach, Jane Campion, Van Sant, Von Trier, Polanski, Wong Kar Wai, Wim Wenders all self indulgently masturbate onto the celluloid, shooting fetish shots of their favorite cinemas. It’s left to the incredible Dardenne brothers and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu (Babel) redeem things with comprehensible narrative, and of course Lars Von Trier is typically juvenile and provocative. Thank god.