If you were wondering why a pre circus freak Mickey Rourke felt the need to actually bone Carrie Otis for real on screen in the charmingly mediocre Wild Orchid, why a respected director such as Michael Winterbottom needed not only crap British music but real screwing and cumshots in 9 songs (Accent), or why a climactic blowjob by Chloe Sevigny couldn’t save Vincent Gallo’s boring and awful Brown Bunny (Sony), then rest assured there’s a simple reason. They were trying to outrun a ghost.
That ghost is Japanese master Nagisa Oshima, who back in 1976 was making the holy grail: artistic porn. In The Realm of the Senses (Umbrella) is the kind of sexploitation that gives pornography a good name, one that we can all feel great about, because like those who read Playboy for the articles, we’re watching it for its artistic merit. It’s where erotic meets obsessive and everything goes downhill from there, ‘The geisha’s wont come to you because you never stop sucking him,’ the couple are told midway, and there’s more than enough of that. Very explicit that. Every kind of kink gets explored, until all the fun and titillation is sucked out and it becomes impossibly grueling (that’s the art-house element). In the end you just want them to stop rooting already. If your obsession with porn has caused you to lose everything in life, then watch this glammed up snuff film. It will cure you.
When an actor directs you expect ponderous self involvement. For every Clint Eastwood there’s a Johnny Depp (Time how long it takes him to walk up the stairs in The Brave and see if you don’t want to throttle him). Sir Anthony Hopkins third film Slipstream (Accent) is an unexpected revelation. The character actors lined up for this, John Turturro, a post oblivion Christian Slater, even Kevin ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ Mcarthy who plays himself. The film is a hallucination built upon a bed of dreams, with time slips, avant garde techniques and all kinds of experimental weirdness. Hopkins is an aging screenwriter with difficulty distinguishing between fantasy, reality and his own on screen creations. Just what this film is remains wonderfully oblique. It’s mischievous, surreal and highly inventive, equal parts Jacob’s Ladder and 8 1/2 that’s shot sexy and cool like an advertisement for jeans.
Provocative German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Gangster Films (Directors Suite) are a loose trilogy that owe as much to American gangster films of the 30’s and 40’s as Goddard and his pals in the French new wave. He populates his films with characters named Fuller, Murnau, Lang and Walsh, directors who were quite familiar with noiresque settings. They’re highly playful, with cinematic references coming thick and fast. In the three black and white films, we see a man in love with cinema and its many possibilities, experimenting with technique and narrative under the edgy framework of film noir, using it’s visual style and archetypes, yet deviating from its cold psychological world to to explore a raw emotion that he would develop in his later melodrama. These films are spare, referred to as his avant garde films, overly stylised with highly theatrical gestures. People just don’t die, they overact themselves to death. It’s both compelling and frustrating. Love is Colder Than Death (1969) is the first of 39 features in 16 years. Gods of the Plague (1969) has Franz Walsch newly released from prison virtually sleepwalking through the film, a mannequin as a main character, and The American Soldier (1970), the most dynamic of the trilogy has the strangest ending ever, a 5 minute single take of a man dry humping the corpse of his brother. Beautiful.
Tony Gatlif’s Transylvania (Directors Suite) has one of the most vibrant soundtracks ever. Since Latcho Drom, he’s been renowned for his deep love of gypsy music and culture, however it’s rare that you will find a director who uses music, this time in the style of Csardis played by Hungarian gypsies with a rhythm twice as fast as flamenco, as a way to frame a narrative. With the utterly beguiling Asia Argento (daughter of you know who), it’s part road movie, journey of discovery and exploration of the nobility of gypsy life. Of course you’ve seen it before, from Gatlif no less, but it’s an energetic joy and music is incredible.