Fragmented Films 7th of Feb 09



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.

Fragmented Films 18th Dec 08

Otto Or, Up With Dead People (Kojo) is a gay zombie film from Bruce La Bruce with the best wound sex since Crash. Whilst it feels calculated to offend, there’s an unexpected depth here, with strong socio political undertones and anti consumerist messages. Yet that’s only if you dig beneath the extreme gore of homosexual zombies literally consuming and mutilating each other by tearing out their intestines with their teeth during sex or wandering down the road munching on decaying roadkill. But they’re also being persecuted, getting beaten up and set on fire by horrible gangs of the living. It’s edgy, at times hilarious cinema, and La Bruce uses some intriguing experimental techniques takes some real risks with sound design. It’s a cool art-house gorefest that’ll keep you away from sausages for a while.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films are a revelation. He delights in those messy difficult emotions, of love, obsession, loneliness and desire. He has this rough and ready style that initially seems clunky, yet creeps up on you and then turns on you like a spurned lover. He made films quickly with the most uncommercial pretexts, such as a love affair between a middle aged woman and a young Moroccan immigrant. Yet Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (Madman), is incredibly compelling, a reworking Douglas Sirk’s All that Heaven Allows (Madman), that takes a blowtorch to moralistic society. On Sex (Madman), groups together three of his films united by the tragedy of submitting to love. In The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972) and Fox and his Friends (1974), in which Fassbinder himself plays the title role, and even in In a Year with 13 Moons (1978), to be in love is to throw yourself to the mercy of another. That other, is either oblivious to your presence despite the fact that you’ve just had a sex change for him, or fleecing you for everything you’ve got. Neither seem like a good option. Yet despite being hazardous to your health, love in Fassbinder’s hands is all conquering – which would be romantic if the consequences weren’t so dire.

He filmed Lili Marleen (Madman) in 1980 in English with a big budget. It’s an opulent, Sirk influenced melodrama, the tale of the song Lili Marleen that became synonymous with the Nazi war effort, a garish hideously unmusical dirge that Fassbinder repeats endlessly through the film. The kicker is that it evokes something different each time it’s performed, thanks to the trials and tribulations of an impossible love story, the singer who became a propaganda tool for the Nazi’s and her lover who risks his life attempting to get Jews out of Germany. Movies have taught us that love conquers all, and whist Fassbinder agrees unfortunately it doesn’t negate the suffering.

Dan Duryea is Willem Defoe for the 1950’s. He appears in three of the four films in Universal Film Noir: Vol.2 (Aztec), a collection that explores that dark and murky emotional and urban landscape of late 40’s early 50’s America. There’s something incredibly cloying in his manner, yet you can’t take your eyes off him, though that might be because you want to make sure he’s not going to reach through the screen and steal your silverware. In Fritz Lang’s excellent Scarlet Street, he’s a seedy shyster to Edward G Robinson’s straight laced bank clerk, in Criss Cross, he’s the dangerous seedy gangster to Burt Lancaster’s lovelorn straight man and in Black Angel he’s the seedy alcoholic pianist to June Vincent’s virtuous. Sense a pattern? Duryea makes seedy endearing in this compelling collection of 50’s cinema.

Sukiyaki Western Django (Hopscotch) is a truly bizarre mess of spaghetti western cliches shaken up and spat out by lunatic Japanese director Takashi Miike. Miike is responsible for some of the wrongest films of all time, including the hyper violent Ichi the Killer (Siren) and the hyper wrong Visitor Q (Siren). He’s a man who does extremist cartoon violence better than anyone and it’s sprinkled liberally through what is essentially stealing back what Sergio Leone initially stole from Akira Kurosawa, yet with less class and a higher body count. It looks beautiful, has a Quentin Tarantino cameo, borders on nonsensical and is in English, yet still requires subtitles because it’s totally unintelligible. In a good way.