Fragmented Films 28th Nov 12

So Al Gore was right. We have destroyed the earth. He tried to tell us and we wouldn’t listen, or at least that’s the central premise to Abel Ferrara’s latest film 4:44 Last Day On Earth (Icon). It’s a doomsday flick from one of the most depressive filmmakers you could imagine, the sleazebag behind Bad Lieutenant (The good one), Dangerous Game (Harvey Keitel and Madonna) and The King Of New York.  His films have always been seedy as hell, and for a while in the early 90’s he was ‘seedy it guy.’ But times have changed, and his budgets have shrunk, because apparently people don’t want to see Harvey Keitel molesting teenage motorists anymore.

Which leads us back to 4:44 Last Day on Earth. Early on we know that at 4:44am the world will end, now we just have to work out what to do in the interim. If you know Ferarra you’d be expecting a savage dose of violent sexual wrongness, perhaps a spot of looting. But no, at the age of 60 the former terror of New York is acting somewhat restrained. We follow actor and reformed drug addict Cisco (a craggily looking Willem Defoe) and his much younger artist girlfriend Skye, as they attempt to make sense of their lives as the clock is ticking. Skye is determined to finish her art, while Cisco is a mess, trying to score dope and futilely reconnect with his ex wife, daughter and friends via skype. In fact technology plays an important role in Cisco’s life, their New York loft resembles a media unit, with newscasters, a new age guru, and baseball games playing out endlessly. Connections occur via technology, yet it still feels real. There’s a beautiful scene where they let the guy who delivers their Chinese take out skype his family. When he says goodbye he closes the computer and leans down and kisses it. In between they screw, bicker and meander in some kind of existential fog.

But no mistake Abel Ferarra is a sleazy old bastard. Or at least he was in 2007. What 55 year old is so porn starved he decides to write and direct a film set in a strip club, purely to film naked strippers? And then what 55 year old could be so delusional as to make it a warm hearted nostalgic, somewhat quirky almost comedy? Because everyone knows strip clubs are just one big happy family right?

Ferarra has always been idiosyncratic, marching to he beat of his own drum. But surely there’s a limit. And Go Go Tales (Eagle) is it. Willem Defoe again plays Ray, a lotto addicted manager of a strip club that’s slowly going down the tubes. It’s a fantastical vision, Ray engages in cabaret, singing sad songs between strips, Asia Argento tongue kisses a dog, a chef supplies organic hot dogs to patrons. There’s even a stripper talent show where Matthew Modine inexplicably turns up playing a miniature piano, with a miniature dog. It’s an unfocussed film with a real lacklustre quality. Ferrara seems disinterested, perhaps understandably so, only rousing himself when filming the gratuitous nudity. When people aren’t flashing their fleshy bits they’re screaming at each other. Why?

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Interview with Daniel Nettheim (Director of The Hunter)

The last known Tasmanian Tiger died in captivity in a Hobart zoo in 1936.  Since then there have been numerous expeditions into the wilds of Tasmania searching for the animal and reports of sightings as far away as New South Wales.  Despite all the activity, nothing has ever been substantiated. Yet for many the dream still holds weight. The notion of one or two thylacines wandering around in the bush is just too tantalising to let go of.

It’s not a surprise to Sydney based director Daniel Nettheim, who’s recent film The Hunter taps squarely into this notion.

“I’ve always seen it as a bit of a national myth,” he explains, kind’ve like the Loch Ness monster.”

Nettheim’s film puts Willem Defoe into the wilds of Tasmania searching for the elusive creature at the behest of a shady multinational drug company. Despite most people outside Australia having no notion of the Tiger, Nettheim felt that the film was still able to resonate with international audiences.

“In a way each culture has parallel myths, an elusive or missing creature,” he offers.

“It’s also thematically rich on many levels, speaking on the complex relationship between man and the environment, which as you know is fraught, and nowhere is it more fraught than Tasmania in the frontline to save the forests.

The film took 8 years to be made, though signing the internationally renowned Willem Defoe made a significant contribution to getting finance.

“Because the character was written as a foreigner we always thought we’re not restricted to local actors, so lets make a list of any actor in the world that we’d like to work with that we think would be good in the part,” explains Nettheim.

Defoe was at the top of their list and signed on quickly, attracted to the idea of shooting on location and playing a character unlike previous roles, though he was also keen to contribute to the development of the character. The result is a spare character who offers little in the way of dialogue, yet is able to communicate with a rare kind of subtlety

“I like sparse films,” laughs Nettheim, “I like these existential films with loner characters like the Conversation or Le Samurai, and I think this character was in this tradition.”

To make it as authentic as possible Defoe was taught by a wilderness advisor how to make the incredible traps we see in the film.

“I’d never been a fan of hunting before,” Nettheim offers, “but I can see an incredible beauty in it now.”

“It is a noble and ancient art,” he continues, “and the people who do it well and professionally with pride do it with a lot of respect for the animal. You’re not a good hunter if the animal suffers in any way. It’s got to be a clean kill. When it’s done with a respect for nature it can be really beautiful.”

 

It’s ideas like this that makes The Hunter such a morally complex film; there are no easy answers or resolutions. Yet that’s what makes it so fascinating. Then of course there’s the one burning question that haunts the film throughout.

“We wanted the driving dramatic question to be will he find it or will he not. I didn’t want to tip the scales too early either way.”

 

 

 

Fragmented Films Feb 2010

In the opening sequence to legendary schlock shyster Herschel Gordon Lewis’ 1970 bloodfest The Wizard of Gore (Siren), Montag the magician places his head in a guillotine and severs it on stage. Unfortunately the head is very clearly made of rubber and when, in a shocking reach around, he grabs the severed cranium you can see the outline of his greying quiff from behind the apparatus. Oops! Cut to a close up of said head and inexplicably the camera starts spinning repeatedly in a dizzying Go Go circle. It’s just like the start of Happy Days, yet the curious combination of technical ineptness and a rabid lust for gore make it so much more fun. It does however make you wonder why in 2007 some folks slicked up its stilted kitsch wrongness, slapped it on its ass and turned it into a strange hallucinatory gore noir. The Wizard of Gore (Reel) circa 2007 keeps some good stuff like Montag the magician butchering people live on stage and in a stroke of genius ropes in perennial weirdo Crispin Glover (Rivers Edge) for the role. Like a duck to water, his neurotic pre butchery monologues are philosophical gems that out of any other actors mouth would be complete nonsense. But that’s just Glover. He eats nonsense for breakfast. Indie legend Brad Douriff (Deadwood/ Blue Velvet) is also welcome in a ponytail he grew for Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant, and you can’t argue about a bunch of half naked Suicide Girls lining up for dismemberment. Unfortunately however the filmmakers desperation to be hyper cool gets in the way, deluding themselves that they’re edgy when like the original they’re just peddling trash.

When films that are dumber than you attempt to outsmart you it’s easy to get your back up. But while the Italian Godfather of Gore Lucio Fulci thinks he’s paying homage to Hitchcock in his ridiculously absurd 1969 Giallo Perversion Story (Umbrella), he’s actually closer to a seedy Eurotrash Brian De Palma. There’s a certain pompous stupidity in the plot twists and it provides for a great ride. Shot in America and dripping with gratuitous and startlingly unerotic nudity, it’s nothing short of a classic. Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Umbrella) is Fulci pedal to the metal, a stilted almost nonsensical psychedelic thriller with Ed Wood special effects, ridiculous amounts of nudity and an Ennio Morricone score. Carol Hammond, daughter of a prominent politician, is dreaming these wild LSD laced orgies filled with naked cavorting souls. Bad for Carol, but good for us in the raincoat brigade. When her neighbour turns up dead in the exact way Carol dreamed, Fulci decides to film more naked people. Apparently there is a plot here. See if you care.

Whilst Samson and Delilah (Madman) found the accolades, Van Diemen’s Land (Madman) is the best of the recent run of grim Aussie films, uncovering the ravenous hunger of Alexander Pierce, a convict who along with seven others escaped the brutal penal colony in Tasmania circa 1822. Perhaps it’s too grim for mainstream audiences, as it’s uncompromisingly shocking, yet also strangely beautiful, mining the depths of mans drive for survival and turning into unsettling gothic poetry.

To many Lars Von Trier is the Antichrist (Paramount), yet the provocative Dane’s latest ode to suffering is an intensely raw study of grief and psycho sexual disintegration that will resonate with you in ways that you never thought cinema could. It’s a grueling, bleak and traumatic work. Watching it is like being swallowed up in a cave that you know will never escape from. Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsourg are uncomfortably raw, open and visceral as the grieving couple and Von Trier himself has returned to the technical mastery of his earlier work, highly stylised, gorgeously shot. Yet each scene is filled with imposing dread. Idiot critics suggest that Von Trier is a mischievous misogynist puppet-master yet the oppressive darkness here reeks of first hand experience of the black blankness of depression. And it’s hard to know what’s worse, Defoe’s condescending and arrogant attempts to treat his wife’s grief or her infamous spot of genital mutilation.

O’Horten (Aztec), a slight, absurd and whimsical Scandanavian tale effortlessly washes away the sins and extremity of the previous films with its detached deadpan humour and dignified take on humanity. People drive blindfolded, businessmen slide down the road on their buttocks and our hero, a retired train driver’s name is Odd.