Friday, 24 November 2017

Cafe Flesh (1982)


Directors: Stephen Sayadian (with Mark S. Esposito)
Screenplay: Stephen Sayadian and Herbert W. Day
Cast: Andy Nichols as Max Melodramatic; Paul McGibboney as Nick; Michelle Bauer as Lana; Marie Sharp as Angel; Tantala Ray as Moms; Dennis Edwards as The Enforcer; Kevin James as Johnny Rico; Dondi Bastone as Spike

Synopsis: After World War III blows everything to smithereens, the world becomes divided into the Sex Negatives and the Sex Positives. The Sex Negatives, due to nuclear fallout, are physically unable to have sexual pleasure, even erotic contact causing involuntary nausea. The Sex Positives, those rare few who can still have sex, must perform real sex acts for the Sex Negatives across the nightclubs in the remaining United States. At Cafe Flesh, one such club, one Sex Negative Lana (Michelle Bauer) finds she may be becoming a Sex Positive again whether her boyfriend Nick (Paul McGibboney) is comfortable with the fact or not.

If it was easier for the films of Rinse Dream, aka. Stephen Sayadian, to be seen his cult would grow more than it has, which is significant considering how that cult is already pretty large full of those who know his work and have managed to see them. That his career is mainly within pornography is a huge disadvantage to him, both in terms of attitudes to the medium in any artistic meaning and also in terms of availability in good versions, particularly an issue within the United Kingdom as, due to the view of pornography and laws of selling, it's impossible for older works to be commercially viable to rereleased let alone be taken seriously as art, the best you could get in the few licensed sex stores retro compilations rather than whole films. And why Dr. Caligari (1989), his non-pornographic sequel to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), has neither been released despite being a great cult film is puzzling. Its saddening as Sayadian can stand talk as a truly individualistic filmmaker, one helped in Cafe Flesh by talented people - co-director/storyboard artist Mark S. Esposito, writer Jerry Stahl (aka Herbert W. Day), costume designer Polly Ester and cinematographer Francis Delia - but also someone with a very unique style. A bold artistic style, one as with all his films fed from a previous career creating eye-catching art for Penthouse magazine and film posters like for Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill (1980). Idiosyncratic dialogue, co-written with others, and a sense of the funny and perverse to his work. His three most well known films, which I've managed to see, are the work of someone able to make films within the eighties that were very unconventional and inventive as long as an aspect was marketable within them all, giving him carte blanche at truly odd, artistically imaginative creations.

Dr. Caligari is great. Out of the two other well known works, Nightdreams (1981) is a hardcore film which I am split on. It's full of weird and aesthetically rich moments, but is difficult in terms of being to appreciate it as it's a compilation of sex scenes based around a threadbare narrative of a woman having her erotic dreams experimented on by scientists. Whilst the dreams are vivid and perversely erotic, you do have lengthy passages of merely an eighty minute work which is the hardcore sex, which goes on and on to the point that, whether one a turn on or not, can result in finding the film almost trance-like or boring due to its slow pace. Cafe Flesh in vast contrast manages to find the right balance in both having to be a pornographic film and a rewarding cultish object, Rinse Dream's most well known work for a reason. The plot's pretty simplistic, restricted to only a couple of sets and based around like Nightdreams a series of bizarre hardcore scenes. These scenes can almost be off-putting for some viewers, but are wrapped within a rewarding little plot that's as interesting and full of memorable characters. The script's a godsend, written by Sayadian and Stahl, only matched by Dr. Caligari in terms of Sayadian's trademark of deliberately artificial and manned lines, word play and individual characteristics in each actor's line readings with are sprinkled with humour and a biting sense of mockery of ordinary culture. Effectively imagine a punk attitude filtered through arty, neon intoxicated mannerisms and that's his dialogue style.

That this is a porn film is not a lynchpin to trap the film, Cafe Flesh as interesting if it was softcore. That there is real penetration does however have a strange effect to its advantage. The morality a viewer can have on pornography is subjective, whether you feel its justifiable to have real sexual acts filmed entire to your opinion, but in terms of this film whilst it could've easily worked as softcore, the hardcore moments feel as much part of the overall aesthetic, a sense when you enter the world of the nightclub Cafe Flesh. A place within the last of the remaining civilisation after nuclear war where most of them are effectively sterile mentally, feasting from afar at depictions of the acts they can no longer have as Sex Negatives. The complex emotions a person can have viewing pornographic images with real people - usually watched isolated, let alone issues of cultural and gender politics being involved as they watch the images - makes the sudden transgression in art cinema when it includes real sexual acts in explicit detail puncture the false reality. This is important here as whilst Cafe Flesh was originally meant as a pornographic product, it's clear from the start the creators of this made the film wanting to create something else, merely dressed in the clothes of porn and using this fact as part of its own ideas and style, the theme of sexuality as possible to do in Dr. Caligari as a mainstream film but taken advantage of here nonetheless.


This also means Cafe Flesh openly transgresses the line between being meant to be erotic and repulsive. Sayadian's artistic eye is incredible, the colourful day-glo neon of the era, apt that he was the one to reinterpret Dr. Caligari as his work takes German Expressionism with its artificial sets and use of shadows but plunges it into full vibrant colour, moodiness also exaggerated by the way his characters dress and move with mannered choreography. Nightdreams was ambitious already - any porn film with a kitchen set musical number/sex scene where a housewife gives a man dressed as a Cream of Wheat box a blowjob whilst anthropomorphised toast is playing a saxophone nearby is both the last thing you'd expect in pornography and yet depicted onscreen with such carefulness technically. But Cafe Flesh manages to up the stakes in artistic ambition and weirdness. The sex scenes performed onstage within the film are both too weird to find titillating yet can also still be erotic. The film's first performance already warns the viewer of what to expect within a fifties styled kitchen set with two Sex Positives as a housewife and a milkman. Striking colour and aesthetic style stands out immediately even in the worst copy of Cafe Flesh you could see, but with the milkman in a prosthetic rat man costume with a enormous tail, who just also happens to be a milkman, and men dressed as babies at the back rocking back and forth as the main performers have actual sex for the Sex Negatives and us the viewer. The extremity of this style - turning the performers on stage into caricatures of Americana by dress and appearance - is throughout Sayadian's work, as he depicts anything from the stereotype of eighties erotica, introducing the ultimate of male hunks wearing sunglasses in a dark room and a leather jacket, to even including a musical number with military symbolism that intercuts between sex.

The sense of the truly bizarre involved throughout is striking, as pencil headed men getting it on with a secretary completely goes against the perceived concept of pornography being a turn on for a viewing. However as with Nightdreams and even Dr. Caligari there's a pronounced sexuality helped by his attitude that contrasts this. That his women are always strong and in this case with Lana becoming a willing agent of her rediscovered sensuality, all always gorgeous and lovingly photographed whether they are dressed in the style of the era but with a dominance, taking the furthest in his most well known work with Madeleine Reynal as the titular Dr. Caligari, dressed in deliberately striking and an almost angular fashion to show her physical prescience. Sexuality in his work is always powerful, transgressing against conventional morality but ultimately a force of virtue. In the midst of the post apocalypse, the lead of this film eventually becomes liberated within this environment, contrasted against a lead male character in her boyfriend who is so morose to be practically hateful.

It helps as well that Cafe Flesh, in terms of plot, is just as compelling when there's no sex with dialogue, that it's also a fun film that just also has explicit sex scenes. Actor Andy Nichols in particulate is a virtue just by himself, one of the actors who doesn't perform in the sex scenes but is absolutely vital as Max Melodramatic, the charismatic and dickish host of these performances, someone as capable of acidic wit but also can be castrated by the female owner of Cafe Flesh, Moms (Tantala Ray), in front of a crowd. Humour is found throughout, from Max Melodramatic's line readings to some of the monosyllabic comments made by Sex Negative patrons, helping a viewer into its grungy, multi-coloured world by having the delicately sense of the absurd there, the grotesquery in the sex scenes purposely broad and ridiculous as well.

Abstract Spectrum: Erotic/Expressionistic/Grotesque/Pop Art/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low

Personal Opinion:
A film like Cafe Flesh feels like a work which skewers the medium it's in and absolutely in greater need of recognition. The golden age of pornography is known to have feature films like this which undermined the stereotypes of porn, slowly being recognised finally. But as the stereotypes of older pornography are still being shrugged off in retrospection, and the accessibility of films like this are exceptionally difficult to see countries like the United Kingdom with backwards attitudes to sexuality, a work like Cafe Flesh really needing to be more readily available as a result, an example of a work which has been placed in the genre of pornography but is so much more vibrant, strange and imaginatively twisted than the presumption of such a medium usually is.


Monday, 20 November 2017

Weekend (1967)


Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard
Cast: Mireille Darc as Corinne; Jean Yanne as Roland; Paul Gégauff as the Pianist; Jean-Pierre Léaud as Saint-Just; Blandine Jeanson as Emily Brontë; Yves Afonso as Tom Thumb; Juliet Berto as the Radical

Synopsis: Both of them have separate lovers and are planning to bump the other off, but married couple Corinne (Mireille Darc) and Roland (Jean Yanne) nonetheless have greater concerns as they need to make sure Corinne's dying father leaves his fortune entirely to them even if it's by force. The journey to and from her parents' home however over one weekend in the French countryside is significantly more complex. Outside on the long, sprawling roads the world is entirely stranger. Endless, unexplained car crashes on the side of roads. Characters from history and literature wandering through the woodland and fields, sometimes played by notable actors of French cinema. And a cannibalistic, extreme left wing terrorist group in the forests who pick on tourists and bourgeoisie.

My relationship with the film "found in a dump" as it proclaims itself has been a hate-love relationship. First seen in university when one has access to the library's extensive DVD collection and a sudden interest in diving into everything within it book or disc in general, I hated Weekend on my first viewing with a passion. A violent, blackened passion. Pretentious and disjointed to my younger eyes. And yet I had an obsession with what critics found in the film and rewatched it over and over again despite still hating it. Over five or six times I saw the film, the same old Artificial Eye DVD I probably borrowed more than anyone else, until a mutual acceptance of its virtues was reached. On this viewing, I understand why I eventually admired it.

It's a poisonous film in mood. From his debut Breathless (1960) to Weekend, Jean-Luc Godard was a trendy, popular filmmaker amongst the French New Wave group. Even amongst them, a whos-who of legendary filmmakers who are still held aloft now, his work in its unconventional and openly introspective was idiosyncratic but also what led to the most parodies of what French art cinema  in reflection of. Loose stories filtered through political and cultural monologues, the manipulation of the structure of filmmaking, everything onscreen and in its creation visual and audio to be manipulated by him. Yet the films he made between 1960 and 1967 were still in an area of popular culture, making a lot of films just between those years, just for the fact he had named actors and still kept the material for the most part in stories of some sort. By Weekend however, you get a pissed off spiteful Godard who'd give up on cinema in the populist sense and start an even more prolific increase of productions, entirely in political documents and video experiments in the seventies until his first "proper" theatrical feature with named actors and fuller plots came in 1980.

It's only a year before the May 1968 riots that shook France, so it can be argued Weekend is a prophecy of a breaking point and an apt time for Godard to dive headfirst afterwards into "difficult" essay work after. Here he decides to mix satire and Alice in Wonderland with a tale of two utterly loathsome figures, stereotypes of the worst of upper middle class French bourgeoisie. Dumped into a surreal netherworld of the French countryside, we see all the political concerns played out in absurd scenarios, already warning of the chaos about to be witnessed before the couple get out of their driveway, an argument with another family that involved intentionally hitting a car bumper with your vehicle and tennis balls used as ammunition. Slapstick but the humour's a little too dark.

It's still twisted to this day. Moments of Weekend feel even more transgressive now despite Darc and Yanne playing central characters you'd never defend. Roland willingly lets a hobo rape Corinne in a roadside ditch off-screen, for the most extreme example of this, only to intercut this between failed attempts by Roland to hitchhike undercut by wrong answers to political questions by the people in the vehicles, humour that could make the scene utterly tasteless if the film wasn't already a film of the bleakest kind. One with few redeemable figures and willing to break taboos beforehand. There's a warning of what to expect, parodying a sexually explicit monologue from Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966), set to ridiculously bombastic music, as Corinne describes a profusely pornographic descriptions of sexual acts with the blankest line readings possible, including an  egg being used George Bataille style. The film from then on goes to include the likes of a whole family being massacred, cannibalism, to even real death of animals by the techniques used by real slaughterhouse workers, only done in the middle in the woods rather than in their work environment, material that can be debated whether its defendable for artistic purposes or not but still shocks the viewer. If the film's still disturbing it's that Godard at his angriest has managed to made such a vicious film still to this day, and that inexplicably it's also capable of being one of his funniest too like two perverse sides of the same coin, both existing and jarring intercutting into each other for sharp, discomforting effect.


It's important to realise that, proclaiming this to be his last "real" film, Godard would indeed leave theatrical cinema for his diegetic era. Baring Tout Va Bien (1972) with Jane Fonda, which does have a narrative, he'd form the Dziga Vertov Group with Jean-Pierre Gorin to make very left wing essay work over eight long/feature length films, then proceed to make various feature length, short and television projects which were extensions of his thoughts. Godard's films were already experiment and clashed with their need for a narrative structure since his earliest work, but Weekend feels like the literal car crash between both sides where things will change. Aspects of this do succeed perfectly. Some work for the humour too. Some work for the absolutely nastiness in its veins. There's also one moment which still is an issue for the film - a prolonged political monologue by two garbage men (one African, one Arab) which is of its time, one I still drifted listlessly through switched off completely as I did on that first viewing back in university. The sequence will be a major issue for any viewer of the film, but this is a rare case where a scene that would destroy other films cannot undermine everything good before and after it. It's merely now part of the demonically charged tone of a film purposely trying to attack the viewer constantly even if it's by boredom. Hell, it could've actually been intentional knowing the rest of the film, learning of a contemporary review where that was the scene recommended for viewers to leave in the cinema to go get a coffee before heading back.

The good in the film is the madness that takes place, Godard using his habit of even manipulating the film's title sequences to embrace the absurd and sickly humorous. Whilst Weekend is a vicious film in tone, it nonetheless has snippets of pure silly humour too, intercut within the same scenes to add to its darkness but also show Godard can be whimsical, the last thing people normally associate with him on the surface. Where suddenly Emily Bronte and Tom Thumb appear and, even if tragically Bronte is set on fire and burns to nothing, she still gets to ask nonsensical questions the lead characters aren't appreciative of. Where Jean-Pierre Léaud both gets to play a historical figure in Napoleonic era military costume and also a man who sings his phone calls with considerable skill and talent in a phone box being pestered by the leads. And there's plenty of the more darker moments of humour which are as surreal. The number of car accidents seen almost become post-apocalyptic in their reoccurring images, and then there's the legendary tracking shot over a traffic jam that begins the series of bizarre incidents for the anti-heroes, arguably the best moment in the entirety of Godard's cinema. Technically complex, done in a perfect one shot over a long space of time and full of sight gags - cars the wrong way around, an elderly couple playing chess in the middle of the road - before ending with the first of many gristly road accidents encountered.

It helps Godard's technical awareness of the structure of cinema, and the kind of skilled production crews he used at this time, were always of incredible quality. By this point with Weekend, his earliest style drastically switched from the raw, on-the-fly virtues of Breathless to full colour, heavily orchestrated films that are luscious as he uses their look and style to dictate his political concerns. A primary coloured, bold aesthetic washed over his last films of this era which used striking compositions to catch the viewer's eyes and make them think about what was onscreen. The use of sound and wordplay, which would continue onwards whether on film or video in his career, is playful and purposely keeps the viewer on their toes. And brilliantly he does use his deconstructive style for humour, the film reel literally coming of just before the leads end up totalling their car in reckless driving.

As a result Weekend is actually a good film to get into Godard's more difficult work in spite of its more nasty, poisoned streak. This is ironic considering how much I once hated this film, but alongside some of the cruellest moments of Godard's filmmaking, material which will make viewers uncomfortable and should be approached with caution, you yet also get some of the openly funniest and inventive which leads to a paradoxical situation that it's still the better way to get into his deeper filmography in spite of its more darker moments. It's a film as much a document of its time and something beyond. Of its time as the sixties would die miserably and, predated by the cannibalistic left wing terrorists, revolutionary factions would get far more extreme and even un-defendable in morals in the late sixties and seventies (the Red Army Faction in West Germany, the Red Army in Japan etc.). It feels beyond its time as, whilst the world no longer looks like this film, sadly its twisted jokes still resonate. An encounter between the rich and the poor - when a farmer crashes his tractor into a trendy sports car and kills a man, leading his girlfriend (an early Juliet Berto role) to get into a screaming match with him - ends with both sides siding together in an anti Semitic comment at the fleeing central characters. Much of the humour in this Bourgeois in Wonderland scenario sadly has not been lost in the modern day but it means the humour's still scathing and keeps the film alive.

Abstract Spectrum: Avant-Garde/Grotesque/Surreal/Transgressive
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): High

Personal Opinion:
A hard film, one I have had a complex relationship with for over ten years with. I've despised Weekend and now I admire it. Appropriate for a film that can leave some viewers feeling like they need a shower afterwards from. 


Thursday, 16 November 2017

After Last Season (2009)

Director: Mark Region
Screenplay: Mark Region
Cast: Jason Kulas as Matthew Andrews; Peggy McClellan as Sarah Austin; Scott Winters as Dr. John Marlen; Casey McDougal as Anne Plaven; Joan-Marie Dewsnap as Haley Marlen


Synopsis: A pair of  neurological medical interns at the Prorolis Corporation, Matthew Andrews (Jason Kulas) and Sarah Austin (Peggy McClellan), experiment with microchips which allow each other to see the other's dreams. A person has been killing people around the area, which Matthew and Sarah inavertedly pick up on during their experiment with the microchips.

I learnt of After Last Season in 2010. A long gone podcast called brought the film up in their Worst of 2009 episode. Amongst bad comedies, morally problematic rom-coms and bad ideas in general, it was something above them in terms of its already growing cult. Barely decorated environments, cardboard and paper on the walls, minimal lighting and a cardboard MRI machine, evoking Lars von Trier's Dogville (2003) by way of one of the films-within-a-film from Be Kind Rewind (2008). A film despite this that was apparently made for $5 million nonetheless and filmed on 35mm celluloid stock. Those who managed to see one of the four film prints that were struck and shown at American cinemas were dumbfounded, formed their own Pineapple Club online (inspired by one of the various scraps of paper found onscreen) and talked of it. Some through it was a publicity stunt by Spike Jonze for Where the Wild Things Are (2009). Then After Last Season vanished. At least one print of the film was destroyed, and its unknown what happened to the others as producer/distributor Index Square declined taking them back. The DVD release is out of print. Director Mark Region, confirmed as a real man who made the film as a sincere sci-fi horror drama, was not impressed about people calling his film "so bad it's good" and has not been seen or heard of since. And yet After Last Season is still talked of and some have managed to see it.

"So bad it's good" is a problematic term fed on cruelty. Ideally those films which failed but still gained legacies are stories of perseverance and hard work. Even if failure is funny, it's to laugh with or laugh at with sympathy with the creators. No one thinks of Ed Wood Jr. by his death in 1978 penniless, alcoholic and homeless. They don't even think of him by  Michael Medved calling at Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) the worst film ever made only. Fans sincerely love his work and just so happen to find the wobbling tombstones funny. I sympathise with Mark Region in hindsight to how his film's reputation has been, but as film writer Jason Coffman in his extensive analysis of the film's history suggests1, may I suggest that Region has still managed to make something inspired even if by accident?

The synopsis once you brush past what actually takes place onscreen is a b-movie plot. What happened to this plot is more complicated and entirely to debate. The story of $5 million being spent, if true, is likely from the use of film celluloid (which was just about to become a niche as digital cameras took over when it was released), the marketing, the four film prints, and whatever the cost of the infamous computer effects. The product's sparseness is legendary in contrast to this speculated budget. Card and paper covering bare walls, skeletal series of environments in a warehouse which masquerade as medical and study rooms. One or two sets which a person's home, significantly more decorated and colourful. Strangely it evokes the same mood Andrew Bujalski intentionally went for with Computer Chess (2013), a film it spiritually is connected to in a perverse way and could work as a double bill. The sets force the viewer to try to image the rooms they are meant to be, an extreme minimalism that causes an alienation effect. Even ordinary objects, like chairs or a metal ruler, become more significant on screen because everything else is bare or made from cardboard. More so as the director cuts in the midst of conversations to the little furniture there.

The plot is simplistic but in a structure which purposely refutes this plot. The comparison to Computer Chess isn't absurd, Bujalski's film was a dramatic comedy which consisted of scenes of characters talking about trivial or ordinary things rather than about an elaborate plot, increasingly weird events that buckle the reality and genre taking place as it goes along. After Last Season is this by accident. Dialogue is mostly small talk but never meant to carry out characterisation if not plot. It feels improvised, lengthy pregnant pauses and no sense that its real life accurately depicted in the speech patterns. Real life in conversations is scattershot, can lead to nowhere but also has various emotional peaks and drops. Here the dialogue, spoken with a muted tone extreme even if for a Robert Bresson film, is light chat which conveys little information even in dramatic moments. Region wanted to bring realism to his film, but the glacial pace crawls under the viewer's skin, the plot not starting properly until at least twenty or so minutes into the film, creating something that forces the viewer to wait...and wait for a prolonged amount of time. When the plot reaches its high points they're muted and distorted. The reason behind the killer never truly explained, the microchips revealed to be an elaborate dream sequence for Matthew. The final scene is not of any lead character but the mother of a son who was killed and becomes the invisible ghost who helps stop his killer, a scene post-grieving process of a conversation between two older female friends in her house that leaves the film not with dramatic tension but a slow dulled closure.


It's anti-cinema even if as mentioned it could be seen as an insulting name for the original director-writer. I admit a tolerance for this type of cinema which has been built from viewing the extremes of art cinema (the 7 1/2 hour Satantango (1994)) and bad cinema so I am a rare case study. Most will find After Last Season insufferable or just be confused. Depriving the viewer of expectations of what a film should do however provides something more interesting than if Region had just made another generic film, its structure quirks aspects which have been done deliberately in other movies for great effect. It's possible to enter a numb state viewing the film, even a trance. No sense of plot found rejects the need to think about the material in surface ways, the minimalism and dialogue leaves one to drift along. The dialogue even has a strange mantra like obsession with disconnect. That characters passed through people's home towns but never entered them fully. An anecdote about a wild animal appearing only to just disappear again That they knew places similar or were there at the same time, dialogue which undermines the geography of where the film is meant to be repeatedly, undermines expectation of events. That the microchip subplot is merely a prolonged dream sequence is not a cop-out, the film so disconnected from plotting it becomes another depriving of actual events of weight.

One could find the same wavelength of the film and reach a calmness as a result, suggesting that the best way to view the film (and not one that is just insulting to its creator) is laying on beanbags in front of a giant screen and letting oneself in a group viewing drift in and out of perceived consciousness. Not even falling asleep occasionally but a state of wakefulness with yet becomes completely disconnected from all but mere perception of the images onscreen. The film manages to an atonal peak, the microchip subplot when the extensive computer animation sequences take over. The computer effects used for the thoughts and images the lead characters have in each others' minds is primitive, but of the same dreamlike strangeness of obsolete animation vaporwave art and music latched onto. This material can be seen in nostalgia but is more interesting when, as this type of older or rudimentary animation is no longer close to the peak of its technological capability, it takes on a dreamlike quality as they exist in the purely unreal. The sequences are serene in lack of event, able to remove thought from a viewer's mind as you watch basic shapes floating, maybe a cameo from an old 3D Max female figure or a rudimentary car but mainly basic shapes. The computer effects are infamous amongst such infamous scenes throughout After Last Season but the irony is that it's not that far removed from the kind of mood tapes that, when not using real life nature footage, used shapes and colours for meditative effect to leave their viewer in a sedate calm, helped as well by the fact that the dialogue heard from the protagonists over these images have a tone comparable to a mindfulness lesson, to rearrange shapes, to focus, to clarify what the other sees etc. Viewing this agonisingly long sequence eventually managed to leave me in a calm most self help books could likely failed to, perversely applaudable knowing it wasn't deliberate.

After Last Season as a result has an aesthetic that Mark Region, if he ever (hopefully) returns to filmmaking, could intentionally use for a bold, disquieting tone. It fits his obsessions, of the esoteric and how human perception can be distorted. The first scene is of an older man, later revealed to be a prison guard, suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's. There's a lengthy discussion on schizophrenia, including the most provocative and interesting line of dialogue, an anecdote of a woman medicated who claimed she heard voices from God, provocative as there is an actual ghost involved in the plot eventually. That ghost, whilst involving actors performing to an invisible knife in an empty room, is the one technically and thematically good aspect of After Last Season. A film this sedate and languid in tone, the sudden movement of a chair by itself is a shock and, likely using wires, it's far more effective than any high budget CGI could be. The ghost itself is interesting in how, after finding his murderer, he eventually dissipates from that existence, not even able to hold a metal ruler, into the great unknown. This fascination with this subject matter actually suits a tone as disarming as After Last Season's, and if it could be used on purpose something even better than this accidental marvel it could lead to great results. As it stands, the meeting if strange, not for all and disarming, but the meeting on a second occasion could be even more compelling than it is. 

Abstract Spectrum: Abstract/Dreamlike/Mindbender/Minimalism/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): High

Personal Opinion:
It could also be insulting to the director-writer to call After Last Season an "anti-film". But that's not really an insult to a film which is as clearly amiss in everything (in plot, tone, presentation), yet manages to stand out as something unique become of this.


1) A link to both parts of his look of After Last Season are HERE and HERE

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Dark Backwards (1991)


Director: Adam Rifkin
Screenplay: Adam Rifkin
Cast: Judd Nelson as Marty Malt; Bill Paxton as Gus; Wayne Newton as Jackie Chrome; Lara Flynn Boyle as Rosarita; James Caan as Doctor Scurvy; Rob Lowe as Dirk Delta; King Moody as Twinkee Doodle


Synopsis: In a rundown urbanscape of an unknown time, garbage man and aspiring stand-up comedian Marty Malt (Judd Nelson) may finally be able to get into the big time when a third arm inexplicably grows from his back. However being both manipulated by his best friend and co-worker Gus (Bill Paxton) and his new agent Jackie Chrome (Wayne Newton) as a freak show act, Malt will eventually learn that nothing is sacred for the sake of fame especially as he has already lost his girlfriend Rosarita (Lara Flynn Boyle) due to the new appendage.

The nineties is a strange era. Arguably the last true era of celluloid film as digital took over after the Millennium and the former format became more of an aesthetic choice. Arguably a post modern era which looked back at old pop culture and also dissected high brow thoughts in very unconventional ways. It was also a time where American films like The Dark Backwards could come to exist. Yes, strange films still come out with well known actors, but the nineties is full of these oddities that wouldn't have stood a chance a decade later. Particularly not with some of the lavishness this production has as, whilst it's still a film which emphasises awkward moments of conversation and small scale weirdness, this still builds up a world surrounding the story that could've gone into other narratives, a world of fifties American aesthetic if it had gone to the dogs. The film's existence is stranger knowing Adam Rifkin a year before made comedy horror The Invisible Maniac (1990), a pretty goddamn awful film that's evidence of poor man's Troma movies existing, and a year afterwards made Nutty Nut (1992), a comedy so bad I gave up on it years ago after the first ten to fifteen minutes. Here however, even if a viewer was too repulsed by The Dark Backward to appreciate it, Rifkin could be forgiven for any other film because he brought such a distinct, idiosyncratic work to the screen. A unique vision, one based on a script which he wrote at the age of nineteen so there was a clear emotional significance to adapting The Dark Backwards, which he had the budget and cast to depict with considerable resources. Occasionally the music of Marc David Decker betrays the production with cheap synth but even then there's a carnivalesque tone to the score which adds to the material.

Starting off a fairy tale, bookended by an actual hard bone tome being opened, isn't necessarily ironic considering fairy tales could be much darker and misanthropic, more moral lessons to which this one deals with the inevitable backstabbing and misery a person will go through. If The Dark Backwards had any deeper meaning, it's the story of Job only with significantly less reason behind the agony he suffers from a deity and just the pure greed of his garbage eating, greasy co-worker Gus being the cause. As a fairy tale goes, it's pretty hopeless here in a world that's utterly rundown. Hints of a nineties fifties modernism are shown decayed, its wholesome signs of the same  stereotypical housewife found everywhere from garbage trucks to a giant sign for suppositories on a billboard above towers. It's as much a film, whilst shot in California, that evokes the real life aesthetic of pre-cleanup New York City of late seventies and eighties genre cinema, even more garbage on the streets here that Marty and Gus' work truck has to actually plough through it all before anything is collected. This world is the combination of all the nightmares of urban city living where everything is grim. Polluted water running out of pipes in front of a Texas bar club's door, even live fish popping out of it. The sense that everything is in extreme poverty and the diners are greasy, mostly empty places rather than the beauty of a Edward Hopper painting. The interiors are as extreme, between kitsch objects cluttered in scenes (the black cat clock whose eyes go back and forth, the entire colour coding and decor of Jackie Chrome's office) to utter degradation. Where Marty's home is a claustrophobic environment and everything in the fridge has been rotted for a while, the chicken still eaten by Bill Paxton melting in his fingers in various coloured goo in one of the more repulsive moments of the movie.  

It's not a surprise how negative the reactions were to the film when it was first release, grotesque to an extreme just in appearance before you get to the plot itself and the characterisation. Marty Malt is the most nervous protagonist you could have, easily manipulated and doomed to be pulled along by others. A man whose jokes no one laughs at and has none of his concerns taken into consideration. When a lump appears on his back, it's arguable the third arm that eventually appears is a linearization of how ostracised he is, its place his gift to advance but also a curse others exploit and provides him nightmares as a dream sequence when he becomes a multi-armed mutant on a beach demonstrates. Dismissed as a mere lump by Dr. Scurvy, James Caan in a hilarious role as the worst bedside company you could get, the arm that appears and requires a modified suit jacket for the back for his stand-up is a burden as much as a success. One which has Chrome chose him more as a sideshow act with Gus taking advantage to be on stage to play his accordion. A story of blunt exploitation which even with the strangeness that appears onscreen constantly - a woman in  a Valkyrie outfit playing a "human accordion" of dwarves in sailor suits - is pretty real. Too uncomfortably real in some ways and as much the cause of the odious mood The Dark Backwards has but also why it succeeds, a real grimness that just happens to be depicted with Marty suddenly waking up one day with a fully usable arm sticking out of his back.

The humour feels decades too early as a result. The stand up itself is anti-humour, odd non-sequiturs whose humour is found in the low energy Judd Nelson puts in the line delivery. Unlike more modern comedy such as Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012) - another intentionally grotesque and weird film with the same tone of humour - there's no sense of being deliberately crass for the sake of it, closer to John Waters in how it takes a series of tastelessness but has more going on in scenes beyond them. The aesthetic look of the film plays as much a part of its tone. Whilst capable of just being utterly bizarre, such as having the late Paxton writhe around with three very large women in scanty underwear, there's a greater emphasis on a drama in seeing Marty constantly pushed around. Most will find him too weak to sympathise with, but for me it's impossible not to sympathise with him. The cast itself is vital as much as the colour and vibrancy of the world's degraded look for this humour to work. With this in mind, whilst everyone in the main roles plays their performances in an exaggerated way, there is noticeably a lack of "wackiness" to their performances, never with a sense of winking to the camera and still acting in a film with a full narrative structure, just one which exists in a more exaggerated world. Nelson for me works in the lead as someone who, with the mop of black hair over his eyes and spectacles representing all his neuroses, feels like a distillation of all socially shy figures beaten down over the decades. His ending, learning to use his eventual failure and being backstabbed for his act and finally getting laughter from the crowd, is a happy ending that inexplicably exists in as nasty a film like this.

Bill Paxton, as the blunt and vulgar Gus who gurns in most of his scenes, makes the most of his character. There's a scene early on which would immediately be too far for some viewers and force them to leave the film, where Gus finds a female corpse in a landfill site and starts to lick her body with a horrible intention, but Paxton manages even after this to make the character compelling. This again is closer to the reprobates John Waters depicted without bias in either direction in his films, characters who do deplorable acts but are fascinating to watch. Paxton's role is the one the most on a thin tightrope because of this, but he manages to succeed in creating a character who is always a bastard and deplorable throughout, but never someone so bad you don't want to follow him. Adding to the main trio is real life performer and singer Wayne Newton. There's a delicious (and intentional) irony in having such a performer playing the type of talent agent he's probably had to suffer with and maybe even ripped off by in his profession, slicked back hair and bright coloured suits hiding a slimy charm that's out for money. Again his performance in any other context would've been too off putting, yet Newton manages even to make the viewer have an emotional attachment to him trying to finally succeed in his life with Marty.

The Dark Backwards also openly embraces it weirdness. One that, wisely, builds itself up from grounded reality. A sense of a world that's cluttered into details which other films would ignore. That there's products made just for this world such as bacon juice in cartons. That the amateur talent show that's on TV all the time is screened through tube cameras, a strange programme that's picked up from another planet's signals and whose level of talent to entertain the kids is a man rolling on an old mattress. It's a film, considering where the script comes from, which Adam Rifkin clearly held with a personal closeness to and he managed to succeed in at least providing it the right production value.

Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

Personal Opinion:
Material that is able to put two-thirds of a potential audience off but for the third that remains The Dark Backwards is the bleakest of laughs and one that some modern anti-humour can learn from in caring about shaping a world where its perversity is actually appropriate for the atmosphere.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Organ (1996)


Director: Kei Fujiwara
Screenplay: Kei Fujiwara
Cast: Kei Fujiwara; Kimihiko Hasegawa; Kenji Nasa; Ryu Okubo; Tojima Shozo; Shun Sugata
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #149


Synopsis: An attempt burst an illegal organ transplant ring by two detectives turns into a disaster. One, Tosaka, becomes a puppet for Saeki, the brother of a one-eyed woman Yoko who helps run the organ ring, a schoolteacher at an all girl's school with psychosexual desires. Locked up in a secret room of Saeki's school office, Tosaka is slowly turning half plant. Numata, the senior detective, is thrown off the case, wandering the streets half drunk in despair of the scenario that took place only to be drawn back in. Tosaka's twin brother wants to find out the truth about his brother, beginning a search with great bloodshed.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) was a significant film when it was first released. Whilst great cinema was coming out of Japan in the eighties, neglected still to this day, Tetsuo had a momentous impact globally when it premiered in the West. What is also of worth with Tetsuo is that it wasn't just one person of notice came from the film but three instead. Director Shinya Tsukamoto himself is underrated even still, in the sense that his career is a vast and complex one which went from the energised brutality of his debut to more psychological, introspected and fascinating work to match his debut, films arguably as good as Tetsuo and in the cases of Tokyo Fist (1995) and A Snake of June (2002) even better. One of the crew Shozin Fukui went on not so long after, having made short films beforehand, to have his own film career. Sadly only two of his films have ever made an appearance in the West but thankfully those films are the ones that need more attention to them, 964 Pinocchio (1991) and Rubber's Lover (1996), cyberpunk films where in contrast to Tsukamoto he pushed the notion of Tetsuo of physical ferocity even further - in acting, in camera movement and editing - and made it part of his plots, the extremes of human trauma taken their furthest when Rubber's Lover is about an underground experiment where a combination of sensory deprivation (including rubber costuming depriving the skin its ability to breath) and drugs leads to powerful psychic abilities.

The least known and most unsung is sadly, considering how we are still in an era where female directors are underappreciated, co-cinematographer, costumer and main actress of Tetsuo Kei Fujiwara. In Tetsuo, even if it leads to an unfortunate moment involving a penis drill, Fujiwara is immediately striking in appearance and how she acts. Her sole two films as director are even more striking, the extremity of the other two by way of spirituality, Cronenbergian body horror, and horrifying, grimy degradation.ID (2005), which was originally meant to be a sequel to her first film Organ and includes characters from the first film played by the same actors, took the spirituality further, based upon the concept that even the most sinful of people can be redeemed if they pray to Buddha for salvation, and that animals can not due to being unable to do so. It followed people around a  slaughterhouse as madness, poverty and violence leads to a woman (played by Fujiwara) turning into beast for horrible consequences.

Organ is more of a gristly crime-horror film of its era, Japanese cult cinema where genre is polymorphous and people like me viewed them both for how almost dangerous they were. That these films were more sexual, more weird, more kinky, more transgressive - and yet had seriousness and actual intelligence running through their veins in the best examples. These films could be unpredictable in how well made they were and how they lingered with you. Organ is probably to grimiest of the lot even next to what Takashi Miike at his more extreme moments did in the nineties. It evokes his yakuza films of the period, like Shinjuku Triad Society (1995), which were virtually by also feeling like a microcosm of an unknown Japan, an underground of yakuza to the poor, but manages to be more gross and grim.

It's a film which is already bound to cause people to need to take a hot shower afterwards before the body horror takes place. Fujiwara shoots a film where there's scenes taking place in rubbish strewn back alleys, in dank warehouses or amongst homeless, drunk men in a shell of a building. Where, as Numata wanders in his own cloud of anger in slum, his wife is left at home to pee just to the side of her bed whilst the son is on the stairs playing a handheld videogame. A sense of rundown, degraded Japan that a lot of these genres were quick to depict, bringing entirely distinct views of the country, genre cinema in Japan even today at the lowest budgeted films always feeling like travelogues at ordinary urban and country life, from the weed covered back alleys and isolated petrol stations. This is before you get to the illegal organ transplant organisation, done in filthy warehouse rooms even if there's sterile plastic sheeting around the improvised operating table, or the yakuza spilling people's blood in an underpass tunnel. The violence itself is gristly and utterly painful to witness, never done with a desire to please the viewer but fill them with disgust.

Then you get to the stranger aspects of Organ, such as one unfortunately police detective after the prologue having all his limbs hacked off and kept in Saeki's secret room in his school office, becoming a rotted hybrid of flesh and plant with festering ooze coming off him, something Saeki himself is suffering from. The surreal dream sequence where Fujiwara is birthed from a cocoon like a butterfly, writhing from it. Even the tone of the film is slow burn, intercutting between sequences and with a sense of the film at points falling into chaos with sometimes the slower pace will be replaced by a frantic sense of editing. The sense of a place on screen that feels melancholic and disturbed is felt throughout, bodies just appearing next to a countryside road or a schoolgirl floating in a river.

It's a work that's filthy and bleak but also concerned for its human characters. Even the villains, siblings Saeki and Yoko,  are created from a traumatic childhood even when their mother, enraged by their father's likely adultery, attempted to cut off the son's genitals and blinded the older daughter who tried to stop her. Death is horrible in Organ, not an aesthetic pleasure, and whilst that will be off putting for most surface level cult film lists, like the best of this Japanese cult cinema it's actually a drama with complexity that just happens to exist in a genre, one that's willing to push boundaries of violence and sexuality to make the viewer step back and actually react viscerally. There's even a tinge of psychodrama to attack the viewer mentally with Saeki's subplot, his office already a place of suspicion with butterflies on mass pinned to boards on the walls before anything else comes to mind. His own dark sexual desires have to be kept in check with his female students or a female teacher who's suspicious of him.

It's a film which feels like it came from the underground, able to stand out more due to how the Japanese industry allowed these types of films to thrive for cinema or straight-to-video. In Fujiwara's work as much as Fukui and Tsukamoto, you get cinema which reflects a wider scope than most cinema, even if bleak still a snapshot of the down-and-out, a lot of it feeling like its from the perspective of filmmakers who came from the working class, or at least ordinary families and decided to use the ordinary locations due to practicality but for a point. (Tsukamoto and his constant obsession with urban environments, Fukui having actors running around a supermarket in a constant frantic one-shot, or running through a busy and crowded urban centre pulling a prop stone pyramid along on a chain, to Fujiwara's ID feeling like a perverse domestic drama of a family of working class slaughterhouse butchers who live in near poverty). Whilst they decided to show their ordinary worlds through a hyper-fantastical extreme, ironically with a film like Organ you get as much a continuation of the type of cinema Shohei Imamura explored. Human entomology that just happened to inexplicably (but brilliantly) filter itself in extreme and/or idiosyncratic genre films, not that strange considering Takashi Miike himself was a student of Imamura's who worked on his film sets. Whilst sadly Japanese genre cinema has filtered through less interesting tangents, the post-irony of Sushi Typhoon the biggest culprits in recent decade in removing this type of realistic snapshots through irony, the best of these films from pinku cinema to horror hybrids like this feel like they're actually scrutinising the human condition under a microscope, one here in Organ leavened in nastiness but never feeling repugnant without reason.

Abstract Spectrum: Body Horror/Dreamlike/Grotesque
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

Personal Opinion:
A film that understandably can put people off from it, but like Kei Fujiwara's in career in general, but is in dire need of reappraisal. Particularly when there are issues about the lack of women directing horror in general, Organ needs the re-evaluation drastically especially as Fujiwara escapes the confines of what a lot of female directors still have to be put through. That their work doesn't get lionised necessarily because of its virtues but because of their gender, and film critics tend to praise these films because they tackle the surface of subjects engendered to female creators rather than tackle them (and subjects beyond) with risk and a willingness to shake a viewer. Particularly with a film like The Babadook (2014) which, for all the interesting things it brings up that only its director could've brought to it, is stuck with all the clichés of jump scare horror and plot structure, a film like Organ is so alien to the stereotype of what a film directed by a woman could be in the whole, token irritance of critical praise. One that however is clearly made by this one woman with an obsession between this and ID is spirituality found even in the nastiest, bleakest of circumstances and overcoming even full body rot. Something so much more rewarding, so much more awesome and better because it's not nice, it's not pleasantly tackling obvious things, but a gruesome genre film which however feels like a female director-screenwriter putting onscreen only what she could. 


Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Non Abstract Review: Two Something Weird Films


American cinema shows a lot of the country's contradiction between sexual purity and sexual desire in their culture. The United States is known as both being one of the most sexually open and sexually repressive countries at least in terms of how both sides express themselves and clash noticeably. From chastity rings to the golden age of pornography. It even helps found religious belief, one of the influences to Anton LaVey eventually founding the Church of Satan when he himself, as a carnival organ player, saw the same male patrons lusting at erotic dancers at one tent, then at the Christian preacher's sermon with their families and wives in another tent. As an agnostic, the problem for me as much stems at least in Christian dogma from the rules and beliefs written thousands of years ago which drastically clash against modern day attitudes. Not even the "decadent" ideals of certain but beliefs held by very moral, very religious people which yet contradict older beliefs. (Such as the issues surrounding accepting gay men and women into the Church despite the fact their sexuality shouldn't affect their ability to be good, moral Christians). There's a vast different between a nun who believes chastity allows herself to reach a moral good by removing a distraction that she has little interest in at all, and then suggesting that masturbation is as much a sin as either murder.

As an agnostic baptised in the Protestant Church, I still hold the Seven Deadly Sins as an important set of moral codes but view them in a different way. Unless I am proven wrong and in folly, even sexual desire outside of monogamy is not truly lust as a sin, or at least is far removed from the worst that the sin of lust should imply. Adultery is lust as a sin, as it involves deceit and betrayal of trust. Objectification and unhealthy, obsessive desire is a sin in terms of distorting sexuality. Sexual violence, rape and harassment are absolutely sins even for atheists. Viewing another as merely meat is another, a concern in terms of whether pornography is redeemable or not in lieu of this. For me the issue has always been that pornography itself is an inert object, not inherently a form which is either good or evil. The problem always lies in the human beings who create something from it, entirely accountable on and off the camera for whatever is suggested and provoked.

The issue gets muddled when you have the sixties softcore of American exploitation. So chaste at even the later years of the decade that one of these films I've reviewing, The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill, doesn't have full frontal female nudity and does all it can to hide it. After you have pornography rise from the underground stag reels of before in the seventies, to take its place in culture and divisive discussion, you look to the older films which showed merely nudity and heavy petting and see them as tame. If it's still sinful morally to see Stacey Walker as Fanny Hill's daughter or Marsha Jordan as the titular character of The Head Mistress naked, it expresses quite an issue where even sexuality in its tamest form disrupts one's ability to reach a spiritual moralit. It suggests more a sin of incompetence from the religious personal who cannot focus and have willpower then the creators of these films, co-produced by David F. Friedman, Something Weird dug back up.


The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill (1966)
Director: Peter Perry Jr.
Screenplay: Jim Markham
Cast: Stacey Walker as Miss Kissey Hill; Linda Cochran as the Duchess of Roxbury; Ora Kittle as the Duke of Roxbury; Ginger Hale as Meg; Orlando Fenwick as the Count de Sade; John Andrews as a Peasant; James Brand as The Orgymaster; Tony Sarcone as Sir Philip; Tom Duncan as Miss Hill's Lackey

Synopsis: The day in the life of Kissey Hill, the daughter of the infamous Fanny Hill, concubine to lords and the rich.

A particular factor with the films being talked of is how they've decided to depict themselves, taking influence for classical literature and erotica but on a significantly low budget scale and with American actors barely attempting to hide their accents. These are the films in the midst of a period, as well as predating hardcore eliminating their existence, which also came after the nudist films which had to depict themselves as educational documents to pass censors, documents which just happened to have beautiful models topless. Films which, at least in this case, attempted to be actual films or with this attempted to have a sense of style to them. Here we get something novel and in the case of The Notorious Daughter..., its ultimately its virtue when it attempts to replicate 19th century England.

Based on John Cleland's Fanny Hill, a notorious erotic novel still held in recognition centuries later, this film doesn't really have anything that particularly stands out in comparison baring its named connection, but the decision to make the protagonist her daughter has a charm to it immediately. The production has to struggle with its preteens at points, when Kissey's manservant is an American actor trying to wrap his vocals around an English accent, something even Hollywood actors have failed in, moments where its veneer is shown to be a forced one. However this in itself is a virtue in high sight, where that artificiality and how it disrupts the fantasy is compelling in itself. Especially as, for a movie whose excuse is only to see nude women, the production decided to acquire as many props and costumes as they could get their hands on and put it all in the sole set they had. That it's visually nubile, bee-hive haired women in period garb actually adds to the appearance in its artificiality. Even the music by Chet Moore and Sam Brown, period instrumentation, is unexpected in how earnest it tries to be of the period

It's rich colour and artifice evokes gay avant-garde filmmakers who loved classic Hollywood cinema and recreated them with as little or even less than this production did. I cannot help but wonder what Jack Smith, director of Flaming Creatures (1963) and Normal Love (1963), could've done with the single, multi-coloured set The Notorious Daughter... had, the type of film Anna Biller was visually recreating for Viva (2007). Knowing as well that, under a pseudonym, the cinematographer was László Kovács at the beginning of his career does also cause one to consider the style of the film, imagining the same man who would film Easy Rider (1969) and Ghostbusters (1984) filming something like this immediately springing to mind.

Structurally this is as threadbare as you can get, a series of sex scenes which pad out the running time leading to a wild party with guests. A large portion of this does including endless improvised sex, mainly cuddling and very sloppy kissing. The film's immensely chaste in the current day, no full frontal nudity and only really showing bared breasts and female buttocks. It's cheesecake which has to pad itself out with prolonged moments of actor pawing at each other accounting for actual sex. Thankfully this film also cuts to ridiculous facial expressions of its cast a lot, the face elastic especially in the onlookers at the final party. A series of three couplings, the party has three women (including the protagonist) and three men. Even if it's meant to decide which woman takes her clothes off and which man gets to sleep with her, the events that transparent include these absurd games of darts and not sneezing with snuff under one's nose that completely remove anything which could come off as problematic, a more absurd innocence being evoked instead.

Even when the film ends darkly, the wife of a Duke killing the heroine because she was his mistress, everything has an innocence to it throughout its length. This in itself, unlike the second film to be covered, undercuts any sense of a wrongness to the eroticism especially when it feels so kitsch in a playful way. The film's only sense of the perverse is distorted when it appears, where a character named De Sade is far from the libertine of reality but an older actor throwing fake rubies into the heroine's belly button and whose likes being whipped daintily by her whilst she's wearing thigh high leather boots. As a result a  film like this still possesses a fascinating as being not a great work but preferred for its curiosity and the eventual entertainment one gains from it.



The Head Mistress (1968)
Director: Byron Mabe
Screenplay: Unknown
Cast: Julia Blackburn as Sophia; Marsha Jordan as the Head Mistress; Ray Sebastian (aka. Micro Cosim) as Luigi; Gee Gentell as Amelia; Victor Brandt as Mario; Samantha Scott as Philomena

Synopsis: In 17th century Italy, Mario (Victor Brandt) decides to pose as a dumb and mute man to become a man servant at an all girl's school, one ran by a very viscous and sexually obsessed head mistress (Marsha Jordan).

Following from The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill, this continues the desire for pretension or at least in terms of a lavishness that I cannot help but appreciate. Another period setting, this time evoking the later period erotic films from Italy itself that would start to make when censorship started to be chipped away. This film does immediately inform you of its artificiality (and context of how it was made) when an inn has a sign on the door, a piece of white paper with black marker writing, saying it's a pizza parlour/inn, something which cannot help but immediately raise a smile. Aesthetically aside from this it's just as capable or more so of being luscious with its erotic mosaics in the bathing room and costuming. There is however the irony that the emphasis on more realism with its natural outside locations and more muted look does actually undercut its qualities badly. The issue is to do with the fact that, also a film which pads its length out with lengthy scenes of actors caressing and writhing on top of each other, it feels like a film in dire need of more bolder aesthetic to have made it succeed. The restricted set (and focusing on close-ups of actors gurning) in The Notorious Daughter... actually helped it technically in having a more distinct style. The Head Mistress finds itself in contrast under closer scrutiny especially next to the films that would come from around the same time which had higher budgets. It's unfair to this softcore American feature to compare it next to Pier Paolo Pasolini's Trilogy of Life films, which began with The Decameron (1971), but considering he would start that series only three years later, which naturalistic aesthetic contrasting eroticism and the fantastical, The Head Mistress does feel malnourished in terms of a film beyond kitsch. The issue which trying to live up to pretence is that you have to try to succeed or pray in hope in the future decades later its appreciated for its amateur enthusiasm, something which you can't say for The Head Mistress as it actually feels less engaged with using its style for any flourish, more an arbitrary attempt at period Italian environments. At least with The Notorious Daughter... one had the bright colours and low budget splendour of costume jewellery.

It's a more explicit film, now with full frontal and immediately showing its blatant disregard for logic in depicting its eroticism with how it begins with schoolgirls taking their tops off outside at a picnic before eating, as if fearing crumbs on their gowns. The problems with the film in terms of being a series of sex scenes however rears its head, something which The Notorious Daughter... could avoid by the entertainment in its look and everything else. It's worse with pornography1, but unless one is actively engaged in titillation emotionally the long passages of sex in a filmed work can feel disconnecting and lead one to a sense of inertness. Here the scenes of the main character making out with various women is repetitious and boring without enough camp to sustain the moments, and not hardcore or explicit enough to raise even crass titillation.

The film also has a lot of the more problematic gender politics of yesteryear. The titular head mistress is a predatory lesbian who will even drug a schoolgirl under her wing, also leading to a flagellation scene with red paint added to the back of the prop whip for effect. Her back-story, which is shown, furthers the problem in how she became gay due to her male lover being killed (by way of a brief moment of decapitation and blood spurt) and then being raped by the male friends responsible for the former (thankfully, whilst still tasteless, the later is depicted by actors mouthing the actress' feet and torso rather than anything worse). That she is "cured" by the male hero and his libido just adds to the frustration that watching The Head Mistress, a film which flirts with charm but just doesn't work as anything but a curio. There is of course one bizarre part that does need mentioning, as even in a film as bland as this one, there's something to take away and make this review worth writing. That the Head Mistress, in the flashback sequence, takes her former lover's head and places it in a flower pot for a soil, leading to a plant growing from it. One that caresses her at night and, when the men responsible for her pain try to take it away, retaliates with extendable vines. Moments like this are evidence for American exploitation cinema always being worth viewing for its unpredictability. How even if this particular example is unrewarding, you can still get an exclamation point that makes the time spent of worth.

1) Bluntly, the endurance of the libido depending on the length of the pornographic work, be it a ten minute clip or nearly an hour long or more, comes to thought (pun not intended). Mentally can one sustain beyond a clip online for a feature length, male or female viewer? Physically, to be blunter, to be able to sustain arousal for even an hour is incredible vitality. It also explains why people find themselves looking at the curtains and furniture in the background if they're bored of the length of the scenes of people having actual or mock sex.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Cinema of the Abstract: A Möbius Strip Back to the Beginning Again

Abstract (ab+stract) adj.
1. having no reference to material objects or specific examples; not concrete
2. not applied or practical; theoretical
3. hard to understand; recondite; abstruse

Abstruse (ad+struse) adj.
not easy to understand; recondite; esoteric
Taken from the Collins English Dictionary, 1979 Edition

In the middle of October 2017, in the midst of the Halloween 31 for 31 season of film reviews I completed annually, a sudden emotional shock was felt. I had become unemployed at the start of October but it only sunk in two or so weeks after was quite a horrible effect. A depression which took advantage of sadly my worst tendencies, imagined cataclysms and pessimism, and grew deeper. It fed on aspects which were idiotic to worry about, fearing my mortality despite only being twenty eight. But it also fed on aspects which were a small existential crisis. A spiritual one but also of greater important trying to reconnect back to simple pleasures that actual meant something to me. Before this becomes a morose, oh-woe-is-me scenario from someone far more well off than many, there was instead a realisation that I hadn't lived up to my own personal expectations of what I should accomplish. Placing myself into my community and helping those around me is one such factor. The other to get back to cinema is that for a blog called Cinema of the Abstract, it's drifted from the original plan to be both entertaining and actually cover abstract films too much. I had already realised this and planned to take this blog back not only to its roots but improve on it, to take the blog's point of existence more seriously. The emotional shock and depression, now October's past and I'm dusting myself off, have pushed this plan forward. To tidy up and focus this blog. To spend more time on it and on the quality of what I write. With this in mind, I am going to go through some drastic changes...

1) Of greatest importance is to improve my writing. I had rushed some reviews and need to work on them. To stop writing in a generic style of review fed from Total Film magazine articles I read as a kid and actually create my own voice. Which means spoilers will no longer be a concern for reviews, as that actually regressed and undercut some reviews in the past. Taking the time to write these reviews, but to not take too long, is of importance. To take the time to cover films whether they are high art or unintentional surrealism and, rather than use clichéd phrases, to prod why say a Doris Wishman film causes a reaction in a viewer as much as a David Lynch film.

2) To do so I need to drastic improve the Abstract Spectrum aspect of the reviews. The entire page on the subject, The Colour Spectrum of Abstract Films, has been an embarrassment for a couple of years, never looking at the section again when I completed it and never daring take it down. Likely from an emotional fondness for how absurd the process was, which involved even drawing around a plate in a cafe and using Microsoft Paint to create a diagram. When this post is put up, it will be deleted, the "Abstract Section" in the reviews now to be terms to describe the experiences felt from the films using existing artistic movements or terminology you can look up as a reader easily. Eventually a new page will be built up once I relearn a college worth of Films Studies and significantly more to the point I can rewrite it with some greater knowledge.

3) The Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None) will stay as it is untouched, only with the Abstract List page updated more.

4) As of now, this will be the last of the Halloween 31 for 31 series I'll do unless anything changes for next year. The issue is that, whilst I've loved doing them over five years over two blogs, even a month's worth of preparation eventually led to rushed reviews.

4b) In general the A Night of a Thousand (Horror) --- reviews will be curtailed down to a small number being published at a time, having ended up writing more of them than about reviews about the actual subject of the blog. Thankfully horror in many places is inherently surreal or weird, so the number (currently at #148) will increase still. It will mean that films I have no interest in writing about will just be ignored1.

5) TV Series will still be covered. The longer amount of time needed for them however does bring up an important question in terms of covering them or not, whether it's worth investing the time if they are important to cover or not. I was meant to cover Gantz, the 2004 adaptation by Studio Gonzo and Ichiro Itano but I couldn't finish it off after two months going through it, at episode twenty with only six episodes left abandoning it. A realisation, after having had patience with the series with its tonal shifts and decision to stretch plot points over multiple episodes, that my investment was broken by a terrible storytelling decision2 which lost me completely.

6) This blog is still meant to be fun. Thankfully in the time that's passed as this has been typed together has allowed me to cheer up. I wish though to be better in terms of emotional state than before, to completely avoid depression in the slightest unless unavoidable, and the only way forward with that is to bring my spirits up.  The blog is meant to tackle the "Abstract" in cinema, that which is less than easy to define. That separates this from a website like 366 Weird Movies in that the pool I draw from is significantly more larger in what "abstract" could mean. It also means that the type of films covered will not just be cerebral serious art films. In fact a significant factor to this type of cinema (and why I prefer so much to Hollywood and narrative led mainstream filmmaking) is that even that stereotype is undermined continually. The serious dramas with minimalist realism can suddenly burst into music numbers with people dressed up as giant penises, as Tsai Ming-liang fans can attest to, amongst such other unpredictable examples. I got into cinema after 2008, with the 2000s became an era of unconventional films made by the likes of Ming-liang, Claire Denis, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Carlos Reygadas etc., fed upon by predessors from the classic era of art cinema of the fifties and sixties, and pushing what a film was in terms of genre, in terms of content, in terms of style to extremes. Not just extremes in content but structure. That type of cinema is the one I embrace the most and everything that deviates outside of it does however link even by accident to them in content. Weird exploitation films from the dustbin of genre filmmaking which are regional productions, showing their environments, or deviate from what it expected from cinema. Ephemeral films and home movies preserved by archives. Material which deviates from expectations and depicts human life and beyond in its vastness. This is why, barring horror, I find that genres like high fantasy bore me completely and even then I prefer horror which isn't conventional. You have to tackle these sub basements of moving pictures,  the art films to the strange smelling residue of ephemeral filmmaking and grotty exploitation dustbins, with humour because intentional or unintentional it's impossible to avoid humour within talking about them.

7) Finally, I have ambitions for this blog as things pick up. To cover non-Abstract films as well, those that don't qualify for the main point of the blog but are worth covering as they are on a subject that interests me in lieu of point 7. To  span a map of Abstract cinema. At least have a Hall of Fame. To cover films which generate countless emotions - shock, confusion, melancholy, bafflement, lack of comprehension, the sensation of time compacted or expanded, disgust, distress, gibbering incoherently at illogic - and so forth.


1) For anyone curious why the reviews of the Phantasm series have stopped at part 3 abruptly, I felt it was impossible to write anything really rewarding and to the point of the blog. I really liked Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) as an example of low budget film making, overcoming its severe restrictions to be as introspective and fascinating as the original 1979 film, but Phantasm V: Oblivion (2016) was such a flat climax, likely the last of the franchise due to Angus Scrimm's passing, that it was not only a bad choice to end those Halloween reviews on but not worth posting reviews about Phantasm further.

2) Major spoiler warning for Gantz - how badly episode twenty, alongside its tonal rollercoaster throughout it, depicts killing off the major female character in presentation. Imagine a human shield scenario which, due to how the scene is depicted, could've been prevented with both people surviving if she actually pushed the other person out of the way. The series does, reading spoilers out of curiosity after a few weeks away from the show, have an actual ending unlike what I previously thought but, as much as it temps me to finish the series, especially as someone fascinated by this type of Japanese genre storytelling which blends genres, there's as much to push me away from investing in those final six episodes to complete everything.