A quick collection of some material which is doing the rounds, firstly a powerful soundtrack for a visual meme;
In other news the lamentable departure of Scott Tobias from the A.V. Club means that his great Cult Canon series finishes with a definitively and appropriately odd choice – you can peruse the archives here. Courtesy of my colleagues over at Sound On Sight I’ve been turned on to the Cinephiliacs podcast which I’ve burning through on my commute – it’s fantastic, the best cinema related audio I’ve found this year. Next, a friend sent me this NSFW Trailer earlier today, he assuming it would tickle my cinema funny-bone, I’m not sure if I should be offended or amused;
Now, along with Oblivion do I try to explore The Place Beyond The Pines this weekend, that is the question…..and then there are some rumors……until we hear more about that keep on strolling my friends;
EDIT – Goddamn it, I’ve meaning to post this somewhere and this seems apt all things considered, Eberts last ever review after 40+ years of film reviewing, for To The Wonder- a final door closing, and what a immortal epilogue.
The L’enfant terrible of cinema are a wretched and shocking bunch. From Buñuel and his moustache twirling partner in crime Dali challenging bourgeois conventions with Un Chien Andalou in 1929, from Tod Browning’s dabbling with the disfigured in Freaks, these early demagogues had temperaments malevolent enough to send any righteous and respectable film critics retreating to their fainting couch like some fragile, offended 17th century courtesan. In the post war years a new scandalous breed of artisans began chipping away at the borders of taste and decency, particularly men whose treatment and voyeurism of women in their work have been somewhat controversial, from the juvenile Baby Doll in 1956 to Hitchcock’s more vicious period between Rear Window to Frenzy, or Kubrick’s carefully discrete adaption of Nabokov’s Lolita in 1961 young women’s bodies became increasingly compromised and sexualized, in tune with the revolutionary free love mantra of the groovy 1960′s, or at least that’s how the Church and Right-Wing puritans decried these sacrilegious screeds. In the increasingly permissive 1970′s sexual violence reared its ugly head alongside wider representations of screen ferocity, the twin fulcrum of offence resting in the viewfinder of grizzled Sam Peckinpah. Quite rightly his hinting that Susan George’s ‘no’ might actually mean ‘yes’ in Straw Dogs still spawns outrage, it’s an ambivalent moment which seeded a fertile ground for cinema exploitation, finding permanent purchase in the annals of the depraved The Last House On The Left and I Spit On Your Grave where hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned, both of which were recently violated with neutered and redundant 21st century remakes. As the new millennium was birthed Gasper Noe produced the most horrific rape and murder on-screen with his cyclical ЯЯƎVƎЯSIBLƎ which he accompanied with the naked gaze of his nausea inducing Enter The Void, deeper in frosty Europe Lars Von Trier agitates from within and outside his cinematic landscapes with Brechtian assaults on American hegemony, female emancipation and sexual disorders throughout his chilled and polemical work. Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me dragged the neo-noir into the 21st century to show the face of evil unvarnished, battered and bruised, and the duo behind the throughly reprehensible and tourism annihilating A Serbian Film ploughed new depths of offensive, if only by having the temerity to combine their visions of gruesome Gehennic abuse, necrophilia and gang-rape with some rather elaborate production values. The latest provocateur par excellence is Harmony Korine and his trademark American palette, his usual emphasis on the poor uneducated so-called white trash of working class mid-West America supplanted to the nihilistic hedonism of sun drenched Florida and a quartet of teenage strumpets, in one of the most seditious and subversive, striking and shocking films of the year. – Spring Breakers.
It’s not difficult to get the initial sparks of incensed disgust flaming when you deliberately take clean-cut, wholesome Vanessa Hudgens (no, not being American I’d never heard of her either) and family friendly actresses such as proto-Stepford Disney android Selena Gomez and bloody them up a little, pour ’em into sparse bikinis, hand ’em a cocktail and a silver plated Uzi, I dunno about you but I’d say they scrub up pretty well. Named as Candy and Faith - heh – they are joined by Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine), Faith being the slightly more straight-laced sophomore who finds herself isolated on campus with her more adventurous friends during the Easter holidays due to their combined financial destitution. Hatching a controversial plan Cotty, Candy and Brit knock over a local diner and raise the necessary funds from the terrified patrons, with Faith in tow the gang zoom off to the sun bleached climes of Florida for a orgiastic cocktail of coke,cognac and cock to satisfy their hedonistic desires – it’s time for Spring Break. After one particularly insane party gets completely out of hand the girls find themselves arrested and detained at the Governor’s pleasure, petrified of the consequences should their families know of their infractions they glumly await their fate as bail is beyond their means, unless they bite the bullet and call their parents or guardians. But a saviour appears in the most unlikely of forms, enter ’Alien’ (James Franco, absolutely hysterical), a white trash, cornrow haired, dental plated local dealer who takes the girls under his wing and snares them in more dangerous pastures…….
Well, you know me gentle reader, I like to be shocked and offended, to have my throughly passé bourgeois attitudes stabbed, glassed, shived and gangbanged by the offensive antics of any privileged, wealthy, white, middle-class professional provocateur. Actually that isn’t strictly fair, I do subscribe to the opinion that there is genuine purpose and thought to much of the challenging material I identified in my introduction , both artistically and socially, I just also happen to think that the likes of Korine and Von Trier are also quite canny salesmen who look at the modern media cyclone and completely understand how you can effortlessly ensure your product stands out from its peers, I don’t for example believe for one second that Von-Trier ‘accidentally’ made those Hitler remarks at Cannes a few years ago, any more than I was duped by Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Oh god, we’re really gonna go there and do that?’ ‘controversial’ stream of gags during his recent Oscar monologue. These shrewd operators understand that publicity is accelerated with some incandescently dense moral disgust and so-called outrage porn, whether the product in question is worthy of this elevation is another matter which we have to take on a case by case basis, I subscribe to the ideal that like any adult you should give them and the film / book / TV show / album / painting etc. the benefit of the doubt and weigh up the visions and treatment of their subject matter, lest we lurk in the arena where the legions of the ignorant dwell. Alas there are those that appear to believe that presenting or fictionally reenacting horrific and reprehensible behaviour such as rape, or gunplay, or close quarter physical violence as being the the same as endorsing or celebrating the same, although in the case of Spring Breakers it’s more the gender politics that are attracting the scorn and shouting, when the dust has settled it would be interesting to compare the favourable ratio of reviews from male and female commentators. Anecdotally speaking as the Picturehouse host mentioned when they screened the film for staff the audience was split straight down the middle – the blokes hated it and the women loved it. Anyway, I think I’m getting just a little sidetracked here, it’s probably best to actually get onto the film itself…..
My reaction to Spring Breakers can essentially be summarised thus – ten minutes in I was thinking ‘well this is very promising, I hope it keeps this up ’, at 30 minutes in I was thinking when I could potentially programme a second viewing – and not because of the gratuitous female form on display (honest) but because this is fantastically amusing and vibrantly colourful fun, a movie which gut punches you from its opening frames, like quaffing a litre of vodka laced Sunny Delight Spring Breakers is a candy coated hallucination, a nectarous assault on the ears and eyes. I haven’t laughed this much at a picture for quite some time, if you have the sense of humor which finds eighteen year old bikini clad girls stuffing firearms into people’s faces and screaming ‘GET ON THE GROUND YOU FUCKING MOTHERFUCKERS’ then this will hit your g-spot, just the rubicund, humming photography from Benoit Enter The Void Debies is worth a ticket, he makes the entire film look like it’s a miniature Girls Gone Wild convention shot inside a lava lamp. Korine paces the film on a stuttering loop, yes I’m afraid we’re three for three with yet another picture which is fucking around with cause and effect, with scenes being presented out of sequence with jumps and leaps all over the consecutive dance floor, sometimes scooting ten minutes forward then leaping ten minutes back, it builds the momentum of a techno mix as future and past cadences flow through the film, building crescendos and punching pauses like a narcotic ecstasy rush. This manic energy bleeds from the screen, in no small part due to Skrillex’s scathing, jagged and dirty electronica score, a pungent collaboration with Christian Martinez, a frequent Soderbergh composer. Is it akin to a 90 minute music video? Yes. Does this get tedious and tiresome? I guess that depends on your mood, all I can say that on a big screen with an obviously appreciate audience this effortlessly swept me away.
Yes, the camera lewdly hovers over the women’s gyrating bodies like a half-drunk uncle at a cheerleaders wedding, but the point here is to emphasis the lingering gaze of modern patriarchal cinema, the gender politics are quite clearly on the side of the four heroines considering the films events, a plot which specifically avoids moralising or preaching, it’s a day-glo satire of many facets of youth culture, or more precisely how youth culture is appropriated, absorbed, warped and repackaged by middle-aged TV executives, record producers and Hollywood moguls – have you watched MTV recently? With the fetishisation of firearms, of clothing and other commodities and brands it’s in the same ballpark aesthetically as Natural Born Killers, utilising the stupefying techniques of advertising, the hollow surfaces of the majority of modern capitalist infested media to facilitate the message, in a throbbing environment which isn’t even remotely realistic nor is it intended to be. The hysterical Britney Spears scene (not the one hinted in the trailer but altogether something else) is an instant classic, and James Franco obliterates the sour taste of that tedious Oz film with a jaw-dropping turn as the white trash gangster ‘Alien‘, remember Gary Oldman’s turn in True Romance? Well no word of a lie but this is probably better, its one of the most memorable performances of the year which doesn’t quite descend into parody, and sits well with the rest of the films heightened reality. In some ways the film also reminded me in terms of aura and of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet in a terms of its colourful kaleidoscope and exuberant virility ,although Spring Breakers has the added bonus of containing the best ‘snorting rails of coke off of some broads tits’ scene since 1987′s Robocop, unless I’ve overlooked some classics…..
It’s been a while since I’ve graced the Curzon, I think the last visit was Holy Motors which of course didn’t quite jump-start my engine, but this sold-out screening was rapturously received and Korine was a little more lucid than some recent Q&A activitties - this Reddit was doing the rounds recently. Anyone who cites his major influences as Werner Herzog, John Cassavettes and Malick is always going to get the benefit of the doubt in my book, and his unique ability to find beauty in the image of a vomit stained Dunkin Donuts package idly drifting through a Ohio ghetto has certainly carved his own unique ideology and visual panorama. The film was storyboarded from start to finish to achieve that rhythm yet shot guerilla fashion due to the hordes of paparazzi trailing the young starlets, I think that says something about female objectification in and of itself now doesn’t it? He made a great point about working with these clean-cut automaton Disney trained actresses, amusingly pointing out that without fail they turned up on set in costume and knew their lines, marks and call sheet every single day, so say what you will about the Mouse machine but it is churning out consummate professionals, as opposed to the chaos that swarms around the likes of Lindsey Lohan. Avoiding spoilers he kinda contradicted himself by claiming that he approached the four girls as one character which certainly makes sense as the film opens, but this assertion kinda disintegrates as the film vomits along, but we’d best just leave that here.
I also feel vaguely vindicated by his comment that one of the films that he watched as a reference for Spring Breakers was Mann’s crucially and criminally underrated Miami Vice, just for the itchy, coarse, steel wool scrubbed photography alone, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone praise the film for just about anything and the connection is quite a vivid one. Overall this was an enlightening session which proves that he does plan and execute his films beyond the alleged mere shock and controversy lines, there is a purpose and a weight to his creative process and he feels he has something to say, whether or not his assertions chime with the spectators politics is of course another matter. He has kicked his career into the next gear with this one, it’s prompted me to go back and revisit his earlier work which should be quite the daunting journey, I never got round to Trash Humpers which sold-out at the LFF a couple of years ago (just goes to show what degenerate swill attend that festival huh?) and I think I’ve seen one of the films which Korine had Herzog star in (Julien Donkey-Boy perhaps?), having absorbed some reappraisals of Gummo as a quiet masterpiece then I’ll steel myself for a revisit of that distressing reportage, but until then make sure you support this movie with a cinema visit, and just remember ‘Spring Break y’all……. forever;
We’ve been waiting with bated breath for a proper look at Nicolas Winding Refn’s reunion with his Drive star Ryan Gosling, and finally here we are;
Thankfully that’s a proper trailer which doesn’t divulge too much – a rarity these days – and Kristen Scott Thomas was a surprise. Yeah, I think I’ll be there on opening weekend….EDIT – and oh yes I’ve just seen this pop up on the Twat feed, 90 minutes of Scorsese talking about movies? Don’t mind if I do….
Let’s take a quick break between the reviews as the next assault is going to be quite a lengthy effort, suffice to say Spring Breakers is one of the films of the year, an instant cult classic in the vein of Drive or Monsters that I’ve also attempted to devote an appropriate level of detail, for prosperity’s sake of course. Whilst I get myself all worked up over that lets take a quick look at other developments, first of all this has been doing the rounds and is quite an amusing read, I’m all for the spearing of sacred cows and welcome any alternative to the tedious retreading of hagiographic wisdom, but it does help if you get your damn facts straight. Not wishing to sound patronising or anything (which always makes me think of people who start sentences with ‘I’m not racist or anything but….’) but you can almost picture these twentysomething young whippersnappers, fresh faced out of film / journalism school, their tongues lodged firmly in their cheeks as they enthusiastically sharpen their critical pencils and muse over making a name for themselves via whipping up some controversy by claiming that ‘Citizen Kane? Citizen Lame more like’, or ‘The Godfather?’ that’s like a really rubbish soap opera, yeah? And it’s all in the dark, you can’t even see what’s happening’… I mean c’mon, how you can possibly electronically show your face after claiming that The Third Man is a ‘far superior Welles film’, when of course it wasn’t a bloody Welles film, he’s in three scenes, one of which with dialogue which admittedly is a stone cold classic sequence, yet the controversy rages still on whether he ever wrote or ad-libbed his speech. OK, OK, I’m deliberately being combative, I have no idea about most of these people’s ages or credentials other than recognising some of the sites they contribute to, and seriously I’d quite like to read more expansive reasons for their dislikes (some of which I fully agree with, Jules Et Jim? Most of Fellini? I also fucking loathe Moulin Rogue! with the intensity of a trillion suns so I’m an instant supporter of Jonathan Lack) but this Drew Hunt chap? Sterilisation* springs to mind, to protect the future gene pool. Now, here are some lesbians;
So then rest in peace Jess Franco, one of the worst directors ever to pollute the movie screens. Now I don’t necessarily mean that in a derogatory way, like Ed Wood the man has many devoted supporters as of course sometimes things that are very bad can be thoroughly entertaining, then again having sat through both Oasis Of The Zombies and more recently his bloody awful Dracula picture I’m afraid I’m not one of ‘em. But he is quite a titanic figure on the exploitation fan front, as Kim Newman quite succinctly put it ‘RIP Jess Franco, maker of 200 movies, some of which he hadn’t even seen’. Next, NSFW beware, here is the legendary John Holmes documentary which inspired P.T. Anderson to make Boogie Nights, including his commentary – I haven’t watched it yet but I’m told the similarities are quite revealing, if you’ll excuse the pun;
Sometimes I think I think about movies too much, just this morning during the commute I was idly flirting with the notion of a film festival curated by title alone, showing Trance, Vertigo, Sleeper, Dazed & Confused etc. if you catch my drift – can anyone think of any others? Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m off to the BFI for part three of my recent cinematic odyssey, before a brief respite of a few days when I see by the marketing blitzkrieg swamping London that Oblivion has crept up for next weekend, then the Evil Dead remake should hit and then there’s Iron Man 3 and then we’re into May and my BFI tickets have just been confirmed for that month and oh god will this ever end…..
*This is a joke of course. A simple hanging would be cheaper……
Well, well, well – another franchise hesitantly rises from the ashes of development hell. Some interesting news for fans of Snake ‘Call me Snake’ Plisken today, with the emergence of a new shepherd for the long gestating reboot of the Escape From New York series of films – Joel Silver. For the uninitiated Silver just happens to be the snarling force behind the likes of The Matrix, Lethal Weapon, Predator and the original Die Hard movies - quite the rogues gallery eh? - and frankly if anyone is gonna finally get an action/SF hybrid to screen with a reasonable deployment of star and scriptwriting prowess then he’s clearly the man for the job. This has been a long time coming but I’m certain with Silver on board this will gain some traction, although when we consider the pedigree of the other remakes / reimagining / revomits of Carpenters 70’s and 80’s material I think it’s fair to say that ones expectations are not exactly high – The Fog, Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing – all mediocre at best, horrendous travesties regardless of source material at worst. As I mentioned before, like Snake ‘I’m too tired’ to care about precious originals being trampled and mangled through the focus groups and modern marketing imperatives of contemporary movies, to be frank Halloween aside it’s not as if the originals particularly set the box office alight, but their influence and inspiration on genre cinema is incalculable. The likes of Jonathan Mostow, Gerald Butler and now anyone related to the bloody awful Taken movies fills me with dread, we’ll just have to see who Silver enlists for this volatile tampering with a beloved cult classic. Where’s the inevitable They Live remake, that’s what I wanna know….
Where’s Snake gonna land his inevitable CGI glider now then ? Central Park? Now quite as exciting as taking the vessel onto the top floor of the WTC is it? Will it still be set in 1997? Doubtful. Will they outline a trilogy when the long rumoured Escape From Earth as the final instalment? Will Kurt do a cameo? Who the hell’s gonna beat the original soundtrack? All these questions, and more, will not be answered soon. So since some of you have asked may I humbly suggest Viggo Mortensen as our growling anti-hero as who could pull off the eyepatch? Then agin he’s a bit too ‘serious’ of an actor these days. Well then I guess Tom Hardy as Plisken, his name’s been in the frame before but I guess we’ll have to see how that Mad Max remake does first – apparently the shoot has been fairly horrendous. I dunno, Josh Brolin? Just not Christian Bale – he’s greedy. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Brain is pretty much a given, Jaime Lee Curtis (aaaaah, meta y’see) as Maggie, Tommy Lee Jones or Harvey Keitel as the President, Ron Perlman as Cabby, Ahnoldt as Bob Hawke, Jay-Z as the Duke (although they’ll probably get Fishbourne given his Matrix connections) and most importantly Rami Malek as the creepy Romero, one of the all time great cult movie figures given his earlier, memorable addition of a vanilla twist with a bullet in a previous Carpenter escapade. Hey, any excuse required and I’ll happy re-post this excised opening sequence to the 1981 Western SF cult classic;
Do you spend your life getting into, or avoiding tense situations? If you’re of the latter persuasion then get the fuck out of here you goddamn hippy square, we’re here to talk about Repo Man, one of the more genuinely niche cult movies of the irremediable eighties, the spiky debut of British born director Alex Cox whose patchy career has never equalled the delirious highs of this original, delinquent drive. I use the phrase ‘cult’ movie advisedly; it’s a notoriously slippery and elusive phrase that requires some clarification in this context, given its wide net of interpretations and assignations it is sometimes deployed lazily by commentators and critics like yours truly, so bear with me while I briefly accelerate down this tangent. The moniker ‘cult’ denotes a slavishly devoted and committed fan-base, passionate fans who devour every morsel of information on a favourite film’s production, who obsessively hunt down alternate versions of the film across numerous territories, habitué’s who can parrot details of the film’s production designer, gaffer or location manager, and more often than not also regale their terrified audiences with a half-dozen other releases that such crew worked on, or interject fascinating information on the numerous movie posters they have and the specific track listing on the Dutch soundtrack import they recently acquired which has a slightly extended version of track seven which is not available on the original Hong Kong imprint. OK, I exaggerate slightly but under that broad definition Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings could all be termed as cult movies given their notoriously obsessed acolytes, despite these being the most successful films ever made which are household names, what I’m driving it are films off the beaten track, films with unique and unusual ingredients that appeal to specific fans for specific reasons, I’m talking Detour or Turkey Shoot, Matango or Night of The Hunter, Fear & Desire or The Day The Clown Cried, oddball, offbeat and obscured episodes of cinema that don’t exactly end up on a Sunday afternoon terrestrial television but movies when dropped into casual conversation will immediately give you a signal as to the relative discerning merits of your companion - I don’t think I could dislike anyone who enjoyed The Keep for example. This is a very long, circuitous journey of coming to probably the most ‘cult’ of my favourite movies (although on reflection Assault On Precinct 13 probably flags a close second), a movie which has finally bagged a long awaited Blu-Ray release under the highly regarded Masters Of Cinema home entertainment imprint, so let’s begin with those scorching, shrieking titles;
In cinemas finest example of a Sci-Fi inflected, nuclear nightmared, LA centred, punk-surf-comedy-romance Repo Man features the adventures of Otto (Emilio Estevez), a disenfranchised and disaffected teenager who quits his soul crushing retail job in a pique of existential ennui, before being hoodwinked by the grizzled Bud (Harry Dean Stanton in iconic cult movie gear) into stealing a car under the illusion that it’s his property and he needs to get it out of a bad neighbourhood. Yup, Otto has suffered his first introduction to the inalienable laws of supply and demand, and soon he is indoctrinated into the seductive, dangerous yet lucrative world of the Repo Men, those crazy, independent souls who live by their own twisted brand of ethics in pursuit of the reclamation of vehicles from recalcitrant clients, a motley crue of reprobates who operate on the fringes of the law in a sweltering, Reganite Los Angeles which is ‘Morning in America’ with a pulverizing hangover and amphetamine fuelled comedown. When a ’64 Chevy Malibu hits the news with a juicy $25K bounty Otto’s colleagues and their vicious opponents the Rodriquez brothers are soon on the case, little do they realise that the (literally) radioactively hot vehicle has been sequestered by the insane nuclear scientist J. Frank Parnell (Fox Harris, evidently Dennis Hooper was too expensive) who is transporting a lethal top-secret cargo, as the Feds and a miasma of different groups close-in on their quarry Otto may have a few lessons to learn from some unlikely auxiliaries;
It’s difficult for me to be neutral when commenting on this jalopy as it was and remains one of my all time favourite vehicles, not because of its innate technical qualities or daring narrative functions, not because of its groundbreaking characterisations or genre bruising dexterity, it’s just the fact that I grew up with my best friends quoting the dialogue, digging on the soundtrack and most importantly appreciating the films irrelevant ethos, it still has a genuine, irrepressible spraycoat of authenticity that half the contemporary Sundance or other US independent movies lack, a throbbing purity under the hood which delivers misappropriated mirth, automatic amusement and some slight political commentary in a final, glowing aperitif. Cox managed to catch lightning in a bottle with this one, from Robby Müller’s terrific photography (he of course went on to illuminate the films of Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch with such brilliant passion), from the soundtrack which is a sampler snapshot of the alternate music scene of the time, and most importantly a genuine sense of place and time both politically and culturally, if you recall this was the year that disembodied spirits were being hilariously tracked through the big apple and incompetent crew of buffoonish civilians were being training for law enforcement, so its nice to remember that there was some more credible, unusual, leftfield material on display.
A great cult movie usually makes up for areas it can’t possibility compete in – expensive production values, starry casts, technical elán – with those elements which cost nothing, chiefly great characters, salient dialogue, and if they’re particularly daring some ingenious, experimental use of locations and locales. Repo Man hits all three of the targets with unnerving accuracy, from the collection of junkyard oddballs that comprise Otto’s new crew (its taken me 25 years to finally realise that they are all named after American brands of beer), some convivial repartee (‘Nice friends Otto….’ ‘Thanks, I made them myself’) and memorable utilisation of both the Los Angeles storm drain infrastructure and my beloved Second Street Tunnel which crops up in numerous movies of note. The chaotic plot has links to UFO cults, incompetent government goons and brainwashed baby boomers, it’s very much a product of its era which still resonates today, and Cox’s subsequent attempts to weld together his Bunuelian flashes of surreal inspiration (plate of shrimp anyone?) with his anti-corporate manifesto haven’t achieved such giddy heights, from the product labeling prefiguring Naomi Klein by fifteen years to the dense plethora of cultural in-jokes populated throughout the movies mise-en-scene. You only need to look at a movie like Southland Tales to see how difficult it is to achieve such a tricky, accidental balance of entertaining exegesis, I’m also fond of the end titles inversion which has birthed its own mini movie genre,Repo Man would be ideally placed as the middle installment of a cult movie triple bill prologued with Buckaroo Banzai for a vision of what other neon oddness was on offer in 1984 followed with Dr. Strangelove for a subsequent dose of devastatingly radioactive humor, here is the genius ‘repo code’ which was partially concocted by the legendary Harry Dean Stanton in his most memorable of performances;
This Masters Of Cinema Blu-Ray imprint of the film is as handsome a hardtop of the movie as you could expect, presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and 5.1 sound remix it holds enough horsepower to leave memories of those crushed small screen BBC2 viewings that I’m sure some of you joined me in back in the eighties and nineties coughing in the dust. There are plenty of extras for the aficionados to pilfer, as well as a deleted scenes montage with explanatory linking footage recently shoot by Cox we get a brief introduction that sets the context for the film, paying particular attention to how parent distributor Universal wanted to bury the film as potential subversive propaganda until the pre-release soundtrack started to get attention in the alternative music sub-culture network, with incremental word of mouth starting to build a modicum of buzz. A reminiscence themed documentary with producers Peter McCarthy and Jonathan Wacks, and actors Del Zamora, Sy Richardson and Dick Rude are complemented with a feature commentary with Cox and the crew, I haven’t listened to that yet but I’m sure it will have a few amusing nuggets and insights for all the movies disciples who are literally ‘out there’. The prized steal however is a unique copy of the notorious ’melonfarmer’ TV cut of the film which is a rare treat given its incorporation of alternate footage and hilarious swear word substitutions, an exclusive treasure alongside a hilarious half hour discussion with Harry Dean Stanton in which he is revealed as the cantankerous, difficult, prickly shaman that we all suspected him to be, at one pontificating that ’Iraq, Napoleon, serial killers, everything is predestined man, nobody’s in charge and it’s all gonna go down the way it’s gonna go down’ – so take the man’s advice, submit to the irrepressible mysteries of our alchemist universe, and hot wire a copy of this cult classic as soon as possible;
Well, this should be different. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s has a reputation as an extreme film-maker whose work occupies the twin worlds of both avant-garde and cult cinema. His films feel like they’ve been saturated in mescaline, unorthodox visions that defy easy description – he is someone whose work has to be seen to be believed. He is another surrealist, but unlike Bunuel is not widely considered as a member of the canon of ‘high’ or ‘worthy’ cinema, especially given his popularity with the acid heads and freaks who first flocked to his irregularly distributed movies in the cheapo drive-ins and run down cinemas of 60’s west coast America. Born in Chile in the late 1920′s, educated in Paris he is something of a bohemian who developed his own Mexican Theatre Trope, wrote mimes with Marcel Marceau (I still wonder if at Marceau’s recent funeral they had a two minute pandemonium?) he painted, wrote, drew comic books and engaged in performance art before turning his intellect to the cinema. If Bunuel is a polite, dryly spoken scornful English gentleman then Jodorowsky is a incandescent Mexican bandit -I’d only seen ‘Santa Sangre‘ before a few years ago but Jodorowsky’s output is so scant I’ve included it in the post after a second viewing. I’ve decided to view the films chronologically in an effort to detect emerging themes or an evolution of style over his career – this provided to be something of a failure as the dude was seriously fucked up from day one. All very, very NSFW so be warned with the links.
‘Fando y Lis’- This was too avant-garde for me, and it was a struggle. I’ve read that the DVD transfer was poor, but this was little more than a hastily constructed series of vignettes of strange characters interacting in a surreal fashion without any detectable purpose. The ‘plot’ concerns the title characters seeking the fabled lost city of Tar, a city that promises eternal ecstasy and fulfilment. It’s essentially a road movie and en route they interact with frisky transvestites, homicidal children and hungry vampires. Granted it was shot on a very low budget with non-professionals but hey, so was ‘Eraserhead’ and that film at least kept me gripped. Whilst the images are powerful by virtue of their pure originality I felt my attention wandering. What is interesting is that the film’s premiere resulted in a full blown riot with Jodorowky fleeing the 1968 Acapulco film festival and going to hiding for a brief period – the film was banned in Mexico after further incidents which gives oxygen to Jodorowsky’s assertions that he can change and manipulate ‘consciousness’ with his movies – more on this below….
‘El Topo‘ – Leather clad lesbian cowgirls. Incest ridden criminal dwarfs. Elderly transvestite hookers. No, it’s not a textbook Saturday night at chez Minty, just some of the ingredients of Jodorowsky’s most famous work and one of the lynch-pins of the midnight movie phenomenon. There are threads to his work as this feels like a more structured and considered film than Fando y Lis’ which employs the same sequence of challenging and visually lurid sequences which are almost unique in my experience. The plot, as much as there is one, follows the black clad gunfighter (played by Jodorowsky) escorting his naked son through a village strewn with the detritus of a vicious massacre. After saving a mysterious woman ‘El Topo’ is quested to find and kill the four gunmen responsible for the carnage. Then things start to get a little…strange….It’s easy to see what a certain type of person can admire and enjoy in this – it’s fucking mental. The phrase ‘retina scorching’ springs to mind and I actually had to rewind back certain scenes to make sure what I’d just seen actually happened. It’s enjoyable in its own unique way and follows ‘Fando y Lis’ in his quest narrative being the hook upon which to hang a succession of bewildering scenes and imagery.
‘The Holy Mountain‘ – At this point, reality is collapsing and I seriously doubt I’ll ever be the same again – if I’d actually watched these back to back I’m pretty sure I would have succumbed to uncontrollable insanity and been locked away in the local puzzle house.Again, we are assaulted with a procession of lunacy and madness albeit this time with a more overt critique of the ‘system’. Jodorowsky hones his vision down onto the means of production, the factory shop floor and the CEO boardroom for his targets. At the climax of the film he even abandons the pretence of cinema itself as a mechanical mechanism of control and production and reveals the artifice of film-making itself with the camera revealing the crew, lighting rigs and actors on set.
‘Santa Sangre‘ – finally, something of a return to normality. All this has to offer is amputation, rape, murder, incest and clowns. It’s certainly the most coherent of the four, for a start it actually (shock, horror !!) has something resembling a plot – a family of circus performers are torn apart when the father cuts off the arms of his religous zealot wife. Years later, the son escapes from the mental institution he has been incarcerated in and rejoins his mother, becoming her surrogate arms as they embark on a murderous spree of revenge.This was my favourite purely for its accessibility. It retains the qualities of his other work – the invention, the imagery, the vivid ingenuity within a tangible structure and plot – heck, he even uses such conventional mechanics as flashbacks in this one. The scene with the elephant funeral is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen some weird stuff in my time let me tell you. Highly recommended, but not if you’re in any way ‘under the influence’…
Phew. I think I need a stiff drink and a psychiatrist. This is a film maker who has a prodigious imagination and almost fanatical disregard for the conventions of taste, decency or restraint – good for him. He’s more interested and skilled in composing bizarre symbolic, imagery sequences through the use of actors, through make-up. He is not at all concerned with some of the more formal aspects of film-making such as editing to a overall pace, building a A,B,C,D plot – character developments are obviously totally ejected for cyphers to be replaced by puppets at the heed of his deranged vision.
It would be criminal of me to close this without mentioning that Jodorowsky was briefly in the frame to direct the big budget Dino De Laurentis version of ‘Dune’, a project that of course was finally handled by David Lynch. Given his track record, the idea of a lunatic like Jodorowsky being let loose with the equivalent of a £100 million budget, in the Sahara desert, with a HR Giger design and a Pink Floyd soundtrack boggles the mind. Speculation on what certain films would have become had some of the directors attached to them not eventually bailed out or been fired is always good fun (Lynch was offered ‘Return of the Jedi’- Ewoks in Radiators, David Cronenberg ‘Top Gun’ – let the homoerotic combat begin!!) anyone got any more?
I’ve no doubt that Jodorowsky is a major influence on other artists I admire, especially Grant Morrison and Alan Moore. They all seem to have a similar commitment to a working practice of employing what they term a form of creative ‘magic‘ through the prism of their art in order to affect consciousness, both personal and cultural. It’s difficult to explain without sounding like some acidhead casualty New Age obsessed fuckhead and I certainly am not referring to any physical, tangible reaction – more of a cultural ripple that can be seen as enacted by a catastrophic event like 9/11 which upheaves the political, cultural, personal and historical. I’m certainly not stating any success in this approach – I’m far too pragmatic and boring for that – but I find it an intriguing idea.
Now, can I have my medicine Nurse Ratchet?