Blastitude 9
issue 12   february/march/april 2002
page 10

 


Movies I've Seen Lately
by Matt Silcock

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1968) I didn't know if it was working or not while I was watching it but by the very next day I could tell: this movie is a landmark antidote to the Cecil B. DeMille version of Jesus. And the only thing anyone in the family might get offended by is the stunningly slow pacing. It's been called a 'neo-neorealist' version of the life of Christ, and that's exactly what it is. Like Bresson, Pasolini casts non-actors; therefore, the twelve disciples seem to be a lot of good-looking guys that Pasolini was hitting on at the time. Jesus himself, played by one Enrique Irazoqui, looks pretty 'street.' The pace is glacial and eventually hypnotic, especially when "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" by Odetta plays on the soundtrack. The massacre of the Innocents scene practically plays like it's from a John Waters movie...but like Waters, it still packs a punch.

Saló (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975) A cadre of respectable-seeming bourgeoisie -- they look like bankers, lawyers, teachers, politicians -- abduct a group of teenaged boys and girls, and confine them in a complex for rape, humiliation, and torture. As with the life of Jesus Christ, this is a potentially unfilmable story, but Pasolini takes the same dry and slow approach to both. Sure, there's a grand dinner served where the main course is human feces, but mostly the characters sit in a drawing room and listen to old ladies tell perverted stories with piano accompaniment. I've never read the de Sade, but I get the feeling it was a deceptively perverse way to say something so moral that it comes from the Bible: Let he is without sin cast the first stone. By making a story about perversion and sadism so dull and repetetive, even the most respectable person might find themselves wanting some kinkiness; sadism should at least be a little more interesting than a middle-aged lady sitting in a drawing room telling yet another story while someone plays the piano. Every so often Pasolini throws us a bone, but however shocking, these campy cruelties are just as intentionally wooden as the rest of the film. Until, that is, the final chapter ("Circle of Blood"), when we realize we've fallen into a trap. Either too boring or too sadistic, Saló is a pretty unpleasant experience from beginning to end, as any message about the pitfalls of our beloved drive to consume should be.

Audition (Takashi Miike, 2000) I haven't been this satisified by a horror movie in quite a while. It seems like there can't be an article or review of this movie without phrases like "not for the squeamish" or "dramatic tone shift" or "beware the second half" being thrown around, but there's stuff in the first half that's just as scary, partly because Takashi's grasp of contemporary realism makes even, say, Cronenberg's Dead Ringers seem like drive-in fodder. The way he films Eihi Shiina as a heroine/villian/love interest/sex object/monster captures a little too perfectly that feeling you get when you're so attracted to someone that it becomes scary even to look at his or her face because of all the possibilities it represents.....including the possibility that you're not even in love and just hope to use this attractive person as an object. In that sense, Audition is right up there with Vertigo...not to mention, for other reasons, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which makes for a pretty stunning combination.

Metalheadz (John Klein, 1997) When I saw the title, I hoped it would be another documentary on hessians, a la The Decline of Western Civilization Part II or Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Actually, I think it is anyway, these just happen to be primarily Afro-Carribean U.K. hessians instead of primarily Caucasian-American hessians, and it's the 90s instead of the 80s so they listen to techno music instead of Priest and Metallica. Rented it for free from work because no matter how many Simon Reynolds articles I read, I still can't figure out exactly what even "acid house" means. I know what your basic house groove sounds like and that 'jungle' became 'drum 'n' bass,' but that's about it. Thing is, 70 or so drum 'n' bass producers and DJs talk to the camera in this movie, and they don't seem to know how to refer to the music either. One thing I eventually learned is that jungle actually used to be called simply 'hardcore.' Can't say what else I learned, except that one producer named Carl (Carl Craig??...this movie doesn't make it too clear...if my copy of The Harder They Come has subtitles, this should too...) sometimes just gets a sound by making a mouth-noise into the mic and then looping it. The real reason it's hard to learn too much from Metalheadz is that it really isn't a documentary at all, it's a 70-minute commercial for a label called....
Metalheadz. It's edited just like MTV, with a different producer or DJ talking every 10-15 seconds while hard jungle grooves play in the background. Each DJ talks about how "bloo'y ____" [insert synonym for "fantastic"] the movement is in a thick patois so hip you'd think you were watching a Guy Ritchie movie. An extended sequence of Goldie and his boys getting their faces in the camera and shouting while showing off brand-name logos should give you the score -- this is very much MTV-materialist lad-culture nu-hooliganism, and while these guys are automatically cooler because their music is a little better, it's only a few short steps from here to Woodstock '99. Still, my biggest beef with this vid is that, as with Ken Burns' Jazz, a story of about a kind of music is mostly told by one talking head after another, rather than one playing head after another. Why isn't there more footage -- and, just as importantly, voiceover-free audio -- of DJ's gettin' live in a club?

Masters of Comic Book Art (Unknown, 1987) I had to check this out just so I could see people like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, and Frank Miller sitting there and talking. They're almost all nerds, which is fine, because I was too when I loved their work and I still am today in my own special way -- no small thanks to these guys. Kirby's actually not really a nerd -- he strikes me as your basic blue-collar would-be worker-drone commercial artist who somehow fell into the comic-book niche and found a perhaps surprising capacity within himself for personal freedom and simple mythic stories. (His biggest influence: "The Bible.") Ditko is as oddball as you might've guessed, but in a different way: he doesn't appear on camera, opting instead to read a particularly convoluted piece of home-spun philosophy over a montage of his landmark art. Neal Adams is a little younger but seems like your basic hard-working responsible liberal type, and rather inspiring in the way he talks about 'exploding the page' with his innovative use of panels. Frank Miller comes off as your basic long-haired guy who's into hard rock and martial arts, which is probably exactly what he is. He seems like a good guy, and he draws real good too -- a bunch of page views from Ronin made me want to check that mag out again. Too bad I sold the whole set back to Dragon's Lair in Omaha for like eight bucks cash back in 1988. (For "college money"!) Berni Wrightson is the only featured artist who seems like he might not be a nerd. French artist Moebius is featured, which made me realize just how influential he is (he's the guy behind the look of Heavy Metal magazine). Not to mention that such legends as Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, and Art Spiegelman are also interviewed. Despite its drab production, this vid really does gather perhaps the 10 greatest comic book artists of the golden age and beyond, and all of the art is something to behold. Best of all, that fast-talking jock Todd MacFarlane is nowhere to be found.

Wet Hot American Summer (David Wain, 2001) Sure, it's your basic Gen X parody of Meatballs-style comedies, and it features people who used to be MTV stars (comedy troupe The State), so you know that it's gonna push those funny Gen X buttons, and it does -- just listen to how well-chosen those Loverboy songs on the soundtrack are. The good news is that it also goes deeper than that, by creating an actual avant-garde atmosphere where the pacing and timing of the jokes/skits/vignettes is almost completely elastic. A tiny joke can go on for minutes, while a huge joke flashes by in seconds. Another bold innovation is with the use of profanity, with a running joke in which certain characters will use words like "fuck" and "bullshit" around all the little cute camp kids. The kids use 'em too, and it actually remains funny throughout. Not to mention that the only sex scene (in a movie that is supposedly all about wet hot summer chicks 'n' sex) occurs between two nerdy gay men!

A Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997) Facets Multimedia in Chicago will tell you: Iranian cinema is hot. They might not put it like that, but having released several staples of Iranian cinema on their in-house label, and staging an Iranian film festival just a few months ago, the message is clear. After seeing Jafar Panahi's The Circle I was already a believer, but five minutes into A Taste of Cherry I was pinned to the fricking wall by utter cinematic genius. For the first half, the combination of minimalism and suspense is so exquisite and wholly original (while still reminding me of a Hitchcockian exercise like Rope or Rear Window), that when the major plot point was revealed, and the content shifted to somewhat Bergmanesque existentialism, I was a bit let down. But within minutes, Kiarostami's pacing, stark realism, and stunning imagery had won me back over. Like The Circle, which I now see as blatantly influenced by Kiarostami, most of A Taste of Cherry is filmed in tight-to-medium close-ups, creating one of the most intense senses of place I've gotten from a movie. Considering that the "place" is Iran, a country that George W. Bush just called "evil," I think that Facets is right -- it's high time Middle America discovered the work of Abbas Kiarostami. In Iran, he's like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Maysles, Wenders, and Spielberg all rolled into one; just the person to show us how the lives of common people in an "evil" nation differ from the apparently "good" lives we lead here.

The Driver (Walter Hill, 1978) They used to call it "offbeat," a style that was a veritable Hollywood subgenre back in the 70s. Now "offbeat" is "quirky," I guess, or, of course, "Tarantino-esque." This strange movie is definitely offbeat, featuring Bruce Dern, the all-time King of Offbeat, in a bizarre, uncomfortable, and both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious performance as "The Detective," who is obsessed with catching the latest hotshot criminal free agent, the most skilled and most taciturn getaway driver ever, played by Ryan O'Neal. The car-chase sequences are exhilarating, and positioned like pictorials in an article-heavy nudie mag: a big one at the beginning, and a big one at the end, with a couple of teases in between. O'Neal and the stunning Isabelle Adjani (the female lead, known only as "The Player") are both so taciturn that when they do a scene together the story seems to almost stop moving completely, turning the movie into a painting. Thing is, it's a good painting, some sort of cosmo-contempo Edward Hopper update. Ronee Blakely, strange and excellent in Nashville, is downright haunting here, especially in light of a terrifying scene with a mean hood (played by one Rudy Ramos, a great early example of Hill's skill at casting unknown actors in peripheral-but-memorable hood roles). It's a weird one, but afterwards you're like "Hey, that was a Bresson influence! Pickpocket with car chases! For all his trying, Paul Schrader never got this close!"

Tokyo Olympiad (Kon Ichikawa, 1965) With the whole country, myself included, currently caught up in (winter) Olympic fever (you know you're getting old when you occasionally don't boycott a de rigeur American media event), I thought I'd rent this acclaimed documentary of Tokyo's 1964 Summer Games by an acclaimed Japanese film-maker. When I watch this, I can literally feel how modern American network television has shortened my attention span. The style with which Ichiwaka shot and edited this movie is so slow and calm, it almost seems like we aren't watching the real games, but instead a faithful, idealized, high-powered restaging. But the actual 1964 games they are, and, once you get used to Ichikawa's classical pace, relative lack of information, and odd close-up perspectives in which he films athlete after athlete as if every one of them is a Greek God, the good old drama of high-level competetive sport starts reemerging. The 10,000 meter run is especially a doozy..

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai De Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975) I don't know what to say about this one -- I saw it for free in a crowded theater on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and it was kind of a magical event. Three hours and twenty minutes of a few extended moments in the life of Jeanne Dielman...cleaning the house, making dinner, making coffee, eating dinner, working as a prostitute...I will say that I buy it more as a humanist statement than I do a feminist statement, but that may just be because I'm not a female. Either way, a great exercise in restraint and rhythm. A masterpiece by both Akerman and, in the title role, Ms. Delphine Seyrig, one of my favorite actresses of all time.

Je Tu Il Elle (Chantal Akerman, 1973) After Dielman, had to get my VHS dub of this one out. There it was, last on an EP-speed triple feature tape with The Seventh Seal and Persona. I guess the theme was that they're all B&W, slow moving, and European. While fast-forwarding to Je Tu Il Elle, I was briefly reminded just how ludicrously histrionic Persona gets (do you remember the blood-sucking sequence???), but fortunately I found Je Tu Il Elle quickly. After being amazed by it again for a little over 20 minutes, I realized this was the farthest I'd ever gotten into the movie without taking a break. The first section is really even more minimalist than Dielman, mainly because Akerman (playing the lead) is a less expressive actress than Seyrig. I don't know if it's intentional, but she almost succeeds in playing some sort of plant life, even when she's walking around naked or eating spoonful after spoonful of powdered sugar. There's almost literally nothing happening. And when something does happen, to have it be this vaguely proto-Suckdog plant life performance art is really just too much. The first time I saw it, I was taping a friend's copy, and watched the first 15 minutes then walked away, quite impressed by the audacity and technique but not in the mood to stay with it. When I came back an hour or so later to see how it was going, there was an intense lesbian sex scene going on; one of the most realistic such scenes ever filmed, with stunning minimalist takes that put another spin on the "plant life" interpretation. Or at least the old saw about "the beast with two backs." Anyway, I gotta break into the review here with a little Je Tu Il Elle anecdote: This one guy named Shane once worked as a bartender at the fine Lincoln, NE establishment Mars, where he was in charge of the content that played over three or four TV sets. Two of the screens were hooked up to VCRs, and Shane would bring movies from home and show them. I'll never forget when he brought Je Tu Il Elle in. A week earlier the bar had been showing some vintage Betty Page silent shorts where she just dances and poses for the camera, and to go from that to the first 30 minutes of Akerman's also B&W and also solo performance piece was a head-turner, like they were different riffs on the concept of the "hired dancing girl in a cage or on a platform." The sex scene played in its entirety, and by its end had created a small murmur in the bar.

El Exorcista II (John Boorman, 1982) I went to try and finish Je Tu Il Elle, but I was distracted by this dubbed version of Excorcist II: The Heretic on the Spanish Channel. Man, they've been showing good movies lately! Well, not good, but at least as good as HBO: Speed with Keanu and Sandra and Dennis, Freejack with Mick and Rene and Emilio and Anthony. Last night was I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, and on the other Spanish channel they're showing The Right Stuff, mentioned last column! Anyway, this bizarre flop sequel to the 70s horror classic has its cult following. (Cf. Chris D's blurb about it in a 1989 issue of Forced Exposure.) The first time I saw it I remember being impressed by a lot of the imagery, but just plain confounded and bored by the attempt at a story. Because of that, the dubbed Spanish version almost seems like the ideal way to see it, because there's no story or dialogue to even try to understand, and therefore nothing to distract me from the imagery. And let me tell ya, Boorman really pulled off some set pieces here. He films Africa like he's still doing Zardoz, with vast Dali-esque landscapes and screaming bush people swarmed by locusts with James Earl Jones as some tribal demigod. Meanwhile, back in America the budding young Linda Blair almost sleepwalks off of a Manhattan skyscraper, her white nightgown billowing in the wind while her zoned eyes stare straight ahead, lost in great imagined vistas of African tribal satanism. The confusing story might be more forgivable if it wasn't for Richard Burton as the priest hero character, who doggedly trudges through the movie without getting anywhere and makes us suffer along with him, in spite of some very over-the-top imagery. (The "fleeing demon" sequence during an African exorcism fever dream deserves to go down in horror movie history. Perhaps Sam Raimi was watching...The Evil Dead came out six years later.)

Branded to Kill (Seijin Suzuki, 1968) Never heard of it until I read the back of the video box, and I decided to rent it because it clearly looked like something that Tarantino would think was hip: a stylized B&W Japanese gangster flick from 1968. Well, in many ways this will not disappoint: the visuals are insane, with lots of slapstick violence, kinky sex, alienating post-modern editing, Godardian gumshoe revisionism, beat jazz on the soundtrack...all the hipster goods. Problem is, the action is so fast, the dialogue so terse, the editing so elliptical, and the story and characters so shallow, that there's really nothing of any depth moving the story along. As a viewer all I could do was just wait through all the confusion for the next cool stylized shot or violent sequence. And the wait is never long. (I was somewhat disappointed to discover that some of the most inventive sequences from Jarmusch's powerhouse Ghost Dog were cribbed directly from this flick.)

Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977) He's made a lot of movies, and I haven't seen 'em all, but this has got to be Cassavetes' masterpiece. I haven't seen all of Gena Rowland's performances either, but this has GOT to be her masterpiece. She plays an actress of apparent renown, who we immediately meet in yet another classic Cassavettes cold opening, about fifteen seconds before she takes the stage in front of a packed house. Before we know it, Cassavetes has us sitting right in the audience, all the way back around the 30th or 40th row, and whaddayaknow, we're watching a play instead of a movie, a quirky tragicomic play featuring Cassavetes himself as the male romantic lead and Gena Rowlands as the female romantic lead. This single stationary shot goes on for at least six, maybe ten minutes...and then the titles and brief credits are superimposed! See how movies can still be interesting? As the movie progresses, details accumulate: we have just seen the opening night of a practice run that a play is having in New Haven before it opens on Broadway. The lead actress, played by Gena Rowlands, is having a fairly serious emotional breakdown because she's playing an older woman right about the time she's starting to feel like an older woman herself. She lets the breakdown infect her acting and her acting infect her breakdown. She's way into the "derangement of the senses" thing due to a habit of binge-drinking. Unable to get into character because she already is that character, she has no choice but to be herself and improvise everything. In a spellbinding climax -- the New York City opening night -- Cassavetes the actor figures out how to work with her intensely personal approach, right there on stage. Say what you will about 'improv acting' but this is an example of people doing improv in order to save each other's SOULS. And you want genre fun? Not only is it a play-within-a-play-within-a-film and a romantic dramedy, it's also a GHOST STORY. Masterpiece.

Together (Lukas Moodysson, 2000) A 1975 period piece, set in Stockholm, Sweden, about a bunch of bohos living in a house together. This isn't about 'post-hippie fallout' or anything like that...these people are just bohos, into near-radical politics, alternative diets, psychedelic music, red wine and candlelight. They're still all over today, in fact six of my friends live in a house together in Chicago and it's not a whole lot different than this movie. They laugh, flirt, listen to music, relax with drinks, and get onto each others nerves a lot, cuz they're all interesting intelligent people who want their freedom and also want to do good. This movie gets it on film, even as some traits of some characters don't always ring true...one character's passive-aggressiveness and his girlfriend's promiscuity didn't strike me as very naturalistic, but interesting points were still raised by those characterizations. The movie's big move is to challenge various countercultural traditions by throwing kids into the mix, and the sequences with kids are fantastic. The best performance (in a movie with several good performances) is by Emma Samuelsson as 13 year old Eva. The soundtrack includes International Harvester, and scenes where psychedelic rock swells on the soundtrack while some character goes through some everyday pain are masterful. The set design, clothing, and cinematography are all flawless. And yes, "Love Hurts" by Nazareth, without any aid from irony or distance whatsoever, is as glorious of a cathedral as heavy 70s rock ever built.

The Idiots (Lars Von Trier, 1998) I had this bias against Lars Von Trier and what I called his "contrived misery." Still haven't seen Dancer in the Dark and claim to not want to, but a friend who I trust told me that I had to see The Idiots. I told her about my bias, but she wasn't having it. The way she said "Will you please just rent it tonight?" gave me no choice. She did the right thing, because this movie has given me a new lease on LVT. Now I'll probably go ahead and see Dancer. I actually don't want to give away anything about this movie because I had no idea what it was about and it was a pleasure to find out. A bizarre and original storyline...like Together, it's about communal living among radicalized young people, but this throws more into the mix, as it's a sort of pseudo-documentary about a poetic prank that involves therapeutic method acting exercises (both within and without the storyline).

Susana (Luis Bunuel, 1951) After the freewheeling Dali-driven form-destruction of Un Chien Andalou and L'Age D'Or, Bunuel seemed to take a more measured approach to surrealism; like Hitchcock's concept of the "maguffin," the films from his Mexican period often seemed to present isolated surrealist phenomena within otherwise realistic, almost maudlin settings. For example, in The Exterminating Angel, the complexion of a maudlin bourgeois dinner party is changed competely by a single surrealist development: the guests are unable to leave. In Susana, a bourgeois family living on a country estate is visited by the title femme fatale, a living symbol for pure raw sexuality (portrayed by the amazing Rosa Quintata). You can't get more literal than when the unconscious, mud-slathered Susana is carried into the house from the dark rainy wild wet night. The head maid is convinced she's the devil, and it's hard not to see her point. What follows reminds me of a story my father, a respected ornithologist, told me about the mating rituals of certain birds. It seems that when a female bird is ready to mate, all she has to do is merely walk past groups of male birds in order to send them into squawking paroxysms of lust. Susana is one of Bunuel's most convincing portraits of the base desires all humans have. It starts as high exploitation-tinged melodrama, plays out as dark ravishing poetry, and ends on a note of high Christian moralism that you just know you shouldn't take too seriously.

 

 

 

 

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 

 


 

Movies Joe Krings Has Seen Lately
by Joe Krings

Girl on a Motorcycle (Jack Cardiff, 1968) Motorcycle movies certainly were no uncommon thing back in them late '60s. Neither were rock stars trying their hand at acting, exploiting the new leniency towards nudity, experiments intended to make films look psychedelic, or narrative experiments that were far-out and weird. A lesser-known among the pastures o' plenty is Girl On A Motorcycle (86 votes on imdb) where Brit Jack Cardiff tries his hand a full year before Dennis Hooper decided to head out on the highway (Easy Rider, 4698 votes on imdb).
       Marianne Faithfull lusts for a man far more exciting intellectually and sexually than her passive, weak, bespectacled, simply downright pussy husband. She decides she'd rather be a lover to a motorcycle-riding free love-espousing professor who likes to fight as much as fondle than be the wife of some dumb schmuck. In the U S of A this movie was called Naked Under Leather in order to stoke up some interest at the late nite drive-in and that title is just as literal as the original. Ms. Faithful wakes up one morning, looks at her husband with boredom, gets out of bed naked and pulls on a full body leather suit. Her intent is to drive away on her motorcycle to her manly and intelligent lover played with a cool sexual smarminess by Alain Delon, the famed French James Dean. As she makes her way towards her lover's hideaway the backstory of how she met and was seduced by Delon during her engagement and marriage to the big loser is intercut. Like the hare bored in a race with a turtle, Faithfull finds plenty of time to stop alongside the road to lay down a while and touch herself, to sit in a bar and get drunk, and to fantasize about how much men want her. These are also the convenient times when the back story is revealed.
       Somehow out of this mess of contrivances of the times emerges a fairly endearing movie. In the end, Faithfull, less through acting than numerous variations on smile and frown, is as endearing as any empty sex object can possibly be. Seeing her so positively excited by the rocket between her legs and the power it gives her is, well, titillating. As for Delon... this guy is funny. He has the preposterous sultry sex stud down to a T and never has to shift out of seduce mode since he's got poor little Faithfull tied around his finger. As the mysterious man who sets the plot rolling you keeping wanting more than what he's giving and that kept me as a viewer going much like it keeps Faithfull riding. Eventually the backplot leads us to some pretty strange sex. I would recommend this film on the both the strengths and weaknesses of these scenes alone. Director Cardiff claims he invented solarization as a style because he had to find a way to get past censors with a lot of sexual content. By luck he also got to be psychedelic. As soon as the action becomes too heated the film gets the classic color treatment where a rainbow of colors blow up and out of the pictures basic color information leacing ghostly outlines of the figures and objects but no detail. And just so we don't hear the lovers moaning or screaming we hear a spooky insidous, almost grating hum. The result are the most scary and tense love scenes I've ever seen. They're effective because they're unexpected. We're waiting for soft strings and tender glows only to be shocked by grating noise and pictures that require a lot of eye strain to make out anything. But since Faithfull is introduced to Delon as a lover when he sneaks into her ski-lodge in the middle of the night and loves her like pussy-boy could never love her perhaps that's exactly the kind of feeling she was having that first time and keeps trying to recapture by running away to him. Whether it's a mistake, a tactic to avoid censors or a great thematic decision doesn't really matter in the end...the scenes are effective.

Monster's Ball (Marc Forster, 2001) Speaking of sex scenes, whoooa! Billy Bob and Hallie get down, way down, in one of the most unapologetically real sex scenes ever presented by Hollywood. The sex clearly comes from the hurt and the desperation that unites the two characters as well as the loads of alcohol that led Berry to finally demand that Thornton take care of her. The fact that it takes Berry pulling out her breasts and begging Thornton to make her feel good to get him to really start caring is also unapologetically real. The melodrama is laid on like wet cement but the reality of the character's actions in an unreal situation gives this implausible movie about the relationship between a death row executioner and the widow of one the men he's fried a scrap of dignity which can be used as a shield against its more far-flung moments. When first released some wanted to call this a great masterpiece, which it certainly is not, but rather a finely crafted white and black trash soap opera with a mean streak of truth.

Cockfighter (Monte Hellman, 1974) It seems you're either a Monte Hellman fan or you're not. Hellman's view of humanity is that no person is able to remain at rest. Both ambition and boredom can set a human in motion. Once set in motion, they are likely to be forced to try to communicate with people, although they most likely would rather not. Together these people will navigate vast lonely ladscapes looking for the needle in the haystack that will give them the peace to return to a restful state. Usually they don't know just what it is, or even that they're looking for it, but in Cockfighter, Warren Oates knows that to bring peace to his life all he needs is the Cockfighter of the Year award and the girl of his dreams. Perhaps Oates learned from his past experience in previous Hellman films that not talking at all would probably be easier than risking the results of opening his mouth and thus inviting others to open theirs, and so his cockfighter is a mute. Actually that's a basic plotline from the original Charles Willeford novel but appropriately feeds Hellman's tendency to communicate more about the pain and difficulty of communication than any story or plotline. Story and plotline are both more abundant in Cockfighter than Hellman's earlier films which works both for and against Hellman. The pace and story are clunky unlike Hellman's earlier successes but the clarity of the characters purpose in the film and an actual love interest make the story easier for a first timer to get into. In the end Oates' silent tough guy charisma and Hellman's resistance of conventional plot structure win out enough over the showier aspects of the story to qualify this movie as another Hellman success albeit to a much lesser degree than either The Shooting, Ride in the Whirlwind or Two-Lane Blacktop.

The Sin of Jesus (Robert Frank, 1961) / Georg (Stanton Kaye, 1964)
(
Shown as a double bill program of the New American Cinema: The 60ís at Anthology Film Archives, NYC.) Sitting through this narratively experimental, technically terrible film is almost pure torture. Robert Frank is a name cuz of the Beats and a film he did with that crowd called Pull My Daisy. Also his Cocksucker Blues has a certain amount of notoriety for the way it exposes the excesses of the Rolling Stones. He was also once given a grant to travel America for two years in the late 50ís and take lots of photographs which are periodically displayed in museums across the country. This film, made somewhere in between all that, concentrates on the subconscious dream world that overtakes a woman's waking life after the man she is pregnant by (Telly Savalas) decideshe has to get away for awhile and leave our poor but pretty protagonist all alone on their chicken farm. Pregnant and lonely, she wanders the property and eventually runs into a short-haired clean-cut Jesus in the barn. He promises her an angel who is unhappy in heaven as her new mate to take care of her and the baby. Her new life with the angel is happy and beautiful but she carelessly forgets he needs to have his wings removed every night at the risk of death and finds herself quickly alone again and still pregnant. Jesus stops by to admonish her for letting his angel friend die which sets our hero off on a tirade in which she questions why God would ever let her kind (freaks) ever be born if it is only to be submitted to suffering. After seeing her agonizing response to his accusations Jesus asks the woman for forgiveness but she finds she has none left.
        Like Jodorowsky films, the plot summary reads ten times more interesting than the actual muddled result. The surrealism is forced and very fake. The story of a God who has failed his people has been told in a thousand better ways. Iím not even normally a stickler for technical savvy but the inability to create a fluid sense of action because of the clumsily framed shots and lack of attention to continuity is downright annoying. Perhaps the sloppy, disjointed editing was an intentional attempt to add to the tensions of the story, but it certainly doesnít work. It only keeps you wriggling in your seat, glancing at your watch and thinking about what youíre going to eat for breakfast next Tuesday.
       On the other hand Stanton Kayeís Georg (1964) is a sloppy filmmaking success. In fact it is so consistently sloppy it could have only been planned that way if made by any professional. Georg is sloppy because it is based on the premise that what you are watching is essentially the last will and testament of an eccentric German man who has been making home films his whole life and as he descends into madness starts assembling them to explain his story.
       Almost as much as the title character whose life we follow the home movie camera is the protagonist. In the very opening sequence of the movie there is disorientation occurring due to the use of the camera as character. It opens in a war scene. Bombs are flying, people are dying and screaming and weíre witnessing it all through a single handheld shot. Then suddenly the shot turns sideways and lays still. Itís clear the camera is lying on the ground but why havenít we cut away to more of the action? Is this a point of view shot? With the action expressed visually and aurally and the lack of answers provided by a lack of shots no one knows what the hell is going on. But this beginning is an amazing setup for the the story to come, both in the way it demonstrates the capabilities and the limitations of one man with a camera for documenting reality, and the way it sets the tone of disorientation and madness and inability to escape for the filmís human protagonist.
       Our first clue as to what is going on comes with voice-over and a black screen. Georg addresses his presumed future audience. It is the voice of a mad man raving about should anything happen to him they should use this film to find the answers to what has happened. Finally he walks onto screen carrying a microphone and addresses the camera directly. This is a man making his own movie to tell his story. The camera is his portal to the rest of the world since he appears to not communicate with anyone except his family and his girlfriend. Itís as much the way he tells the story as the actual story that makes Georg the character and the film interesting. He is amateurish and sloppy (but with occasional cleverness and forethought) in the way he shoots, the way he presents himself and others on camera, the way he records the voice-overs, the way he has assembled the film (he shoots cardboard signs that indicate the beginning and ending of so whoever finds them will be able to show them in their proper order), just as he is sloppy in the life that has led him from boyhood in Germany, to fighting for the German army, to coming to America and its suburbs with his father, and then hooking up with a beautiful proto-hippie girl and moving out to the mountains to escape civilization because of it tendency for violence.It is his eccentric, off-kilter style expressed in each and every aspect of the film through itís technique that makes Georg endearing.
      
Georg is purely fictional but plays more realistic than anything like this in my memory. As a precursor to shams like Blair Witch Project it stands up as an idea ahead of its time as well as an artistic success. What amazes me most in thinking back upon it is that as a society we havenít had many instances of this happening. Everyone has had their home films, but no one to my knowledge has assembled a true autobiography or memoirs film based solely on their own ďfilmsĒ for mass consumption by the public in the way other bio-pics and written autobiographies are. It is equally suprising to me that this narrative technique has not been used with greater regularity since this film was screened. This all makes viewing Georg a unique and memorable experience. Can I say anymore? Good luck finding it but if you can watch it dammit!

 

 

BLASTITUDE #12

next page: Larry Dolman....LIVE!!!!