Monday, September 23, 2013

2013: Part Five: Cinematherapy 2

Back with more observations on films I recently watched, most of which are in the Covert library and have been viewed previously. A few nights ago, I watched Shinya Tsukamoto's A Snake of June for the second time and found it a very erotic, very human, exploration of voyeurism and coming to grips with one's own sexuality. Bathed in monochrome blue, the photography is top notch and, though a more straightforward story, at times the film approaches  the same surreal delirium as Tsukamoto's most well-known feature, Tetsuo: the Iron Man. I highly recommend this one.

I next turned to an incongruous pair of flicks. The Lady Hermit, a Shaw Brothers classic, was filled with action and starred the unbeatable woman warrior Cheng Pei Pei (who played swordswoman Golden Swallow in both Come Drink with Me and an eponymous follow-up). A very enjoyable film. For some bizarre reason, I followed up with La Dolce Vita, which, at three hours long, is really a film one can lose oneself in. Following the paparazzi Marcello on his trek through Italy, surveying "the sweet life", is an immensely satisfying journey. 

Saturday a week ago, I resolved to try A Serbian Film. With some credit I had at my workplace, I rolled the dice and picked it up to be viewed by myself and my dear friends Michael T. Jones and Mark "The Marksman" Baranowski. Something came up at home that required the Marksman's attention, so it was me and Michael (even Michael's wife opted out), a bottle of vodka, and fate that left us to the dubious charms of this notorious movie I'd read so much about. Well, by the end, I was grateful for the vodka.
I won't retread the zillions of reviews I've taken in on this film, iterating the plot, premise, and alleged subtext. And what I say, on face value, will likely frighten some, and frightfully titillate others (though hopefully not). Suffice to say, no taboo is left unturned. This one has it all - rape, oral rape, baby rape (yes, you read correctly - though thankfully not on camera), sodomy, incest, murder, necrophilia - need I say more? Like Salo (essayed in my last blog) and the extreme films of Jorg Buttgereit, everything is simulated. This is no real snuff movie, though it would surely have been deemed a "video nasty" by the BBFC.

In the end I can only offer my personal read of A Serbian Film. It shocked me, yes I admit it. It shocked a fan of Salo and of Cannibal Holocaust (though to be fair, those films still shock me; I am not wholly desensitized and I might worry if I was). I believe the combination of (simulated) porn and extreme violence - in other words, extreme sexual violence - shook me up. Such imagery affects me. There were images that were hard to shake. Hell, the whole vibe was hard to shake. I'm not quite sure what lends this film the power it has when other, similar torture porn opuses fall by the wayside (though I understand the film Martyrs has a similar force), but it certainly affected me. I watched it again when I got home from Michael's, and, the excitement of discovery behind me, I felt I was just wallowing in it. Not a film I'll be up for viewing again anytime soon. Hell, it may not remain enshrined in the Covert library. But if this is your thing, go for it. I've not heard Michael's verdict since that night, and Mark got a copy but I've yet to get his read on it, so this remains my own two cents, for what they're worth.

On to more pleasant fare - a cluster of films watched over a two day period, starting with Douglas Sirk's Shockproof, a longtime favourite written by Samuel Fuller that my good friend Bill White got me into. I'd call this one a "romantic noir", and is a terrific little picture that lends itself to multiple viewings. This was made in 1949, before Sirk's celebrated starcrossed melodramas, but you can see the seeds of them here, cultivated by crime story trappings. On to one of my wife's faves - She's So Lovely, directed by Nick Cassavettes from a script by his late father John Cassavettes (whose Shadows I briefly discussed in my last blog). Two down-and-out losers at life form a lasting romantic bond - until the man (Sean Penn) is committed for ten years, during which his lady (Robin Wright Penn) moves on, cleaning herself up and marrying the "respectable" jerk played by John Travolta. The fact Travolta's character is so unlikeable makes his usual indigestible acting bearable. And just how unlikeable this character is surfaces when the Penns reunite.
Next up is B. Monkey, a wonderful vehicle for Asia Argento, who plays a thief struggling to reform, especially after she meets a Coltrane-loving DJ (Jared Harris). Directed by Michael Radford without the gravitas he lent his brilliant 1984, this picture is mostly a character study of Asia with sex and crime sprinkled liberally throughout. If you're an Asia fan (I am), this is a must-have. Others may want to check it out, as it's a pretty fun film (though arguably, Asia is what makes it fun). After B. Monkey, I took in a movie I'd watched some months back on Netflix - Lulu on the Bridge. This movie really touched me and I wanted to see if it still had that affect on me. Fortunately, it did. The film centers on a love story between Izzy, a sax player (Harvey Keitel) and Celia, an actress (Mira Sorvino). Their love affair begins under strange circumstances (to put it mildly), but it's expressed so joyously, and played so tenderly and realistically, that anyone who's really, really been in love knows exactly what Izzy and Celia are feeling. Willem Dafoe pops up with some villainy to thwart our happy pair, and this leads to a head-scratching ending - one open to interpretation. I'd definitely recommend this one.

Next: Cinematherapy 3

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