Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Devil Is Beating His Wife

Killer Of Sheep Directed by Charles Burnett(1977)

"How come it rains daddy?" "Cus the devil is beating his wife." I like the soundtrack, and the laid-back pace and structure of the narrative. There's some themes, but they never invade the film, just play out and rub up against the images. The re occurring images of the sheep being lead to slaughter, gives the movie some bleak and harsh sub-text, listen for Paul Robeson's "America" after one such scene. The music is the movies greatest strength, because it really transforms some scenes, the dance in the living room, as the phrase, "this bitter earth..." comes up over and over in refrain, (the movie ends with this song too. And was intended as a thesis in African American music). But there's some other scenes, whose images I'd experienced, but never really seen reflected on screen before. The opening where a young boy is berated for not assisting his brother in a fight (which the younger brother may have started and deserved), to the "climactic" trip to country, at the end, there's an honesty and a naturalism (NOT realism), that makes this movie easy to watch, even at two a.m., as I did. Also "The Devil Is Beating His Wife" is one of my favorite Pedro The Lion songs (whether or not it has anything to do with this film, or is just an old expression, used in this film as well...I haven't the foggiest.) At this point it occurs to me, I havent said a thing about the story to "The Killer Of Sheep", to remedy, "The Killer Of Sheep" is a series of vignettes about the lives of a few black characters living in Watts, in the late seventies (where my father was born), largely focusing on a tired butcher who kills and skins sheep all day. The story, in those few words, does not communicate the beauty and grace, of the film as a whole, which is much more than the sum of its parts. Also notworthy because it was made by a black director in a time when the only films associated with a black audience were blacksploitation films, stories of gangsters, crooks, and cops; film noir for the "new urban audience". Anyway this is probably the best student film ever made, at least, as far as I know, it's the only one, to be added to the Library Of Congress. Steven Soderberg(directer of Oceans 11 and 12) paid out of his own pocket to get the rights to all of the films music(illegally in it's initial release). So dream big kids.

What Fresh "Naraka" Is This?

Jigoku(The Sinners Of Hell)Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa(1960)
Horror film about the "Buddhist Hells"(an important distinction from Christian Hell. 1. You don't go to Buddhist Hell because of any kind of God, you go because of past Karma, and you stay just as long as is necessary, for the pound of flesh to be rendered so to speak). "Naraka" the Buddhist word for Hell, we are told when the film opens means roughly "abdonimal" or "excrusiating", and though it's concept is more abstract than the Wests, it's torture's are much more specific (list like) and would make Eli Roth blush.
The story, begins with young man, who get's in the wrong car with the wrong guy(Tamura, who just appears out of nowhere, and then usually just to cause trouble or point out others sins), who has a hit and run, with a drunken Yakuza. The two drive off, though our hero wants to go back, and from them on, everything in his life goes wrong. Girlfreind dies, mother becomes terminally ill, father revealed as an unrepentent adulterer and reprobate, a doppleganger of his girlfreind re-apears, and the girlfreind and mother of the man he killed are on his tail too, which all come together in one hellish night of murder, revenge, and accidental death that takes them all.
The next half hour to fourty minutes takes place in Hell. We watch a series of spectacles from the outer depths of purgatory to the inner rings of the vortext of torment, where our Hero after meeting his wife again (who may have been his sister, it's revealed, at least one of the dopplegangers was), goes on a quest to find the soul of his brother/son, who is shown on screen as a baby riding a leaf down a river of blood. Severed heads, flailings, a field of faces half burried (images I recognize from "What Dreams May Come" Hell sequence), and much, much, more. Jigoku, is one of the few horror movies I've seen, that has no pre-cursors, nothing has ever looked this, though plenty have tried since. There's elements of theater, b-movie conventions, theology, sharp editing and directing, and some of the best set design Ive ever seen.
Though over 60 years old, it feels suprisingly not too dated, and though bleak as any film about "Hell" could be, it's important to note that Buddhist Hell is more like a place for shedding psychic skin, than an eternal prison, as the last frame of our hero and his child on opposite ends of the wheel of torment, followed by a distant light shimmering in the darkness, would suggest. So...not to scary, but Brilliant. One of the best philosophical horror movies ever!

The Story Of An Artist Or Frankenstien Vs. The World

The Devil And Daniel JohnstonDirected by Jeff Feuerzeig(2005)

Wasn't a fan, before this. I was comming in because I heard it was good movie, in of itself, and it is, it's a great, haunting and hilarious documentary. I dont think Daniel Johnston is the greatest living song-writer, but I can see a definite line o f inlfluences that can be traced back to his music and sensibilities, that are important enough. Whether or not you like his music or art, isn't really the point, it's an amazing story, of love, fame, madness, art, religion, family, and community. Daniel Jonston was a normal child until junior high, when "he lost all of his confidence", and the onset of his ilness, manic depression(possibly schizophrenia too). Daniel becomes very introverted, but also makes art and lots of it, mostly drawings and albums made by tape recorder(instead of making copies, he would record himself playing each track again, add nauseum). Still all's mostly well, til a bad acid trip at a Butthole Surfers show, brings out the fundamentalist in Daniel(he was raised orthodox, but before this event was never devout), who becomes obsessed with the devil, and begins to lose his grip with reality.
It takes a village to raise a child, and a small army to keep Johnston just alive and functioning, not to mention getting his work distributed(that's where the sense of "community" in this film comes from. The real tragedy is his dedicated manager and friend who get's fired, during an unstable episode). Though this is the story of Daniel Johnston, we hear it mostly from the words of others(perhaps because he can't discuss or recall much of it)
In the end it's a more bittwesweet, than tragic film, Jonston's still alive, living with his parents, writing love songs(thousands) to a girl he hasn't seen since college, jamming with kids off the street, and of course, fighting off the devil.

The Circus In The Waiting Room


Directed by Jacques Tati

Filmed all on one GIANT SET( a set so big it had its own power plant and hospital...)! Mind boggling, slapstick comedy about how human biengs relate to their enviornment. The difference between a world which looks like an endless waiting room and one which looks like carousel, is a matter of how you look a it. Hard to follow, at first (kind of the point, it's like a maze), but once you get to the restuarant scene and the social and technological machines break down, everything comes to life in a big way.If anyone has seen "Last Year At Marienbad", imagine those shifting figures in the garden, crowding through a labyrinth qausi-futuristic Paris (lookout for the Hal 3000 parody), and getting into all kinds of gentle comedic mishaps. When a wall at the restaurant falls down, a tycon sits down in front of it, and declares it the "VIP only section". In Johnathan Rosenbaums essay, which comes with the Critereon Collection of this film (thank you CSUN library), he writes, what I think is probably the best description of the film, "It directs us to look around at the world we live in (the one we keep building), then at each other, and to see how funny that relationship is and how many brilliant possibilities we still have in a shopping-mall world that perpetually suggests otherwise; to look and see that there are many possibilities and that the play between them, activated by the dance of our gaze, can become a kind of comic ballet, one that we both observe and perform…"
The running gag in playtime is that modernity, in all it's forms, is kind of anti-thetical to human life, or in other words, technology and it's fashions are bad. Glass walls which give the impression there are no barriers, metallic greys to imply efficeincy and technologoccal progress, dull colors to not draw undue attention to yourself in the urban enviornment, a world designed to look like a waiting room, an airport, or a hotel, someplace familiar and sterile. Anytime anyone tries to use a machine it back fires or derails somehow, while others literally live in glass houses, their lives permanently on display(In one great scene Tatti implies this alienation by showing two families seperated by a wall both watching tv, where from the outside it looks like their in the same room, having a conversation, reacting to each others presence.) What makes "Playtime" trully great, is not that it is a clever satire on modern life, but that it finds a way to celebrate the human biengs who operate these machines and live through these fashions, not merely to mourn them as passive de-humanized drones. "Playtime" offers us a world, where the Waiting Room can become the VIP room, and where gridlock on a Round-About, can become a circus carousel. The world in minature, and still a world unto itself. Brilliant, colorful, and completely unique. Reminds me how amazing movies and the enviornment around us can be, if we only take the time to look.

Cat Power?

Nerkojiro-Su(lit. Nekojiro Grass)(engl title. Cat Soup)Directed by Tatsuo Sato(2001)

I wish I would have watched this with sub-titles, there's not many words, but I was watching off the net, so I took what I could get.
It's literally a psychedilic Hello Kitty, inspired by the surreal dream inspired manga's of Nekojiru, a female Japanese comics artsit, who commited suicide three years before this film was made. She drew almost everyone she knew and met as Cat characters, and this draws from her most experimental works. It's a little like the story of Orpheus, with cute kittens who end up in a surreal landscape of the dead, populated by assorted bizzaros, grotesquieries, and beauties. One kitten dies and the other goes to the land of the dead to rescue it. Why I liked this was because there were things here I hadn't seen before, oceans frozen with whales suspended between waves, liquid elephants you can swim in as you ride, a magician sawing his assitant into pieces and then putting her back together by summoning a tornado, not to mention the virtuoso sequence where all the images run backward.
It's great, cute, odd, brightly colored, anime fun for adults.
Also the short run time, keeps it from getting too cute, or too much. It's just right, and kind of oddly beautiful.
Great short film, and great anime, not derivative of greats like Miyazaki or Otomo. A world unto itself, from a tragically undercut artistic career.If you get a chance to see this film or read her comics, the strange world of Nekojiru is one you are, if nothing else, not likely to forget.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Delightful D.I.Y. Fable

Be Kind Rewind

Directed by Michel Gondry(2007)

Not the funniest, hippest, or most clever film out there, not the best actors or story realy, but this film does have some things which many don't, a sense of sincerity, joy, community, myth, and the D.I.Y. creative spirit. It's an enjoyable light-he arted film, grounded in Michel Gondry's lovely junkyard aesthetics.

It's a great (at least good) concept, with some dull, and very amusing moments. After all of the tapes at the video Mos Def's(Jerry) grandfather (Danny Glover) runs, are erased, by the paranoid living electromagnet, that Jack Black(Mike) temporaily becomes, the two set out to re-create all of the films, themselves. The short, made by request home movie versions of feature films like "Driving Miss Daisy", "Ghostbusters", "Boys In The Hood", "Rush Hour 2" etc, dubbed for nonsensical reasons "Swedes", become a huge hit, until they are sued for copyright infringment(by Sigourny Weaver), which forces them to attempt to make something of their own.
"The Purple Rose Of Cairo" is the best movie about the contradictory impulses movies create in life, I think. This is about life creating movies, about making your own myths out of your own enviornment, and on that level it works.

Nevermind Jack Black's character not making any sense, it's Jack Black(let it go), Mos Def does an excellent performance, seeming more adolescent, than the cock-sure MC Ive seen onstage at concerts. Well both Black and Def are musicians, and Gondry makes a lot of music videos, and alot of this movie just feels like everyone having a good time, not taking the movie too seriously, and just letting this happen. It's a movie for film-makers, movie lovers, and self empowered artisans of all kinds. Not as sophisticated script wise as early Michel Gondry films like "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind", "The Science Of Sleep", and "Human Nature", but like his documentary "Dave Chapele's Bloc Party", it captures a relatively unseen joy and love of art, be it music or movies. Good rainy day fun, with a message you don't have to roll your eyes to.