Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fingertips Have Memories

Blind Beast(Moju)(1969)

Directed By Yasuzo Masumura

"Blind Beast" is a film about a blind sculptor who kidnaps a bondage model, so that he may perfect “the art of touching”.

This “art” the sculptor says comes from his belief that touching is the only medium left for the blind (smell, hearing, and taste he finds incomplete), and so hopes to create a new form of sensual sculpture designed to be touched and made from the memory of contact.
The sculptor has built a studio in a large warehouse he has converted into a shrine for the human body. Decorating the walls are giant sized body parts, with sections dedicated from floor to roof, to noses, ears, eyes, lips, legs, breasts and vaginas. In the center of the studio are two even larger statues, big enough so that a full grown man could lay between a pair of breasts with room to spare. The sculptor believes that the female body holds the greatest tactile pleasures to be found in all the world. He selects the model to kidnap by groping a statue of her at a museum, and act she witnesses and claims gives her the sensation of feeling phantom hands on her, as his slide over the marble.

Blind Beast is a thrilling film in parts, and though disturbing and haunting in it’s conclusion, it’s the very last stretch of the film that rings most false. There will be spoilers from here on in.

At a point in the film, after the virgin sculptor decides to rape the virgin model (after the accidental death of his mother), a surprising relationship develops between the two. They lie together having sex for days on end. The sculptor realizes that physical contact is superior to art, while the model insists that touching is in fact an undiscovered art form, of which he is a pioneer. The two lay there together between the ass cheeks of a gargantuan statue and fuck til they both go blind. The lack of light in the studio causes the model’s eye sight to begin to deteriorate, but this only excites her more, believing that once she transcends the limits of sight, she will be able to perceive the world of touch with the same sense of the sublime as her new beau. If the film had ended on this ambivalent/romantic note it would have been inspired, but instead it goes on charting the couples descent into the “insect world of contact” that consists of (largely in narrated descriptions and minimally on screen) biting, beating, cutting, and eventual dismemberment.

This is the fairly traditional conservative horror film view of sexual transgression and punishment. Why do the lover’s after only a few weeks of sex, grow bored with pleasure and move headlong into exploring the varieties of pain. The model (who narrates the film for us), is explicit in her own self-condemnation, essentially saying they deserved what they got for emptying the world of anything other than “touch”. As a metaphor for the diminishing returns nature of sexual extremity it’s all well and good (and given that it was made in late 60’s Japan, it should be taken with a grain of contextual salt), but with it's unnatural addition of the films fascinating first half that contains some of the most inventive and psychologically poignant set-design work I’ve ever seen, and concepts that though coming from the mouth of madman, are equally interesting. The idea of an art-gallery where patrons could come into physical contact with the art is not an outright bad one. Of course, contact between patrons and communal art, would also be contact with each other (germs), and that constant touching itself might eventually disfigure the art itself (but then again such are the risks of all human contact).

The final descent of the film is where everything falls apart. The pain preferences that the couple develops are usually the results of alienation, fantasies born from a lack of contact (or early traumatic contact), and I know that smacks of bullshit arm chair psycho-analyses (how can you argue against one obtuse theory with another?), but does it make any sense whatsoever that two virgins get bored with sex after only a few weeks? This is a problem I find with quite a few films that try to broadly describe “sexuality” (Cronenberg's "Crash" which I liked, included), they end only in extremes or clichés, both equally unsatisfying (and more often than not identical). Either sexuality is a gateway to salvation, or Pandora’s Box (usually the later), and in either scenario the details of experience are lost, sacrificed to the gods of expedient theorizing.

“The insect and jellyfish like, non-verbal, non-sight world of touching” may indeed be an opening into an abyss, but human beings have always found inventive ways of putting openings to the service of pleasure (even if, for purposes perhaps other than nature intended). Commonly sex thrives on the boarder between degradation and worship, as the John Water’s saying goes “I’m glad I was raised Catholic, because now sex will always be dirty”. The film is polarized in it’s first and second halves, the first sensual and the second allegorical, one male and one female, Apollo and Dionysus, etc., and so busy lamenting the death of one and the rise of the other, that the crucial step back to reveal the two as oscillators (or some kind of double helix) goes ignored. To the at least two-sided dimension of the film’s subject, the movie is either ignorant of or blind to. But like I said early the time and the place of the film are neither here nor now, and it’s historical context might be worth discussing (maybe).

Aside from set designs, the film also features some great use of lighting (and primarily darkness) to create tensions both horrifying and erotic. Like the sculptor I have a room covered wall to wall and across the ceiling, by my own private version of “art”, and his zeal, obsessiveness, and ultimately naïveté (though his crimes are certainly sexual in the broadest sense, the sculptor is initially sincerely only interested in touching the model in so far as it will aid his work) that I could identify with. Even the giant statues as the model comments make perfect sense, from the perspective of an infant, someone who wants to feel small and safe next to an all-consuming body. The sculptor only experiences with human-contact were from his early childhood. Both characters despite their artistic occupations, are childlike and “in the dark” with regards to the realms of the flesh, and though their behaviors and obsessions are specific, there is something also a universal shadow cast over their journey into first-time experience.

Also anyone who has never wanted to just fuck and fuck until their senses melded into those of their partner and their awareness of the outside world atrophied and fell away like the memories of an advanced Alzheimer’s patient, is probably not doing it right. This too is easy to identify with. At first “Blind Beast” was much more than it’s meager Asian Extreme cult-film status would have you believe, but by the end I understood why this film is largely forgotten. “Blind Beast” is a good “sexploitation” film, an inverted variant of “Peeping Tom” where observation is nothing, and contact is everything, but at times it flirts with greatness. Sadly the film’s center cannot hold, and things fall apart. It says nothing that hasn’t been said before, and stylistic pleasures and sophistication (and solid performances from it’s cast) notwithstanding, the movie is spoiled by it’s one dimensional final act (even as it’s metaphoric ending leaves us with haunting images). “Blind Beast” is like a beautiful lover, that talks too much. The pretty ones can be so dumb(sigh).