Monday, August 11, 2014

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's REAL


What begins as a craftily gendered psychodrama about the creative and proprietary purgatory of the Creative person (otherwise known as the mind), brashly impinged upon by the active presence of a non-creative lover, a corporate-world scion, suddenly turns into a gender-ambivalent screed against unrepentant corporate interests brushing off their doing by relegating it to the fog of a forgotten, irretrievable past.

The film's lingering effect of whiplash is aggravating, no doubt, attested to by the film's mixed to downright hostile reception.  It is a film cleaved in two, and all conceivable claims of a fully-intentional structural gameplay, or a sly, cunning design, are immediately bucked by the palpable painful experience and listlessness of sitting through the increasingly banal and arbitrary second half, marred in the conventions of the puzzle film.  It is a show of clumsiness that is quite unfortunate - one can say, rather Hooperian.  (A grandiose plea for toleration amidst creative over-exertion.)

I unfortunately cannot hold Kurosawa to being quite above such guilelessness, for often, such as in Retribution, such as in Tokyo Sonata, such as in Pulse, he succumbs too readily to mechanics of genre, each and every one of those films being hampered by a somewhat over-delineating final act.  Never so much as in Real, though, has his story failed him, and it is with this notion that one wonders how much his screenplay follows or strays from the source material from which it was adapted.

But the first half is so strong and fully realized, Kurosawa's mise en scene clearly solidified beyond a crystal point and formally polished to a diamond-like precision in order to present a dream world, that I am tempted to look at Real as two films, the initial Kurosawa's excellent dream-state domestic and workplace drama (dipping into the mind of a neurotic female manga artist), the tail-end film his negation of such a self-indulging and self-identifying psychological study by suddenly serving a glaringly commercial sci-fi/mystery story - quite suddenly sexless (which is meant relatively, considering Kurosawa's rather chaste cinema; in any case, the first half's quasi-femme fatale is quite irresolutely stunted), but slyly doubling as a more-petulant-than-ever "vomitation" of Kurosawa's environmentalist penchant.  I'd like to say that Kurosawa is quite literally eating two cakes... and if one half is nigh unforgivable, and together it is something unfeasible as a satisfying experience, he's still satisfying instincts that produce two such separately communicative halves, despite the first half being ostensibly "undone" by the surfaces of story.  Can, perhaps, Kurosawa in the end be hawking a final social moralism so critical that not even the female gender should get a story benefit out of it?  That may be pushing it, but for the viewer, the film's holistic bisection guarantees for us a viewing experience almost equally bisected: enjoy one half and then tolerate the rest of it.

Kurosawa and his daft sci-fi endeavor ultimately conclude that the only way to escape an eroding industrial future is to escape to the mind, aided by a team of scientist boogeymen/angels, who, in another of the film's baffling subplots, practice strange bedside manner and may or may not have secretive motivations never made clear.  Real so exists as a loud curiosity, simply for being Kurosawa's most large-scale, outwardly mainstream and fully-furnished production: it is certainly weird enough, and its outrageous plesiosaur-filled climax is actually a minor balm in its deflationary latter-half slide.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hooper in the Pantheon

There is the dream: "Hooper, a cinema of pacifism."  The moral cinema that no one notices.  Imagine the spiritual book cover, two uneven squares below the title on the plain white gloss cover: the box on the left the image of Eaten Alive's gator chomping down on the little terrier dog in that moment's one insert shot of teeth-on-fur.  The one on the right The Funhouse's Marco the Magician about to take a reprovable swig from his flask before launching into his history of Vlad the Impaler.

One the image of a coarse and imposed education.  The other an image of cruelty, crude and blunt, that somehow manages to soften in light of how, with Hooper, the parameters of genera hold no sway over, or are rightly corrected by, a cinema of some morals.  Hooper imbibes and then transcends what is always clear to him the purposes of a commercial art, a cinema not in a vacuum and one that he has taken to both promulgate - for its popular purposes - and then also rectify.  The rectifying is pronounced in his chosen genre.  The image of the crocodile and the dog thus becomes indelible.  Not as a prickly horror image, but as a populist moral one, part of a film that serves to teach unfairness and kindness in equal measure.  Eaten Alive, of the commercial 70s grindhouse, does that.  A corrective cinema: one no less patched into the ultimate purposes of the cultural act of storytelling than his more successful contemporaries - those most incantatory and powerful luminaries of culture (I'm looking at you, Spielberg) - but has so internalized the virtue of fightlessness, accepted the circumstances of defeat, and embraced work that teaches and welcomes its own consequences (which includes its own defeat, its own evaporation from consequence due to the lofty aims of teaching, of a cinema "Socratic," of the taking in the poisoned Hemlock of industry pacifism.  Who else creates films so beautiful, so educating, yet so sacrificially unremembered?  One so unequipped for a business yet who throws himself into the business anyway, for, yes, the dream factory does teach as much as it makes opaque?).

... Woe to the conquered one - vae victis - but what beauty they still, with struggle, may create...

This may be a good time to quickly and quite sketchily create a personal Sarrisian, American Cinema-esque filmmaker list of excessive categorizing, not comprehensive but a quick give-away of where I place certain filmmakers - perhaps to shed light on where I see them in relation to Hooper.

It's quite clear, anyway, that Hooper would fall in the "Far Side of Paradise" category of Sarris's The American Cinema auteur deconstruction (Sarris's categorizations, my eyes, that is), putting him auspiciously alongside other seeming metteurs en scène like Vincente Minnelli and Joseph Losey (and Frank Capra and Blake Edwards... hmm...).  But Sarris's formulations brook far too much on the hegemonic relationships of compatibility with studio structures and cultural superstructure (his pantheon must have conquered the workings of the studio system, must have "branded" themselves).  Is our new pantheon really supposed to be only those who've managed to have their personal visions survive the modern studio prerequisite of bigger and bigger budgets?  Sarris compensated with "fringe" and esoteric categories, but this is not the type of separation I am interested in here.  Here, you will see, everyone is a metteur en scène and what matters is what they do with it.  It is not the authorial degree but the type itself.

This list is perfunctory (by design) and is open to splay and gain categories in event of future realizations (if I am to revisit this at all).

[The Quintessential "Writer-Director"] [Meant not quite literally, these are directors that are quite adamant in creating "big" things quite specifically devised to their own personal interests, such that, even if not actually the writers, they announce a "view of the world" quite loudly and by virtue of their "style"]
Francis Ford Coppola
Martin Scorsese
Steven Spielberg

[The Oneirics]
Robert Altman (This seems arguable, but I'll subsist.)
Werner Herzog
David Lynch
Jacques Rivette (I can't say I am much of a fan of Rivette, though, whose shaggy-dogisms tend to leak from the narratives and into the repetitive form.)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul

[The Baroque Artist]
Jane Campion
Brian De Palma
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
John Frankenheimer
Alfred Hitchcock (Another curious placement.)
Joseph Losey
Ken Russell
James Whale

[The Theoreticians]
Dario Argento
Robert Bresson
John Carpenter
David Fincher
Jean-Luc Godard
Roman Polanski
Bela Tarr

[The Stylists]
Mario Bava
John Ford
Howard Hawks
Ernst Lubitsch
Most Classical Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino

[The Emotionalists/Spiritualists]
Ingmar Bergman
John Cassavetes
The Dardennes
Harmony Korine (For comparative purposes...)
Mike Leigh
Maurice Pialat
Andrei Tarkovsky
The Neo-realists

[The Scholastics]
Joe Dante
Terence Davies
Carl Dreyer
Federico Fellini
Michael Haneke
Abbas Kiarastomi
Stanley Kubrick
Jean-Marie Straub & Daniele Huillet
Lars Von Trier (Huckster scholastic?  You decide.)

Malick and Ozu I waffled between Spiritualist and Scholastic.

[The Humanist]
Charles Burnett
Tobe Hooper
Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Jean-Claude Rousseau
Agnes Varda

The Humanists are the odd cross-breeds between the Scholastics and the Stylists.  They teach, but are humane about it.*

* humane = "populist"... less pretentious...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

THAS 2014: DJINN WATCH 2014 - Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

Djinn has been invited to its 2nd festival after its World Premiere at ADFF in 2013 and two territory releases in Japan and Turkey.  It will be shown as part of the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, otherwise known as PiFan, held in Bucheon in South Korea.  It is showing in the "Masters" section (along with Takashi Miike's and Terry Gilliam's new films).  The genre festival runs from July 17 to 27.

Links to PIFAN's Official Site and to Djinn's film page.

Admittedly, my main excitement comes from the two new promotional images:

Scenes from The Dark, #2

Oh yes, this will be an ongoing series.  Oh yes, rest assured.

It begins on an eater and a reader.

Mooney: "You can pick up her effects at my office."
(Mooney, the besuited detective, again speaks:)
"I notified your ex-wife."    

Dupree, played by William Devane, clad in the blue hunting vest and bandana, coughs, death-like, in response.


The Dark is a film involved with the constant bringing up of past history (those of its characters).  It is also about "personal effects" - those things held close to our breast but that inevitably influence whatever our contributions to a "public fabric," the systems of our society.  In this scene, we have an ex-convict (also celebrity author) and a cop.  As a depiction of a tangled web of professional/personal players acting out erratically their own agendas (the dreary emanations of those long, sordid histories), these separate livings also somehow effect and play on each other constantly.

William Devane is the father of the recently murdered and mutilated girl -- she whose "personal effects" the father can pick up at the cop Mooney (played by Richard Jaeckel)'s office.  Mooney is responsible for the three years of jail time Dupree recently spent convicted of manslaughter for having (details not forthcoming) led to the death of his ex-wife's lover after finding them in bed together.  This undoubtedly estranged ex-wife is the one notified by Mooney, acting (per his job) where Dupree cannot.

(Mooney, failing at professionalism, mostly contemptuous:)
"She wasn't raped."
 "She had a lot of money still in her purse."
"No needle marks on her, so she was okay there. You have any idea who she was shackin' up with?" 

He grabs Mooney away from the impudent cue stick and pulls him toward him.  The camera moves with a force matching of the dramatic gesture.

Notice the reader and the eater take note.

 "I loved her.  She didn't deserve to have her face torn to pieces just because she was alone at night on one of your streets."

A professional slight.

 "My streets?  My fault, huh?  Nevermind about her old man who wasn't around when she needed him."

A personal slight.  Again Dupree coughs, an undisclosed illness.

The reader: "You're Steve Dupree, aren't you?"
Dupree: "No."

The reader butts in.  He's reading a Steve Dupree book and wants to flatter the author.   Dupree is not lying, as "Steve Dupree" is actually only an alias, which he uses in lieu of his real name, Roy Warner.

Mooney: "Hey buddy, come on!  We're talking business!" 

Reader: (with some snark) "He's so articulate!"

The reader and the eater settle back in their rightful, background place as triflers in this L.A. story.

"One of my two or three million faithful readers."

 "So you're Steve Dupree, eh?"

 Mooney: "You do have court's permission to use an alias, don't you?"

(What bright, shining, newly-minted-penny displays of pettiness.) (The slimy Dupree certainly is almost totally deserving of it.)

 Dupree: "I don't need anybody's permission."
Mooney: "You must have learned how in jail!  See, I did you a favor!"  
Dupree: "The only favor I want you to do me is find the murderer of my daughter."
Mooney: "Maybe we'll get lucky."
Dupree: "Lucky?  Uh-uh, not good enough, you're going to work your ass off.

"If I see you're not doing it, I'm gonna write letters to the newspapers and sign it: 'Irate tax payer.'" 

The complicated diametric between police and public, noble demands and reality, justice and "just more department business," between grieving father and grieving asshole father.

"If I even see you, Warner... I'm gonna nail you for interfering with an officer in the performance of his duties, you got that?"

The Dark: the public and private innerworking of the civic system.  A gorgeous "civil horror-thriller."

Dupree: "I'm not going to interfere, I'm just gonna be there."

 Mooney: "You've been warned officially, Mister!"

(The barkeep in the background hoists the bar telephone into the air: "Mooney, telephone!")

Mooney: "That's an order!  Disappear!"

With Dupree coughing in the background - a simultaneously insouciant and frail figure - Mooney takes his call notifying him of another murder, now bathed in the neon light of the Miller High Life sign.  Rich is the idea of personal spheres (far divided), and the incessant textures of the superficial (readers, eaters, and beerers; a cop and a crook being wise guys) that are juxtaposed with the richer things happening deeply and subcutaneously in the text and the personal lives of our characters.