Saturday, June 16, 2018

Cries and Whispers

Viskningar och Rop
(Cries and Whispers)
Dir: Ingmar Bergman
1972, 91min

In just a few weeks it will be what would have been Ingmar Bergman’s one hundredth birthday, hence grand celebrations here in Sweden all this year, and for me a chance opportunity to rediscover a filmmaker I’ve not been too fond of until these past years. But growing into Bergmanmania, I found my own way of reading him, as I’ve been exploring the Bergman through the perspective of a horror fan and his film through horror/genre aesthetics. 

Three sisters, Maria (Liv Ullman), Agnes (Ingrid Thulin) and Karin (Harriet Andersson), and maid Anna (Kari Sylwan) are gathered together as Karin faces death. As Karin goes through the throws of her last day in life from an unmentioned painful slow death, the sisters reminisce of life and their relationships.

Cries and Whispers is a tour de force of Bergman filmmaking. It’s a no-holds barred, ruthless spiral of death and emotions with some of Bergman’s most haunting and disturbing images.

The silence. That’s what strikes me with this film. The silence. At times there’s almost no ambience at all, to such an extent that it’s nauseating. The silence lies like a wet blanket upon your senses only to be yanked off as screams are hurled at your eyes and ears. The titles Cries and Whispers is perhaps the most fitting title ever to describe a movie, because that’s EXACTLY what this movie is; Cries and Whispers. 

This is also the movie where genital mutilation is featured (Again a deliberate provocation by Bergman to shock and disgust his audiences). One of the sisters, Agnes (Thulin) so shut off from her emotions shoves a shard of glass up her vagina and then invites her husband into bed only to feel something and to provoke a reaction from her husband. In a way it’s a first resistance against the patriarchy that oppresses the women of this movie, because it’s only after she’s stripped of all the bondage of clothing that she’s free to rebell and break away form the “tangle of lies” that she repetitively speaks. The tangle of lies being confirming to the patriarchal structure, something that Agnes breaks out of along the way. As the film reaches its end, it’s still only Agnes who’s had a change in character. She’s gone from the passive cold stern older sister to the active one who wants to stay in a loving bond with Maria.

Bergman’s obsession with ghosts, a clear Strindbergian influence of his, the ghosts and otherworldly presence is present again. (He also points out in one of his notebooks that the character Agnes is a homage to Strindberg’s A Dream Play and it’s lead character Agnes), Even though Karin is dead, and this is no spoiler, it’s inevitable, she strangely gives an impression of being alive as she cries and asks to talk to each of her sisters, and if you want to take it even further, she actually tries to bite Maria, which we all know is the characteristics of a ghoul, to feed of human flesh after death. Which also leads me to point out that the fade to black between scenes, is fade to red, symbolic for both life and death.

Noteworthy, the sisters read to Karin from Dickens The Pickwick Papers. A chapter where Pickwick meets his companion Sam Weller. Now Sam and Pickwick have at times been compared to Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, which can be read as a metaphor for mental illness, and in an intertextual way, this links into Harriet Andersson’s character Karin in Såsom I en spegel (Through a Glass Darkly) 1961 both by name and by the symptom of suffering from persistent disillusions. 

I also think that there’s a vague hint of lesbianism in here. The way Anna tends to Karin and the imagery that it ends up in a stylistic image that leads the thoughts to17th-century Madonna imagery.

With all that said… try to comprehend that this movie was co-financed by Roger Corman and distributed at the drive in’s through his New World releasing… WHAT ON EARTH did those poor drive in patrons make of this piece of dark, depressing Scandinavian art cinema? 




Tuesday, June 12, 2018

. . . A N T I C H R I S T . . .

. . . C H A O S   R E I G N S . . .
. . . A L L   W O M E N   A R E   B A D . . .


Lars Von T said in interviews that with this horror film, just like his attempt at making a musical, Dancer in the Dark, he failed. And he couldn't be more right. He failed miserably. As far as horror films go this is simply a high-brow wank of genre conventions jumbled up in a vague juxtapositioning as Von T gives Tarkovsky his best hand job.
Bear with me this is most likely going to get rantat, but it will conclude with thoughts on Antichrist and the Gospel of Lars von T.
T R U E !
The reason it's a high-brow wank is because that's where it was pigeonholed when elitist critics “once again” decided what was horror and not. Honest to god true story, the largest public service TV channel in Sweden ordered an eight-part series that was to focus on horror ten years ago based SINGULARLY on the basis that St. Lars Von T was making a horror film. So scared shitless that they were gonna miss out the cultural elite of SVT commissioned this series and when they had no fucking clue where to start they lifted some rocks where they found someone that pointed down some deeper rabbit hole that led them further past the stink of fetid death right to me. From the first fucking meeting, I was treat as a piece of shit… but a piece of shit they needed to get the job done. Naturally all the sweet stuff I was catfished with like “yeah sure you can do the Japanese episode and sure you get to go to japan” was nothing but sales pitch and all I got was shafted, milked of my insights and then kicked to the curb as the trash I obviously was to them. (I wrote the best fucking script ever to the Japan show, containing interviews with Koji Suzuki, Hideshi Hino and Jan Fukuda, if you know your genre stuff you’ll be able to recon out the three segments that those interviews gave.
But horror was a losers game except for a few (the common big five according to film history canon) and now Meister Lars Von T was getting his depression series horror film out to the masses and they had to get onboard to show that they knew the genre. Enough to make an eight-episode exploration of horror.
But the people working with it didn’t’ really want too, seen as horror was a silly thing, and they were all form the intellectual department…
…an example, one “in charge person” skated into the office in his tight-tight bike shorts on rollerblades, swirled a couple of times around the office desks blurting out “I watched horror film last night and it was the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I can’t understand why people watch garbage like that. You people are such immature nerds!” In most cases I’d take that as a compliment being called an immature nerd, but blurted out by a sweaty bloke in a bike helmet wearing spandex shorts on fucking rollerblades… that’s just pushing it.
Anyways as to not detour too far off course, I got intellectually milked, the show got the episodes done, they got the backslaps, I went back to selling my soul to mindless commercial tv and a smashing depression feeling mentally dehydrated, used and abused… waiting or the next punter to venture into my well of misery dangling a piece of lucrative “we need you” bait in front of me.
But they never got the Lars Von T interview that the whole fucking show was supposed to wrap around and lead up to! He declined and rose in my awe even more.

T H E   G O S P E L   O F   S A I N T   L A R S   V O N   T . . .
Where Antichrist may not be much of a horror film, it must be watched as a piece psychological drama, where I feel that one can place all of Von T’s films. Because as a psychological drama about two people falling deeper and deeper into the abyss of psychosis, Antichrist is fucking amazing, profoundly dark and absolutely relentless.
YES, it’s a nasty piece of film and it is so because this is his depression movie, the one that he wrote after learning that his father wasn’t his real father as the old man lay on his deathbed (I think it was, could have been his mother though) It threw him into a depression and he questioned his whole existence. And above all he questioned what his mother had told him was truth, and hence also her. Out of that depression and time spent in hospital due to same depression, he crafted what ended up being Antichrist.
Of course all women are bad. Nature is woman, and woman is bad, woman is selfish, and woman would sacrifice her own child for a perfect orgasm. That's Antichrist in a nutshell.
The Gospel of St Lars von Trier is that he can show you anything in the name of “art”, whilst I’m absolutely a hundred percent certain that he’s fully aware of the fact that everything he does the high-brow audiences will lap up and intellectualize upon whilst the sleaze-gore-pain-and-suffering horror genre fans can appreciate the story with it’s at times quite familiar themes, motifs and imagery. Like Bergman, Lars Von Trier is one of those few directors who can, and does, titillate high-brow and low-brow audiences at the same time. This skill is one that is tremendously advanced in filmmaking, you have to have the right amount of diamonds and shit, dirt and gold, art and trash. Bergman never really got out of the trash/exploitation groove. His first movies where marketed as part of the Swedish sin, and his final theatrical film StateSide was screened at the drive ins as part of Roger Cormans New Line Distribution. 
It's the same with Von T. although he's deliberately flirting with the "low-brow" crowd with is use of alternative actors like Michael Elphick and Me-Me Lai in serial killer drama The Element of Crime 1984, Udo Kier in plots for drama that balanced between surreal horror and psychological drama with Epidemic and the breakthrough Europa, that also starred Ernst Hugo Järegård and Max Von Sydow (as the narrator, but still Max), the provocation of the story in Breaking the Waves, the sexual content and authentic fucking in Idioterna. It keeps on like that film after film, bringing in elements of the fantastic film history with the traditional art cinema mixed through Von T's provocative auteurism, Diamonds and Shit, Art and Trash... as the high-brow lap it up because it's art and the low-brow seek it out because it's got all those alternative elements that we love in them. Deconstruction of the human psyche, deterioration of mental health, sex, death, torture, creepy shit in the woods, genital mutilation, fucking, panic, fear, chaos reigns.

Lars Von Trier might just be the last living cinematic genius alive today. 

E P I L O G U E
Yes, Lars Von T is still fucking laughing about how everyone gobbled up Dogme as he made films that looked like shit on a micro budget. He’s just unleashed a serial killer movie upon us, and at the end of the day, I might have been treat like shit during that job, but I also got to spend three days with H R Giger and make friends with John Ajvide Lindqvist, so in the words of Lars von T, one has to take the bad with the good.
/J.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

It Stains the Sands Red

It Stains the Sands Red
Dir: Colin Minihan
USA, 92 min.

Just revisited this one again, and I feel that I need to post some thoughts that I initially posted on Letterboxd about this one.

Well, not really spoilers, but sort of if you have seen other films by the same director that I'm gonna talk about...

I thought I had an idea of what I might be getting myself into as I started to watch this one, but to tell you the truth I was surprised to find a really good piece of apocalyptic storytelling here. A shot of freshness that brings back hope for a genre that’s overstayed it’s welcome and sunk into repeat mode making it stand out amongst zombie films.
 
Although despite bringing a bunch of zombie flick tropes which kind of are required of the genre with it, It Stains the Sands Red also brings a bunch of interesting things to the zombie-apocalypse-table that I’m surprised nobody ever did previously. Big fucking kudos to the filmmakers for doing so, as some will be put completely off the movie when it get’s into menstrual bleeding and lack of tampon panic and that what follows. It’s a slice of life as a woman in the zombie apocalypse unlike anything that you've seen before.

Basically the premise goes something like this, Molly (Brittany Allen), a Vegas stripper with an appetite for cocaine, finds herself stranded in the middle of the desert on her way to an airstrip that could be a possible escape from the budding apocalypse. Left with no other choice to but walk, she sets off right through the desert in direction of the airstrip... But a lone zombie targets her, and shuffles along right after her, through the sands.

Don’t expect a gun-toting female lead in the vein of Resident Evil; this is the anti-thesis of Alice. Think of it as a The Battery meets Swiss Army Man meets The Road kind of thing.
It’s a much more down to earth approach to classic zombie apocalyptic horror, you won’t get the classic bullet to head and squirty-squirty action. It get’s there, but it takes it’s time and trust me there are moments that will make you cringe and it’s not the menstruation thing. I realized I had my fingers stuck in my ears during the build up to one specific moment and with PlotDigger (that’s Meg and Ryan Nicholson) providing special effects, you know the red stuff is going to flow (no pun intended). But perhaps above all this this is all about making amends, changing one’s persona, becoming a better person. That’s basically the story here, but set in the apocalypse, with zombies - and it works like a charm. It’s amazing what a chunk of flashbacky-backstory and a bit of character development can do to elevate a movie from ok to brilliant.
 
Background riff; I quite enjoyed Colin Minihan’s cheap but cheery, Grave Encounters flicks (written/directed with his brother Stuart Ortiz, who co-wrote this one too, as The Vucious Brothers), but I totally hated Extraterrestrial. If you’ve seen that one then lets just leave it at shit ending, waste of characters, totally wrong kind of way to deceive the audience. Not my cup of tea at all. I like investing my time in characters and getting to know them, getting into their head and finding what makes the tick. Well, I’d say that Minihan and Ortiz fucking nail it this time. There’s a splendid character arc, character development and I’m left with a big fucking grin on my face as I, despite the open-ish ending, know that things are all going to be alright because Molly has got her shit together and is up for anything. So take my money and sign me up for a sequel right now.
 
I think this one just made my top ten of the year selection. Something about it just hit the right spot. I love horror that can make me laugh at its absurdity (without being knowingly comedic), be creepy, gross and also emotional. That’s when you get the real magic. Molly has a fantastic story arc and at the end of the movie I think I’m kinda in love with Molly and this flick.

I have to admit it, this is a fine little indie gem that I'm sure I'm gonna revisit even more times along the way, because you can't ever beat solid storytelling, fun characters and zombie a go-go.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

THE KIDNAPPING OF MARIO BAVA'S RABID DOGS.


I know that I've seen at least two different version of this film and to be brutally honest I’m seriously
thinking that the first one is the superior cut, the one I watched at the Cinematek tonight isn’t that one. (Although the Cinematek screening a good half dozen Bava films is something you never can complain about, this is about the several version of Rabid Dogs, not their selection.)

Mario Bava’s magnificent chamber-piece thriller, that more or less all takes place inside a moving automobile full of people kidnapped after a bunch of bank robbers need to make a hasty escape. Sweaty, frustrated, dirty and grimey, it’s a masterpiece of tension building drama as the movie torments its characters in one way and another until the last moment twist that knocked me on my ass the first time I saw it back in the nineties… In the cut that I feel to be the better.

Believe it or not, there’s a whopping FIVE different edits of this film, and the story goes like this.

In 1973 Mario Bava looking to recoup his failing audiences shifted focus and set his sights on the Poliziotteschi genre in his own special way. But being super low budget the production hit trouble along the way. Amongst the tales told, leading man Riccardo Cucciolla was a last-minute replacement when the original leading man Al Lettieri kept turning up late and drunk to set. Running out of funds during the short three-week shoot, cinematographer Emillio Varriano was fired and Bava stepped in to shot the film to meet ends, and then producer Roberto Loyola went bankrupt seeing the movie being shelved as his company folded. BUT despite all that, Bava was basically wrapped. All that was missing was some footage of helicopters searching for the suspects in their getaway car, and a pre-credit sequence… I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Several years later Peter Blumenstock of Luccertola Media upped funding for leading lady Lea Lander’s company Spera Cinemtographica, and the first ever version was assembled (with the help of editor Carlo Reali’s rough cut) under the name Semaforo Rosso (Red Traffic Light) a version which had its initial screening at the Milan film market in ’95, and later at the 14th BIFF in ’96. This version had some video footage inserted to make up for the lost shots.

As a strictly limited 2000 pcs release, Blumenstock’s Luccertola Media released the film on DVD in 1998 without the video inserts of the Spera version but with an added new opening that teases with a crying woman as the credits roll, according to Bava’s notes on the film. (Supposedly Blumenstock’a at the time girlfriend). This version also has the original ending compete, an original ending that shows Cucciolla talking to Mrs Girotto, telling her that he has her son, and that he want’s three billion lire if they ever are to see him again. He hangs up and walks back to the car, opens the boot to reveal that the boy now locked in the boot of the car as the credits start roll. Perfection.

 
Then…  Five damned versions later* and in something I’m only guessing was to reclaim the rights to the project or something bullshity like that, Lamberto Bava and son Roy Bava shoot new footage and have that inserted into the film, rename it KIDNAPPED and that’s the version that everyone seems to prefer… but not me. This version has new credits, new footage – that certainly doesn’t match up the original footage it’s cut against – and  for some god only knows why reason, Bava/Leone decided that the superbly swanky Cirpirani score had to go and rescored the movie. I cannot understand that move at all, because the phenomenally well-fitting brooding score that fits like hand in glove to Rabid Dogs is gone and exchanged for a swanky piece of crap that’s honestly an embarrassment for Cipriani as it sounds like a late Sunday night TV-movie reject score. And don’t get me started on that god-awful song that crowns the defilement of Mario Bava’s masterpiece.

They also redubbed it whilst they were at it.



The Kidnapped version has several cutaways to the 2001 version of Mrs Girotto talking on the phone, asking about her kidnapped son. She has a couple of scenes of her shot, against a police investigator, who does F-all but sit behind his desk for a quick cut away, and later with Cucciolla when he calls in his demands during the final scene. That’s also where the Kidnapped version ends. On a conventional shot of her clasping her mouth in shock as the end credit roll. Its immensely annoying as neither her clothes or furnishing in her house match the time period, the footage painfully shows the time difference in 35mm in 1973 compared to 35mm in 2001. It Does Not Work! It takes from the movie and the whole surprise of the shock ending is diminished when we don’t get the profound nihilism of Cucciolla who despite all he’s been though has the we bairn shoved in the boot of his car. In a disturbing way he comes off as the dark anti-hero of Rabid Dogs, something that’s eradicated in the sad-mom ending of Kidnapped.

Look, IT DOES NOT MATCH: (Click and see)
classic grainy 35mm vs. new crisp 35mm. 

Of course taste is a matter of opinion, and everyone had the right to their own decision, but this is my take and choice on the many version of Mario Bava’s posthumous Rabid Dogs. Just for the sake on argument, the Luccertola version runs 1:36:38, the "arrow" Rabid Dogs version 1:31:55 and the Kidnapped version 1:31:35.

- original ending

 
- new ending


*Yes, five versions, counting the Spera verison of ’95, the Luccertola version of ’98, the German Astro release in 2001, Alberto Leone’s version and then the Leone/Bava version edited by Mauro Bonnani in 2001, the version Bava edited in the way he “felt” his father would have wanted it.



Now Listen to the score and how it changed.

The Original:


The New Version





Friday, February 16, 2018

In the Presence of a Clown



Larmar och gör sig till
(In the Presence of a Clown)
Dir: Ingmar Bergman
1996, 119 min.

Remember that Stephen King book about a creepy clown and references to sinking and floating... and a couple of fart jokes for good reference? Well this is Bergman’s version of that. Well not really, but I did think about IT as I watched and also found a nod to HP Lovecraft too but oh yeah, King never fucked Death in the ass in his version did he?
I’ve mentioned Bergman’s passion for screwing around with format and his meta use of media’s in his films, this is definitely no exception even though it’s a play shot for tv... a play shot for tv. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance that’s all about a musician. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance about a musician and a literary character. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance about a musician and a literary character watched by characters from Nattvardsgästerna. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance about a musician and a literary character watched by characters from Nattvardsgästerna and his own mother Karin Bergman...
Still keeping up? As you see it’s Bergman’s inception, a meta referent to practically all media’s as hand. And it’s spectacular one too as it tells its tale of Engineer Åkerblom (Börje Ahlstedt) and his dream of inventing and touring with the worlds first ever synchronized talking cinematograph. Along follow his fiancé Pauline Thibault (Marie Richardson) and his [asylum] friend Oswald Vogler (Erland Josephson).
As almost always it’s self referent too, and Bergman can be seen in the hallway of the mental institute. There’s a couple of detailed descriptions of grotesqueries and the metaphoric clown, or death I’d say, lurking in the shadows, teasingly summoned by Schubert’s "Der Leiermann".
Then as the film moves into its second half and one realizes what a hell of a cast he has here! A cast of almost all the big names of the Royal Dramaic Theatre... and they’re all here for a play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance about a musician and a literary character watched by characters from Nattvardsgästerna and his own mother Karin Bergman.
If you’re lucky to be living in Schwedenland, well then you can check this out and the short “making of” on Svt’s open archive. Easily worth the three hours watch.