Friday, July 19, 2019

The Burning consciousness of awareness…


Sex is part of genre cinema. It’s part of the formula, life and death in that crazy mix. Tits’ and Ass and violent deaths sell tickets. As far as science and the neurological part goes, the nudity gets the young adolescent audiences aroused only to shake them to their core as the next emotion is the counter, death. With the arousal in the system, the fight of flight reaction hits harder and strikes better. I know this to be fact, as I’ve talked several neuroscientists about this specific detail of horror genre and how it affects the amygdala.  Yeah, nudity and death walk hand in hand in the horror genre.

As an almost fifty-year-old man still enjoying horror, still watching teenagers get snuffed after shagging, or scorned women avenging their sexual abuse, or phallic monster stalking the maiden, or vaginal orifice consuming male protagonists and on and on and on not forgetting the darker more psychologic horrors or arthouse horror or that don’t shy from explicitness either. Well, you get the picture, sex is still a huge part of genre, and for the most part we can watch it for what it is, part of the formula, I and you, we all go along for the ride because it’s formula and part of the way certain horror tales are told. 

But then something happens. And said thing taints the films that once where mere fun. The movie that comes under scrutiny today is Tony Maylam’s classic summer camp slaughter fest The Burning. The Burning plays by the book. An instigating set up complete with initial attack, although this initial attack – which is supposed to set the threat – is a genesis story of the antagonist, and how a prank goes terribly wrong leaving him horrifically burned. The piece is full of hormonal teenagers. Horny, but still not quite there as they lust for each other throughout the piece. Well, the men objectify the women, the women try to stay away from the creepiest of the men. and those who do have sex pay for it with their lives, by default the women first in a weird unconscious take on slut shaming. We get to know the male and female fractions, we take part of their antics, the hierarchy of the groups, we start to identify with characters and invest in them, intellectually foreseeing how the story is going to unfold. The protagonists do their thing, the antagonist does his thing, subjective camera angles and all that jazz and special effects maestro Tom Savini goes to work with some spectacular eighties shock and gore.

Classic. But then there’s the taint. The Harvey Weinstein sex abuse and violent attacks and rape of women in vulnerable situations in hotel rooms. As I watch The Burning tonight, I start to feel uneasy with the objectification of the young women of the piece. A woman is attacked and murdered in her home, behind the locked door where the looming antagonist blocks her only path of escape. The first fifteen minute set up of the summer camp and characters are all tits and ass of women. Objectifying studies of behinds, with comments of how much they “want that ass”, running in slow motion as breasts shake, a woman takes a shower and a young man spies on her naked body… later as the film gets into its “stalker phase” a male character verbally abuses his girlfriend when she refuses him sex, later a second character forcefully and sexually threatens his “girlfriend” into being intimacy with him. Sure it’s all part of placing the good protagonists and the camper antagonists (not the killer) on polarised ends of the scale, but hen it hits me, the fact that Harvey Weinstein created, wrote and produced this film, most likely shadow directing behind Mayhem, and the question arises, can I really watch this film in the same way that we watch genre considering the court case against Weinstein for being a sexual predator and abuser of women?


Are we actually watching Weinstein living out his dream of objectification, misogyny and hatred of women beyond being sexual entities there for his desire in this genre classic?

Do we need to reassess movies when we know facts of those who created/acted in them and what happened? Can we watch The Burning and not see the power games, sexual threat and predatory behaviour of Harvey Weinstein being put on screen? Is he acting them out because it’s a genre piece? 

Amongst the women accusing Weinstein there are women claiming incidents as far back as the 80’s, and according to an article on the AV Club, one incident of abuse is known during the production of The Burning.[1]So again, we have to question can we still watch The Burning without seeing the possible predatory traits of Harvey Weinstein tainting the sexual content on screen, which according to formula is part of the game, an intellectual and psychological stimulator and trigger, but here come off as the creepy voyeurism and power play of a sexual predator. Can we watch The Burning without that gnawing at our consciousness now that we’re aware of his deeds?




[1]https://www.avclub.com/new-investigation-confirms-harvey-weinstein-always-seem-1823402996

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Here we Roeg again... Who saw them try?



A few days back The Guardian's resident film-scribe Peter Bradshaw wrote a piece paying tribute to Nic Roeg's eerie masterpiece Don't Look Now from 1973, as it's been restored and re-released with a short theatrical run along side that.

Now off the bat, I have to point out that I agree with everything that Bradshaw points out in his text, of how the film is a psychological study of the human psyche processing loss, grief and quest for closure. How Venice is as much a part of the entity of the film as it location of the film, how the film holds its place as part of horror canon, and how it's spiralling roots lead right into fodder such as Trier's Antichrist, and Ari Aster's Midsommer. (Still on my watch list btw...)

Don't Look Now is the melancholic and uncomfortable tale of how the loss of a child drives a married protagonists John and Laura, (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) into a confusion of love / hate / psychosis. A film that uses it misty and eerie location as a metaphoric backdrop, where a ghostly apparition in a red rain coat haunts the narrow streets and foggy nooks of Venice killing people as it forcefully slashes at them with a razorblade. How Eros and Thanatos meet in bed for a cinematic moment. Because Bradshaw is correct to point out that the infamous sex scene, or rather sex-post coitus scene as it intercuts both the act and the slow decent back into sadness as they dress after their act, was an addition to DuMaurier's original story by Roeg. Something that showcases Roeg's male genius and benefitted the film immensely as its still one of those moments still discussed by cineastes and scholars with equal passion.

But...

It's beyond me that there's not a single nod, comment or referent to Aldo Lado's giallo Who Saw Her Die? which was released in 1972, a year ahead of Don't Look Now. I've been down this road many times previously, but it's one that's of importance in my constant struggle with the high-brow/low-brow paradox.

Key connections between the two are too many to be coincidental. Lado's film, as Roeg’s films focuses on a married couple struggling to come to terms with the horror, shock, heartbreak and grief of losing a child. But they discover something darker, hidden behind the tragedy that shook their worlds.

Franco and Elizabeth (George Lazenby and Anita Strindberg), find their young daughter violently murdered and dumped in a Venetian canal. (The kid is played by Nicoletta Elmi for anyone with a weird love/hate thing for Italian child actors, as most of us who watch that fare do). John and Laura’s daughter is found immersed in water too, although in a pond after an accidental death. Where John and Laura lose themselves in work and socializing(-ish), Franco / Elizabeth also become obsessed elsewhere, as they learn of a similar murder in France leading them to start investigating the parallels between the two cases. Both films have a lot of action taking place in the foggy, dim lights of Venice canals and back alleys. A strange figure, almost ghostly, lurks the shadows, taunting us as an audience and the protagonist on screen. Slowly and deliberately confusingly, both films displace pieces of the narrative puzzle to lure us down wrong alleys to the surprise last act twist/reveal that comes with the genre. They do differ in their conclusion, but this is perhaps the widest distance between the two films, although they will both leave you with a what the fuck frown on your forehead.

The psychological turmoil of the protagonists is the same, the location and atmosphere is the same, the fluid cinematography of Franco Di Giacomo versus Anthony B Richmond, the way Graeme Clifford clings to his edits like Angela Curi previously did. Roeg's Pino Donnagio score to counter Ennio Morricone’s superior one of Lado's movie. The similarities are too many to ignore, it's almost a doppelgänger movie, but elevated out of the low-brow pinfold, hence never questioned, but accepted as original.

But it all culminates, or climaxes with pun intended, in the final proof of Sex and Death entwined. Lazenby and Strindberg fucking, intercut with post-coital crying over the death of their child, Eros and Thanatos unified in a spectacular way. Roeg lifted this right out of Who Saw Her Die? flipped it spatially timewise as the sex is intercut with flash forward to the apathy of post sex,and got the credit of genius when it's all Aldo Lado’s brilliance at work, because Lado’s collision of emotions is a immensly powerful one.

If nothing else, it's arguable that Lado's Who Saw Her Die? deserves more than to be a curiosity left for cinephiles and Giallo fans alone. It needs to be rediscovered and put in place within the canon of horror film history, something that very little outside American, British and/or the major studios actually seem to qualify as. My torch song is that the fibres of "canon" that stretched out into the nooks and crannies of the horror genre, as deep as they/we need to go, deserve to be lifted forth and acknowledged, as it's no rocket science behind the fact that without Who Saw Her Die?,there would have been no Don't Look Now as part of the "checklist of horror film canon". First then do we look into the possibility of DuMaurier's source material being an influence on Aldo Lado.

Bradshaws article here.


https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/jul/05/dont-look-now-review-roeg-horror-julie-christie-donald-sutherland























Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Walkabout. Conflicts with the HighBrow/LowBrow Paradox


I find myself continually confronting and struggling with what I call the HighBrow/LowBrow Paradox. There’s really nothing much to question about it really. It’s an annoyance, and a constant conflicting area I’d attribute to amateurish journalism, pseudo-pretentiousness, intellectual wannabeism and academic bullying. Let’s not forget ignorance too.

If you caught an image on film are you not a filmmaker? And just explain to me why an American Pie film deserves a franchise whilst independent filmmakers throughout times have struggled to make a single follow up to minor successes? Why Cult filmmakers CONSTANTLY are revealed/discovered/known to have only been making “that kind of film”, so they could afford to make the films they wanted to? 

Highbrow is defined as highly cultural or educated, a person of intellectual or erudite tastes. Highbrow’s usually have money, snobbish. Lowbrow is unsophisticated, uncultivated, cheap. A dictionary definition of low-brow is partially “a person who is un-interested in intellectual pursuits”… I fucking challenge you to say that in the same sentence as Jean Rollin, Jess Franco, Lucio Fulci, Ed Wood Jr, Doris Wishman, Roberta Findlay and many, many others. They were filmmakers, ergo artists, and they were trapped in their economical circle of production hell, so why the need to deem films into two fields divided by an intellectual crevice that splits art and trash… a you and me, us and them, a rift to judge artistic value. Hence the HighBrow/LowBrow Paradox

The HighBrow/LowBrow Paradox is the space where the low-budget films I watch and love get mocked, guilt tripped, questioned and shamefully referred to as low-brow cinema clashes with the highbrow films I watch and love are credited for, even though they many cases lifted the conceived moment from low-brow cinema. 

Where high-brow cinema gets away with anything, and low-brow cinema is scolded/ridiculed for same narrative trait. 

When a “lowbrow” film zooms a lot to avoid the cost of breaks and resetting of camera and lights for close-up shots are called “lazy/sloppy camerawork” but when “highbrow” does same move it becomes an “innovation/a genius approach”. 

When a “lowbrow” film becomes exploitative/filth because it features nudity, whilst a “highbrow” film is artistic/celebratory. 

Where a corporeality of the flesh, of bodily fluids, of self-mutilation and suicide are mocked as childish tools in films deemed “lowbrow”, but when used by acknowledged filmmakers of the “highbrow” earns them the status of hailed auteurs. 

We could seriously simmer it down to the simple question if we should think of Bertolucci as a rapist, or Meir Zarchi as a rapist, and then question how said films where received, perceived and played a part in said field of cinema. What is highbrow, what is lowbrow and why does there need to be a border? 

Never forget, Nick Roeg’s Don’t Look Nowbasically ripped off Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die, complete with alienated non-linear, ex-spatial sex scene and mystic Venice location. Period, full stop, end of discussion! Then let me ask which of the two films you are more famillar with… 

Then we come to the clash in focus this time, the case of Nick Roeg’s Walkabout. A highly rated, loved, critically appraised tale of two city originated children who end up walking the desert of the Australian outback and learn how to survive the ordeal with the help of an aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) who they meet along the way. He’s on his Walkabout, a traditional ritual where young men are cast out of their tribe to live off the what the outback provides, hence the title Walkabout, which in a metaphoric way is what Girl (Jenny Agutter) and Boy (Luc Roeg) experience too. 

No question about it, it’s a beautiful, atmospheric and very much child of its time piece of cinema. It heled usher in the “new wave” of Australian cinema and uses an somewhat unconventional juxtapositioning of imagery to clash modern/indigenous similarities though out.

But…

There is a total of (at least) twelve animals killed on screen for narrative purposes of depicting survival in the outback. Amongst that lot, three water buffalo, three decently sized lizards and two kangaroos and a bunny wabbit. I’m not bringing any question of morale to the fact of killing to eat or not, or even killing for film, this is just a fact of the images preserved on celluloid. The first time, it’s validated as a fact of survival, and in the narrative, it’s warranted. But it just keeps going on and on, more and more animals are killed, slaughtered and chucked on the fire for dinner ending up in the pretty large number of twelve dead animals.

I would though, like to question how many times Nick Roeg had to endure the same ordeal of questioning Ruggero Deodato gets after each in presence screening of Cannibal Holocaust“Why did you have to kill the animals?” Whereas I in Walkaboutcan appreciate the animal deaths as being an ethnographical study of the native Aboriginal saving the present, (even though the present kills him later, for lack of reflected love it may seem in the film, but in the novel the Aboriginal boy dies from influenza that he’s not immune against), which it does and it gets the metaphoric job done. Even the three water-buffalo that are killed adhere to a native vs modern as they kill for fun premise. But then again this is not what Walkaboutis famous for, as Cannibal Holocaustif famous for its animal deaths, despite them being half the number compared to WalkaboutCannibal Holocaustis only famous for its animal deaths and very rarely does the question of morale that fuelled the film get heard over the complaints of animal deaths.  (Long story told short; Deodato wanted to comment on his art being censored whilst capitalist TV stations made money showing death on the news etc. I feel he does an excellent job of that with Cannibal Holocuastwith its immense cynical tale)  Although the difference is that Deodato’s animal deaths (at least key deaths) all take place on the secondary format of the found footage, hence becoming a storytelling tool to sell the authenticity of the films violent and harrowing final act. Through the authentic animal deaths, the illusion of the staged human deaths is complete, as the trial for manslaughter would prove only days after the film premiered in Milan on 8thof Feb, 1980. I don’t see how the many deaths of Roeg’s film actually do anything but spin off a contextual concept that parallels the sensationalism of the mondo-genre using savagery images of native man in his setting, just like Deodato does with Cannibal Holocausta year later.  Are they really that different when it all comes around?

But perhaps more disturbing than the animal deaths, is the adolescent nudity. There are at least three times where Jenny Agutter is objectified and placed under Mulvay’s “male gaze”. This once again made me question the HighBrow/LowBrow Paradox. After a few days in the desert girl and boy stumble upon a small watering hole. Girl, obviously stuck in the role the patriarch has designated her with, sets about washing their clothes, whilst he plays action games with his toys. After their clothes have dried we see Girl putting on her underwear and this is shot in a close-up excluding anything by her underwear as they are pulled up her lower legs. I’d argue that this is purely eroticizing the underwear and her body, even though we don’t see more than her calves. In contemporary times, it echoes Japanese burunsera and school girl fetishist imagery. Of which there is much inWalkabout, and Agutter’s tiny school girl dress versus compositions of shots to be honest. Later, Girl goes swimming. She has no swimsuit so she obviously goes swimming naked, as the camera lingers gently observing her, as a romantic score by John Barry plays on the soundtrack. Naked as she twists, turns as the camera observes her every move. If not sexualising/objectifying her, why did it end up being the image on most of the posters? It seriously made me think of Kelly Brock and Riley Steel’s overtly drawn out underwater nude acrobatics in Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3Dbut the difference being that that moment is drawn out to make a point of the conventions of nudity in genre film that Aja’s taking the piss out of with the film. For fun go check that scene explained in the parent’s guide on IMDB, because the swimming scene in Walkaboutis naked in a way that should have earned it a “Severe” rating along the lines of the parent guide for Franco’s Female Vampirewhich has descriptions that read like fan fiction erotica. Seriously, someone took the time to write a parent’s guide for Jess Franco’s Female Vampire?

It’s possible that this was the weak-ass critique that Roeg was aiming for. A “Oh, look how you’ve exploited the aboriginal people and look, it’s all the same as how we’ve exploited women keeping her constrained to stereotypical roles in the patriarchal structure…” But I seriously think that would be pushing it, wouldn’t it? I think it’s a clear case of dirty auteurism.

What we have here is a classic highbrow/lowbrow paradox. Roeg’s objectification of a young 16 year old girl is accepted because of the intellectual makeshift excuse of being art, of being at one with nature, of finding her freedom in its submitting Agutter to the male gaze. And I’d argue it’s a perverted one too as that underwear fetish will support, the several scenes where she’s semi naked, which of a couple are kind of innocent, but there are moments where it’s very sexually loaded and Agutter’s acting is of as in panic as she knows she’s being stalked perhaps going to be assaulted… I will though argue that the final scene, which features nudity from all three of the main cast works as a metaphor for freedom and is narratively legitimized. The adult Girl still stuck in the hegemonic structure, did have that one moment of freedom where all were treated as equal, and that’s the closing shot. Unfortunately, it’s only a safe place she can resort to when her hubby comes home with more small talk of how he’s doing at work with his career whilst she’s chained to the stove.

So you have objectification, of underwear, nudity and then a threatening victimisation of nudity all in one film… although still art. So, I question once again, why do we need the polarizing fractions to define art vs trash, objectification is objectification in any way right? 
It’s almost like asking if a Serbian Filmwould have been considered highbrow if Michael Haneke directed it. Exactly as it is, no changes to anything, but pretend that Haneke had directed it… how would it have been received?

A great exploration into how HighBrow/LowBrow works is to spend some time reading Parents guides on IMDB for an instance. You will pretty soon find that “highbrow” films will waste characters explaining that nudity “is not in a sexual way”, “non-sexual” and so on, even scenes warning of violence too. Whilst “lowbrow” films will have “woman seen in underwear”, “it’s insinuated two people had sex” etc etc… anything to throw dirt down the ladder of intellectualism to taint the smut of lowbrow perverse deeds. Watch Walkabout, observe the mating ritual scene and then tell me that this is nudity in a “non-sexual way”.

Yeah Right.

Don’t judge. Enjoy and treat all film as equal is my recommendation. A story is a story no matter who tells it, the experience the same.

The Burning consciousness of awareness…

Sex is part of genre cinema. It’s part of the formula, life and death in that crazy mix. Tits’ and Ass and violent deaths sell tickets. ...