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?


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.


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.

Disney Star Wars and the Kiss of Life Trope... (Spoilers!)

Here’s a first… a Star Wars post here.  So, really should be doing something much more important, but whist watching my daily dose of t...