Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Vertigo/DePalma - III

Part III

Media itself has played very integral roles in DePalma's most successful thrillers. Without exception in every one of DePlama's key films media has been organically integrated into the themes and plots of these thrillers. Of course, DePalma's use of media in these movies are a technological and societal development of voyeurism, something that Hitchcock also utilized to highly effective extents in Vertigo, Psycho, and of course, Rear Window. With Hitchcock's films, it was telescopes, windows and peepholes. DePalma turns a technological twist to all of this, as with the opening to his film Sisters, where he simultaneously engages his fiction characters and the audience themselves in an act of voyeurism through a filmed television screen which is broadcasting a clip of a new reality-game show that has its own basis in voyeurism – Margot Kidder is pretending to be a blind woman who has accidentally walked into the men's changing room at a gym, and proceeds to undress in front of one of the male clients. The idea of the fictitious game show is “What would he do?”, to which the studio audience and contestants (inside the film) have to take a guess in order to win the game show prize. And while this is all happening, DePalma is also slyly critiquing the whole idea of television media as just another, albeit accepted and even celebrated, form of voyeurism. An extension of Hitchcock's peephole-voyeurism that all of television-watching society condemns – and so DePalma is pointing out our, his film's audience's (and accepted society's), own hypocrisy when it comes to where the line is drawn with our sometimes vampiric voyeuristic tendencies. Media as a plot device then comes around again, this time in the forms of cameras and photography, in Dressed to Kill, where the young hero played by Keith Gordon sets up a hidden automatic time-lapse camera outside of his mother's psychiatrist's office so that he might capture evidence incriminating the psychiatrist in his mother's (Angie Dickinson's) murder. Camera and photography come around again in Femme Fatale, where a crucial photograph taken of a woman-in-hiding throws her fairy-tale world into turmoil when the photograph becomes a printed-media advertising sensation and is plastered all over Europe. In Blow Out, photography is present in the deepening complexity of the plot, but this film is more about the media utilized in the making of b-movies, specifically, recorded sound. In Blow Out it is John Travolta's sound recording that is, in effect, the first witness to a conspiratorial murder, but when Travolta teams up with the good-hearted prostitute Nancy Allen to utilize sound recordings and hidden microphones to solve the murder and capture the villain (John Lithgow), things go spinning out of control and Trovolta winds up completely lost and adrift in his personal world of sound, which throughout the film has become his own personal circle of hell. A precursor to Body Double, DePalma's Blow Out also perversely toys around with the heroine's “doubles”, as villain John Lithgow, needing to be rid of Allen's character as she was also a witness to the key murder in this story, decides to create an alibi for her impending murder by first murdering several other prostitutes who bear an uncanny likeness to Nancy Allen's character. This way, Allen's character's murder would look like a random one in a line of serial killings that had been plaguing the city. Here, then, we also begin to get a mix of slasher-film aesthetics in a film where Travolta is first seen sound-editing a b-movie slasher film; and also DePalma's increasingly flirtatious tango with the misogynistic controversy, something that celebrated writer Harlan Ellison had some very opinionated things to say about within the introduction of a paperback re-print of his book “Shatterday” in 1981.

Voyeurism went from the telescope and directly to the then-cutting-edge media technology of the videotape industry in Body Double. While windows still remained a key element through witch our characters' voyeurism could be accomplished in Body Double, Vertigo, and obviously Rear Window, it was the mass acceptance of videotape technology that gave a welcome twist to Body Double; when hero Craig Wasson peruses the video rental shelves in the Hollywood videostore, launching his amateur investigation into the murder of Deborah Shelton, it's a curiously electrifying scene as we're waiting to see what could possibly come of this. When he finds the VHS videotape featuring the porn star (played by Melanie Griffith) who's erotic-dance routine eerily echoed the murder victim's window-dance, he's able to find, through the production credits, a thin track to follow in possibly finding Melanie Griffith's character, and hence, the possible key to solving a murder. Wasson not only finds Griffith and the key to solving the puzzle, but also manages to find far more danger than he was prepared for. At the end of Body Double, DePalma returns us to the scene of the b-movie production, with film cameras rolling and body doubles put into place for the leading b-movie actress, and this all intentionally circles back to the opening erotic-fantasy sequence in Dressed to Kill (1980) comically triggering memories of Angie Dickinson's shower scene and the practical use of her body double – and so then DePalma has created a mini meta-world of circling media and voyeurism by cleverly utilizing b-movie production, camera, sound, VHS tapes, slasher films, and body-doubles throughout his key thriller trilogy. In all of this, DePalma's inherent good-humour about films and filmmaking are completely in evidence by the time Body Double's end credits begin to roll up over the body double's funny shower scene.

Media also rears its head, again integral to the plots, in DePalma's later films, both of the throwback thriller with which he's gained his fame from, as well as his Hollywood studio summer blockbuster. In Raising Cain, the leading married couple (John Lithgow and Lolita Davidovich) have set up video baby-monitors which become both a storytelling and a camerawork element of that film; and in Mission Impossible, the whole plotpoint regarding media files stored on a hard-disc eventually becomes one of the biggest, most elaborately sought-after-and-captured MacGuffins in spy-movie history, once again providing a grinning example of DePalma's sly, cinematic humour. Funnily, both of these DePalma films also relied heavily on flashback storytelling, something that he'd avoided in his key thriller trilogy (Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double) – a slight exception being Travolta's character back-story in Blow Out – but that flashback did not have any bearing on the exposition of the solving of the mystery in the movie, unlike Raising Cain, Mission Impossible, and unlike Hitchcock's Vertigo, wherein each of these films the cinematic flashbacks actually explained the entire mystery.
Sisters (1973) actually cleverly weaved the cinematic flashback trope with DePalma's interest in media technology by providing a construct for the movie's flashback sequence through warped memory (echoing Stewart's dream sequence imagery in Vertigo) and recorded laboratory research as projected through black-and-white 16mm documentary film footage. From there, DePalma drew far more specific flashback inspiration from Hitchcock's Vertigo in both storytelling and framing mis-en-scene technique, twisting it for his own exhilarating cinematic means, in his 1978 film The Fury. Following The Fury, from 1980-1984 DePalma dropped the on-screen flashback storytelling trope in favour of expositional-dialogue as had been used during the conclusion of Hitchcock's Psycho. Dressed to Kill, in particular, was more of a remake of Psycho just as Body Double was a remake of Vertigo. Listening to the summing-up-the-entire-mystery dialogue at the end of DePalma's Dressed to Kill, we can't help but think of the conclusion of Psycho, which then causes us to reflect on the whole of DePalma's film and the fact that each scene is really an updating of Hitchcock's film within the expanded boundaries of sexualism, realism, and secret hypocritical voyeurism/coveting of “professional” people in society of the 1980s.

As a remake, Body Double also included a circling-camera shot lifted directly from Vertigo, the shot was also exhilaratingly employed in Blow Out – circling John Travolta in Blow Out's most celebrated camera shot as he discovers, tape by tape, that every sound recording in his sound studio has been systematically erased. The circling camera shot is used to maximum effectiveness during the beach scene where Deborah Shelton and Craig Wasson finally interact without telescopes, windows, or lingerie-store changing rooms between them. As the unlikely couple kisses, giving into desire, this is a more lustful and technically updated version of the same take from Vertigo where James Stewart and Kim Novak finally begin connecting. While DePalma's take emotionally mixes love, lust, obsession, and anxiety in Body Double, his take on this same twirling camerawork in Blow Out strictly served to masterfully induce deepening anxiety. DePalma, if anything, is a master of camera movements, to the point that when he was ready to go into production for Femme Fatale (2002) he would require camera rigs that would need to be invented specifically for his film. His virtuoso camerawork, mixed with the heightened sexuality of his content (and context), is what makes his work stand out and stand apart. He is a technically more proficient filmmaker than Hitchcock, but without Hitchcock's experiments in cinematography, from the opening sequence in Psycho to the ongoing takes in Rope (which also required specialized equipment and operators at that time) to the inventive camerawork that permeates nearly every frame of Vertigo, DePalma might not have had such a critical base from which to launch from.

(To be continued...)




Sunday, May 06, 2018

Bizarre Gialli – a few out-of-the-box Italian giallo films worth a look

Initially, I was arguing with myself whether to even write this retrospective of a handful of lesser-known gialli or not – but after taking Arrow's (fairly) recent release of Sergio Martino's The Suspicious Death of a Minor for a spin, I thought ultimately it might actually be worthwhile to say at least a few words about the under-the-radar works present in this lush cinematic genre...

When the thought had first hit me to write something about the (slightly?) more obscure films from the giallo canon, it was months before I'd even heard of Arrow's release. Years ago, Severin Films had put out a couple of sleazy, experimental, and somewhat hallucinogenic giallo films on DVD, In the Folds of the Flesh and The Sister of Ursula. The latter one Severin had boasted as a sleazy exploitation giallo, but actually, it's a very entertaining chamber-style giallo. A “chamber” giallo would be an Itlaian thriller that takes place mostly in an apartment where the paranoia within the film's limited amount of characters builds through a series of sexual encounters, misunderstandings, and double-crosses, until everything climaxes in bloody murder and abject fear. The Sister of Ursula dances us through these giallo numbers with the rough edges of a slightly more low-budget production, which it tries to cover up with more sex and nudity than your more familiar giallo stylings. It's actually quite entertaining and the photography through the abandoned hotel/resort that serves as the backdrop for this giallo is visually engaging, as is the entire cast as they work their way through this bodycount/mystery. The Sister of Ursula also stars Barbara Magnolfi, recognizable from Dario Argento's Suspiria.

Barbara Magnofi also appears in Sergio Martino's The Suspicious Death of a Minor, as one of the titular dead minor's prostitute acquaintances, and someone who is also wrapped up in the drug and political conspiracy that pushes lead investigator Claudio Cassinelli into solving the titular crime. Interestingly, this film looked to me like a very early one of Sergio Martino's films, mixing all the expected elements of the giallo genre with the Italian poliziotteschi genre that became popularized following Don Siegel's Dirty Harry – to the point where the music score actually varies and sways from the traditional-sounding giallo soundtrack to the poliziotteschi one. I discovered, after watching this film, that this was actually the last of Sergio Martino's six filmed gialli, and while his previous films The Strange Vice of Mrs. Whard, All the Colors of the Dark, Your Vice is a Locked Room and only I have the Key, and Torso might be the crowning achievements of Martino's career, there is a good spot for his genre and cinematographic mash-up of Italian sub-genres that is The Suspicious Death of a Minor.

Following The Sister of Ursula, I had watched, as a personal double-feature, the Severin Films release of In the Folds of the Flesh, which took me a lengthy amount of time to finally purchase due to the lukewarm reviews the DVD had received online upon its initial release. But shame on me for waiting so long, In the Folds of the Flesh is actually a humourous, sarcastic, sexy, not-quite-mainstream giallo that stat off with wild, unnecessary, hallucinogenic hooks that looks like director Sergio Bergonzelli is trying to give us the Jean-Luc Goddard of giallo cinema – before it segues into a (also chamber-like scenario) take on Roman Polanski's Cul-de-Sac, simply elevating this psychosexual romp in paranoia and conspiracy.

Once experiencing these two Severin Films DVDs – The Sister of Ursula and In the Folds of the Flesh, I found myself energized and ready for one more off-the-beaten-path giallo. I turned to Ruggero Deodato, director of Cannibal Holocaust and Cut and Run, who had made the tip-top of Italian jungle gut-muncher horror films, yet had not been at all prolific in the giallo genre. Again hearkening back to Roman Polanski for inspiration, Deodato's Waves of Lust, put out by Raro Video on DVD, concerns a pair of lovers who set out to destroy an upper-class couple whom they not only view as manipulative and opportunistic, but also believe have something to do with their friend's death and that the world would be better without, and so a very simple, yet very engaging, revenge scenario ensues, turning what is billed as an erotic romp-style drama into total giallo territory, with wonderful success. Waves of Lust is certainly more exploitive than it is mysterious, but this detracts from Deodato's film not in the least. The paranoiac drama between the two couples provides the needed thrust for the oncoming sexual and violent shenanigans in the film, which turns out a wonderfully satisfying ending. While this might be the most obscure of the four films retrospectively viewed here, it's probably the most solid and memorable of them all. Just like Sergio Martino, director Ruggero Deodato made films for commercial genre cinema in Italy in the 19070sand 1980s, and these films are massively appealing. 














Friday, May 04, 2018

#FF – Franco Friday (part 2)


Okay, so I do love the film writings of Roger Ebert. I love his book “Your Movie Sucks” and some of his film reviews – specifically for Eyes Wide Shut, Blow-Up, and 2010: The Year We Made Contact, helped me to understand the multiple sub-levels of cinema and its beautiful language, and how that language is used to communicate, and at times, to mess with an audience. But I was, admittedly, slightly dismayed when I inadvertently came across a review Roger Ebert had written on Umberto Lenzi's 60s giallo-thriller Paranoia, in which he describes Lenzi's film as the “second worst film” he'd seen that year – the film in first place for worst of the year...? Jess Franco's Succubus. Okay, also admittedly, I could see where Ebert might have been coming from at that point in time, and at that place in the cinema culture of Chicago's movie theatres... Ebert had stated that Only the haunting memory of 'Succubus' prevents me from naming 'Paranoia' the worst movie of the year... 'Succubus' was a flat-out bomb. It left you stunned and reeling. There was literally nothing of worth in it. Even the girl was ugly. The color looked like it had been scraped off the bottom of an old garbage boat. The acting resembled a catatonic state. The script (ha!) had the flair of a baggage tag. It was possibly the worst movie of all time. So no wonder it's in its fifth week in neighborhood theaters, after rolling up record grosses in its first run. No matter what the censor board thinks, the Chicago proletariat knows what it likes.”

I would think that given some time to reflect back on this review (impossible now), that the usually intelligent and insightful critic would cringe at his remarks on the “ugly girl” starring in Succubus, who happened to be the androgynous and striking beauty Janine Reynaud (Two Undercover Angels; Kiss Me, Monster!). Also, clearly lost on the cinematically critical mind of a young Roger Ebert in the 1960s was the whole idea and cinematic concepts of European arthouse genre cinema; which is striking unto itself, although I'm admittedly reflecting on this with the distance of decades of swimming and rippling changes in cultural and artistic representations and acceptances that have come between the now and the original American release of one of Jess Franco's artistic masterpieces. 

#JessFrancoFriday







Friday, April 27, 2018

#FF – Franco Friday (part 1)

In the spirit of sharing something on #FrancoFriday(s), I'll contribute the minor fact that while I've been pretty good at keeping up-to-date on Redemption's / Kino Lorber's Blu-ray releases of this mad genius' work, I have found myself at a sever lack for time. Sitting in waiting are two classic Franco films, the re-working of the Countess Bathory legend as a Rock-Horror opus (featuring the titular band in starring roles), the Killer Barbys. To me, this was hands-down the most accessible film in gaining entry into Franco's bizarre world of nearly indefinable cinema (and for me this was back in the early 2000s), and Killer Barbys still holds a nostalgic place in my heart to this day, despite its repetitive shots and extended scenes of nothing-really-happening which are intended to pad out the running time. At least the shot repetition is set to an energetic pop/rock soundtrack. The other cool Kino Lorber/Franco release is the Diabolical Dr. Z, Franco's wildly stylish black-and-white pre-make/predecessor to his more-adored She Killed in Ecstasy... but this crazy and kitschy original is without a doubt well worth a look. I'm looking forward to these two films being my own double-feature Franco retrospective, which will be happening as soon as I have the chance to carve out some time in the next week or so. Damn it, what's happened to all of my time?! #JessFrancoFriday







 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

“She's So Lovely”...


Sometimes a complex and thoughtful film will offer a clue, often as a throw-away line within a deceptively mundane seen, towards the deep truths and meaning held within the film author's wholly intended expression...

The single most important line in the film Inception, a thoroughly thought-provoking film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, follows Ellen Page's antagonistic inter-subconscious run-in with Marion Cotillard, in one such seemingly mundane scene where Page's character is speaking with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and she asks:
“What was she like in real life?”
Here, Gordon-Levitt pauses before answering, “She was lovely.”

This is the exact point where the entire explanation of the film should come into focus. But before I can explain this, let's take a look backwards at the situational aspects of these characters:
Marion Cotillard is the dead wife of widower Leonardo DiCaprio.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the longtime friend and business partner of Leonardo DiCaprio.
Leonardo DiCaprio runs a freelance business, based on his own research and development of invading interfering in peoples' subconscious version of their own 'selves'.
When Ellen Page's character asks the question, “What was she like in real life?”, Cotillard's character would be thus far setup to appear as a confrontational, somewhat unlikable character.
And at this point, if more exposition is required for you to understand what's been set up for the film, then it would be better if you watched the film before proceeding...

Whist in a training session, Page enters DiCaprio's subconscious mind, which is where she ran into Cotillard, who is in a twisted way, acting as a stereotypical jealous ex-wife, is presented as “defending” DiCaprio's psyche from invasion. Hence the aforementioned antagonistic inter-subconscious clash. But if we dig deeper into this allegorical presentation, what is really going on here? With Cotillard's character having already maliciously thwarted at least one of DiCaprio's subconscious business endeavours (and thusly putting the protagonist dream team in actual, physical peril), can we then take a deeper inspection of this subconscious relationship between DiCaprio's and Cotillard's characters and decide, with the information that we're given by Nolan in his own film, that DiCaprio's character is holding some sort of grudge against Cotillard's character – or, perhaps, his subconsciously is more widely seeing her in a negative light? I think the answer to both halves of this question is YES. And again, herein lies part of the key to solving the puzzle of Inception...

Throughout Inception, DiCaprio's and Cotillard's children are involved as a motivational factor – DiCaprio must make it back to America, from France, so that he can reunite with his children – children whose faces are never fully realized within DiCaprio's mind, indicating guilt and regret at being a non-present father, and also indicating DiCaprio's wishes to redeem himself in this regard. So, then, who does DiCaprio's character point his subconscious finger at as being the “bad guy”? His wife and the mother of the children – Cotillard's seemingly aloof character. And this is where the answers and true theme of Nolan's film really start to shine out, if, as audience members, we're willing to dig until we get to this fracted light.

Like any human being(s), becoming the victims of the mundanity of life is a psychological danger that resonates. Falling victim to this is quite severe in the sense that we start to loath our ourselves, our loved ones, and then perhaps start to blame these loved ones for our own insecurities, and our own shortcomings. Like being an absentee father. And like Sidney Poitier said in To Sir, With Love, “Marriage is no institution for the insecure”. So then, we start to build a subconscious reality where we can comfortably shift our blame. The real challenge is to be able to destroy – and to allow the destruction of – this subconscious world. In Nolan's vision, DiCaprio's subconscious world is at least rotting and falling apart, indicating his willingness to accept the idea that he's merely blaming his own wife for his paternal shortcomings.

The character played by Ken Watanabe represents (directly), within his dream-setting, the subconscious-invaded-by-DiCaprio's consciousness (and this explains the opening shot of DiCaprio waking up dazed on a beach, or, the initial “awakening” of his character, both subconsciously and in reality), and he also represents indirectly the symbolic aspect of DiCaprio's own character – if he, DiCaprio's character, doesn't save Watanabe (in essence, himself), then he'll grow old and become lost in how own blame-and-guilt-soaked subconsciousness. Here, Watanabe is the insertion of the objective correlative in Nolan's movie. Or in other words, symbolically speaking, DiCaprio's character is Watanabe's character. DiCaprio is waking up, mentally, in order to be able to wake himself from the deep slumber of his own guilt and inaction.

So then, in the aftermath of this initial “awakening”, we come back to the proverbial ground-floor of Nolan's cinematic puzzle (and it is a puzzle, as Nolan left it “up to the audience” whether DiCaprio's experience was taking place in the real world on in a subconsciously-manufactured reality...) – Constructed in its purely subconscious form, DiCaprio's character, dealing with emotions of guilt, loss, and regret, and avoiding self-realization and the responsibility and results of his own actions (i.e. the neglect of his children), he shifts this blame to his wife Cotillard (whom, in real-reality, is “Lovely”, which is spoken by Gordon-Levitt's character but is also a true notion buried deep within the “defence” psyche of DiCaprio's character). Somewhere outside of the borders of this cinematic tale, DiCaprio's character, finally realizing that this subconscious subterfuge can't last, even in the state of dream, he creates an escape scenario (the action of the film); and following this, he “awakens” on the shores of a finally ebbing dream-tide; now finding himself physically and mentally enabled enough to save the Watanabe character – i.e himself. The final frames of Inception are now just the full waking of DiCaprio's dream-world, the final images before our eyes flutter open to the morning light after a night of dream-epiphany, to an ending that has been hinted throughout Nolan's cinematic vision through flash-forward repeating shots. And although the focus of the story (the dream) was placed on the foggy memories of his children, DiCaprio's ultimate boon, after his own internal redemption (which on all levels of the story's “reality” is what Nolan's film is all about), is that he will likely be able to stand with his lovely wife in his perceived and genuinely desired forgiveness from her.

~V.





 




Sunday, April 08, 2018

Their Later Films Vol. 5 – Alejandro Jodorowsky.


Outside of Hollywood's most fanous cinematic releases, it's the auteurs whose films people really remember seeing for the first time. Argento, Romero, Bava, Fulci, Franco, Tarantino, Rodriguez, Lynch, Carpenter, and several others... but perhaps it's the surrealists that we really remember because, well, the films are fucking weird – and inspiring, on many levels (intellectually, emotionally, creatively)... Hands down any cinephile I've ever conversed with remembers the first David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Dario Argento, and Alejandro Jodorowsky film they ever saw; usually because it changed their lives. I was a late-comer to the world of Alejandro Jodorowsky, having discovered him roughly a year-and-a-half before the first film in his new (intended) trilogy was released, Dance with Reality – but I'll get back to that film in a moment.

Funnily, it had all started with 2005's Masters of Horror television series, created by Mick Garris. The film (episode?) that would launch Garris' horror anthology series would be Cigarette Burns, by John Carpenter, in which a sort of film detective (played by a pre-Walking Dead Norman Reedus, fresh off of Guillermo Del Toros' Blade II) is hired (by Udo Kier) to track down a lost film; a movie that caused bloody riots upon its festival release and sent the enigmatic director into hiding. I don't know why I thought this at the time, but I felt, somewhere deep in my cinematic heart, that John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns was fictionally referring to Alejandro Jodorowsky. Upon seeing Carpenter's episode, I went out and purchased the then-new Alejandro Jodorowsky DVD boxset from Anchor Bay. And upon this purchase, I threw his first film, Fando y Lis, into the DVD player – a surreal, black-and-white, sexualized travel-epic. But I truly digress, as this essay is not about the first Jodorowsky film I ever watched – as I'd said, this is about the first time I actually discovered Jodorowski, and that wasn't until 2012, when I witness, for the first time (and from that very boxset), The Holy Mountain...

Following the life-changing experience of Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain, Vancouver's Cinemateque held a retrospective of Jodorowsky's work, where I went both backwards and forwards in the filmmaker's stunning career – first, having the pleasure of experiencing El Topo in the cinema, and then experiencing Vancouver's first theatrical screening of his 2013 film, Dance of Reality. This latter film was not like Jodorowsky's previous Fando y Lis, El Topo, or The Holy Mountain, yet no less important as those films because Dance of Reality so thoroughly infused Jodorowsky's own life and perspectives into the over-the-top and transgressive drama that had been his signature trademark throughout his career that Jodorowsky actually managed to recreate himself as a professional artistic filmmaker at the point in his life when most cinematic auteurs were well on their way downhill to artistic and commercial failure. He hired his son to play his father, and gave us a genuine life sentiment in the midst of a surreal cinematic experience that flirts with exploitation but in far more comfortable in arthouse, but in the end is a rich visual exposition of truth and things that we, as human beings, might prefer to keep buried under a shallow pile of earth.

There are few filmmakers that can manage to evoke emotional and intellectual engagement in their films that seem to transcend the mere opinions of the mainstream (or rather, those who control the mainstream media content), and Jodorowsky is one of the three – the other two being Lloyd Kaufman of TROMA Entertainment, the longest-running independent movie studio... well, ever; whose latest films Poultrygeist and Return to Return to Nuke 'Em High aka Vol. 2 epitomize his wildly outrageous and directorial and creative career with astounding over-the-top satirical and meaningful anti-conformist showcases contained as exploitation cinema (although anything of Kaufman's from Tromeo and Juliet forward is worth delving into if you're game to be exploring in this arena); and the director of the Mad Max films George Miller, whose latest Mad Max: Fury Road showed that this stratospheric auteur could not only deliver a surrealist, artistic, and exploitive film to international audiences (and with immense praise), but could also receive industry and commercial accolades in doing so. In one UK film critic's opinion, Mad Max: Fury Road was the “Movie of the Century”. I could be close to agreeing with this reactive sentiment. For all of this appreciation, it might be worth noting that Jodorowsky, Kaufman, and Miller were all in their seventies while enjoying these artistic successes; and in the case of all three of these auteurs' latest movies, each one of them at some point reminded me of each others' works.

After Dance of Reality, Jodorowsky had the opportunity, thanks to crowd-funding platforms, to create the second film in his late-life trilogy, Endless Poetry, which premiered at international film festivals in 2016. In this latest film Jodorowsky leans towards the far-more personal aspects of his life, and so Endless Poetry is far more autobiographical than even Dance of Reality – this time, not only does Jodorowsky's son play his father, but his grandson plays himself. The actress who played his mother in both films, Pamela Flores, also plays his life-changing girlfriend in Endless Poetry in a dual-role. Here we also get emotional closure between the father/son characters, as well as some closer in regards to what made Jodorowsky make the life choices that he acted upon, and it brings up some personal regrets, which he directs his real-life son and grandson to act out in front of the camera. Endless Poetry could be Alejandro Jodorowsky's most mainstream-accessible film, but really, without the history of his films, would it really have the same meaning...? 

~V.
Fury Road...





Lloyd Kaufman's brilliant "Return to Return to Nuke 'Em High aka Vol. 2"...




Endless Poetry...


 

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Their Later Films Vol. 4 – Dario Argento.





 Argento's colorful career in horror/thriller cinema began with the violent murder mystery The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, which ignited a wild fever for post-sixties (post-Bava) giallo films in Italy and made Dario Argento an international filmmaking star. Riding a hugely impressive creative high beginning with Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) and Suspiria (1975 & 1977) and continuing through Inferno, Tenebrae, Phenomena (Creepers), his work in the flashy and exciting giallo genre arguably peaked in 1987 with Opera (Terror at the Opera). Well, whether one believes Opera to have been Argento's creative peak or not, there is no denying that his lush style and over-the-top camera trickery was toned down in his subsequent films, Trauma and The Stendhal Syndrome. For me personally, I believe Argento's creative genius continued up until The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), it was this film that marked the last in Argento's reliable cinematic era, and following this, his films became more and more subdued and/or erratic, in the context of his overall giallo catalogue. Of course many fans maintain the point where his creative train was diverted to a diffident set of tracks was his work post-Opera, and fair enough, stylistically Opera is a force to be reckoned with.


Post-Stendhal Syndrome, though, we have a myriad of weird misfires and comebacks from the man once dubbed the “Italian Hitchcock”. Sleepless was primed to mark a creative comeback for Argento in the new millennium, Sleepless celebrated the style, the sexuality, and the bloodletting of Argento's best gialli from his glory years, and fans would hope for this success to continue, creatively speaking, as the prolific filmmaker continued to get his genre films produced in Italy. On fortunately, this was not to be the case, and to follow Argento's next series of gialli would be like riding a dizzying rollercoaster. From the appallingly pedestrian The Card Player to the successful Do You Like Hitchcock?, which was made for Italian television, it was getting harder and harder to get a grasp on the filmmaker's later body of work. While all three are no doubt giallo films, Sleepless, The Card Player, and Do You Like Hitchcock? couldn't be more stylistically apart from each other. And at this point in the director's career, Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005) would mark the end of the second chapter, artistically speaking, before he moved onto more television projects with Mick Garris' “Masters of Horror” series, where Argento would direct two stunning one-hour films, Jenifer and the gory Pelts, seemingly back to his old creative self once again. In fact, while returning filmmakers John Landis and John Carpenter were toning down their second entries in the “Masters of Horror” series, Argento was ramping his blood and thunder up. Argento's “Masters of Horror” episodes were segues into his third, and most dividing chapter in his cinematic works.

Dario Argento's latest films, Giallo, The Mother of Tears (The Third Mother), and Dracula 3D, have had most fans feeling luke-warm – far from his best works, his last three films aren't exactly terrible, but when compared to his films from the seventies and eighties, we start to wonder how much of his stylistic decline is the fault of the creator, and how much lies with the changing, and likely frustrating demands of Italian and international film and television expectations. Indeed Argento himself has spoken about the diminishing lack of style in his own films in relation to the anti-cinematic requests of the studios producing his films in the later years, beginning with The Card Player. One key thing about the latest of these films, Dracula 3D, is that it reunited the actress-daughter with the director-father, on the tip of Asia Argento's retirement from acting altogether. Prior to this, The Mother of Tears (which also starred Asia Argento) was actually a fast-paced, gory, and exciting apocalyptic supernatural horror tale, mixing the best of Argento's Inferno, Demons and The Church – until it wrapped up an a mind-boggling ridiculous turn... and the purposely-designed giallo vehicle titled, well, Giallo, was nowhere near as bad as the majority of fans and critics had made it out to be. As said, not his best work, but there are still many merits to Agento's final giallo film, including some fantastic art and production design and attractive performances by international actors Adrien Brody, Emmanuelle Seigner, and the lovely Elsa Pataky. If anything lets this films down it's Argento's cinematic portrayal of the antagonist – the killer seems like he'd be more at home in a William Lustig movie. Not exactly a coordinated opera of photographic style and blood & gore like the films from Argento's early-to-mid career, I would still highly recommend Do You Like Hitchcock?; meanwhile Giallo and Mother of Tears might not be as bad as some fickle audience members might have us believe – after all, weren't we far more forgiving as an audience, and as fans, to Argento's cinematic quirks and stylish blunders in the 70s and 80s? 

--V.
(Sleepless)





 (Do You Like Hitchcock?)




(Jenifer)


(The Mother of Tears)







(Giallo)