Sunday, October 24, 2010

Among The Dead

I'm currently in Australia shooting a documentary for six weeks. It's turning out to be a wonderful experience. Yesterday, we passed an old cemetery that caught my attention. We're staying in the town where this cemetery is located for another couple of days.

Tonight I visited the cemetery and these are frame grabs of the footage I filmed.

I love cemeteries. I feel so at home in them. I don't know why.

I love the dead. They no longer hunger or lament.

I love their cities. They're so peaceful.

I love the way the wind strokes the long grass in the graveyard. It's cold, but it's not bitter. There's no bitterness here.

I love the smell and sensual touch of midnight. The sky is clear from here.

If the dead had working eyes, they'd see things like this.

Life hasn't gone yet, but it's fading, and glowing like an ember one last time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In A Transit Lounge

Just arrived in New Zealand (Auckland) en route to an exciting shoot in Australia. I'm sitting in a transit lounge staring out the window at mysterious, dIstant peaks shrouded in listless clouds. It's a fine way to spend six hours, really -- just yearning for these cathedrals of nature and the excitement they promise. As always, my heart pumped faster as the jet flew over impressive uninhabited islands of rock and deep green grass, surely a sign of the land's fertility. I did consider parachuting down there. It's not just sexual desire that's unreasonably strong.

I usually look forward to catching up on decent documentaries on long flights (especially British ones). Qantas usually has a handful of these (some quite R-rated), several of which I've reviewed on this blog. Must admit to being a bit disappointed with Air New Zealand's selection. Too bloody Christan for my liking -- not Christian in content, but Christian in terms of what was on offer (as in: no tits, ass, or offensive content) .

I did catch the Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant comedy/drama Cemetery Junction, however, and enjoyed it immensely. The imdb summary says it's about "three upstart professional men working at an insurance company". I hate to differ, but it's bloody well not. The film focuses on three friends, residents of Cemetery Junction (a claustrophobic English town) , whose differences become more apparent when one of the lads decides to "better himself" by taking a job at an insurance company. The film is more drama than comedy and has a touch of the Ken Loaches. That's not a bad thing, mind you, and should give you some idea of what to expect.

A spot of the Ken Loaches

Gervais, who directed and wrote the flick with Merchant, plays the rather pathetic father of one of the lads, and Merchant does a cameo in which he speaks glowingly about his wife's tits. Ralph Fiennes is deliciously 'orrible as the head of the insurance company and Mathew Goode isn't half bad as his lieutenant. Tom Hughes plays Bruce, a wild young bloke who shovels shit on his unemployed dad at every opportunity. The way this storyline is resolved isn't terribly surprising, but its extremely well handled by Gervais and Merchant. Gervais's first directing effort, The Invention of Lying, was more of a short stretched to feature length; this, thankfully, has enough material to justify its length.

Not sure when Cemetery Junction is hitting other markets, but do catch it if you can.

I did start watching a BBC doco about a Tanzanian railway that's going to the dogs. Interesting subject, but the very on-camera narrator/host started to bug me after a while. Smarmy ass. If you're going to interview people who are much poorer than you, don't make smug, smarmy comments in pursuit of cheap laughs.

It's back to the transit lounge and some hideously overpriced cranberry juice.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Naruse Mikio and the Magic Touch

Director Naruse Mikio is a forensic investigator and portrayer of intricate human behavior. His images create provocative thought patterns, and are fascinating for how truthful they feel. If you have lived and loved intensely, you will appreciate his work.

Naruse is one of my favorite directors. As I age and change, so do my preferences. These days, I appreciate films that portray authentic human relationships -- I know how difficult these are to pull off, and they are pulled off so seldom.

The filmmaker was born in 1905 and died in 1969. He left a potent body of work.

Repast ('51) is a particular favorite of mine. It explores the loneliness of love. Recently, it has been bundled into an impressive box set by Eureka in the UK. The box set is simply titled Naruse Volume One. Also included in the set are the director's favorite films, Sound of the Mountain ('54), and Flowing ('56).

Repast is about a married woman named Michiyo (Setsuko Hara) whose doubts about her marriage are intensified when her husband Hatsunosuke's (Ken Euhara) niece comes to visit. His attentive and loving treatment of the younger woman contrasts starkly with his seeming indifference to Michiyo's state of being. Compounding matters is the oppressive sense of social duty that Michiyo feels, a duty her own mother is unsympathetic towards.

Naruse does not create false urgency or contrived situations; feelings emerge fully fleshed out from his slowly building set-ups; most are brief and concise, subtly telegraphing trouble. The pleasure of watching Repast is akin to the pleasure one feels when eating a delicious, lovingly prepared dinner. The cherry on top is the glorious aroma of the drama.

Setsuko Hara, who was already an accomplished actress when Repast was filmed, seems so real and representative of the reluctantly dutiful Japanese housewife of the time. Her tale is clearly the tale of many women -- men also.

I'm not a great believer myself in the longevity of relationships. I'm not convinced that two people are meant to spend decades together, or it is in their best interests to do so. Of course, couples do spend decades together, but, in most cases, it's a clearly compromised internal structure that enables such an animal to exist.

All relationships, short or long, require compromises in order to exist; I get that. Two forces of nature can't move harmoniously through the same narrow pipe. A travel schedule must be written. Arrangements must be made. But the big compromises I see in some relationships seem more like states of surrender than recipes for harmony.

In Repast, Naruse focuses on what happens when fantasy (what we want) meets reality (the way things really are). We are complex creatures, and we tend to bury our complexities in a wishing well of romantic idealism. But, like most things we bury, our complexities rise eventually to the surface.

Romantic love is fine in books, films, and paintings, but in real life, it doesn't last or remain as deliciously urgent as it was when first tasted. When it declines, our desire to experience the frisson remains, but the frisson can be an amoral dictator. Ultimately, in most relationships, we are alone with our deep complexities.

Repast is the story of a woman who confronts the truth of her choices and accepts her complexities. She gains perspective, and sees the road to a new future.

Naruse makes me think about his films many months after I've experienced them. He possessed the magic touch.


Unfortunately, Gasper Noe's Enter The Void, his third feature, is also his worst so far. He had eighteen million to make this one, and he spent most of the money on technical razzle dazzle while forgetting to make something engaging. His camera swoops and swan-dives all over the place in an attempt to recreate the vibe of a bunch of drug trips he took in the past, but the sheer volume of this hallucinogenic material ultimately buries the drama . I'm sure Gasper had a good time dropping whatever the fuck he dropped into his bloodstream, but I had an irritating time staring at his cinematic representation of it.

In a weird way, the film is structurally a remake of Irreversible infected with the tone and storyline of Philippe Grandrieux's intolerable La Vie Nouvelle (A New Life, 2002), a film that began with some stunning experimentation, but then plunged us into a world of monotony involving a prostitute and a pimp's dominance over her.

Like La Vie Nouvelle*, Enter The Void's biggest sin is being boring and repetitive. I Stand Alone, his best film, is this film's polar opposite, mostly because it has a fascinating protagonist we cared about. He was funny, too. The hero characters in this effort, a brother and sister whose lives have been altered by a tragedy, register as non-humans.

Before closing, I must admit that I have a pet peeve with films that depict nightclub/narcotic culture. I despise nightclubs and all they represent, so Void's nightclub focus didn't exactly warm my heart. This bias didn't kill the film for me, though; it just made a bad thing worse.

As I emerged from LA's Nuart Theater into the harshness of peak hour sunshine, I felt enormous relief that Enter The Void was over. I was free of its cloying mundanity. Yes, folks, a Gasper Noe film that was, ultimately, mundane.

Still, I look forward to Mr. Noe's next cinematic excursion. Perhaps he's gotten the self-indulgent rot out of his system.

* I found Grandrieux's Un Lac (A Lake, 2008) to be a far more effective exercise in abstraction and tone than La Vie Nouvelle, and a more immersive cinematic experience than Enter The Void.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Incest Explosion

I like pornography/erotica that flies over the wall.

Incest flies over the walls of most people because of its "forbidden" nature. If it was practiced openly in most Western societies, its pornographic appeal would probably be lost.

Incest is one of the easiest erotic genres to scam. The majority of incest pornography is not authentic. Some is, for sure, but the business seems to get by on large doses of make-believe.

Joe Sarno's Confessions of an American Wife was made at a time when incest-themed erotica was a very hot proposition. The film is not really ABOUT incest, but the sexual tension between mother/daughter, and the luscious Jennifer Welles' blazing presence, sets the celluloid on fire.

Unfortunately, incest went out of vogue in America when pasteurized blandness came into vogue (around the time when 42nd St. was shuttered) and stayed for good.

In European porn, there is a blunt acknowledgment that the older set enjoy sex as much as the younger set. If you just relied on American porn for your enlightenment, you'd be under the impression that sex is the exclusive domain of the young and bitchy.

The covers for hardcore incest-themed efforts such as 'The Incest Family' further suggest that the incest within is real. The presence of the older gentleman, with his average guy looks, feeds the fantasy of the average viewer.

I like the black bands over the eyes. Another attempt at authenticity. And who's to say it isn't?

1998's L'Incesto is a steamy porno pic from director/actor Christoph Clark. It starred real life Hungarian sisters Angelica Bella and Veronica Bella, who were just seven years apart. And, yes, they cross the wall.

There is something so wrong but so right about this cross-generational depiction of incest. The bloke backing his wang into his daughter (or representation of) looks like a gangster who's just been busted mid-coitus by his wife.

Bless the Europeans!
A fairly poor American X-rater featuring Zebbedy Colt doing his on-screen daughter. Although actress Jean Jennings was cute, the film is a plodding, inept mess.

The majority of incest pornography is produced in Germany, France, or Italy. There is a smattering of content from Japan, too.

Design-wise, the Italian covers are probably the best. They don't sell the theme as something smutty and cheap. They give it some respect. As a result, there are at least a dozen super-hot incest flicks from Italy (hardcore and softcore).

Stunning cover art from a defunct Tokyo production company.

Incest anime, and this is one of the best of the bunch.

An attempt to blend porn paperback art with traditional porno treatment of the subject.

No argument here.

This one combines pregnancy and incest.

The old/young mix is a popular European genre that is virtually non-existent in the youth-obsessed US. However, as the population ages and birth rates plummet, it will be interesting to watch the growth of this niche Stateside.

Lesbian incest. Note the "100% Italian" label on the older woman's thigh. Clearly, the proud Italians like their incest porn pure and homegrown.

Another Zebbedy Colt effort. I read about this flick for years. When I finally saw it, I was bored. Definitely not a relic from anybody's "Golden Age".

Something very hot about this girl. Perhaps it's the way she's casually looking back at the camera while having her vagina stuffed.

The Europeans capture the rawness and anarchy of the sex act so beautifully.

There's no artifice.

More Italian incest, this time from producer/director Mario Salieri, who has churned out a load of impressive pornography and an entire catalog of period (as in "historical") pornography; it's likely he's dabbled in menstruation-themed porn, too.

Whether its authentic or faked, the theme is an evergreen.


Buried takes place in a wooden coffin. We never leave the coffin. No cutaways to the world outside. Our protagonist (Ryan Reynolds) is an American truck driver who has been kidnapped and buried for reasons best explained by the movie. Everything we see is seen by him from his coffin prison.

Director Rodrigo Cortes pulls it off. Yes, he keeps things tense and visually imaginative. A visually imaginative coffin film? You bet. Shocking, I know. But his approach is to depict the coffin as a world unto itself in which the threat lives within, above, and occasionally slithers in from below. There's no lack of jeopardy here, and that's why the film works so well.

Reynolds has a cell phone, a flashlight, and a lighter. Each of these provide their own color scheme and a window to the world outside. The other actors are only heard, and we get snatches of Reynolds' past and present through his frustrated interaction with them.

The film is set in a familiar war zone, and this fact adds more drama to an already dramatic situation.

I appreciate films that work hard to make the most of either an enclosed location or a (potentially) visually dull location. One example of the latter that springs to mind is Oliver Stone's brilliant Talk Radio.

That did visual and aural miracles with its radio station setting.

Buried performs a few miracles, too. Give it a shot.