Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fibrous Sinema

Recently dining on a menu of cinema that I can best describe as fibrous, I'm buoyed by the availability these days of the old and the new. At the dawn of my celluloid obsession, I relied on Melbourne arthouse cinemas like The Silver Screen, The Valhalla, and the Astor for my fix. Programming was the domain of an elite, adventurous few before cheap ownership of movies arrived in a VHS or Beta cassette. Now, forty years after home video's dawn, programming is personal.

In 2009, Filipino director Brilliante Mendoza's Kinatay earned a Cannes statue and some anger from critic Roger Ebert. His beef, shared by others, was that a movie featuring the protracted abuse of a woman had no business winning awards. Although Ebert originated "it's not what it's about, it's how it's about", he didn't apply it to Kinatay -- or maybe he did. The film centers on the kidnapping of a prostitute by corrupt cops; she owes money to one of them. They take her on a forty minute drive to the outskirts of Manila where she is raped and killed. Her body is then broken apart and thrown out the window on the drive back to the city. The infamous "rape" in the van is a myth. The woman is slapped and abused, but the serious abuse doesn't happen until she is tied to a bed in an old house at the end of the journey.

Although critics of the film want you to know that the film is unnecessarily exploitative, I want you to know that it is not. Its primary focus is a young rookie cop who is dragged into the whole messy affair. Short on cash, just married, and expected to feed several mouths, he accepts a part in this nocturnal mission and comes close to losing his soul in the process. When someone tosses him the head of the prostitute, we know and he knows there's no undoing what he's become part of.

Ebert's " it's about" is where I might meet him on even ground. The van journey is quite protracted and dark. We hear more than we see, and, theoretically, that's an effective approach, but director Mendoza lets the sequence run a little too long. Still, it's a powerful descent into moral decay, a spiral down the darkest human passages.

The dismemberment of the prostitute is relatively ghastly. The intercutting between the exercise itself and our hero's reaction is cleverly measured.  There are one or two horror equivalents of the porno "cum shot" to satisfy enthusiasts of grotesque violence, and the resolution feels very natural.

Recommend with reservations (for some).

Recommended without reservations is the same director's Serbis (aka Service), a grim, gritty, stark insight into the life of a family struggling to survive in Manila. Ironically, they run the "Family" cinema, a straight porn theater frequented by a mostly gay clientele. These folks, not unlike their counterparts elsewhere, use the picture palace's darkened nooks and crannies to suck, fuck, and be intimate, if only for a few moments.

The drama is driven purely by character decisions. The film is not heavily plotted or contrived. The family matriarch, Flor, is carrying such a colossal financial and emotional weight, she can barely walk. A scene in which she dresses down a relative for knocking up a local girl ends with her shedding tears of desperation.

Flor's nephews, the cinema's projectionists, live lives that parallel the clientele and the softcore shenanigans on the theater's screen. Sex, in fact, runs like a poisoned river through every cell of this drama, and leaves a sad, lingering odor. A fascinating aspect of the film is that a handful of sex scenes are hardcore. Though the film would not pass anybody's muster as a porn flick, these more graphic passages (gay and hetero blowjobs mostly) feel totally natural and essential in context.

There's no getting around the fact that the film feels Jodorowsky-inspired. The cinema setting could easily be a circus, the employees its trapeze artists and jugglers. When a frightened goat enters the cinema and trots into the light of a porno movie, it triggers a chase that would have delighted Jodorowsky or Fellini; its surrealism adds an extra level to an already densely layered cinematic soap opera.

Sticking to the theme of sex, I can't wrap up without expressing renewed admiration for the work of porno pioneer Alex de Renzy. The further modern porn moves away from real sex into something glib and cynical, the more I respect the stellar work of this talented auteur of desire.

In Babyface, a good-natured Lothario goes on the lam after bedding a gorgeous, underaged filly (the actress, 'Cuddles' Malone, wasn't underage during shooting, but for the sake of the story, she is, and looks it!). He ends up at a cathouse for men and spends his days servicing a variety of horny older women. For a porn flick, the plot is thicker than usual, the tech credits are excellent, and de Renzy's coverage is equal to any low budget flick. Unlike most of the hacks slaving away in porn these days, de Renzy was a real filmmaker; he knew how to shoot, direct, cut, and stage sex scenes and the stuff in between.

Babyface's sex scenes are volcanic because everybody's having such a good fuckin time -- the women are loving it, the men are loving it, and de Renzy offers a cornucopia of camera angles, sexual positions, and old-fashioned heat. It's not a damn blowjob marathon, my pet hate, and the ladies get sucked, licked, fucked, and brought to screaming orgasms. That's entertainment!!!

Apart from doing everything right for the first sixty minutes, de Renzy tops himself with a climactic "gangbang" in which  the gorgeous, natural looking Christine Heller invites a number of men to share her body and passions while satisfying her deepest desires.  The result is a piece of superb celluloid and living proof that, despite all the PC bullshit that is shoved in our faces by uptight morons,  a confident women can enjoy having sex with multiple men on her own terms -- she's not being abused, she's not being "forced", and she's not being exploited; she's simply expressing being human without a shred of "guilt".

Alex de Renzy's pornography has always acknowledged the complexity of sex while making an effort to shut out the hypocrisy surrounding it. What's not to like about that? A toast to you, Alex!


  1. I think I've read all of your blog postings. I've always enjoyed the ones where you discussed female sexuality and the artistic qualities of photographed sex, etc., but have you ever dedicated a post specifically to the conflict between the various values regarding those topics and how they relate? I hope that doesn't seem like a loaded question. I just think it would be interesting to read your case against/for certain ideals regarding the woman's role in society and art, or maybe just to see what you might see as a disparity between different people on those matters. I feel like I continually stumble upon a debate on how woman are depicted in advertising, film, art, and how woman would rather be depicted. Sometimes I find myself in that debate.

  2. jervaise brooke hamsterMay 15, 2011 at 8:56 AM

    Once again, as i`ve girl-tioned before on this site, whats the point of wasting your time watching these kinds of films anymore when there are now so girl-y millions of graphic sexual images avialable on the internet to satisfy even the most greedy of masturbatory needs. I hope you decide to publish this com-girl-t because i`d really like to hear your opinion on what i said.

  3. I think you know how I feel about Kinatay, but again, it's a real powerhouse. I'm sort of hesitant to recommend it to people because of that protracted van ride (which I personally found very effective) and because the "rough stuff" is quite a bit of wincing and flinching, which often leads the more bloodthirsty viewer feeling unsatisfied... I don't often feel that less is more but in this case it really put you in the place of the protagonist (if you can call him that). I will definitely seek out Service.

    Ebert's opinion means less than nothing to me. Fat-headed tart.

    While you're stalking the cinemas, catch A Sad Trumpet Ballad if you haven't already.

  4. Jesse -- what conflicts are you referring to? I think an artist should be free to depict man or woman in every way he or she wants. Not everybody feels that way.


    d-- I get your point about the van journey. It was disturbing, but I did find it a little too long. Still loved the film, tho

    Will seek A Sad Trumpet Ballad


    Hamster -- the three films I mentioned are different beasts to the gonzo porn that's all over cyberspace. The gonzo, for me, does not make films of this nature redundant because the gonzo stuff is relatively straightforward while the scripted material has a "philosophy". Altho I like effective pornography, I like material of this naturem ore.

  5. jervaise brooke hamsterMay 16, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    I suppose i`ve always regarded sexual images as being primarily (or even perhaps exclusively and only) an aid to masturbation, thats why i still look upon films like the ones you discussed as being pretentious rubbish. When i`m jerking off i dont want a story to get in the way of the wank (as it were), i just want to see a gorgeous 18 year-old girls gaping wide arse-hole for the entire duration of the masturbatory fantasy.

  6. I know that's your stance, but I guess I was more curious about the justification for it and how it conflicts with other opposing views. By the way - just to put it out there - I'm not being a rabble rouser or anything; I just think the subject of sexuality, especially a woman's sexuality, in the varying contexts like art, commercial entertainment and advertising is a very interesting subject that can bring out the fury in anybody who has a perspective on it.

    One example of a conflict could be the views of a feminist who thinks that how women are perceived in entertainment or advertising should be up to them, and in many cases the depiction should be sexless because the sexuality is usually used to entice males, etc., I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

  7. a rather peeved and bitter version of jervaise brooke hamsterMay 25, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    So "R2K" is published with ":)" and the genius and truth of "The Hamster" is often overlooked, whats going on my old mate ?.