Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!


 I don't have children, but, if I did, I wouldn't want "Happiness" for them. I'd want for them to find the inner strength to weather the ups and downs of the life laid before them.

I don't have much affection for people who think Happiness is over the next rise. Either, they believe every lie politicians spoon them, or they already own three houses and want ten more. Then they'll be Happy, right? What they're doing is confusing Happiness (whatever the fuck that is!) with Stimulation. They're stimulated by ostentatious symbols of their wealth -- or stretched credit limits. The stimulation they feel is a real thing, but it doesn't last long. That's why they need it all the time.

Fucking morons!


 These are the same folks who insist on movies with Happy endings. Happy endings work for them because they support their grand delusions. Happy endings keep their easily popped bubbles afloat. These folks figure that if they can keep enough delusional bubbles swirling around their heads, they'll never need to face Reality.

I'm fine with Happy endings, but I feel much more comfortable with what is sometimes called the Downbeat ending. Downbeat endings never depress me. On the contrary, they support my belief that most of what happens to us in life is random. To the universe, there's no good or bad. There are just acts. A kiss. A kill. A drop of rain falling. An anus filled. A flower blooming. A child hugged. A child beaten. A city decimated by a quake. A bird singing. A koala born. A forest ravaged by fire. Thirst quenched by  Summer rain. If we think we control most of these things, we're living on a cloud.

I don't believe in karma, either. The attribution of karma to an event implies a belief (in the attributor) that justice is eventually served. That life is basically fair. That the bad guy gets his comeuppance. That the good guy gets the reward. That God will defeat the Devil.

Bullshit.

  Life guarantees us unpredictability.

Nothing else.

For me, this Truth (a personal one) is my launching place. It enables me to weather the storms because it doesn't lead me towards a false horizon. I'm already where I can Be. The trick is making the most of the accidental fortunes of life --  friends, family, art, and nature -- and whatever else you can forge from the anarchic debris.

I love movies and literature where anarchy reigns, where the worst happens to the best of us, the best happens to the worst of us, and the universe reminds us that it is in charge.



 It's incredibly liberating to not expect justice or love or commitment or dominion or loyalty.

Expectations kill.

Arriving at just Being, and appreciating the cold and heat of THAT... is my measure of "success".

What's yours?




Friday, April 22, 2011

Hanna


 It's in cinemas right now, but it's not getting too much notice. I saw it and liked it a lot. It's Hanna, directed by Joe Wright.

It borrows elements (consciously or unconsciously) from Run Lola Run and Le Femme Nikita, so it feels very European.  It also feels like a Hong Kong film shot outside Hong Kong. Fans will know what I mean. It has an intensity and coldness to it that separates it from its brethren. Its quieter moments reminded me of the recent The American.



Saoirse Ronan, a seventeen-year-old, who was probably just sweet sixteen when she starred in this, is fuckin' amazing as a mysterious girl who is trained to kill (by Eric Bana) for an inevitable confrontation in her future.

 The film begins pretty much when that future arrives.



This things moves like a bullet, but never feels superficial or rushed. The score by The Chemical Brothers represents a truly fresh choice on director Wright's part. Although some (only some) of the editing was a little too MTV for me, the experience of watching this was extremely immersive.

If there were any false notes in this, I'd have to say Cate Blanchett. Her performance as Hanna's primary enemy is strangely impenetrable and one-note. 

I love art that is not overly precious about portraying children as innocent cherubs. In reality, children, like adults, can be angels and monsters. They possess an arsenal of personality traits, and are much more capable than adults care to acknowledge. They mightn't foresee the many consequences of their actions, but they also don't overinflate them. A benefit of inexperience mixed with fearlessness. Those qualities endear us to 'Hanna'.



I reckon if this were a foreign language flick, critics and international audiences would be all over it.

See this in a cinema before it closes so it can bleed and writhe all over you.

Skulls in Short Dresses

Is anybody over twelve actually scared of skulls? Do you wake up screaming when a skull appears in your dreams?

Do disembodied skulls prevent you from getting on with your life?

If they do, you should pull your head in and seek professional guidance.

I can see the appeal of heads half stripped of flesh so that the skull peaks through. I can even get behind the concept of maggots meeting in the eye socket of a skull. Or an eel slithering out of a socket after it's feasted on some month old brains.

But a skull atop the body of a girl with smooth, slender thighs? Clutching a doll?

It's not scary.

It's just silly.

Rick Hautala's Nightstone (Zebra Books, '86) is a haunted house tale in which a wooden doll is featured and an old stone holds a mystery. There is a little girl (Beth) and there is death (somebody's head is going to become a skull at some point), but nothing about this cover feels enticing as horror. As erotica, perhaps. The girl is none too subtly lifting her dress to suggest what it is covering. But as she does this, you look up and see a skull. It's the polar opposite of planets lined up. One element cancels out the other.

I bought every Rick Hautala book for many years. I stopped, eventually, but I lined his publisher's pockets for a decent spell. I purchased Nightstone because it was Mr. Hautala's latest. It's a very good good. Mr. H tells a mean story and doesn't skimp on characterization or atmosphere.

As you can see, writer Rick Hautala is more than an empty skull.

 I wonder what he thought of this crazy cover? If he ever reads this, I'd love to know. I do suspect that the book might have sold well because of the cover. Might have attracted some new readers.

My scan doesn't reveal it, but the skull becomes a girl's face if you tilt it and a half girl/half skull if you tilt it further. Obviously, Zebra was enthusiastic about some new printing technology, so Nightstone was chosen to showcase it. The skull-loving editors at Zebra must have been beating their meat over this cover. It's everything they loved, but with an "exciting" new dimension. How much spunk was spilled in the art department when this came back from the printers?

I've been singing Zebra's praises for a couple of years on this blog. I love their old covers. They're silly and not terribly scary, but scary's not everything. Scary can be trumped by bizarre, "weird", and surreal. But the Nightstone cover fails for me because it's too gimmicky. The silvery skull just doesn't sit well on the little girl's shoulders.


 If you've never read anything by Mr. H., give Moondeath (Zebra, '80) a shot. It's a ripper.

A recent novella I enjoyed immensely is 'Reunion' from PS Publications.

Anyway, gotta go. Slowly. A skull's chasing me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Books You Can Have Sex With


I picked up Mark Goodall's terrific book on Mondo films, Sweet and Savage (Headpress, '06), quite recently, and I've enjoyed it immensely. Any tome that virtually canonizes filmmakers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi (the makers of Goodbye Uncle Tom, Mondo Cane, Africa Addio; all masterpieces!), and makes a sincere effort to acknowledge the brilliant contributions of composer Riz Ortolani and cinematographer Antonio Climati to their work is more than alright in my book.

Reading the book has been an experience similar to the reading of another treasure, Kerekes/Slater's Killing For Culture (Annihilation, '94), one of my favorite film books of all time. It also focuses on Mondo cinema, but travels outside that perimeter, too, which is why this book (Sweet and Savage) can boast that it is "the first English language book devoted exclusively to the Mondo documentary film."

My brother and I were both huge fans of Killing For Culture and would re-read and pore over it constantly. It was our bible for a while. Our American Express card. We wouldn't leave home without it.

Well, once upon a time, on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Melbourne, we did leave home without the book to visit an old school buddy of mine. His name was Peter. Peter B. Like many old school friends, I associated Peter with films and products.

 

In primary school, I was best friends with a ratty kid named David Hagen. I've always associated him with The Blob. I haven't seen him for close to thirty years, but when I think of him, I think of The Blob. He...is...The...Blob. Young Mr. Hagen, like me, was a monster movie fan, and he'd seen The Blob.

Unfortunately, I hadn't, and it drove me nuts.

So, while I waited for what seemed like years for the movie to pop up on telly again, Hagen would talk about it constantly. Blob this. Blob that. The Blob was better. The Blob is best. You should see The Blob. Yeah, I'm trying! The Blob's scary. The Blob's sick. Blob blob blob blob blob. Hagen gave me so much Blob I wanted to kill him. Even at his tenth birthday party he told other partygoers that I hadn't seen The Blob.  Me, the big horror fan, hadn't seen the fuckin Blob. I was humiliated.  A fan reduced to a Blobless also-ran. Screw that guy. Finally, when I did see, it was disappointing. Thanks, Dave.

Pete B. didn't crap on about Blobs. The Blob wasn't his bag. No, Pete B. was all about G-Tapes. G-Tape was a brand of cassette. A cheap brand of cassette. Whenever the two of us would go to a record shop to buy some blank tapes, Pete would ask for G-Tapes. If they didn't have them, he got pissed. If I bought something other than G-Tapes, he got pissed at me. I was betraying him. Betraying his love of G-Tapes. It was G-Tapes or nothing for Pete B. If I ever made Pete a recording, he'd ask me if I'd recorded it on a G-Tape. If I hadn't, he'd tell me he didn't want the tape and slam the phone down. He lived for his G-Tapes with the same intensity that I lived for freaks and lesbian vampires and David Hagen lived for the goddamned Blob.

By the time my brother Colin and I decided to visit Pete B at his house, G-Tapes were done. CD's had come in and Pete was busy recording on to those. I don't think there were ever any G-CD's or G-DVD's or G-Blu-Rays. The G company went kapoot!, I assume, when Peter B. stopped promoting them.

The point of visiting Pete on this sunny Saturday arvo was to watch his "sick" Mondo collection. On VHS. He'd assured me that he had a lot of "sick stuff". To me, that meant beheadings, trucks pulling people apart, lepers on beaches, trannies, midget wrestlers, backyard sex changes, and animal cruelty. I didn't like animal cruelty, but I still wanted to see it so I could dislike it even more. What a confused cunt I was!


 We arrived at Pete's place around 2 pm and were offered soft drinks and Tim-Tams. Pete, a little shy at first, asked us how we were and told my brother (Colin) that he had the same "sick" laugh as me. As Pete spoke, he didn't look at us. He kept his eyes lowered. He kept his eyes on a book. At first, I couldn't figure out what book he was reading, and I'm usually a wiz at identifying books people are reading. I have a compulsion to know. After saying "So, you guys want to see something something sick?", Pete got our enthusiastic nod and got up. He headed to the next room where, presumably, his "sick" videos were stored. I noticed right away that he'd taken the book with him. He'd taken it with him to get the videos from the next room. The next room was a 5 second walk. The book went with him. A book he clearly couldn't do without. Couldn't do without for 5 seconds. Must have been a fuckin good book, I reasoned.

Colin and I sat on Pete's saggy sofa with our soft drinks and melting Tim-Tams while Pete went missing. We knew he was in the next room, but he wasn't making any sound. I  couldn't hear the clap of tapes or the thud of boxes being shifted around. Pete was doing it all in silence. What a guy! After fifteen minutes, I figured something was up. Pete hadn't returned. Finishing my drink, I got up top take it to Pete's kitchen. As I passed the room, I noticed Pete. He was sitting on a box in his messy storage room reading that book. He didn't even look up. I placed the glass in the sink and walked back down the hallway. "Hey, Pete, we gonna watch those videos or what?" I asked.

Pete didn't look up from the book. Just mumbled: "Yeah, sure."

It took Pete another half hour to re-join us in the TV room. He crept in with a small stack of VHS tapes and plonked them on the table. "Pick the ones you want to see," he said, returning to the book.  "They're all sick."


 I noticed Colin focusing hard on the book. I focused with him. Fuck the sick vids, I wanted to know what book he was reading. Because Pete was sitting across from us, the book was upside down and tilted towards him. If he'd lifted it up, we would have caught the cover, but he didn't read it like that. He read it open and flat across his thighs. In my world, that was book vandalism because he was breaking the spine, but this wasn't my world, this was Pete's world, the world of G-Tapes, the world of rudely reading books when your mates came over.

Finally, I said, "Hey, Pete, what's the book?"

"Oh, nothing," he said.


Wanting more details than that, I pressed him with greater diplomacy. "What's the fuckin book you're reading?"

Pete stopped and looked up. He seemed reluctant to divulge its title. Made me feel like some sticky-beaked cunt for asking. Colin waited for his answer, too.

"Good book?"

Pete's nod of approval happened in slow motion. Relief poured out. It was like he was suddenly sharing a secret he'd bottled up for years. It was the nod of approval you'd surely get if you asked a fifteen year old boy if he'd enjoyed shagging those ten young hotties currently staggering out of his bedroom. Pete began to light up and his face twitched involuntarily in the moments before he tilted the cover of the book up.

Killing For Culture.


Aaaahhh. Immediately, I understood why he'd been ignoring us. Somehow, it didn't seem rude anymore that he'd placed us on his pay no mind list. He was half way through the book, and it was giving him a mental stiffy equal to the physical stiffies that people like John Holmes get all day. Us being there was like sitting next to a guy who was masturbating to Swank or Hustler.  Mates are mates, but you don't share masturbating space with mates. Masturbating's a one-man activity. Unless you've gone faggot. As far as I knew, Pete hadn't. He was still rowing for the blue team.

Over the next two hours, we did watch some of Pete's "sick" tapes. He did have some worthy merchandise with dwarves and car accident footage, and he did rock our world with a couple of repulsive clips, but his main focus was Killing For Culture, and it was very apparent that Killing For Culture was the new lady in Pete's life. Any time I would bring up a movie, Pete would steer the topic back to Killing For Culture:

"Hey, Pete, did you see that great Ed Wood film?" Pete: "Nah, but there's this sick flick in here (holds up book) where they reckon this snake eats a guy whole."  


"Hey, Pete, we're out of Coke. Want me to go get some?"

Pete (leafing through book): "Yeah. Have you guys seen the uncut version of This Violent World?"

We left Pete to his old G-Tapes and Killing for Culture around 8 pm. By then, Pete had almost finished the book.

A couple of weeks later, I met up with Pete at his car. He had some "sick" vids for me and I had a couple for trade. As he discussed his new job at a tape dubbing house, I noticed Killing For Culture lying on the front passenger seat of his car. It was waiting for him for a devoted lady. Reclining. Thinking only of him.  Would it spread its legs for him? Beg him to do it hard?! Without mercy? I knew it would. They were still in the honeymoon phase.

If I ever see Pete again, I must introduce him to Mark Goodall's succulent Sweet and Savage. Pete's been with Killing for Culture now since '94. He probably needs some new book pussy.

Love Exposure


Currently, there's a major graffiti exhibition on at one of Los Angeles's contemporary art museums. As usual, the exhibition has been criticized by morons for glorifying vandalism.  The show's focus is on the art itself. Much of it is striking, and the artists are clearly talented.

Legally speaking, painting on a wall without permission is a form of vandalism, but would painting on a wall with permission still be graffiti art, or does the art form require the illegal canvas in order to serve its original function? My point is: Don't dismiss the art just because its commission is a crime. Crime may be necessary for it to exist.

In the past, graffiti would not have been afforded any serious consideration as "art" (meaning: something that rich and pretentious people will hang in their galleries). Citizen anger at the crime left no room for tolerance or aesthetic contemplation. Times have changed... a bit.

Art featuring sexual subject matter is often dismissed. It's conveniently re-labeled 'pornography', a term loaded with negative connotations for most people, and those who label it as such know that, and count on it. Blanket dismissal is a lazy way to avoid dialog. A little like locking the black kid in the closet when the white friends come to stay.


Rarely is pornography considered "art", especially in America, and that's a shame, because it is art. Personally, I despise the way human beings group creative works into condescending categories. Nothing makes me puke more than an academic wanker deciding what is high art, low art, trash, and pornography.  Fuck off!, it's all "art", and it's either good or bad. My opinion on it is no more correct or important than yours, and yours is no more important or correct than mine.


In Sono Sion's thought-provoking and dynamic Love Exposure, the protagonist gains a modicum of fame by secretly and resourcefully photographing the pleasant view up a woman's skirt. Known as "Upskirt Photography" or "Panty Peeking", this brand of fetish photography has been ushered in by pure desire, sexual frustration, and technological advancements.

Definitely more prevalent in Japan than in the West (where privacy laws are harsher), perhaps it's the next big thing for modern museums when graffiti art become passe?

Upskirting has much in common with graffiti. The act of practicing it is, technically, criminal behavior. Floating an uninvited camera lens between a woman's thighs represents an invasion of her privacy. A transgressive act. So does photographing a celebrity on a remote island, in my book, but nobody seems concerned about that. Like graffiti, the commission of an illegal act goes hand in hand with the commission of an artistic act.


Some of upskirting's top practitioners are talented individuals who employ complex and artful methods to snap striking panty shots. Cameras on springs. Cameras in walking sticks. Cameras in sunglasses and light shades.

A pro with a camera may discreetly cartwheel behind his target to gain a perfect ground view. A lens may lurk in a garbage bag beneath a stairwell.  A bag pushed under a toilet stall may capture a hundred panty-wrapped treasures. A low level camera at a taxi rank may offer much leg-lifting material for the patient pervert's lens.

Being creative with shooting methods and managing exposure and focus simultaneously are key to the career success of the upskirter.

Perhaps this success will be rewarded one day with serious consideration in a rich man's gallery or museum?
Or is serious consideration and acceptance of the art by folks who are ten years behind the zeitgeist anathema to the art itself?

Does acceptance blunt the needle? Do art forms like graffiti and upskirting require an illegal structure in order to be true? Is a legally sanctioned upskirt still an upskirt? I think not.

Isn't the rush of upskirting based on the belief that the virtual voyeur is getting a private, clandestine view of a woman's panties, and, by extrapolation, her vagina? If you know that she's doesn't know the cameraman was there, that's the sizzle, right? You're seeing the forbidden. That's the picture's power. If the picture is posed, it's just another picture. The transgressive element is no more.



The scenes of active upskirting in Love Exposure are directed and edited by director Sono with a light, subtle flair. The film doesn't take a hypocritical stand against the material that it portrays with so much glee and fun. It doesn't pretend to speak for "victims", either, and doesn't canonize the proponents of the subculture. The film's primary purpose is to tell a great love story over a swift 237 minutes. Because it does this without detouring into the vile puritanism and pandering moralizing of American TV shows like Law and Order: SVU and CSI, it achieves greatness... and respect.

Upskirting, however, can do without the latter.
  
 ***

For some crazy fucking reason, Love Exposure is not available in the U.S. on DVD. Recently, the U.S. has really dropped the ball on Asian cinema. In a country with close to 300 million living skulls, is the market for this material so diminished as to not justify any release? Perhaps. Returns on past releases fuel future investment. No returns, no investment. Other recent titles MIA Stateside include Bedevilled, Cold Fish, and Confessions. All are available or announced with street dates in the UK.  Over the past couple of years, the UK (and Australia) have become powerhouse markets for foreign/arthouse releases with companies like Third Window Films, Madmen, Eastern Eye, and Eureka. Make sure you have a multi-zone Blu-ray/DVD player. If you don't, you're missing out on a galaxy of wonders.

Sad News



Very sad news news today. Elizabeth Sladen, who played female companion Sarah Jane Smith to John Pertwee and Tom Baker's 'Doctors' in Dr. Who from '73 to '83, has died of cancer.

Ms. Sladen recently re-appeared in 'The Sarah Jane Adventures' (a Dr. Who spin-off aimed at younger children) and guest starred in several episodes of the BBC's contemporary update of the show.



When I was very young, Sarah Jane was a regular visitor to my lounge room each weekday evening. She radiated a beautiful spirit, was smart, attractive, and very witty. Ms. Sladen also lent her talents to many of the Dr. Who DVD extras and came across as a friendly, warm, wonderful human being.

It's unfortunate that I'm noting her passing at 63.



Another tragic passing today is that of filmmaker/journalist Tim Hetherington.  A war correspondent, director, and cameraman for many years, Hetherington made the excellent Afghanistan-based documentary Restrepo. He died during a shelling in Libya.

He was truly a courageous guy who risked his life to bring some Truth to a world of lies and spin.

Unfortunately, Tim is gone, and the bankers, politicians, and lying mongrels of international big business who happily send everybody but their own children off to war (to fight for their own personal causes), are still with us. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Pig of a Film


  Pig, which thinks it's shocking, is actually boring.  It's about a GG Allin look-alike who abuses, rapes, and kills some women on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. These activities are conveyed via a dozen or so one-shot takes. The sun is almost always low on the horizon, so there's constant flare and assorted visual sloppiness. The sound recording is terribly inconsistent, too. It sounds like you're getting what they got during shooting. Much of it is off-mic or inaudible.

The film's only saving grace are excerpts from Tom Leykis's radio show. The GG Allin look-alike plays these when he's in his pick-up or casually raping one of his victims. Leykis, a truly original radio voice who, for years, has explored relationship issues from the male point of view, is heard advising his listeners on what not to do when you date a broad.


 Filmmaker Adam Mason further handicaps a thin scenario by playing inappropriate music over the "action". It's like he has no faith in his material and got bored during the edit. While I endured this, I did try to imagine the thing without music. It would have been a bit more effective.
 
If any of this sounds remotely interesting, I'm sorry to have misled you. Despite the fact that the subject is depravity, too much of it is definitely a bad thing. Yes, we get some rape, some murder, some disembowelment, and some shooting, but it's dull and monotonous. Have you ever experienced somebody screaming into your face for ninety minutes? It's not much fun, is it? The experience of watching Pig is equal to that.

I won't reveal the film's final twist, but it's not too bad. It's kind of amusing, actually.


 Andrew Howard, who plays the film's weekend psychopath, takes  his job seriously, but Mason does nothing to rein him in when necessary. He overacts at every opportunity. Lorry O'Toole, who plays the psycho's pregnant girlfriend, seems to be channeling 'Shelly', Stan's psychotic retard sister, from South Park. She's acceptable in her role, but irritating (like Shelly, I guess).  What's most lacking here is shading. The depraved acts lose all impact because there's no contrast. Everything is manic and "evil". Mason ought to take a careful look at Texas Chainsaw (the original) in order to learn how to do depravity effectively. Despite its rep, that film is not non-stop violence and dismemberment. It derives much of its power from contrast.

Unfortunately, Mr. Leykis's fine work is not credited here.

 The talented and extraordinary Tom Leykis

I find that insulting to the man and seriously disrespectful; it's ironic, too, because he's the only human involved with this mess (unknowingly probably) who possesses true talent.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sensations From Sweden

 

 I live for new and fresh film books, and this is definitely one of those.

Daniel Ekeroth's Swedish SensationsFilms -- A Clandestine History of Sex, Thrillers, and Kicker Cinema (published by Bazillion Points) is an enthusiasts' guide to Swedish cinema's underworld of ex- and sex-ploitation.

Although Ingmar Bergman, a man closely associated with Sweden's film industry in the West, gets a justified look-in here with his The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukallan), this book wisely takes the crooked, bumpy, sleazy road of Swedish cinema to highlight titles that warrant inclusion in a book with such a title.

With a terrific introductory interview with the sweet and tasty Christina Lindberg, a woman who personifies 'SensationsFilms', the book kicks off with Adalen, a  '69 gem by a fella who cast his own son in one of his sleaze epics. It then runs alphabetically through more than twenty-five years of films deserving of your time and attention. It wraps things up with Joe Sarno's Young Playthings of '72.

The book is not the Swedish equivalent of Leonard Maltin's movie guide. On the contrary, the passionate Mr. Ekeroth dishes up mountains of facts, figures, and flea-bitten stories about the stars, directors, and producers of these celluloid firecrackers.

Of special interest to non-Swedish punters is the author's list of twenty SensationsFilms to see before you die. Of the twenty mentioned, I've seen only a handful; I'm now determined to see them all. I'm most determined to see Ett Anstandigt Liv (A Decent Life) and Karleksvirvevn (The Love Swirl), affectionately described by Ekeroth as "the best and vilest of the Swedish porn films from an era when these things were done as dirty as possible for a reason".

 I'm proud to report that Swedish SensationsFilms did penetrate the cinemas of Melbourne in the 70's.
This is an ad mat from my own collection.

Personally, I was chuffed to see Torgny Wickman's  Inkraktarna (The Intruders), a big favorite of mine, praised and highlighted. Arne Mattson's Vaxdockan (The Wax Doll), a truly magical film that I've loved for many years, gets affectionate literary treatment, too. How could it not?! It's about a man's love for a mannequin. Now, in an era where owning your own lifelike doll is a reality, the film seems way ahead of its time.

The book is also loaded with great black and white stills (incl. one of Lindberg with Bo. A Vibenius), ad mats, and a helpful glossary on things you need to know about Sweden and Swedish counterculture.

Any fan of international cinema will eat this fucker up.