Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wakamatsu's Caterpillar


In Koji Wakamatsu's Caterpillar (Kyatapira, 2010), the wife of a returned Japanese soldier is expected to treat her husband as a hero, a "god soldier" -- trouble is, the bloke's an absolute cunt. This is one of the best films yet from Wakamatsu, and you'd be hard put to find anything that deals with the subject of war, duty, patriotism, and the definition of  "hero"  as beautifully, directly, and metaphorically  as this does.

Based on a short story by Edogawa Rampo, the film's title is taken from the condition of the solider. His arms and legs have been blown off in combat and his face has horrendous scarring. He resembles a caterpillar, and sleeps, eats, and screws like one. A physically similar "caterpillar" appeared in Todd Browning's Freaks. He was known as 'The Human Torso'. This creature's name is Lieutenant Tadashi Kurokawa (Keigo Kusuya), a decorated military man who went to war representing the hopes and dreams of his small village.


Wakamatsu and his scriptwriters make some telling decisions about how they present Kurokawa from the outset, and these clarify the director's desire to get us to question what wartime heroism actually is.  Is raping, setting fire to villages, and shooting civilians something to celebrate?  The film opens with an unidentified Japanese soldier raping a Chinese woman while her house burns down.  We then cut to the soldier's homecoming. Clearly, the rapist was Kurokawa, our "hero". Bestowed with honors by the village and the military, the physically devastated returnee is given the name "god soldier" and wheeled off to a life of dependence. Although the Japanese officials assure him of their support, it doesn't materialize. Instead, the man's troubled wife, Shigeko (Shinobu Terajima in an award-winning performance), is left to nurse and feed him.


Things take a little while to get ugly between the two. The limbless Kurokawa, starved of sexual affection, gets his fill from Shigeko. It's just a little oral at first, but it progresses to intercourse in assorted positions. The fornication scenes are suitably bizarre and convincing, and give the film a delightfully grotesque edge. They reminded me of the late director Teruo Ishii's best work.  Eventually, the god soldier's demands become abusive and unreasonable, and Shigeko is forced to question the true meaning of  "patriotic duty".  Unable to complain about her situation, Shigeko does finds ways to equalize the relationship. One of these is to wheel her husband around the village like a carnival exhibit and force him to watch able-bodied people going about their day. Other options include starvation and neglect.



As described above, Kurokawa is depicted from the outset as less than a hero. Introduced as a rapist, our sympathy for him is certainly not overt. During the couple's confrontations, we also learn that Kurokawa beat Shigeko frequently even before he went to war. The writer in me feels that the film's drama might have been better served if Kurokawa had been a good man turned into something bad by his wartime experiences -- simply not mentioning that he beat Shigeko before the war would have achieved this.  It would have intensified our ambivalence about Shigeko's treatment of him also and created a greater moral quandary for her. But since the man is and always was a violent cunt, our sympathies barely shift. War simply made a bad man worse. Dramatically, that's not as interesting. As material for Wakamatsu's thematic intentions, it serves its purpose, however. I sense that's more the point.

The film is what it is, though, and I liked it for the most part. Although digital technology has produced some extraordinary looking films recently, this is not one of them. It's certainbly adequate, but the images are a bit murky at times or too stark at other times. There's no texture or "feel" to the film's look, so I always felt that an opportunity was missed.


The same source material, Rampo's short story, was recently adapted by director Hisayasu Sato for the anthology Rampo Noir (Ranpo jigoku, 2005). A grotesque, grisly, and beautiful collection of short stories based on the writer's fascinating work, Sato's Caterpillar is the stand-out piece. It diverges, however, from Wakamatsu's take, in that the returned soldier's limbs are hacked off not by war, but by his psychotic wife in order to prevent his return to soldiering. The expected consequences of THAT you need to see for yourself.  

The Hong Kong-based Panorama Corporation  is the first distributor out of the gate with an English-subtitled Blu-ray of Caterpillar.   Presentation quality is good and cover art is suitably bizarre. A French DVD with English subtitles was issued in early May, 2011.


The amazingly prolific and original Wakamatsu is already knee-deep in his next production; again,
Shinobu Terajima stars.

Caterpillar is highly recommended.

Towards the very end of 2011 and into 2012, New York-based Kino-Lorber will release Caterpillar and Wakamatsu's brilliant United Red Army both theatrically and on DVD in the U.S. Please support these releases.

Another upcoming release from Kino-Lorber is My Joy (Schastye Mo), one of my favorite films of 2011.

Their website is http://www.kinolorber.com

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Genius of deMullotto



 

On April 15, 2009, I wrote up my first deMullotto post:

http://phantomofpulp.blogspot.com/2009/04/potent-art-of-de-mullotto-strong.html

deMullotto is the brush name (?) for a Michigan-based artist who has created some of the most extraordinary B/D-S/M art I have ever seen.




My introduction to him was the publication 'Mark of the Master'.


An accomplished, commercial graphic artist in the entertainment business, he chose the name deMullotto in order to separate his B/D-S/M work from his bread and butter work; in a close-minded business, this decision enabled him to labor comfortably in both worlds.

Shortly, 'Mark of the Master' will be re-published by Creation Books.

The Creation Books printing of 'Mark of the Master' is the first volume in their Satanic Archives series.

After my initial post, I was contacted by a generous woman named Bridgette, a lifetime submissive.


 Bridgette is the model in this image

Bridgette is a trusted friend of and has worked with Mr. deMullotto, and was kind enough to inform me that he's been very sick. Due to his illness, he is now unable to use his hands to create the magnificent art he once did.

After a couple of email exchanges, Bridgette sent me jpegs of the pieces now appearing in today's blog.




Unlike deMullotto's earlier work, these are Photoshopped creations; deMullotto was one of the first artists to use Photoshop for work of this nature. Now much imitated, he pioneered a fresh and provocative form of computer graphics, and was at the forefront of a game-changing movement.

I hope you enjoy them.

They represent some of the final creations of a truly great artist whose talents are not as widely known as they should be.

I wish the ailing Mr. deMullotto well.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Ad Mat Merriment

 As a lad of nine I was obsessed with this ad mat. Snipped from a '71 edition of 'The Sun', a Melbourne newspaper that became the 'Herald-Sun', I tucked it between a dozen books on its eventual journey to my bumper scrapbook.

It was clear to me that these 'Crazy Danes' were my kind of people, and this healthy blonde lass, Birte Tove, was someone I should meet.

Well, I did attempt to meet Ms. Tove during a visit to my beloved city on a rainy Monday afternoon with my mother. Every three months, I had an appointment with my eye doctor. As I wore ultra-magnified glasses and a dirty, big eye patch to address my amblyopeia, I was on the doc's watch list. That meant regular check-ups, concerned nods, and cavernous waiting rooms.

His office was at the Paris end of Melbourne's Collins St., an upmarket area that ran parallel with Bourke St., which was where the 'Times' cinema was located. My mission that day was to escape from my mother and sneak into Bedside Dentist. Considering the fact that I was exactly nine years shy of being legally allowed to watch this R-rated movie, some challenges lay ahead.

On this occasion, I decided not to mention the movie or my intentions beforehand. It's not that I would have announced an intention to view porn -- on the contrary, my usual MO was to take part of a film's title -- the 'Dentist' part, example -- and convince my mother that watching said film would be an educational experience. In this case, I decided against doing that. Recent efforts to view R-rated material had backfired and I'd been sent packing to my bedroom.

After my eye doctor had peered at me over his funny little glasses and nodded at my mother a dozen times, I would do my customary run down ten flights of stairs to meet her on the street below. I didn't take elevators in those days because running down ten flights of stairs was so much more rewarding. Because the removal of my eye patch was somewhat painful and because I was a slightly pathetic looking fellow back then, my mother was somewhat sympathetic to my post-appointment requests. Catching the drizzling rain on my nose and refusing to share this woman's umbrella, I asked her in a pained voice if I could visit the Magic Shop to see the Coffin Bank. The Coffin Bank was a tin coffin on which you placed a coin. Moments later, a yellow, skeletal hand would shoot from the coffin's innards and steal your coin. I'd seen it all before, but I needed to be in the area because the Times cinema was -- yep, you guessed it! -- next door.

It took us ten minutes on slippery streets to make our way to the Magic Shop. As my mother had little interest in magic or coin-stealing coffins, she'd linger at the door. I don't remember her ever entering the store. It was as if she feared becoming tainted by the pagan trickery inside. I made a point of being very interested in the Coffin Bank and a variety of other gimmicks. I was so convincing in my enthusiasm that my mother became antsy and announced that she'd walk across the street to have a look in Coles, an old department store. "Don't go anywhere," were her parting words. I watched her cross the wet street and go into Coles. Now I was free to meet Birte Tove.

Right away I left the store and turned hard right. I stopped outside the Times and came face-to-face with a glossier version of the poster on the ad mat above. Bloody hell, what a movie this would be! And Birte Tove -- what a beauty. A gentleman in an expensive raincoat slipped past me, the porn/raincoat connection not yet part of my awareness. The thing was, I was wearing a yellow raincoat, and I was surely the youngest raincoater to demonstrate interest in this classic piece of Danish celluloid.

Taking the gentleman's lead, I whipped into the theater's tiny foyer and stopped behind him as he paid for the privilege of meeting Birte Tove and her horny girlfriends. Oh, shit! There was one problem. How was I going to pay? I had no money. My mother did my paying. When money came out of her purse, it went towards things like lunch and train tickets and milk and bread and vegetables. Some of it went into the collection plate at church, too. At that terrible moment I knew for sure that none of my mother's money would ever be going into Birte Tove's hand. I didn't articulate it quite so brutally back then, but in a word, this nine-year-old raincoater was fucked!

Suddenly, I was alone in front of the ticket box. Being small, I could only see frizzy hair on the head of the lady inside it, and she said: "What can we do for you, son?"

"One ticket, please."

I was shaking in my yellow raincoat as I waited for a miracle. In a moment, a free ticket to meet Ms. Tove would be slipped under the window towards me. I would accept it politely and with all the dignity a raincoater could muster, I'd say "Thank you", and stroll into the theater like a regular gentleman.

"You've GOT to be joking. GET OUT!"

Huh?

This wasn't the miracle I was expecting.

"GO ON! GET OUT! Where's your mother?"

I emerged from the Times a deflated little man of nine. I looked at the poster and shed a tear or two. My eyes misted up like car windows. Why couldn't I be eighteen now? Why couldn't I meet Birte Tove? I bet that well-dressed gentleman didn't like Birte Tove as much I I did. It wasn't fair.

I found myself back at the Magic Shop looking at disguises. Didn't they have anything to make me look taller? I don't think the Groucho glasses would have helped me. The Frankenstein mask would have drawn the wrong kind of attention.

My mother never knew about her son's failed raincoater adventure. She picked me up, took me back across the road to the Coles Cafeteria for lunch, and we rode the train home with noisy schoolgirls. None of them held a candle to Birte Tove. None of them sported that special smile.

Nine years later, after I became a legal raincoater, I became aware of another Tove named Tiny. Was Tiny the daughter of Birte? Tiny Tove found employment at Peter Theander's Color Climax Corporation and was marketed as a young looking lass who loved a johnson or three.

Bless the Toves.


What I remember most about this movie was a neighbor mentioning to my dad that he'd seen it. When I asked, "What was it about?", he looked at my dad as if to say: "Who the fuck's the pint-sized pervert!?"

I finally saw the movie in the mid-80's and really liked it. It's more of a biting comedy about relationships than anything particularly erotic.

Is it just me, or does the woman in the top photo really look like she a breast hanging from her neck?

In every Carry On movie, dear old Kenneth Williams has this shocked and appalled look on his face. I love it.

I'm not sure why, but he was always my favorite character. I loved his reactions to everything. A gay man reacting so conservatively to anything salacious!?

I saw this at the Clayton drive-in paired with Steve McQueen's The Reivers. My dad laughed a lot at Sid James and Co., but had nothing nice to say about Steve's film. All I could think about afterwards was how much fun it would be to sneak my dad's car out of the garage and go on an adventure with it. Of course, knowing how to drive it didn't seem relevant at the time. As far as I was concerned, you only had to steer, anyway. I had a bike! I knew steering.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Trees, Mosquitos, and Black Bread


How do you rinse a piece of filth such as Super 8 from your system?

I tried Tree of Life, Mosquito the Rapist, and Black Bread, the new film from Augusti Villaronga.

All contributed in different ways to the flushing of the former's scum-like residue.

It was a long time in the coming, but Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, despite some uneven passages, was worth the wait. It's an ambitious piece which uses the metaphor of family to explore life's larger questions. The director's approach to the subject has a breezy, emotionally sticky cadence, and I felt myself being transported by it.

Malick's affection for the juxtaposition of the non-human world with the human world continues here, as does his preference for non-linear storytelling. At times it's a touch unfocused, but, ultimately, the bits combine to form a satisfying whole.


Hunter McCracken, a natural, talented actor, plays the young son of Brad Pitt, an insecure, domineering patriarch of a small Waco family. Through McCracken's gaze, the film's events play out. Sean Penn is the older version of the son and most heavily billed actor after Pitt, but he's only on screen for a limited time and mouths but a couple of choice lines. The majority of the film's emotional wreckage is driven by the death of a young child and Pitt's inability to truly connect with his children. So consumed with bitterness and envy for the lives of others and his own fears, he handicaps his shot at happiness.

Malick, eager to address absolutes, provides an impressive Creation sequence early in the proceedings. Reminding us that it didn't take long for nature to turn brutal, this almost surreal dramatic additive underlines how impossible it is for us to escape the darker aspects of our genetic selves. For mine, the placement of this Creation sequence felt wrong. Kubrick did his version at the beginning of 2001; Malick does it twenty minutes in. It might have worked better half way through once we'd gotten to know our characters a little better. Still, its effective in its own right, if not naturally layered in.


The screening I attended was accompanied by plenty of walkouts. Non-linear narratives clearly make some people uncomfortable.

Best seen with an open mind and a dash of patience.


Switzerland isn't known for its horror films. It's not a bubbling hub of any kind of cinema really. So, what if they did make a horror film?

"They" did, and that horror film is Marijan David Vadja's Mosquito the Rapist, a '77 curio that left me slightly speechless. My initial reaction to its crummy acting and overlit scenery was dislike. The musical score, which sounds like someone tuning instruments in a back room, irritated me. Then, as the film unspooled, I developed a strange, grudging respect for its intentions, if not its execution.

Werner Pochath plays 'Mosquito', a mute man who collects dolls (nothing wrong with that!), secretly lusts after his bohemian neighbor, and endures workplace harassment in his office job. A flashback tells us that Mosquito (a name he calls himself) spent his childhood being beaten by his father and bearing witness to the sexual abuse of his little sister. A lurid flashback shows us the drunken old man grabbing the little girl's bare ass.

The collective trauma of Mosquito's upbringing has turned him into a mute defiler of corpses and drinker of blood. The lad doesn't do much raping, but he does break into crypts and funeral homes to dig the eyeballs out of the head and drink the blood of the recently deceased. He takes the eyeballs home and places them carefully in preservation formula.

Now and then, Mosquito smashes his dolls and rips their limbs off. He stalks around in an obvious, creepy manner, and never looks like he's up to anything but evil. Eventually, his traumas and flashbacks get the better of him.


The storyline I've just described sounds pretty damn fascinating, right? Well, that's the part I respect. It's the presentation, the style, and the tone that sucks. Shot the same year as George Romero's far superior Martin, which it resembles in some scenes, it's simply an incompetent attempt at genre filmmaking. Directed in the most ham-fisted, patchy manner, it's more Ed Wood than Romero, and lacks rudimentary qualities such as a uniform style or lighting that is suited to the subject. It's a strange thing to say, but if the film had the grainy, murky look of, say, Basket Case or Nekromantik, it would be 100% better. Not without a budget, the cinematography is, in fact, too clean, often flat, and overlit when it needs to be moody and shadowy. It's like nobody involved had a real clue about what they were doing.

Mosquito's most potentially horrific scenes involve Pochath drinking blood from corpses via a straw. He stabs the straw into their flesh and gulps away. Recalling Martin's syringe sequence on the train and the blood drinking in Larraz's Vampyres, these bits feel like horror, but their intensity is undercut by the moodless lighting and general cleanliness of the surroundings.


Mosquito does no actual raping in Mosquito the Rapist (aka Bloodlust), but I'm sure he thinks about it when his bohemian neighbor begins dancing half dazed and half naked on the rooftops.

After a late night with Mosquito, I was enthusiastic about rising this morning to watch my just-arrived DVD of Black Bread (Pa Negre), the brand new movie from Augusti Villaronga, the director of In A Glass Cage (El Tras Cristal).


If you've been reading this blog for a while, you would know how much I love and adore (yes, ADORE, fuck it!) In A Glass Cage. It's easily one of my favorite films of all time -- of any genre! -- and possesses a level of cinematic accomplishment most films can only aspire to. As horror, it's without peer. As drama, it's intoxicating.


I've seen all of Villaronga's films since Glass Cage and have liked -- not loved --  them a lot. If I had to pick two favorites post-Cage, I'd go with Moonchild ('89), a dreamy, surreal adventure, and 99.9 ('97), a moody horror outing. Despite a great title and high expectations, I was disappointed with his Aro Tolbukhin in the Mind of a Killer ('02), a thriller without thrills that got too bogged down in character at the expense of pace and plot.

Hopes, therefore, were high for Black Bread, a 2011 recipient of Spain's Oscar, the Goya, for Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Film. It also earned a Best Actress plaque at the 2010 San Sebastian Film Festival.

Without a doubt, this is Villaronga's best film since In A Glass Cage, and, once again, achieves a peak of cinematic accomplishment that is breathtaking.


A bravura opening scene involving a murder in a small Catalan village and a stupendous piece of trickery with a horse establishes the film's tone beautifully. We are then introduced to Andreu (Francesc Colomer), a naive Catalan boy whose father, Farriol (Roger Casamajor), known for his leftwing political leanings, has become a suspect in the murder. Subjected to his father's insistence that the high moral ground always be taken, Andreu is about to learn the true meaning of ambiguity. Shunted off to a relative's after his father goes into hiding, the boy's relatively simple life is upended by shocking revelations and a force that intervenes on his behalf.

As in In A Glass Cage, Villaronga explores the gray, and is careful not to crucify his characters with moral indignation. A young girl, her hand destroyed by a bomb, is having an affair with her teacher, but does Villaronga take sides? No, he presents the man as a human being, a creature with both redeeming and morally murky qualities. Andreu's relationship with his father is equally fascinating as the boy's belief in him swings from admiration to accusation.

One of the film's most potent metaphors is Farriol's bird collection. Early on in the story, Andreau is seen tending to them with Farriol, demonstrating his love for his father via his affection for the winged creatures. When Andreu's world turns topsy-turvy, the birds become an outlet for the boy's rage.


Tonally similar to Del Torro's Pan's Labyrinth, but told with greater simplicity and little fantasy, Black Bread is an even stronger echo of Rene Clements' Forbidden Games, one of the greatest films ever about the consequences of war on children. Certainly not as dark or baroque as In A Glass Cage, it is, nevertheless, a brutally honest and realistic exploration of human darkness.

The DVD from Spanish label Cameo boasts a superb rendition of the film's subtle beauty and nuance.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Super 8 is 8 Loads of Crap


Fuck me drunk!

Super 8 is a sloppy, boring, noxious piece of crap.

This represents an effort to recreate the dubious magic of films like The Goonies, Explorers, and ET. Unfortunately, the script feels like a first draft with all its inherent logic flaws and inconsistencies.

It's off to a rotten start with a spectacular but improbable train crash. The cause of the crash is a single vehicle placed in the path of a barreling locomotive. From the carnage that ensues, you'd think the train had hit a box of atomic bombs. A fallen Super-8 camera records something spidery emerging from the crash site. A bunch of annoying kids, the owners of the footage, begin to believe that something is fishy because the military invade their town in the wake of the crash.

Derivatives are piled on top of derivatives to form a vapid mash, and screaming contrivances run rampant across the screen. Every character seems to be in the right place at precisely the right time to witness stuff the script needs them to witness. Exposition is as heavy-handed as possible, and it gets even heavier when the kids find an old film that explains EVERYTHING to them.


This film's biggest crime is lazy writing. Aside from a tight opening five minutes, it plummets quickly into an abyss of pure crapola for the remainder of its endless running time -- its 90+ minutes feel more like 90 hours. And speaking of abysses, the film's creature digs itself one in an old shed. Because the abyss is so deep and so complex, a major question is hung like a dripping turd over the movie: What did the creature do with all the earth it excavated out of the ground? Eat it?

Seriously, this sucks worse than a drunk hooker, and its positive reviews can only be testament to how far critical standards have dropped.