Friday, October 26, 2007


The pink film "genre" from Japan is endlessly fascinating to me. It seems like the entire genre has been entirely ignored in the west, excepting occasions where genre fans view the film for the titillating aspects. Which can't be faulted, as even in their native Japan, the target audience for the pink film is almost the equivalent as the target audience of pornographic videos here in America; they are sold as sex films, and generally accepted as sex films. What is so fascinating to me is that in virtually all of the better examples of the form that I've had the opportunity to see, the films transcend being simple sex films, in a really potent way.

The genre shares many characteristics with films like Through the Looking Glass and the hardcore films of Roger Watkins; namely a sense of disillusionment, existentialism, and loss of individuality. One will notice that these descriptors can also often be applied to canonical art house films like those of Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman, and to some extent, the films of the French New Wave. So why is it that these films are so easily dismissed?

The easy answer, of course, is that they're primarily sex films. They're low-budget, generally barely achieving feature length (with run times almost always ranging between 55 and 75 minutes long), and marked as a primary example of Japan's "otherness." Aside from the intellectual conceits, which are virtually unmentioned by most, the films are notorious for their depictions of S/M situations, women in dominant positions being abused, and a fetishistic attention to female nipples. In the same way critics cannot generally see past the large breasts present in Meyers films, ignoring his remarkably progressive sense of editing, the emotional impact, political commentary, and thought-provoking ideas set forth in pink films are almost always ignored.

Of course, as I've already mentioned, it's these marginalized attributes that makes the genre so potent to me. I'll be the first to admit that not every film from the genre stands up to my preferred standards; many do exist simply as poorly-made smut. But in an industry that cranks out hundred of films every year, one can't expect each and every one to be perfect. It'd be an absurd concept.

In the context of the films that work the best, the "otherness" present in the depictions of sex doesn't seem so off-putting. Often the violent or sadomasochistic sex works as a perfect extension of characterization and emotional states that are being played out on film; generally dramatic events are remarkably intense, and what is generally considered to be "normal" sex would be out of place. "Normal" sex wouldn't punctuate any of the films' action, intellect, or emotion; like any smutty late night cable movie in America, it would be sex for the sake of sex.

Takahisa Zeze is a director who is unofficially considered part of the shitenno, or Four Heavenly Kings. To quote Roland Domenig from his particularly perceptive article Vital Flesh: The Mysterious World of Pink Eiga, the films of the Four Heavenly Kings were notoriously "'difficult' - they had too little sex, and gloomy, complicated plots." Compared to the banal, generic examples of the genre, this is certainly a true statement. But that is why the films from the shitenno are remarkable works of cinema.

Zeze's 1998 film Dirty Maria is a wonderful example of the type of cinema that the Four Heavenly Kings are notorious for. It's difficult, emotionally charged, existential, very gloomy, and enigmatic. It's also an incredibly beautiful film, taking full advantage of the snow-covered, isolated spa that the second half of the film primarily takes place at.

The film begins by introducing us to the titular Maria (who; coincidentally, is never actually named throughout the film [if I'm wrong here, please correct me]-- so I'm relying on the title for this significant information), who works as a secretary and sort of maid (for want of a better word) at a beauty salon. She is mostly quiet and keeps to herself, going home at night to her naively happy husband and small child. We are then introduced to Murakami, a taxi-driver who appears to be utterly dejected. We later find out that he is looking for his wife, Mayumi.

Maria has killed Mayumi. Whether out of jealousy, or something bigger, she kills Mayumi and cuts up her body, distributing the body parts in opaque black plastic bags to different dumpsters throughout the city she lives in. When Murakami comes to the beauty salon in a desperate attempt to find Mayumi, Maria informs Murakami that Mayumi had mentioned wanting to go back to a spa that she had visited on a company trip. Soon Maria and Murakami are in a car together driving across the icy expanse of abandoned roads, on their way to the nearly abandoned spa, that Maria herself also has a peculiar liking for.

Once the characters are subtly established, the remainder of the film explores the relationship that Murakami and Maria develop as their own personal secrets are revealed to each other and they find themselves linked in a very personal way. There is no love or happiness in the relationship that our protagonists develop, but rather there is a sense of desperation and necessity.

As previously mentioned, the film is gorgeous. Epically framed, snow covered mountains stand in the background of frames while Maria and Murakami, both wearing striking red clothing, stand against the shockingly white snow, the contrast between the bodies and their surroundings forcing the viewer to associate these two disparate individuals as compulsorily linked. The visuals in the film also create an inexorable calm-- there is never any superfluous movement in the frame, only the stoic environment and shockingly apathetic characters.

But what is most rewarding and enigmatic about the film is Zeze's visual and narrative detachment. The motives of both Maria and Murakami are completely obscured to us as viewers. At no point in the film are we allowed into the psychological state that had set forth the characters actions that have been playing out throughout the film. We occasionally get hints, such as when Maria remarks, in regards to killing Mayumi, ""It was surprisingly easy to kill her... because we die so easily." We also get hints into Murakami's utter frustration when he pulls down Mayumi's underwear from a clothesline outside and scatters it across the small bedroom floor. The camera remains still for most of the film, excepting, of course, occasional tracking shots that are strikingly noticeable when they follow all the calm.

In fact, much of the cinematography wouldn't be out of place in a Michael Haneke film; events beginning in the frame of the camera, then moving out of the frame while the camera stays still. There is also something genius about the hyper-literal use of an "icy" environment to help emphasis the "icy" detachment present in our protagonist's lives. The film is also almost completely devoid of dialogue; I would estimate that out of the 75 minutes that make up the films runtime, only 10 to 13 involve any dialogue.

As viewers we are never met with a sense of closure to the events that we have been introduced to. Instead, we are bombarded with atmosphere and implications; we're expected to feel instead of to discover. Aside from the detachment that's present throughout the film, Zeze throws in abjectly odd, subtle events that heighten the atmosphere present. For example, in an early scene with Murakami driving his taxi, a customer gets in and begins asking Murakami if he's "ever done S&M," because he has just gone to a telephone club with somebody's wife. In the middle of the man's story, Murakami asks the man to get out of the car, as he's had enough of his job for the day. Aside from revealing Murakami's utter frustration with his disloyal wife, it also sets up the idea of giving up that permeates the ideas in the film. Another particularly pertinent example comes when Maria is having sex with her co-worker Sawai. As he pulls off his underwear and reaches for a condom from his jeans, she stops him, remarking, "we don't need that this time." There is an utter sense of futility in what she says, revealing that she too has already given up, she's no longer concerned with most of the world.

All in all the film is an intensely atmosphere window into characters who are emotionally empty, yet hanging on to any threads of feeling that they can grasp, going through life in a desolate trance, trying to connect in whatever way they can.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Frans Zwartjes is a very peculiar, extraordinary filmmaker. His film all seem to exist completely disconnected from the real world. While one can assume this is at least partially due to the fact that he almost exclusively shoots interiors, the few times that his camera deviates into the outside world his unique lens still shows the world in utter disconnect. I spent a weekend watching 14 of his films (thirteen shorts and one feature), and at the end I felt like I had experienced the uncanny. Often times while viewing a Zwartjes film one gets the feeling that they're not supposed to be watching the film, that their act of viewing is transcending simple voyeurism and actually attaining violation. And this is why Zwartjes is amazing.

Living was my introduction to Zwartjes, and to this day it remains not only my favorite Zwartjes film, but also one of the most powerful films that I've ever seen. The film introduces a simple concept: Frans and Trix, Frans' wife and muse, walk around the freshly-painted empty living room of the house they have just moved into. The two arrange miniature furniture on a floor plan, crawl on the floor, and aimlessly look around. This is the entirety of the action in the film.

What makes the film so powerful is the incredible atmosphere. There is a large series of windows on one wall of the room, but Zwartjes exposes the film so the panes are filled with nothing but a sublime white, totally removing the room from the outside world. For all the viewer knows, the house could be located in outer space. This detachment helps to enhance the idea of Trix and Frans in total isolation from the rest of the world. Zwartjes also shot the film with as wide of a wide-angle lens as he could get without having to shoot a fish eye lens, and this decision extends the atmosphere of isolation that has already been established by the empty room and detached pervasiveness.

But what brings the film together is the brilliant soundtrack. Discordant, errant organ permeates the viewers ears as the ghostly-pale faces of Trix and Frans wander around their space. The soundtrack is some of the most hauntingly beautiful music that I have ever heard in my entire life, and the affect that the score has on the images is utterly remarkable; a testament to that inherent aspect of cinema, the marriage of sound with images.

Along with the uncanny mood of isolation, Zwartjes also manages to implode a remarkable sexual tension. This tension briefly rears it's head via brilliant montage. The pace of the majority of the film is calm and studied, but several scenes explode into hyper-quick, very short, cuts of Trix' breasts and underwear as she lounges around the empty space. Zwartjes himself remains stoic in his hushed countenance, constantly biting down on a handkerchief as he continues to examine the space around him, occasionally stealing fetishized glances at his wife.

Gaston Bachelard, in his Poetics of Space, remarks that "[...] it [is] reasonable to say we 'read a house,' or 'read a room,' since both room and house are psychological diagrams that guide writers and poets in their analysis of intimacy." With Living, Zwartjes not only reads the room himself, but allows the viewer to do the same. Within the isolation, an obsessive relation between Frans and Trix is fully apparent. These rooms not only keep the outside world from spilling in, but also keeps lust and obsession from spilling out.

Aside from everything else, it's worth noting just how beautiful Zwartjes' aesthetics are. It's not something that's unique to this film particularly, but Living is one of the most amazing films to look at out of Zwartjes' films that I've been lucky enough to see. Zwartjes processes his own film, which allows him to push and pull his images: this lets him saturate his images in a singular way. The frame is permeated with blinding whites, grayish blue hues, the deepest greens, and occasionally, a shockingly intrusive red. The color palate itself adds to the overwhelming abject sense of the uncanny in the most beautiful way imaginable. Not only are the colors wonderful, but the camera work is an amazing feat in itself. All of the film is shot by Zwartjes himself, and Zwartjes himself is in the frame for most of the film. His shots are hand held, and he handles the camera in disorienting swooping motions so well; there's not a shake to be found.

It's no surprise, given the power of the film, that Zwartjes himself calls it his favorite. It's an unmatched examination of architecture and physical space representing a poetic emotional state, and it's a testament to a personalized sense of aesthetics.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I have now seen Inland Empire twice. The first time was over half a year ago, in a very large theater in Chicago with Lynch himself in attendance. The second time was finished last night, after watching it segmented over the period of about a month (mainly due to my desire to watch it in a half-awake/half-asleep state as I was going to bed, which almost always lead to me falling asleep, obviously). Both experiences, in more ways than one, have been totally different experiences. And really, what I want to stress here, is that the film itself is an experience.

In discussion of Lynch's films one often, undoubtedly, encounters interpretations of narrative. It makes sense, as feature films are primarily narrative. Lynch has always bordered the line between commercial film and experimental film. Sometimes this works to a disadvantage, and sometimes it turns out quite nicely. One thing that I find somewhat problematic is the tendency that film viewers and Lynch fans have to try to "solve" the mysteries that Lynch puts forth. For one thing, I think that undermines the intention of many films from Lynch's career, but it primarily undermines what (it appears) that Lynch was setting out to do with Inland Empire.

In the 60s and 70s, many experimental and avant-garde film makers began to push towards the idea of an expanded cinema. I, of course, mean this different from how Youngblood who was a primary advocate of considering video and new media as an art form, means it. Stephen Dwoskin, in his seminal book Film Is offers the following: "In film expression one essential expanding device is to thrust outwards beyond the frame. This, at least, gives a literal meaning to the term 'expanding cinema', which is not an addition to cinema, but part of cinema." And later he goes on to say, "In the expanded cinema the images contained in the moving frames function less as expression and suggest associations and more as actual occurrences. What appears in the frame is important, but the way in which it happens is also essential."

Examples of this particular breed of expanded cinema would include films designed for multiple-screen projection (such as Warhol's Chelsea Girls and films of the Italian De Bernardi who often incorporated three- and four-screen projections), incorporation of live actions (like many of Terayama's more experimental works and many of the individuals working within Viennese 'direct art' such as Valie Export and Peter Weibel), etc. I would argue that Inland Empire shares more in common with these experiential works than it does with common narrative features.

For Lynch, above all else, is concerned with atmosphere; the environment and mood that he is creating with his moving images. The narrative in Inland Empire is largely coincidental to a feeling that Lynch is trying to create. The intention behind the choices made by expanded cinema filmmakers was to give cinema viewers a more tangible experience in terms of relatability, in order to draw the viewer deeper into the experience of the film itself. I would argue that Lynch achieves this desired outcome without the use of multiple projections or live actions, but rather by laying on atmosphere and disparate events so thickly that the viewer suffers a completely visceral and emotional response.

It may seem a bit of a stretch to relate multiple projections and performance art to a (materially) straight-forward film, but despite the different methods of work, both films strive for the same goal. Another way Inland Empire works is Lynch's subversion of the flicker. Obviously, since Lynch is working with digital video as opposed to actual film, he cannot actually make a flicker, in the traditional sense. But, many early flicker films (such as Tony Conrad's The Flicker, as well as much of Bruce Connor and Peter Kubelka's work) aspire to put the viewer into a trance state; occasionally this is used to some affect, but often the mere materialist aspect is exploited. Lynch, throughout the movie, will have a scene set in very low light, only to suddenly use a stroboscopic light along with heightened music to imply either an intense narrative change emphasis a catharsis; such as near the end of the movie when Laura Dern (in one of her many permutations) is wandering through a hallway that is possibly directly outside of the apartment that the "Rabbits" sitcom is taking place inside, where she eventually encounters a man with a terribly distorted face. Light flickers, music screams.

To reductively read the film would be to assume that all Lynch is after is emotional manipulation. However, emotional manipulation can't lead to an end unless it's within the context of a narrative. There are certainly threads of narrative throughout Lynch's film, as the narrative serves as a form of progression throughout the film, but unlike a traditional narrative (even in comparison to what you could tongue-in-cheek refer to as a traditional Lynchian narrative) events aren't linked, characters come in and out of presumed story-lines, and virtually nothing is brought to a close. There is only an underlying theme, and an underlying mood, which serve to create, ultimately, a masterful environment.

This creation of an environment is how Lynch avoids emotional manipulation for the sake of emotional manipulation. If you read the film as an experience instead of a narrative, you're not supposed to empathize with characters, rather, you become an absent character. The fourth wall is broken. Of course, in Lynch's meta-universe there seem to be more than four walls. There are films within films within films; meaning, of course, that the viewer has no context for what is ostensibly the reality of what they're watching. This is disorienting, and forces the viewer, instead of locating a reality within the film to locate the only reality present, being, of course, the actual physical world.

Lynch also calls attention to the act of viewing many, many times throughout the films. There is the woman in the hotel room who is occasionally seen watching events that we as viewers have been watching as *the movie* on her tv screen, *within the movie we're watching*. Also, in the last hour when Laura Dern is in the theater and layers of the film change as we go from viewing Laura Dern on the screen to Laura Dern viewing herself on a movie screen within the movie, to use viewing the screen Laura Dern is viewing straight on (which has a different texture than the rest of the video does), etc. The sense of disorientation is so strong, that you can't help but lose yourself to it.

A lot of the examples I've brought up previously have called much attention to the final third of the film. Many viewers are disappointed that after setting up a perfect (though for Lynch, "normal") narrative in the first third of the film, the interesting plot line totally dissolves. You could assume that if all Lynch wanted was to create this environment to be experienced, then the initial narrative could be left out. I disagree completely, as without the initial introduced narrative, we wouldn't experience disorientation. Lynch sets up expectations with the first hour, and then breaks them in remarkably unusual ways. If the film was devoid of the introductory narrative, it would simply exist as pure mood, which could be interesting, but in the format it currently exists in, Lynch has many more opportunities to expand this experience, which he makes ample use of.

Due to the nature of the film as an experience, I insist that the film is actually far more successful when viewed alone on a TV. When viewed as a projection in a movie theater, not only are you surrounded by other individuals which keep you in touch with an ordered reality, but also digital video actually looks better on a TV than it does projected. Being alone makes you far more susceptible to the environment that Lynch has created, and it becomes remarkably easier to experience the film. While seeing the film in theater I was often brought out of this environment when audience members would laugh at the absurdity present in the film. While in a group, the most common reaction to absurdity seems to be laughter because it makes you uncomfortable. Whereas, viewing the film on your own, the absurdity simply extends the totally incongruous atmosphere that has been created and becomes starkly chilling. Even the monologue by the Asian woman on the street near the end of the film, about her cousin Niko and her monkey becomes terrifying in context-- out of context, without being totally absorbed into the film, it's ridiculous and you can't help but laugh.

Lynch has always made subversive horror films. He's never been satisfied with normal genre tropes, yet it is his films that invoke terror in a far more urgent fashion than most of what can be said to come directly out of the horror genre itself. Before I saw Inland Empire, I considered Lost Highway to be Lynch's most successful film. Eraserhead is too underdeveloped and caught up in blatant symbolism, Blue Velvet doesn't alter any formal structure, and Mulholland Drive alters structure in too much of an intentional way (which may sound like an arbitrary statement, but I really think Mulholland Drive losing much of the "chance" present in Lost Highway that significantly affects the tone of the film). In terms of Lynch's narrative films, I still hold to that fact. But in terms of something new, something progressive, and something that exists as terror instead of a depiction of terror, Inland Empire succeeds. I think it's safe to assume that what Lynch has done with the film is something he's been building up to throughout his entire career, whether intentionally or not. It's no secret that none of the cast had any idea how the scenes they were shooting would fit together, and in interviews even Lynch himself has admitted to writing scenes on the fly, not having any idea how the film would end up. Within his freedom it becomes clear to a viewer that this terror, this atmosphere is what Lynch is most concerned with, and he is a master of it.

His sound design, as par for the course of his filmography, is excellent. There is no doubt that a Lynch film without Lynch's sound design would be completely ineffective. Sound has as much of a presence, if not more, than the images on the screen. Such an intensive reliance on sound in a film only serves to heighten the sensory relation to its viewer. I'm sure if there were someway to embed an olfactory experience into the film, Lynch would be exploiting that as well.

The only part of the film that doesn't sit right with me is the ending; meaning, of course, the dance scene in the lobby of Laura Dern's first character's home. I think it was intended as a catharsis to free yourself from the experience of the film, but as it stands, it's so incongruent with the rest of the film is shocks you out of the atmosphere, instead of slowly letting you out. It's still abjectly weird, but it's unnecessary after the family reunion scene that precedes it. I would have been a million times more satisfied if Lynch had just let the song play and had the screen decked in only blackness.

While developing thoughts about the film (which has also obviously continued through my meandering ramblings within this review), I commented to a friend that Inland Empire may be to narrative cinema what James Joyce's Ulysses was to modernist literature. I don't mean they're stylistically congruent, but rather, Ulysses changed the way novels were written; suddenly, the mind of characters was just as urgent and present as what the character was actually doing (that's reductive, but you get the point). Lynch's film changes the entire viewing experience, totally subverts narrative into an environment, and actually demands a lot of the viewer. Watching Inland Empire is not an easy experience; it's emotionally taxing, as I've mentioned before, because to truly experience the film, you really have to accept your role as a viewer, as an anonymous participant in the event. Suddenly film isn't a passive experience. This film is remarkable, and I have no doubt that if people start making themselves active participants in the film/environment, people will stop fretting about what the narrative "means" because it literally doesn't mean anything. This is not a film about meaning, this is an experience.

And I haven't even watched any of the bonus features yet!

As it stands, the above obviously exists as far more of a rant than most of the items I've posted here. I will undoubtedly clean this up and add more to it, but I really wanted to get these ideas out there to see how other people respond to them, or if anybody has felt the same way. So please, I would really like to hear your thoughts on this ramble and the film! Discussion is a great way to expand ideas about film, and I honestly think that Lynch's Inland Empire deserves to be talked about. I can't help but doubt that this film will be forgotten any time soon.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Ivan Zulueta is the film maker responsible for the somewhat renowned film Arrebato, which I unfortunately haven't watched yet. Four years before he made Arrebato, he directed this short, experimental film. The film takes place almost completely inside of a woman's apartment. She wakes up to utter chaos, yet remains impassive and apathetic to the surreal explosions that occur around her. All of the doors in her room open and shut with an intense rapidity, while the films soundtrack showers the viewer with bullets. The woman, however, remains unmoved.

For the most part. She walks into the bathroom and looking at her mirror, facing herself, she disappears as the light from a window permeates the frame. She might be a ghost, or she might just not be a person-- regardless, she can't look at herself. This happens several times; she reappears, but is then gone again. And repeat. Near the end of the film the woman looks out the window and sees another women picking up a peach pit that the woman in the room had thrown outside earlier. There is an explosion of light in the sky, and the woman in the room becomes temporarily frightened. The lock on the woman's door turns, and the woman from outside enters. It is, in fact, the woman herself. She is forced to confront herself in a more tangible way this time, and she can take it. She cowers in the corner of her room, then disappears. The simulacrum of the woman who has entered from outside removes her sunglass, lays down in the bed, and falls asleep.

While the film is mainly an exercise in montage, it actually ends up being quite a powerful short. There is an utter intensity in the film, due mainly to the ferocity of the soundtrack, which succeeds in pushing the viewer into an anxious emotional state. This anxiety contrasts with the initial impassivity of the woman in the first part of the film; but this dichotomy serves to only increase the tension that's present. The viewer is on edge. In a way the film becomes a bit horrifying. The film explores similar themes to Maya Deren's landmark Meshes of the Afternoon, but while Deren's film was essentially feminine, Zulueta's film is essentially anxious. The films are permeated with completely different tones.

As I briefly mentioned before, much of the film is bathed in rich, natural light. The protagonist interacts with this light in a sort of paranoid dance; mingling with it, hiding from it, rejecting it, and ignoring it. Aside from the aesthetic value that the natural light provides, it works as a catalyst for much of the woman's decisions. In the same way that the light acts as another character, the room itself seems to mirror the woman's emotional state, since she cannot seem to express herself. The chaotic nature of the wake up scene seems to imply a sort of mental chaos, but the woman is divorced from herself and cannot express this emotion through her own body, so the room does it for her. Crumpled up paper spills out of a toilet without any motivation, this frightens the woman; is this representative of more of herself escaping?

Finally, the film is a very sensual film. Not sensual in terms of eroticism, but rather, all five of the senses are directly addressed, insomuch as the medium of film can approach the senses. As I mentioned before, the fervent soundtrack immediately makes the viewer aware of sound, and more so the fact that he is indeed hearing. The images are in constant flux so your eyes cannot relax, there are almost no static shots; everything dynamic. There is also a moment in the film (which recalls the woman in Kenneth Anger's Puce Moment going through her hanger of dresses) when the woman strokes several different fabrics; the saturation of color working to almost extend the physical reality of the fabric to our own fingers. We reach for our own clothes with a desire for touch. Taste is addressed by extended (extensive in the context of a ten minute film) scenes of eating and un-eating the aforementioned peach. The camera lingers on the woman's mouth as she inserts the peach into her mouth, chewing vehemently. Smell is addressed in a very minor, but potent way, by a lingering shot of heat rising from a fresh cup of coffee. The camera is positioned at a subjective angle to imply the viewer in the position of the woman, and the direction of the heat waves, were there no "fourth-wall," would head directly to the viewers nose.

It's an interesting collection of ideas that adds up to a very experiential viewing. It's abstract horror, and it's addressed in a very unique way, and I can safely say that I've never seen a film approach terror in the same intense, sensual manner. It's beautiful.

Friday, October 05, 2007


Over at Shoot the Projectionist, Ed is asking for people to submit their lists of "31 Films that Give You the Willies." The idea is to compile a list of 31 great horror films. I'm a compulsive list maker, so I've decided to take up the challenge. Not all of the films on this list are films that I would normally talk about here at Esotika, but in honor of Halloween being this month, I thought I'd participate. The list includes only one film per director, and I tried to stick with films that are (more or less) easily classifiable as horror, since most of my favorite films tend to be weird hybrids that cannot fit securely into a single genre. So, without further ado, here's my list, in alphabetical order:

99.9 (Augusti Villaronga, 1997)
All the Colors of the Dark (Sergio Martino, 1972)
Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999)
Baba Yaga (Corrado Farina, 1973)
The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)

Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974)
Blood of Dr. Jekyll (Walerian Borowczyk, 1981)
The Brood (David Carpenter, 1979)
The Church (Michele Soavi, 1989)
Cigarette Burns (John Carpenter, 2005)

Daughters of Darkness (Harry Kumel, 1971)
Devil's Nightmare (Jean Brismee, 1971)
Evil Dead Trap (Toshiharu Ikeda, 1988)
Fascination (Jean Rollin, 1979)
Haunting of Julia (Richard Loncraine)

Inferno (Dario Argento, 1980)
Isle of the Dead (Mark Robson, 1945)
Kairo (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)
Last House on Dead End Street (Roger Watkins, 1977)
Legend of Hell House (John Hough, 1973)

Lord of Illusions (Clive Barker, 1995)
Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997)
Marebito (Takashi Shimizu, 2004)
Outer Space (Peter Tscherkassky, 1999)*
Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)

Puppet Master (David Schmoeller, 1989)
The Reflecting Skin (Philip Ridley, 1990)
The Sentinel (Michael Winner, 1977)
Silent Night Bloody Night (Theodore Gershuny, 1974)
Symptoms (Jose Larraz, 1974)

The Uninvited (Su-yeon Lee, 2003)
Virgin Among the Living Dead (Jess Franco, 1973)

*I should note that one of the stipulations for Ed's polling was that the films had to be feature films. Tscherkassky's Outer Space is a short film, but it's honestly one of the most terrifying things I've ever seen so I had to include it. Hence, I added a 32nd film to make the list 31 feature films.

Leftovers from my initial list include the following:
Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest, 1971)
The Changeling (Peter Medak, 1980)
Dawn of the Dead (George Romero, 1978)
Lair of the White Worm (Ken Russell, 1988)
Monster Squad (Fred Dekker, 1987)
Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Chuck Russell, 1987)
The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976)
Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1977)
Session 9 (Brad Anderson, 2001)
Der Todesking (Jorg Buttgereit, 1990)
The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)


Before Jose Larraz made his notorious cult classics Vampyres and Symptoms, he helmed three unique British horror films that aren't very well known today. His second feature film, following his debut film, the once-considered lost Whirlpool, was Deviation. It's a quiet little film, with moody atmospherics followed by intense moments of perversity.

The film follows Paul and his mistress Olivia as they are driving back to their hometown after what has presumably been a romantic getaway. Paul isn't quite divorced yet, and this bothers Olivia, as it ostensibly allows him to keep both of his women without feeling guilty. As they are driving through a dark forest, a man in a white poncho jumps in front of the car, and, swerving so as not to hit the man, Paul crashes into a tree. They are met in the woods by Julian and Rebbecca, a mysterious couple who live in the virtually empty woods, and practice taxidermy. During the night Paul gets the feeling that something is wrong, and as he investigates, he eventually gets killed by Rebbecca in a moment of psycho-sexual catharsis. The next morning Julian and Rebbecca tell Olivia that Paul has simply taken the train back to London in order to be at work on time. Meanwhile, the enigmatic couple work on taking Olivia farther and farther into their world of sex and mystery.

The most interesting thing about Larraz, as a director, is his consistency. Of the six films films that I have seen from him, all of them take place mainly in a mysterious large house in the middle of a forest or deserted area. They also all focus on a small group of main characters, only occasionally using others to simply elaborate the relationships between the core characters. Deviation is no exception, and in this film the outside characters are other young hippies that join Julian and Rebbecca at the 'drug orgies' that they host. Larraz is also incredibly skilled at building atmosphere in a very subtle way. The tension of the film climaxes during one of the aforementioned drug parties when Olivia, stoned out of her mind, is resting on Rebbecca while Julian is making love with a beautiful black woman across the room. The two siblings--Julian and Rebbecca--are making constant eye contact as they carry on with their actions, and the scene becomes thick and uncomfortable.

The whole film does a very good job of demonstrating Larraz' skill as a director; the oddball plot which, in lesser hands, could have ended up highly convoluted and obtuse, is played out very clearly, every plot twist being revealed slowly, instead of suddenly, so as to allow the implications of each event to sink in to the viewers skull. The film is also very beautiful, taking place primarily in the middle of the night as Julian and Rebbecca take part in their drug orgies or in murder. Depictions of certain events in the film can certainly be read as having anti- drug implications, but Larraz never makes his approach heavy-handed. In fact, nothing in the film is heavy-handed, everything from the performances to the build-up of tension, to the murders themselves, are understated.

Something else that works really well within the context of the film is how much is left unsaid. There is a pre-credit sequence that doesn't quite fit the narrative structure of the film, but perfectly fits as developing a very tense atmosphere before the movie has even begun. Also, with a single word on a phrenology chart (the word being destructiveness) also establishes a mindset of the characters we see on screen (being Julian and Rebbecca). Julian and Rebbecca themselves have no discernible motivation for their actions, which make them even more sporadic and frightening.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Carolee Schneemann was primarily a visual artists who dealt with themes pertaining to womens bodies, and in turn, feminist thought. Her most notorious film is Fuses, a 23 minute film that attempts to answer the question of whether or not it is possible to shoot the act of sex without falling prey to being "mere pornography" (or to the objectification of women). And that is the primary bulk of the film, Schneemann and her then partner James Tenney having sex, while the collage and colors are layered over the primary images. Occasionally other images break through, such as Schneemann's cat Kitch watching, trees outside, and Schneemann running into an ocean.

As an experimental film it's primary strength comes from marrying it's form with it's content. Instead of using film to merely exploit the physical, material aspects (to no greater end other than theory, as many Materialist [or as Sitney would term, Structuralism] films of the day did, i.e. James Landow, Tony Condrad, Hollis Frampton, etc.) the form of the film physically reflects the content. The act of lovemaking is presumed to be a beautiful, intense thing, so there is a heavy aesthetic consideration. For the first part of the film, the color read cloaks the sex as rapid cuts and film scratches create a mood of chaos than can be considered akin with the chaotic joy of sex. The film stock is beautiful and dirty in the same way that sex can be beautiful and dirty. The camera work is also dislocating and disorienting in the fact that often it takes a few seconds before the viewer can determine what part of the man or womans body he is looking at. In fact, much of the overlaid abstraction present in the first half of the film works to objectively distance the viewer from the act that is appearing on screen. We know what is going on, but our eyes focus more on the abstraction that is present. This change of focus helps to create a sort of emotional tension that can be allied with the feelings that are present during sex.

During sex there is often a giving-up of bodily control to pleasure, and this visual chaos elaborates this. Visceral close-ups are less shocking under layers of scratches and colors; we know what we're seeing but are not offended, nor even put off by them. The aforementioned disorientation helps to view the body parts for what they are; simply human body parts. In this context they are divorced from the eroticizing signifier; the audience is not turned on. But the experience is a pleasant one, as the colorful chaos that decorates the film is, as I've mentioned before, very aesthetically pleasing.

One very interesting element of the film is that Schneemann often uses visual icons to imply a sort of binary opposition. Night is contrasted with day, the male nude body with the female nude body, winter and summer, warm colors and cold colors (the end of the film is primarily masked in blue). The oppositions help to extend the idea of a tension that is present. But what's more interesting to me is that these images are presented in binary oppositions in what could purportedly be termed a feminist film; from my understanding a the major feminist goal (much like that of post-structuralism) is to eradicate the idea of a binary opposition between the sexes. I fear that the opposing images of a man's body followed by a womans somewhat undermines this, but I think (I might be wrong here) that in 1967 the idea of tearing down this opposition wasn't as prevalent in feminist thought.

The only other figure in the film is the cat, Kitch. While it can obviously be read as a stand in for the voyeur, which is ostensibly us (us being the audience), it's hard to not also read the cat as a visual pun for Schneeman's genitalia (pussy/pussy). Another proto-feminist idea present in the film is Schneemann's incorporation of nature shots that punctuate certain sections; leaves, trees, and most importantly, the ocean. It's somewhat archaic to consider the female body as one with nature (although many important Feminists subverted this idea into a sort
of Goddess worship that reclaimed the idea), but it helps to create an easing sense of beauty, the female body juxtaposed with the natural world. Also punctuating the film are light permeated shots of Schneemann running into the ocean, something that can possibly be read as a sort of "return to the womb," a uniquely feminine attribute. Jess Franco would also explore the ocean as an endpoint in many of his films (Sexual Story of O comes to mind immediately), but Schneemann uses it in a significantly female context.

As a film, Fuses suffers from mediocre, somewhat amateur camera work and, more unfortunately, a lack of rhythm in the editing. The ideas of the film remain, but one can't help but wish that some sort of rhythm could have carried the duration of the film in a more interesting manner. Another complaint for me is that the film has no climax, but to have a climax a narrative structure is required, and Schneemann isn't telling a story, she's showing us an act. Regardless, the film is subtly powerful.

Fuses is available to watch online at UbuWeb.

As a note, I plan to start reviewing non-narrative (or minimally narrative) experimental films on here weekly or every other week. There is a plethora of avant-garde work that deals with the same themes that my favorite narrative films do, so I plan on expanding. I reviewed a few experimental films before, but this way I can get a shorter review up weekly and practice writing about non-narrative film, as it's far more difficulty for me. I have a fairly extensive collection of experimental work I'd like to get to eventually, but if you have any recommendations, please let me know, I'm always looking to discover new filmmakers.

Also, I have been told that Blogger has storage space for images, but I can't figure out where to upload images. If anybody could help me out with this I would greatly appreciate it.