Monday, May 18, 2009

Shadows Winter Program Part 1: The Big Bad World

Six cinematic dissertations upon the proposition: people ain't no good.

With a selection of short subjects.

Do you miss cinemas like the Lumiere, the Carlton Movie House and the Valhalla as much as I do? Well come along to Shadows, a screening of unusual and locally unavailable films every Friday over winter. Bursting with opinions? Stay afterward for good music and a drink at the bar.

The Place:

ABC Gallery is an ex warehouse/factory set deep in the heart of auld Collingwood, now serving as a Gallery for the painter Milos Manojlovic who also serves fine drinkables and worldly wisdom at the bar.

ABC Gallery 127 Campbell St Collingwood (See map at end of post or follow link to Google Maps with street view picture of the Gallery)
Melway Ref. 2C G8

Dvds projected on to a white wall. A selection of couches and tables. A bar with reasonable prices and a coffee machine.

All of these films will be accompanied by shorts. No shorts, no film.

"This ain't multiplex, this is gold class art house!" -- David Bowie, Diamond Dogs (paraphrase).

All that for a gold coin donation?
"Holy guacamole in a bowl of ravioli!" Pope Pius XV Celestine Decree


Friday 5th June 7.30

(Japan 2002 95 mins.)

Ever wished the fans of that aurally indigestible pop idol would all hold hands and jump in front of a moving train? Now you can live the dream.

This is a film about looking for a dream and finding a nightmare. A few different things are happening in the Japan of the film: children are committing suicide in groups, a J-pop group's fame is escalating, bags of neatly folded squares of human skin are found at the scenes of the mass suicides, a web site counts off the incidents as a series of dots, like a web-based abacus.

Part hard-boiled police thriller, part J-horror, part savage satire on the state of Japanese youth culture, part .... See, it's just difficult to classify. From the weird ghost scene which works with the film (but still sticks out from it) to the lair of the pop terrorists and their leader's sudden launching into a glam rock ballad, this film should fall flat on its face at almost every turn but it just keeps gathering strength.

And that song is deadly catchy!

Screens with:

The Grandmother (short film by David Lynch) : a neglected young boy plants some seeds and grows a grandmother in a mound of earth in the attic. 34 mins.

Friday June 12th 7.30

(U.K. 1967 98 mins.)

The mind that brought you alien invasion by DNA (Quatermass II) and ghosts as ancient recordings (The Stone Tape) here offers a strange tale of evolution, archeology and Satan. This adaptation of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass and the Pit does the seldom thinkable by being a cinematic remake (really a compression) of a television original that's pretty damn good.

A work gang drilling in a London tube station unearth an unexploded wartime bomb. When the army get in and clear the earth around it they find something that isn't from Earth, let alone Nazi Germany. Enter Professor Quatermass, a kind of proto Doctor Who (the original was written in the 50s), who has to battle the military mind with his boffin's one to get a look at the goodies underground. The object a spacecraft, not a weapon, contains the remnant of a creature whose presence at that geological level poses some weird and disturbing questions about life on Earth since the craft's prehistoric landing. When the answers to these questions begin taking physical form the London of 1967 stops swinging.

Kneale kept providing his public(intially British tv viewers)with intriguing propositions of life on this planet, mixing folklore, science (fact and fiction) and philosophy to create a meal that nourishes like broccoli but goes down like dessert. He departed this atmosphere last year and will continue to be missed. Part 2 of this winter program will feature his adaptation of a very fine ghost story made in the 1980s. Watch out for it in July or August.

Screens with:

PJ's Birthday Drinks. (Australia 2009) A little muted for some tastes but a keeper for all its avowed ephemerality.

Friday June 19th 7.30

(U.S.A. 1947 111 mins.)

A young carny sees two things that put a zap in him: an abject chicken-slaughtering "geek" and the backstage view of a clairvoyance act. One shows him the depths and the other a view to the heavens of fame and fortune. He befriends the rummy partner of the mentalist act and sleazily extracts the trade secret, learning it enough to take over at a carefully planned sudden opportunity. With the knowledge and the thrill of the con keeping him on fire he takes the act to increasing heights. Then he meets a dressed-to-kill dame at one of his shows who shows him a thing or two later. She's a psychiatrist, a good one, and is aroused in all sorts o' ways by the world of the con. He proposes a deal in which -- !? Raw chicken eating to deals with society shrinks? How does that work? Come and see.

Tyrone Power stepped down from his romantic-lead podium and into the world of this dark-hearted noir whose cynicism borders on the intimidating. You know where it's headed but you have to keep looking anyway. An unsung masterpiece from Hollywood's second darkest decade.

Screens with:
Two Men and a Wardrobe (Poland 1961 15 mins.)

Two men have a lot of trouble doing anything they want because no one wants anything to do with their companion, a large two door wardrobe. Roman Polanski's comedy of ostracism might have been a light and fluffy lesson and most of it is but then ... he was Roman Polanski! Still is.

Friday June 26th 7.30


(1989 France 82 mins.)

Now this is how you do a talking dog movie!

Baxter is a bull terrier who is .... a bull terrier. He's not a furry hero of our times who can warn the humans about earthquakes, fire or alien invasion, he cannot pilot a helicopter nor translate a crucial message written in Sanskrit, he doesn't even have a ability to distinguish between good guys and bad guys. He's just a bull terrier. But what a thing is a bull terrier.

The old lady he is meant to serve as a companion bores him to fury. Later, a couple who own him provide a glimpse of doggy heaven. Then they have a child which drives him to ... well, you'll see. After that he comes to know Charles, a withdrawn boy who reads wartime collabarateur magazines which he hides from the rest of his family.

Baxter isn't Cujo; when he's happy, he's happy, and when he's unhappy, he's unhappy. Not a trace of evil. And he's not Lassie; while he jumps at the chance to serve his dominators he doesn't go beyond the call of duty. He's just a bull terrier. His thoughts are delivered in a voiceover narration in the tones of a world-wise, Gauloise smoking, congac quaffing escapee from a particularly lightless Jacques Brel song. They intrigue, delight (it's a French film) and quite often chill the soul. In human form you might imagine him in anything from Breathless to Irreversible.

It's an animal film, does it get heartrending? Any film in which an animal meets the threat of violence or cruelty (ie all of them, including The Incredible Journey) can be heartrending. But Baxter is never mawkish (funny, gloomy, angering and terrifying, yes, but never mawkish).

I couldn't find a trailer for this one. There's another film called Baxter (which has a few youtube trailers and scenes) but it's an American romcom which would have a dvd cover with the characters leaning on each other and smiling against a plain white background and a title in thick garish block letters. You are going to be desolate and inconsolable if you come to this screening and think you're going to see that one.

Oh...the tagline of the French poster above translates as: "Beware of the dog that thinks." How completely bloody French is that?

Screens with:
The Steamroller and the Violin (USSR 1960 46 mins.)

Andrei Tarkovsky's graduate piece from his film studies is a moving story of the friendship the develops over the course of a single day between a shy road worker and a bullied boy. Made for Mosfilm's children's unit and released by them, The Steamroller and the Violin keeps things light, warm and digestible while Andrei gets working on the kind of imagery he would develop in his subsequent career as a filmmaker of his own kind. Reflections in water, the vast scale of Soviet city squares and architecture and the ruins from both the war and civic demolition fill the screen, adding weight to a story that while it didn't need it yet benefits from it.

Friday July 3rd 7.30

(Australia 1983 92 mins.)

Australian films hobbled into the 1980s using a tax break for support and kept hobbling. Through a series of ugly medication-derived hallucinations involving a lot of quirk and mark-missing social issues it had the occasional lucid vision. Visions splendid, in fact, to quote Clancy of the Overflow, like Bliss or Man of Flowers.

Aging Charles Bremmer finds an opportunity for heroism through his perversion. He's rich through inheritance and spends his days ingesting beauty through his eyes and ears as though it's an addiction. He's so removed from the more conventional means of physical satisfaction that his sole means of sexual release is achieved through a kind of art-directed voyeurism. The other side of this arrangement, a young woman is bound to a caveman with addictions of his own. "Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold."

Sounds sombre until you know that the script by Bob Ellis is both his most poignant and funny (as is his turn as the psychiatrist). Paranoid postman Barry Dickins' performance stops well short of caricature. Alyson Best's Lisa is delivered with strength and ache. Tony Llewellen-Jones protestant minister is a small part with a deadpan delivery that would make Hal Hartley green up. Patrick Cook (the era's wickedest Australian cartoonist) plays the kind of character he might have invented. Werner Herzog appears in super 8 flashback as an father with both a severe Teutonic authority and elastic ethics. And, finally, Norman Kaye the great craggy understatement of Australian screens big and small, is Charles, serious aesthete and borderline autistic who has trouble distinguishing good from bad beyond the fact that one sounds like music and the other sounds like noise. You dig? Characters, writing, good writing and sumptuous images. I can think of a few Australian films that I could use that last sentence on but they'd have to be ironic if applied to the great, crushing majority of them. You might find some scenes a little contrived and the sexual politics iffy but, trust me, films like this are good for you.

This film was shot in a fair few locations around Fitzroy and Collingwood so it'll be a neighbourhood movie.

Screens with:
Ako (Japan 1965 29 mins.)

Hiroshi Teshigahara made this strange mix of impressionism and abstraction tracing the day in the life of the young bakery worker of the title from waking in the morning, working and going on an aimless car ride with her friends at night. This is much more like the director's strange feature films (see also The Face of Another on next week and maybe Woman in the Dunes for the Spring Program). While the Film Board of Canada's commission had to do with gathering a slice of life from the various places where it sought films Teshigahara delved into the girl's aspirations, daydreams and fears often using disconnecting techniques like mistmatching dialogue and picture, mixing scenes from different parts of the day, ending up with something like a stream of consciousness recollection as Ako sorts through memories of still fresh events. By turns quiet and unassuming and cinematically bold, Ako is a gem.

Friday July 10th 7.30

(Japan 1966 124 mins.)

How much are we our faces? There are bedtime stories by the thousand that ask that question. The answer they deliver always seems to involve a happy ending as the folly of judging by surface is exposed and everyone grows a little. This film puts that fairytale to the test in a setting that knows about industrial accidents and the Atomic Bomb.

A man suffering severe facial injury (no, you don't get to see it) gets a synthetic face based on the mold of a stranger's. From the abjection his wife and the rest of the world have cast him, he rises with a vengeance armed with the kind of beauty that world reveres, ready to be guided by his darkest urges.

This is a social fable but it's also a Japanese movie so even the good aspects of life have a disappointing downward tug. There's a parallel plot involving a beautiful young woman but I'll let you discover that one for yourself.

Hiroshi Teshigahara worked very closely with composer Toru Takemitsu to produce a score of haunting and often eerie beauty, a decidedly non-western (ie not just eastern) soundscape.

Also, The Face of Another is the only film I've seen whose opening dialogue is delivered in x-ray.

Screens with:

All the Boys are Called Patrick (France 1959 21 Mins.)

The French New Wave's Mr Cool started with a few short comedies before tearing cinema a new one with Breathless, The Little Soldier, Bande a Part etc. etc. (and then gleefully tearing his coolness itself to shreds as he took on more politics and his filmmaking got more and more hostile to the mainstream that had started to absorb his m.o.) Anyway, this one shows how Jean-Luc was every bit a maison with comedy as he was with more serious fare. Not such a stretch if you consider how almost every film he made in the 60s contains a repeatably funny spoken joke. (the one in Alphaville is bloody wonderful).

Friday July 17th 7.30

(USA 2002 109 mins.)

Max Rothman (John Cusack) would be an artist but having lost an arm in World War I he is a little hampered. He stays close to art, though, by opening a gallery for new artists. It's Munich 1918 and modernism is about to go metal. Max's gallery is an ex railway station. His exhibition openings are wild with human beauty and creative ugliness and booze booze booze. Max takes delivery of a few cases of champagne (though it's probably sekt) from a scruffy delivery boy in a veteran's trenchcoat. They strike up a conversation and the younger man reveals his own artistic ambitions, intriguing Max by his intensity. Could be the next big thing? Max asks him to come back and chat more about his ideas. Maybe there's some gallery space to help him out. What was his name again? Corporal Adolf Hitler, 16th Bavarian Reserves.

Putting historical figures into fictions is done with an assumption that the audience knows how they'll turn out. Putting Hitler into a fiction and putting him this close to the audience travels to the edge. Noah Taylor's performance in the Reichsupstart's role is one he has not bettered. He is intense, complex, guarded and wound up like a seized alarm clock. Does this humanise him? It has to. He's not the Hitler of World War II and the Holocaust ... yet.

But Max does not attempt to explain Hitler. Nor does it suggest "it might have been..." What Hitler goes through in this story will only lead him further along the path we know he chose. What this story does is pose some questions about individuals, their potential and susceptibility to manipulation. And it rolls all that up into an engaging well-played movie. But remember the title: this is Max's story, not Hitler's.

Oh, and try and think of another film where you'd hear the line: "Come on, Hitler, let me buy you a lemonade."

See what you think.

Screens with:

La Cravate (France 1957 20 mins.)

Allejandro Jodorowsky adapts an absurdist sotry by Thomas Mann about the human desire to alter its appearance. The Young AJ is failing to woo his beloved and visits a shop selling live human heads to see if he can improve his luck.

The clowning and mime that make all too brief appearances in his more celebrated feature films are centre stage here, serving as a reminder that for all his cinematic daring Jodorowsky was at heart a performer equally comfortable busking for francs or directing surrealist epics.

ABC Gallery Location

Google Maps with picture of Gallery