Friday, June 5, 2009

Shadows Winter Program Part 2 : The Big Bad World Beyond

Six cinematic dissertations on the proposal: people ain't no good even when they're god.

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 July 24th 7.30 pm

(USA 1992 100 mins.)

Michael Tolkin looks at Christianity as though it were a new age cult in this tale of religious mania.

Mimi Rogers plays Sharon, a woman whose purgatorial job at a call centre subsidises her equally purgatorial after hours hedonism. One evening, during a strenuous mixed doubles session she is fascinated by an elaborate tattoo of a pearl on a woman's back. Playing a hunch she approaches the secretive Christian group at work with the aim of quenching her curiosity. When they rather strangely resist her advances, her resolve is firmed and she begins to pursue the idea and, through a series of increasingly obsessive steps not only converts herself into a Christian zealot but drags her highly resistant boyfriend with her (a mulleted David Duchovny, pre X-files and a younger version of his Californication persona). As this new aspirant citizen of the New Jerusalem she is prepared to sacrifice anything she has for ... We're approaching the first plot twist so here endeth the lesson in the synopsis of the Rapture.

I always find literalised mythology enjoyable but here it gives me the creeps as much literalist relgious fanatics do. This film takes the problems of this phenomenon to the point of implosion with some extraordinary scenes straight out of Revelation and then a curious and disturbing imagining of the afterlife waiting for the apocalyptic Christian. The flipside of this, whether Sharon is insane is dealt with in a similar way to the film The Ugly (see Autumn program) in which the viewer is free to decide where the reason stops and the madness begins. There is a kind of sunlit cleanliness to Sharon's life as a convert which contrasts with her life at the beginning of the story where the smell of the bedrooms all but seeps from the screen, and then with the unwashed prophetess role she takes later.

This story is too saddening to be a satire (unlike Tolkin's other directorial feature The New Age, which is frequently hilarious) and even the bone pointed at religious zealotry seems to be held tremulously, however unforgiving it is. It is, however, a remarkable piece of work and might remind you of mid David Conenberg (Scanners or Videodrome) without the viscera but with plenty of heart.

Screens with:

The Amazing Screw-On Head
(USA 2006 22 mins)

Mixes steampunk with Lovecraftian dark fantasy to create a comedy that should have stretched into our loungerooms. Great animation. Greater spirit.

Friday July 31st 7.30 pm


(Spain 2008 75 mins.)

Angela, a young tv reporter working the purgatory shift for a reality series (While You're Asleep ;) that screens between the infomercials and phone sex ads, waits at a fire station for some true life action-drama. She gets it when the alarm sounds and the engines speed off to an apartment building in downtown Barcelona. No fire but the residents are outside their apartments confused and scared. One of them is upstairs going crazy. The firemen investigate and the first to get to the screaming lady in time to save her gets bitten in the neck by her. Back downstairs the general hubbub in the streets has increased but emergency teams have arrived on the scene and seal off the building and everyone in it with anti-contamination sheeting, a mobile phone signal blockage and a threat to shoot anyone who attempts to escape. So far so George Romero, right? Right, and if it kept gonig like that I'd be happy enough but it steps aside from the copycat assembly line. Not only does the pace cool down when it needs to refuel with a little depth here and there but the ideas keep coming, right up to the top of the stairs to the penthouse where ... well, come and see.

Blair Witch meets 28 Days Later, if you will, but this one has its own voice and at 75 mins is incapable of outstaying its welcome.

Recently remade for people who think subtitles are foreign disaster updates with the title Quarantine. See [.REC] it's the original.

Screens with:
A Warning to the Curious
(U.K. 1972 50 mins.)

BBC adaptation of ghostmaster M.R. James'creeper about digging for treasure and its costs.

Friday August 7th 7.30 pm

(U.S.A. 1979 106 mins.)

John Huston's adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's whuppin' o' Serthren old time religion. Hazel Motes returns from war to find the south turned from his boyhood home to the festering pit of hypocrisy his experience forces him to see.

Brad Dourif, three years after stammering into the world's heart as Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, emerged into the spotlight of his sole leading role. It's difficult to think of anyone else from the time who could have played the mean spirited and angry Hazel Motes with such sympathy. Big daddy John Huston, himself, plays a Moses like preacher in both a dig at his own manly authority and southern big talkers he would have known from his adventurous upbringing. Ned Beatty only need to bring his trademark bluster to Onie J. Holey but he serves up a bit more. Harry Dean Stanton seems to be a hickory tree come to life as he delivers a religious message that seems to predate the Bible.

Screens with:

The Signalman

(U.K. 1976 37 mins.)

Charles Dickens eerie tale of a man with a job and a constant sense of impending doom. Denholm Eliot portrays a man whose intelligence and honesty are proving no match against forces he cannot name.

Sunday August 16th 5.30 pm

(Japan 2002 101 mins.)

A high point of the J-horror genre (if not its pinnacle) kept the generic focus on the human centre of the story even more stubbornly than usual. This is the story of a mother's love for her daughter and how it is threatened not only by the worldly torments of a divorce process but by otherworldly threats as well. How much will this woman give up for her child? Come and see. It'll send a shiver down your spine.

Hideo Nakata kick-started J-horror with his adaptation of the novel Ring. Here he returns to the same author for his source material and builds something from it that reminds you of why Ring started its cultural shockwave but takes you further into the possibilities. Using the atmosphere of a rainy, overcast Tokyo and an apartment complex that seems to be dying of neglect, Nakata creates a world ruled by a constant mounting worry. There are few laughs in this world but the glimpses of warmth between mother and daughter are profoundly refreshing. They are also fleeting.

The survival of her abusive marriage, a nervous breakdown and her own parents' neglect is readable on the face of Hitomi Kuroki, whose beauty only reinforces this impression. Her deference to strangers and guarded physicality are reminiscent of an animal not daring to move in the face of danger. Her appearence in the film's coda is heart-rending.

More so than Ring (another mother/child story), Dark Water explores what might be at the heart of a good horror tale, the thing that beats despite the scares.

Screens with:

Whistle and I'll Come to You
(U.K. 1968 42 mins.)

Jonathon Miller's typically odd take on M.R. James' fable of the triumph of the irrational.
Michael Hordern's professor on holiday is so stuffed with learning that he is barely able to speak a sentence without parsing it. He finds a small whistle on one of his daily aimless seaside hikes. He puts it in his pocket and with it the most deeply destructive weapon against the control his reason gives him over the known world.

Sunday August 23rd 5.30 pm


(UK 1989 100 mins.)

The elements are all there. A young solicitor travels to a country manor house to settle the estate of a deceased spinster and attend her funeral. The figure of a woman dressed in black appears and reappears in churchyards and fields. At evening the causeway by the house is enveloped by fog and a cacophony of noises plays out, a coach crashes into the water by the road and a child screams for its mother until the silence of death takes over.

Arthur, the solicitor, pieces the mystery together from the spinster's papers, more unearthly events and what he can learn from the locals, and finds a very nasty story.

Nigel Kneale's adaptation of the novel of the same name adds early 20th century technology (wax cylinders) to allow the spinster to tell the tale in her own voice. While he's there in the period he has established (different from the novel) he also takes a little time to highlight the saddening plight of war veterans who have survived battle to face an even more futile fight for compensation. This adds poignancy to the tale's setting as well as serving to ground the character of Arthur in his professional world.

This is a decades-old British ghost story so you can be sure the atmosphere is kept to a misty chill: the less than welcoming fug of the village inn is a relief from the lonely stretching moors, breathless fog and light-sapped world of night outside the window. As tasty as pumpkin soup and crusty bread on a winter's day.

Screens with:

Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life

(UK 1993 20 mins.)

It's Christmas Eve and all Frank Kafka wants to do is write a short story. There's a party downstairs and people keep knocking on the door for this or that trivial nonsense. If he weren't already blocked he'd be on his way to complete creative aridity. Cockroaches don't have it this bad.

Sunday August 30th 5.30 pm


(USSR 1967 78 mins.)

Old Russian folktale with many variants (my own babushka told me a terrifying version of it as a bedtime story once). This telling is a faithful adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's version and has his typical mix of eeriness, absurdism and rustic humour.

Khoma, a young and goofy seminary student is heading home for his holidays and is tricked by a witch into mortally wounding a young beauty (daughter of the local worthy from the medieval thugocracy -- don't point the finger at me, that's my ancestry, too) . Being a good seminarian, Khoma flees the scene, scurrying all the way back to the seminary. On his return he is immediately dispatched to preside over the corpse of .... yes, her ... for three nights running. He will really have to ditch that goofiness and pick up some faith if he wants to get by.

Late 1960s Soviet low budget fantasy. Don't expect CGI. Revel, rather in the big salad of backdrops, huge open country locations and some cheesy but very effective optical effects borrowed from theatre as much as the innovation-rich annals of Soviet cinema (eg. Medvedkin and Dziga Vertov, look 'em up).

Most of all, enjoy the telling of a great old samovar-side tale delivered with a lashings of the cheek and wicked delight of Nicky Gogol a voice in Russian literature who remains an influence on Russian storytelling to this day (even though he was Ukranian). "We have all come from beneath The Overcoat," said Dostoyevsky of NG's short story of that title. Lift it up yourself and take a peek.

Screens with:


(Japan 2004 30 mins.)

Takeshi Miike of the breathtaking Audition presents a disturbing tale of circus life and literature. Is memory playing tricks or are tricks playing memory?

ABC Gallery Location

Google Maps with picture of Gallery