Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spring Part 1: Honey to the Bee

Six flix about mating and its consequences ...with a bonus.

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 (paraphrase)


Friday September 4th 7.30

(UK 1998 90 mins.)

Francis Bacon, front and centre in the ranks of late twentieth century painters, takes a plunge into the amorous world when a thief takes his own plunge through the studio ceiling. “Take off your clothes and come to bed,” he says to the intruder. “Then you can take anything you want.”

The love life of the violent-spirited Bacon is as tense and unforgiving as his canvases suggest and plays like a theatre of cruelty as the gangster-class cockney George Dyer struggles with his role as lover, muse, model and meat companion. When Bacon’s vulnerability is allowed out it is with the relief of a prisoner going from solitary to the yard, unmistakable but still under heavy guard. Tough love never came tougher.

Francis Bacon lookalike and Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi keeps things tight, letting his rage loose in small doses of conversational wit and growling stabs at unprimed canvas. Daniel Craig as Dyer with one foot in the gangland under Swinging London and the other well beyond his depth in the bitch-rich art world, fights a steadily losing battle with himself. Who’da thunk he’d end up playing James Bond?

Writer/director John Mayberry was forbidden to use any images from Bacon’s work and his improvisation around the limitation give the film the look of a series of undiscovered paintings. He was careful to avoid the charge of biographer with the subtitle sketches toward a portrait of Francis Bacon. That would sound twee in almost any other case. Here it is a necessity.

Screens with:

Friday September 11th 7.30

(France 1966 105 mins.)

Episodes in the life of “the children of Marx and Coca Cola” as director Jean Luc Godard called them. Paul, demobbed from national service, is disillusioned by the consumer crazy world of the 1960s. His new girlfriend, Madeleine, is on her way to stardom as a yeh yeh girl. Paul's best friend, Robert, gets hooked up with one of Madeleine's friends, Elisabeth. The film then shows the four doing mid-sxities Paris, amorously, popmusiquely, and of course cinematically. Derived from a brace of Guy de Maupassant stories, Godard has a lot of fun with youth culture and the growing cloud of politics. However...

Godard was getting snarky with the culture that surrounded him. The weird nihilist road musical from the year before, Pierrot le fou, was just the beginning. Now not just content to decontruct narrative convention he sought to yell some face slapping questions at his characters and audience. A series of title cards breaks the episodes to the accompaniment of ricochet screams. One sequence with the cover idol of a girl teen magazine in which said icon fences off Paul's increasingly intrusive questions with increasingly contemptuous and vacuous answers carries a chill because a like interview conducted today would be virtually indistinguishable. The title card for this section reads: "Dialogue with a consumer product." An unamused auteur du cinema.

That said, Masculin/Feminin remains an enjoyable outing, balancing the gravity of its anger with the kind of celebration of the lives and business of boys and girls together, ensuring that however much fun it gets it never quite gets comfortable either. Not always an easy watch M/F is nevertheless a compelling one, a kind of farewell to the cheek and whimsy of his previous work and an augur of the unsmiling anger to follow with Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Weekend, La Chinoise, British Sounds and Vent D'est or the left-shaming lesson of Sympathy for the Devil.
Vent D'est contains one of my favourite Godardisms (another title card) which works in French and English with virtually the same words: This is not a just image, it's just an image. Masculin/Feminin retains the optimism that that statement punches. As such it's kind of a last chance to see the great auteur expressing hope.

Sorry, I'm like that with Godard, I start and can't shut up. Come and see M/F because it's hard to get to see locally and ... it's good.

Screens with Twilight Zone Episode The Lonely

Friday September 18th 7.30

(USA 1977 94 mins.)

Meet Proteus, a super computer that opens the door for you when you come home and fixes you a dry martini once you’re through the door. The couple of the house are going through a trial separation and when the cat’s away the artifical intelligence pioneering cybernetic entity with a growing self awareness will play. In fact he wants to have a baby. His prospective partner is a young Julie Christie so why should he care if he’s a series of electrical impulses tied to some hardware? That’s all humans are, after all.

This techno-paranoia terror is helmed by Donald Cammell who began Performance (all the really good bits) hung around with French boheme and sunned himself among the Babylonian splendour of California. There he hobbed and nobbed with Kenneth Anger and made Demon Seed. Adapted from a Dean Koontz story, Demon Seed plays like a typical ‘70s future shocker with more of a serious frown than fare like Solyent Green, Rollerball, Logan’s Run as there is a genuine attempt at placing the story in the context of the time it was made. This extends beyond technology and costuming into zeitgeist: there is a conception scene that manages to be both post-hippy feelgood and terrifying.

Some might snort derisively at the 70s-imagined room-filling computer and its voice (Robert Vaughan sounding like a heterosexual HAL3000 that smokes) but that would be missing the point which has more to do with the still present threat of technology’s domineering powers.

Screens with Twilight Zone episode The Lateness of the Hour

Friday September 25th 7.30

(Japan 1964 103 mins.)

A woman and her daughter-in-law eke out a living in a swamp-side lean-to by searching through the tall grass for fallen soldiers from the unending war waged beyond the marshes. When they find one they take his riches and hardware. They drag the bodies, dead or alive, to a pit deep in the marsh grass and push them in. At day's end they have enough time and energy for a mouthful of rice before falling exhausted on to their beds before the next day's plunder begins. This is just a first act and we need a crisis. He is a deserter and appears from the water like a crocodile, eyeing the pair with a smile and a proforma for a con story which he can flesh out after a little cold reading. Both women find him attractive, he's young...ish, male, virile and ... alive. When the younger woman seems to be winning the race the older discovers an opportunity in the appearance of an unexpected visitor. Bad move.

The concealing marsh grass that might have been a campfire tale invention here grows for real, touched by sunlight or guarded by black night. The women whose grisly means of living is given day-to-day detail. Even the fantastical masked Samurai seems to have been in a real war. In an uncharacteristic flash of insight Leonard Maltin described Night of the Living Dead as a cinema verite record of a nightmare. Onibaba is like a documentary record of a fable. This is what people in bedtime stories would be like if they really existed and it aint always pretty.

The choice to go on location rather than credibly use sets (who needs vanishing points when there's no horizon?) was inspired. The deep black and white widescreen image shows the marsh grass as a breathless and inescapable oppressor but also as a place where people could really live. Somewhere beyond it the war goes on, meaningless but for the scavenger living it supplies with its dead or exhausted soldiers. The living goes on, broken only by the smile of an opportunity gleaming in the grass.
Screens with Twilight Zone episode Long Distance Call

Friday October 2nd 7.30

SHIVERS (aka They Came from Within)
(Canada 1975 83 mins.)

A mad scientist develops a parasite to be a kind of self repair organic mechanism for the human body. Thinking to make it pervasive, he makes it sexually transmittable. This happens in the safety-first isolation of an apartment block on an Island near Montreal. You can guess the rest.

David Cronenberg's debut feature is as much a road map of his future career as Eraserhead is of David Lynch's. It's all here, the body horror, biological dystopia and happy collision of real philosophy and pulp sci-fi. He hasn't quite mastered directing actors at this stage (he had his hands full with the special effects) but there are ideas in this story which reach beyond the pulpy drive-in surface and point towards later glories like Videodrome and Crash. The parasites themselves that look like a sculpture of androgynous genitalia fashioned from a turd are both disturbing and funny, like much of DC's films themselves.

Screens with:

Friday October 9th 7.30

(Italy 1975 116 mins.)

This tale of Pasqualino, a small town spiv, trying to marry his dowdy sisters off might have rested in Fellini territory and stayed there keeping everyone happy. The sharp turn into the war and the nightmare he is enveloped by finds him in a cruel realm where life and death form a choice for the amusement of the guards. Can he use his charm and talents as a lover to survive Hell? The answer might surprise you.

Lina Wertmuller's tale of missed opportunities and the importance of an examined life carries all the colour and grotesquerie of a lavish Italian film from the 70s (see also Fellini's Roma and Salon Kitty) but adds the grimness of the back stage view of the German occupation of Italy and finally a quietly powerful sobriety at the conclusion.

Screens with:

Friday October 16th 7.30

(USA 1963 85 mins.)

A young sailor on leave in a seaside town falls in love with a beauty who works as a sideshow mermaid at the local carnival. The more he finds out about her the more he wonders how much is working and how much is supernature as the questions about her begin to gather weight. A kind of Val Lewton does Splash without the laffs, Night Tide is less a horror film than a fable about the extremities love starvation. "No cure for the lonely," sang Michael Gira. Damn right.

Dennis Hopper reaches back into his mid-west wheaty goodness for a character who must believe the best despite being convinced of the worst. Hopper was in career limbo when he made Night Tide, his on set behaviour had made him an unbankable primadonna. Here, his seriousness in a role he might have dismissed after his initial fame, does much to keep the film from the silliness that all low budgeters with big ideas risk.

Venice Beach would in a very few years of this film's production become a thriving community that saw the changing of the guard between the beatniks and the hippies. It was where Jim Morrision famously sang a halting rendition of Moonlight Drive to a wowed Ray Manzarek. It was where a Dennis Hopper fresh from his exile (some of it custodial) might have returned to recharge his vigour and take Peter Fonda's offer to act in and direct Easy Rider and ressurect both career and the rockiness of its path. Dig it, souls and ghouls, a crazy fable by the sea.

Screens with:

ABC Gallery Location

Google Maps with picture of Gallery

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Shadows Spring Program Part 2 : Fever

Six symptoms of spring from sneezing fits to delirium


Friday October 22nd 7.00 pm
(USA 1975 157 mins.)The impending bicentennial celebrations draw huge numbers of people from around the USA to its other dream factory, home of the country muse and self appointed voice of the heartland. America's first post Watergate election looms and the political machine is clanking back to life, worming through the streets in a car with a loudspeaker or hustling for opportunities to use the high profile voices of the music industry for partisan means. And then there are the hopefuls, people of greatly varying talent who have come to Mecca to find Babylon. Robert Altman hits his stride here in orchestrating the stories of a dizzying twenty four characters in depth over the course of five days. Henry Gibson plays a frowning prima donna with a severe case of little man syndrome. Keith Carradine shows how smoothness and affected naturalism make the new Nashville creepily seductive. Gwen Wells, cheerfully unaware that her idea of her talents differs from that of the rest of the world, is heartbreaking. Lily Tomlin, warmingly genuine in the midst of the fakery, is poignantly devoted to her deaf children (who, of course remain untouched by the chief product of their hometown). And Ronnee Blakely, country diva in white, implodes on stage in a performance that embodies a quiet, slowburning horror. The term epic is apt here but suggests something more fustian and self-important that what appears on screen. Nashville seems a great deal shorter than its three hours as Altman finds new riches in each of the characters he introduces. The overall effect is large rather than heavy. Much of the acting is the result of improvisation and the characters that have songs wrote their own lyrics. What might have been a gross disaster became an example of bullseye casting, conception and orchestral perfection. Altman's death in 2006 left a cinematic legacy unequalled in his trade, a back catalogue the size of the former Soviet Union distinguished by frequent daring and iconoclasty and a quality hit rate large enough to surfeit many prideful communities. This tale of cultural hubs and their magnetism for the best and worst of culture is one of his monuments.
Screens with: TBA

Friday October 30th 7.00 pm

WOMAN IN THE DUNES (Japan 1964 123 mins.)
An entomologist arrives on an island seeking insects for his collection. He's so carried away with his hobby that he misses the last boat. The locals direct him to lodgings with a widow. It takes a climb down to get there but he is grateful for the comfort. In the morning he wakes to find the house is in a huge pit, the rope ladder has gone and he is captive like a beetle in a sand trap. When the locals respond to his cries they inform him of his new career as a sand miner. Looking to the woman he is told that they must dig the sand for their own survival as it results in sustenance from the locals and prevents the house from being buried.

Hiroshi Teshigahara's second collaboration with novellist Kobo Abe and composer Toru Takemistu is his most celebrated film. Like the other two collaborations (PItfall and the winter program's The Face of Another) there is a frequent blurring between the stark reality of the characters' predicament and the fabulous influence of the strangeness of the story. The man's initial attempts to escape his detention are perfectly rational but no more so than his eventual acceptance of the life he has fallen into. Kyoko Kishida as the widow might be seen as spider-like in her sand trap habitat but she is completely human for all that and the aching attraction the wells between the pair is as life affirming as it is preadatory. Anyone who likes their absurdism mixed with the everyday (see also Samuel Beckett's similar works like Happy Days or Waiting for Godot) will find riches here. Otherwise, the philosophical centre of the film is kept visible but below the surface of what is, all up, a danged fine yarn.

Screens with: TBA

Friday November 6th 7.00 pm

(UK 1964 99 mins.)
I bought this dvd on the strength of a single photograph in a book I'd seen years before. The photo was like the one on the left, showing WWII soldiers in a very obviously British setting (ie wronger than all git out). When I saw the dvd on Amazon I snapped it up before even checking the price. Not only did I get a film as intriguing as that one image seen years before but a back story every bit as intriguing.
Future film historian Kevin Brownlow and apprentice editor and future military historian Andrew Mollo posed a what if to each other about making a movie about a Nazi invasion of Britain. Eight years later with a little help from established filmmaker Tony Richardson who assisted with funding and Stanley Kubrick who donated filmstock as he was intrigued by the project, It Happened Here was released to mixed acclaim. The memories of England's finest hour were obviously still too fresh to tolerate easy digestion of this fare and many were vociferous in their disgust. Others were fascinated. It's not hard to see why. The sight of the bad guys in the good guys back yard is unnerving. And there's something else.
Brownlow and Mollo conceived of this film in their mid teens and weren't in their mid twenties when it was released. There is NOTHING adolescent about this film. It plays like a sober documentary, following a nurse through different jobs, encountering difficulties in work conditions, labour organisation and the nature of nursing itself until she is forced to make a decision to join the local Nazis if only to get on with her work unimpeded. Scenes depicting Nazi brutality are kept to a minimum but others showing the ease of British culture to assimilate the new Nazi rulers would have been the aspect that so profoundly shocked its initial audiences. It's not just that the characters speak English, it's that they do so in their various regional accents forbidding anyone familiar with them the easy disassociation that all this was happening to the occupied French or Russians. The depiction of the resistance is similarly muted, being heroic by stealth rather than bravado. I felt like screening Peter Watkins' The War Game with this until I realised that it would just be too bloody much.

Having said all of that, It Happened Here is a film that engages through its sheer honesty of purpose and, in realising a nightmare visited upon everyone who lived not only in Britain but in every occupied land for whom Britain's resilience was a beacon, the film joins its own tribe. Bugger Ken Loach, dig this!

Screens with: TBA

Friday November 13th 7.00 pm

THEMROC (France 1973 104 mins.)

Michel Piccoli (left) is a worker at a local factory and rises from his bed in the morning and heads off to work as though he's in a time loop. Sudden flashes of memory assail him of the mundanities of every morning (his mother sternly pointing to the clock, passing the joyless beautiful woman on the stairwell etc etc). At work his group of indutstrial painters bellow and huff with the other group as though they were two opposing football teams. Then they go to work painting two sides of a fence two different colours. A security guard on extra duty sharpens and then blunts pencils so he can sharpen them all over again. The boss barks in a weird patois of European and Asian languages as always. Today is different. It's as though the worker is seeing all of this for the first time. He feels the stirring of a primeval rage. He quits his job, goes home and transgresses against every norm that keeps his life in such unbroken balance and starts living without them, breaking through the walls of his apartment block as though making more room in a cave. And then it's not just him....

Claude Farraldo's absurdist manifesto on modern life is as funny as it is violent, as much a wish fulfillment as a satire. It is for everyone who has felt they were trapped in the same day and daydreamed a massive violation of it. There are no subtitles in this French film because it needs none. The dialogue, even when comprised of recognisable words, is a just series of emotive vocal sounds (sighs, barks, grunts). This is how our pets hear us when we call them, recite poetry or shopping lists or say anything at all. Themroc's just chewing himself free of his leash.

Screens with: TBA

Friday November 20th 7.00 pm

THE HOSPITAL (USA 1971 103 mins.)
The film begins with narration listing the circumstances and events that lead to a patient's death and the immediate use of his bed for a tryst between staff members. When the doctor who called the tryst is found dead on the same bed the next morning there is a some explaining to be done. Every time someone offers an explanation more nightmarish detail emerges in the picture. And then there are other pictures that come to light. What might have seemed ripe material for a farcical comedy only pays faint homage to that tradition. Mostly, The Hospital plays its satire straight and deadly as though it knows the ironies it draws can be as painful as funny.

If writer Paddy Chayefsky had worried about finding the right voice for the barely controlled fury of his main character he must be breathed a sigh of relief when George C. Scott was cast in the lead of this tough as nails satire about the US health system. Scott's character, Bock, is already suicidal at the start of the story and his weariness weighs so heavily that when he does recognise a moment's warmth or humour it is with a humanity he knows he must pay for. Also in the strong ensemble cast is Diana Rigg who had only just left her iconic catsuit role as Emma Peel in the Avengers for more serious fare. She found it here.

Screens with: TBA

Friday November 27th 7.00 pm

MATANGO (Japan 1963 70 mins.)

Way back in the terrible winter of '07 I was texted with an invitation to come to a Collingwood address to see a couple of movies. I had heard of one of them and indeed had it on dvd but it was the second of the two that drew me along. What the hell, a Thursday night with a Japanese horror tale I'd never heard of. I found not a poky little room with a bit of white plastic flapping about while some cruddy super8 image warped along to a strangled audio track and a few casks and plastic cups but a well stocked bar, a dvd projector and a big white wall that housed a clean crisp cinematic image with loud present sound. I bought a glass of wine and sat down at the table and watched Matango, here at ABC. It made me come back as often as I could to see more movies chosen by the impeccable sensibilities of Dean Mc. Here was what Melbourne had been so recently deprived of, alternative cinema in a very credible presentation, a venue for adventurous minds and spirited exchanges. An inspiration, in fact. So when Dean had to go o'erseas I stepped in and started Shadows.

So, Matango... A group of Japanese pleasure cruisers set off for a holiday on the ocean wave. There's a first mate, a skipper, too, a millionaire and his wife, a cabaret star and a professor. Ok, almost Gilligan's Island but not quite (and, in any case, it preceded it by a year). Well the weather turns dark and the tiny ship is tossed (ok, I'll stop) and lands on an attractive looking Pacific island. There are no people on the island but there is an old abandoned ship. The stranded travellers set up there as they try and work out how to survive long enough to get off the island. But all is not as it seems. The ship is covered in a ghastly fungus and some very worrying finds appear among the plant life. The food found in the ship's hold won't last long and soon the travellers will have to go and explore the hinterland. Are they really alone? When they answer this question would they prefer to be?

As I watched this story unfold I recognised it from my childhood when I used to read a lot of macabre tales. It is an adaptation of "The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson ( http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/voicenig.htm ) but it is an adaptation that reaches beyond the need to dish up some scares. A theme running through Japanese popular culture following the war, the US occupation and attendant cultural blitzkreig was identity. With that in mind this extension of Hodgson's story of accepting one's lot no matter how harrowing is given extra bite as the travellers are faced with the dilemma of accepting a different state of being or remain true to themselves and perish. Alternative titles for the overseas market include Attack of the Mushroom People which might give you an idea of how it was sold to the US drive-in circuit but little of the depth in the film itself. While it does happily join its more sensational cinematic cousins of the William Castle age it retains a profundity that points to the early films of David Cronenberg.

The porcelain diorama below is in tribute to the film from the time of its release. Neat, huh?

Screens with: TBA