On a grim mid-January Saturday afternoon, the Roxy Bar and Screen was packed to the rafters with a lively audience waiting for the LSFF programme of music and video shorts. It was impossible to move for the people sitting on the floor, and still they kept coming. Their eagerness was justified: once more, LSFF delivered the goods in a selection of shorts that innovatively combined sound and image. The programme was bookended by Max Hattler’s Heaven and Hell, two films inspired by the visionary paintings of Augustin Lesage. They are constructed as loops, with patterns of coloured circles moving in a circular movement to repetitive percussive sounds in Heaven, while in Hell, dark grey machine imagery opens like the wings of an eagle to the noise of a sinister drone. Hypnotic and immersive, with complex variations on visual and aural patterns, they perfectly framed the programme.
One of the most impressive films was Franck Trebillac’s Calculus, the video to an electronic track by Stretta (scroll down to watch the film). Images of organic matter and insects are set to the throbbing music, with a beetle and a praying mantis moving in time to slower and faster rhythms, before a woman comes out of a chrysalis with a butterfly covering her eyes and nose. The pulsation of the music and the emphasis on the texture and palpitation of the insects’ bodies work together superbly to create a heightened sense of life’s matter, culminating in the creation of this beautiful, deeply alien creature. Another of Franck Trebillac’s videos was included in the programme, for Tricil’s ‘The Emancipation’. This time, the focus was on mechanisms and automata, with a ballerina in an old-fashioned music box dancing to a dark, heavy complex electronic beat. Her movements were jerky like a doll’s, and as the music progressed, her image was multiplied and superimposed, creating wonderful abstract patterns that fitted the music perfectly and underlined its dark, oppressive feel.
In Alex Harrison’s video for Aspirin’s electronic instrumental ‘Cutter’, a gloved hand tests brightly coloured 80s plastic toys in a white lab-like environment. As the music becomes more discordant, the toys spin out of control, until the lab tester sets fire to them. The Day-Glo 80s imagery was a perfect fit for the music, and the movement of the toys precisely matched the rhythm of the music. In a completely different style, Friends was a video directed by Edwin Mingard for FranÃ§ois and the Atlas Mountains. FranÃ§ois is introduced as the ‘curator’ of the ‘Atlas Mountains’ Memory Archive’ and he sings the song with an old Super8 projector behind him. This is intercut with images of a young man in various settings, who wipes words such as ‘Kissed a Girl’ and ‘Got Scared’ off his face. This is filmed backwards, the words appearing as the wiping is reversed. This temporal trick emphasises the melancholy of the song.
Among the films that were not music videos, one of the most interesting was Paul Cheshire’s The Cursed Cassette, which established a convincingly strange world in just one minute. A man receives a mysterious cassette in an envelope on which is drawn a moustache; when he plays it, high-pitched electronic noises and what sounds like a bassoon or a tuba are heard, while a moustache appears on his face. Weird electrical impulses are triggered and the man goes through a number of transfigurations; he multiplies and is transformed into a sinister masked figure. The Cursed Cassette brilliantly uses simple visual and musical elements to create an intriguing and evocative story in a remarkably short time.
Not all of the films were as successful, but in a programme that included 26 shorts, that was to be expected. Some of the music videos were not particularly interesting, and the two fashion films included seemed entirely unnecessary: Leaving Dreamland (Ivana Bobic and Rain Li) told the silly, clichéd story of a girl who looked like a model and whose only purpose seemed to show off hip clothes, while Cassia (Zaiba Jabbar) seemed like a self-indulgent portrait of Hoxtonites. But despite these bum notes, the screening was hugely enjoyable and interesting overall, and the audience certainly agreed, enthusiastically applauding every single film.
The Music and Video programme screened on Saturday 15 January 2011 at the Roxy Bar and Screen.
The original Czech title of this documentary, Nesvatbov, means ‘a place with no weddings’. The mayor of the village in question is none too happy about the situation, which poses a serious problem for villages across Europe: they are dying out as residents leave or, in the case of this particular village, the younger generation fails to have children. For a film treating a sad topic, it was incredibly funny: I haven’t heard such uproarious audience responses since Borat (Larry Charles, 2006). At first, you feel guilty for laughing at the backward villagers, but very quickly you perceive their intelligence and humour, and start laughing with them.
The real inadvertent comedian is the village’s ‘matchmaking’ mayor: he is firmly convinced that it is everyone’s natural and civic duty to marry and procreate. He shares his contentious opinions with his constituents in daily addresses delivered over a loud-speaker system audible throughout the village. He organises a party for local singletons, a social engineering project reminiscent of the factory dance in A Blonde in Love (Miloš Forman, 1965). While the communist manager genuinely had his employees’ welfare at heart, the mayor’s motivation is less philanthropic, more abstract.
The House (Zuzana Liová, 2011)
Where Matchmaking Mayor starred a local official who wanted to organise his constituents’ lives, The House is about a father who tries too hard to control his family. To give his two daughters a good start in life, Imrich has decided to build them each a house on the same land as their family home. Having abandoned the house for his elder daughter Jana, who married an unsuitable man, Imrich is now focused on completing a house for Eva, his younger daughter. Eva dreams of going to London to work as an au pair, but her father forbids it. Desperate for a means of escape, Eva begins an affair with her English teacher.
Although slow at times, The House is engaging as a character study. Eva is defiant but vulnerable. Imrich’s stubbornness causes great unhappiness: he refuses to acknowledge Jana, her husband or her children, even when they lose their home. But there is a lot of love behind his gruff faÃ§ade, and this is portrayed with great skill and realism by lead actor Miroslav Krobot: the film’s happy ending is the result of a change in Imrich’s attitude, but his demeanour remains the same.
Eighty Letters (Václav Kadrnka, 2011)
In communist Czechoslovakia, a boy named Vacek accompanies his mother as she collects documents to apply for travel abroad: his father is in England, and they would like to join him. That is about all there is to the storyline and as a result, even at just 75 minutes, this film feels very long. With the exception of one scene, the audience consistently shares the boy’s perspective on this boring administrative trip: sitting in the porter’s lodge or the doctor’s waiting room until his mother comes back with the required letter, then heading off with her on the next errand.
Although its slowness makes this film a challenge to sit through, the viewer comes away with an experience that the director has carefully engineered. What Eighty Letters lacks in events, it makes up for with atmosphere, giving a well-rounded impression of everyday life under communism. The camera lingers on the drab streets, buildings and interiors that the characters move through, emphasising their oppressive familiarity. Sounds, too, are insistent: the tapping of high heels, the rattle of sheets of paper, and the opening and closing of doors all seem amplified, almost to the point of irritation.
In William Peter Blatty’s Faith Trilogym all three films use the outré scenarios as a starting point for engaging discussions of faith and humanity.
In 1973, The Exorcist briefly became the most profitable film of all time, beaten by Jaws a couple of years later. Depending on whether you count Jaws as a horror film or a thriller, The Exorcist can be said to be the most successful horror film ever made. Naturally, not long after its release, the studio wanted a sequel, but neither writer/producer William Peter Blatty nor director William Friedkin was interested. This led to Warner Bros commissioning the risible Exorcist II: The Heretic in 1977, which was damned by critics and was listed as the second worst film ever made (following Plan 9 from Outer Space) in Michael Medved’s book The Golden Turkey Awards.
William Peter Blatty, needless to say, disowned the sequel; he was approached by Warner Bros after Exorcist II was completed to help promote the film, which he’d had no involvement with, and famously told the producers that he’d only be prepared to re-edit and redub the dialogue of the film if they wanted to release it as a comedy! Blatty himself hadn’t wanted to do a direct sequel anyway at this point and instead wanted to script an adaptation of his 1966 novel Twinkle, Twinkle, ‘Killer’ Kane, hoping he could interest Friedkin in directing it. While considering this project, Blatty rewrote much of the book and republished it as The Ninth Configuration in 1978, before directing the film himself a year later. Blatty went on to consider The Ninth Configuration to be the true sequel to The Exorcist. He then wrote the novel Legion in 1983, which he adapted into film as The Exorcist III in 1990, turning his series into a trilogy. Although not a direct sequel to The Exorcist (he wrote Twinkle, Twinkle, ‘Killer’ Kane first), The Ninth Configuration shares some of the themes of his most famous script, and if you compare the plots of all three movies (which also all feature actor Jason Miller in decreasing amounts of screen time) you can see how they complement one another.
[SPOILER ALERT] If you haven’t seen all three films, the following paragraphs contain spoilers.
The Exorcist tells the story of a young girl who is possessed by a demon and a priest who has lost his faith but regains it in sacrificing himself to save her. The Ninth Configuration is about an astronaut who has become terrified of going into space due to the absence of God in the void, and his relationship with a Vietnam veteran who has created an alternate personality to avoid his past but conquers it by killing himself. The Exorcist III is about an undead killer possessing the bodies of the mentally ill and a cop who has lost his faith in humanity but regains it by killing his best friend. By making connections that weren’t actually present in The Exorcist, both Blatty and his fans make a case for these being direct sequels – Lt Cutshaw in The Ninth Configuration may be the unnamed astronaut at the party in The Exorcist that possessed Regan MacNeil informs, ‘You’re going to die up there’; and Exorcist III misremembers the relationship between police officer Lt Kinderman and Father Karras in the original as being best friends, when in fact they only meet once in the film and three times in the novel. Regardless of the direct connections between the films, each concerns the battle between good and evil, and the influence divine and demonic forces have on the world. Each film also has existed in at least two versions, although the director’s cut of Exorcist III was supposedly destroyed by the distributors.
Although memorable for its shocking content, The Exorcist is Blatty’s finest work because of the variety of fascinating three-dimensional characters whose lives intersect and are all touched by the demonic possession of Regan MacNeil. For that reason, the producer’s cut released in 2000, titled ‘The Version You’ve Never Seen’, is perhaps better than the original cut, if only because we get to spend a little more time with all the characters – although the additional CGI superimpositions of the face of Pazuzu on top of existing footage was a somewhat ill-advised addition by Blatty. The sequels suffer in comparison by having too many characters – The Ninth Configuration – or too few – Exorcist III. However, all three films use the outré scenarios as a starting point for engaging discussions of faith and humanity, which complement and add gravitas to each plot.
These elements are perhaps best exemplified by the reoccurring themes of sacrifice and confession in each film. Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) – a very literal deus ex machina, whose brief appearances in the film and novel bookend the story – dies in his attempt to exorcise the demon from the young girl in The Exorcist. Father Karras (Jason Miller), whose wrestling with faith and ability to connect with other people are some of the major plot points of the story, commands the demon to enter him instead and tries to destroy it by hurling himself through a window down the infamous long flight of steps. As we will see in Exorcist III, this sacrifice was vain, but at this point he has at least succeeded in curing Regan through his compassion rather than (in comparison with Merrin) his accomplishments as an exorcist, and as he lies dying on a cold street in Georgetown he is absolved of his sins through silent confession by squeezing the hand of another priest, Father Dyer, who administers his last rites.
The Ninth Configuration is set in a remote Gothic-style mansion (supposedly owned by a former horror film star), which has become a sanitarium for Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental afflictions. The idea of the traumatised Vietnam vet is something that has become almost tedious as a cinematic plot, following the likes of Oliver Stone’s various films on the subject and the Rambo franchise, but was a topic of more subversive films in the 60s and 70s. By presenting much of the dialogue as humorous, Blatty seems to place the film within the tradition of irreverent war comedies such as Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) and M*A*S*H (1970). In the 1960s, a comedy by William Peter Blatty would not have surprised anyone: before The Exorcist he was best known for co-writing the screenplay for Blake Edwards’s A Shot in the Dark (1964), the first sequel to The Pink Panther (1963), which set the template for all the sequels in the 1970s and beyond (making Clouseau the lead character and introducing Herbert Lom’s Dreyfuss and Burt Kwok’s Kato to the franchise). However, post-Exorcist, Blatty was famous for penning an Oscar-winning horror screenplay, and The Ninth Configuration sits in between horror and comedy with the set, mise en scène, lighting and atmosphere all comfortably evocative of the horror genre while the absurd dialogue is comedic. One could argue that much modern horror is unsuccessful because it treats horror as absurd, and the curious and atypical mixing of the tropes of each genre makes The Ninth Configuration a hard film to like or indeed sit through for nearly two hours.
The Ninth Configuration is released in the UK on Blu-ray on 25 April 2016 by Second Sight.
The variety of patients being treated in the story include a character (played by Jason Miller) who wishes to perform the works of Shakespeare entirely cast with dogs, and the aforementioned astronaut who has dreams of coming across the crucified Christ on the Moon and believes that God is in fact a giant foot. It’s worth noting Terry Gilliam’s giant foot first appeared in Monty Python’s Flying Circus three years after the publication of Twinkle, Twinkle, ‘Killer’ Kane, and many of the set pieces here are Pythonesque and similar to sketch-based comedy, which makes the running time somewhat hard to stomach. However, the scenes between Kane (Stacy Keach) and Cutshaw (Scott Wilson) are excellent and make the entire production worth watching, allowing for the self-indulgence elsewhere. Unlike the dramatic scenes of exorcism in The Exorcist and Exorcist III, no physical manifestations of the power of God or the devil are visible on screen here, beyond the architecture of the asylum and outside of Cutshaw and Kane’s subconscious; the latter dreams of the three crosses at Golgotha on his way into the asylum, a scene thankfully cut, as it originally had the three crucified making jokes about their predicament. Themes and lines of dialogue in The Exorcist and Exorcist III first appeared in Twinkle, Twinkle, ‘Killer’ Kane, such as an exchange between Cutshaw and Kane about the evil/goodness in the world, transposed to Father Dyer and Regan’s mother in The Exorcist, and references to the demon Legion from the gospels first appeared in another dream sequence in Kane.
As the plot continues, we realise that the lead character of The Ninth Configuration, who we believe to be Doctor Kane, is actually his brother Col Vincent Kane, who has taken on the identity of his sibling, with the acquiescence of the actual doctors (indeed the first doctor we see in the facility is also a fake, played by Blatty himself) to help cure him of his guilt over a massacre he committed during the war. His ultra-violent nature reasserts itself during a bar fight where Cutshaw is being tormented by Hell’s Angels, and, depending on which version of the film you watch, he either dies from wounds received during the fight, or stabs himself to atone for his sins. Like Karras, who kills himself at the end of The Exorcist to destroy the actual demon he now has inside him, Kane kills himself (in the original cinematic release and Blatty’s definitive 2002 DVD version), or allows himself to die (the 1998 ‘director’s cut’), to protect the world from his potential evil. Like Karras, Kane has acted as confessor to the various disturbed individuals he has taken on the role of doctor to, and he believes the ‘shock therapy’ of his death will help them deal with their own afflictions.
The third of William Peter Blatty’s protagonists whose surname starts with a ‘K’ (which, if you want to read anything into it, is the Arabic letter signifying ‘He wrote’, bearing in mind that the opening scenes of The Exorcist take place in Iraq) is Lt Kinderman, promoted from minor character from the first drama to the lead in Exorcist III. The character of Father Karras has taken the opposite journey, going from lead in The Exorcist to a minor one here, who apparently didn’t appear in the film at all in the cut initially presented by Blatty to the studio before they asked him to reshoot and add certain scenes.
Exorcist III is set in Georgetown, 12 (novel) or 17 (film) years after the events of The Exorcist and the same number of years after the execution of the ‘Gemini’ killer, a serial murderer fashioned after the real life ‘Zodiac’ in San Francisco (the subject of a film by David Fincher in 2007 and the inspiration for the villain in the first Dirty Harry in 1971). Now, over a decade after his death, the killings have resumed and his victims are people associated with the original exorcism. Lt Kinderman is back on the case, and having failed to satisfactorily solve the death of Burke Dennings in the first film (in the novel, it’s revealed that he knows Regan is the killer but defers to the clergy to deal with the problem), he is dealing with the legacy of that murder. His investigations lead him to an asylum – a location also common to all three films as Karras’s mother is also institutionalised prior to her death – where a formerly catatonic patient is revealed to be Father Karras, who is being kept from death by the spirit of the Gemini killer (played by Brad Dourif), a spirit that also takes possession of other, more ambulatory patients and uses them to perform his executions.
The original cut, more faithful to the novel, which Blatty presented to the studio as The Exorcist: Legion, was mainly a two-hander between Kinderman and the Gemini, and this still forms most of the second half of the film. However, Jason Miller was brought in to provide a more obvious visual reference to the resurrection of Karras, and Nicol Williamson added in the character of Father Mourning, another exorcist who arrives, like the original’s Merrin, in the final act. The addition of Miller is a welcome one, but Williamson, whose equally failed exorcism includes egregious scenes of fire and serpents, undoes much of the psychological horror that this film excels in. As Williamson was most famous for his hysterical (in every sense of the word) performance as Merlin in John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981), his acting style, combined with the addition of the number ‘III’ to the title unfortunately links this film more explicitly with Boorman’s dreadful Exorcist II, something Blatty was trying to avoid at all costs.
However, since the director’s cut of this film is lost (and, to be honest, there’s little difference between the various cuts of The Exorcist and The Ninth Configuration), we have to consider the version of Exorcist III that is available. Generally it’s a success, with genuinely creepy murder scenes and more of the memorable dream sequences – including a cameo by Samuel L. Jackson as a blind man in heaven – that pepper all three films. Blatty has always written excellent dialogue, and here Kinderman is dryly witty throughout as a world-weary cop who has seen too much suffering to have any faith in humanity any more. The final scene of the 2000 producer’s cut of The Exorcist and the novel sees Kinderman and Father Dyer start a friendship, the conclusion of which (with Dyer’s murder by the Gemini) is seen here. Unfortunately, the actors who played these roles don’t reprise them; Lee J. Cobb died in 1976 and William O’Malley (a priest in real life), who was infamously slapped across the face by William Friedkin before he rolled camera on the climactic scene in The Exorcist, gave up acting after his one performance. The new Kinderman and Dyer are well cast though, George C. Scott is terrific as the savant-like detective in a crumpled coat and old car (Blatty wrote The Exorcist in the same year that Columbo was picked up for a series) and Ed Flanders is a fine replacement for O’Malley and one of four actors returning from The Ninth Configuration.
At the end of Exorcist III, Karras regains possession of his body and commands Kinderman to shoot him – suicide by cop – once more facilitating his own death to destroy the demon within him. In The Exorcist, Regan is possessed by a variety of personalities, albeit all the same demon, while in Exorcist III, the one personality inhabits a variety of bodies, reimagining the possession by Legion in the gospels. The suicides of the two Karras – at the end of his original life and his resurrected one – remind us of the pigs in the Bible destroying themselves in a river when the demons are driven out by Jesus.
In the other sequels, Karras and Dyer weren’t the only priests from the original to return – Max von Sydow reprised the role of Father Merrin in flashback in Exorcist II and Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd took over for Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist in 2004 and 2005 (the most extreme version of an Exorcist film existing in two versions). While these extrapolated prequel adventures of Merrin should generally be avoided (although Dominion has its moments) William Peter Blatty’s ‘faith trilogy’ is one of the most fascinating triptychs on film. The Exorcist is a genuine masterpiece in terms of directing, casting and writing (if not approaches to directing actors), The Ninth Configuration isn’t to my personal taste but it is an intriguing film, and Exorcist III, while a slightly odd and low-key conclusion to the trilogy, is an under-rated thriller that is well worth seeking out.
If watching the three films is slightly unsatisfying overall, due to the changes of pace, style and cast, there are other potential Blatty sequels and remakes in the wings, ignoring such recent homages as Possessed (1990), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), The Last Exorcism (2010) and The Rite (2011). Blatty has mooted a TV mini-series remake of The Exorcist to adapt all 320 pages of his original novel and wishes to collaborate again with Friedkin on an adaptation of his gripping new book The Redemption (a.k.a. Dimiter – another project of his with two different names), which again mixes elements of faith and unbelief, good and evil, light and darkness and tells the tale of a once evil, somewhat supernatural assassin, who becomes good during a terrible mission in Albania and goes on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The book is told somewhat obliquely in the style of The Third Man, and in my opinion The Redemption is a better thematic sequel to The Exorcist than The Ninth Configuration. So, if Friedkin and Blatty do bring this to the screen, then perhaps an even more satisfying trilogy (or tetralogy) will have been achieved than the one we have already.
For all the horror on screen in Blatty’s trilogy, the titling of this series as his ‘faith’ trilogy (by the writer himself and others) is apt. While short-sighted religious groups damned The Exorcist as being demonic on original release, the film and its follow-ups by the author actually champion faith in humanity and in a higher power represented by the conquering of evil and the appreciation of the sublime in the world around us. In the original novel, Blatty describes a moment shared by Fathers Dyer and Karras before the latter has his life destroyed by demonic possession: ‘The burnished rays of the setting sun flamed glory at the clouds of the western sky and shattered in rippling, crimson dapples on the darkening waters of the river. Once Karras met God in this sight. Long ago. Like a lover forsaken, he still kept the rendezvous.’ The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration and The Exorcist III aren’t books and films to convert a non-believer like me to Christianity, but they contain enough intrigue and beguiling storytelling to make readers ponder the questions they raise.
William Peter Blatty’s novel The Redemption was published in the UK by Piatkus Books on 3 February 2011 and is available in paperback and Kindle formats.
For me, film festivals are all about new films, so I normally shun retrospectives honouring classic films or deceased directors. The Berlinale’s presentation of eight Shibuya Minoru films was a special case: while all of the films were from the 1950s and 60s, they will have been a new discovery for most audience members, since Shibuya’s work has never been available on DVD outside Japan. A retrospective of Shibuya Minoru was screened at last November’s Tokyo FILMeX and picked up by Ulrich Gregor for the Berlinale’s Forum section. At the Berlinale, it seemed that audiences shared my prejudice against old films: the three Shibuya screenings I went to attracted a respectable showing, but the cinema was far from packed. It was a testament to the quality of Shibuya’s work that the screening ended with applause, even though the director had passed away some 30 years ago.
Shibuya’s 1960s films share some features with the work of Ozu Yasujiro, a more familiar name from this period. The characteristically low camera height would have felt normal to domestic audiences who sit, eat and sleep close to the floor; for Western viewers, this lower-level perspective on the action is unusual. Similar to Ozu, too, is Shibuya’s recurring theme of family relationships in a changed, and still changing, post-war Japan. The similarities end here, though: while Ozu tended to focus on quietly pleasing aesthetics, and tenderly moving portrayals of parent-child and husband-wife dynamics, Shibuya’s films are a livelier affair. They are marked by their humour, from light comic banter to satire. Yet because Shibuya’s films treat relevant topics, they are more than just entertainment: they complete the portrait of 1950s and 60s Japan, rounding out Ozu’s lyricism with silliness, sexuality, and even despair.
Yopparai tengoku (Drunkard’s Paradise, 1962)
This was the first Shibuya film I saw, and the one with the most sobering conclusion. At first, Drunkard’s Paradise portrays drinking as a minor (and entertaining) vice: its worst effects are embarrassing behaviour, a diminished bank account and an overnight stay in a prison cell. But the film also explores more serious potential consequences of drinking, through a believable scenario involving four central characters: a father and son, the son’s fiancée and a famous baseball player. When one of these characters becomes violent after drinking, it brings about a dramatic change in the lives of all four. One of the problems explicitly addressed is that at that time in Japan, drunk people were not held responsible for their actions.
Drunkard’s Paradise can become oppressive at times, as its characters are crushed by needless tragedy. The audience is rewarded, though, first by the film’s opening comic scenes, and later by complex character development. Although the film’s premise seems designed to show that alcoholics bring unhappiness on themselves, the film is not so simple or moralising as this. All four characters are sympathetic, inviting the audience’s compassion: their justifications can always be understood, if not accepted.
Kojin kojitsu (A Good Man, A Good Day, 1961)
After the bleak black and white images of Drunkard’s Paradise, the saturated colour of A Good Man, A Good Day was a welcome surprise. This was a film more uniformly comic in tone, although it too addressed important social issues, this time of class. The good man in question is an eccentric mathematics professor who wears his shoes on the wrong feet and ignores people who don’t interest him. This doesn’t help his daughter’s marriage prospects: her fiancé’s family is none too sure about hers.
The film’s even tone is more reminiscent of Ozu than Drunkard’s Paradise, but with Shibuya’s characteristic dash of comedy: the professor is unimpressed by his daughter’s fiancé until the young man has the nerve to call him an ‘old fart’. This points to the film’s satire on status: although the professor is venerated at the university, he only gains wider respect when he wins a prize from the Ministry of Culture. In a nod to contemporary reality, the professor’s daughter is adopted, having been orphaned by WWII bombings: this too is a source of prejudice against the family. Unlike Drunkard’s Paradise, though, A Good Man, A Good Day ends happily.
Daikon to ninjin (The Radish and the Carrot, 1964)
All three films that I saw happened to include the prolific actor Ryu Chishu in the role of the father. His acting capabilities were showcased beautifully, as the fathers are quite different in each film: a drunk, a scholar, and an ordinary man with a secret. Ryu also appeared in almost every one of Ozu’s films, but The Radish and the Carrot has an even stronger link to this director: it is based on an unfinished script that Ozu was working on just before he died. It is the story of a family man who disappears, leaving his wife and four daughters wondering whether he has run away or been kidnapped. Only in his absence does the man’s family really start to think about him, considering their relationship to him, and what secrets he might have. The film’s title stems from his daughter’s comment after he leaves: they think of him as ‘a radish or a carrot on the kitchen floor’ – necessary, then, but unremarkable. The film teaches us not to take our family for granted, certainly, but it also recognises that family can be a burden on us as individuals.
Purveyors of lo-fi psych Sic Alps have just released their third album, ‘Napa Asylum’, on Drag City. With themes that range from reincarnation to magic and schizophrenia, the trio’s new offering is a collection of lyrical and bittersweet tunes with addictive killer hooks. For more information and to download the album, visit the Drag City website. Below, Noel, Mike and Matt tell us about their favourite films.
1. Blind Beast (1969)
This Japanese film by Yasuzo Masumura must be one of my favourite films of all time. Why this is so is a mystery to me as I really don’t relate to the subject material at all. A blind sculptor goes to check out a nude life-size sculpture of a woman that he becomes obsessed with. She’s a struggling model and he convinces her to come back to his ‘studio’ to work on a piece. She is kidnapped and held captive in this bizarre warehouse (with no light) where the artist’s mother has been forced to take care of him. Each of the walls is covered in oversized body parts, one with ears, one with noses, one with arms, one with legs, etc. (I suppose there are more than four walls in the montage). In the middle of the room is a giant 50-yard-long sculpture of a female body that eventually becomes the terrain for a gradual descent into sado-masochistic sensory deprivation which escalates to result in mutilation and eventually a double suicide. I really have little interest in these sorts of themes but the film’s heavy tones and campy way just work. I’m glad that my nightmares are much tamer than this.
2. Stripes (1981)
This is one of the few VHS tapes that my folks purchased and had around the house while I was a kid. I was way too young to understand a lot of this kind of comedy at the time (‘Oh, I’m sorry, it must be all that cough syrup I had for breakfast…’) but I caught onto it in a strange way. It made me realise that Bill Murray is one of the most hilarious comedy actors of my time and helped me to develop a very skewed and irreverent view of the military at a very young age. I think I’ve seen this film 1,000 times.
3. Zachariah (1970)
Remember when you saw a young Don Johnson in A Boy and His Dog and kinda freaked out? Rewind five years and you’ve got DJ co-starring in this bizarre and wonderfully flawed psych-out Western, directed by George Englund. You’ve got cameos from the likes of the James Gang, Country Joe & the Fish, Doug Kershaw, and… wait for it… ELVIN JONES! EJ’s bit is brief and he plays the owner (and ‘man in black’) of an isolated mountain top saloon (the outside walls of the building are covered in skulls). Inside, the James Gang is playing but Elvin gets an itch and wrestles the drummer from his stool to take over and take a dominating drum solo for what seems like a solid, sweaty and monumentally cinematic five minutes! Just afterwards, there is a pretty important gunfight with the aforementioned DJ… no spoilers here. I’m serious, this film exists.
4. Mean Girls (2004)
Classic early Lindsay Lohan jam. Perfect for a rainy day.
5. Broadway by Light (1958)
Photographic short film of the lights of Times Square from the American photographer/satirist William Klein.
6. Eat the Document (1966)
By D.A. Pennebaker. I love to edit film and sing Bob Dylan songs.
7. The Hours and Times (1992)
Beatles fact or fiction? A short (60-minute) film that ponders the rumour that a 1963 pre-Beatlemania vacation to Barcelona by John Lennon and Brian Epstein may have involved a little more than just a little rest and relaxation. That the two went on holiday is fact. What happened in those four days is where this film takes some interesting liberties. Acted with nuance, its strengths lie in three-dimensional characterisations and solid dialogue. Ian Hart would play John Lennon again in Backbeat, but his handling of the role here is far superior.
8. Out of the Blue (1980)
Dennis Hopper’s third feature as director (in fact ‘hijacked’ from original producer Raymond Burr, and filmed during an admittedly low point in his personal and professional life), this is an unflinching study of the failures of the 60s generation and the irreparable ill-effects they have on the youth of the late 70s. It’s a sure bet that Linda Manz’s performance here is the reason why she was picked to play an unhinged mom in Harmony Korine’s Gummo (yes, consider this a double recommendation). Tough, dark, visceral.
9. Safe Men (1998)
One of the biggest sleepers of all time. My introduction to Sam Rockwell, Paul Giamatti, Steve Zahn, and Mark Ruffalo. A hilarious case of mistaken identity set in the Jewish-mafia-ridden town of Providence, R.I. Wait, that doesn’t make any sense, you say? This one is off the charts on its own logic, but by no means is it insufferably ‘weird’. On the contrary, the themes are quite ordinary, but the dialogue is hilarious and the premise is just enough off-kilter to allow for characters like Giamatti’s ‘Pork Chop a.k.a. Sasha’.
10. Withnail and I (1986)
This is a Mike and Matt favourite for what should be obvious reasons.
After giving us the bubblegum quirkiness of Kamikaze Girls and the candy-coloured melodrama of Memories of Matsuko, Tetsuya Nakashima returns with Confessions, a superbly accomplished, original take on the revenge tale, adapted from the debut novel by Kanae Minato.
Yuko Moriguchi is a meek teacher who decides to quit her job after the death of her four-year-old daughter. But before she leaves, she lets her class know that she believes her daughter was killed by two of the students. Knowing that the law won’t help her, she constructs an intricate revenge against them. Masterfully scripted, surprising, convincing, chilling, provocative, Confessions is an impressive achievement. Below, the laconic Tetsuya Nakashima answers Virginie Sélavy’s questions about his focus on young characters, his use of colours and his interest in female characters.
VS: What attracted you to Kanae Minato’s book?
TN: The novel is basically a monologue and the characters are full of hatred. These two facts attracted me.
Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko were also adapted from novels. Why do you like to base your films on books?
It was just by pure chance. For me the characters in these novels happened to be in tune with modern life and attractive.
Narratively, Confessions is a very unconventional and complex film, with the use of successive points of view offering different angles on the story. Were you interested in experimenting with structure and narration with this film?
It was thought to be extremely difficult to make this novel into a film. But I believed it was worthwhile to try all the more for this expected difficulty.
The film works almost like a diabolical clock, everything ticking towards the fulfilment of Yuko’s revenge. Is that the effect you wanted to create?
My purpose in making this film was to dig down the inner side of Yuko Moriguchi, rather than investigate further the fact of her revenge.
It is a fantastic study of cruelty, a theme that is already present in Memories of Matsuko to some degree. Is it something that you’re particularly interested in?
I’m always more fascinated by the faults of people than by the good. Not only cruelty, but also weakness and superficiality, frivolity, etc., are fascinating.
The film offers a brilliant and chilling dissection of the dynamics of the teenage group and peer pressure. The vision of young people presented in Confessions is quite disturbing. Do you feel it reflects Japan’s anxieties about its youth, or more generally anxieties of modern societies?
I spoke with many young people in order to make this film. I have the impression that they are exposed to fear and they feel scared. And they don’t understand the cause of the fear.
It also seems to me that Confessions parodies teenagers’ self-obsession and sentimentality in some ways. Is that fair to say?
What they say in the film are not necessarily their true feelings and intentions. The best way to enjoy this film is to imagine and speculate what they really want.
How did you select the soundtrack? Why the choice of Radiohead, Boris and the XX?
I happened to listen to them all while I was writing the script and thought they were nice.
Confessions is a much darker film than Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko.
The style of image is due to the contents of the film, so stylistic changes are natural with different films.
All your films show a great attention to colour, and in Confessions the colour palette is dominated by blues.
I tried to get rid of colours as much as I could and to control them so that the film would be dominated only by the cold atmospheric blue and blood red.
In Confessions, Kamikaze Girls and Matsuko, you focus on strong, unconventional female characters. Why this interest?
Probably I just like this type of women…
In Matsuko and Confessions, they are more specifically unfortunate, tragic female characters, but while Matsuko suffers and doesn’t really fight back, Yuko turns into a frighteningly masterful avenger. Were you interested in a more active, and more morally ambiguous, type of female character in Confessions?
Both Matsuko and Yuko have strengths and weaknesses. And they both make bad decisions in life. I love them for being really human.
How was the film received in Japan?
It was a huge hit and I received variety of reactions and responses, which made me happy as I wanted it to be that way.
How did you react when Confessions was selected at Japan’s official entry in the Best Foreign Film category of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards?
Very surprised! But it didn’t make it to the final…
Pamela Jahn and Alison Frank send their first report from the Berlinale. Check this section for more on the festival in the coming days.
Road to Nowhere (Monte Hellman, 2010)
The title of Monte Hellman’s feature comeback after 20 odd years could serve as a tag line for the 61st edition of the Berlinale. The official programme is patchy as ever and relies on a number of high-profile American headliners in the competition, with the Coen brothers’ True Grit leading the way, while Hellman’s Road to Nowhere sadly only screened at the European Film Market. Deftly blurring the line between cinema and reality, the film depicts a young director shooting a crime drama based on a true story, using the actual locations as a source of inspiration. During the shoot, he falls in love with his lead actress, who uncannily resembles the real-life crime’s femme fatale, and soon things get alarmingly tangled up, especially in the mind of one imaginative member of the crew. Although there is no denying that its decidedly artificial touch and wooden dialogue make this a flawed film, the director’s approach feels way more complex, intriguing and worthy of attention than the equally film-focused Silver Bullets/Art History, Joe Swanberg’s latest Mumblecore outing, about a troubled filmmaker sabotaging his own work out of jealousy and creative frustration, which screened in the Forum strand. Ultimately, Road to Nowhere amounts to a series of bravura noir scenes in which the tension and emotion sometimes build up too slowly, but a great meta-B-movie feel and fitting cinematography make it an enjoyable watch. PJ
The Devil’s Double (Lee Tamahori, 2011)
A more rigorous yet not necessarily more rewarding genre treat was Lee Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double. The film pulls us headlong into the hubris, immorality, waywardness and brutality that dominated the life of Uday Hussein, the elder son of Saddam, in his heyday before and after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Tamahori focuses on Uday’s efforts to recruit a body double to protect him at public appearances, following his father’s example. Uday finds the perfect match in Latif, an army lieutenant and former school mate, who has no choice but to consort with the devil. Latif has a hard time watching Uday’s brutal and humiliating actions, and matters become complicated when he gets off with one of his boss’s favourite lovers. Based on a book by the real Latif Yahia, the film paints an uncompromising picture of Uday, and recounts events that may or may not have happened. Dominic Cooper plays both Uday and Latif, a double role that is used as much for cheap comic effects as to create an air of captivating, effortless cool. This is backed up by a punchy soundtrack and top-notch production design, which cover up the flaws in the narrative and characters. For what it’s worth, The Devil’s Double shows that a different view of the Iraq war is possible, from a different end of the aesthetic spectrum. PJ
Tomboy (Céline Sciamma, 2011)
Ten-year-old Laure moves to a new flat with her parents and little sister. When the neighbourhood kids assume from her clothes and haircut that she is a boy, she doesn’t correct them, and introduces herself as Mikaël. In its aesthetics, this film is primarily about childhood, and the instinctively tactile, visual and direct way that children interact with the world: cuddling with their parents or tumbling about together in physical play, sensitive to the shapes, colours and textures of their stuffed animals, dress-up clothes, markers and modelling clay. Outside the apartment, when Laure plays with children of her own age, adult concerns of gender begin to intervene: the boys playing football look like miniature men, with their shirtless swagger and high-fives. While Laure does her best to adopt these mannish mannerisms, the point is not that she is a garÃ§on manqué. It is that society focuses on the unimportant trappings of gender, like make-up and dresses, forgetting that more important human qualities are not unique to either gender. Laure’s father, for instance, is kinder and gentler than her mother. In Sciamma’s world, everyone should have the opportunity to play, be creative and show affection, whatever their sex. AF
Dance Town (Jeon Kyu-hwan, 2010)
Jung-Nim and her husband live in Pyongyang, and the little we see of their life together seems happy, unusually affectionate even. The husband’s job allows him to travel and bring home foreign products unavailable in North Korea, like pornographic DVDs, which they watch together. When a neighbour snitches on them, Jung-Nim’s husband is arrested: his last words to her come in a phone call, instructing her to escape to South Korea, where he hopes to join her later. When she arrives in Seoul, the South Korean government gives Jung-Nim a fresh start, but she can’t stop thinking about her husband.
Some of Jung-Nim’s new friends are curious about the difference between the two Koreas. Foreign audiences may also choose this film out of curiosity, and it does offer an engaging portrait of daily life in Seoul. But this film will resonate most for its universal themes about urban life and immigration. Some locals are jealous that refugees seem to have it easy, with a free apartment and stipend from the government. Jung-Nim, while grateful, seems underwhelmed by the advantages of life in the South. If you are lonely (as many urban dwellers are), nothing else matters. AF
‘Go on! Run your balls off!’ shouts Sister Agatha, when her village-men turn in fear as the Turkish military fleet approach the Italian shores of Otranto. She is MarÃa Casares, best known as Death in Cocteau’s Orpheus (1950), bellowing insults at the men who have tortured women from her convent as a wonderful, naughty nun in Flavia the Heretic (1974), directed by Gianfranco Mingozzi. She’s looking forward to their comeuppance. We’ve also seen her enjoying a baptismal release of her bladder en plein air on the hillside and introduce Sister Flavia to the pleasures of holy swaying on your haunches while kneeling in prayer. ‘How many rude things can we make nuns do?’ ask the producers of exploitation sub-genre nunsploitation. Arguably, any exploitation-style efforts to engage our social consciousness are dumped, despite the producers’ claims that the films are based on ‘actual’ historical events. Flavia the Heretic is loosely based on the slaughter of the Catholic martyrs by the Ottoman Turks in Otranto in the late 15th century. But this simply provides a historical backdrop for a whole lot of sleaze. The central characters are revenge-driven, misandrous women. In Killer Nun (1978), directed by Giulio Berruti, with a nod to giallo, the anonymous antagonist snarls to her priest at confessional that she is haunted by traumatic abuse and wants to avenge herself on all men; Flavia too wants revenge for the patriarchal limitations placed on her – her only options are marriage, either to the church or to a man. These films became famous in the 70s when they were shredded and banned for their overt extreme violence and sexual deviance. They currently enjoy a reprieve as recently uncut versions have become available on DVD by distributors such as Shameless Screen Entertainment.
As an excuse for porn, the unleashed repression of nuns is a good one. There are scenes upon scenes of nuns jumping at the chance to indulge their passions: ‘no woman could berate sex completely!’ is the subtext. It is a delicious moment when Anita Ekberg as Sister Gertrude in Killer Nun changes her clothes en route into town and transforms to familiar on-screen Amazonian siren – she sits in a bar, black-stockinged and smoking an impossibly long cigarette to twangy lounge music. She eyes up a wooden but fairly good-looking man at the bar and so the taboo-busting money shot ensues when we see Ekberg enjoy carnal gratification after what we can assume has been some time. Not just that, but the old man she’s going to sneak home to later is, in the eyes of the Catholic church, somewhat important. In (Flavia the Heretic, medieval Italian nuns loosen up after they give shelter to female members of the Cult of the Tarantula who are on their annual bender. The nuns are influenced by the women’s hyper-sexual trance state and reel around, shedding their garments and rubbing themselves against columns and each other – and so on to the whole wealth of cheeky spectacles to be had in women-only convents.
Within this fairly formulaic titillation are some imaginative sequences. Nuns dealing with the seepage of their desires is an opportunity for some vibrant visions where their uncensored hankerings come to the surface. The success of these scenes is mainly due to some good pairings of cinematographer and soundtrack composer. In Flavia the Heretic, Alfio Contini (The Night Porter, 1974) teams up with composer Nicola Piovani. After everything goes wrong in the bedroom (Flavia wants to go on top but her new Turkish lover does not want to be dominated), Flavia gets high on mind-bending incense and the vision that follows is a montage complemented by a haunting electronic occult-folk soundtrack: Sister Agatha rises from the dead grinning insanely, blood pours from stigmata, a nun bound to a cross is juxtaposed with a suspended disemboweled cow, a nude gamine woman crawls into the carcass, another sister is outstretched on a table, mock-devoured by more naked people. All this could suggest female subjugation – woman as meat, if the actors/characters didn’t look like they were having so much fun. Play-biting and tousled hair flowing from wimples is not sinister. Rather more, this is a stylised stirring flesh feast.
In Killer Nun, Sister Gertrude believes herself to be the possible killer of patients in the psychiatric hospital she is stationed at. Her headaches from post-brain surgery have led to morphine addiction and unsettling blackouts. Her hallucinations are pieced together over a psychedelic score by Alessandro Alessandroni, who worked closely with Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone on Italian Western scores, and cinematographer Antonio Maccoppi. His soundtrack is what spotlights Killer Nun among other giallo fare. He uses a range of instruments including 12-string guitar, banjo, classical guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, early drum machine and others (Cinema Suicide blog interview with Tim Fife, Aug 2008) to produce an uncanny discordance suitable for a scene that reflects Gertrude’s drug-induced state. The sequence moves between Gertrude’s vision, a close-up of a unconvincing but gory brain operation, her overbearing mother, a nude man laid out in a morgue, who Gertrude bends down to kiss, and stoned Gertrude in her own bedroom in the hospital being resuscitated by one of the patients. The intercutting of realities to the giallo guitars peaks when the patient is bludgeoned to death and pushed out of a window, seemingly by ‘diminished responsibility’ Gertrude.
My reading of these films, then, is about an enjoyment of the sheer daftness of saucy nuns and the manner in which their over-spilling ardor is manifested in such bizarre ways. I think this is the way into the films, as opposed to tracing the closed misogyny in the narratives. I haven’t gone into the sprawl of gender issues here – where revenge plots experiment with women exerting their right to freedom without mapping out the society where it could exist: Flavia eventually punishes her father, but only with the protection of the Turkish soldiers, who in turn persecute her. Also, at one remove from this, arguably the Italian male filmmakers use the nun milieu as a framing device for their male gaze. But when Anita Ekberg sways beatifically across the screen it is difficult to imagine her being oppressed by anything.
Author Mary Horlock’s original, compelling debut The Book of Lies is like a murder mystery in reverse. It opens with 15-year-old Catherine Rozier’s confession, as she claims the crime of killing her ex-best friend, on a Guernsey cliff edge, and then spools backwards to ravel a tangled web of secrets, hidden truths and the suppressed history of the island under German occupation in WW2. Below, Mary Horlock explains why her filmic alter ego would be Totoro in Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro. Eithne Farry
It’s difficult to explain why I want to be a giant, furry tree-dwelling monster, but My Neighbour Totoro just has that effect on me. Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, it was the first Studio Ghibli film I ever saw, and I’ve since worked my way through them all. I return again and again to My Neighbour Totoro for lots of reasons. There’s the beautifully drawn landscapes that jump alive at every turn, there’s the two sisters, Mei and Satsuki, and their wide-eyed wonder as they explore their new home, and then there’s the fantastical wood spirits that just happen to live in the trees next door.
It’s Mei who first follows two mysterious rabbit-like creatures through the undergrowth and into the hollow of a large camphor tree. There she finds the sleeping Totoro. He’s this vast bulk of fur, but Mei merrily bounces onto his belly and clings to him, giggling, as he slowly wakes up and roars like a gale force wind. I love the fact that she’s not at all scared of him, but instead just asks him his name.
Totoro is a completely surreal creation – a Cheshire cat mouth with bristling black whiskers, pointed rabbit ears, and despite his considerable girth he can perch on a branch like a wise old owl. And of course he has magical powers and makes seeds grow into trees overnight, and he can levitate over the earth on a tiny spinning top, and he has a Catbus. Oh yes, when Mei disappears and Satsuki asks Totoro for help he summons a grinning giant cat with a surprisingly spacious interior who bounds across the countryside to find little Mei.
I want to be Totoro and ride on the Catbus, and fly on a magic spinning top over endless rice fields. Who wouldn’t?
The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock is published by Canongate.
Much of what we see in Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie (1943) is impressionistic and inconsequential, a shadow play of strange superimpositions and light dancing on surfaces. At the same time, much of the dialogue remains prosaic, and is delivered in curiously flat tones. As a result, a considerable amount of the narrative functions of the film are handed over to two elements of the soundtrack: the voice-over and the (mostly diegetic) music.
The major thematic concerns of the film are set in place by the contrast between the near-ubiquitous voodoo drumming and the brief fragment of Chopin’s Etude in E, Opus 10. The opposition here is not, however, the obvious one between white and black, reason and superstition, or Christian missionaries and voodoo priests – as the film soon makes clear, such boundaries are not nearly as stable as they may at first seem.
The Chopin piece comes to stand, rather, for a kind of absent big Other in a place where all moral authority seems to have collapsed. Paul Holland (Tom Conway) thus plays the romantic piano repertoire as if to force some dignity, some reserve upon himself in a desperate situation. The drums, by contrast, represent what Lacan called ‘lamella’, a sort of undead persistence, a horrifyingly plastic partial object; as such, the sound is associated as much with the baroquely polygonal lines of desire connecting almost all the film’s characters as with the voodoo ceremonial these nets get caught up in. As Slavoj Žižek says of the lamella, voodoo magic, as imagined by Tourneur, does not so much exist as insist.
On the other hand, there is the voice-over, which comes in two parts, both of which pertain to aspects of the Christian liturgy: the fraught confession of the nurse, Betsy Connell (Frances Dee), which opens the film, and the prayer that closes the film. But the voice-over does not cover the full extent, or even the greater part of the storytelling, with practically all the backstory being delivered in the form of song. The ‘Papa Legba’ song that we hear in the voodoo ceremony delivers the mythological background, while the family history of the film’s central half-brothers and the wife that came between them is sung by calypso singer Sir Lancelot, who makes a cameo appearance singing his ‘Fort Holland Calypso Song’, written especially for the film. Stripped of its original title, its perverse mystical associations – and sometimes even its writers’ credit – the tune would later become a major international hit for groups such as Peter Tosh and the Wailers, the Kingston Trio, and even Madness.
A Deviant View of Cinema – Features, Essays & Interviews