Mondomanila: Interview with Khavn de la Cruz


Format: Cinema

Screening dates: 22-23 June 2012

Edinburgh International Film Festival

Director: Khavn de la Cruz

Writers: Khavn de la Cruz, Norman Wilwayco

Based on the novel How I Fixed My Hair after a Rather Long Journey by: Norman Wilwayco

Cast: Timothy Mabalot, Marife Necesito, Palito

Philippines/Germany 2012

75 mins

Although Filipino director Khavn de la Cruz has made 33 feature films and 100 shorts, British festivals have tended to ignore his prolific and provocative output. The Edinburgh Film Festival rectified that oversight in June, providing the opportunity to see de la Cruz’s latest, Mondomanila, as part of a welcome focus on the vibrant cinema of the Philippines.

A joyfully outrageous slice of life in the slums set to a punky soundtrack, Mondomanila is a slap in the face of Western expectations of politely miserabilist depictions of the downtrodden. A hyper kinetic, super stylised wild carnival of the destitute, it follows a midget, a one-armed rapper, a ‘day-glo fairy’, a disabled pimp and their friends as they try to get as much sex and drugs as they can (‘the only solution to their problems’, we are told by main character Tony at the beginning) and tackle a racist white paedophile. A toothless showman opens this exuberant bad taste spectacle, promising something horrible and creepy, but the Mondo-style shockumentary aspect is underpinned by the crude reality of life in Manila, making the film vital and energising.

Virginie Sélavy talked to Khavn de la Cruz at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June 2012 about joyful poverty, black comedy, midget bars and Filipino cinema.

Virginie Sélavy: The title seems to refer to the Mondo films of the 1960s. Is that why you called it Mondomanila?

Khavn de la Cruz: Initially it was just a sound. I’ve always wanted to make a film with the word ‘Manila’ in it in homage to the two films considered the best in the Philippines, Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night (1980) and Lino Brocka’s Manila in the Claws of Light (1975). And that was the best combination I could think of.

But there is an element of the Mondo films in your own work.

Of course, yes. The Mondo films want to show what’s supposedly real, but also play on that, what’s real, what’s not real, what’s surreal. So there will be expectations and some will be met and some will not, and I also like to play with that.

You start and end the film with images that appear to be real.

Yes, they’re from YouTube. The first images are of floods. There were horrible floods in Manila. That was pretty hardcore. And the images of the epilogue show the demolition of a slum, which happens quite often. That’s the way they dispose of the people and the houses when they want the property. More often than not, with the demolition there’ll be arson, they get rid of the community, but then the people come back. It’s quite absurd.

You bookend the film with those two sets of images that are real, but after the flood images you start the story with a toothless showman that seems to imply that what follows is not real, but a spectacle about the slums.

Yes, it’s like a circus. He’s also like a tour guide.

What’s the relationship between fiction and reality in the film?

The film is based on a novel by Norman Wilwayco, but it’s very different. Originally it was called How I Fixed My Hair after a Rather Long Journey, but I used Mondomanila so it’s also called Mondomanila now. It’s very naturalistic, very realistic.

Is the novel famous in the Philippines?

Cult-wise and critically yes because it won the main literary prize.

You have a lot of characters who are deformed or disabled in your film.

In the novel they’re not like that.

Why did you choose to have those characters in your film? Does it reflect reality or is it an exaggerated version?

Yes, it also reflects reality. I think both physically and psychologically, they’re all amputees and midgets in some way – we’re all freaks. It’s the whole circus vibe, the whole black comedy perception of reality.

Where did you find the actors?

I had wanted to make this film for 10 years. At some point a casting director was interested in helping me, so I gave him my cast of characters and he said, ‘you don’t need a casting director, you need a pimp and a circus man!’ A few of them, the one-armed rapper and the breakdancing pimp came from a TV show in the Philippines called ‘Talented Filipinos’, which is a freak show. It’s like Britain’s Got Talent, but freakier. I saw a clip later of the armless rapper, Ogo X, he was actually not just rapping during the show but also painting with his feet! I could have made a great poster. I had cast midgets in my other films, I get them in this place called Hobbit House. It’s a bar in Manila, in which all the workers are midgets, the waiters, the cooks, the bouncers, everyone, it’s like a family business. That’s where I auditioned. The lead actor was in another of my films, a collaboration with Copenhagen called Son of God. It’s about a midget Christ, and at one point he was interviewed by a paper about the setting up of a midget colony in the Philippines! I don’t know how that progressed.

Obviously, there are a lot of shocking things in the film, sex with animals, a paedophile, etc. Is it your intention to shock or is it part of the comedy? How do you intend your audience to react?

I don’t know. What did you think?

It seemed to me that the shocking aspect of the film was a way of dealing with the shocking realities of the slums and I liked it because the characters are not presented as victims, instead they appear full of energy and life and they are interesting because they are so unique. And I also liked the dark comedy and found it very funny.

Yes, I have to say that I’m really into black comedy. To answer your question, it’s all of the above. It is to shock, to inspire, to have fun, to cry, to be moved, every possible reaction, in any which way. It’s the same joyful poverty in Squatterpunk. It’s a documentary we made it in 2007. It’s a black and white silent film with an 80-minute punk soundtrack. There’s been a slum sub-genre in Filipino cinema started by Lino Brocka, and most of the films are depressing tear-jerkers, but Squatterpunk is saying, this is life and we’re enjoying it, we’re managing. It doesn’t just deal with poverty, it also deals with happiness, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have money in your pocket, you can still be happy.

Is it for the same reason that you end Mondomanila with a brightly coloured musical sequence?

Singing in the Rain! The original plan was to have a really happy ending. They are able to escape the slums with all the money that they got. And we wanted to end with a very colourful musical mob dance type of show.

It’s a bit like a dream.

But it’s also real. Physically, literally they’re getting out.

The music is very important in the film and you wrote and performed the soundtrack.

I compose most of the soundtracks in my films. Originally with Mondomanila, I wanted to make a Bollywood film, a rock opera, a musical. I composed a libretto, but we decided not to make that kind of version, with a complete song and dance after each major sequence. So it became this soundtrack.

Some of the music is quite punky. Would you say Mondomanila is a punk film?

Yes, but maybe not intentionally. People have always labelled me punk, and in terms of spirit, definitely, but it’s not literally punk.

Visually it’s very stylised, you use colour and black and white, photo-montage, split screens, etc. Why did you decide to use so many different types of images?

It’s like acupuncture, you want to hit all the points! Of course, you can appreciate a film that is plain, simple, one tone throughout. But with this kind of film it needed something very eclectic, a mash-up aesthetic, as if each sequence was made for a different film by a different director.

You also have brilliant animated opening credits.

It’s done by the production designer, Dante Perez. He’s a cult comic and visual artist. He’s a friend but I didn’t know he made those crazy comics. When I saw them I said he should make the opening credits. And sure enough he made a terrific credit sequence.

You’ve made a documentary about the Filipino new wave, subtitled ‘This Is Not a Film Movement’, which also screened at the festival. Do you consider yourself part of this new wave?

Yes, because it’s not a movement! We can all be part of it!

Do you feel there is a common sensibility, spirit, or style?

It’s inevitable to have overlaps, we live in the same country, most of us are based in Manila, at some point there is definitely some intersection. The Filipino new wave is more like the digital revolution. This definitely didn’t happen before, even though the spirit and the talent were already there. In the 80s, there were wild, crazy films that were made, but just shorts. No one was able to make a feature. And they were very limited in terms of budget, they could not really express themselves. With digital, they can shoot anything and really take risks.

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

For more information on Mondomanila and Khavn de la Cruz, please go to his website.

The multi-talented Khavn de la Cruz also performed at the Edinburgh Film Festival with his band The Brockas, which included fellow Filipino Emerson Reyes and festival director Chris Fujiwara on that occasion. They scored Manuel Conde and Lou Salvador’s 1952 Gengis Khan, which was one of the first Filipino films to be shown in the UK (and was shown in Edinburgh in the 1950s).

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012

Chapiteau Show

Edinburgh International Film Festival

20 June – 1 July 2012

EIFF website

After last year’s hit-and-miss transition, the 66th edition offered an impressive bounty of excellent films. David Cairns, Pamela Jahn and Virginie Sélavy report on their festival highlights.


This delirious, absurdist three-hour-long Russian film set in a Crimean seaside resort revolves around four intersecting stories: a pretty, lively young girl goes on holiday with a socially-challenged, grumpy, chubby geek she met online; a deaf-dumb singer leaves his deaf-dumb friends behind to join a troupe of street performers; an ageing famous actor takes his estranged son on a trip; a hapless Warhol-inspired music producer tries to make a star of a Russian Elvis lookalike.

The narrative is pleasurably intricate and brilliantly constructed, with characters, scenes and themes recurring from different viewpoints. In each story, a character is taken out of their usual environment and placed in a new one in which they are uncomfortable: the film treats the difficulty of going out into the world and creating relationships light-heartedly and with offbeat humour, and pokes gentle fun at people’s self-importance and thwarted ambitions.

The stories are interspersed with musical interludes and they all converge into the final show taking place in a mysterious circus tent set up at the resort: for the filmmakers, as for the troupe of street interventionists who provide anarchic fun throughout, life is a permanent spectacle of small dramas and surreal ordinariness. VS

Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio is the latest from Peter Strickland, whose Katalin Varga combined horror genre and art-house tropes to considerable acclaim. Here Toby Jones plays a put-upon sound mixer at work on the audio tracks of a nasty giallo-type horror film, his personality disintegrating under a barrage of bullying from his bosses. Rather than having life imitate art, the violence of the film-within-the-film infecting ‘reality’, Strickland keeps the movie bloodless and focuses on the psychological disintegration of his hapless protagonist. This is an even more relentlessly interior film than Polanski’s apartment horrors Repulsion and The Tenant, confined to a couple of rooms and a corridor, and to Jones’s fragmented point of view. Strickland’s throbbing analogue soundscapes and fetishistic ECUs of decaying vegetables and shiny audio knobs combine to create a hypnotic film that’s more melancholy than scary. His evident love of Italian horror has paradoxically produced a film that’s quite the obverse of the savage cinema of Argento and friends. DC

Berberian Sound Studio is released in UK cinemas on 31 August. Look out for our interview feature with Peter Strickland.

The Imposter

By far one of the most bizarre and excitedly discussed true-life stories to be revealed on screen recently is told in Bart Layton’s The Imposter. It’s the story of Nicholas Barclay, who, in 1994, went missing from his home in San Antonio, Texas, and, to everyone’s surprise, was found in Spain three years later – or at least it seemed that way, despite the fact that the blond, blue-eyed, 13-year-old American suddenly had brown eyes, dark stubble and a French accent. The Imposter is the story of a 23-year-old drifter who pretended to be Nicholas Barclay, in the hope of finding a new home and the family he never had. Mixing dramatic re-enactments, interviews and archival footage to detail the key events of the baffling case, from the moment the interloper hatched his plan up to the point when the identity of the man known as ‘The Chameleon’ was revealed, Layton has crafted a gripping, powerful and eye-opening documentary that surpasses many wannabe fiction thrillers produced in recent years. PJ

The Imposter is released in UK cinemas on 24 August. Look out for our full review.

Sun Don’t Shine

This dark, poetic American indie road movie was one of the great surprises of the festival. Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley) are young lovers on the run in humid, summery Florida. They are getting away from a dark secret in their past, the nature of which is only very slowly revealed. Crystal is instinctive, impulsive and sensual; she simply reacts to what happens around her. Leo is calm and tries to organise their chaotic lives, as much as he can. Elliptical, hazy and dreamy, the film tells their story in an impressionistic way, through small gestures, looks and atmospheres as well as contrasting juxtapositions – between what we see on screen and what the voice-overs tell us, or in a sequence intercutting a scene of almost childish innocence with one of inevitable violence. Despite the obvious influence of Badlands (1973), Sun Don’t Shine creates its own world and the dynamic of Crystal and Leo’s relationship develops according to its own fatal logic, making this impressive debut mesmerising to the end. VS



Brake, directed by Gabe Torres, offered a largely enjoyable, adrenaline-charged thrill ride that at first seemed reminiscent of Rodrigo Cortés’s Buried, but ultimately didn’t live up to its promise. Stephen Dorff gives a ferocious performance as Secret Service agent Jeremy Reins, who finds himself confined in a plastic box in the trunk of a moving car, with no memory of what happened and how he got there. From that point on, his time is running out, inescapably controlled by the terrorists who have taken him captive as part of their mission to assassinate the president. The set-up follows all the rules of an asphyxiating, claustrophobic thriller, with absurd but compelling plot twists coming fast and furious along the way. But Brake inevitably loses momentum in the last 20 minutes of the film, when the story becomes all too ridiculous, phasing out in an unnecessarily wound-up twister of an ending that beggars belief. PJ

Brake is out on Blu-ray in the UK.


Demain? is the work of Christine Laurent, long time script collaborator of Jacques Rivette (e.g. La Belle Noiseuse, 1991). It’s far from a conventional biopic, but it does cover part of the short life of Uruguyan poet Delmira Agustini. The film seems bathed in summer light, and moves in either floating, dreamy fashion or more vigorous bursts of energy: Laurent’s style can be abruptly playful when you least expect it. Like Shinji Somai (see below), she has a feeling for adolescent yearnings and explosions of passion, and blurs the line between reality and dream without making a manifesto out of it. DC


Breaking classic genre conventions in the most apt and eloquent way, while consistently subverting them with bold narrative choices and a beautifully dreamlike visual style, Miguel Gomes’s Tabu turned out to be the special treat of the festival. In his third feature, the Portuguese director combines the story of an impossible love affair with a quirkily surreal, poetic view of colonial history. The film is formally divided into two different narrative parts – one set in contemporary Lisbon, the other in Mozambique in the late 1960s – but revolves around one central heroine: the elderly Aurora (Laura Soveral), a compulsive gambler with a mysterious past. The prologue, which in itself offers another superb small film within a film, captures the caustic politics that make Tabu such a unique and compelling cinematic experience. PJ

Tabu is released in UK cinemas on 7 September. Look out for our full review.

The Ambassador

Think you know about neo-colonial corruption in Africa? Think again. Yes, we’ve all heard about blood diamonds, dodgy politicians and the involvement of Western countries. But in his jaw-dropping documentary, Danish provocateur Mads Brügger reveals the cynical extent of the dangerous political and economic games played. To do this, he buys a Liberian diplomatic assignment to the Central African Republic and attempts to organise a diamond-smuggling operation, setting up a match factory employing Pygmies to cover up his real activities. Astoundingly brave/reckless, Brügger arrives in CAR in stereotypical colonial attire, complete with white suite and permanent cigar. As he reveals the mind-bending ramifications of corruption in the country – including the brutal, ruthless manoeuvring of France to control CAR’s resources, particularly shocking in contrast to their official discourse – his situation as a ‘freelance diplomat’ becomes more and more precarious and it becomes clear that the people he is trying to manipulate are playing their own game. And yet, despite the perils of the situation he has engineered, to his credit and unlike many shock reporters, Brügger never once comments on how much danger he is in. With a great sense of the absurd, he takes his set-up as far as he can, exposing the appalling farce of corruption that plagues Africa. VS

Love Hotel (Shinji Somai)

Shinji Somai

The Shinji Somai retrospective unearthed a filmmaker almost wholly unknown in the West, a distinctive personal voice whose short career spanned both commercial genre works (especially teen movies) and purely personal dramas, with a visual style based around stunning long takes and a love of fireworks, water and rain. There’s also a mysterious mythological or supernatural quality, which bleeds through even in quite realistic stories. A perfect fit for a complete retrospective, Somai’s cinema can encompass both The Catch (1983), a largely, even grittily realistic drama about tuna fishermen, and Luminous Woman (1987), which seems to combine the most operatic elements of Fassbinder, Fellini and even Tarkovsky. It also feels like Somai somehow blended One from the Heart and Diva and made it work. Apart from these strikingly different extremes, the retrospective included Somai’s masterpieces Typhoon Club (1985), Moving (1993) and The Friends (1994). Heady stuff. DC

Gregory La Cava

Gregory La Cava is better known than Somai, but his films are rarely gathered in one place. The festival screened six, ranging from the bittersweet comedy drama Unfinished Business (1941), which attains depths of emotion and maturity startling in its genre, and the knockabout romantic farce Feel My Pulse (1928), which eschews such niceties altogether – but its rollicking inventiveness had more than one audience member declaring it the highlight of the Fest. Both films touch on the subject of alcoholism, which blighted La Cava’s life but also informed much of his art. DC

Festival report by David Cairns, Pamela Jahn and Virginie Sélavy

Prometheus and Panspermia


When considering the origin of life on Earth, it’s worth thinking of the planet as a giant petri dish. Between 3.9 and 3.5 billion years ago life began to evolve. It’s unknown exactly what started the conversion of the primordial soup into the single-celled and then multi-celled organisms that would first populate the seas and then climb out of them, but there are two main theories. Abiogenesis suggests life naturally began to evolve when the surrounding conditions of the soup, the temperature of the Earth, cloud cover and so on, became ideal for the amino acids in the quagmire to start to coalesce. The other, exogenesis, requires an outside element, some kind of cosmic dust (rather than, say, a dissolving 8-foot albino humanoid) falling to Earth in a meteorite and starting off the chemical reactions.

The exogenesis theory is part of the notion of panspermia: that life – in the form of dormant bacteria (perhaps from the disintegration of older planets) floating through space – might seed a planet like ours and lead to the long process of evolution. More fanciful ideas of exogenesis and panspermia involve fully formed aliens (rather than bacteria) landing in spaceships and using the planet as a laboratory to create new life or give the existing fauna a push in the right direction.

This science-fictional concept was at its most popular in 1968 thanks to the book Chariots of the Gods: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, written by Swiss author Erich Anton Paul von Dä;niken, who, not long after the publication of his most famous pseudo-scientific work, was arrested for other successes in the fields of fraud and forgery, in particular the embezzlement of $130,000 over a twelve-year period. The uncredited co-author of the book, filmmaker Wilhelm Utermann, found fame for disseminating another story that captured the imagination of the public a decade later – the adventures of the von Trapp family in The Sound of Music.

Chariots of the Gods puts forward the theory that aliens visited the Earth in ancient history and had a hand in forming religions and civilisations. The popularity of this notion in the late 60s was further bolstered by the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey in the same year. Kubrick’s film shows aliens playing an active role in evolution, leaving a black monolith in prehistory, which inspires our primate ancestors to first pick up tools, and another on the moon to act as a calling card, suggesting that modern man, having found this second monolith, should travel on further to the next sign post on the galactic road.

All of the above, in a tangential way, brings us to the $120 million entertaining sci-fi epic Prometheus. Including elements from the science and pseudo-science I’ve talked about so far – the film mixes elements of panspermia, exogenesis, Chariots of the Gods, alien star maps and so on – Prometheus is a prequel to the seminal (and I mean that in every sense of the word) sci-fi horror film Alien (1979). Its status as part of the ongoing Alien franchise is something that the filmmakers became ambiguous about as the film neared release, which is understandable given the failure of many recent prequels. Furthermore, ‘prequel’ implies a direct narrative link to an existing story, which Prometheus doesn’t specifically have; the film certainly puts some of the 1979 film’s events in motion but it doesn’t end in a way that immediately sets up the plot of Alien, so using the term ‘prequel’ could lead to disappointment.

That said, I think any fan of Alien who sees Prometheus is much more likely to be disappointed not by the lack of explicit joining of dots, but rather by the poor quality of the dialogue and plot details that drive the film forward. There are lamentable lines of dialogue such as a geologist defining his character with the immortal line, ‘I’m a rock guy, I fucking love rocks’. Another problematic area is the cavalier attitude the characters display while on a scientific mission (compared to the miners in the original film, who might be forgiven for their actions): they open their helmets in an alien environment; finger the exogenic slime in a subterranean chamber; and try to befriend extra-terrestrial snake creatures when they rear from said obsidian goo… These are dumb movie characters acting in dumb movie ways and saying dumb movie lines; something that was not true of the original Alien films but did characterise the Alien vs Predator spin-offs, which this new film was supposedly created to replace and eradicate from our memories.

In fact, Prometheus can’t help but evoke the first AvP movie (2004), which echoes Chariots of the Gods with the existence of an ancient Mayan-style temple covered in alien symbols built beneath or before the Antarctic permafrost; this was designed as a weapons testing ground and discovered by a group of archaeologists, led by the titular head of the Weyland Industries corporation. That film received a worse critical reception than Prometheus has and certainly is the less impressive film of the two, but it also contained the input of some of the creators of the original Alien, in this case, the writers rather than the director.

There is one thing that AvP does better than Prometheus: the lighting of the sets. Much of the atmosphere of Prometheus is undone by overly lit chambers, in contrast to the stygian locales of Alien, which allowed the eponymous creature to hide in the shadows and create a genuinely disturbing world. One of the reasons for the existence of Prometheus seems to be to render some of the unused designs H.R. Giger had produced for the original film, such as the wall relief depicting the messianic original alien, a giant head in a mysterious cavern and more of his archetypal biomechanoid set designs. While it’s great to be able to see these on screen finally, having them too well lit destroys much of the atmosphere that made the first film so great.

Prometheus tries to be scientifically credible – the recent discovery of extremophiles, creatures that can withstand environments we didn’t believe could sustain life, improves the odds of finding life on another planet or moon – but it ultimately disappoints for having loftier aims than its predecessors, which it doesn’t realise in nearly as satisfying a way. In its characters and scenarios, Prometheus mines the rest of the franchise. Ripley’s iconic flame-thrower makes a return, as do mad scientists who mix alien DNA with humans – previously seen in Alien Resurrection (1997) – and an emotionless android who acts both in the interests of his human colleagues (as did Bishop in Aliens, 1986) and against them (as did Ash in Alien), and meets the same fate as one of his fellow robots. All this means that you could see the franchise itself working as panspermia, with characters and plot elements dispersed among the sequels where they take root and grow in different directions. Prometheus sows the seeds for a possible sequel, and leaves the door open for its makers to try and correct their flawed creation through further evolution in a future Prometheus 2.

Alex Fitch

Dead Rat Orchestra’s Film Jukebox

Dead Rat Orchestra

Unconventional trio Dead Rat Orchestra have been tinkering with harmoniums, axes, pigeon flutes, folly snow-boxes, home-wired glitchers and organ pipes for nearly a decade. Their new album was originally recorded as the soundtrack to Intrepid Cinema’s critically acclaimed BBC Documentary The Guga Hunters of Ness, which follows the journey of ten men from the community of Ness on the Isle of Lewis as they embark on a traditional hunt for gannets. Utilising their customarily unconventional instrumentation to create precarious and powerful abstract-folk, the trio of Daniel Merrill, Robin Alderton and Nathaniel Mann have come up with a powerful score, with compositions seeded in hours of study of Hebridean folk song. The Guga Hunters of Ness is out now on Critical Heights. For more information, please go to the Dead Rat Orchestra website. Below, the trio pick their favourite films.

1. Nanook of the North (1922)
We have had a nine-year love affair with Nanook ever since we first performed a live score to it back in 2003. At first, we were seduced by the stunning images, protracted pace, hand-written title boards, Inuit faces and the romance of the whole thing. Reverence descended into obsession as we began to delve deep into the origins of the film: reading biographies of the life of director Robert Flaherty; becoming engrossed in his diaries from the period. Soon our superficial affinity for the film gave way to a deeper understanding of what the film actually is: not a documentary film at all but a completely fictitious construct attempting to distil Flaherty’s experiences of 12 years living with the Inuit. As such, the film reveals almost as much about the director himself as the Inuit portrayed. This process of research enabled us to re-assess the score we had developed as we peeled back new layers of meaning. A good example is a scene in which Nanook, on the brink of starvation, spears a seal through an ice-hole and struggles to pull the beast to the surface on the end of a rope. We had always struggled scoring this section, concluding that it was actually the scene itself that was at fault – it felt overly long to us and lacked the drama that the event demanded. Through our research, we discovered that in fact the entire scene was a set-up! Flaherty had imported a dead seal from several hundred miles away, slipped the carcass down the ice-hole and got ‘Nanook’ to re-enact the hunt. Suddenly our misgivings made sense! We were not viewing a moment of life or death struggle, but a performance: almost a dance for the director. We changed tack and approached the scene as a dance scene – suddenly it sprung into life! (Band pick)

2. Let’s Get Lost (1988)
Weber’s Let’s Get Lost documents the comeback attempt by an aged and life-worn Chet Baker. Simultaneously it charts the story of his personal life through stunning cinematography, while liberally including abstract set pieces featuring actors (including a cameo by Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ bassist, Flea), which serve to embody the director’s readings of events. Chet is revealed as a callous and selfish lover who leaves a string of women in his wake, each of whom despises him but clearly remains deeply enamoured. Frankly, Baker was a bit of a bastard but one whose shadier actions were always absolved by the strength of his charm and his music. Somehow Weber managed to induce the very same sensation in me as the viewer – one of concurrent revulsion and enchantment – and, after seeing this film, I fell for Chet’s music. (Nathan)

3. The Shock Doctrine (2009)
Based on Naomi Klein’s book of the same title, The Shock Doctrine explores the lengths that governments will go to to force free market economics onto nations, regardless of the hideous consequences. Coining the term ‘disaster capitalism’, Klein demonstrates how these organisations opportunistically use natural disasters and also engineer economic ones as a form of electro-shock treatment on a mass cultural level. They create confusion and division reprogramming governments and cultures to take on free market ideologies that are against their own interests (much like the electro-shock processes used to ‘treat’ mental illness, with the aim of rewiring the patients’ thought processes). (Daniel)

4. Wings of Desire (1987)
I first saw this film in those dark and brooding late-teen days and in many ways it seemed the perfect fit, showing a way through: a glimmer of hope. As with all of Wim Wenders’s works, it’s unashamedly poetic and evocative. The film deals with the decision of an angel, on watch over the everyday struggles of an unknowing mankind, to renounce his immortality and become mortal. He chooses to experience the sensual and corporeal; to experience love. A sense of division is at the heart of the film, both between the spiritual and corporeal world – and within the setting of a still divided Berlin. It’s a film of longing. It also features an ace cameo from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and the rare sight of Peter Falk (of Columbo fame) playing himself, or at least a version of himself as another ‘fallen’ angel. (Robin)

5. La Jetée (1962)
La Jetée is a masterpiece of storytelling achieved through narration, still photographs and music. It never fails to captivate me and so strong are the images and narrative that I remember them far more vividly than any other film I have seen. A must! (Nathan)

6. Solaris (2002)
I’ve picked out Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 re-imagining of the story rather than the classic Andrei Tarkovsky version (1972). But I’m comfortable with that because this film spoke to me in a way I wasn’t expecting. Aside from beautiful cinematography and pacing, the sound design of this film opened me up in a way few other films have managed to do. Perhaps it was sitting right in front of the speakers when I first saw it at a cinema in Wood Green but I heard every detail and felt pulled in by the tension that is part of the architecture of the film. Add to that one of my favourite film scores, crafted carefully by Cliff Martinez, featuring an incredible combination of strings and pattering, percussive gamelan. A brooding and meditative work, it changed the way I listen to films and also led me to start learning gamelan. (Robin)

7. Someone Else’s Voice (1949)
When a magpie returns home to the motherland after travelling abroad, it challenges the local song thrush to a singing contest. The thrush sings sweetly to the wonder of the residents of its local woodland commune and receives rapturous applause. The magpie takes to the stage, dressed in decadent Western jewellery with the air and swagger of a rock star, before bursting into some red hot bebop, convulsing and grinding to the brass honk of her beak, with the beat of the drums resonating through her hips. The magpie is chased out of town by a bunch of young red birds, enforcing the message that it is better to stay true to your traditional roots than adopt new cultural forms. This piece of late Stalinist propaganda is hilarious and important on so many levels. Though its message is clear, the fun of the seemingly possessed magpie actually did more to propagate the spread of jazz in Russia than enforce Stalinist ideals! The Dead Rats feel an affinity with the magpie as this borrowing of all things shiny is a part of our process… And we hope we can give as fun a performance. (Daniel)

8. The White Diamond (2004)
Herzog’s documentaries are often criticised for being exploitative and too snide or tongue-in-cheek for their own good. For me, these aspects are merely conscious devices, employed to ensure that his poetic and ruminative pieces (which are always carefully layered and constructed towards commenting across the spectrum of the human condition) don’t become too sappy. The White Diamond is a beautiful example of this. (Nathan)

9. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
What would you do if your relationship was failing and everyone around you started turning into zombies? This film attempts to answer those problems. Cleverly put together with references to the great and good spilling over, it’s immensely funny and good fun – probably the first ‘rom-zom-com’! I loved Spaced and used to live where the film was shot so, on some level, can imagine it happening. (Robin)

10. The Wobblies (1979)
Wobblies is the nickname given to the members of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), a radical and militant union started in 1905. Its radical face-to-face democracy and anti-hierarchical stance have made it one of the most confrontational and effective unions in fighting for workers’ rights. This film is entirely narrated by older members of the union who fought in some of the most seminal battles in the U.S. and helped to establish some of the basic workers’ rights that are now legal norms in the West. The beauty of this film comes from the amazing stories of resistance that these people tell; here are people who have lived exceptionally hard lives, made even harder by persecution by governments and employers alike, but who have truly fought and saved themselves through the power of the unique union they formed. The conditions they describe are shocking but the music they make as they protest is inspiring! Watch out for an appearance by anarchist song writer Utah Phillips (an old timer in the unique position of being one of the younger members featured in the film). (Daniel)

Tom Pollock is Jurassic Park’s Dr Henry Wu

Jurassic Park

Tom Pollock is a graduate of the Sussex University creative writing programme and a member of the London-based writers group. His advice to aspiring writers, as told to Un:Bound?: ‘Just read widely and write often. I can tell you how I do it (in a public place with headphones in, in 1K bursts, 4-5 times a week) but realistically you aren’t going to use my way, you’re going to use yours. And the only way you’ll find it is practice’. Tom has lived all over the place, from Scotland to Sumatra, but it’s the ‘peculiar magic’ of London that makes it home. It’s also the setting for his debut novel, The City’s Son (Jo Fletcher), the first instalment in the Skyscraper Throne trilogy. His cinematic alter ego is Dr Henry Wu. Eithne Farry

When it comes to mutation, only one character is a cinematic match for my DNA: Jurassic Park‘s Dr Henry Wu.

Surely you remember Henry Wu? No? The guy in the white coat who helps hatch the baby Raptors? That’s him. Why Henry? Because I write urban fantasy stories.

Stick with me on this.

Henry’s business – as the only named character in JP’s genetics team – is bringing dinosaurs back from the dead, and he’s badass at it. He takes ancient and resonant and almost (if not quite actually mythical) things and slams them claws first into the modern world. Urban fantasy writers do the same. While Dr Wu’s busy resurrecting Velociraptors in contemporary South America, Neil Gaiman’s populating the Midwest with Norse gods and Charlaine Harris is filling Louisiana with vampires. For my part, I’m importing ancient ghosts and spirits into 21st-century London, making the once inanimate city a sentient one – a place that can you can bargain with. Or fall in love with. Or be hunted by…

Like Henry, urban fantasy writers often find that the cool stuff we want to resurrect doesn’t quite work in its original form, so we’re forced to change it – splicing it in with something more current. For Henry, that’s completing his patchy Dino genome with frog DNA. For me, it’s shearing a dryad from her tree and popping her into a streetlamp instead. Either way, our resurrected idea evolves to fit the modern world.

We all know what happens next, right? ‘Nature finds a way.’

The ideas breed, multiply and mutate. Suddenly, wholly unexpected monsters are rampaging around the corridors of the story while I cling to the butt of my shotgun, listening to the click of their middle-toe claws on the floor.

Tom Pollock

Tetsuo: Metal Machine Music

Tetsuo: Iron Man

Title: Tetsuo: Iron Man

Format: Cinema

Screening date: 4 July 2012

Venue: Hackney Picture House, London

Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Cast: Tomorowo Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Japan 1989

67 mins

Title: Tetsuo II: Body Hammer

Format: Cinema

Screening date: 4 July 2012

Venue: Hackney Picture House, London

Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Cast: Tomorowo Taguchi, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Nobu Kanaoka

Japan 1992

83 mins

A man in a scrap yard cuts a gash in his leg and then shoves in a metal rod. Later he finds maggots in the wound, runs down the street screaming and is hit by a car. And we’re off.

Released in 1989, actor/director Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo is an utterly inspired and darkly hilarious black and white romp. According to Wikipedia, there is a story but it is only sketchily revealed as the film progresses, and even if you’re glad of a synopsis, you’ll be perhaps healthily distrustful. Stuff happens certainly, but the whys and the wherefores are almost beside the point. The point is the energy with which the film is shot through and the inventiveness and downright oddness of Tsukamoto’s vision.

The man with the rod in his leg (played by Tsukamoto himself) pursues the couple who were driving the car and exacts revenge upon them by turning the bespectacled man (Tomorowo Taguchi) gradually into metal. It starts with his electric razor hitting something in his cheek which tings, then there’s a demure-looking woman at the railway station who turns into a metal-infected demon. From the very beginning, we are in a universe of extreme physical craziness. Parts of the film feel like elaborate dance numbers, a danse macabre of metal, flesh, wires, sexual organs, memories, television screens, guilt, rust and blood that sprays as black as oil. The acting is exuberantly physical and pitched operatically high, wavering between terror, agony, wheezing anxiety and all-out panic. The dialogue all the while blankly denies this. As Taguchi undergoes a metallic rupturing in the next room, he reassures his wife: ‘Nothing’s the matter.’ There is a dream sequence in which the bespectacled Taguchi is anally raped by his wife with a snake like probe. But to say ‘there is a dream sequence’ is to misleadingly suggest that there can be such a distinction between dream and reality. In Tetsuo, reality is a nightmare from which we are trying to awake.

Often compared to David Lynch’s Eraserhead and the early work of David Cronenberg, Tetsuo is actually in a league of its own. In comparison, Lynch’s film is a stately, brooding work of quiet desperation, and Cronenberg, although thematically radical, is stylistically conservative, often filming with TV movie reserve. Tsukamoto directs like one of his possessed characters. Everything is thrown at the screen from stop-motion animation to camera trickery: the camera races down streets and through alleys and the percussive soundtrack hammers along with growing intensity. Although the comment that a film resembles a music video is often meant dismissively, here the comparison is perfectly apt.

The pace of the film ends up having a logic of its own as it rushes headlong towards a collision between the now almost totally transformed victim and the demonic joyous fetishist. This is what the narrative really is: a process of initially vicious but energetic mutation. There is sex and there is the idea that we are perhaps just machines anyway. The drill penis seems like a literal realisation of our own violent idiom, talk of screwing, nailing, banging, etc., which reduces (or promotes) sex to a kind of carpentry. We are machines that use machines. From the car to the electric razor, we are already intimate with machinery and metal. The naked lunch of forks scraping against teeth reveals our daily internalising of metal. When the main character is remembering something (usually having sex with his wife), we see it through the stroboscopic screen of a portable television set.

And yet, the horror is, in this metaphoric resemblance, becoming identical to a machine. While we see ourselves becoming increasingly reliant on technology and ever more intimate with it (a blue tooth you stick in your ear, a touch pad), Tsukamoto’s maniacal insistence takes the relationship between man and machine to a literal, if bonkers, conclusion. The Godzilla-like monster that threatens to destroy Tokyo and the world at the end is merrily apocalyptic. The film ends with the cheeky letters stamping out ‘GAME OVER’.

A far more conventional film than its predecessor, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer was made in 1992 with a significantly bigger budget and yet is still mad enough for many. This time round, Tomorowo Taguchi plays Taniguchi Tomoo, a sort of Japanese Mr Bean, similar to the role he played in the first film, but now with a wife, Minori (Keinosuke Tomioka) and child. Shin’ya Tsukamoto once more plays the catalyst for the story, Yatsu, the leader of a violent skinhead cyborg army who kidnap Tomoo’s child and by enraging him cause him to start changing into a terrifying metal weapon. Whereas Tsukamoto’s first film was a low-budget anarchic helter-skelter of accelerated mutation, Testuo II is sporadically and superficially punk. The Iron Man disdained to have a story, but Body Hammer has a familiar-to-the-point-of-bog-standard thriller plot of the weak-willed family man being pushed to the edge by ruthless violence. If they do an English language remake, Liam Neeson can play Tomoo.

Of course, this being Tsukamoto, the plot pushes itself over into parodic lunacy. Tomoo has a Rocky-like training montage in which his feeble attempts become metallically assisted. There are stock figures: a mad scientist who wears a white coat and talks about his brilliant brains, just before said brains get visibly blown out, and villains who grin, jibber and sneer. There is a car chase, during which Tomoo pursues the villains on a push bike, mutating as he goes until he is able to ram the car with his bike. It is witty and absurd, but the wit and the absurdity seem to be at the service of a plot rather than being the point itself. The villains dress like punks – one of them obviously gave Laurence Fishburne costume tips for the Matrix sequels – but the film’s radical vision seems to have become watered down, or exhausted itself.

Perhaps this was inevitable. Iron Man was really like watching a ménage á trois between metal, rust and sex. This wasn’t a story about mutation but mutation as story. World destruction arrived at the end, almost as an afterthought, something glibly funny to do with all this power. The cause of the mutation wasn’t explicitly given – the man didn’t get bitten by a radioactive spider or anything like that – and as brilliant as Wikipedia is, the plot is a reading into the film rather than a description of what we actually see. The first film has no characters as such. There is Man and Woman and Metal Fetishist. The limit of all this was that the film didn’t have much to say. It was a disturbing nightmare that left you confused – was supposed to leave you confused.

In Body Hammer, the family has arrived, and with the family comes narrative proper. The beginning, middle and end of narrative are the child, the parents and the holy ghost. A poisonous family romance (we will eventually learn) is behind the whole fracas, a wicked father, fraternal estrangement and oedipal passions. It is Tomoo’s old family that has effectively destroyed his new one. Body Hammer has explanations, exposition for crying out loud, and as such feels like the smaller film, despite having a more ambitious agenda. The concluding apocalyptic fusion is effectively a repetition of the ending of the first film and feels like an admission that it has nowhere to go.

The East End Film Festival opens on 3 July and runs until 8 July 2012. The Tetsuo double bill screens on 4 July at Hackney Picturehouse. For more information please visit the East End Film Festival website.

John Bleasdale

Watch the trailer:

Tetsuo: The Iron Man from East End Film Festival on Vimeo.