‘M’ Marks the Spot: Murder, Metropolis, Mabuse

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler
Dr Mabuse, the Gambler

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 28 October 2013

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Fritz Lang

Writers: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou

Based on the novel by: Norbert Jacques

Cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Aud Egede-Nissen, Gertrude Welcker

Original title: Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler

Germany 1922

242 mins

‘M’ marks the spot: Murder, Metropolis, Mabuse. At the heart of Fritz Lang’s most innovative period, from 1922 to 1933, lies a fascination with metropolitan modernity and the ambivalence of mass phenomena. On the one hand, in M (1931), the sheer number of milling souls amounts to a sort of chaos into which a child murderer can easily disappear, until a capital ‘M’ chalked on his back puts him back on the map. Yet the city is also, as in Metropolis (1927), a vast machine in which individuals are mere cogs, and chaos may only be an appearance generated by the limited point of view of each cog. Mabuse above all names the spectre of someone who has grasped the laws of this ordered chaos, but who has no desire to rule, only to play, to show how thoroughly the everyday can be simulated and controlled.

Rather like cinema itself, Mabuse is a force that links disparate scenes with precision timing. What can connect a man feigning sleep in a train compartment with a chauffeur standing by his car in a country lane in Dr Mabuse, the Gambler (1922)? Rhyming close-ups of their respective watches point back to Mabuse at his desk. The rail traveller leaps up to steal his fellow passenger’s briefcase and throws it out of the window just as the train crosses a bridge, and just as his colleague’s car passes underneath. A toot on a horn from the chauffeur, and a brisk cut to an engineer atop a telegraph pole: Mabuse knows the deed is done almost to the second. The very efficiency and order of modern transport and telecommunications have been turned against themselves, and film, the cannibal of modernity, is in its element. The secret trade contract in the stolen briefcase, Mabuse ordains, will be ‘found’ again in exactly 30 minutes. Cut to the Stock Exchange. Amid the panic caused by falling shares, a glossy moustachioed figure mounts a table, impassive above the throng, buying when everyone else sells, then selling at the top. At close of trading, over the paper-strewn empty space, the giant, superimposed, Cheshire-cat head of the rogue trader looms, before melting into the face of – Mabuse.

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler1
Dr Mabuse, the Gambler

But behind even Mabuse there is another face, which has loomed over the Stock Exchange from the very start of the scene, a vast luminous clock with the 24 hours picked out in a single dial. Ideally, it ought to stand as the patron deity of orderly commerce, a monumental display of reliable regularity. But time itself is indifferent, available for whosoever cares to master it. This is the first of a series of remarkable clocks punctuating the film. Before we see the lobby of the Hotel Excelsior, its 24-hour clock, with Arabic and Roman numerals in concentric circles, fills the screen. Again, what is meant as a sign of affluence and security is actually the sign that Mabuse is at work. Vast as they are, these clocks are not out of keeping with the great majority of the film’s interiors. For a nation in the grip of economic disaster, Germany seems to be composed of cavernous chambers full of oddly lit planes and alcoves like some expressionist-cum-art deco hallucination. From spivvy casinos run by war profiteers, to hotel suites and private residences, there is nothing resembling a comfortable domestic space here. This is a world of gigantic imposture and in many ways Mabuse is merely an extrapolation of its logic. At any rate, dwarfed by an architecture meant to represent their own grandeur, the effete aristocrats of 1922 are easy pickings. It is hard to feel too much sympathy for the limp Count von Told as, under the spell of Mabuse, his impressive collection of ethnic fright masks turns against him. Mabuse is not above murder, but inducing suicide is more worthy of his talents. Having invited his future destroyer into his home, von Told asks him what he thinks of expressionism. ‘Spielerei,’ replies Mabuse: everything is game-playing these days. A languid aristo who dabbles insipidly in representations of extreme psychological states is fair game.

The Testament of Dr Mabuse
The Testament of Dr Mabuse

When Mabuse returns in The Testament of Dr Mabuse (1933), he is confined to an insane asylum, but being a spectre anyway, has no difficulty spreading the word. He acts only as a voice from behind a curtain in a basement room whose walls bear the outlines of decommissioned urinals, but the goal of anarchy for the hell of it is more insistent than ever. That his empire was crushed by a mere shoot-out in the first film was due to the urbane amateurism of State Prosecutor von Wenk. This time, he has a different sort of adversary in beefy police inspector sensuel moyen Lohmann, fresh from tracking down Peter Lorre in M.

The Complete Fritz Lang Mabuse Box Set is out on DVD in the UK as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema Series.

The forces of order are, in other words, a little more professional, more bourgeois. Likewise the decor is more in keeping with Germany’s parlous state. Indeed, one could say desks are the heroes of the piece. Beautifully composed workspaces litter the film, filling the screen like still lifes. A pane of glass bearing enigmatic scratch marks is the object of a number of wonderful compositions before they are finally deciphered as spelling ‘Mabuse’. Later, as the tide turns, Lohmann shows one of Mabuse’s captured associates the evidence: two bullets in a little case are set against a beautiful composition of file and gun, all crisscrossing at 45 degrees. As the crim looks on, an oblong magnifying glass glides into view, perfectly covering the case. Round-headed Lohmann stands behind the desk in a spotlight with the map of the city behind him. Order has almost been restored.

But desks also communicate with each other in some pretty strange ways. At the very start, fallen cop Hofmeister has already tried to tell Lohmann that Mabuse is back, but while he is on the phone he is driven mad by some unspecified shock. Later, when Lohmann visits him in his cell, we see Hofmeister still on an imaginary phone at a spectral desk littered with animal ornaments in glass, superimposed, doubly transparent. Madness, clearly, but how do these relate to the little glass crocodile on Lohmann’s own desk? The desk behind the curtain from which Mabuse booms his orders is an empty shell. But the desk that communicates to it gramophonically is not straightforwardly occupied either. The scene in which he takes possession of it, so to speak, makes staggering use of superimposed images, and remains genuinely spooky to this day. In both films, psychoanalysis is an instrument of deception defeated by common sense and decency. But Lang’s eye is a little bit of the devil’s party.

By 1960, Mabuse’s sphere has narrowed to a single hotel once frequented by Nazis. And after years of relatively routine cop flicks, Lang is at the end of his career. As it turns out, Mabuse’s was only getting started: The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (1960) begat the thousand sequels of… Even so, the film is well worth seeing, and it is fitting that Lang returned to place the third and final pillar of a giant ‘M’ over his career.

This article was first published in the Winter 09 print issue of Electric Sheep Magazine.

Stephen Thomson

Suspiria: Possessed Bodies and Deadly Pointe

Suspiria

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Date: 18 January 2010

Distributor: Nouveaux Pictures

Director: Dario Argento

Writers: Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi

Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Alida Valli, Udo Kier

Italy 1977

98 mins

Any witches’ covens looking for a cover could do worse than a dance academy. Open the doors of your remote labyrinthine pile and waifs of good family will simply flock to be subjected to severe sado-masochistic discipline. As played by Jessica Harper with an unsurpassed 40-year-old-woman-in-the-body-of-a-14-year-old-girl oddness, Suzy Bannion is the natural prey of the sort of humourlessly leering Teutonic dykes and faded beauties made up to a grotesque parody of their former selves who run such establishments. Horrible as it is, Suzy accepts this situation as her lot: maybe this distracts her from the even more horrible truth.

It’s not as if there aren’t enough danger signals right from the off. Indeed, Suspiria almost doesn’t recover from a blistering opening 15 minutes. Horror movies generally take some time to establish a notion of normal life, gradually allowing the supernatural or murderous to infiltrate. Here, it’s all up in about 10 seconds. As the opening credits run, a bland voice-over tells us Suzy is coming to Germany to study dance. The arrival board flashes up, Suzy passes through security, and she is already saucer-eyed. Seconds later, she is soaking in a howling gale as Goblin‘s pulsing, hammer dulcimer-led theme kicks in. After an angsty taxi ride, out of the blackest storm there floats towards us a Gothic pile so ruddy it seems to be engorged. So this is the dance school. To make matters worse, as Suzy tries to get in, a deranged girl runs out. By now Goblin are drumming and howling fit to burst, and we follow the raving girl to a friend’s apartment block. It seems a dubious refuge: the bizarre, oddly-luminous panelling of the lobby itself seems murderous. And in a way it is. Knifed and noosed by an unseen assailant, the girl’s still twitching body plunges through the stained-glass lobby ceiling, stopped short of the floor by the tightening noose. As the camera pans down, we see her friend on the floor, her face bisected by a shard of stained glass.

From this point there has to be a retreat into some sort of everyday, but even then it’s a weird one. Suzy’s classmates – hissing, preening, would-be prima ballerinas – are witchy enough in all conscience. But even the more Chalet School moments are undermined by the weirdness of the sets. So oppressive is the academy’s gory facade, Argento struggles to make it look less scary in daylight. Suzy’s digs are brightly lit, and in black and white, marking a welcome release from the tyranny of saturated colour. But even here the wallpaper wants to coils its tendrils round you. Everywhere else is marked by strange geometric panelling, pulsating with light, as if to merge with the stained glass that crops up from time to time. All this is framed by glistening lacquered boards, panels, and art nouveau arabesques. The whole is frequently heavily filtered, with occasionally paradoxical lighting, as one part of a shot is bathed in warning red, another in bilious green, like the ‘before’ segment of an ad for a hangover cure.

Goblin’s theme music matches and amplifies the infested quality of the visuals uncannily. In fact, it seems almost immanent in the very air of the film, rendering conventional distinctions between diegetic and non-diegetic sound moot. You find yourself wondering how Suzy can’t hear it, it is so evidently the sound of what is there before you visually. Despite the many quite apparent warning signs hinted at above, Suzy’s first serious realisation that all is not well at the academy comes as she encounters the stares of a whiskery hag and malevolently angelic Midwich cuckoo in Fauntleroy garb halfway down a corridor. A blinding flash from a strange pyramid of metal the hag is polishing physically strikes Suzy, leaving a sort of snowy cloud in its wake. As Suzy staggers on to the end of the corridor, she looks like she’s moving through treacle. Insanely loud, Goblin’s music is the thickness of the air she is moving through.

This scene is sandwiched between Suzy’s two forlorn attempts at actually doing some dancing. The dance studio is one of the few areas of modern décor, clean lines and surfaces, normal daylight and air. Yet, even here there is an odd counterpoint to the rest of the academy. What we see are bodies controlled by music, students prancing to a maddeningly jaunty piano waltz. It’s sinister enough in its way, and it proves too much for Suzy: she spends the rest of the film more or less bed-ridden. The nightmarishness of dance is confirmed in a brief respite from the academy when we follow the freshly-sacked répétiteur to a Bavarian beer hall. Here, in one of the most chilling scenes in the film, we witness – horrors – the synchronized thigh-slapping of group Lederhosen dancing. It is perhaps the pianist’s good fortune that he is blind. Were he not, this would be one of the last things he sees as, on his way home, he is mauled and eaten by his guide dog.

Working out the steps is, on the other hand, how Suzy starts to fight back. Here we enter what you might call the Nancy Drew phase of the story as Suzy, along with classmate Sarah, first figures out that the teachers only pretend to leave the school at night, and then works out their mysterious movements by noting the number and direction of their steps. Following the steps leads Suzy to freedom, and poor Sarah to a tangle with razor wire. But never mind the story: sit back and let the pullulating sound and vision crawl all over you.

Stephen Thomson

Buy Suspiria (Blu-ray) [DVD] [1976] from Amazon

Buy Suspiria [DVD] [1976] from Amazon

audio Listen to the podcast of the Dario Argento interview + Goblin Q&A led by Alex Fitch at the Supersonic music festival in Birmingham.

Watch the trailer for Suspiria:

Berlin Alexanderplatz

Berlin Alexanderplatz

Format: DVD

Release date: 22 October 2007

Distributor: Second Sight

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Based on novel by Alfred Döblin

Cast: Günter Lamprecht, Hanna Schygulla, Gottfried John, Barbara Sukowa

Germany 1980
910 mins

Ever wondered how Homer Simpson would have fared in the economically ruined and morally compromising world of Weimar Republic Berlin? Franz Biberkopf is a dopey big oaf, sensual and mediocre, but with some sort of basic decency. The precise nature of this decency is not always easy to locate: he has after all done time for killing his girlfriend in a rage. This violent scene is replayed countless times in flashback throughout the series, which begins with Franz leaving Tegel prison. He hesitates on the threshold, deafened by the roar of the city, before trying to dive back into the relative security of incarceration. As he stands with his hands over his ears in close-up, the first chapter heading appears: ‘the punishment begins’. This is in line with Alfred Döblin’s novel, which from the word go makes no secret that Franz is its plaything, and that he will be allowed a little fun before being squashed like a fly. Fassbinder’s adaptation is likewise punctuated by storyboard intervals of pointedly didactic narration brutally denying any idea of free will, and forestalling any possibility of a happy ending. Its indulgence towards Franz’s wife-beating rages may say as much about the 1970s as anything, but it is certainly not out of keeping with the novel’s vision of a harsh world that poisons the sweetest sentiments and the best intentions. In other words, Berlin Alexanderplatz is not everyone’s idea of fun. It has an enormous reputation as a pioneering piece of television, and as Fassbinder’s masterpiece, but has barely been seen since its early 1980s release. Digitally restored, thanks to recent technological advances fascinatingly detailed on the bonus disc, it stands as a reminder of time when art was ‘grimly compelling’.

The ICA screens the full Berlin Alexanderplatz programme from the original 35mm prints in November 2013. On the weekend of 9/10 November, Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit will introduce the screening. For more information on screening dates/times and tickets visit the ICA website.

The fact that Alexanderplatz offers considerably more than historical interest has a lot to do with the intensity of many of the performances. Günter Lamprecht brilliantly conveys Biberkopf’s insane swings from puppyish optimism to baffled rage as he lurches from one dead-end job to another, flirts cluelessly with Nazism, and struggles to go straight in a pervasively criminal economy. The hysterical edge to his gaping smile is caught by the golden glow of the cinematography, which at once produces the idea of an idyll and perversely highlights the grubbiness and tattiness of the surfaces it covers. And we are periodically reminded that this is only light after all: when things go really wrong, there is darkness broken by the lurid pulse of neon from the street. Then things turn really hysterical. Hysteria, of course, is what Fassbinder does: in all times and in all places, Fassbinder’s creations just are hysterical, because that’s the way he likes them. To a certain extent this is something his films reflect on as well as act out: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) in particular is a study in hysteria. To maintain control over the script of her life, Petra needs someone like the pliant, essentially indifferent, Karin. Her theatre is unsustainably brittle from the start, but when Karin’s indifference becomes active it shatters utterly. The only Petra von Kant figure in Berlin Alexanderplatz is Fassbinder himself, and you can see why he was drawn to Dí¶blin’s novel: in its Weimar Republic, everyone is a marionette. In desperate times, we are driven on all the more uncomprehendingly by our own obscure compulsions, just because satisfying them is such a brutal struggle. The aesthetic upshot of this in novel and screen adaptation alike is directorial tyranny tinged with pity.

In the Fassbinder series, this also manifests itself in a noticeably theatrical mise en scène. Alexanderplatz is sometimes puffed as an extremely long film about the bustle of the modern city and so forth, and so is written up into the pantheon of late twentieth-century art cinema. It is questionable how accurate this is. Firstly, though it has been screened as a film, Alexanderplatz is shot on 16mm, is over 15 hours long, and breaks down neatly into episodes. In other words, it’s a TV series! Perhaps even more critically, the vaunted scenes of city life are surprisingly few, and are vastly outnumbered by quite stagey scenes in a fairly small number of interior sets. The (excellent) making-of film on the bonus disc makes a great deal out of the city street set as exemplifying scale and ambition. This is partly a matter of money: such scenes graphically advertise the budget of the project (though the set itself was economically filched from Bergman). But they also stage the film director as heroic commander of a vast technical effort. When Fassbinder is being, rather than playing, the director, he is much more given to theatrical blocking in claustrophobic settings. Dialogue in Alexanderplatz is routinely conducted, not face to face, but with both characters staring into ‘the audience’, one mid-stage, the other with their nose pressed against the fourth wall. To a certain extent, this is about alienation: what determines the characters is not so much their relationship with each other, as the inscrutable force of a whole situation that engulfs them all. But the technique comes, as does Fassbinder himself, and indeed many of his actors, out of the theatre, and the effect can be a little dated.

Not as dated, however, as Fassbinder’s ostentatiously art-cinema epilogue. Here Biberkopf wanders through a sort of underworld fugue on the themes of the series. Accompanied by two ‘angels’ outfitted in the manner of Wagnerian hard rock of the period, Franz meets dead characters who comment helpfully on their roles. Swastikaed brown shirts march past and tussle with communist workers. There’s a Nativity with Franz’s head pasted onto the body of the infant Christ. An atom bomb explodes, providing the obligatory mushroom cloud. Anyone who has come to cultural consciousness in the late 70s and early 80s will recognise the iconic status of such images, and understand the signal that politically-informed film is taking place. What is striking at this distance is how gestural all this was, and how little it adds up to a thought-out critical portrait of the threat of totalitarianism and so forth. With the current blossoming of German cinema dealing with WWII and its fallout, it might seem there has never been a better time to revisit Alexanderplatz. And this is true, but its take on the politics of the 1920s is rather more oblique than one might be led to expect. On the bonus disc, the generally thoughtful Hanna Schygulla suggests that Mieze’s plan for Eva to have a child by Franz shows the threesome briefly and idyllically putting aside the scrabble for possessions in favour of a sort of 1968 idealism. But again this seems rather a plausible appeal to a reflex notion of leftism rather than a reflection on the complexities of the series.

Fassbinder’s artistic and political interests, leftist or not, lie elsewhere. One of the most compelling characters and performances is Gottfried John’s Reinhold. He embodies someone for whom the moral compromises of a chaotic and desperate social milieu present no problem. He initially hooks up with Franz as someone who can take his girlfriends off his hands when he grows bored with them, which routinely happens after a month or so. Franz’s willingness to oblige, while it does not exactly make him a moral figure, is not condemned and seems to reflect the same sort of dim and misdirected generosity of spirit that sees him briefly don a swastika armband in the cause of order, whilst having nothing personal against Jews. Heartiness and a good appetite, it seems, are ultimately good, even if they lead to some dubious choices. John’s Reinhold, who is in fact one of these dubious choices, is all the more menacing and repugnant because he is spineless, stammering and effete. He represents a notion of evil not as strength, but as resentful weakness with opportunity. He is indebted to Franz for a capacity for pleasure he does not himself possess, and thus also hates him for it, and happily betrays him at every turn. Yet, even when Franz realises this, it is Reinhold, rather than the fundamentally decent working-man-turned-criminal Meck, that he considers his friend. Franz’s bewildering trust precipitates the final catastrophe when Reinhold tries to carry on their old triangular arrangement with Franz’s own girlfriend Mieze. The epilogue somewhat spells out a thesis on this in a scene where Reinhold finds true love with his cellmate in prison. In the series proper, scenes between Franz and Reinhold crackle with obscure and unspoken motivation. The final showdown between Reinhold and Mieze in an artificially lit nightmare fairy-tale wood is one of the most brilliant and shocking things in the whole series.

Overall, watching Berlin Alexanderplatz is a queasy experience. That its hero is at all sympathetic is a tribute to Lamprecht’s performance, but also to the sheer nastiness of the world Biberkopf inhabits. Its strength lies in its ability to make us care about grubby lives doomed from the start. It has a far more uneasy conscience than most cinema or TV today. This can make it hard going, but in a time of well-meaning but simplistic tales such as Sophie Scholl, it is fascinating to peer into a less affluent, less attractive time when moral choices did not seem so clear-cut. And I don’t just mean the 1970s.

Stephen Thomson

SUPER SIZE CINEMA: THE ART OF GLUTTONY

Taxidermia

In an effort to be seasonal we take a look at ten different approaches to gluttony from the stuffing-centric Taxidermia to Oldboy‘s infamous live-octopus-devouring scene via the heroic overeating of Cool Hand Luke before finishing with Luis Buñuel’s inverted view of eating and defecating in The Phantom of Liberty.

1- La Grande bouffe (1973)
A fate worse than death by chocolate: for La Grande bouffe (1973) Marco Ferreri corralled Europe’s leading fatuous males – Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli and Ugo Tognazzi – alongside the ineffectual Philippe Noiret, as a group of successful but jaded gastronomes taking their food obsession to its ultimate conclusion. Each wraps up his daily business surrounded by admiring female subordinates before heading off, like podgy avatars of Huysmans’ Des Esseintes, to Noiret’s secluded mansion to await the arrival of van-loads of flesh, and a gaggle of apparently obligatory but ultimately supernumerary hookers. Into a whirl of lounging, vintage porn slide-shows and cake art, wanders Andréa Ferréol’s primly fleshy schoolteacher. As the hookers are eclipsed by their hosts’ cuisine-bonding, and possibly disgusted by Piccoli’s heroic struggle with flatulence, only Andréa remains. Ferreri’s always impressive misogyny never came closer to seeing its preposterous logic. Poor Marcello and Michel: they can only declare their love in the language of cake. Skinny pink turtlenecks over seventies waistlines abound. Sadly for our heroes it was probably the additives that did it for them before the calorific. STEPHEN THOMSON

2- Se7en (1995)
The image of gluttony in Se7en is a memorably grotesque one – a massive, sauce-spattered figure lies face down in a plate of spaghetti and vomit, flies buzzing around his swollen head. The first victim of Kevin Spacey’s biblical psycho, poor Gluttony has been force-fed to death, his wrists and ankles bound with barbed wire, made to eat until his intestines ruptured, a human foie gras. To be honest, it seems somehow unfair to lump this poor sap in with the more intentionally greedy monsters on this list, but we are assured by the coroner that he was already quite rotund and therefore, presumably, deserved it. Perhaps there are worse ways to die than shovelling spaghetti sauce until your guts burst, but offhand I can’t think of any. TOM HUDDLESTON

3- The Meaning of Life (1983)
The most obvious movie glutton is of course Mr Creosote – Terry Jones in perhaps the world’s largest fat suit projectile vomiting in a chic French restaurant. Carefully perusing the menu (once John Cleese’s head waiter has wiped off the vomit) before grumpily announcing, ‘I’ll have the lot’. However, watching it nowadays, I realise I may have misunderstood the punch line. I’d always assumed the ‘waffer-thin mint’ to be the straw that made the camel’s guts explode. But having recently discovered the cinematic delights of YouTube I now understand the science behind it all: it is the combination of mint confectionary and fizzy drinks (mixing six crates of brown ale and a Jeroboam of champagne with an After Eight). PAUL HUCKERBY

4- Cool Hand Luke (1967)
One of the more bizarre but ultimately winning displays of gluttony in cinema appears in this 1967 prison camp classic, as Paul Newman’s eponymous inmate (jailed, in a similar display of wilful recklessness, for cutting the heads off parking meters while drunk) forces himself to down fifty hardboiled eggs for a bet. The sight of our hero forcefully cramming yet another slippery white oval into his already overstuffed maw is at first amusing, then worrying, then horrifying, then depressing, and finally sort of heroic. This is gluttony as rebellion against the system, even if the system doesn’t really notice, or care. TOM HUDDLESTON

5- Taxidermia (2006)
While many American films look outward at ‘the other’ to disturb audiences, Taxidermia finds horror in looking inwards by telling the tale of three generations of Hungarians who like stuffing themselves. The first character likes stuffing his favourite appendage into whatever he can, his son likes stuffing his face and his grandson likes stuffing dead animals. The first two, more comedic, acts of the film contain horrific scenes (a pig being graphically slaughtered and an eating contest where the massively obese gorge themselves and then regurgitate) that will elicit gasps and laughter in equal proportion; but it’s the third act, concentrating on the life of the taxidermist that slips over into full-blown horror. I’d like to think I’ve got a strong stomach, but this is one of the few films that has made me feel somewhat faint and genuinely nauseous, so be warned! ALEX FITCH

6- The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)
In British cinema rough working-class types have no place in fine dining restaurants. Mr Creosote and East-End gangster Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover are no exceptions to this rule. Usual social faux-pas, such as using the wrong cutlery, don’t even register. You wouldn’t wish customers like these on Gordon Ramsay. Both share a similar bullying way with restaurant staff (beating them or puking on them) and they can be disturbing to fellow diners (stabbing forks into their cheeks or drenching them in semi-digested food). They are both unimpressed by the restaurant’s pretentiousness – ‘Give it some more parlez-vous Franí§ais’, Spica advises a hapless waiter. And they feed on delicacies in a most indelicate manner – Creosote orders foie gras, caviar, truffles and quails’ eggs all mixed together in a bucket (with the eggs on top). But of course gluttony is a deadly sin and both Creosote and Spica get their come-uppance in memorable fashion. PAUL HUCKERBY

7- Stand by Me (1986)
Heroic gluttony is a rare thing, but Davey ‘Lardass’ Hogan, like Cool Hand Luke before him, is a pioneer in the field. Appearing in a campfire yarn told by budding writer Wil Wheaton to his childhood compadres, Lardass’ story is one of pies, intrigue, humiliation, revenge, and more pies. Swearing vengeance on the town that spurned him, Lardass drinks a pint of castor oil, swallows a raw egg and enters the Tri-County Pie Eat, shovelling down five whole blueberry pies with both hands tied behind his back. Needless to say the results are deeply disturbing. Never have the words ‘when the smell hit the crowd’ brought on quite such a Technicolor display of human explosion. TOM HUDDLESTON

8- Super Size Me (2004)
Along with Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock is one of the most successful documentarians of his generation and like Moore, he picks obvious, albeit clearly guilty bad guys. With McDonalds he has one of the easiest targets on the planet, associated with obesity and the never-ending Americanisation of our culture. Shock value and tabloid paranoia make this a fascinating but repulsive film to watch. When Spurlock vomits his Supersize meal on what is only the second day of his experiment, it almost seems too soon and too predictable but as is often the way with modern documentaries, the points have to be made disturbingly loud and clear. For your average Guardian reader this is preaching to the converted – of course eating every meal at McDonalds for a month will make you ill – but this is a credible exaggeration of a lifestyle that doesn’t send enough people to the vomitorium. ALEX FITCH

9- Oldboy (2003)
Having just escaped from a mysterious prison where he was kept locked up for fifteen years without ever being told why, Oh Dae-su sits down in a sushi restaurant for his first meal as a free man. The waitress places a live octopus in front of him but before she can chop it up for him Oh Dae-su grabs the mollusc, stuffs its viscous grey head into his mouth, viciously tears it off and proceeds to masticate with frightful determination while the beast’s tentacles squirm and writhe in his hand. Most filmmakers would have shown Oh Dae-su’s thirst for revenge by having him gun down a roomful of villains but Park Chan-wook puts all of his character’s pent-up rage into this brief but intense display of primal gluttony. Almost unbearable to watch, it brilliantly conveys Oh Dae-su’s equally unbearable inner turmoil. VIRGINIE Sí‰LAVY

10- The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

Today there is going to be gold.

This micro-feature is supposed to be about gluttony but being the contrarian that I am I prefer to look at gluttony’s occult, shit.

A social gathering in a bourgeois house. Guests sit at a large dining table and chat and gossip banally about their hair-do’s, sex lives, politics, business; they do so sat astride rather fine porcelain toilets, trousers at their ankles, skirts hitched up to their hips. In Luis Buñuel’s 1974 portmanteau film The Phantom of Liberty the conviviality of a typical middle-class dinner party is inverted. It is the norm to defecate socially and collectively but to eat is another matter; to do this the guests cough lightly and ask to be excused from the niceties of group defecation in order to go off and eat in the illicit confines of a special cubicle that is reminiscent of nothing other than a lavatory. A true Freudian surrealist, Buñuel makes the process of eating appear to be a socially embarrassing act to indulge in and a grotesque thing to listen to too. Buñuel really exploits the mystifying echo-chamber-like acoustics of lavatories and the bestial chomp and slather of eating.

In The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, the philosopher Slavoj Zizek talks about the toilet being a conduit between us and a primordial underworld and not just a conduit between us and the equally fascinating worlds of plumbing and sanitation. One only has to gaze briefly at the 1968 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to see a connection between effluvia, greed, plumbing and terrifying nether worlds. The greedy Bavarian boy Augustus Gloop drinks from a faecal-looking chocolate river and is eventually sucked up a large colon-like pipe. But as the end of this featurette encroaches upon us, let’s move from Dahl to Dali, and close with a quote from a man more than au fait with excrement. In his diary (Diary of a Genius) entry for September 1st, 1958, he states: ‘At daybreak I dreamt that I was the author of several white turds, very clean and extremely agreeable to produce. When I woke up I said to Gala, “Today there is going to be gold”’. PHILIP WINTER

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