Tag Archives: 60s film

Something Different/A Bagful of Fleas

Something Different

Format: DVD

Release date: 29 February 2016

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Věra Chytilová

Writer: Věra Chytilová

Original titles: O něčem jiném (Something Different), Pytel blech (A Bagful of Fleas)

Cast: Eva Bosáková, Věra Uzelacová

Czechoslovakia 1963/1962

81/43 minutes

This new release explores Věra Chytilová’s early 1960s documentary-inflected pre-Daisies work.

‘It’s like guarding a bagful of fleas,’ says the chaperone at the textile-factory workers’ dance. The young employees jive to a rendition of ‘O Sole Mio’ with new Czech lyrics, which have special poignancy for Jana, who is about to lose her boyfriend to the army. She’s been creating trouble, both on the job and in the girls’ dormitory where she lives, boarding-school style. No smoking, no flirting, no sneaking out to the cinema, and up for work at 4:30 am – those are the rules. A subjective camera represents the point of view of Eva, a new recruit, making the audience literally share her newcomer’s perspective. We’re in her shoes as she first enters her new living quarters, where the girls stare, tease, and talk directly to the camera in close-up. We listen in on Eva’s private opinions about everything that she observes: ‘Go on, eat something, you’re thin as a rake,’ she thinks, as the dorm’s chubbiest member snacks away. ‘Strange, women dancing together,’ remarks her inner voice, as she watches her co-workers practising for the next party.

Fans of Věra Chytilová’s famously experimental and anarchic Daisies (1966) are in for a treat with another release of her work on DVD by Second Run. Last year they released two later films, Fruit of Paradise (1970) and Traps (1998), which took Daisies’ fantasy and feminism even further. This release of Something Different (1963) and A Bagful of Fleas (1962) takes us back to the beginning of Chytilová’s career.

Something Different presents a parallel montage of the lives of two women: stay-at-home mum V?ra and professional gymnast Eva Bosáková. The housewife is played by Chytilová’s friend Věra Uzelacová, with her actual son, Milda, as her naughty little boy. The athlete is shown taking part in a real-life international championship, but there are also obviously scripted sections of her story, just like the fictional narrative of Věra and her family. Their lives only intersect briefly at the very beginning of the film, in a transition from the opening sequence of Eva competing, to the living room of Věra’s house where Milda is watching the competition on TV. Chytilová’s talent for rhythmic editing, geometric framing and inventive perspective is already in evidence. Viewers might expect a film of contrasts between the mother in her private sphere and the gymnast in the public eye, but the women share a similar degree of boredom and frustration, and both briefly resist the confines of routine, expectation and isolation.

Compared with Daisies, these early films show more of the influence of documentary realism. The young factory workers in A Bagful of Fleas are non-professional actors improvising their lines; real foremen and officials preside over the Works Committee meeting where Jana is pulled up for bad behaviour. Even so, a gulf in attitude separates this from other films in the Czech New Wave, such as Milos Forman’s A Blonde in Love (1965); there’s also less of Jiří Menzel’s whimsical good humour, and more of Daisies’ knowing cynicism. Both A Bagful of Fleas and Something Different emphasise the oppressive narrowness of their characters’ situation.

Alison Frank

Point Blank

Point Blank
Point Blank

Format: Cinema

Release date: 29 March 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: BFI

Director: John Boorman

Writers: Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse, Rafe Newhouse

Based on the novel The Hunter by: Donald E. Westlake (aka Richard Stark)

Cast: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn

USA 1967

92 mins

Walker (Lee Marvin) is out for revenge after a robbery ends with his friend double-crossing him, leaving him for dead and running off with his wife and the stolen money. It is a classic plot that could easily be an Anthony Mann Western or a Fritz Lang film noir. And yet Point Blank (1967) can be seen as heralding a turning point in Hollywood cinema, which was to lead to the innovative filmmaking of the 1970s and beyond.

While the 60s were marked by a great creative upheaval and experimentation seemed the order of the day, from the ‘new waves’ in France and Czechoslovakia to the American underground cinema, Hollywood remained resistant to these forces for change. The classical Hollywood ‘invisible’ style, with all elements of filmmaking subservient to the narrative, still dominated – The Sound of Music was the biggest hit of 1965 and more big-budget musicals were planned. The director knew he had done a good job if you didn’t notice his work. That an audience could watch and admire the cool stylish direction as well as follow the plot was an idea that only occurred to Hollywood execs at the very end of the decade – the pivotal year of 1969 when the huge failure of those big-budget musicals and the success of films like Easy Rider (1969) forced the industry to reevaluate its approach.

Point Blank was conceived as a vehicle for that unlikely star, Lee Marvin, who somehow became box-office gold in the mid-60s. After years of great scene-stealing performances as the bad guy in such classics as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), The Big Heat (1953) and The Wild One (1953), Marvin seemed to dodge his destined ‘Hey It’s That Guy’ status and found his moment had come.

He inherited the taciturn tough guy roles that John Wayne was too ill to play and took the type to new extremes of meanness. The dark side that lurks inside the Western or noir hero is out in the open in his role as a sociopathic hit man in Point Blank. He even fights dirtier, smashing bottles into faces and punching in the nuts. He is the American individualist – one man against ‘The Organisation’. His enemy has similarly evolved from the scheming cattle barons and corrupt mayors of the Western and noir to a business corporation that has no understanding of revenge or debts of honour. ‘Profit is the only principle,’ its bosses tell Walker. When he asks for his money he is told simply, ‘No business corporation in the world would acknowledge a debt of that kind’. The Hollywood hero struggles manfully on as the modern world throws up unimagined impediments.

It was Marvin who wanted to hire young hip Swinging London director John Boorman; and Marvin again who protected him from studio interference. Boorman – whose previous film (his debut) was the Dave Clark Five movie Catch Us If You Can (1965), a visually inventive and often brilliant mix of Richard Lester wackiness and kitchen sink realism – seems an odd choice for a gritty noir. He brings a range of innovations rarely seen in a mainstream Hollywood thriller, playing with a variety of styles borrowed from underground and art-house directors such as Stan Brakhage and Alain Resnais. The rampaging Walker smashes bottles bath oils that swirl around the plughole like psychedelic projections. Marvin and Angie Dickinson appear in separate fragments of a smashed mirror. But he uses those techniques to further the plot and add psychological depth without slowing the pace of the thriller and maintains the clarity of the Hollywood narrative. The inventive flashbacks (disturbing matches on action) show the character haunted by his memories, and yet temporal disorientation is minimised by an ingenious device – the earlier the flashback, the less grey there is in Lee Marvin’s hair.

Despite the stylish direction, Point Blank, just like Catch Us If You Can, is not a film that celebrates the 60s. For a film set and shot in LA and San Francisco in 1967 it is pretty dour. Even the groovy night club is peopled by slimy middle-aged balding executives singing a call and response with the resident soul band – it is like a scene cut from an ugly version of Mad Men. The 60s California we get here is one of leering used-car salesmen vainly listening to their own radio commercials, corrupt politicians and corporate lawyers.

The desire of stars like Lee Marvin and Steve McQueen to make voguish, cooler-looking films led the studios to bring in European (well, British) directors. Through films like Point Blank and Peter Yates’s commercially successful Bullitt (1968), Hollywood gradually began to appreciate that audiences may enjoy seeing exciting filmmaking even if it drew attention to the artifice of cinema.

Paul Huckerby

Violent Virgin

Violent Virgin

Format: DVD box set (Kôji Wakamatsu Volume 3)

Release date: November 2010

Distributor Blaq Out

Director: Kôji Wakamatsu

Writers: Izuru Deguchi, Atsushi Yamatoya

Original title: Gewalt! Gewalt: shojo geba-geba

Cast: Eri Ashikawa, Toshiyuki Tanigawa, Miki Hayashi

Japan 1969

66 mins

Violent Virgin (1969) is one of Kôji Wakamatsu’s early films. Although it is certainly part of his pink film oeuvre the film maps out many of the director’s later concerns. Like other filmmakers working in the late 60s and 70s, such as Melvin Van Peebles and Ruggero Deodato, Wakamatsu used the format of sexploitation as a way into an exploration of other transgressive acts such as extreme violence, amorality and oppression. The film does have a story: a man and a woman are held in captivity by a group of yakuza thugs and the film explores various shifts in power dynamics between the pair and this group and another group of well-dressed yakuza bosses. Yet, as the film progresses the characters appear to be more like symbols acting out relationships in an allegory rather than part of a narrative. Wakamatsu sets these tableaux entirely outdoors in the wilderness. There is no sense of a horizon and, as such, no suggestion of a place beyond this world. From here, it is easy to speculate that Wakamatsu used this form to comment on broader real-life socio-political dynamics. This comment, though, is fragmented and hinted at, and, arguably, purposefully eclipsed by erotic sensation, although it alludes to dysfunction, tyranny and ultimately meaningless struggles for leadership.

What is so refined about the film is that its exploration of domination is slippery and nonsensical. The microcosm portrayed in this dune-scape is constantly in flux. The central male character, played by Atushi Yamatoya, goes from kidnapped victim, to escapee, to killer, to demon and then to oppressor himself. So to with the portrayals of sex. Here both male and female characters go through a range of experiences of erotic pleasure, physical restraint and humiliation. Remarkably for the time and even notable now, there is a depiction of mutual pleasure in the male/female sex scenes that seems to transcend the male perspective. The women characters are seen to be as sexually and violently charged as their male counterparts. However, Wakamatsu stops short of evening the scores fully by only showing the female characters being subjected to rape.

For a film constantly switching between numerous complex sexual and socio-political positions it remains elegantly simple in its poetic rendering. Wakamatsu favours an uncluttered mise en scène. Yamatoya is nude for much of the film or wearing a woman’s slip, and his lover Hanako, played by Eri Ashikawa, is topless and wearing only her underwear. So many shots depict nude flesh against the grassy wilds or bare earth. There is something levelling about this that creates a sense of equivalence between the characters, a grounding that is present at the same time as a sense of fluctuating structures. This suggests that Wakamatsu wanted to show the characters as base essence as if he was somehow trying to get close to the root of the motivations that prompt the members of the group to behave in the way they do. He, like us, is left with a sense of enigma but also the suggestion of myriad social configurations.

Nicola Woodham