Tag Archives: experimental cinema

Eden and After

Eden and After
Eden and After

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 30 June 2014

Distributor: BFI

Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet

Writer: Alain Robbe-Grillet

Cast: Catherine Jourdan, Lorraine Rainer, Sylvain Corthay

Original title: L’éden et Après:

France, Czechoslovakia 1970

93 mins

If a psychedelic, sado-masochistic, decomposed narrative of feminist self-actualisation against a macho hegemony, improvised around mid-20th-century atonal music compositional techniques, sounds a little dry to you, then you’d be fully justified in giving Eden and After (L’éden et après) a miss.

But you’d be wrong.

‘All you need to make a movie…’ to famously mis-quote Jean-Luc Godard, ‘…is a girl and a gun’; if Catherine Jourdan’s performance in Eden and After proves anything, it’s that any prospective filmmaker could easily dispense with the firearm. However, Jourdan is only one of many successive, sliding, pleasures of the film.

As one of the leading literary luminaries (along with Georges Perec and Marguerite Duras) of the experimental nouveau roman, novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet had been confounding narrative and character expectations in print since the early 50s and in the early 60s turned to film to explore his provocative themes to equal acclaim.

After the relative commercial and critical disappointment of his 1968 feature, The Man Who Lies (L’homme qui ment), Alain Robbe-Grillet was prompted, taking note of the late 60s youthquake, to create something with a specific appeal to a younger audience. In this endeavour, Robbe-Grillet appears at times to be channelling the kaleidoscopic colour schemes of the Italian horror maestro Mario Bava and the slow, surreal sensuality of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco. The hallucinatory atmosphere, flat compositions and pop colours often bring to mind the 60s erotic comics published by Eric Losfield and drawn by Guy Peellaert, Guido Crepax, or more recently, Milo Manara.

Eden and After is certainly Robbe-Grillet’s most visually pleasurable film; red, white and blue dominate – though not, we are assured, for patriotic reasons. Due to a longstanding loathing for the colour green, Robbe-Grillet’s fourth film was only his first in colour. Although the resources were available to him, the verdant locale of The Man Who Lies had by its nature prohibited the process. However, the azure and whitewashed landscape viewed during a short lecture tour of Tunisia provided the chromatic inspiration for Robbe-Grillet’s thrust out of monochrome and into Eastman Color.

In a canny piece of budgetary manipulation, Robbe-Grillet endeavoured to finance Eden and After by using funding intended for a separate feature-length piece destined for French TV, thus requiring a process designed to create two distinct and unique productions, from the footage of a single movie shoot. Robbe-Grillet’s solution came via his fascination with the compositional techniques of mid-20th-century contemporary atonal music (Robbe-Grillet was pals with the Pierre Boulez set). For the improvisational structure of one film, he embraced the serialist theories of Arnold Schoenberg; and for the other, he drew on the aleatoric (literally, throwing a dice) compositional theories pioneered by Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. The result was Eden and After (1970) and the anagrammatical – in both title and content – N. Took the Dice (N. a pris les dès, made in 1971 but not broadcast until 1975).

The plot – and there definitely is one – involves university students at the Eden café – a mutable, Mondrian-gridded, mirrored maze – taking part in ritualized play-acting of various dark scenarios (a gang rape, a wake, a poisoning, an execution). A mysterious, older stranger arrives, disrupting their youthful routine and seemingly offering a passport to adulthood. A chase through a disused, Pompidou-hued factory follows and a mysterious death leads to an exotic North African adventure involving the search for a stolen painting.

The joy of Eden and After is in deciphering the many punning symbols (a key, a keyboard, a musical key, 88 keys, the looping symbol for infinity) and identifying the doubles and mirror images of characters, actions and events in what is, after all, intended as playful; an improvised game following the rules of serialism – 12 generating themes (prison, water, blood, labyrinth, death, sperm etc…) for each of the film’s five chapters, in sequence, with no theme repeated within that chapter.

We are invited to respond to it as we would to a painting or piece of music, and indeed there are many references to painters (another of Robbe-Grillet’s obsessions and occupations), the aforementioned Mondrian and Duchamp among others. It is a very painterly film: deliberately flat to echo the shadowless September noon of the Djerba medina quarter.

Joining the cast a mere three days before production began, Catherine Jourdan was a last-minute replacement when the original actress cast was made temporarily alopeciac due a botched henna-ed hair job. A nightclub acquaintance, Robbe-Grillet was struck by Jourdan’s Medusan locks, which in a typically bloody-minded act, Jourdan had chopped before arriving on set. Although she was not initially cast as the intended protagonist, Jourdan’s effulgent screen presence so dominated the improvisation process that it grew clear that she was the lead, and indeed it is her character that we follow in the second half of the film.

Eden and After is one of a rare handful of films (including Argento’s Profondo Rosso, and Godard’s Le petit soldat perhaps) where you are tangibly aware of the director falling in love with his main actress; Jourdan was never as commanding on screen before or after.

Eden and After, N. Took the Dice and The Man Who Lies are available on the BFI’s Alain Robbe-Grillet Six Films 1963-1974 Blu-ray/DVD box-sets, released on 30 June 2014. Also included are The Immortal One, Trans-Europ-Express and Successive Slidings of Pleasure.

Vadim Kosmos

– Eternally indebted to Tim Lucas’s (of Video Watchdog magazine) typically effusive and scholarly commentary on the BFI discs.

Silence Has No Wings

Silence Has No Wings

Format: Cinema

Screening dates: 4 + 8 August 2011

Venue: BFI Southbank

Director: Kuroki Kazuo

Writers: Iwasa Hisaya, Kuroki Kazuo, Matsukawa Yasuo

Original title: Tobenai chinmoku

Cast: Kaga Mariko, Komatsu Hôsei, Kumura Toshie, Kusaka Takeshi

Japan 1967

110 mins

A young boy in a white shirt and shorts races up the stairs of a department store. The camera closes in on the boy’s eyes, his hand on a banister, his feet on the steps. He stops only in front of a display case containing a butterfly; after, in a field of ferns and birch trees, he chases his prey with a white net, the rushing, soaring camera capturing both his point of view and the fluttering butterfly’s. But the object of his desire, the Nagasaki ageha, is not found in Hokkaido. Thus begins a journey: the director Kuroki Kazuo takes the audience on a trip across Japan, following the path of a larva as it evolves into a caterpillar and finally a butterfly, dipping into various people’s troubled lives as it’s carried from its home in Nagasaki to Hiroshima, Osaka, Yokohama, and finally to Hokkaido - all places of significance in Japan.

The premise and story alone don’t do justice to the true nature of Kuroki’s ground-breaking 1967 film, an elliptical, experimental, abstract and poetic vision that also mixes genres, from documentary to road movie and spy thriller, with stylistic elements of the nouvelle vague. The elusive butterfly is symbolised by the gorgeous Kaga Mariko, who plays a number of enigmatic characters; in the beginning, she’s an ethereal figure shrouded in a white mist; in the end, a woman clothed in a long, black dress, seemingly in mourning. In Hiroshima, she flits through a crowd wearing glamorous European dress, chased by her lover; it’s a beautifully choreographed scene, echoing the boy’s pursuit of the butterfly. She later performs a musical number with an umbrella, dancing through a temple. In Osaka, she appears only as a model, her face peering out from a billboard.

While Kuroki later acknowledged that the film’s politics were overshadowed by its poetry, the war is an important presence, reflected in the choice of Nagasaki and Hiroshima as locations. Kuroki mixes footage of the bombed-out cities with scenes of protest and remembrance and, in a gorgeous use of black and white, a memorial service where people float glittering paper lanterns on a flowing river. Survivors recount their stories on the soundtrack as Mariko stumbles through ruins. An atomic bomb explodes. The caterpillar becomes a pawn in a mysterious game of espionage. Kuroki cuts together footage straight out of a thriller with shots of Japan’s military industrial complex, to the sounds of jazz and sirens (the soundtrack is as important and experimental as the visuals). A man is assassinated; as he lies face down in the middle of the road, the caterpillar is seen an inch from his lips, as if exhaled by the dying man.

Silence Has No Wings seems to become ever more abstract the longer it goes on; it’s a beautifully filmed allegory, a puzzle with reoccurring motifs that are slowly pieced together. There might be clues in the words ‘Butterfly is eagle and flies between swans’, which appear on screen twice, but it would take more than one viewing to really get to the heart of Kuroki’s first feature film.

Produced by a subsidiary of Toho, who were hoping for a commercial success, the controversial film sat on the shelf for a year before it was picked up and screened by the Art Theatre Guild of Japan (ATG) - yet another testament to the importance of that alternative production and distribution organisation in the history of Japanese cinema.

Sarah Cronin



Format: Cinema

Screening date: 26 July 2011

Venue: Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, London

Director: Masao Adachi

Writer: Masao Adachi

Original title: Gingakei

Japan 1967

75 mins

Part of Theatre Scorpio: Japanese Independent and Experimental Cinema of the 1960s

12-31 July 2011

Close-Up Film Club

Close-Up website

The recent international reappraisal of pink cinema, in many ways due to curators Roland Domenig and Go Hirasawa’s programming initiatives and Jasper Sharp’s publication Behind the Pink Curtain, has resuscitated many important filmmakers in danger of being buried under the carpet of Japanese film history. With its emphasis on carnal lust and the darkest libidinal desires, pink cinema is not exactly what Japan would want to offer as an official image of the nation, and yet, as Sharp argues in his book, its presence is undeniable and it is no longer possible to neglect its significance. Masao Adachi is just one of the names cast under this limelight in recent years and, now with retrospectives at the Cinémathèque franí§aise and Shibuya Vuera under his belt, he has secured his place as a key figure of his generation. As a director of unique pink films under the auspices of Wakamatsu Productions and the scriptwriter for many of the best titles directed by Kôji Wakamatsu, Adachi’s contribution to the evolution of pink cinema into more than just sex films cannot be ignored.

Although his name is shaded in pink, more colours are needed to paint Adachi’s portrait. At university, he was closely involved in the making of Bowl (Wan, 1961) and Closed Vagina (Sain, 1963) as a member of the legendary Nihon University Film Studies Club, which produced many pioneering experimental films in the late 50s and early 60s. Together with Motoharu Jônouchi, he was an instrumental figure within the VAN Film Research Centre, a filmmakers’ lab and artists’ commune where films like Document 6.15 (1961) were produced as a continuation of the protest movements that defined the decade. Adachi also worked closely with the leader of the Japanese New Wave, Nagisa Ôshima, as a scriptwriter for Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969) and actor for his seminal Death by Hanging (1968), even directing a lengthy trailer for the film, which became a trademark for titles produced by ATG. His film A.K.A Serial Killer (1969), made in collaboration with Ôshima’s scriptwriter Mamoru Sasaki and film critic Masao Matsuda, developed a theory of landscape (fûkeiron) in its portrait of a teenage murderer through shots of landscapes he may have seen during his upbringing and subsequent rampage. Adachi was invited with Wakamatsu and Ôshima to the Cannes Film Festival in 1971 and, with Wakamatsu, he visited Palestine on the way back to shoot PFLP: Declaration of World War (1971), a newsreel film produced by the Japanese Red Army. In 1974, Adachi abandoned filmmaking to join the Palestinian struggle and disappeared until, over 20 years later, he was arrested in Lebanon in 1997 and extradited to Japan in 2002.

Galaxy (Gingakei), in many ways, embodies a transitional point in Adachi’s direction as a filmmaker. Many of his fellow society members offered production support, and in a sense the film could be construed as a continuation of the activities of the Nihon University Film Studies Club. Although at this point Adachi was already involved with Wakamatsu, the film was produced as the inaugural title for the Theatre Scorpio, where people began to take pink cinema seriously. Yet, Galaxy is quite unlike anything else Adachi has been involved in before or since, a substantial piece of art cinema that reveals the singularity of the filmmaker’s vision.

The narrative is nearly impenetrable; the meshed storyline is entirely subsumed in the nameless protagonist’s subconscious as he attempts to navigate his inner psyche, which has become a mercurial realm where space and time constantly redefine themselves. In his perplexed state, he encounters a doppelgänger, his father dressed in Buddhist attire and his girlfriend, whose size varies from normal to monstrous, and they all have a go at explaining where and what he is, only to cast darker shadows of mystery on the enigma. Deeply influenced by surrealism, each of the film’s gestures pulls us further into a dreamscape where reality and imagination are inseparable and logics of continuity, sense and oscillation in emotion are constantly refracted in different directions. The cyclical structure of the film gives an illusion of coherence yet, within the sphere, clarity spirals out of control while somehow managing to sustain its own dream logic. However, it is clear from our protagonist’s reference to an unspoken event of ’20 years ago’ that he is confronting what he has become in the post-war years.

What is most remarkable about Galaxy is its continuous ability to discover a film language of its own and its command of the abstract universe it has envisioned. Visual tricks unremittingly throw the main character in and out of spaces, always using captivating stylistic methods delivered with playful confidence. Characters emerge out of splatters of paint or from beneath a river, only to altogether disappear, and figures are frozen in position while their surroundings abruptly transform. A sequence on an enormous set of stairs plunges the protagonist into a real sense of bewilderment and conveys a depleted sense of self due to the mischievous tricks the monk, allegedly his father, plays on him. The soundscape, orchestrated by Yasunao Tone, who performed for Japan’s first improvised music collective, Group Ongaku, and who later joined Fluxus, interweaves different aural flickers to further layer the muddled haze. The dialogue, its content unfathomably cryptic, is often delivered in whispers, overlapped with other voices and distorted to accompany the racket of sound arrangements. Yet, amid this cacophony of noise and images, there is a certain clarity and a defiant urge for innovation that sustains the film and makes Galaxy a standout title in the overcrowded line-up of dreamscapes in the history of cinema.

Julian Ross

Mock Up on Mu

Parsons Columns_KalSpelletich

Format: DVD (NSTC Region 0)

Distributor: Other Cinema

Director: Craig Baldwin

Writer: Craig Baldwin

Cast: Stoney Burke, Jeri Lynn Cohen, Damon Packard, Michelle Silva

USA 2008

114 mins

Craig Baldwin has made some of the finest underground feature films of the last 20 years. He draws on the visual detritus of the 20th century, using found footage liberated from B-movies, educational shorts, long-lost adverts and many other sources, and creates an aesthetic of recontextualised images melded to his own narrative ends. From his conspiratorial epic Tribulation 99 (1991) through to Spectres of the Spectrum (1999), Baldwin has engaged with the history and secret histories of the 20th century, tearing through accepted fact and outré conspiracy theories, reality and hyper-reality. His latest feature, Mock Up on Mu, delves deep into Baldwin’s interests in science fiction, rocket science, occult California and the New Age.

Mixing his familiar plunderphonic methods with original footage of his small cast (including underground filmmaker Damon Packard), Mock Up on Mu draws on the biographies of magickian and rocket scientist Jack Parsons, occultist and Beat artist Marjorie Cameron and Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard. A sci-fi history mash-up, the film spins biography, pseudo-biography, actuality, conspiracy and speculation with a gleeful disregard for any distinctions. Baldwin detours into plots and subplots that subvert the historical record. But he isn’t just creating a fantasy so much as he is exploring the mythologies that already existed beneath the collective notion of history. Reality is more than reality and fantasy is more than fantasy.

For more details, visit the Other Cinema website. Watch the first chapter.

Like his previous works, Mock Up on Mu is tightly edited, rapid-paced, informative and irreverent, and coming in at nearly two hours there’s enough here to watch and re-watch. The world may ever seem quite the same again.

Jack Sargeant

Traité de bave et d’éternité

Traite de bave et d'eternite
Traite de bave et d'eternite

Format: DVD

Distributor: Re:Voir

Available in the UK from Close-Up

Director: Isidore Isou

Writer: Isidore Isou

Cast: Isidore Isou, Marcel Achard, Blanchette Brunoy, Jean-Louis Barrault, Blaise Cendrars, Jean Cocteau

France 1951

120 mins

Conceived and directed by Isidore Isou, the founder of the proto-Situationist art movement Lettrisme, Traité de bave et d’éternité (Venom and Eternity, 1951) is an extraordinarily antagonistic, 58-year-old, avant-garde, anti-cinema relic. A howling, white hot, meteor of resistance.

Traité de bave et d’éternité screens at London’s Romanian Cultural Centre on 29 August 2014. This will be a rare opportunity to see the film on the big screen and in 35 mm. Admission is free but booking is essential at bookings@

Although seldom seen in cinemas or galleries, Isou’s film appears to these eyes to be a keystone of 20th- and early 21st-century artists’ film, and an antecedent of the nouvelle vague – specifically Godard.

Over the course of a relentless two hours and three minutes we see footage of Daniel, a tedious character – a narcissist, or dandy if you prefer, played by Isou himself – strutting around boulevard Saint-Germain, expounding nineteen to the dozen on his radical theories for a new form of art cinema. These shots are intercut with every conceivable technique and gimmick now associated with avant-garde film but then suggestive of laboratory mishap or amateurism rather than auteurism. By way of example, Isou plumps for the use of found or appropriated footage – military and gymnastic exercises, fishing boats at work, skiing, naval pomp; direct film – scratching, bleaching of celluloid; asynchronous audio; interruptive bursts in the time-space continuum, more akin to haphazard quantum leaps than jump cuts; total blackness; mind-numbing repetition; upside down camera shots and so on.

It is also a film unafraid to shift its monocular vision onto nothingness and to momentarily hold back the dynamism. There are crisp and stern shots of the mundane – the interior of an apartment, quotidian life. Semi-static portrait shots of miscellaneous sound poets like François Dufrêne and other post-war avant-garde bad boys are completely reminiscent of Warhol in their exquisite blandness.

Despite the constant presence of speech on the audio track this is not a literary film, or at least if it is, it is the equivalent of the frenzied defacement of a literary object. Much like Guy Debord and the Situationist International’s détournement of magazine imagery. This is of course a physical film, a crackpot, yet nonetheless strategic exercise in testing the materiality of cinema; the mutability of cameras, celluloid, editing block and razor blade. It is also an exercise in negation, but as much as it’s a negation of cinematic convention it is also a negation of normative art film technique and it is certainly a composed affront to the slime in the bourgeois eyes and ears of cinephiles circa 1950, and possibly to cinephiles circa 2009. It would appear Isou and cohorts simply didn’t care and the film is all the more refreshing for this insouciance. However, perhaps on a more sombre level, Traité de bave et d’éternité could be perceived as a rather melancholy film ruminating on the torturously irreconcilable schism between the aural and the optical, between the spoken and the seen, a film, perhaps, about the confounding milky weakness of language. Either way it is a must-see cinematic object.

Richard Thomas