Saturday, May 03, 2008

Update: World Cinema Showcase

Film watching has gone a little awry, as me week got away on me a little. I have managed to see three movies, but none can be the subject of a post in their own right. One is because I simply did not like it: Terence Davies' 1988 movie Distant Voices, Still Lives had an amazing write up as "one of the greatest of British movies", but I found it too depressing. It is set in Liverpool, and tells the story of a family through a generation, starting around WWII. Instead of a conventional narrative, the movie is more like edited high-lights (or low-lights, to be more accurate) - a friend with more technical command of film speak than me says it is "elliptic" in style. The old generation was subjected to what seems to be unyielding violence and rage from the patriarch. The new generation seems a little better - but there are some guys shaping up to be just as bad. And the singing! The characters seemed to be singing the whole way - sometimes the song chosen would be an ironic under-cutting or setting for a scene but my basic problem was that there was far too much of it.

The other two movies leave me with a different problem: they are very visual and I'm not sure I can say much about them. Southland Tales is the new movie from Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko). People seemed to hate it - critics and the movie going public, but I kind of liked its madness. I was talking to someone last night about the big-scale madness of the Russian movie Nightwatch - it shares something with Southland Tales, which builds up to the end of the world, from a variety of sources - neo-Marxist terrorists, war veterans
and a breach of the space-time continuum were the most obvious. Meanwhile, people still like to have a good time, so there's lots of pop stars and pornstars - it is a carnivalesque apocolypse.

Then there is Holy Mountain, directed and written by and starring
Alejandro Jodorowsky, maker of cult movies. His first major movie, the psycho-religious western El Topo was on earlier in the week but I had to miss it. As the title suggests, religion plays a part in The Holy Mountain - the latter part is clearly some sort of quest towards immortality. There is a group of nine - all but two live on one of the planets - the other two are the leader/alchemist and the fellow who looks like Jesus. One phase is the loss of self - which they achieved by having plaster mannequins of themselves and destroying them. When they have to count the number of members, they have become sufficiently selfless to fail to count themselves, so "one is missing" - then they see themselves reflected in some water and decide "that missing person has drowned". And this is the most sensible part of the movie! The Onion says this is "all in service of a typically Jodorowskian call to action, urging us to abandon fantasy and embrace reality".

There is lots of blood, of mutiliation, of focus on sexual organs and function (but no actual sex), of disabled people, of things that couldn't possibly happen (e.g. a string of birds flying out of someone's body) and the general wierd. Three scenes show how weird things can get: one has a bunch of toads dressed up in armour as part of a circus (which gets blown up); another sees the Christ like figure wake up surrounded by a multititude of his likenesses cast out of some edible substance
(he eats the face out of one) and the third sees the Alchemist turn this fellow's excrement into gold ("You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold."). I think that this first half was the mad bad world at its worst, the one that provokes the climb up holy mountain.

But the end shows such a pilgrimage has no point: the holy mountain is just a myth, not real.

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Blogger owens valley tomatohead said...

There is less singing in Davies' other film "The Long Day Closes," but I think you wouldn't like it for its same downbeat style. Also, I don't think Davies went for the linear narrative until he got to Hollywood. (As an aside, I don't think the Front Lawn ever made a film that didn't loop back on itself).

Maybe there wasn't much to be glad about in Liverpool in the 1950s?

Still, the long opening track shot of a wet street of dreary English rowhouses at night set to Nat King Cole's version of "Stardust" still slays me. Maybe I'm a sucker for cheap irony. :)

3:52 PM  

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