Art Film Travel
By Martainn Russell.
Never been one to shy away from the fact that I am a card-carrying fan of low brow B-movie fare, whose only experience of world cinema had been, up until this point, Asian exploitation cinema and a smattering of Euro gore, horror and sleaze epics. But through this unashamed glorification of my cinephillic shortcomings I realised I had a problem, a major malaise that affects my life, my social interactiveness, and my conversational topicality method. Basically I rant about movies nobody else has seen or wants to see. Unfortunately it doesn’t end there, another symptom has reared its ugly pus filled head. I’m addicted to watching crap intensive Hollywood product. Even worse, I like it. I enjoy it. Now I know what you’re thinking: everybody watches and devours the platters of pap that Hollywood excretes on a regular basis. But it’s not the same. I’m trying to educate myself. But no I’m settling down with munchies and beverages and actively choosing to watch Gone in 60 Seconds (2000). Again! I know this sucks skunk cock but I try to find something good in this film (Well Angelina Jolie and an ass kicking soundtrack were top of my list). That’s how strong a grip this disease has on my psyche. Try this for size, I’m a big John Woo fan (well of his early stuff) but the ballistic bogosity that is Broken Arrow (1996) defies you to like it in any way shape or form. But no, fuck-knuckle here gets it down on VHS and chooses to watch it over the likes of A Better Tomorrow (1987) or Hard-Boiled (1992). Am I out of my fucking mind? What about the time I moaned about missing Cut Throat Island when it was on TV or when I hankered for a viewing of Jennifer Lopez’s finest hour and a half, the sublimely daft Anaconda (1997). How’s that for building my intellectual prowess or increasing my chances with the opposite sex.
ME: Hey how would you like to come back to my place and watch Anaconda or, if you want Universal Soldier?
HER: Fuck off you sad wanker, if you had said Visconti’s Death in Venice, you might have been lucky.
ME: Vis.. who, Death in what?
HER: Piss off
ME: Sob Sob (walking away dejected)
I decided something had to be done. Maybe I could cure this filmatic vegetative state that I had thoughtlessly put myself in, maybe I could stop deluding myself that world cinema was just badly dubbed martial arts movies, men in monster suits stepping on crappy looking models of Tokyo or splatter packed zombie movies. Maybe, just maybe I could turn myself into a knowledgeable, all round movie buff, an expert, a cinematic know it all. Hell if Kim Newman can do it anyone can. Right? Well we were about to find out. So instead of treading lightly into the waters of more cerebrally challenging cinema, I waded in and took in Italian, German and Japanese art house fare with a smattering of Greek and French along the way. It wasn’t easy, sometimes I lapsed, the need to watch Dungeons and Dragons (2000) was so overwhelming it beggared belief, the need to re-watch Deep Blue Sea (1999) was frighteningly real and totally inexcusable. But I did manage to stave off the watching of more brainless bombastic behemoths and watched classics that I only mistakenly read about while trying to read about Godzilla or Lucio Fulci.
So where did I start in this journey around the cinematic world in however long it took? Well Germany seemed like a good place to begin. I hadn’t experienced much in the way of German Cinema, exploitation or otherwise. The only movies of any interest to me were the fun and clever Run Lola Run (1988) and the scary Anatomie (2000) both coincidentally starring the lovely and talented Franka Potente. Other than that, zilch. I had of course heard the name Werner Herzog, but had never seen one of his movies. That was about to change. Aguire, Wrath of God (1972) blew me away, but truth be told, it took two attempts to get through it. It was worth it in the end though. The majestic opening sequence is one that only true film fans could love and the end sequence with a lone Klaus Kinski on a raft chasing after a pack of monkeys is pure poetry. Mention has to be made of the music that plays throughout, it’s haunting, surrealness adds a magical quality to the visuals and heightens the whole viewing experience. This was the kind of stuff I was missing because of my blinkered small-minded vision. After this synapse shocking revelation, I thought that Herzog could do no wrong so I hastily put on his 1979 remake of the classic Nosferatu. Whoops! I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d bathed in a bath of incorrectness lathered up with soapy stupidness and dried myself off with a towel of twatness. To say that this film is boring is like saying that shit stinks. It’s pretty bloody obvious. What was Herzog thinking about? He was making a vampire film not a cure for insomnia. This film bites weasel dick and is not to be viewed by anyone, unless you indulge in matters of a masochistic nature, then be my guest. I promise you though; you’ll regret it.
My next port of call was Italy and several directors of note of which I had managed to dodge were to serve me up platters of movie morsels, which were pretty hard to digest at times. But when cut up into smaller more edible chunks made the swallowing that little bit easier even if it was still a bit rich for my ever expanding junk cinema gut. Pasollini died after delivering one of the most shocking and repulsive movies ever. Salo:120 Days Of Sodom (1975). I went to see it because I was a cocky bastard who thought he could handle anything. I’d seen the Cannibal Holocaust (1979) and Cannibal Ferox (1981 ) and came out relatively unscathed. This was going to be a piece of cake. It’s been a while but I still can’t shake this one. Not a pleasant film, but one that has to be seen by anyone slightly interested in cinema. As an antidote to that I thought I would try Pasollini’s Arabian Nights (1974). A dreamy sumptuous movie that is also chock full of nudity (male and female), and some nasty scenes of dismemberment and castration. A slightly better introduction to Passolini for sure, but still an acquired taste.
After that it was a short stop over in Greece. Ulysses Gaze (1995) by Theo Angelopoulos. It was four false starts before I got through this humoungous movie. Was it worth it? Well I got through it all, which is really good for me. But I was expecting to see Harvey Keitel searching for some legendary lost reels of film, instead we see him discovering himself and being lucky with the ladies everywhere he goes. However there are some magical moments in this film but at over three hours long and its slow pace it demands a lot from it’s audience.
Let me now take you all the way to Japan for a brief excursion into the kingdom of Akira Kurosawa. Now before you all start shouting and balling about how Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961) and The Hidden Fortress (1958) etc shouldn’t be included as part of my art house cinema curriculum, just hold it right there coz I wasn’t going to. I was going to tackle three of his more personal movies. Real brain busters for sure, pictures with pertinent points to make and one of them featured Richard Gere. Was I able to stand it? Or would it be a case of just taking on too much too soon. Sometimes I think I learn best when I’m thrown in at the deep end so to speak, so I didn’t really think I was taking on too much. Haha. Dersu Uzala (1975) is a long long movie where fuck all happens and then it finishes. The title is the main characters name and he is quite an amiable chappie. More interesting than the deadly dull Ruskies that fill the movie. There are some cracking panoramic shots, but they don’t save this from being a bore. This came from Kurosawa after his suicide attempt and it kinda shows. It totally alienated his Japanese audience, but what the fuck did they know (and me for that matter) it only walked away with the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture in 1976. Having survived this battering ram of boredom I wasn’t that quick to put on Dodes’ka-den (1970). This was the movie Kurosawa made before his suicide attempt. This was because this was a monumental flop both critically and financially. It’s not hard to see why really. It’s a mega bore of mega proportions. Talk, talk,talk,talk, talk. It may have been his first film in colour but this is deadly dull stuff. Kurosawa is trying to say something for sure but you can’t get your message across when you’re audience is copping some Z’s. So on to the Richard Gere starrer. Rhapsody in August ( 1990) is all about the long term after effects of the atom bomb attacks. Again it’s a talky film but this was the best of the bunch. The end scene with the old woman walking in the storm and still standing while the grand kids chase after her and keep falling all over the place is the most perfect image of how society has changed.
The next stop on my whirlwind tour of world cinema was another visit to Italy, this time to subject myself to a three course meal of movies by Michelangelo Antonioni. For starters was his English language film (it’s not cheating it still counts) Blow Up (1966) starring David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave. Set during the Swinging Sixties it’s basically about a photographer who inadvertently takes a photograph of a murder, or did he? But in Antonioni’s hands this is smothered beneath a tonne of pretentious nonsense about seeing is believing (or not in this case), fantasy (of a sort) Vs reality. You sit through the whole film thinking that there will be a logical conclusion were everything is explained, things like was there an actual murder, who was or wasn’t murdered. Hey wait a minute just writing that has maybe cleared things up a little for me. Maybe that’s the point of the film. Anyway at the time of watching it, I didn’t get it. I tell ya those words are going to be on my gravestone. Anyway it had my attention for its duration and Hemmings is always worth a watch so I kinda liked it. A good sign then for my next course in the Antonioni menu. La Aventura’s (1960) premise was equally as promising as Blow Out’s. This time it concerned a woman disappearing on an island while on a holiday with some friends. Started off ok and then went completely over my head. It took three attempts to watch this sucker! To make matters worse this movie lasted over two, mind fucking, hours. After it I was shattered and do you know what? You got it, I didn’t get it. I’m not even going to try and explain it but it made me feel like a complete and utter nonce. All part of the learning curve I guess. Anyway I had one more plateful of Antonioni to get through. Zabriskie Point (1969) was his first American film, so I thought it would be more accessible than his other two. Shiiit! This was so over my head as to be in the atmosphere. It had a real nifty explosion at the end (which Antonioni must have thought too, coz he shows it again and again from every bloody angle imaginable). Then he shows us other shit blowing up. It pretty much ends like that. No prizes for guessing that I didn’t get this one. This triple dose of Antonioni made me realise that as a story telling filmmaker he makes them so dense as to be impenetrable but as a technical filmmaker he is really good. His framing of people within landscapes whether they are urban cityscapes or barren desert/islandscapes is quite breathtaking at times
Next up was Bernardo Bertolluci’s The Conformist (1969). No prizes for guessing what happened next. Well, give me my due, I did watch it till the end (I said that about the Greek movie but heck these are real brain busting ass numbing movies so give me a break). There was some real funky camera work on show and the murder scene near the end is pretty harrowing. Also there was a “floaty” ambience, a balletic quality that is quite hypnotic. But in the main it just didn’t float my boat. I quickly followed this up with Fellini’s La Strada (1954). No chance! I’ve never been a big fan of Neo realism so this had a shit load stacked against it right from the start if it was going to have any chance of winning me over. Nope. Couldn’t be done. I feel like a real shit for writing this but I can’t do these types of movies. I need zip and kapow in my films not sitting brooding melancholy.
It was around this time that I decided to give up on my world cinema tour or rather take it a little more slowly. I had supped from the wineglass of taste rather than gulp from the mug of tastelessness. I wasn’t a changed man by any stretch of the imagination, I knew I had taken that first crucial step in broadening my rather limited movie mind. I had expected to come out numb and dejected and to a certain extent I did but I also felt good, I felt proud and most of all I felt stupid. Some I got some I didn’t. These movies made you think and even though I didn’t get most of them, something in my wasteland of a mind clicked. A small click to be sure, but I was also confused and that is why I feel stupid and elated at the same time. Some of these films I couldn’t get through even if you had held a gun to my head. But then I thought wait a minute some art house film directors’ work I really like. Take Giuseppe Tornatore for example. A film with his name on it is always worth rushing to see. I love Cinema Paradiso (1989) and Pure Formality (1994) is a tour de force of acting and camera work and has a doozy of an ending as well. But these films weren’t jam packed with car chases, shootouts and a parade of naked women. The same goes for the early work of Luc Besson. The Big Blue (1988) is a masterpiece and it’s a quiet contemplative piece of cinema. I really dig Kurosawas’ classic Rashomon (1951). It’s a talky, thoughtful movie with a period setting and no samurai sword swishing shindigs. I must be doing something right after all.
It was a minor revelation; I had been experiencing quality movies but I had just been closing my mind to loads of other quality movies because they didn’t contain mindless violence, mindless sex, mindless swearing and mindless mindlessness. Through time I will go back to all those movies that went right over my head and I will re-watch them and I’ll understand them or at least see something that I had missed before. Until then I’ll keep the balance as it is and watch a triple bill of Ilsa movies one night and then maybe a triple bill of Tornatore on another. The world of movies is vast and you ain’t gonna see it all but hell, it’s a superb job trying to. See you at the movies folks.
Review By Martainn Russell.
© Owned Martainn Russell 05/10/2004 22:53