Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Redes (1936) d. Emilio Gómez Muriel and Fred Zinnemann

Original poster art for Redes (1936) d. Emilio Gómez Muriel and Fred Zinnemann

Movie Review
Redes (1936)
d. Emilio Gómez Muriel and Fred Zinnemann
World Cinema Foundation
Criterion Collection #686
Criterion Collection/World Cinema Foundation edition available December 10th, 2013

  I'm sure I've mentioned the two main categories of Criterion Collection titles: movies that are actually watchable/fun and movies that are boring and "important."   Different people may break movies down among those categories different ways.  For example, I would the work of Carl Th. Dreyer in the for former category, and I'm sure many people would put them in the later.  I can barely make it through Japanese films from the 50s and 60s, and Italian Neorealism give me a desperate feeling in my soul, like I'm trapped in a boring film class and can't out, and I'm sure there are people who love both those types of films.

 Redes, however, is incontestably a film of historical significance, rather then a fun romp.  Shot by a multi-national crew and released in 1936, Redes is a very early attempt at documentary style realism, shot with non-professional actors and with a very distinctive (for 1936) visual attitude.  The press release for the Criterion Collection edition calls it a "precursor to Italian Neo Realism" but it seems more likely that Italian Neo Realism was created under similar conditions and with similar influence.

  The good news is that Redes clocks in at barely an hour, so if you are in the mood for 30s Mexican film about the plight of fisherman in Baja California... check it out.

  One release note that is worth considering: None of these World Cinema Foundations come with extras- just the (restored) film.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Market Makes Whores of Us All: The Prostitute in Japanese Cinema

Seijun Suzuki's color coded prostitutes have a strict moral code that resembles the Pimp's Code of the West

The Market Makes Whores of Us All:
The Prostitute in Japanese Cinema

Double Suicide (1969) d. Masahiro Shinoda
The Life of Oharu (1952) d. Kenzo Mizoguchi
Gate of Flesh (1964) d. Seijun Suzuki

  You can't work with Artists and ignore the metaphor of Artist as prostitute in terms of their relationship with the larger cultural-industrial complex.  It is a well trodden Artistic theme since before culture WAS an industry, via the Romantic movement.  In Western Art frank depictions of the economic causes of prostitution are few and far between.  Instead, the emphasis up until today tends to be a religious/moral analysis often explicitly made in reference to Christian literature.

 However Japanese cinema, while often dealing with the feelings of personal shame experienced by prostitutes, lacks the Christian reference point that permeates Western Art, and allows Japanese films to more explicitly deal with the economic roots that lay behind most acts of prostitution.  This in turn allows the viewer to think about the larger idea of prostitution as a metaphor for the relationship that most have with economic necessity.  In other words, we all trade valuable part of ourselves in exchange for the economic necessities of existence, and compromising a personal code of values is often unavoidable.

   The economics of prostitution are in full display in Double Suicide, where the plot revolves around the attempt by the star-crossed male love to "free" the Prostitute by buying her.  In this film, his rivals are economically favored men who also want to buy the Prostitute in an effort to buy her love.  The title and ending of the film suggests a deeply fatalistic philosophy and the story itself clearly takes the stand that "resistance is futile."

  The Life of Oharu is closer to a Western style morality play, with a main character who declines and declines in a way that would be intimately familiar to any semi-literate Englishman of the 18th century via the widely disseminated prints of William Hogarth.   Oharu is, again, a tragic figure, but stripped of the prissy moral judgment of Christianity her plight takes on a more universal feel. Removing moral judgment from the equation allows the Viewer a closer level of sympathy with the prostitute, and again helps to draw out the ways in which we all compromise ourselves to survive: The prostitute as universal symbol of humanity.

  Gate of Flesh differs from The Life of Oharu and Double Suicide because it is a contemporary tale set in the aftermath of World War II, but the economic imperative behind the main group of prostitutes is made impossible to ignore.  They even have their own "code of conduct" which requires ALWAYS getting paid for sex, much in the same way we have the Pimp code of conduct in contemporary Western culture.  These prostitutes are moral agents, which is somewhat unexpected since Gate of Flesh in most other ways is what we call an "exploitation film" in terms of using brutality and sensationalism to excite the (limited) Audience.

 I feel like this frank depiction of the economic/universal qualities of prositution- and as a mirroring artistic theme- is still limited in the West, and the non-Western sources are a fertile place to find inspiration for fresh ways with developing "The Market Makes Whores of Us All" as a viable artistic theme.

Young Törless (1966) d. Volker Schlöndorff

Mathieu Carrière plays Torless in Schlondorff's 1966 film.

Movie Review
Young Törless (1966)
 d.  Volker Schlöndorff
Criterion Collection #279

  I gave this movie review a book review "time slot" (Thursday 5:30 AM) for two reasons.  First, I'm not done with the Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy.  Second, The Confusions of Young Torless is ALSO a title from the 1001 Books collection of Novels, and I've previously reviewed the book, on May 22nd of 2012.

  Young Törless is an enduring classic for reasons beyond the execution of the film itself.   Volker Schlöndorff is a lesser known (compared to Werner Herzog and Fassbinder) figure in the world of New German Cinema, but I believe an argument can be made (and is made by the film maker himself in the 20 minute feature that accompanies the streaming version on Hulu Plus.) Schlöndorff actually went to school in France and worked in the French film industry as a second director/assistant director.  According to his own words, he was motivated to return to Germany and introduce some of the energy created by the French New Wave to German Cinema.  The result of this was New German Cinema, though  Schlondorff admits that upon his arrival/return to the German film industry Werner Herzog was already there, though only a director of "short documentaries."

 Besides the seminal role Young Torless plays in New German Film, there is Schlondorff's awareness of the horrors of Nazi Germany, and his attempt to make a German language film which addresses that horror.  Although the book was written well in advance of World War I, let alone World War II, it clearly shares some foreshadowing of certain aesthetic aspects of Nazi rule, particularly the gleeful, sadistic perpetration of violence on the bodies of the excluded.

 In Törless, the young thief Basini is subjected to all sorts of physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of Beineburg and Reitling, while Torless passively watches from the sidelines.  Schlondorff draws a clear line between the passivity of European intellectuals during the rise of Nazism and the passivity of Törless in the face of such gross, deplorable abuse.

  The relationship of the main characters of Torless to sex and sexuality is a topic for another blog post, but clearly tracks with the repressed homosexual overtones familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of English "Public" (private) school life in the same time period.   Musil's frank depiction of this abuse is simply without peer in contemporary English literary culture.

  Finally, there is the increased importance of the author of the source material, Robert Musil.  His "big novel" the uncompleted the Man Without Qualities, has experienced a revival within this decade.  This revival was no doubt spurred by the 1996 reissue of the novel with a new translation by Sophie Wilkins and a "textual overall" of the uncompleted work.

  If you look at a Google Ngram of "Robert Musil" in English language books, you can see a steep ascent, but not until 1960.  Musil suffered through a half century of English language obscurity, but when Scholodorff made his version of Young Torless Musil was in the midst of his first dramatic uptake in the English language.  Other then a brief decline in the first part of the 70s, Musil has been gaining in popularity ever since his initial cultural break out at the beginning of the 60s.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Show Review: Audacity & Hunters @ The Void

HUNTERS vocalist Izzy Almeida

Show Review:
& Hunters
 @ The Void

  Two good, interesting bands at the Void last night.  Headliner was Audacity of Fullerton, touring in support of their new record on Suicide Squeeze records.  Support act HUNTERS is signed to leading fake-indie Mom plus Pop (Sleigh Bells, Wavves, Metric, FIDLAR, ETC.) and I'm always interested to see what those guys think is worth signing. I wouldn't say that I'm in any kind of mutual competition with Mom plus Pop, they are Goliath to my David, but I find it profitable to, you know, pay attention to what other people are doing in the field.  I've met so many major label type music people who are just so burned out on the process of discovering new music that I ask myself why they even bother. If you can't at least leave yourself open to the prospect of inspiration in your particularly artistic/professional field, what the fuck are you doing there in the first place?

  I think Audacity is an interesting band because they are from Orange County, which is a neighboring market of some interest.  Audacity is from the same city as Burger Records, and has a long standing, if not exactly lucrative affiliation with the label.  I think the appropriate band neighborhood is addressed by the "similar artists" of their Last FM profile: Pangea/together Pangea and Cosmonauts, and then FIDLAR a level up from there and WAVVES waayyyy on top.  So, punk and surf influenced garage rock bands from Southern California. FIDLAR has def. obtained a secured existence barring personnel/personal disasters. Pangea looks like they've got a shot, and then Cosmonauts and Audacity are still kind of slogging along.

   Watching them last night, it is clear that Audacity are no where as near as showy/bratty as their more popular genre counterparts. They maintain a bro-ey demeanor that clearly limits their appeal to the legion of internet fans who embrace the weedy/boozey/seedy antics of Wavves and FIDLAR.  From a record label perspective they represent an intriguing prospect with a bunch of upside, but a less predictable road to viability.  Don't think there is anything left to do but continue to put out LP's on a yearly (or sooner) basis on decent labels that can afford PR and then tour the record.  They should be able to handle that after a decade of poking around Orange County, or just be content with where they are at, playing to 25-35 people on a Tueday night in San Diego.  That's fine with me, I had a good time last night.

   Support act Hunters is a boy/girl duo fleshed out to a four piece.  Watching them it is easy to see what Mom plus Pop saw: A combination of Sonic Youth and Yeah Yeah Yeah's type songwriting with a decent looking Karen O type in front.  I'm skeptical of anything on Mom and Pop being properly indie, and my best guess is that they either have management or that Mom and Pop is managing them as well in one of the gross conflicts of interest that is positively endemic to the music industry.

  I enjoyed the show, but I'm curious to see if Mom and Pop can break them, especially when the debut LP rocked a 4.9 (Ian Cohen Made It).  It's survivable- but it doesn't help.  Ultimately

Touki bouki (1973) d. Djibril Diop Mambéty

The Criterion Collection edition of Touki bouki (1971) d. Djibril Diop Mambéty comes out December 10th, 2013 but it is streaming now on Hulu Plus

Movie Review
Touki bouki (1973)
 d. Djibril Diop Mambéty
Criterion Collection #685
From Martin Scorcese's World Cinema Foundation
Criterion Collection edition released December 10th, 2013

 Criterion Collection is partnering with Martin Scorcese's World Cinema Foundation to release a bunch of restored films from all over the world.  It seems to me like a vital project, and I'm excited that Criterion/WCF have chosen to make many of these releases available on the Criterion Collection Hulu Plus channel.

  Touki bouki is billed on the original release art as "An African Road Movie" though it's kinda  Bonnie n Clyde type situation, depicting Mory (guy) and Anta (girl) as they commit a series of petty crimes in order to pay for passage to Paris.  It's obvious from jump street as to why this film would be picked for restoration/rerelease. Filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty had obviously seen his share of French New Wave, and these techniques, including non narrative documentary footage, surrealism and fantasy shot as reality, coupled with the African locations, combine to give Touki bouki the feel of revelation.   Even these New Wave influenced techniques pale in comparison to Mambety's decision to open the film with the slaughter of a bull- and then to continue that motif, showing also the slaughter of a goat.  Thus, if you are the squeamish sort who frowns at the thought of a film opening with a five minute shot of a bull having it's neck cut wide open and the blood draining out onto the killing room floor, you will not make it past the first five minutes of Touki bouki.

  Highly recommend this one.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Show Review: Skin Town @ The Void

Skin Town is Nick Turco and Grace Hall

Show Review:
Skin Town @ The Void

  I listen to almost no "new bands" on record/cd/internet because really I don't care unless you can make it to San Diego and play in front of 10-15 people and continue on your way.  That is the bare minimum for me.  If you are someone making music in your bedroom and it's awesome and people love it that is great, but it doesn't "matter" until the live show takes shape.

 That requirement is especially important in music genres where live performance is a challenge.  The popular music genres most impacted by this are EDM and hip hop, an as a fusion between the two, "PBR&B."  Pitchfork & the Internet can embrace such Artists all they want, but there needs to be a real world equivalent of club tours similar to what indie rock bands can pull off even at a DIY level.  Such infrastructure simply does not exist, at least not in a way separate from the indie rock circuit that already exists.  This observation about the challenges facing a further dissemination of PBR&B- a genre now over 2 years old according to Wikipedia- is not based on aesthetics, simply on the realities of the audience for live music in the United States.

  Of course an Artist like the Weeknd, i.e. one who makes it to the Billboard Top 40 level of Audience size, will simply play stadiums like every other Top 40 Artist, but beneath that and above the mass of inchoate would be amateurs is difficult to terrain.

  Skin Town has a couple weapons in the PBR&B arsenal.  First, Nick Turco, the music guy, is talented, he can tickle the ivories and has a firm grasp on the ways and means of "future r&b."  Vocalist Grace Hall clearly knows how to shake it and has respectable chops.  With an album already on the books, they've made it to San Diego "in support" of said album, but they clearly haven't played many live shows together.  The use of two cover songs in the middle of the set was a weak choice, particularly weak for a Monday night show in San Diego after taking the stage near to 11 PM as the opening band.   I would leave the covers for a banging Friday night show in LA or NYC.

  Still there is enough there to work with- plenty of potential in an admittedly hot genre.  I think if you can identify a genre you can then properly ask how many fans exist for that particular genre in each specific touring market, and then use that figure as a baseline for what the expected audience for an unknown band will be.

The House of Mirth (1905) by Edith Wharton

Of course Gillian Anderson has played Lily Bart in a movie version of Edith Wharton's 1905 novel, The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth (1905)
by Edith Wharton

  I read this whole novel under the mistaken impression that the Author was Evelyn Waugh.  So.... yeah.  Evelyn Waugh is a dude, of course.  Pretty funny that. Although the modernity of milieu (upper class New Yorkers around the turn of the century) is fresh, the story is a familiar one, the decline and fall of a young woman with taste and no money, raised to marry, and who fails to marry.

  Hard to imagine that Henry James was in his proto-stream of consciousness mode at exactly the same time Wharton was turning out work that could have been published 80 years before without even changing the names of the characters.  Frankly, I preferred The House of Mirth to James' dense and near unreadable The Ambassadors.  They both document the same people, more or less, but The House of Mirth is a lark and The Ambassadors is a slog, and The Golden Bowl is damn near unreadable.  All three books were released within a couple years of one another but the difference between Wharton and James is like the difference between a horse drawn carriage and a car.   Some surface similarities, but the car has an engine, and the carriage has a horse.

  I rather liked Lily Bart, the Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair) of the book.  To read the novel through history is to become intimate with a succession of fascinating, beautiful women who are obsessed with marriage.  It's quite the cultural quirk when you stop to think of the specificity and limited life experience of the main characters of all marriage centered novels written until well into the 20th century.

 It certainly shows you who the fuck the Audience was for all these novels- the exact same women.  These women actually appear in the pages of The House of Mirth, a kind of precursor of the celebrity culture of the 20th century.  During her decent into obscurity in the last third of the text, Lily Bart runs into "fans" who read about her set in the society pages of the newspapers.   Bart's decline mirrors the later day rise and fall of "celebutantes" today and "it girls" of yesterday.  Lily Bart is maybe the first character in a Novel of this nature who comes off as a modern girl.

 Certainly her tragic death (at the hands of morphine she took in drop form to sleep) is very contemporary.  I can't remember a similar drug od ending any other marriage plot type novel.

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