Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Trances (1981) d. Ahmed El Maânouni


Movie Review
Trances (1981)
 d. Ahmed El Maânouni
Criterion Collection #689
Criterion Collection/World Cinema Foundation edition released December 10th, 2013

  With two films from Turkey and this film from Morocco, the wider Islamic world is well represented in the batch of World Cinema films being released by Criterion Collection in a collected set on December 10th, 2013.  Trances is about popular Moroccan musicians Nass El Ghiwane.  What is amazing about this film is that it's a documentary about popular music in an Islamic/Arabic country- the only other film of that sort I can remember seeing is a Vice documentary about Heavy Metal in Iraq and Syria, but this is obviously several classes up from that.

 You can be forgiven if you have never heard of Nass El Ghiwane.  They don't have a rerelease going, there is no Pitchfork coverage of them.  That may actually change after this movie comes out, but maybe not, since it has been streaming on Hulu Plus for a minute and only 4 people like it on Facebook.

 Trances has a ton of performance footage, some random shots of Morocco, discussions between band members about stuff and like a love story or something between the main guy and this hot Moroccan chick.  It's pretty uh.... non-Muslim.  I'm sorry but the Muslim world has such a bad rap when it comes to art and modern artistic culture that it's almost stunning to learn a band like Nass El Ghiwane actually exists.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The House on the Borderland (1908) by William Hope Hodgson

The House on the Borderland (1908) by William Hope Hodgson

Book Review
The House on the Borderland (1908)
by William Hope Hodgson

  The question of "what is literature?" comes to the forefront in the 20th century.  The continued growth of a "popular" Audience for newspapers, magazines and novels far out paced the growth in critical/serious /academic attention to literature, especially in the area of market impact.  The critical/serious/academic community was slow to come to terms with this development.  The attitude of late 19th century/early 20th century literary critics towards "popular" literature and art is well treated in Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America by Lawrence Levine.

 In literature, perhaps the earliest genre to challenge the divide was science fiction/fantasy/horror.  The Gothic tradition of horror was present at the birth of the Novel itself, and had periodic revivals between the end of the 18th and end of the 19th century: A period over one hundred years.   The earliest common example is The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, published in 1794.  Gothic/horror fiction "revived" 25 years later in the 1820s.  This period saw more well developed literary themes, typified by books by Authors like Charles Maturin (See Melmoth the Wanderer published 1820) and James Hogg (See The Private Memories and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, published 1824), moved the genre of gothic/horror away from simple reoccurring motifs like "deserted castle," "ghosts in the hall" into the more serious and advanced area of literary themes like doubling.

 After the Gothic literary revival/amplification of the 1820s, Edgar Allan Poe happened.  Poe is perhaps the patron saint of genre fictions, since he straddles the horror/detective/literature divide so effectively. Poe "invented" the Detective story, though it is important to note that the full blossoming of detective fiction did not take place until a half century after his death.  In terms of horror, Poe established it as a powerful genre to use in the short story format, and as that format increasingly gained a popular audience through printed magazines and newspapers, Poe's artistic vision but increasingly be seen as prophetic.

 By the last 25 years of the 19th century, genre fiction was becoming increasingly popular AND artistically diverse, spawning several Authors who would essentially define new Genres of popular fiction.  The most significant of these is H.G. Wells.  You can certainly nit pick with the statement that Wells "invented" science fiction but in terms of a popular understanding of that word, yeah he did. Science Fiction was differentiates from prior fantasy/horror novels by the use of science and a complete withdrawal from classical/romantic /gothic tropes of description, plot and theme. Wells was not the only one inventing new popular genres, during the 1880s H. Rider Haggard wrote Adventure/fantasy cross-over novels that laid the way for what we would today call "Action-Adventure" literature.

  The 20th century would bring a virtual explosion of literature in all these areas, and in new mediums like the graphic novel/comic book, film, etc.  One early 20th century development was the evolution of supernatural horror- which is essentially a synonym for "Gothic Fiction" between the late 18th century and the early 19th century into something different.  That something different would come to fruition in the pulp fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, but Lovecraft was a phenomenon of the 1920s.  The House on the Borderland is the first novel to head down that road of post-Gothic supernatural horror.

  Framed as a typical "discovered narrative" ("We were fishing in the wilds of Ireland, Jeeves and I, when one day I uncovered this worn out journal in a tiny crevasse by the shore, entranced, we began reading immediately.") The House on the Borderland quickly detours into a weird, surreal narrative about a man in a house at the end of time.  There are snorting pig men, fifty page descriptions of the end of the universe, and enough "unknown madness" type purple prose to fill up a London tube car.  And it is FANTASTIC.  I'm not sure if Hodgson was appreciated at the time or if he was "rediscovered" due to a combination of Lovecraft's popularity and his obviously surreal tendencies but either way I really recommend this book.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dry Summer (1964) d. Metsin Erksan

Ulvi Doğan,r 60s Turkish Cinema Actress.

Movie Review
Dry Summer (1964)
d. Metsin Erksan
Criterion Collection #688
Criterion Collection/World Cinema Foundation DVD released December 10th, 2013.

  This movie has 17 likes on Facebook via the Criterion Collection?  According to the listing, Dry Summer won the "Golden Berar" award at something called the "Berlin Film Festival" which strikes me as being the rough equivalent of the Toronto Film Festival in terms of market making impact.  I frankly question the Audience for this picture, and that is speaking as someone who watched it himself.

  That being said, I can see why the Criterion Collection/World Cinema Foundation calls Dry Summer a "benchmark" of Turkish cinema even though I have only seen one other Turkish film, also released by the World Cinema Foundation (and streamed on Hulu Plus on the Criterion Collection channel though NOT an official Criterion Collection release.)

  That other film, The Law of the Border was more or less a Cowboys and Indians story.  This film is more like a Turkish version of a Balzac or Hugo novel- 19th century French realism.  The story revolves around two brothers and the wife of one of the brothers (the younger.)  The older brother is the villain of the piece.  The older brother hatches a plan to dam up the spring on their property which angers the local villagers at the bottom of the hill.  Litigation ensues, and then murder. The younger brother goes to prison after being convicted of the equivalent of manslaughter and then the older brother convinces the wife that the younger brother was killed in prison.  Younger brother shows up, murders older brother.

 I am summarizing the plot because I'm sure nobody reading this gives a shit or will watch Dry Summer. The theme of scarce resources and changes among traditional cultures appears to run consistently through the first batch of World Cinema Foundation films being released by the Criterion Collection:

 Redes:  Mexican film about the plight of fishermen in Mexico.
 A River Called Titas: Bangladeshi film about the plight of fishermen in Bangladesh.
Dry Summer: Turkish film about the conflict over water in Turkey.
The Law of The Border: Turkish film about plight of tribesmen in south east Turkey.

  That is what you call an artistic theme.  The World Cinema Foundation is clearly concerned with realistic portrayals of traditional cultures in flux.  The two remaining films, The Housemaid from Korea and Trances from Morocco break the theme but there you have it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gate of Flesh (1964) d. Seijun Suzuki


Movie Review
Gate of Flesh (1964)
d. Seijun Suzuki
Criterion Collection #298

  OK I'm out of book reviews- damn you The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy- no one told me it was really 3 books!  So I'm going to fill the gaps with more Criterion Collection reviews because those are easy to churn out.  At times it feels like half of the Criterion Collection is Bergman films and the other half are Japanese films.  At least Gate of Flesh is by Seijun Suzuki, the left field bizarro b movie Auteur of legend. Suzuki has 7 Criterion Collection titles under his belt.

  Gate of Flesh is set in deolate, post apocalyptic World War II Tokyo, where a gang of scrappy, color coded prostitutes shacks up with a scummy ex-Japanese soldier.  The soldier is played by Suzuki stalwart/Chipmunk cheeked champion, Joe Shishido.  Everything about Suzuki's film making feels fresh a half century later.  Although Gate of Flesh is clearly what Americans of the same time would call an "exploitation picture" the quality is unmistakable.  As is... the weirdness, endemic to all Suzuki films, and the brutality, which also appears to be common in Suzuki pictures.

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