Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shadows Spring Program Part 1 : Honey to the Bee

Six flix about mating and its consequences

Do you miss cinemas like the Lumiere, the Carlton Movie House and the Valhalla as much as I do? Well come along to Shadows, a screening of unusual and locally unavailable films every Friday over winter. Bursting with opinions? Stay afterward for good music and a drink at the bar.

The Place:

ABC Gallery is an ex warehouse/factory set deep in the heart of auld Collingwood, now serving as a Gallery for the painter Milos Manojlovic who also serves fine drinkables and worldly wisdom at the bar.

ABC Gallery 127 Campbell St Collingwood (See map at end of post or follow link to Google Maps with street view picture of the Gallery)
Melway Ref. 2C G8

Dvds projected on to a white wall. A selection of couches and tables. A bar with reasonable prices and a coffee machine.

All of these films will be accompanied by shorts. No shorts, no film.

"This ain't multiplex, this is gold class art house!" -- David Bowie, Diamond Dogs (paraphrase).

All that for a gold coin donation?
"Holy guacamole in a bowl of ravioli!" Pope Pius XV Celestine Decree (paraphrase)


Friday September 4th 7.30
(UK 1998 90 mins.)

Francis Bacon, front and centre in the ranks of late twentieth century painters, takes a plunge into the amorous world when a thief takes his own plunge through the studio ceiling. “Take off your clothes and come to bed,” he says to the intruder. “Then you can take anything you want.”

The love life of the violent-spirited Bacon is as tense and unforgiving as his canvases suggest and plays like a theatre of cruelty as the gangster-class cockney George Dyer struggles with his role as lover, muse, model and meat companion. When Bacon’s vulnerability is allowed out it is with the relief of a prisoner going from solitary to the yard, unmistakable but still under heavy guard. Tough love never came tougher.

Francis Bacon lookalike and Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi keeps things tight, letting his rage loose in small doses of conversational wit and growling stabs at unprimed canvas. Daniel Craig as Dyer with one foot in the gangland under Swinging London and the other well beyond his depth in the bitch-rich art world, fights a steadily losing battle with himself. Who’da thunk he’d end up playing James Bond?

Writer/director John Mayberry was forbidden to use any images from Bacon’s work and his improvisation around the limitation give the film the look of a series of undiscovered paintings. He was careful to avoid the charge of biographer with the subtitle sketches toward a portrait of Francis Bacon. That would sound twee in almost any other case. Here it is a necessity.

Screens with:

Friday September 11th 7.30

(France 1966 105 mins.)

Episodes in the life of “the children of Marx and Coca Cola” as director Jean Luc Godard called them. Paul, demobbed from national service, is disillusioned by the consumer crazy world of the 1960s. His new girlfriend, Madeleine, is on her way to stardom as a yeh yeh girl. Paul's best friend, Robert, gets hooked up with one of Madeleine's friends, Elisabeth. The film then shows the four doing mid-sxities Paris, amorously, popmusiquely, and of course cinematically. Derived from a brace of Guy de Maupassant stories, Godard has a lot of fun with youth culture and the growing cloud of politics. However...

Godard was getting snarky with the culture that surrounded him. The weird nihilist road musical from the year before, Pierrot le fou, was just the beginning. Now not just content to decontruct narrative convention he sought to yell some face slapping questions at his characters and audience. A series of title cards breaks the episodes to the accompaniment of ricochet screams. One sequence with the cover idol of a girl teen magazine in which said icon fences off Paul's increasingly intrusive questions with increasingly contemptuous and vacuous answers carries a chill because a like interview conducted today would be virtually indistinguishable. The title card for this section reads: "Dialogue with a consumer product." An unamused auteur du cinema.

That said, Masculin/Feminin remains an enjoyable outing, balancing the gravity of its anger with the kind of celebration of the lives and business of boys and girls together, ensuring that however much fun it gets it never quite gets comfortable either. Not always an easy watch M/F is nevertheless a compelling one, a kind of farewell to the cheek and whimsy of his previous work and an augur of the unsmiling anger to follow with Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Weekend, La Chinoise, British Sounds and Vent D'est or the left-shaming lesson of Sympathy for the Devil.
Vent D'est contains one of my favourite Godardisms (another title card) which works in French and English with virtually the same words: This is not a just image, it's just an image. Masculin/Feminin retains the optimism that that statement punches. As such it's kind of a last chance to see the great auteur expressing hope.

Sorry, I'm like that with Godard, I start and can't shut up. Come and see M/F because it's hard to get to see locally and ... it's good.

Screens with Twilight Zone Episode The Lonely

Friday September 18th 7.30 pm

(USA 1977 94 mins.)

Meet Proteus, a super computer that opens the door for you when you come home and fixes you a dry martini once you’re through the door. The couple of the house are going through a trial separation and when the cat’s away the artifical intelligence pioneering cybernetic entity with a growing self awareness will play. In fact he wants to have a baby. His prospective partner is a young Julie Christie so why should he care if he’s a series of electrical impulses tied to some hardware? That’s all humans are, after all.

This techno-paranoia terror is helmed by Donald Cammell who began Performance (all the really good bits) hung around with French boheme and sunned himself among the Babylonian splendour of California. There he hobbed and nobbed with Kenneth Anger and made Demon Seed. Adapted from a Dean Koontz story, Demon Seed plays like a typical ‘70s future shocker with more of a serious frown than fare like Solyent Green, Rollerball, Logan’s Run as there is a genuine attempt at placing the story in the context of the time it was made. This extends beyond technology and costuming into zeitgeist: there is a conception scene that manages to be both post-hippy feelgood and terrifying.

Some might snort derisively at the 70s-imagined room-filling computer and its voice (Robert Vaughan sounding like a heterosexual HAL3000 that smokes) but that would be missing the point which has more to do with the still present threat of technology’s domineering powers.

Screens with Twilight Zone episode The Lateness of the Hour

Friday September 25th 7.30

(Japan 1964 103 mins.)

A woman and her daughter-in-law eke out a living in a swamp-side lean-to by searching through the tall grass for fallen soldiers from the unending war waged beyond the marshes. When they find one they take his riches and hardware. They drag the bodies, dead or alive, to a pit deep in the marsh grass and push them in. At day's end they have enough time and energy for a mouthful of rice before falling exhausted on to their beds before the next day's plunder begins. This is just a first act and we need a crisis. He is a deserter and appears from the water like a crocodile, eyeing the pair with a smile and a proforma for a con story which he can flesh out after a little cold reading. Both women find him attractive, he's young...ish, male, virile and ... alive. When the younger woman seems to be winning the race the older discovers an opportunity in the appearance of an unexpected visitor. Bad move.

The concealing marsh grass that might have been a campfire tale invention here grows for real, touched by sunlight or guarded by black night. The women whose grisly means of living is given day-to-day detail. Even the fantastical masked Samurai seems to have been in a real war. In an uncharacteristic flash of insight Leonard Maltin described Night of the Living Dead as a cinema verite record of a nightmare. Onibaba is like a documentary record of a fable. This is what people in bedtime stories would be like if they really existed and it aint always pretty.

The choice to go on location rather than credibly use sets (who needs vanishing points when there's no horizon?) was inspired. The deep black and white widescreen image shows the marsh grass as a breathless and inescapable oppressor but also as a place where people could really live. Somewhere beyond it the war goes on, meaningless but for the scavenger living it supplies with its dead or exhausted soldiers. The living goes on, broken only by the smile of an opportunity gleaming in the grass.
Screens with Twilight Zone episode Long Distance Call

Friday October 2nd 7.30

SHIVERS (aka They Came from Within)
(Canada 1975 83 mins.)

A mad scientist develops a parasite to be a kind of self repair organic mechanism for the human body. Thinking to make it pervasive, he makes it sexually transmittable. This happens in the safety-first isolation of an apartment block on an Island near Montreal. You can guess the rest.

David Cronenberg's debut feature is as much a road map of his future career as Eraserhead is of David Lynch's. It's all here, the body horror, biological dystopia and happy collision of real philosophy and pulp sci-fi. He hasn't quite mastered directing actors at this stage (he had his hands full with the special effects) but there are ideas in this story which reach beyond the pulpy drive-in surface and point towards later glories like Videodrome and Crash. The parasites themselves that look like a sculpture of androgynous genitalia fashioned from a turd are both disturbing and funny, like much of DC's films themselves.

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Friday October 9th 7.30

(Italy 1975 116 mins.)

This tale of Pasqualino, a small town spiv, trying to marry his dowdy sisters off might have rested in Fellini territory and stayed there keeping everyone happy. The sharp turn into the war and the nightmare he is enveloped by finds him in a cruel realm where life and death form a choice for the amusement of the guards. Can he use his charm and talents as a lover to survive Hell? The answer might surprise you.

Lina Wertmuller's tale of missed opportunities and the importance of an examined life carries all the colour and grotesquerie of a lavish Italian film from the 70s (see also Fellini's Roma and Salon Kitty) but adds the grimness of the back stage view of the German occupation of Italy and finally a quietly powerful sobriety at the conclusion.

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Friday October 15th 7.30

(USA 1963 85 mins.)

A young sailor on leave in a seaside town falls in love with a beauty who works as a sideshow mermaid at the local carnival. The more he finds out about her the more he wonders how much is working and how much is supernature as the questions about her begin to gather weight. A kind of Val Lewton does Splash without the laffs, Night Tide is less a horror film than a fable about the extremities love starvation. "No cure for the lonely," sang Michael Gira. Damn right.

Dennis Hopper reaches back into his mid-west wheaty goodness for a character who must believe the best despite being convinced of the worst. Hopper was in career limbo when he made Night Tide, his on set behaviour had made him an unbankable primadonna. Here, his seriousness in a role he might have dismissed after his initial fame, does much to keep the film from the silliness that all low budgeters with big ideas risk.

Venice Beach would in a very few years of this film's production become a thriving community that saw the changing of the guard between the beatniks and the hippies. It was where Jim Morrision famously sang a halting rendition of Moonlight Drive to a wowed Ray Manzarek. It was where a Dennis Hopper fresh from his exile (some of it custodial) might have returned to recharge his vigour and take Peter Fonda's offer to act in and direct Easy Rider and ressurect both career and the rockiness of its path. Dig it, souls and ghouls, a crazy fable by the sea.

Screens with:

ABC Gallery Location

Google Maps with picture of Gallery