Monday, October 19, 2009

Spring Part 2 : Fever

Six Symptoms of Spring from sneezing fits to delirium

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 the spring. 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)

The keen-eyed Dean who inspired me to start Shadows has returned refreshed from his travels, ready to resume. Time Capsules starts on Thursdays October 29 and continues until December 10 (and probably well beyond) at 8.45 Thursday nights. Dean finds some amazing things out there and doesn't shy of mixing in some more accessible fare which gains fresh meaning in the new context. This is nourishing cinema and you need it. Time Capsules is also at ABC Gallery. Co-habitation is good.


Friday 23rd of October 7.30 pm


(USA 1975 157 mins.)
The impending bicentennial celebrations draw huge numbers of people from around the USA to its other dream factory, home of the country muse and self appointed voice of the heartland. America's first post Watergate election looms and the political machine is clanking back to life, worming through the streets in a car with a loudspeaker or hustling for opportunities to use the high profile voices of the music industry for partisan means. And then there are the hopefuls, people of greatly varying talent who have come to Mecca to find Babylon. Robert Altman hits his stride here in orchestrating the stories of a dizzying twenty four characters in depth over the course of five days.

Henry Gibson plays a frowning prima donna with a severe case of little man syndrome. Keith Carradine shows how smoothness and affected naturalism make the new Nashville creepily seductive. Gwen Wells, cheerfully unaware that her idea of her talents differs from that of the rest of the world, is heartbreaking. Lily Tomlin, warmingly genuine in the midst of the fakery, is poignantly devoted to her deaf children (who, of course remain untouched by the chief product of their hometown). And Ronnee Blakely, country diva in white, implodes on stage in a performance that embodies a quiet, slowburning horror.

The term epic is apt here but suggests something more fustian and self-important that what appears on screen. Nashville seems a great deal shorter than its two and a half hours as Altman finds new riches in each of the characters he introduces. The overall effect is large rather than heavy. Much of the acting is the result of improvisation and the characters that have songs wrote their own lyrics. What might have been a gross disaster became an example of bullseye casting, conception and orchestral perfection. Altman's death in 2006 left a cinematic legacy unequalled in his trade, a back catalogue the size of the former Soviet Union distinguished by frequent daring and iconoclasty and a quality hit rate large enough to surfeit many prideful communities. This tale of cultural hubs and their magnetism for the best and worst of culture is one of his monuments.
Screens with: TBA

Friday 30th of October
(Japan 1964 123 mins.)
An entomologist arrives on an island seeking insects for his collection. He's so carried away with his hobby that he misses the last boat. The locals direct him to lodgings with a widow. It takes a climb down to get there but he is grateful for the comfort. In the morning he wakes to find the house is in a huge pit, the rope ladder has gone and he is captive like a beetle in a sand trap. When the locals respond to his cries they inform him of his new career as a sand miner. Looking to the woman he is told that they must dig the sand for their own survival as it results in sustenance from the locals and prevents the house from being buried.

Hiroshi Teshigahara's second collaboration with novellist Kobo Abe and composer Toru Takemistu is his most celebrated film. Like the other two collaborations (PItfall and the winter program's The Face of Another) there is a frequent blurring between the stark reality of the characters' predicament and the fabulous influence of the strangeness of the story. The man's initial attempts to escape his detention are perfectly rational but no more so than his eventual acceptance of the life he has fallen into. Kyoko Kishida as the widow might be seen as spider-like in her sand trap habitat but she is completely human for all that and the aching attraction the wells between the pair is as life affirming as it is preadatory. Anyone who likes their absurdism mixed with the everyday (see also Samuel Beckett's similar works like Happy Days or Waiting for Godot) will find riches here. Otherwise, the philosophical centre of the film is kept visible but below the surface of what is, all up, a danged fine yarn.

Screens with: TBA

Friday 6th of November 8.00 pm

(UK 1965 99 mins.)
I bought this dvd on the strength of a single photograph in a book I'd seen years before. The photo was like the one on the left, showing WWII soldiers in a very obviously British setting (ie wronger than all git out). When I saw the dvd on Amazon I snapped it up before even checking the price. Not only did I get a film as intriguing as that one image seen years before but a back story every bit as intriguing.

Future film historian Kevin Brownlow and apprentice editor and future military historian Andrew Mollo posed a what if to each other about making a movie about a Nazi invasion of Britain. Eight years later with a little help from established filmmaker Tony Richardson who assisted with funding and Stanley Kubrick who donated filmstock as he was intrigued by the project, It Happened Here was released to mixed acclaim. The memories of England's finest hour were obviously still too fresh to tolerate easy digestion of this fare and many were vociferous in their disgust. Others were fascinated. It's not hard to see why. The sight of the bad guys in the good guys back yard is unnerving. And there's something else.

Brownlow and Mollo conceived of this film in their mid teens and weren't in their mid twenties when it was released. There is NOTHING adolescent about this film. It plays like a sober documentary, following a nurse through different jobs, encountering difficulties in work conditions, labour organisation and the nature of nursing itself until she is forced to make a decision to join the local Nazis if only to get on with her work unimpeded. Scenes depicting Nazi brutality are kept to a minimum but others showing the ease of British culture to assimilate the new Nazi rulers would have been the aspect that so profoundly shocked its initial audiences. It's not just that the characters speak English, it's that they do so in their various regional accents forbidding anyone familiar with them the easy disassociation that all this was happening to the occupied French or Russians. The depiction of the resistance is similarly muted, being heroic by stealth rather than bravado. I felt like screening Peter Watkins' The War Game with this until I realised that it would just be too bloody much.

Having said all of that, It Happened Here is a film that engages through its sheer honesty of purpose and, in realising a nightmare visited upon everyone who lived not only in Britain but in every occupied land for whom Britain's resilience was a beacon, the film joins its own tribe. Bugger Ken Loach, dig this!

Screens with: TBA

Friday 13th of November 8.00 pm

(France 1973 104 mins.)
Michel Piccoli (left) is a worker at a local factory and rises from his bed in the morning and heads off to work as though he's in a time loop. Sudden flashes of memory assail him of the mundanities of every morning (his mother sternly pointing to the clock, passing the joyless beautiful woman on the stairwell etc etc). At work his group of indutstrial painters bellow and huff with the other group as though they were two opposing football teams. Then they go to work painting two sides of a fence two different colours. A security guard on extra duty sharpens and then blunts pencils so he can sharpen them all over again. The boss barks in a weird patois of European and Asian languages as always. Today is different. It's as though the worker is seeing all of this for the first time. He feels the stirring of a primeval rage. He quits his job, goes home and transgresses against every norm that keeps his life in such unbroken balance and starts living without them, breaking through the walls of his apartment block as though making more room in a cave. And then it's not just him....

Claude Farraldo's absurdist manifesto on modern life is as funny as it is violent, as much a wish fulfillment as a satire. It is for everyone who has felt they were trapped in the same day and daydreamed a massive violation of it. There are no subtitles in this French film because it needs none. The dialogue, even when comprised of recognisable words, is a just series of emotive vocal sounds (sighs, barks, grunts). This is how our pets hear us when we call them, recite poetry or shopping lists or say anything at all. Themroc's just chewing himself free of his leash.
Screens with: TBA

Friday 20th of November 8.00 pm

(USA 1971 103 mins.)
The film begins with narration listing the circumstances and events that lead to a patient's death and the immediate use of his bed for a tryst between staff members. When the doctor who called the tryst is found dead on the same bed the next morning there is a some explaining to be done. Every time someone offers an explanation more nightmarish detail emerges in the picture. And then there are other pictures that come to light. What might have seemed ripe material for a farcical comedy only pays faint homage to that tradition. Mostly, The Hospital plays its satire straight and deadly as though it knows the ironies it draws can be as painful as funny.

If writer Paddy Chayefsky had worried about finding the right voice for the barely controlled fury of his main character he must be breathed a sigh of relief when George C. Scott was cast in the lead of this tough as nails satire about the US health system. Scott's character, Bock, is already suicidal at the start of the story and his weariness weighs so heavily that when he does recognise a moment's warmth or humour it is with a humanity he knows he must pay for. Also in the strong ensemble cast is Diana Rigg who had only just left her iconic catsuit role as Emma Peel in the Avengers for more serious fare. She found it here.

Screens with: Forbidden Files episode SIBERIA (the closest thing the FF came to comedy)

Friday 27th of November 8.00 pm

(Japan 1960 70 mins.)
Way back in the terrible winter of '07 I was texted with an invitation to come to a Collingwood address to see a couple of movies. I had heard of one of them and indeed had it on dvd but it was the second of the two that drew me along. What the hell, a Thursday night with a Japanese horror tale I'd never heard of. I found not a poky little room with a bit of white plastic flapping about while some cruddy super8 image warped along to a strangled audio track and a few casks and plastic cups but a well stocked bar, a dvd projector and a big white wall that housed a clean crisp cinematic image with loud present sound. I bought a glass of wine and sat down at the table and watched Matango, here at ABC. It made me come back as often as I could to see more movies chosen by the impeccable sensibilities of Dean Mc. Here was what Melbourne had been so recently deprived of, alternative cinema in a very credible presentation, a venue for adventurous minds and spirited exchanges. An inspiration, in fact. So when Dean had to go o'erseas I stepped in and started Shadows.

So, Matango... A group of Japanese pleasure cruisers set off for a holiday on the ocean wave. There's a first mate, a skipper, too, a millionaire and his wife, a cabaret star and a professor. Ok, almost Gilligan's Island but not quite (and, in any case, it preceded it by a year). Well the weather turns dark and the tiny ship is tossed (ok, I'll stop) and lands on an attractive looking Pacific island. There are no people on the island but there is an old abandoned ship. The stranded travellers set up there as they try and work out how to survive long enough to get off the island. But all is not as it seems. The ship is covered in a ghastly fungus and some very worrying finds appear among the plant life. The food found in the ship's hold won't last long and soon the travellers will have to go and explore the hinterland. Are they really alone? When they answer this question would they prefer to be?

As I watched this story unfold I recognised it from my childhood when I used to read a lot of macabre tales. It is an adaptation of "The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson ( ) but it is an adaptation that reaches beyond the need to dish up some scares. A theme running through Japanese popular culture following the war, the US occupation and attendant cultural blitzkreig was identity. With that in mind this extension of Hodgson's story of accepting one's lot no matter how harrowing is given extra bite as the travellers are faced with the dilemma of accepting a different state of being or remain true to themselves and perish. Alternative titles for the overseas market include Attack of the Mushroom People which might give you an idea of how it was sold to the US drive-in circuit but little of the depth in the film itself. While it does happily join its more sensational cinematic cousins of the William Castle age it retains a profundity that points to the early films of David Cronenberg.

The porcelain diorama below is in tribute to the film from the time of its release. Neat, huh?

Screens with: TBA

ABC Gallery Location