Monday, March 7, 2011

Last Week's Movies #2

I watch so many movies that my movie memory has started to overload. So I've decided to write up a short review for each film I've watched during the week. Often they'll be movies I'm viewing for the first time, but some may be favourites that are getting their latest re-watch.

F for Fake
(1973, Orson Welles)
F for Fake had been on my must-watch list for years and, even with much anticipation, it certainly did not disappoint. As far as I know, this is the last (real) work from Orson Welles. It's also unlike anything else in his back catalogue. F for Fake is a documentary (sort of) about fakery with a focus on the art fraud of Elmyr de Hory and his equally fraudulent biographer Clifford Irving (writer of the fake Howard Hughes biography). These two are interesting characters, but this film is at its best when Welles talks of his own past fakery. Welles plays a few tricks on the audience. In fact, we open with Welles performing magic tricks, giving a clear indication that the audience should be a little wary of what's to come. Some of the trickery that Welles employs is a bit hammy - particularly towards the end - but that doesn't take away from the film's creativity and unique presentation.

Funeral Parade of Roses
(1969, Toshio Matsumoto)
Wowsers! I only picked this up because the back cover told me that this was a direct stylistic influence on Kubrick's film adaption of A Clockwork Orange (1971). I'm very glad I bought it! Funeral Parade of Roses is the tale of a transvestite, Eddie (played by "Pîtâ"), climbing his/her way to the top position of a transvestite bar in Japan. Along the way, we find out a bit about her violent past and meet some transvestite friends. This film is amazing. I will admit that it is entirely style over substance and it is more or less an experiment in insane editing and camerawork. The techniques seen in this film are so exciting that I really didn't mind! The film even pokes fun at its own edginess by having hippie filmmaker characters creating a masterpiece of editing that at one point we assume is part of the film, until we realize we're viewing a film within a film. While there is style over substance at play, the structure of Funeral Parade of Roses was entirely non-linear, and it pulls it off quite beautifully. The film also touches on concepts of filmic reality, jumping genres into documentary on occasion and scenes that seem to be part of the narrative that suddenly become behind the scenes footage. The ending of Funeral Parade of Roses is jaw-dropping and completely shocking for a film of its age. I'll be revisiting this film, I'm sure.

A Serbian Film
(2010, Srdjan Spasojevic)
Sometimes a film gets a reputation for being the "most shocking/gory/disturbing film ever", and it's usually a let down. Most recently, The Human Centipede (2009) received that glorious title and - even though I actually quite like the movie - it doesn't deserve it at all. I mean really, The Human Centipede is just something for hipsters to giggle at and high school kids to brag about seeing. It's not even close to the repulsive heights of films like Cannibal Holocaust (1980). A Serbian Film (2010) is the new "most shocking" kid on the block and, unlike The Human Centipede, this one gets pretty close to that title. Here we get the story of an aging porn star, Milos (Srdjan Todorovic). Milos is a family man and, in want of securing a better financial future for his wife and child, he accepts a highly paid role in a porn film. He signs the contract, but is not allowed to know anything about the scenes he'll be shooting. Some incredibly fucked up shit ensues.

First things first, supposedly director Spasojevic thinks of this film as a metaphor for Serbia's horrible past, but, if this subtext exists, it's pretty irrelevant and seems more likely an excuse for some extreme exploitation. Maybe I need to be Serbian to understand, but somehow I doubt that. I don't want to go into too much detail of the horrors on display here in fear of ruining any surprises. To keep it simple, this film is pure filth. There are moments that are absolutely fucking disgusting. Most of the repulsive scenes leave little to the imagination. Now I am a hardened horror and exploitation viewer, I have seen the nastiest shit around, and A Serbian Film is certainly near the top of the list.

Where this film tops something like August Underground's Mordum (2003) or the Guinea Pig films, is that it is a movie with a script (and a well written one at that), rather than a presentation of special effects capabilities. It's nicely structured and, although very predictable, is fairly original in its execution. It sucked me in with its awesome minimal (but loud) score and the excellent performances (
Srdjan Todorovic is great in the lead). The camerawork is mostly subtle and the editing only occasionally resorts to the new-wave horror style cutting (frantic flashes of nothingness) that has been ruining the genre for the past decade. The film builds nicely, taking its time to set up its characters. There is a very specific point where everything changes and the film becomes a relentless hell ride. I spent the last half of A Serbian Film feeling pretty dizzy. I will admit that I did question the reasons behind a film like A Serbian Film existing a few times and I cannot understand how the hell it got funding. That said, I can't deny it is a very well put together, gut churning horror gem. This one will surely have a chapter dedicated to it in the exploitation history books.

Sherman's March
(1986, Ross McElwee)
Ross McElwee is well known for his autobiographical documentaries. His work is always incredibly personal, generally quite touching and always fascinating. Sherman's March is his most famous work and ticks off all the criteria of a McElwee film. Sherman's March finds McElwee with funding to make a documentary exploring the lingering effects of General Sherman's destructive march through the South of the USA during the Civil War. Of course, it doesn't take long for McElwee to get distracted. He's just been dumped by a girl and now he's on a search for a new lady friend. Sherman's March is funny, smart, deliberately paced and entirely comfortable in shifting between McElwee's love interests. McElwee is the centrepiece of the film, with a camera permanently attached to his body and providing narration for the most seemingly mundane of moments. Despite this, McElwee's character is still fairly impenetrable. After spending 157 minutes with him, I feel like there's so much of himself that he hides from his audience. In a way, I think that's part of McElwee's charm. Sherman's March is excellent, but perhaps not the best starting point for those yet to see a McElwee film. Its long running time makes it a little difficult to stick with. Time Indefinite (1993) may be a better place to begin.

No comments: