Cinematically Kubular

Ramblings about cinema and whatever else I'm thinking at the time!

Month: October, 2012

Last House on the Left of the Bay of Blood

Growing up I was never a great fan of Horror cinema. With the exception of Scream (Wes Craven, 1996, US) and Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, 1987, US) the Horror films I’d seen had come across as cheap and childish – even those that weren’t really that cheap. Even then, Scream is not a film I’ve ever really felt comfortable with categorising in my idea of the Horror genre and Evil Dead II, while conforming to my preconceptions of Horror, is a comedy.

On attending University all of this changed – I discovered the early Hammer films and Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978, US). However, even with the beginnings of an interest in horror beginning to stir, I still wasn’t getting overly excited about the genre. I was much more interested in the melodramas of John Woo (to the extent I focused my dissertation upon them). If there is one thing I can thank Northumbria University for it was a course on the European Thriller during which Peter Hutchings screened Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975, Italy) and gave a seminar giving a brief introduction to Argento’s other films. Roll on a few years and the imagery and curiosity about those films had stuck with me.

2012 arrived and I found myself a fan of the ‘Italian Hitchock’ Dario Argento and delving deeper into the genre that I’d mostly ignored for the longest time. This lead me, naturally, to Bay of Blood (Mario Bava, 1971, Italy) which both shocked and bored me. It revived those early attitudes to Horror – it seemed to focus on the exploitation of violence and sex yet was nihilistic enough in it’s attitude (and particularly it’s conclusion) that I couldn’t bring myself to feel it had been a waste of time. There were aspects of Bay of Blood that clearly signalled a departure from the giallo films I’d fallen in love with but also a connection with the disappointing Halloween. Bay of Blood confused and excited me – confused because I wasn’t sure how to feel or what to think about it, excited me because I felt I’d found something new.

Today I reaffirmed that sensation and realised that there’s a whole side to Horror that I’m yet to explore and a psychology to it I may have to reassess. Today I watched The Last House on the Left (Wes Craven, 1972, US). For those readers that may not already know The Last House on the Left is about a teenager called Mari and her friend who are abducted and subsequently raped, leading to the murder of the rapists by Mari’s parents. The story outline, more or less, says it all; it is not only one of the grimmest and most troubling films I’ve seen but it’s also one of the most inspired.

The Last House on the Left and Bay of Blood share some common themes – there’s no clear sense of heroism or good and evil here. Only innocence and it’s corruption. It’s this corruption of innocence that sits at the heart of both films. In Bay of Blood it’s represented by a close-knit community which is threatened, along with nature, by a large commercial development. This commercial development sows the seed of corruption amongst the community and eventually leads to a series of gruesome murders. Innocence is then corrupted succinctly in its closing, and perhaps most disturbing, scene. The Last House on the Left corrupts the almost sickly innocence of Mari and the idyllic setting of Mari’s home through the acts of a group of criminals. Again, it’s the final scene of The Last House on the Left that questions the nature of these ‘idyllic’ characters. Here, the blood spattered parents of Mari are subjected to the shocked and accusatory gaze of the police.

Perhaps, the most troubling statement made by both films is that no one is perfect and even the most idyllic of paradises can be torn apart by the darker, more corrupt side of our own humanity.
There’s darkness in everyone.

A Cinema of Broken Dreams

Watched The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941, US). Was like looking through a window to a time when films were rendered in shades of silver, the stories had twists and America knew how to make them well. ‘Noir’ has always attracted me, it has a kind of bodily honesty to it. Love is mostly painful and very rarely works out, corruption is the norm (as opposed to a deviation) and our ‘heroes’ are always just trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer deals with it, far as I can tell, by dealing bloody vengeance to those who murder his friends – of which he has many, and happens often. At the other end of the spectrum is Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe who in the labyrinthine The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946, US) is more interested in solving a riddle – and, ultimately, getting paid. When I use the word labyrinthine I mean that I’ve watched the film innumerable times, read the novel and still couldn’t tell you what actually happens in it (except that a kid is murdered and left in a car, there’s a porn racket involved and one of the babes did it).

What’s mostly interesting about these films though, isn’t the plots (though they do hold plenty of attention). It’s the characters and the wonderful dramas that play out in their relationships. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950, US) tells the story of a young writer, Joe, trying to make ends meet – who through luck or misfortune finds his way to wealth and attention of a famous actress. What’s fascinating about Sunset Boulevard however, isn’t really the plight of Joe but rather the obsessive dreams of the  indomitable Norma Desmond. It’s Norma Desmond’s fascination with the limelight, celebrity and the glamour of the silver screen that takes the focus of the tale, and the form in which her dream is eventually realised which is the film’s destination.

Historically, these stories were part of an economic recession in America. Which may partly explain why themes of love, fame and fortune are always coupled with pain, heartbreak and corruption. There are no clear heroes in this genre, hell, Mike Hammer borders on being a homicidal maniac and Spillane’s handling of morality is about as subtle as a sledgehammer through plate glass (and his prose carries about the same momentum too).

If you want a British example of the Noir anti hero you need look no further than Ian Fleming‘s James Bond. Written during the same era, the novels follow the same dark, earthy, violent sense of adventure; the only difference being the lush, opulent settings – though always hiding a dark and perverse heart. It’s that Noir heart of 007 that defines Daniel Craig’s incarnation of James Bond, it’s just a shame the writing and the characters fail to live up to the standard that defined the genre 70 years ago.

Anyway, I’m rambling! Plus, I need to save something for when I get round to seeing the new entry to the James Bond franchise.

PS

The intention of this post was to recommend The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon and Sunset Boulevard. If you enjoy reading and don’t mind a little violence here and there, I particularly recommend you read I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane (available on Kindle or as part of the Mike Hammer Omnibus on Amazon).

 

The Beautification of Women

This isn’t about cinema, so I probably shouldn’t be posting it here. However, it is something I care about and informs well regarding my perspective on cinema and why I mentioned gender in writing my ‘About’.

I recently read a post from my friend Becca’s blog which really got me thinking again about the expectations our culture has from girls and the pressures put on them when they hit adolescence (and before). I’ve always found it somewhat disturbing that quite a number of girls feel they have to wear makeup… it’s just something I don’t understand – skin is far more attractive than powder (and imperfections are generally what makes things interesting).

To a certain degree, this is something I know I don’t really have to write about, after all, the press is already well aware of the hypersexualisation of women in music videos (I’ve heard people rant about frequently on Radio 4). I also understand (to a degree) the usefulness of certain gender ‘constructs’ and why girls may have a natural leaning towards beautifying themselves (to attract a mate) and how toys such as Barbie and Cindy (remember her?) engage and potentially educate from a young age.

Reading Becca’s post however, reminded me of all those occasions where i’d heard other people (pimarily women) put girls/women down because they don’t ‘put in the effort’ to glam themselves up. Or watching a girl apply makeup because if she doesn’t the people she works with will think there’s something wrong with her.

Yet, as a man, I’m not expected (nor would I know how to) apply eye shadow or liner, nor do I really care about foundation, blusher, or any other coloured dust someone might want to apply to their face. Also, for the record, skin tastes better. There’s nothing worse than getting a little carried away and being assaulted by the bitter flavour of face-chemicals to ruin the mood. 😉

Most of the girls I know (if not all of them) look far better without the damn stuff. Aside from which, plugging your pores with dust can hardly be good for your skin!

I’m reminded of my time at uni and the semester I spent studying fashion. Most of my focus was spent on the development of punk – which was a rejection (more or less) such ideas and Madonna as a ‘feminist’ icon (and her eventual fall from grace). I only hope that people such as Lady GaGa can avoid the same pitfalls as Madonna, and avoid taking the power through sex/glamour route and bring the next generation of girls back down to earth.

Perhaps once the aforementioned girls have made it back down here, they can come to terms with being naturally beautiful and that they really were born that way.

PS
Would rally appreciate any comments/anecdotes that people may feel they’d like to share. It’s a topic of worthy discussion!

Don’t Torture a Duckling

Don't Torture a Duckling

Don’t Torture a Duckling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been a stressful few weeks… interview after interview. Finally found myself a breather where I wasn’t having to prepare too much though and got around to watching Don’t Torture a Duckling (Lucio Fulci, Italy, 1972).

In short Don’t Torture a Duckling is a film about the liberal, experienced values of modern culture colliding with the naively superstitious values of rural Italy, with childhood innocence being caught in between. I don’t want to say too much more about it, in fear I may reveal too much. It’s both chilling and quite touching in it’s own way and concludes with one of the most tense fist fights that I’ve ever seen committed to film.

I recommend it to anyone interested in Italian cinema – especially someone who enjoys the films of Dario Argento (such as myself) or the giallo genre in general.

The Card Player

Cover of "The Card Player"

Cover of The Card Player

This’ll be quick.

The Card Player (Dario Argento, Italy, 2004) is widely reported to be an awful film. To be honest, it’s probably deserved. It’s a really strange (but actually very tense) picture with both interesting and predictable moments.

Having said that – the concept itself is genuinely quite interesting. The film discusses fate – or at least our approach to decision making when there are no certainties and chance is the real decider of any outcome. It’s this that generates the tension throughout the film – and the behaviour of the characters is genuinely quite at interesting at times.

If I’d ever seen a film that deserved a remake it would be this. Not because it’s good – but rather the opposite. It has some interesting moments and ideas but would be fascinated to see it further developed into something with a little more punch.

Having said all that, it’s a reasonable thriller – probably more interesting to watch than most made for TV offerings. Just don’t expect too much.