Monday, February 21, 2011

RA#32 All Over The Charts

At Left- I swear to bloody god this is an actual scene from an actual movie. The, uhm, "bad guys" in the utterly ridiculous 1969 British Sci-Fi/Skin-and-Sex romp Zeta One; terrific ersatz action Jazz for the opening credits, and then the most tiresome strip poker scene in movie can't imagine how boring they managed to make watching a gorgeous blonde bird doff her duds; and from there- as you can see in this representative scene- things just get ri-goddamn-diculous...

Another one of those "lazy" shows where I just picked a bunch of music I really like without much of a theme, unless you count putting Prague Fusion giants Jazz Q after Symphonic titans Ota Petrina...also from the Czech Republic, I mean. Anyway, I especially would commend you to take a deeper look into the work of Kryzstof Komeda, the master of Polish Jazz, and here one of his great triumphs- the vivacious and moody "Astigmatic", one of the great Euro-Jazz albums of all time. Cheers, as always, and please forgive the pic from Zeta One, above, but...I just had to post it. HAD TO. - TKR

1) "Zeta One" Opening Credits Music- Johnny Hawksworth
2) "Berlin- KuDamm 12 April 1981"- Heiner Goebbels
3) "Shame"- Li Chin Sung
4) "After The Selfdisintegration In Time"- Cultural Noise
5) "Einige Spanische Toenchen" / "Let Us Dope The Pope"- Franz De Byl

6) "Super-Robot"- Ota Petrina
7) "Pori"- Jazz Q
8) "Midnite"- Terje Ripdal
9) "The Squire"- The Mike Nock Underground
10) "Queen St. Gang"- Arzachel

11) "Materializing The Unlimited"- Axis
12) "Arbeit Macht Frei"- Area
13) "L'evade de la nuit"- Guy Rheaume
14) "L'Ecolier assassin"- Malicorne
15) "Astigmatic"- Krysztof Komeda

16) "Atem"- Tangerine Dream
17) "Ostpusten - Vastpusten"- Arbete Och Fritid
18) "The Spectacular Commodity"- Glenn Branca
19) "Liaison"- Ensamble de Musique Vivante, Diego Masson
20) "Rikyu"- Toru Takemitsu

RA#31 An Evening With Magma

At Left: The Ultimate Expression of Progressive Rock

The "Evening With" series of broadcasts has proven to be very popular; I've gotten the most (and best) feedback of any shows with this format, which you can expect more of in the future. Obviously, DJ Timothy has fallen way, way behind on his work, and apologizes profusely for getting off on the film tangent and ignoring the core of what RA is all about- music. The Magma show was very special to me, for very clear reasons- not the least of which is I'm staying here in Red Hook with the great DJ Micah, the man who introduced me to Magma all those many years ago in my first go-round with BKLYN. There is not too much to say about Magma that I haven't already said; to me, there is no question Vander's avant-Prog/Fusion vision is pure genius, and this is some of the most "serious" and important music of the 20th Century. There were a few rarities mixed in to the proceedings, but I think most RA types are pretty familiar with this most ingenious and polarizing material, the kind of stuff that will start fights in bars and cause your girlfriend to leave you. Like the infamous poster from the 70's read: Don't Play Magma For Your Girlfriend. Unless, of course, you're looking to not have one anymore. Cheers, as per always, - TKR

Radio Anthrocide#31: An Evening With Magma

PART ONE: Zeuhl School Is In Session
1) "Hhai"- Hhai Live, Kohntark
2) "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh"- Radio Live Performance, Paris, March 13, 1972
3) "Theusz Hamtaahk"- Retrospektiw I - II
4) "Kohntarkosz Part One"- Hhai Live, Kohntark
5) "K.A. Part One"- Kohntarkosz Anteria

6) "Africa Anteria"- Univeria Zekt- The Unnamables
7) "The Last Seven Minutes"- Attahk
8) "Ek Sun Da Zess" / "De Zeuhl Undezir"- Wurdah Itah
9) "Mekanik Zain"- Hhai Live, Kohntark

PART TWO: The Magma Family Tree
10) "Theusz Hamtaahk"- Patrick Gauthier
11) "La Musique Des Spheres"- Jannick Top
12) "Fete Au Septieme Plan- Sacrif"- Benoit Widemann
13) "Birds Of Space" / "Birth Of A Galaxy"- Tedy Lasry
14) Radio France Music 1995, Live- Patrick Gauthier (This is fucking excellent stuff)
15) "De Futura"- Klaus Blasquiz
16) "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh"- Didier Lockwood
17) "Wilna"- Weidorje
18) "Black P"- One Shot

PART THREE: All The Hits
19) "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh"- Retrospektiw I - II
20) "De Futura"- Vander-Top, Recorded Live in Paris, 1976
21) "Kobaia"- Archiw
22) "Makhiaweliikdjongue" (Lille March)- Inedits Vol. II
23) "Otis"- Ripped from video by yours' truly, French TV, 1980. :)

Download This Episode Here (NOTE: This seems to not be working right now...hang in there...)

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Most Disturbing Films Ever Made- Part Six

At Left- One of the most unexpected, Surrealist and bizarre moments in any film I have ever seen. Trouble comes to town in the form of the lesbian seductress Alexandra Bastedo, uncovered nude on the beach by sexually violent and sadistic husband Simon Andreu. Things get, ahem- quite interesting from here.

A Woman Under The Influence United States, 1974 Dir: John Cassavetes
One of the landmark American films of an entire decade unique and rife with quality filmmaking and stories- a rare idyll of genius for the usually suspect and shallow American film industry- A Woman Under The Influence probably holds the title for the best mainstream movie you've never seen. Peter Falk may be remembered mainly for his work as slyly-obtuse detective Columbo on television, but he's ever bit the fine actor, and his work here as Nick allows him to really go deep and dark with a character portrayal. It is, of course, Gena Rowlands as Mabel who really owns the film, though; with Cassavetes so averse to intruding upon an actor really going to work, she has every chance to show the horror of madness in all of its enervation and torpor. Madness has always been shown as pure mania, shrieking hysterics; what makes Woman so disturbing is that the truth of a person going insane is that they simply stop being who they are. Its a highly Existential film exploring the solipsistic hell of Mabel without blinking, and certainly without cheap sentiment. I highly recommend this movie, especially because it is so comparatively unknown.

Save The Tiger United States, 1973 Dir: John G. Avildsen
One of the great performances in American movie history, Jack Lemmon's Harry Stoner is every disillusioned thought of American Exceptionalism and the toll it takes on normal men's lives compressed into 48 hours of bleak and sometimes comical failure. The two days of Harry's life that comprise this exceptionally mordant film are like any two days that have destroyed the lives of thousands of men in this country; all the more important because it is just this type of banal tragedy and low-level catastrophe that Hollywood usually won't touch, far preferring grander themes of greater men failing more flamboyantly. Harry's struggles are far more prosaic; he drinks too much, dallies with strippers and prostitutes, and his business is failing. Desperate for a way out, Harry arranges to have his clothing company's warehouse burned to the ground for the insurance. That's it. But what seems like a terribly straightforward plot leaves so much room for nuance that actors Lemmon and Jack Gilford (equally great, as Harry's business partner) can really work out just what all of this means- what it means to completely fuck up everything in your life, and have no other hope than destroying it all and counting on fraud. A genius commentary on American desperation and failure.

Mondo Cane Italy, 1962 Dirs: Cavara & Jacopetti
The original mondo (the title means "It's A Dog's World") and still the best. Not encumbered with so much of the staged footage that plagued the fifty or so knock-offs and pseudo-sequels to this very first "Shockumentary", Mondo Cane is amazingly real and takes the viewer to places, superstitions and rites that- even 50 years later- still seem pretty goddamn amazingly bizarre. The opening title sequence is still a classic of mood setting, and what is often overlooked is that- for all of their lurid and voyeuristic inclinations- Cavara & Jacopetti are amazingly talented filmmakers. A real treat for anyone looking for something authentically different.

Profondo Rosso Italy, 1975 Dir: Dario Argento
Move clever than Tenebre, more violent than Suspiria, this is the high-water mark for Giallo in terms of visual style, ingenuity of composition, and blood-curdling sadism and evisceration that make current "Horror" films look like sad, sick jokes by comparison. "Serious actor" David Hemmings provides unexpected heft to the oft-maligned Giallo genre, playing a musician who is caught in an intrigue of murder without apparent motive and seemingly as confused as the viewer as to what the hell is going on. Add to this the greatest soundtrack work of Goblin's career- the music adds so much to the overall theme of psychological dissolution and human removal on the part of the killer- and you've got a truly engaging Thriller that lays serious claim to title as Best Giallo Ever Made.

The New York Ripper Italy, 1982 Dir: Lucio Fulci
I've seen it all; clearly, if you've read the entirety of this List, you are by now well aware that this reviewer shies away from literally nothing when it comes to controversial cinema. But good lord almighty...Ripper is an intensely violent and brutal film, grimly nihilistic, beyond any question completely misogynistic. This is, by far, the most deplorable Slasher film ever made; the murders are sick, sadistic, graphic and pulsating with sexual fury. You are totally on your own with this one, and I'm not kidding; the fact that the killer seems to almost be played for laughs in this ultra-violent Fulci opus pushes it well into the realm of Disturbing.

The Blood Spattered Bride Spain, 1972 Dir: Vicente Aranda
While the Spanish Horror/Giallo industry was always very much in the shadow of the Titans in Italy, there were moments when the Spaniards matched the intelligence, style, luridness and sexual license of the completely uninhibited Italians. Such is the case with Blood Spattered, one of the weirdest films I've ever seen and a completely original and enjoyable take on the Carmilla tale. Starring a splendidly lovely Maribel Martin and including a remarkable performance by the unearthly adolescent beauty of Maria-Rosa Rodriguez (and you just wait 'till you see what she is all about, buddy), this is a unique and upsetting film of sexual violence, grim abuse, male cuckoldry and cruelty and...scintillating lesbianism. Featuring one of the most truly remarkable Surrealistic scenes in Giallo-inspired cinema- one that literally comes out of nowhere like in a dream- the supernatural element to this film is so deftly handled that you almost can believe what your seeing could be real. And the final scenes, the pay-off as it were...I was just completely stunned by how all this ended up, and I promise that you will be too.

Daughters Of Darkness Belgium, 1971 Dir: Harry Kumel
One of the great psychological Horror films of all time. Lush, sensual, unbearably erotic- so much of what Jean Rollin wanted to do with his soft-core Vampire films was done so splendidly better in this incredibly gorgeous film. Only for the adults, and sure to raise the temperature between you and your lady friend, Daughters is all about seduction- an older woman for a younger man, a husband for his wife, the same older woman for her young and beautiful consort- and that same young woman for, seemingly, everyone else in the film. Set at a resort somewhere along the sea, every moment of this film seems ghostly, ethereal- for pure dream-like intensity, the only film I've ever seen that can compare to Daughters is Dreyer's masterwork Vampyr. What is remarkable are how good the performances are; Delphine Seyrig- well into her 50's, still beautiful and as seductive a demon as has ever been filmed- dominates every scene she is in, her allure on the young husband almost unbearably real. Andrea Rau- the consort of Seyrig's delightfully named Countess Bathory- is gorgeous, naked, doomed. A stunning treat that I was completely unprepared for when I first watched it, the horror of obsession and lust dominates this film and makes it a far-above-average intellectual treat; and of course, all of the naked women don't hurt.

Nosferatu West Germany, 1979 Dir: Werner Herzog
Horror as supreme High Art. Herzog's remake of the classic German Expressionist ur-Vampire tale is like a wondrously grotesque fairy-tale; the little town in Germany where Jonthan Harker lives and works in a kind of Kafkan stifling world for his punctilious boss Renfield, the manic and enthralling flight he takes to Castle Dracula upon horseback, the phallic, thanatoid countenance of Klaus Kinski's pestilential Count, the final dread horror that ends this film on a real twist unlike any in Vampire cinema- if this isn't the best film of all time, then it is surely one of the most poetic, and perfect, productions you will ever see. An absolute classic, and a total masterpiece.

Aguirre: The Wrath Of God West Germany, 1974 Dir: Werner Herzog
Klaus Kinski is the greatest actor in Cinema history. I am usually not one given to prises de position absolue, but there is no one who is so consistently perfect- even in sometimes seriously flawed productions- as the intense and utterly committed Kinski, who exudes a palpable menace very much like The Devil himself. He has been great, but never has he been greater than this amazing journey to the very heart of darkness. Herzog's story of the conquistador Pizarro and his fabled search for El Dorado is so much more than what so many critics have sought to make it, in some banal and overly-politicized effort to explore their own dogmatic and childish pseudo-Marxian agendas. A film so honest could never be shoe-horned into such kitsch-laden trappings; not merely a jeremiad on the evils of Colonialism, not some platitude-laden excursion into symbolist politics and grievance-art, Aguirre is nothing less than a meditation- gangrenous and absurd- into the very pointlessness of all human vanity, and, in the end, man himself. The final shots of the monkey-polluted raft is the greatest visual evocation of Camus' c'est le absurd refutation of the all-encompassing Hegelian dialectic and Heidegger's pompous Dasein theorizing ever filmed; Aguirre is, in this complete ruthless moment of crystalline hatchet slaying of myth and man, one of the truly great Philosophical films ever made.

Spider Baby United States, 1968 Dir: Jack Hill
Every so often a film comes out of nowhere and- while you haven't had a life-changing artistic experience- you walk away in love with movies again out of pure appreciation and enjoyment for the weirdness only film can express. Such is the case with this intensely bizarre story of a deeply inbred family living in a mansion far out in the California countryside, the "children" of the family's line possessed of a debilitating disease which causes them to mentally regress as their age increases. Lon Chaney Jr.'s last great role- and how shockingly dessicated and worn he looks, the ravages of alcohol showing themselves in their last stages- is the family chauffeur, who looks after the "children" and repairs the damage that they sometimes inflict on, say, unlucky postal delivery agents. At times truly creepy, this blacker-than-black comedy succeeds as Disturbing due largely to Jill Banner's depraved-Lolita turn as Virginia, a child-like seductress who is unbelievably good at depicting the sexual lust of a girl in a woman's body, yet still knowing what effect her charms would have on a tortured and desperate man, trying so hard to pretend that he couldn't be prey to the woman-child's affections. A lot of fun, and featuring an honest-to-god bang of an ending- Spider Baby is unique, and a total treat.

The Red Riding Trilogy I: In The Year Of Our Lord 1974 United Kingdom, 2009 Dir: Julian Jarrold
A pitch-perfect and brutal noir as nasty and nihilistic as anything penned by Jim Thompson or David Goodis, Red Riding I is the best of a trio of films produced by the BBC using the "Yorkshire Ripper" saga of Peter Sutcliffe as backdrop for a very blunt examination of press and police corruption in the mad, sideburn-adorned days of the early 70's. Andrew Garfield is so good in his turn as a young journalist sticking his nose in the power centers of England (with utterly disastrous personal results) that I honestly hope he has a long and productive career; I mean, this guy has got it. Completely redefining what television movies can accomplish in a way equal to another landmark BBC production- The Singing Detective, simply the best thing ever broadcast on TV anywhere, ever- Red Riding I is perfectly paced, unflinching in its inhumanity, loaded with violence and some rather explicit sex, and, all told, nails the noir formula like no film since Peckinpah's masterful The Getaway forty years ago. Magnificent, and offering real hope that real story telling is not yet dead in film- even if it happens to be on the tele.

Andrei Rublev Soviet Union, 1966 Dir: Andrei Tarkovsky
The greatest film ever made. An astonishing visual feast loaded with symbolism, misery, loneliness, despair, marauding Tatars and duplicitous Russian princes, and- in an ending that does the impossible, capturing visually every nuance of a great Russian novel of searching psychological probing- taking the viewer to the limits of human endurance with the Casting Of The Bell. I would dream of ruining it and telling you whether the bell will finally ring or not; but I can assure you, you will be feeling every inch of the agony the bell casting boy feels as his overwhelming project comes to final, perhaps fatal, fruition. What follows that- the glorious use of color by Tarkovsky to show you the actual glory of Rublev's ikons- reduced me to tears the first time I saw it, and has done so several times since. One of the great works of Art in Western history.

Pound United States, 1970 Dir: Robert Downey Sr.
Like nothing I've ever seen, Pound is the story of eighteen dogs in a Los Angeles walk-up waiting and hoping against hope that someone will come and take them home. The "dogs"- introduced as actual four-legged beasts and then their parts taken over by human actors- are in a hopeless fix and they know it, and much chagrined talk is exchanged about how the "people" will choose to execute their lost and worthless strays. Along the way, they fornicate, dream of escape, feud, snipe, philosophize and...wait. An Existential comedy in the best spirit of Beckett, the ending of Pound is as inevitable as it is shocking; and truly, truly Disturbing.

No Blade Of Grass United Kingdom, 1970 Dir: Cornel Wilde
One of the grimmest, bleakest and most unrelentingly Disturbing of the early 70's Eco-disaster films, No Blade Of Grass posits a near future where a world-wide grass fungus is destroying all vegetation, leading to drastic actions such as China nuking 100 million of her citizens in hopes of staving off complete catastrophe. Nigel Davenport is off the bloody charts as a man desperately trying to leave London in the midst of total chaos, and thence to the North where there is hoped-for sanctuary and- it is hoped- food. A brutal and horrifying rape by a marauding biker gang leads to Davenport's wife showing what bestial nature lurks in all mankind- and of course, you're cheering for her to kill the bastard who raped her daughter the whole time. The ending to this one is in perfect syncopation to all the grimness that preceded it; a daunting experience, Blade is truly unsettling, and Wilde directs all of this madness straight-faced, as if he really wants you to believe this could happen. That's what makes it, man.

Secret Honor United States, 1984 Dir: Robert Altman
Richard Nixon, alone, in his office late at night with a bottle of Chivas, a tape recorder, and a gun. Such is the setting for Secret Honor, an absolutely devastating look at Nixon as he ponders the wreckage of his politcal career, and all the while with a portrait of his partner in crime- Henry Kissinger- looming over his shoulder. Deeply paranoid, Nixon- played to absolute perfection by Phillip Baker Hall- works through the night and grows drunker and more pathetic, finally leading to the most disturbing moment of the film- the fact that, incredibly, the viewer has been lead to have sympathy, even for Nixon, even for this rancid monster he truly is on screen. Shot like a tele-play with virtually no intrusion of te usually pretentiously artistic Altman, the whole of this production is Baker Hall's career-defining work as a famous man dying an infamous, drunken death. An incredible, slow, deliberate and deeply intelligent film, you'll never think of Richard Milhaus Nixon the same way again.

Hotel Terminus France, 1988 Dir: Marcel Ophuls
The greatest biography ever filmed, Ophuls portrait of "The Butcher Of Lyon" Klaus Barbie is simply one of the most draining experiences of cinema I have ever had. Barbie's wickedness knows no bounds, and has few parallels in human experience. While his torture sessions at the titular Hotel Terminus in Lyon have appropriately been added to the very lowest rank of the panoply of human infamy, where the film takes a turn to the truly unsettling is after the war, when Barbie along with so many other monsters found protection from the Church, the CIA, other agents of Western barbarism, what have you. A grueling film, profoundly well done and perfectly conceived and executed, Hotel Terminus is one of the rare movies that you simply will never be able to forget, no matter how hard you may try.

Freaks United States, 1931 Dir: Tod Browning
The mother of all "sick" movies. Browning's amazing portrait of carny side show life is a morality and fairy tale, as well as a brutal revenge fable told with almost no judgment of the havoc-wreaking mob of freaks. Incredible that such a film was made in 1931, more incredible still that Browning could have ever thought this film would be allowed to be released and seen as is. Superbly well directed, all of Browning's foibles that mar other famous works such as Dracula are simply not to be found here; still one of the most shocking movies ever made, and clearly the impetus to a thousand nightmares launched from David Cronenberg to Herschel Gordon Lewis.

The Vanishing The Netherlands, 1988 Dir: George Sluizer
Yet another brilliant Euro-film utterly ruined by the preposterous, cowardly and vile Hollywood remake of same, The Vanishing is taut, scary, at times remarkably funny and ends with a crushing scene so claustrophobic and unsettling that you're going to be breathing just a little bit deeper for hours after the credits role. Young handsome Rex and young pretty Saskia are in love and on holiday in the country; at a busy rest stop, Saskia is abducted, and several years later Rex begins receiving letters from Raymond, her ice-cold sociopathic abductor. Upon meeting, Rex asks "to experience what she did"...and so he does. Smart, stylish and clever- everything the putrid remake is not, of all films that have ever been butchered by focus-group filmmaking, The Vanishing is probably the most brutally and pointlessly violated. Very scary, and with one of the great last-shots of all time.

Dahmer United States, 2002 Dir: David Jacobson
Films about serial killers fall into one of two categories: Inept and Trash. Often- as in the case of the gutter garbage churned out to capitalize on the serial craze, and centering on such figures as John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy- the two categories overlap, leaving the viewer with something both unredeemably sleazy and worthless as art. Additionally, there is the "serious" serial killer film, like ones dealing with Aileen Wuornos (Monster) that are barely above a TV movie and turn into some kind of quasi-feminist lynch mob party, or are just totally overated (Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, the kind of "shock" movie that shocks people who don't know a damn thing about Italian 70's gore cinema). There are exceptions; Zodiac, with the performance of Robert Downey Jr.'s career, was genuinely unsettling, and had one hell of a script, even if it appears said script played somewhat "loose" with the truth of the case. And then there is Dahmer, a delightfully wicked little film that has something most of these movies could only dream of having: one hell of a talented cast. He's a big name now thanks to The Hurt Locker, but years ago Jeremy Renner was just another young actor who had the guts to take on a role that asked him to inhabit the psyche of about the most fucked-up character in recent US pop culture history: a man who fucked, ate and tried to zombify a small army of young men, storing their bodies in his freezer, and then working nights at a chocolate factory, daily drinking himself into a stupor as his life went completely haywire. How easy it would have been to make a movie on this character that was just pure filth (like, say, the "other" Dahmer film, the rococco dreadfulness that is The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer) and not investigate the character- or what possibly could have turned him into what he was. David Jacobson chose another path; and what you have with Dahmer is an amazingly intimate film that also boasts Artel Great, a heart-breakingly gay drifter who seems to genuinely be in love with Jeffrey- and almost ends up with his guts in a box as consequence. The scenes between these two men are terrific, and incredibly intimate; and I'm pretty sure that it was this "gay" angle that absolutely doomed this film at the box office, and with the relentlessly "macho" types who like to watch films about serial killers- almost all of whom butcher women on screen. Virtually every part is played with chilling precision, from Dahmer's pedant/tyrant father to the poor young jock who ends up winning a tense wrestling match against the killer...and then gets butchered and eaten for his troubles. (The jock is especially good at bringing pathos and sympathy to a character who, quite frankly, could easily have been one of those guys you root for to get killed; it's a stand-out performance in a movie loaded with them) A clever film with a few genuinely tense situations (almost none of which involve actual bloodshed- a real sign of a solid, well-written script), Dahmer was a surpise for me, and I think will be for you, too.

Woman In The Dunes Japan, 1964 Dir: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Maybe the greatest Japanese movie ever made, taken from an equally brilliant novel- one of my very favorites- by Kobo Abe. What an absolute treat this movie is to look at. An amateur entomologist journeys to a small seaside town, and ends up lured into a sand pit with a beautiful and mysterious woman. Her whole life- and seemingly that of the entire town- is sweeping away the sand that accrues each night, and threatens their very survival. Sounds pretty basic, but then you have to consider the cinematography (glorious), the performances (riveting- the woman in the titular dunes, Kyoko Kishida, is absolutely beautiful and fiercely doomed) and the music (Toru Takemitsu, in one of the triumphs of his glorious career) and when you put this all together and all in dreamy, distant black & have a movie of rare power and vision, and also bursting with unbelievable erotic energy. Disturbing due to the endless despair the scenario purports to be the crux of the human predicament, this is a masterpiece and one no serious film viewer should ignore.

The King Of Comedy United States, 1982 Dir: Martin Scorsese
Might be Scorsese's best film. Certainly his most ambitiously different- DeNiro's Rupert Pupkin is unbearably schmuckish, a total loser who sits in his basement night after night fantasizing about being the world's greatest comedian and yucking it up with complete insincerity alongside other noodniks like Jerry Lewis' absolute genius Jerry Langford- a noodnik and a complete asshole, but a successful one, and a ruthless sonofabitch to boot. Incredible performances from DeNiro, Lewis and Sandra Bernhard- who almost steals the entire movie with her raucous "I want to be black!" half-nude seduction of the bound and gagged Lewis, King Of Comedy is the blackest American comedy ever made (no puns intended) and a perfect film about completely flawed people- it's also the underside of an old New York now completely ruined by Disney and other Times Square atrocities, and whether Scorsese meant to do it or not...he has given, contra Hannah Arendt, the perfect representation in Rupert Pupkin as banality not in evil, but banality in banality. One of my favorite films.

Taxi Driver United States, 1976 Dir: Martin Scorsese
After a dry-run for a lot of his ideas of movement, light and sound (principally the use of music to drive a narrative) with 1973's Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese put it all together with the best American movie of them all from the 70's- the exhausting, overwhelming, incredibly violent experience that is Taxi Driver. Suffice to say that the name "Travis Bickle" has become a shorthand reference to all that is paranoid, psychotic, insane and dangerous in American society for over thirty years- he may have become a joke in the hands of putrid and middle-mind stand-up comics, but re-watch the film again and tell me you're not completely chilled by the master actor inhabiting a role that only he could have played. Superb smaller roles from Jodi Foster and a repulsive Harvey Keitel complete the ensemble, not to mention Scorsese's own violent and paranoid appearance as a cuckolded husband out to extract his revenge- plus, of course, the mind-blowing violent finale, drenched in blood and insantiy, not soon to be forgotten by anyone who has seen it. Incredibly powerful stuff, and a film that sees into the mind of every Tea Party psychopath stalking the Corn Belt metropolises to this day, Taxi Driver is sui generis and not likely to be equalled for narrative impact.

The Deer Hunter United States, 1978 Dir: Michael Cimino
Still holds up after all of these years as a document of pure, destroyed Americana. Like a Don DeLillo novel, Cimino's film explores the losers of American society not with vitriol, but with something very close to pathos- pure pathos, not a fraudulent twenty-hankie kitsch-fest like some garbage from the odious Ron Howard. Unfortunately best known for the harrowing "Russian Roulette" sequence, what makes The Deer Hunter truly disturbing is that all of the characters return home to Pennsylvania as mere shells of men- spent and used up by a cataclysmic act of aggression on the part of America against a small, impoverished Asian nation which had the temerity to seek its independence. Not anti-American, but merely anti-American nationalist, this is a great and terrifying movie and another one pretty much everyone should see before they die.

Joe United States, 1969 Dir: John G. Avildsen
Another paranoid winner from the criminally underrated Avildsen, Joe was ridiculously far ahead of its time and almost European in its treatment of violence, use of sex and nudity as a purely salacious entertainment, and above all the incredible cynicism the script treats the titular Joe with- Peter Boyle (a truly great actor) is just vile as a loutish, big-mouth racist who holds court day after day at his loser blue collar bar, condemning virtually all of American society which is not white, straight and male as uniquely responsible for his failure in life. Joe's intial soliloquy is still totally shocking- even more so in that after forty years, he still represents the world view of probably half of this goddamn country. And while "downer endings" became all the rage in the 70's, Avildsen's expertly-shot massacre at the end of this film is the one by which all the others must be judged- and the final image is, like the perfect irony of an O. Henry story, totally devastating.

Johnny Got His Gun United States, 1971 Dir: Dalton Trumbo
A rare Surrealist American drama, Johnny Got His Gun is- along with Paths Of Glory and J'Accuse!- one of the truly great anti-war films ever made. Joe is the all-American boy; he loves his girl, his dad, his country. Off to fight The War To End All Wars, he is blinded, mutilated, and all of his appendages are blown away by shell fragments on the very last day of the war. What follows is an endurance test of suffering for the poor wretch, as he lies in bed, concious, but unable to tell when he awake or when he is asleep. An absolutely apallingly depressing movie shot with great skill by neophyte director Trumbo, from his own novel- Johnny Got His Gun is war as it truly is: Hell.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Most Disturbing Films Ever Made- Part Five

At Left- Two very beautiful- and very troubled- girls, and your friend and mine, Satan, here in the guise of The Goat Of Mendes. If you like screaming girls, rampant pubic bushes and absolute hysteria of a kind not to be seen anywhere else...Alucarda should be in your Netflicks queue immediately.

Suur Toll Estonia, 1980 Dir: Rein Raamat
An amazing experience- hallucinogenic, revelatory, deeply intense and violent- is to be had watching Suur Toll, an ancient Estonian legend of decidedly obscure meaning and moral. This was supposed to be taken from a children's book, for Christ's sakes- shedding some light as to the reality of childhood before the comparative comforts of our own modern world, post-2oth Century. Set deep in a primeval woodlands on the outskirts of European civilization, our hero Toll is a benevolent giant who lives with his adoring wife in a kind of pre-industrial fairy-land idyll. His ambivalent expression hints at something more somber in his soul, and we see how this can manifest when his arch-enemy Vanituhl takes advantage of an invading army descending upon Toll's kingdom to wreck havoc in Toll's home, and then by god the blood flows. I mean rivers of it. The invading army- perhaps the most fiendish looking collection of devils ever to descend upon any land in history or myth- is relentless, numberless, and utterly cruel. Vanituhl is legitimately frightening, and the sad, pathetic ending of Toll- well, I said it was a trip, but I didn't say it was a good one. Absolutely fantastic and one of my favorite things I've ever found on the Internets.

In Cold Blood United States, 1967 Dir. Richard Brooks
The rarest of the rare- a truly brilliant movie adapted from what is, probably, my single favorite book of all time. In Cold Blood is absolutely chilling- and it is also a grand adventure, during the middle parts of the film when killers Perry and Dick escape to Mexico in pathetic hopes of lost treasure, and then are reduced to picking for discarded pop bottles back in America with a sly little boy and his dying grandfather. The murder sequence in In Cold Blood is absolutely unnerving- the use of atmospheric sound, alone, by Brooks is his real coup, a true genius stroke- the endless wastes and depths of the flat Kansas plain have never been so perfectly captured for the baleful somnolence, broken only by the wail of a ceaseless wind, that animates them. One of the best American movies ever made, and truly sympathetic to these vile killers without ever letting you forget why it is they must hang.

Faccia di Spia Italy, 1975 Dir: Giussepe Ferrara
What starts off as a fairly standard confused and hectic 1970's conspiracy theory romp soon turns into one of the most grueling viewing experiences to ever be had, as a stomach-churning saturnalia of incredibly realistic torture and violence scenes take over a movie that was pleasantly meandering along in a paranoid circle, devoid of any real heft. The torture scenes are notorious, and for good and goddamned reason: you may think you have scene brutality in film, but you really haven't until you've endured Faccia di Spia. Only making it worse is that the techniques of human violation so graphically explored in this film are taken from actual CIA practice in the countries represented in the film- when people act like Abu Ghraib was some kind of an aberration, make sure you point out to them that America not only tortures...we're so good at it that we export the stuff. Now do yourself a favor and skip this movie, and instead read what Noam Chomsky has had to say about the career- blessedly cut short- of one Dan Mitrione and his crusade of Free Market evil in Uruguay during the 1970's.

Eugenie De Sade France, 1974 Dir: Jess Franco
I'm a Franco fanatic, but even I would never claim that, say, Vampyros Lesbos is "great" cinema. This little gem, however, is. Certainly there are the standard Franco attractions that make almost any of his films worth one's time- incredibly beautiful women frequently completely unclothed (in this case, the incomparable Soledad Miranda, who is quite possibly the most beautiful woman ever to appear in cinema), deviant sexual activity with the continual threat of violence hanging over all of the orgiastic voyeurism, grand stylish set pieces that I don't think the great director has ever been given proper credit for- but there is more going on in Eugenie that takes it to the level of a really great movie. Firstly, Miranda is excellent- her punishing beauty has never been so perfectly displayed, but her shyness and fragility are what makes the character she plays so interesting to watch. As the poor girl gradually falls in love with her stepfather (yes, he went that route...don't you just love Jess Franco?) and the perversion increases to the point that murder becomes a shared pastime of the two, you really get the idea that this is way beyond mere exploitation trash- the characters are truly multi-dimensional, the total lack of moral condemnation on Franco's part an invigorating switch from the mindless captious pedantry of American films, and of course...Soledad is naked. Frequently. Oh, dear lord, what a loss that she died so very young...I think she could have really "crossed over" and entered mainstream cinema and completely changed the idea of the femme fatale in 70's Euro-cinema. A great, disturbing film.

Nightmare City Italy, 1980 Dir: Umberto Lenzi
Another Lenzi mini-masterpiece, this is one of the most underrated of the great Italian zombie films. The complete mystery of the opening sequence is what makes this so compelling- an airplane lands, and something is terribly wrong wit the situation on the tarmac, but...what, exactly, is going to happen? When the passengers- who somehow have been exposed to radiation during the flight- emerge and immediately begin slaughtering every thing in sight, you know you're in for a long haul of grim and savage violence in the best Lenzi tradition. Lenzi is no Fulci or Deodato- but he's certainly not a Joe D'Amato or Bruno Mattei, either. This is a competently made, horrifying film that ends with a tremendously clever twist- one of the few times an Italian ultra-gore fest could bring things to a close with a truly interesting philosophical idea. And the siege of the television station by the rampaging zombies is one of the great sequences in the history of Itallian Gore.

Numero deux France, 1975 Dir: Jean-Luc Godard
Perhaps inspired by Foucault's ideas of power relationships and how, really, these relationships are the sole determinant of standing in any social institution- in this case, that of the traditional family- Godard's oft-misunderstood film Numero deaux is a powerful philosophical statement, one that shows how cinema can supplant the traditional vehicle for savage social satire and critique, the novel. As much a film that is about making a film about making a film, this is Godard's most abstruse and least-accessible film; like all great art, it is this very quality of icy remove and inhuman distraction that makes it so unsettling. A master at his most experimental and forbidding, this is Godard's greatest movie.

Le Samourai France, 1967 Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville
A breathtakingly gorgeous film shot with more style, more verve, more flat-out panache than almost anything else I've ever scene. Somehow, Melville doesn't seem to get mentioned all that often in the pantheon of the truly great cadre of French directors. I'm absolutely stumped by this omission. Melville's talents are all on glorious display here; the clothing, accents and names seem to be so quintessentially American; but look closer, and Melville is as much savaging the cliches of classic American cinema as he is reinventing, deconstructing, them. A perfect exploration of anomie and the disintegration of the self; with the title, it is also clear the great director is challenging the audience with a Buddhist interpretation of the meaningless charade that is life, and the ultimate futility of the Samourai getting away with all of his killing, while he himself is dying from within in every stunning frame. An absolute masterpiece, one of the greatest films ever made.

Knife In The Water Poland, 1962 Dir: Roman Polanski
I have long been a fan of Polanski; his Macbeth is probably the best Shakespeare ever to be filmed, and even mainstream entertainments like Rosemary's Baby and The Pianist are just superbly enjoyable films to watch; and Chinatown alone qualifies him a true genius, if not also total riots like The Fearless Vampire Killers. This is his absolute best film, though, and while I can't quite explain why, it reminds me so much of the kind of perfection Stanley Kubrick could achieve that this could almost be a Kubrick movie. There is almost nothing to the plot that could benefit from elaboration here; its a deceptively simple film that is all about nuance, the interplay between an older man, a younger man, and the claustrophobic tension that results from their gamemanship for the attention of a woman. Disturbing because Polanski is so ruthless is exposing the shameless ego of men when posturing and preening, this is an icy-calm Thriller with a vast reservoir of Existential critique lying beneath the surface.

A Clockwork Orange United Kingdom, 1971 Dir: Stanley Kubrick
Simply the greatest dystopian future film ever made. Completely shocking to this day, what a bomb this must have been when it hit the screens in 1971. An incredibly graphic fit of sexual violence, meaningless outrages at the hands of Little Alex and his young droogs, barbarism, sadistic orgies and incredibly graphic rape- Clockwork is Kubrick's greatest masterpiece, and seals my opinion of him as the greatest director of all time. Never had music been more credibly- and ironically- used to paint the picture of genius shunted against decay; there is absolutely nothing about this film that doesn't work, and Malcolm McDowell exudes palpable menace in every shot, even when he is completely at the mercy of his "rehabilitation" squad of social-engineering goons. Every thing that film can do is in Kubrick's meta-masterpiece, and this surely is one of the great works of Art ever made.

The Ordeal France, 2004 Dir: Fabrice Du Welz
Who are the only people making truly great Horror films these days? The French, but of course. In just the past ten years, French cinema has given the world List entries Malefique and Ils, both wonderfully perverse and unsettling movies, and this one- which, for a certain sequence of scenes, might be the most Disturbing of them all. What a perfect fucking title for a film- that really sums it up, reader. A travelling entertainer has a bit of mechanical trouble in the Belgian countryside; he is taken in by an inn-keeper, who of course warns him not to go into the nearby town. A sheer hell of torment then commences, triggering the best recent Horror film tagline: "Ask The Pig". Poor Laurent Lucas seems to be literally suffering in his role as the stranded traveller; he certainly would have been winning awards for the intensity of his performance has this been a film not stranded in the "Horror" ghetto and, concomitantly, sneered at by the "serious" critics. Filled with totally off-kilter humour of a grim and perverse kind and taking you in so many directions you never thought a modern Horror film could, this is modern terror cinema at its best- a black comedy, really, one unrelievedly dark and demented but churning-stomach Disturbing all the same.

The Brood Canada, 1979 Dir: David Cronenberg
Cronenberg has long been one of my favorite directors; ever since I saw Dead Ringers in a theater over twenty years ago, I knew I had found a popular, credible and commercial director who was vastly capable of making even the modern mediocre-anesthetized film audience really sit still and think about the movie they were watching. Not merely a Thriller director, Cronenberg at his best excels at making psycho-sexual Horrors of a kind that he alone seems capable of creating; body issues and politics, excretions and fluids, cunning cruelty and tumor-laden bodies springing from man's deepest unconscious are a consistent theme in these dark and sometimes repulsive works. But it all comes together in The Brood. Samantha Eggar is simply fantastic as the demented mother of "psychoplasmics" creatures, killer dwarves with no genitals or navels who fan the countryside as her rage and take terrible revenge on all of her enemies- perceived or otherwise. A terribly sad and pathetic murder of a completely innocent school teacher is what stands out most to me as far as "Disturbing" goes; it's Cronenberg at his most Cronenbergian, rare and honest and not likely to let the viewer off the emotional hook. A great and unnerving performance by the great and unnerving Oliver Reed completes the package for one of my favorite movies ever.

Alucarda Mexico, 1978 Dir: Juan Lopez Moctezuma
One of my favorite Horror films of all time, this incredibly graphic and unsettling film tells the story of Carmila, only with a completely hysterical and psychopathic twist. Alucarda arrives at a convent after the death of her parents, their commences some vaguely lesbianic flirtations with the fragilely beautiful Justine (isn't that just fucking perfect???) and then...all Hell breaks loose. A truly disturbing Gypsy, in the guise of what I believe to a malevolent pan, recruits the girls to his fiendish plans, strips them both completely naked, blood is exchanged, and then the two girls spend the rest of the film either nude or screaming- and sometimes both. The scene where Alucarda and Justine repeat their infernal mantra of "Satan, Satan..." is one of the greatest moments in Horror history, Moctezuma puts together sets and shots of perfect Gothic beauty, the hysteria is intense, almost Surreal and...well, you've just got to see this movie if you never have. Period.

Deep End West Germany, 1971 Dir: Jerzy Skolimowski
The two leads in this film- pathetic young Mike, played by John Moulder-Brown and the gorgeous Jane Asher as Susan- are what makes this film so indelible. While this may sound like a standard adolescent-angst and unrequited love/coming-of-age melodrama, Deep End is so much more that to risk explaining why it is so Disturbing would completely wreck the dramatic pay-off, which is all about the tragedy lurking when even something so "innocent" as an adolescent infatuation is allowed to spiral out of control.

The Witch Who Came From The Sea United States, 1976 Dir: Matt Cimber
Far more interesting and thoughtful than the almost unbelievably lurid movie poster would lead one to believe, Witch is interesting because of all of the risks director Cimber takes with his casting. Firstly, the lovely Molly is a decidedly mature woman; clearly in her late 30's, Millie Perkins is relentlessly seductive in a way completely at odds with the barely-pubescent sexuality embraced by modern Thriller archetypes. Molly is also completely fucking disturbed, if not to say barely living in the real world. Seemingly convinced that nothing is real unless it is on television, Molly also is sexually in command (see the notorious double murder scene where this tiny woman has two beefy and bravado-laden football players bound and at her complete mercy) and not about biting the cock of a sleazy past-prime television star who demands a blow-job as, seemingly, his birthright for allowing Molly into his bedroom. Oh, there's sexual politics aplenty in this strange little film, but none of it seems too preachy; as Molly disintegrates and her very personality devolves unto the ether, you can't help but feel total sympathy for whatever conflation of horrors have coalesced to destroy her so completely. Far more interesting than bigger budget balderdash that would never be so explicit or risk-taking in its depiction of female sexuality, this is a rewarding film the likes of which could never be made today.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times Italy, 1972 Dir: Emilio Miraglia
The Queen of the Giallo. Lurid, fiendishly complex, unrelievedly tense, abstruse, decadent, superbly stylish- Miraglia certainly has one hell of a resume (including List entrant The Night Evelyn Came Out Of Her Grave) but this one is a supreme treat for fans of the unsurpassed 70's Italian cinema. Starting with a near-comical vignette featuring what has to be the rottenest little girl in the world (mayhem- just pure bloody mayhem is what little Evelyn brings to her playmate Kitty's life), Red Queen gives us a seemingly-standard "and now it's many years later" plot point to show where everybody is now that the main body of the film starts. But, oh- this is soooo not a standard and perfectly mindless diversion of a Thriller. Essentially an elaborate and modernized Gothic terror filled with old houses and malevolent legends, everybody in Red Queen dresses well, stands perfectly, trades pinpoint bon mots and plot-generating insights, and has a horde of misery and ghosts in their respective closets. Absurdly stylish, pay attention also for imaginative and brilliant use of lighting and pacing, and a soundtrack among the best of the Giallo stable. And a blisteringly Disturbing and clever ending- this not merely a great Giallo, it's one of the best Thrillers from the entire 70's.

Watership Down United Kingdom, 1978 Dir: Martin Rosen
Wow did this movie mess my ass up when I was a kid. Seeing it today, it's even more baffling how anyone could have thought this appropriate entertainment for an eight year old, but it was, after all, a "cartoon" and on HBO and I suppose my mother is to be forgiven if she had no idea a movie about a pack of rabbits could be so incredibly violent, bloody and cruel. John Hurt is especially effective here; a wonderful actor in any case, his voice is just perfect for the epic adventure his floppy-eared character Hazel goes on with all of his friends. Obviously an ecological fable, Watership works precisely because its characters are so blatantly loveable (they're fucking rabbits, after all!) but also filled with odd human failings; the animation is incredible, and shockingly gruesome in many sequences. Absolutely not for kids, but a real treat for adults wanting to torment their inner child and force the little bastard to stop whining and grow up.

Strip Nude For Your Killer Italy, 1975 Dir: Andrea Bianchi
Another one of those "Only The Italians" films of grim slaughter replete with a squadron of naked women and gallons of blood, Strip Nude wins the title for Most Lurid Film Title Of All Time, and along the way pushes the sleaze factor of Italian Gialli to new and ever more vile limits. In short, a perfect entertainment in the mind of this reviewer. Delighfully over the top and featuring perhaps the most ridiculously elaborated nude scene of any Trash Cinema contender (the warm and curvy Femi Benussi, who has an absolutely fetching and ample body, strolls around an apartment for what seems like five minutes, and is, of course, completely naked the entire time) Strip Nude also is notable for beginning with probablty the most ridiculously sleazy shot in movie history; you're certainly right in the action, so to speak, with the gynecologist as he botches an abortion and sets in motion all the mayhem that follows. Edwige Fenech, as always, is incredibly sexy and beautiful, and here she actually gets a chance to act, and not just show off those amazing hips. Healthy, curvy, sexy naked women galore- and a pretty fair plot with several excellent surprises.

Before The Rain Macedonia, 1994 Dir: Milcho Manchevski
An exceptionally well-organized and thought out film, Before The Rain is one directors attempt to bring some kind of meaning to the uselessness and terror of war, and violence in general. Set amidst the politcal chaos of the early 90's Balkans, the curious device of three love stories is used to explicate the inter-connectedness of the timeless and superstition-bound Macedonian mountains and urban, ultra-modern London. Very difficult to sumarize due to the tripartite story device, this is a movie that on its surface seems rather too glib with its romanticism, but on closer examination is far more fatalistic and grim. Gorgeous imagery and excellent performances from all the major roles.

Deranged: Confessions Of A Necrophile United States, 1974 Dir: Jeff Gillen
Here, friends, is a real hoot of a Horror. With a near-perfect performance from Roberts Blossom as an Ed Gein-esque rural madman, Deranged is remarkably intimate, claustrophobic, creepy and mordantly humorous all at the same time. Everyone knows the Gein story; this is an elaboration on the tale, with certain liberties taken, and lots of grim imagery and mental instability on display. Blossom is as deranged as the title would have you believe; and his brief interations with his dying mother (Cosette Lee) are as pathetic as they are indicative of the bloody mayhem to come. Great scenes with the barmaid forced to confront Ezra Cobb's ghoulish "family", his horrific attempts to have a real girlfriend and how disastrous that turns out, and the final, truly sad waste of the young girl Ezra takes back to his barn for vivisection. A real weird and bizarre treat from low-rent 70's Exploitation.

Kes United Kingdom, 1969 Dir: Ken Loach
The most effecting story of adolescent estrangement and anomie that I have ever seen. Makes utter garbage like the repulsively saccharine Radio Flyer seem like the lame, sentimental, bullshit Hollywood tripe that it is. Loach has a spare visual style reminiscent of a documetary filmmaker, and doesn't let his need to "direct" get in the way of the terribly bleak story he means to tell- including a performance by David Bradley as Billy that has to be one of the saddest in the history of child cinema. Billy's life is a veritable hell; working-class destitution and endless abuse balanced only by neglect at home, brutal bullying from students and teachers at school. Billy has nothing in his life until he finds a falcon (or "kestral"; hence, "Kes") and trains it to be his only friend. Of course, just when things begin to look up for the boy, an unimaginably bleak catastrophe occurs which will leave anyone with even the slightest shred of humanity completely beside themselves with grief- the torment that follows is excruciating. A very, very unsettling and sad movie; Kes also happens to be beautiful and amazingly effective at pulling emotion from the viewer without ever seeming to be manipulative.