Blog : Posts tagged with 'film' : Page 1

*

Witchcraft and magic; film and academia

In which we ponder why both serious historians and the entertainment industry were dealing with the same subject at the same time


There’s a lot of pressure on the Symbolic Towers bookshelves at the moment, stacked several deep with books falling off the ends. The pile of books-to-be-read is growing, too, with books arriving on it faster than I can read them. Frankly, the cause is obvious – apart from me not spending enough time reading, I mean. The cause is: shopping trips to Whiteladies Road and Cotham Hill, and to the charity shops thereon. Several are specialist charity bookshops, and all seem to have a better quality of book stock than charity shops elsewhere in Bristol, presumably because of the university being close by. Recent selections have included God’s Architect, a biography of Pugin by Rosemary Hill; 25 Jahre Deutsche Einheitslokomotive;* and a classic historical work from 40 years ago: Religion and the Decline of Magic by Sir Keith Thomas. I’ve just started making my way into the latter, and it has started a few thoughts going round in my head. Not because of the book itself, interesting though it is, but because of other things that have coincidentally come together alongside it.

Last Friday, by contrast, we went along to The Cube for the monthly Hellfire Video Club horror night. This month’s theme was Folk Horror, with a British cinema double bill: Cry of the Banshee (1970) and Blood on Satan’s Claw (also 1970).** The latter has rather higher production values; the former, although a British-made film, was part of American International Pictures’ series of Edgar Allan Poe films. It’s one of the later, lesser-known entries in the sequence: directed by Gordon Hessler rather than Roger Corman, but still with Vincent Price as the top-billed star.

What struck me straight away was the similarity of content: which, obviously, was why they were put together on the same bill. Cry of the Banshee is set around the start of the 17th century; Blood on Satan’s Claw is set around its end. Both deal with witchcraft, beliefs about witchcraft, and intra-community conflict; in very different styles, and with different levels of seriousness, but still at heart the same subject. It was not, moreover, a particularly unusual subject for British film at the time: a couple of years earlier Vincent Price had starred in Witchfinder General, covering similar subject matter and with slightly more claim to historicity. Not coincidentally, it was a co-production between American International and the producers of Blood on Satan’s Claw, Tigon. Recently, in his BBC series A History of Horror, Mark Gatiss put forward a claim for this group of films to be considered as a “folk horror” subgenre,*** together with The Wicker Man (1973): another look at essentially the same themes, updated to a modern-day setting.**** In that film the side of witchcraft is represented by a modern pagan revival; Cry of the Banshee shows the mythical pagan witchcraft of Charles Leland and Margaret Murray, and Blood on Satan’s Claw shows the Satanic witchcraft which the real-life witchfinders of the 17th century believed they were hunting down.

The point of this post, though, came when I realised that the subject of these films – the period ones, at least – is in effect the same subject as their contemporary Religion and the Decline of Magic. That book covers the same period: roughly, 1500 to 1700. It covers the intersection between religion and folk magic, and how folk belief in magic and witchcraft changed due to the political-religious upheavals which occurred in the period under study – following the anthropological distinction between magic and witchcraft.

Being an academic history, it is slightly easier to see how Sir Keith came to write the book when he did. His interest in the period came from studying under Christopher Hill, the great Marxist historian of 17th century England; and at the time he was writing magic and witchcraft were being seen in a new light as a subject of historical enquiry. Thomas received input from Alan Macfarlane, whose research on witchcraft prosecutions in East Anglia is another work that is very much still on the historical and anthropological syllabus. The significance of Dr Macfarlane is that, as a historical anthropologist, he married anthropological frameworks and theories to historical primary sources. This level of academic interest in historical witchcraft beliefs is also what led to the complete discrediting of the previously-accepted idea that early modern witchcraft was a fully-fledged ancient and pagan religion, in works such as Norman Cohn’s Europe’s Inner Demons, published in 1975. In general, it is fair to say that Religion and the Decline of Magic is a major work within a subject that was getting a great deal of interest in academia at the time, and for the first time was getting serious interest paid to it which involved deep analysis of primary source material.

What intrigues me about all this, however, is the confluence here between academia and entertainment. What was going on, what underlying forces were at work, which led to the production of both horror films and weighty academic histories on the same topics at the same times? It is worth saying that Blood on Satan’s Claw, at least, does appear to present an underlying thesis which is not unrelated to that of Keith Thomas. Thomas points out that the Reformation led to the Church in England abandoning a large number of practices which can be described as magical; or which, at least, are barely distinguishably from magic both in an anthropological analysis and in the minds of the ordinary population expected to take part. In Blood on Satan’s Claw the village priest, apparently a Low Anglican, is ineffectual against the forces of witchcraft, and knows it; the heroes are the scientifically-minded local physician and the Jacobite judge, presumably still secretly following the old religion just as he secretly follows the Old Pretender. To defeat Satan, only a Catholic will do; but nowhere is this spelled out explicitly for the audience, and you will only realise it if you have some awareness of the film’s historical setting.

I’m not, of course, trying to posit a direct connection between the two things: for one thing, both of the films shown at Hellfire Video Club were released the year before the book was. Rather, there seems to have been an undercurrent of some sort, forty years ago, which made this sort of subject a popular one in several ages. I have a feeling it was important in music, too. Also on the squeezed bookshelves is a work which for once I didn’t get second-hand: Electric Eden by Rob Young. It is a history of the folk themas which pervaded English music in the 20th century – which makes it sound also very academic. It isn’t, and its writer is a very approachable sort of chap, but it doesn’t exactly answer the question I’m posing, because it tends to follow a linear path of musical trends, parallel to the rest of culture.

There is possibly an answer in the growth of modern paganism. Modern Wicca emerged in the 1950s; by the time we are talking about, it was well known in mainstream culture and in the popular press. Moreover, as historian Ronald Hutton has shown, not only can the view of spirituality expressed in Wicca can be shown to have strong antecedents in British culture from the Romantic poets onwards; but even though the view of pagan witchcraft expounded by Margaret Murray can be shown to be false, modern witchcraft can nevertheless be seen to be descended from the types of magical beliefs and activities described by scholars such as Thomas.***** In other words, as a religion, it is a concrete expression of a number of strands of British philosophical thought and folk belief which have been rooted at some level in the national psyche since the medieval period.

However, that argument would seem to be the tail wagging the dog. Rather, modern Wicca became known in the mainstream for the same reasons that academics were studying the history of magical belief, and for the same reasons that popular entertainment was portraying the same themes. What these reasons were is presumably something deeper, and I am not enough of a cultural historian to tell you what they were and are. I do think it is somehow significant, though. At the start of the 1970s, something important was happening, culturally, that made the same themes arise right across the cultural spectrum: in academia, in film, in music and in religion. I feel as if, noticing the parallel dates between books and films, I’m trying to grip the edge of an iceberg.

* published in 1950 by Miba, in case you were wondering.

** you can see the event’s poster on Flickr.

*** Of course, other people might have said it before him, but I’m not well-versed enough in film history to know.

**** Incidentally, both The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw have fantastic soundtracks, although each very different in form.

***** Also incidentally, given that I bought my copy of Religion and the Decline of Magic on Cotham Hill, and that most of it has been marked up by a studious reader, the chances are it used to belong to someone studying on one of Professor Hutton’s courses.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Photo Post Of The Week

In which things are squared, and vintage.


Back in August, I talked about photo framing, and the use of square frames. In fact, if you’re viewing this on the main page, there’s a good chance it’s down below somewhere, I’ve been writing so few posts lately. In essence: nowadays you get a rectangular photo, and it’s very, very easy to crop your photo to whatever aspect ratio you like. Back in the day, you got a square photo,* and if you wanted to crop it you had to take a guillotine to your print.

I’ve been trying for a while to be more disciplined with my aspect ratios, and either keep all my shots to the same aspect ratio as the camera uses,** or crop them to square. And, moreover, I’ve had the vintage cameras out. Back in August, I posted a test shot I took to check exposure. Today: the actual shot I was trying to take!

Harbour and lighthouse, Watchet

This was taken on an Ensign Selfix 420. The one big problem I have with it: getting the camera straight. It has two viewfinders: a glassless frame finder on the body, and a small brilliant finder attached to the lens. The former doesn’t really tell you if you’re pointing it in the right direction, and the latter is too small to see if you’ve got it properly upright. The light leak, on the other hand, I rather like; it’s only noticeable in bright sunlight in any case.

* Bear in mind that right through the 1950s 35mm cameras were a relatively rare thing, and the majority of the photo market used 6cm film such as the 120 format. It wasn’t until the 60s that the 35mm camera really started to take over the market, even though they had been around earlier.

** 121:81, in case you were wondering.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Fourth Series

In which FP rants about Being Human’s writers not being able to coherently plot from series to series


This blog still gets quite a lot of hits from people searching for the locations used in the BBC supernatural drama series Being Human, particularly the house used in the first couple of series. Now, I wrote quite a bit about those two series on here, partly because at the time we lived in South Bristol, the series was filmed largely in South Bristol, and it was quite an enjoyable thing to watch. The last time I wrote about it, though, was to (successfully) predict one of the plot-lines of Series Three; however, when that series made it onto the screen ,I hardly wrote about it at all. I hardly wrote about it because, to be honest, I didn’t think it was very good.

Now, with at least two major characters killed off* at the end of Series Three, you might have wondered whether it was coming back. Google says that Series Four was announced back in March, but I have to say I didn’t notice. I did notice, however, more of those little pink filming location signs which used to pop up all over Bristol. Not by the Black Castle this time, so no more “Box Tunnel” plotline. Instead, this year, filming is going on in (drum roll) Newport, South Wales. Newport, the town city so good they called it Newport! Newport, on the beautiful River Usk, where you can get shot while having your hair done before getting your head stuck in a disused train. It’s that good.**

Newport might be awful, depressing and run down, but Cardiff has plenty of areas like that too. So, the next series of Being Human is going to feature: some sort of dramatic, thrilling climax based around the Newport Transporter Bridge. It’s essentially the only unique thing Newport has; and if you’re going to feature it, you may as well be dramatic about it. Well, either that, or the Manic Street Preachers are going to pop up in the background, which is less likely.

Noticing that Being Human is coming back, and writing this post, has made me think about exactly why I don’t think it is any good any more; why I think it shouldn’t come back. The biggest problem I have with it, I think, is that its writers don’t really have any sense of how to expand on their fictional world but still retain believability. Each series might make sense on its own, but the three series that have been produced so far, put back to back, make no sense at all as a single work: each new series has introduced new elements which completely break the world already established.

If you’ve watched it, you might be wondering what I’m talking about here. So, I’ll elaborate. Stop reading now if you have never seen the programme but might want to watch it in the future.

Series one: we have Emotionally-Tortured Pre-Raphaelite Vampire, trying hard to give up on the whole “killing people” thing; and Evil Villain Vampire, who is going to take over the world and doesn’t see any place for brooding emotional types who think they can live alongside humans in his worldview. Evil Villain Vampire is working in the police, so he can keep vampires under-cover and make sure their crimes don’t get exposed. E-T P-R V learns to rely on his friends, who defeat Mr. Evil Villain – in the workplace, note – and forestall the great vampire takeover. Sorted.

Series two: E-T P-R V and friends are fighting against some religious “scientists” who are trying to cure evil, and exterminate it if curing it doesn’t work. Our vampire protagonist is still being broody because he’s having trouble with the whole not-killing-people thing again. So, introduce Morally-Uplifted Mentor Vampire, who gave up blood-quaffing as a dead loss some centuries back, and who, way back before the start of Series One, taught Mr E-T P-R Vampire how to not kill people to begin with.

Now, this plotline might all make sense if M-U M Vampire (ooh, an apt acronym) lived somewhere exotic, somewhere difficult for a Totterdown resident to get to.*** Or, alternatively, if he’d**** been off on holiday somewhere, out of contact, for the whole of Series One. Touring the Amazon, perhaps, or spending three years trainspotting in Iceland. The only sensible explanation, indeed, is that that was indeed the case and it just isn’t mentioned: because it turns out that M-U M Vampire lives in a very nice house, literally a stone’s throw from E-T P-R Vampire’s workplace – where, remember, the Final Denoument took place in the previous series. Literally a stone’s throw. Not only did Evil Villain Vampire not notice, in the previous series, that an active let’s-not-kill-people mentor character was living two minute’s walk away, but E-T P-R Vampire could have popped round for some advice and a cup of tea in his afternoon break, and still got back to work before anybody noticed.

Series Three: the religious chaps have been defeated, the Core Team have moved to Wales, and the Evil Villain Vampire might not have been defeated quite so thoroughly as we all thought. But, what’s this? There are some other vampires! Who may or may not exist, of course. They might be somewhere in the depths of the Amazon, or they might be deeply under-cover in a second police team devoted to making sure vampire killings don’t get exposed. However, all the vampires are well-aware that these Old Vampires may exist, or may be just a myth that vampires pass down from generation to generation. All the vampires are well aware of the myth, even though it was never previously mentioned. In Series One, Evil Villain Vampire was planning to take over the world, was planning to become Vampire King Of The World, indeed, and nobody seemed concerned that there may, just may, be some possibly-mythical Old Vampires who might still be around and might disagree. In Series Three, it turns out, they were working in the same business as Evil Villain Vampire all along! But didn’t think it worth doing a thing about him, didn’t bother stepping in – although we’re presumably meant to assume that they would have stopped things going too far.

Basically, my point is that: Being Human hasn’t been thought through. It’s been planned one series at a time, and each time a series is made, the previous one isn’t even thought of. No doubt Series Four will introduce some other new characters: maybe a Great Pack of werewolves convinced that werewolves are going to take over the world, which everyone has heard of before and cunningly forgotten to mention. Or maybe the Old Vampires are going to turn out to include the team’s landlord from Series One, who hasn’t been seen for a while. Either way, something new will no doubt come in, and if the previous series are anything to go by, it will be something which would have made a vital difference to everything that has gone before, if we had actually known about it.

I will stop ranting, now. There are ways to do this sort of thing properly, but Being Human is probably beyond recovery. The annoying thing is, it would have been much better if someone had sat down, right at the start, and said: if we do get more than one series, what way will we go? And what do we have to do now, to make sure we can?

* Given that several characters are either dead or undead, and one has been “killed off for good” once before only to return when the writers ran short of plot, this is possibly not a useful measure of whether or not it will return.

** It’s hard for me to describe what an awful place Newport is, seriously, without you thinking I’m exaggerating for comic effect. Doctors in Newport have been known to use “move well away from Newport” as a treatment for clinical depression. Visiting Newport (in the 2010s) is like visiting a small town in northern England (in 1985).

*** Kingswood, maybe.

**** There’s an essay in the implicit and deep-rooted sexism that shows itself in the writing of the female vampires in Being Human, but this is probably not the place for it, and I am not the person to write it. It is, however, no doubt closely related to the vampire-as-sexual-predator archetype. Here, at least, note that only the male vampires are given any chance of redemption other than death; and that the mentor who demonstrates this the most is gay.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Adaptation

In which we discuss the Scott Pilgrim movie, one case of a comic-to-film adaptation that keeps all the spirit of the comic it came from.


Back, back in the mists of time – well, in December 2007 – I posted a review of Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, the fourth, and at that point, the latest, book in the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Since then, of course, the world has moved on. In Spring 2009 the fifth book, Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe was published, with shiny metallic cover. We quickly bought it,* and I intended to write about it on here, but somehow other things kept coming along and SP5 never got its review.

Forward to this year, and publicity started to appear for Scott Pilgrim, the movie version. The sixth and final book, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, was published this summer. “I really must write on the blog about this one,” thought I, “before the film comes out.” But it didn’t happen. So, last weekend, we went to see the film, not sure if we would love it or hate it.

Quick recap for people who have never heard of Scott Pilgrim, never seen it, never read the books: Scott Pilgrim is a 20-something slacker geek with no job, in a rather bad band, who starts dreaming about a mysterious girl. She turns out to be a real girl, a delivery courier called Ramona who knows the secret of using people’s dreams as shortcuts between places in the real world. Scott immediately falls in love, but quickly discovers that her emotional baggage is somewhat more real than most people’s, as she has a whole league of Evil Exes she’s dated in the past, who Scott must defeat in video-game-style fights before he can win her heart. Now, read on…

Adaptations often get a bad press. What works well in one medium, after all, doesn’t always translate; but if an adaptation’s not faithful, it can end up pleasing nobody. Scott Pilgrim vs The World, though, is one of the most faithful adaptations I’ve ever seen, despite the fact it has to cut six books’ worth of action down into one single film. From the moment it started, with the same fonts onscreen as in the book, it was, I think, as close to the comic as any live-action adaptation could get. Lots had to be cut out, of course – the books are set over the course of a year, the film over a few weeks at most – and due to release schedules the last act is radically different to the final book; but, overall, the spirit of the books is captured extremely well. Some subplots were pruned entirely; some of the backstory was moved to an animated short; and some of the characters’ emotional lives are simplified or made less explicit;** none of it feels missing from the film, though. Moreover, the film uses a lot of the books’ stylistic quirks. Just like in the books, each new character gets a little black caption explaining who they are and what they’re up to. Just like the books, the film is full of cunning references and semi-hidden jokes. The film does a very good job, like the books, of portraying a realistic world in which, nevertheless, video-game events can happen.

There are a couple of places where you could argue that the film’s better than the books: in plot terms, there are two places where the story is told in a slightly better way.*** In general, though, I still prefer the books: a much fuller story, because there’s more space to tell it in. At some point, I should write an essay about the ending of the series, and what I think it says about life; that’s not for today, but it says something that the books can inspire me to consider something like that.

Some reviews of Scott Pilgrim vs The World have said that it’s “too hyperactive”. It is, definitely, a fast-moving film: that’s what you get when you compress that much shelf-space into one movie. Philip French, in the Observer, complained that at 1 hour 52 it’s “overlong” – maybe that was the effect of the various fight scenes, which do come close together. Myself, I found it both witty and touching; but I did worry that a newcomer, someone who’s never read the books, would have no clue what was going on at all.

In general, for both me and K, it’s the case that we can’t watch films too often. Once we’ve seen something, even a film we both love, it has to sit on the shelf for a few months before we can happily watch it again. As we walked out of the cinema after seeing Scott Pilgrim vs The Word, almost the first thing we did was: work out when we have some time free to go back and watch it again. If that isn’t a recommendation, I’m not sure what is.

* Coincidentally, the day I bought it was also the day I auditioned to go on Mastermind – I stopped off at Forbidden Planet on the way home.

** A spoilertastic summary of some of the missing bits: Knives Chau’s character is much more developed in the books, and her father takes up a vendetta against Scott at one point, chasing after him with a samurai sword which can cut a tram in two. Scott does try to get a job in the books, if not a career, and there’s much more in the way of band politics too. Emotionally, the most important missing part is: Scott, when trying to escape from Knives’ father, accidentally goes inside Ramona’s head and discovers that in her mind at least, her relationship with Gideon, the ultimate Evil Ex, was a BDSM-style master-slave affair. This isn’t just the payoff to a pun set up right from the start, but is very important in the final end-of-series battle, where it’s also explained that it was Gideon who created the ability to enter someone else’s dreams. All this is only touched on very lightly in the film, hinted at by Ramona’s behaviour “below” Gideon in the Chaos Club scenes; her inability to resist his commands is nothing to do with her own desires, but the result of a microchip he implanted in her head. And that’s enough of the spoilers.

*** Spoilers again: the defeat of Todd, the third Evil Ex is directly caused by Scott in the film; in the book, it’s a bit of a deus ex machina. It’s set up earlier, so not a complete bolt from the blue, but Scott doesn’t really have much involvement with it. Secondly, the treatment of Scott’s extra life is handled better in the film, in that he has to “replay” the previous few scenes a second time, but knows how to handle them better; in the book he returns to consciousness straight after the dream/afterlife sequence with Ramona. You can, of course, find examples of video games that work in either way, but I preferred the film version.

2 comments so far. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , ,

*

Vampire-Spotting

In which we suspect that some TV cameras might be taking the train


Regular readers over the past couple of years might have noticed that I quite enjoy spotting the filming locations of the paranormal TV drama* Being Human, filmed in a variety of easily-recognisable Bristol locations: Totterdown, Bedminster, Clifton, St George, College Green, and so on. Not for much longer, though, we thought: although the first two series were Bristol-based, the third series is apparently being moved over to Cardiff. Whether it will be the recognisable Cardiff Cardiff of Torchwood, or the generic anycity of Doctor Who, remains to be seen; but this was all clearly set up when, at the end of Series Two, the protagonists were forced to flee the house on the corner of Henry St and Windsor Terrace for an anonymous rural hideout. No more Bristol locations for us to spot, we thought.

Over the past week, we’ve been doing a lot of driving about moving house; we now know every intimate corner of every sensible route from south Bristol to east Bristol, or at least it feels like we do. So we were slightly surprised to see that, about a week ago, some more of these pink signs have popped up. “BH LOC” and “BH BASE”, as before.

We spotted them on Albert Road, near the Black Castle. “BH BASE” points along Bath Road, towards the Paintworks and the ITV studios. “BH LOC”, though, is intriguing. It points down the very last turning off Albert Road before the Black Castle end. That entrance only goes to two places: a KFC branch, and St Philips Marsh railway depot.

If you watched the second series of Being Human, you might remember that there was, indeed, a rather brutal train-based scene in a First Great Western carriage.** So, expect the third series to include, at the very least, an extension of that scene, if not a spin-off plotline. Or, alternatively, those signs aren’t really anything to do with Being Human at all, and it’s just coincidence that they pop up around Bristol a few months before each series appears on the telly.*** My money’s on that train from Series Two being the root of part of the Series Three plot; but, I guess, we’ll just have to wait, watch and see.

* Well, it started off as a comedy, and got more serious as it went along

** I was impressed that the programme’s fidelity-to-location included shooting that scene in a genuine local train, rather than just finding any railway prepared to get a carriage soaked with fake blood. Of course, it was probably a convenient location too.

*** The third possibility, of course, is that someone in Series Three tries to cure vampires and werewolves of their respective curses by getting them to eat large amounts of fried chicken.

3 comments so far. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Lights And Action

In which we spot some filming going on, so talk about something completely different


On my way home, last night and the night before, I noticed something going on along Ashton Road. Big floodlights, lighting up the whole street: some sort of night filming was going on.

Being intrigued, I went to the internet to try to find out what it might be. And then I checked my website stats, and found that people have been coming to this site, already, to try to find out what was being filmed. They can’t have got an answer, at least not from me. I haven’t been able to find a complete one, either, but I have found that it’s a drama about “the lives of young women who are involved with drugs and prostitution“, and it’s not specifically set in Bedminster, Ashton Gate, or in Bristol in general. Cheerful, then.

It reminded me, though, to say: you’d be able to tell, just by looking at my website stats, that the new series of Being Human has started now, with new extra dark edginess and even dirtier vampires than before. You can tell, because of the number of people who are asking The Interweb where it was filmed. To be honest, the establishing shots in the new series make it even more obvious than previously: most of them clearly show the street name. For new readers: the Being Human house is 1, Windsor Terrace, Totterdown, Bristol.* The pub, going by the exterior shots, appears to be along Henry St. K and I had a debate about the location of the car park in Episode 1: she said Trenchard St, I said Prince St; and the gay vampire’s house in Episode 2 was on Redcliffe Parade – as anyone who’s visited Bristol probably realised. Handily just round the corner from the hospital, in fact, should you have an urgent need to pretend to be dead.**

* Not in Cardiff, as one searcher seemed to think, presumably as the series was commissioned by BBC Cymru/Wales.

** In fact, I’m slightly puzzled now, why he didn’t pop up in the first series? After all, if you’re going through a major crisis and the self-proclaimed Vampire Leader is promising to destroy you, and you have a friend who has helped you in the past and is probably On Your Side … and he lives about 2 minutes walk from where you work, you think you’d probably pop round at least once. Of course, I know the real reason is that he hadn’t been invented at that point, but never mind.

One comment. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Stranger In A Strange Land

In which we watch some films with sex in


It’s been a quiet month on the site this month, as regular readers might have noticed. There have been plenty of things to keep us busy, firstly; and the hot summer days leave me feeling rather drained each evening, not in a mood to sit down and write something. Not to mention that we spent three successive evenings this week going down to the cinema. We heard that The Cube was showing a mini-season of Japanese “Pink Cinema”. Reading the descriptions in the programme, we couldn’t resist any of it.

Pink Cinema” is, not to put too fine a point on it, pornographic. It is: dirty films, made to fit a strict template. An hour of film, with plenty of sex but nothing to concern the letter-of-the-law Japanese censors, made to fill up screen time in specialist cinemas which show nothing else. As the audience, such as it is nowadays, doesn’t really care what’s in the film,* the writers and directors can choose whatever topic or style they want to write about; as a result, pink cinema is an astonishingly broad genre. The season – curated by a chap called Jasper Sharp who is probably the world’s leading expert in the field, having written a comprehensive book about it – included five films over the three nights, but each of those five was radically different in style and contect, from serious drama through martial arts action to political satire.

First up was A Lonely Cow Weeps At Dawn, also known as The Cowshed Of Immorality. Before you start wondering, it had nothing to do with actual bestiality,** but was a sad tale of an elderly farmer who had been plunged into senility by the deaths of his son and his favourite cow. His daughter-in-law tried to take the cow’s place, and his wayward daughter, a prostitute, returned to their village and became involved in a scheme to trick the man out of his land. Hot on its heels came Sexy Battle Girls, which I’ve been assured was a big influence on Tarantino. Made in the mid-80s, its story concerned a man who, years ago, had been humiliated when a rival with a larger penis stole his wife away from him. He brought their daughter up as a martial arts expert who would one day seek revenge using her special superpower: a vagina of inhuman strength. How this superpower emerged, or how it was discovered, wasn’t quite explained; but we did see her father shoving an apple inside her underwear and shouting “Crush it!”, before four neatly-quartered apple pieces dropped to the floor. Scary. The villain of the piece turned out to be headmaster of a prestigious school. In typical villain fashion, he also turned out to be selling delinquent schoolgirls to top politicians. In slightly less typical villain fashion, a small stuffed bird was attached to his shoulder at all times.

Friday night’s films started with another serious piece: New Tokyo Decadence: The Slave. It was, as you might expect, about BDSM; rather like Secretary, it followed a masochist who starts an affair with her boss. It was a subtle film, which carefully showed the title character’s emotions as she struggled to balance physical pleasure with affection. It was followed by a film which wasn’t subtle in any way: S&M Hunter, an almost-slapstick tale of a laconic one-eyed bondage expert commissioned to rescue a gay man from the clutches of a group of rebellious and sex-mad young women. He triumphed, of course, suspending the gang’s leader from a construction crane, despite having lost his other eye in their final duel. The series was rounded off on Saturday night by one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, The Glamorous Life Of Sachiko Hanai. The title character of the film is a sex worker shot in the head during a dispute between two spies. Running away alive, she accidentally leaves with the object the spies were fighting over; moreover, the bullet in her brain gives her superhuman intelligence and mind-reading powers. She starts an affair with a philosophy professor,*** and then discovers that the object the spies were fighting over is a disembodied finger cloned from George W Bush.**** If you’ve never seen a girl being raped by a bright red finger, apparently able to fly, while the American President shouts things at her from a TV screen in the background, then, well, I’d recommend this movie.

Each night’s programme was followed by a question-and-answer session with the curator, Mr Sharp, which tended to turn into something more of a freeform discussion. Friday night’s, in particular, turned into a slightly vicious debate between a group of people near the back of the theatre who had been giggling, sniggering and reading out the subtitles all through the most serious bits, and a woman at the front who had told them to shut up.***** The let’s-laugh-at-the-dodgy-subtitles group defended themselves on the grounds that the whole programme was Exploitation Cinema, and therefore audience participation should be expected; and that it doesn’t matter if anyone talks over a subtitled film because as you can read the words, you don’t have to be able to hear the dialogue. I don’t really think either argument was particularly strong, and neither did anyone else we spoke to.

I’m glad we went along to the Behind The Pink Curtain season, and the titillation angle was neither a plus or a negative. “It’s definitely porn you can watch with a girl!” I heard one audience-member say during an interval. “Well, indeed,” said the girl he was talking to. I think he might have been missing the point of the films slightly. Unlike most hardcore porn, solely about the mechanics of sex, these films had characterisation, plot and sometimes subtlety. The sex, moreover, was realistic, naturalistic sex.****** Dirty, messy, noisy everyday sex. That, alone, sets “pink films” aside from most of what appears in the media. It makes me think that maybe, despite the offensive and extreme aspects to some of the films, maybe the Japanese attitude to sex is healthier than ours.

* other than the sex, natch

** which would now be very illegal to show in a cinema, I understand

*** who shouts out names like “Noam Chomsky!” and “Susan Sontag!” as he climaxes

**** This being a 2003 film

***** As we were leaving, I think I overheard this woman saying she thought she could have taken the others had it come down to fighting. I’m kind of disappointed it didn’t.

****** Well, apart from that one scene with George W Bush’s finger

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Photo Post Of The Week

In which we compare analogue and digital


It took me a while to catch on to the idea of digital photography. “Bah,” I thought, “you can’t spend hours in the darkroom with a digital photo. And I’ll always need to keep buying more and more disk space.” Both slightly false excuses, to be honest: it’s years since I’ve had easy access to a darkroom, and the disk space doesn’t get burned up that quickly. Generally, though, it was a good thing that I didn’t rush into it; I saved up, until I could afford a good camera, rather than jump in at the cheap end. And I’m pleased with what I got.

This post, though, follows up from the previous Photo Post Of The Week, in which, as I said, K and I walked up through London from Tate Modern to Clerkenwell, retracing a route I’d done a few years before. Both times, I took photos. Three years ago, I had my cheaply-grabbed-on-Ebay Nikon F801 with me. Here’s one of the photos:

Grand Avenue, Smithfield

This time, we took K’s nifty little compact Panasonic. Remembering the last trip, I deliberately retook that last photo with it:

Smithfield Market

I can see straight away which is the better photo. That doesn’t mean I regret waiting until I could afford a good digital camera; but it does make me wonder what opportunities I missed, and what I could have improved with my film shots.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , ,

*

Eternal Youth

In which we go to the cinema


A trip to the cinema the other week, to see Let The Right One In,* the Swedish vampire movie which has been going down very well lately. As I haven’t seen any Swedish films since I was a student, as usual I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Raw meatballs? Home-assembly furniture dripping with blood? Bat-haunted forests with man-eating elk?

The film’s trailers implied action, as vampire films tend to do. Fast pace, fast cutting, sudden surprises and sharp shocks. Anyone who went along because of the trailer, though, would have been rather disappointed. There were long, slow scenes; quiet snowy landscapes, thoughtful looks, reflection.** The film was crisp as snow and sharp as a gooseberry. Most of the deaths were slow and brutal; young men being slaughtered like pork, for example. The cuts were offscreen, as were the vampire’s flights; but the trickling blood and fluttering wings were heard loud and clear.

The long shots of wintry landscapes and quiet thought slowly built up into a touching story, a touching story of childish love. Peter Pan seen from another angle, almost. The 12-year-old protagonist’s tender life was mapped out in front of us in a wide hidden circle; and as he disappeared out of sight at the end, over the horizon in a railway carriage, the storyling was tightly coiled to a perfect closure. Perfect for the audience, in any case.

The film had a delicate, scarcely-mentioned 1970s setting. None of the heavy-handed period truncheoning of, say, Life On Mars. No overt references at all, just a subtle landscape of brown furniture, smoking and leather jackets. It was carefully observed, and carefully understated.

These vampires weren’t fashionable vampires, as per Anne Rice or Being Human. They weren’t strong, or powerful, and they didn’t have enough self-control to contemplate any sort of world domination. The human characters, or some of them at least, were far more cruel, far more sadistic and destructive, whether by design or accident. The vampires were, on the other hand, realistic, or at least as realistic as a vampire might be. Realistic, inhuman animal creatures, undead but nevertheless made from flesh and blood. I’ve never seen vampires before that were quite so real and quite so believable. Let The Right One In is, you could say, vampire cinema verité, and it is a beautiful, cold and haunting film. There is, apparently, an American remake on the way. I live in fear, not from a vampire plunging in the night, but that the original Swedish version might end up forgotten.

* or Låt den rätte komma in if you speak Swedish.

** although not of the vampires, of course.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , ,

*

Misogynistic Stereotype Killers

In which Mario Reading is quiet, so we criticise Horne & Corden instead


Quick update on yesterday’s post: as those of you with your own blogs will know, if you link from one blog to another, your blog will send a thing called a “pingback” or a “trackback” to the other one, and the owner of the other blog can choose to display it as a comment.

Yesterday I linked to the blog of Nostradamus-interpreter Mario Reading, when writing about his prediction that George W Bush would be assassinated in 2006, and his later claim that this prediction was right all along. Mario* saw the pingback, followed it back here, and (presumably) read my post about him. Unfortunately, he decided not to display the pingback on his blog, and so far hasn’t responded to what I pointed out: that his claim of correctness fundamentally contradicts the prediction he’s claiming is correct. I’m disappointed. Mario, if you’re reading,** if you want to respond to what I’ve said, then whatever you want to say, I promise I’ll publish it here. I won’t just delete it, like some people would. That’s a fair offer.

Moving on, comedy of a more intentional kind.*** We couldn’t avoid noticing posters around the place for the new British comedy film**** Lesbian Vampire Killers, starring Mathew Horne and James Corden; and, thinking: oh my holy pantheon. Someone would really produce a film with a premise like that? I mean, I’m not surprised someone – probably a 14-year-old boy – would write a film with a title like that, but, produce it? Agree to appear in it?

Well, fortunately, you don’t have to listen to me ramble on about how awful, ugly, and misogynistic we thought it sounded when we haven’t even seen it,***** because the excellent not-quite-worksafe blogger Bitchy Jones has written a similarly-kneejerk castigation of its low concepts. You only need to look at the URL of that to realise that she’s not-quite-worksafe; and she has done a far better critique of it than I’d manage. There are comments, too, from people who have actually seen it. If you also thought: “what, that’s a real film?” go and read.

Talking of Horne and Corden, I feel like I can’t get away from the buggers at the moment, because every time I switch the telly to the BBC, there’s a trail for their new sketch show; well, unless it’s BBC4. Being a sketch-show trail, it shows sketches. Sketches without jokes in. Their writing strategy seems to go something like this:

1: comedy set-up, relying on recognisable situation (eg. the movie “Ghost”
2: err …
3: … that’s it

No joke. No punchline. What’s the point of that, then? Is this some new zen-comedy, are there catchphrases that I haven’t noticed yet, were the trailers wrecked in the editing, or is it just lazy writing? Answers on a postcard, I guess. The trailers certainly don’t inspire me to watch it.

* or, whoever moderates his blog for him, if he doesn’t do it himself

** fighting my pun-instinct is really really hard here, you know

*** The blog title is about this bit, by the way, and completely unrelated to Mr. R.

**** words which, already, are not a promising start

***** See, at least Mario Reading gets criticised on the grounds that I’ve read his books and his blog and can spot the flaws in them, and not just on me thinking it sounds like it might be wrong.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Search this site

*

Contact

E: feedback [at] symbolicforest [dot] com

IM: Ask me if you'd like to know

*

Post Categories

Artistic (118)
Dear Diary (349)
Feeling Meh (48)
Geekery (109)
In With The Old (34)
Linkery (37)
Media Addict (164)
Meta (79)
Photobloggery (94)
Political (113)
Polling (7)
Sub category (19)
The Family (31)
The Office (70)
Unbelievable (53)