Apr 18, 2014

Breaking Point - Pornografisk thriller

While American heteros had Cecil Howard (Neon Nights, Snake Eyes) and Jonas Middleton (Illusions of a Lady, Through the Looking Glass) and the American homos had Fred Halsted (LA Plays Itself, Sextool) and Jack Deveau (Left-Handed, Drive), the Swedes had Bo Arne Vibenius who, after working as an assistant director on Ingmar Bergman's experimental arthouse masterpiece Persona (1966) and making his directing debut with the family fantasy film (!) Hur Marie träffade Fredrik (1969) aka How Marie Met Fredrik, directed two strangely atmospheric hardcore artsploitation flicks—Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973) aka Thriller - en grym film and Breaking Point - Pornografisk thriller (1975)—before giving up feature filmmaking altogether. While Thriller: A Cruel Picture has gained some popularity in recent years due to the fact that it was a major influence on Quentin Tarantino’s two volume fanboy mix-tape Kill Bill (2003-2004), Breaking Point, which is easily one of the most sardonically politically incorrect porno films I have ever seen, is somewhat more obscure, even though arguably a superior work in pretty much every way. Featuring a cinematographer-turned-porn star who opted for taking the dubious pseudonym ‘Anton Rothschild’—a name derived from the Rothschilds, the most evil Jewish banking family in all of human history that is responsible for funding both sides of virtually every single war over the past couple centures—in the lead role as a seemingly schizophrenic office nerd and toy train fetishist with what also seems to be an acute case of asperger syndrome who sees it as his god-given right to rape and, in some cases, kill beautiful young women, Breaking Point was certainly not produced by one of the Semitic smut-peddlers who have a monopoly on such work in the United States. Aside from the pseudonym ‘Rothschild’ adopted by lead actor Andreas Bellis (who, despite having only starred in one other film in a non-pornographic role, helmed the camera for over 40 different films between 1968 and the 2000s, including Thriller: A Cruel Picture), the stuntman of the film adopted the name ‘Turbo Man’, the Special Effects guy took the glorious name ‘Urban Hitler’, the Producer (aka director Bo Arne Vibenius) stole the name Stan Kowalski (the name of the fictional American Polack rapist from Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)), and the Unit Manager took the name ‘Oscar Wilde’, among various other charming pennames. While advertised as a ‘pornographic thriller,’ Breaking Point is also a scathing satire that maliciously mocks Swedish liberal democracy, the quackery of modern psychiatry (the antihero is inspired to serial rape after learning from a psychiatrist named ‘Sigmund’ that 89% of women have rape fantasies), urban decay, trendy left-wing terrorism of the 1970s, and government bureaucracy, as well as various other forms of contemporary post-WWII degeneracy. Of course, the film is certainly symptomatic of such degeneracy, but at least it is honest in that regard. Shot from the rather unreliable perspective of the renegade rapist/social retard, Breaking Point is a sometimes oneiric and ominous odyssey of oddball orgasms and literal lunatic libertinism in a rare film—be it pornographic or otherwise—where a balding bourgeois dork becomes a sexually savage action antihero of the master fugitive kind.

Bob Bellings (Greek-born cinematographer Andreas Bellis aka ‘Anton Rothschild’) is a nerdy middle-age officer clerk with a rather unimpressive appearance who has a reasonably easy time leading a second life as a loner that no one would ever suspect was a sex killer. Indeed, during the beginning of Breaking Point, Bob stalks, brutally rapes, and kills a chic and sophisticated blonde stranger named Suzanne Andersson by smashing in her skull with a glass ashtray. While at work, Bob calls a sexually suggestive secretary at his work a “bitch” under his breath, as he loathes ladies, especially the highly attractive sort that would most likely reject his romantic advances. While watching the news at work, Bob hears a cop complain regarding Suzanne Andersson’s unsolved murder, with the man in blue remarking, “A rape and murder committed by an authorized citizen,” as if rape and murder is ok if authorized by the government. After the cop does his silly spiel, a quack psychiatrist with the rather fitting name Sigmund comes on the news and hilariously states, “One thing to keep in mind when dealing with deviants like this is never to offer any resistance. Now, a man like this wants you to resist, so our advice is to keep calm and let him do whatever he wants to. Even if worst comes to worst, you’ll only get raped. And current statistics indicate that 89% of the respondents—the women who answered the surveyed—have one time or another in their lives have actually wanted to be raped.” After hearing Sigmund’s advice, Bob comes to the realization that he no longer has to kill his victims, but that he simply just needs to demand that they drop their clothes and allow him to bugger them. After a lonely night playing with his beloved toy train set and reading a magazine about said toy train sets, Bob goes to work and while on a ‘trip to the bank,’ he tries out Sigmund’s theory. Indeed, Bob spots a young chick (Irena Billing) at the local subway and stalks all the way back to her home in the woods in what seems like a dreamlike fairy tale scenario. Like a seasoned pro, Bob simply follows the girl into her house, demands that she take her clothes off (which she does without hestitation), has her fellatio him, and then the two proceed to make passionate love. After ejaculating on the young girl’s face and receiving a loving handjob, Bob leaves the lecherous lady’s home, smirks at the viewer in a knowing fashion, and walks away with a fiendish swagger. While at work watching the news, Bob learns that the Swedish government is now giving out free guns via the ‘citizen’s insurance plan’ (with men receiving revolvers and women pistols).  Naturally, Bob decides to take advantage of such generous government services.

After having an absurd dream about flicking a fly off his erect pecker with a rubber band, Bob forces another unwitting chick to strip and bend over, but she stabs him with scissors in rather painful moment of coitus interruptus. Needless to say, Bob chases her down in what ultimately evolves into a full-on car chase that results in the rape victim crashing into a house and dying after her car explodes. When Bob goes to pick up his government-ordained revolver, as well as some other more power weapons, a seemingly deranged gun salesman, who has a vocal affinity for vigilante justice, gives the rapist some special bullets, including ‘fragmentation ammo’ (which explodes upon entering a person’s body) and nuclear bullets (!), which are only authorized for use by the army. For whatever reason, Bob picks up a spunky prepubescent girl, drives her around the country in his car, and gives her some candy. When the girl asks Bob to bring her home, he does, but when the little lady asks him, “shall we meet again?,” he gives a firm “no,” thus demonstrating his annoyance regarding the little insignificant bit of power the small child held over him. After picking up a hot hitchhiker, Bob gets rather lucky as his strange yet salacious passenger soon asks him, “wanna fuck me?” and proceeds to drop her clothes and spread her legs. Of course, Bob gets his buggery on but not before the hitchhiker asks, “Wanna see me fuck the gear stick?,” which she does like a true champ. While on another ostensible ‘trip to the bank’ while at work, Bob is robbed by a hippie thug at knifepoint and is later kidnapped by a trio of swarthy far-left terrorists. After robbing him, one of the terrorists attempts to kill Bob execution, but he has no bullets in his gun, thus giving the rapist enough time to mercilessly gun down all three of the rock star terrorists with his atomic bullets. Not long after, a police helicopter shows up, which Bob blows up with an assault rifle and then swiftly carjacks a sports car from a young and dumb counter-culture type. That night, Bob has a pornographic nightmare in a surreal montage that recaps the rapist’s sex and violence escapades thus far, including a scene where he shoves his trusty pistol up a young nymph’s naughty bits. In a nice little twist at the very end of Breaking Point, Bob goes to an airport and is called to the information desk where he is reunited with his wife and young daughter. When his wife asks him what he has been up to, Bob ironically replies, “You know nothing ever happens in this shit town,” thus hinting that all the rape and murder he was involved with was merely a product of his discernibly damaged mind.

In one especially telling scene in Breaking Point, antihero Bob listens to a radio host as he discusses the theories of a fellow named ‘Burroughs’ (undoubtedly, a nod to William S. Burroughs), stating, “The instance of schizophrenia seems to very in different types of societies. Urban societies show the higher instances,” thus underscoring the film's critique of modernism. More of a sardonic psychosexual/psychodramatic thriller of the genre-distorting sort than a simple ‘pornographic thriller,’ Breaking Point ultimately makes just as big of a mockery of the viewer as it does of the film/porn conventions it so playfully, if not perniciously, breaks. Due to its meager helping of sex scenes, not to mention its less than handsome lead, I think it is safe to say that this bizarre blue movie could not have aroused too many people when it was originally released and certainly makes for a sorry masturbation aid contemporary viewers, but of course, most people on the hunt such rare works of idiosyncratic filmic filth are probably not looking for a quick and easy way to spill some seeds. Combining elements from the thriller, horror, fantasy, and action genres with a small dose of surrealism in a porn flick with a quasi-arthouse essence, Breaking Point is certainly a cream of the crop work when it comes to vintage blue movies, but then again, one should expect more from a pornographer who learned his craft from Ingmar Bergman (indeed, aside from working as an assistant director on Persona, auteur Bo Arne Vibenius also worked as a ‘unit director’ on Hour of the Wolf (1968)). Made in a super liberalized and emasculated country where a couple years back a man attempted to breast feed his baby, Breaking Point luckily does not shy away from displaying a rather distinct form of post-Freudian/post-feminist misogyny that satires the very essence of the decidedly socially degenerate liberal democracy that is Sweden. The perfect pornographic antidote to the anti-male/anti-wasp sentiments of American Psycho (2000), which was directed/co-written by feminist Mary Harron (who also directed the putrid piece of crypto-sapphic celluloid trash I Shot Andy Warhol) and co-penned by lily-licking lesbo Guinevere Turner, Breaking Point is a rare piece of socially redeeming porn that spits in the wayward eye of political correctness while managing to be funny and reasonably aesthetically pleasing at the same time (indeed, Ralph Lundsten’s dreamy yet deranging soundtrack also immaculately compliments the tone and images of the film).  If you ever have a bad day and become really feud up with all the feminist filth being shoved down your throat by work and MTV, give Breaking Point a watch because, while the film might not give you a sexual release, it will certainly have a therapeutic affect of sorts.

-Ty E

Apr 17, 2014

Vinyl (1965)

Aside from taking credit for other people’s art and making an absurd profit off of it like some Hebraic Hollywood producer or rock manager, Amercan pop (con)artist Andy Warhol’s greatest talent as an (anti)creator was taking an existing piece of work and defiling it to the point of being totally unrecognizable, with his cinematic adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 dystopian novella A Clockwork Orange, Vinyl (1965), being an excellent example of this. Indeed, six years before Stanley Kubrick directed his cult masterwork A Clockwork Orange (1971) and unwittingly incited juvenile delinquency in Great Britain (thus resulting in Kubrick’s decision to withdraw the film from distribution in the U.K.), Warhol—who was then somewhat addicted to filmmaking and purportedly spending around $400 a week on his little film experiments at the time—paid a mere $3,000 for the rights to Burgess’ novel and directed a 63-minute adaptation shot in real time that more or less celebrates the antisocial behavior of the classic ‘JD’ figure and demonstrates why the pop artist is arguably the most technically inept filmmaker who has ever been given any serious consideration by film critics and historians. Indeed, despite being a pathologically plodding piece of insipid celluloid incoherence starring a bunch of uniquely untalented ‘cool people’ posturing themselves in a flagrantly narcissistic fashion that is more worthy of being laughed at than emulated (unfortunately, as the wretched No Wave world demonstrated, some people were dumb enough to emulate it), Vinyl is easily one of Warhol’s greatest, if not greatest, and most filmic pre-Morrissey era film production. Penned by off-off-Broadway Warhol collaborator Ronald Tavel (Poor Little Rich Girl, Chelsea Girls) over a 2 or 3 day period into a quasi-screenplay (the actors read their lines from cue cards) of what can only be described as a meta-bastardization of Burgess’ novel, or as the screenwriter described his creative process, “He [Warhol] gave me the idea behind it because Warhol gave me the Burgess book, A Clockwork Orange, and said that he had purchased the film rights from Anthony Burgess, and he wanted me to do it... So, I took the book and read it... but I only used the first half of it because I got bored and just stopped in the middle of the novel,” Vinyl is a hermetic homoerotic ‘chamber piece’ from the banal bowels of Warhol Factory hipster hell where two would-be-poet poof pansies, Gerard Malanga (Gregory J. Markopoulos’ Twice a Man, Michel Auder’s Cleopatra) and Robert Olivo aka ‘Ondine’ (The Loves of Ondine, Sugar Cookies), demonstrate they want to show up American heiress/tragic socialite Edie Sedgwick (The Andy Warhol Story, Ciao! Manhattan) in terms of charisma and sex appeal, which they ultimately fail to do. Indeed, Vinyl is also notable for being the first ‘major’ film Sedgwick starred in (though her first screen appearance was in the Warhol short Horse (1965)) and as screenwriter Tavel explained how she got involved with the project, “... somehow, they [Edie and Chuck Wein] showed up on the set of Vinyl... and they showed up to see it being shot... This really pissed me off because I had rehearsed it for a week […]So, then we rehearsed it for a week... But when she [Sedgwick] showed up with her hair dyed silver, no less... he [Warhol] asked her to sit right on the set. She said, 'What should I do?' He said, 'Well, there's no part for you. So just sit there.' […] And she ended up stealing the film and becoming a star overnight...,” thus demonstrating the hopelessly improvised and amateurish essence of the film. Partly filmed while all the actors were high on poppers (amyl nitrate), which they actually take while on camera, Vinyl is quite arguably the most incriminating cinematic depiction of the drug-addled degeneracy and narcissism-without-talent-to-back-it-up spirit that fueled the pre-Morrissy factory films. 

 Opening more or less than same way as Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange did with a close-up of the face of lead ‘JD’ (aka juvenile delinquent) Victor (played Adonis-like Gerard Malanga in the ‘Alex DeLarge’ role), Vinyl has a strangely ethereal feeling at first, but from there the camera never moves a single other time for the entirety of the film. Indeed, for most of this haphazard piece of cramped celluloid chaos, all of the characters are in the shot, even when they are not acting, with J.D. McDermott (My Hustler) as the ‘cop’ on the left side of the screen smoking a cigarette in a chair, Edie Sedgwick as an ‘extra’ in the right corner smoking a cigarette, Ondine standing in the center of the back like a creep, and various other ‘actors’ standing partially onscreen. At about the 3:20 minute mark, an off-screen narrator announces “Andy Warhol’s Vinyl” (this is repeated at about 30 minutes when cast is named and at about the 56 minute mark where the crew credits are named) and lead Victor soon declares to his poof partner-in-crime ‘Scum Baby’ (Ondine), “We’ll do whatever comes along, Scum…We’ll do whatever comes along, scum baby.” From there, Victor heads to an imaginary place (after all, all action in the film takes place in what seems to be a corner in Warhol’s factory) and begins to assault a young man carrying ‘books’ (aka a large stake of muscle man magazines), sarcastically saying to the poor man, “It is uncommon to see someone who knows how to read, sir […] I have always had the deepest respect for sirs that can read.” Needless to say, Victor trashes the young intellectual's books and declares, “Lets have a little bit of the old ‘up yours,’” where he, with the help of Scum Baby, proceeds to tie up his victim in chains in an S&M sodomite fashion. After what proves to be a sort of substitute sex act for vice-addict Victor (indeed, he gets a sexual thrill out of handing out beatings), he smokes a joint and declares, “Ok… Ok… I am a JD. So what?! I like to bust things up and carve people up and I dig the old ‘up yours’ with plenty of violence so its really tasty. And then, if I get busted by the cops…so what.” So, what the hell, I say. You cannot have JD like me running loose all over the city. Then it is me that loses if I get busted.” 

 And, indeed, as Vinyl progresses, Victor ends up losing as he is finally busted for too much “breaking up China shops and carving up cuties,” but not before dancing like a high hippie moron to Martha and the Vandellas' “Nowhere to Hide” (which is played not once, but twice in a row!) while an old fart Cop (J.D. McDermott) laughs manically and Edie Sedgwick grooves out in a languid and lackluster fashion. After the retarded dance routine, Victor starts a pussy fight with Sir Scum Baby and calls his compatriot “a pig” and “an ape,” but he ultimately gets his ass kicked. After beating his JD comrade up, Scum Baby calls a Cop and Victor is arrested and when the exaggeratedly odious officer of the law asks him why he tried to kill his friend, the Droog dope fiend pseudo-poetically replies, “Scum is already dead. He was born dead,” as if that is some sort of reasonable defense. After talking a bunch of banal shit like a deranged high school principal that gets a hard-on from dishing out punishment to pupils, the Cop tells Victor, “This is an ethical problem. We are going to convert you into a boy who never wants to do bad.” From there, Victor is strapped to a chair, has his hands tied around his back, his shirt ripped open, and is forced to watch brainwashing films by a devlish Doctor (Tosh Carillo). After telling his tormentor, “I see little children having their teeth pulled out by yellow dwarves. I see virgins with long white gowns and gladiators are setting fire to their gods. I see virgins trying to crawl out of the flames. I see the gladiators attempting to push them back into the flames. I hear their screams: ‘Oh, please stop this, stop this’,” while watching the ‘reprogramming’ films, Victor pleads to the Doctor, “Please stop these flickers, Doctor.” Instead of having his pleas for mercy answered, Victor is forced to sport a leather-fag ‘gimp’ mask à la Pulp Fiction (1994) over his head and the torture only gets worse. While being tortured, Victor complains, “How can I be made sane if I feel so much pain now?,” so the Doctor drives his boot into the young man’s genitals in a rather assertive fashion. Ultimately, Victor is ‘cured’ of his affliction and becomes a mindless slave/victim who freely allows people to torture him without any repercussions. Indeed, when Victor attempts to punch the Doctor, he cannot even land the hit and merely gets sick. Ultimately, the last 10 minutes or so of Vinyl climaxes into one of the most passive and uneventful homo S&M orgies in cinema history, with Victor being forced to take poppers, having his haircut, and being forcibly danced around and beaten by the Doctor as if he were a lifeless dummy or the victim of a gang-raping. 

 Believe it nor not, someone actually had the lack of artistic integrity to remake a miserable celluloid mess like Vinyl. Indeed, French-born actor/director Eric Mitchell (Underground U.S.A., The Way It Is)—a member of the so-called ‘no wave’ movement who acted in films like Amos Poe's Unmade Beds (1976) and The Foreigner (1978) and Jim Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation (1980)—directed a quasi-remake of Vinyl entitled Kidnapped (1978).  Unlike Vinyl, Kidnapped is mostly a pathetic punk fantasy with an atrocious art-punk soundtrack where a group of young degenerates kidnap a businessman RAF-style and proceeds to torture him in a chair like Gerard Malanga was in Warhol’s film. The fact that such a technically incompetent and largely incoherent work like Vinyl was such a popular work in the vogue ‘underground’ that it manages to inspire a remake just goes to show how much of a deleterious effect Warhol had on NYC filmmakers (ultimately, inspiring mostly worthless movements like the ‘No Wave’ and ‘Cinema of Transgression’). While largely forgotten and never released in the United States in any home media format (though the Italian company Raro Video did release the film together with the 1966 Warhol directed documentary The Velvet Underground and Nico), Vinyl was, for whatever reason, included in the film reference book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2003) edited by Steven Jay Schneider. 

 To Warhol’s credit, Vinyl is one of the pre-Morrissey efforts that managed to put a smile or two on my face, if not for all the wrong reasons (in my opinion, the work plays out like Warhol-xploitation). While an avant-garde effort, Vinyl, unlike something like Jean Marie-Straub’s similarly statically directed work Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter (1968) aka The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp, is not the least bit pretentious, but instead, pathologically preposterous to the point where one must respect the auteur’s seemingly autistic gall. While I would have liked to have seen nauseatingly narcissistic art fag Gerard Malanga manhandled in sadistic fashion like the demented dick-stabbers of Jacques Scandelari’s New York City Inferno (1978), the fact the actor/poet was ‘tortured’ so impotently by his braindead beatnik buds makes Warhol’s Vinyl all the more entertaining and memorable, as seeing two queens fight always make for a comical scenario. Indeed, Vinyl is 16mm celluloid crap, but it 16mm celluloid crap with character, albeit a character that begs to be ridiculed and critically ravaged. Undoubtedly, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Warhol’s Vinyl make the perfect double feature as they represent the alpha and omega of cult cinema. Vinyl is indisputable proof that you can promote and make a pretty penny off of anything so long as you can convince people it is 'art.'

-Ty E

Apr 16, 2014

3 Merzbow Films

With his erotic black-and-white avant-garde short La séquence des barres parallèles (1992), South African auteur Aryan Kaganof began a collaboration with Japanese noise musician and sadomasochism expert Masami Akita aka ‘Merzbow’—a man who borrowed his name from a series of grotto-like artistic rooms entitled ‘The Merzbau’ created by German dadaist Kurt Schwitters, which were destroyed by Allied bombing in 1943—that would ultimately result in four different films, with the documentary Beyond Ultraviolence: Uneasy Listening By Merzbow (1998) being the only feature-length effort sired by the two artists. Despite Merzbow’s popularity, Beyond Ultraviolence was limited to a handful of VHS copies upon its release and has been somewhat hard to find since then, at least by any official means. After recently deciding that the original 70-minute minute cut of Beyond Ultraviolence should be ridden of “purely self-indulgent crap,” Kaganof carefully dismembered the film to a mere 15-minute running time, which is featured on the director’s quite literally titled DVD release 3 Merzbow Films (2013). Indeed, aside from the totally singular experimental Georges Bataille adaptation The Dead Man 2: Return of the Dead Man (1994), 3 Merzbow Films features all the cinematic collaborations between Kaganof and Merzbow.  A storm of industrial noise visually accented by, among other things, assassinated auteur Theo van Gogh lusting after a Dutch diva in a rather revealing black rubber dress, seemingly hundreds of S&M bondage images of petite unclad Japanese ladies in rather compromised positions, young Jap chicks simulating hara-kiri, and ironically used quotes by French literary critic Roland Barthes, 3 Merzbow Films reflects amoral anti-traditionalist art in the innately irreligious post-postmodern age of aesthetic nihilism where only the harshest of noises and most depraved of images can reach modern man’s deadened souls. Indeed, 3 Merzbow films is a marvelously misbegotten meeting between East and West (and considering the continent Kaganof lives on, South) that demonstrates globalization has managed to not only deracinate and devitalize the Occident, but the tiny East Asian island as well. 

 Seven minutes of fiercely foreboding erotic ecstasy in sleek spine-tingling black-and-white cinematography, La séquence des barres parallèles (1992) aka The Sequence of Parallel Bars—a film based on a Polish-French erotic novelist/Franz Kafka translator Pierre Klossowski—follows a beauteous rubber-wrapped Dutch dame (Gabrielle Provaas, who would later co-direct the documentary Meet the Fokkens (2011) about elderly identical twin prostitutes who worked in the red-light district of Amsterdam for over 40 years) as she enters an abandoned post-industrial warehouse and is followed around by a seemingly sexually depraved Fat Man (played by Dutch Filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was infamously assassinated by a deranged Muslim terrorist because the director’s film Submission (2004) hurt the insane Islamic untermensch's feelings). After briefly examining the downstairs of the nearly pitch black hellhole, Ms. Provaas walks up a set of stairs and van Gogh grabs her leg, but she keeps walking to her dubious destination. When she reaches the top, she is grabbed by her stalker, who carries her as if he is aping the actions of King Kong, and becomes an object of worship in the pose of Christ on the cross. Van Gogh is a fiendish foot fetishist who licks and caresses Provaas’ hooves while drunken with abject infatuation, as if he is some sort of internet fan-boy who has finally met a real live woman in the flesh. Although viewers probably expect something to the contrary, Provaas exits the subterranean pleasure-dome completely unscathed and leaves in a fancy limousine, as if she's a high-class hooker who just performed a service for Theo for a hefty price. 

 Signal to Noise (1998), which is a sort of sister film to Beyond Ultraviolence: Uneasy Listening By Merzbow (the two films were originally released together on VHS), is the most uneventful and minimalistic short featured on 3 Merzbow Films. Shot at the Kamakura Temple, Japan in 1997, Signal to Noise begins with a storm of nihilistic noise and erratic editing with aesthetically pleasing footage of Masami Akita and a white dude (Djeff Babcok of Acéphale) recording sound for what one assumes is samples for their music. In its depiction of Akita and his bud’s public recording sessions, Signal to Noise deconstructs the noise-making process, demonstrating the stark contrast between the process (i.e. calmly walking around a historical hotspot as tourists walk and pigeons fly in plain view) and the result. Aside from noise by Merzbow, the experimental documentary features the old school 1930s blues song “Last Kind Word Blues” by black female country blues singer Geechie Wiley and “A Real Slow Rag” composed by American Negro classical composer Scott Joplin and performed by David Boeddinghaus. Signal to Noise concludes with the Roland Barthes quote, “Everything has a meaning or nothing has. To put it another way, one could say that art is without noise” (Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative from Image, Music, Text).  Indeed, I guess Barthes did not live long enough to listen to the grating and atavistic sounds of Merzbow.

 Unquestionably, Beyond Ultraviolence: Uneasy Listening By Merzbow (subtitled ‘A Short Investigation by: Aryan Kaganof’) is the ‘main attraction’ of 3 Merzbow Films, as it is the key to the aesthetic integrity of the rest of the films. Hearing Masami Akita aka ‘Merzbow’ talk, one soon realizes that he is more concerned with the ‘visceral’ and  primitive part of life than the intellectual, which his nasty noise clearly reflects. As Akita explains in the spirit of J.G. Ballard’s Crash (1973), “Just imagine a car accident. The entrails of the car spill out. When a huge lorry crashes, it’s a fascinating sight. In other words…a car needs female hormones. You could compare it to the function of noise. Noise worms its way, as it were into the guts of music. That’s the context it should be placed in.” From there, Merzbow proceeds to dwell on the wild and wonderful world of sadomasochism, explaining, “In the world of SM, military uniforms…torture, corporal punishment…and police academies play a prominent role. In the world of SM, power…and authority…are presented as paranoiac themes. SM exposes the cruelty of absolute power…by showing this cruelty…in a violent way to the viewer. You witness the cruelty of SM practices. But the last thing you need in a war is SM.” Aside from noise, Akita discusses how he met his teacher Chimuo Mireki at an ‘institute for historic pornographic material’ and how they came up with the idea to make pseudo-snuff ‘kinbaku’ videos of Japanese girls committing suicide, which the musician began working on starting with the second film of perversely erotic self-slaughter. Not surprisingly, Akita goes on to describe how the Japanese are obsessed with the idea of women committing hara-kiri, which he differentiates from seppuku, stating, “Yukio Mishima committed seppuku. In seppuku, the stomach is cut open and then the head is chopped off by someone else.” Hara-kiri merely involves the person cutting their stomach and letting their guts falls out, with Akita remarking, “When it was carried out by men…it was seen as a tremendous and magnificent…expression of nationalism. But this is a contemporary view on the subject. Hara-kiri should be considered as a form of fetishism…but it’s an ancient primitive form…which focuses primarily on blood and entrails.” 

 During Beyond Ultraviolence: Uneasy Listening By Merzbow the following quote from Teutonic painter Kurt Schwitters appears, “Merz stands for freedom from all fetters, for the sake of artistic creation. Freedom is not the lack of restraint, but the product of strict artistic discipline.” Indeed, aside their proclivity for subversive aesthetics, Merzbow and Kaganof share a certain compromising artistic discipline that comes from the gut just as it comes from the mind, if not more so. Personally, while I have some interest in industrial/post-industrial groups like Coil and NON, I am certainly no noise connoisseur and I am only vaguely familiar with Merzbow's oeuvre, yet 3 Merzbow Films is still a strangely enthralling experience, sort of like popping a massive zit and watching the blood and puss squirt out in an unpredictable fashion. In fact, I would go so far as saying that I do not know how anyone could tolerate Merzbow’s ‘noise sculptures’ without the accompaniment of equally harsh and irrational visuals, as it would be like PBJ sandwich without jelly, or more relevantly, guts without blood. Additionally, 3 Merzbow Films makes for a rather eclectic sampling of both artists’ work, as men who negate the artistic medium they work in, with Merzbow destroy all melody and music and with Kaganof destroying (but ultimately reinventing) all editing, narrative, and aesthetic styles. A year after creating Beyond Ultraviolence, Kaganof would go back to Japan and put his previous work shot in the Land of the Rising Sun to shame with the sexual savagery of Shabondama Elegy (1999) aka Tokyo Elegy, albeit this time without the help of Merzbow.  Undoubtedly, all of Kaganof's Japanese films represent a rare instance where a white man has been able to successfully create art in Japan without it seeming like a patronizing novelty.

-Ty E

Apr 15, 2014

El Topo

I have almost always had somewhat mixed feelings about Jewish-Chilean-French auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky (Fando by Lis, The Holy Mountain) and certainly get a feeling of decided disgust when I encounter his more devout disciples, yet I respect him, if for nothing else, as a filmmaker with a distinct and uncompromising vision. Indeed, as a man who wore a special pair of underwear (apparently, black silk underpants with holes exposing his testicles and penis head, as well as a green circle over the area covering the anus) so he would not mimic the contrived cowboy cockiness of John Wayne, picked out a short yet thick rock in the shape of a chode for the set that resembled his own penis, made filmic love to a Mexican dwarf and apparently actually really raped his female costar for ostensible ‘realism’ during a rape scene, forced his real-life prepubescent son to star in the film completely naked in a role also as his onscreen son, and utilized countless dead, and oftentimes mutilated, animal corpses (as the director admitted himself, he killed 300 bunny rabbits with 'karate blows' to the neck), as well as Mexican cripples, dwarves, and other human freaks, for his magnum opus El Topo (1970) aka The Mole aka The Gopher, Alejandro Jodorowsky was not merely playing around, as the director once had the gall to make the exceedingly egomaniacal claim: “If you are great, 'El Topo' is a great picture. If you are limited, 'El Topo' is limited.” Judging by Jodorowsky’s remark, I suspect the average American filmgoer is rather limited, as they would probably find the film to be grotesque garbage of the perversely pretentious sort, if not a total insult to their faith and nation. Personally, after recently re-watching the film for the fourth time, I must admit that I think El Topo is nothing short of a morbid masterwork that manages to create a marvelously misbegotten marriage between the amorality and beauteous bodily dismemberment of the Grand Guignol, the allegorical iconoclastic surrealism of Luis Buñuel, the nihilistic western ultra-violence of Sam Peckinpah, the human freakiness of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), the atmospheric celluloid spirituality of Sergei Parajanov, and the obsessive attention to detail of Stanley Kubrick, albeit in a Mestizo dimestore form. Directed by a true ‘wandering Jew’ who was born in Chile in 1929 to Ukrainian Jewish parents (Jodorowsky claims he was the product of his father raping his mother) in Chile who moved to Paris, France in the early 1950s and ultimately co-founded (with fellow surrealist western director Fernando Arrabal and Roland Topor) the Dadaist-inspired anarchistic avant-garde Panic Movement before moving to Mexico to direct his first feature Fando y Lis (1968), El Topo is undoubtedly a ‘messianic’ cinematic work where auteur Jodorowsky plays an (anti)Christ-like figure who learns from and then kills four different spiritual/philosophical gurus (whose dogmas range from Eastern philosophy to Catholic mysticism to Nietzscheanism), only to be resurrected and act as the revolutionary saint of a group of Mexican cripples, freaks, and dwarves. Quite arguably a work of absurdist Jewish messianism (Hassidic belief states that in every generation a potential Messiah exists, with Jodorowsky being the messiah of his own film), El Topo changed the way people looked at movies as a hit on the Midnight Movie circuit that mystified the counter-culture generation with its insanely idiosyncratic blend of celluloid outlaw esotericism and aesthetic and thematic acid anarchism. Unavailable for over 30 years after Jodorowsky had a falling out with copyright owner/producer Allen Klein (who had El Topo and the director’s subsequent work The Holy Mountain (1973) banned after he refused to adapt Pauline Réage's classic S&M novel Story of O 1954)), El Topo is in many ways thee ultimate ‘cult film,’ as the sort of arcane cinematic work that people could literally worship in our decidedly degenerate postmodern age. 

 Divided into four pseudo-Biblical chapters (Genesis, Prophets, Psalms, Apocalypse), El Topo follows an eponymous spiritual outlaw (Alejandro Jodorowsky)—an initially stoic avenger who sports an all-black leather rebel cowboy outfit—as he travels through the desert on horseback with his naked son Brontis (played by the director’s real-life son Brontis Jodorowsky). After El Topo tells his son, “You are seven years old. You are a man. Bury your first toy and your mother’s picture,” the little lad follows his dad’s command and the following allegorical words are narrated, “The mole digs tunnels under the earth, looking for the sun. Sometimes, he gets to the surface. When he sees the sun, he is blinded.” From there, El Topo and his son enter a town where the entire population has been massacred aside from a dying man who begs the dark leather-clad cowboy to help him, but he gets his son Brontis to put the man out of his misery. Meanwhile, three degenerate banditos who were involved in the massacre—a freak with a serious female shoe fetish, a guy that likes slicing bananas with his sword, and a sexually depraved loser that makes an image of a naked woman out of rocks and proceeds to hump the erotic rock formation—are lurking near the town. When El Topo runs into the banditos, he immediately kills two of them and leaves the foot fetishist alive long enough to find out where his leader is located. El Topo learns that a fellow named the Colonel (David Silva, who later appeared in The Holy Mountain and Juan López Moctezuma’s Alucarda (1977)) has overrun a Catholic Mission where his depraved untermensch goons are engaged in sexually torturing the monks (forcing them to dress like Mother Mary in drag) and raping and torturing women. Needless to say, El Topo shows up at the Franciscan Mission and confronts the Colonel. When the Colonel asks El Topo, “Who are you to judge me?,” to which the renegade cowboy replies, “I am God,” El Topo proceeds to castrate the degenerate bandito dictator in a blood-gushing fashion. Literally and figuratively no longer a man, the Colonel commits suicide by blowing his brains out with a shotgun and El Topo takes the dead eunuch’s sex slave, who he renames Mara (Mara Lorenzio), and proceeds to do the seemingly unthinkable by abandoning his naked son Brontis with the rather effete monks of the mission. 

 El Topo and Mara head to the desert and the messianic cowboy performs live-saving miracles like shooting a stone with his revolver and making water gush out of it, so that the two do not die of dehydration. For whatever reason, El Topo decides to violently rape Mara (in the audio commentary for a recent blu-ray release of the film, the director confesses he really brutally raped the actress, stating, “It looks less spectacular than a choreographed one.”). Not long after, El Topo confesses he loves Mara and she replies with the following demand, “So that I may love you, you have to be the best. Four great gun masters live in this desert. You’ve got to look for them, and kill them.” Although El Topo is ill-equipped to take on the great gun masters, Mara convinces him to play dirty and use trickery to defeat them. The first Master El Topo takes on is a young blind hippie-like guru (played by Mexican rock musician Hector Martinez) who wears nothing but a loincloth, has a legless cripple for a servant who is strapped to an armless cripple, and is seemingly immune to bullets. El Topo defeats the Master #1 by digging a hole, which the unwittingly blind guru falls into, thus giving him the opportunity to put a bullet in his brain with very little effort. After Master #1 is killed, a ‘Woman in Black’ (Paula Romo) who is the virtual female counterpart (or Jungian ‘anima’) to El Topo shows up and agrees to guide him to the second Master. Master #2 (played by theatre director Juan José Gurrola) is a Sufi goldsmith with a serious Oedipal complex who is quite in love with his rather rough gypsy-like Mother (Bertha Lomelí), who has a man’s voice. Once again determined to win by cheating, El Topo places broken glass on the ground for the Mother step on and when momma’s boy Master #2 turns around to see if his mommy is hurt, the Mole shoots the unlucky guru when he is not looking. Master #3 is a rabbit-obsessed perfectionist whose countless bunny rabbits drop dead upon El Topo’s arrival, as the dark cowboy seems to bring a metaphysical plague with him. Knowing that Master #3 (played by Mexican antique dealer Victor Fosado) only has one shot and plans to shoot him in the chest, El Topo places a copper plate over his heart. After surviving being shot in the chest, El Topo jumps back up in joy like a shameless braggart, shoots Master #3, and arrogantly states, “Too much perfection is a mistake” (the director once stated in an interview regarding that quote, “All Oriental culture is in that sentence”) as the guru dies. Master #4 (played by retired alcoholic actor Agustin Isunza) is a half-naked toothless old bum who is so fast he can catch El Topo’s bullets in a net and fling them back at him. Luckily for El Topo, Master #4 does not care about life and proves it to El Topo by snatching his gun and blowing his brains out. While El Topo succeeds in swiftly killing all four masters, he becomes overwhelmed with grief for using such cowardly trickery to kill four gurus who provided him with priceless esoteric knowledge, so he smashes his revolver and goes completely mad, even revisiting the sites of the great men he maliciously murdered and mourning over their rotten corpse. On top of that, the ‘Lady in Black’ challenges El Topo to a duel and proceeds to shoot him in his hands, feet, and side (‘the wounds of Christ’). Turned into a callous carpet-muncher by the lesbo Lady in Black, Mara also shoots El Topo and as he dies he sees visions of the two sapphic she-bitches making lurid lesbian love. Luckily, a grotesque gang of Mexican cripples, midgets, and horribly deformed individuals find El Topo’s corpse and bring him to a cave where he is ‘resurrected’ like Christ, ultimately reawakening 20-years-later with a blond Jew-fro and drag queen makeup, thereupon resembling what looks like the most aesthetically repugnant Marilyn Monroe impersonator in history. 

 Upon his great reawakening, El Topo is told by a female dwarf (Jacqueline Luis) of the cripples that he is their savior and he will build a tunnel through the mountain cave that will help the cripples escape their imprisonment and go to a local town.  After shaving his Aryan Jew-fro and sharing a beetle with an old wise woman, El Topo is fully resurrected and powerful enough to carry out his Christ-like duties.  To fund the operation, El Topo and the Dwarf go to a discernibly decadent town where they ‘beg’ (i.e. put on Vaudeville-like performances) for change from the locals. A sort of maniac microcosm of the most infamously degenerate aspects of the United States, the town is a place where buck negroes are bought and sold into sex slavery for the perverse pleasures of old fat bourgeois white women and where people play Russian roulette at the local church where it is declared a ‘miracle’ each time a player of the game manages not to blow their brains out (though a young boy inevitably does). The flag of the village is the ‘all-seeing eye of God’ of the dollar bill, which is a sort of stand-in for the swastika of Nazi Germany (Jodorowsky once stated regarding the image, “I used it in the film as a symbol of guilt: the eye says, ‘You are guilty, you are guilty.’ Yes, a guilty society. In the film. It was a very nice symbol”). While begging in the town, El Topo and the Dwarf are taken hostage and forced to perform sex with each other in a sort of makeshift basement orgy room, thus resulting in the little person becoming pregnant. El Topo agrees to marry the Dwarf, but their priest ends up being the cowboy’s son Brontis, who is now a grown man and attempts to kill his father. After the Dwarf convinces Brontis that El Topo is a savior who plans to liberate the cripples by building the tunnel, the prodigal son agrees to wait to kill his father until after the tunnel is finished. Brontis also agrees to help beg and dig the tunnel to speed up the process of liberating the cripples, but when they finish, the son cannot bring himself to kill his papa, stating, “I cannot kill my master.” When the cripples escape via the tunnel and enter the village, they are exterminated by the local police (who are obese scat-obsessed homosexuals), which infuriates El Topo so much that he massacres all the inhabitants of the village (like his enemy the Colonel did at the beginning, thus becoming what he always hated) and proceeds to commit self-immolation à la Thích Quảng Đức. Indeed, El Topo forgot to take notice of the over-quoted words of warning from Nietzsche, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” Meanwhile, the Dwarf gives birth and she, Brontis (who is now dressed like his father and has taken over his persona), and the baby leave the village on horseback. 

 While Santa Sangre (1989) is my favorite Alejandro Jodorowsky flick, I am not going to pretend that El Topo is not the director’s most important and immaculate work. Additionally, I would go so far as saying that El Topo is not only the best film to have ever been sired in Mexico, but one of the most, if not the most, artistically genuine and ambitious of films ever directed by a Jewish filmmaker. Indeed, despite coming from a similar background (poor Yiddish-speaking Jews from Eastern Europa), Jodorowsky is contra to everything that the big Hebraic Hollywood moguls like Adolph Zukor, William Fox, Samuel Goldwyn, and Louis B. Mayer stood for. While the Goldwyns and Mayers made an absurd amount money turning cinema into a cheap product and artistically unmerited form of entertainment meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator, even popularizing the dreaded musical (not to mention the western), Jodorowsky approached the medium of film from almost a quasi-spiritual angle and waged a sort of celluloid revolution against the Hollywood western genre as well as the so-called ‘American Dream’, which was also dreamed up by the Judaic bigwigs of Tinseltown. In its depiction of an anarchistic outsider who kills four spiritual gurus (and thus symbolically destroys four religions), supports the weak (i.e. the cripples) against the strong, and totally exterminates a town run and inhabited by white people, El Topo ultimately reads like a sick Semitic fantasy that is as old as Judaism itself, yet Jodorowsky expresses sorrow and guilt for his character’s actions. After all, after killing the four Masters, he is plagued by his guilt and goes completely insane. Additionally, El Topo commits suicide after exterminating the white village, which, rather unfortunately, is certainly not something that the great Jewish communist mass murderers of history like Leon Trotsky, Lazar Kaganovich, Genrikh Yagoda, and Béla Kun ever considered doing.  As demonstrated by his quoting of French traditionalist/metaphysician René Guénon in the book El Topo: A Book of the Film (1971) and incessant quoting of various religious figures and events, Jodorowsky's respect for various forms of spirituality is indisputable (he has described himself as an 'atheistic mystic") and El Topo represents his sort of cinematic Torah, with The Holy Mountain being his New Testament. As for what the experience of making the film meant to him, Jodorowsky gave the following answer in an interview featured in El Topo: A Book of the film: “I was born. A new life. Really, a new life. I think my brain opened up. When I started this interview, I spoke about my skull dividing into eight pieces, and the butterfly that came ... Maybe the butterfly was the movie. Maybe when you do something, you are changed. When I shaved my head, and when I found the landscapes, for example, those were very strong experiences -- Jungian experiences.” And, indeed, speaking of Jung, Jodorowky managed to create his own archetypes (while utilizing ancient ones) with El Topo that very few other films in cinema can boast. While I am somewhat skeptical about the idea, one can only speculate whether or not the sequel Son of El Topo will ever be made (Jodorowsky has been talking about it pretty much ever since the release of El Topo), but if one thing is for sure, it is that El Topo is and will always remain an unrivaled work of cinema, as well as the perfect antidote to the passive peace and love of the counter-culture zeitgeist.

-Ty E

Apr 14, 2014

The Last Movie (1971)

As biographer Peter L. Winkler wrote in his book Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel (2011): “Universal Studios gives Dennis Hopper creative control over his dream project, The Last Movie . High in the Peruvian Andes, Hopper shoots forty-eight hours of film, spends sixteen drug-fueled months editing it, and creates a career-ending bomb.” Indeed, Hopper’s second European-arthouse-inspired film following the success of his unpredictably successful directorial debut Easy Rider (1969), The Last Movie (1971), is probably the most fittingly, if not unfortunately, titled film of cinema history as a work that essentially caused him to be unofficially blacklisted from Hollywood, thus resulting in his coke-and-Cuba-libre-fueled exile that lasted for about a decade. Originally intended to be Hopper’s first feature as a sort of pet project he co-penned with screenwriter Stewart Stern (who also penned Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which Hopper had a small acting role in), The Last Movie is ultimately a singular case when an unhinged Hollywood actor had the opportunity to direct with total artistic freedom in a primitive foreign land without running water and ultimately become a sort of ‘Messianic auteur,’ with the actor-turned-director once stating regarding the importance of his cinematic crusade: “Man, the movies are coming out of a dark age. I mean, for forty years the uncreative people told the creative people what to do. But now we’re telling them, like forget those big budgets. The only thing you can make with a big budget is a big, impersonal, dishonest movie. The studio is a thing of the past, and they are very smart if they just concentrate on becoming distribution companies for independent producers. We want to make little, personal, honest movies. So we’re all taking small salaries and gambling on a cut of the gross. And we’re going to make groovy movies, man. We’re taking on more freedom and more risk. I think we’re heroes. I want to make movies about us.” And, indeed, Hopper made good on his cinematic mission because after shooting The Last Movie in a small village in Peru with $1 million dollars given to him in good faith from Universal Studios, he stole the master print of the film and headed to Taos, Texas where he worked tirelessly to edit the film while engaging in drug-addled orgies and dangerous behavior like drunken shotgun shooting, thus ultimately creating a celluloid work that was once lovingly described by effortlessly effete film critic Roger Ebert as a, “wasteland of cinematic wreckage.” Featuring disorientating Godardian jump-cuts, a deconstructed non-narrative structure, artsy close-up shots of bumblebees landing on flowers, an outstanding 25-minute wait before the title screen pops up, D. H. Lawrence-esque nods to pre-Christian American Indian paganism and creepy pagan animal masks that would anticipate The Wicker Man (1973), a less than flattering depiction of Peruvians as less-than-noble savages who haul around corpses on the back of their cars and cannot tell the difference between reality and filmic fakery and thus develop develop a murderous cinematic cult, pretentious ‘Missing Scene’ inter-titles spliced throughout the film, and an art-addled approach to the classic western genre, The Last Movie may be convoluted celluloid mess, but it is an interesting and provocative mess that demonstrates that Dennis Hopper probably could have been developed into one of the greatest American auteur filmmakers of his zeitgeist had he worked in Europe instead of Hollywood. 

Kansas (Dennis Hopper) is a Midwest-bred self-stylized ‘counter-culture cowboy’ who is in the Peruvian Andes working as a ‘hired hand’/stuntman on a western film on Billy the Kid that is being directed by none  other than Samuel Fuller (Shock Corridor, White Dog). Brainwashed by both counter-culture bullshit and the American dream, Kansas begins to rather enjoy living outside of civilization and becomes obsessed with the native peoples’ primitive culture and customs, not to mention the fact that he is in a romantic relationship with an indigenous prostitute named Maria (Stella Garcia).  Of course, despite his superficial xenophilia, Kansas dreams of getting rich by building hotels around the Andes.  After hanging out at a Catholic church, Kansas befriends a Priest (Cuban-American Tomás Milián, who appeared in Visconti’s segment of Boccaccio '70 (1962) and played the lead in Giulio Questi’s Gothic spaghetti western Django Kill!... If You Live, Shoot! (1967)), who is rather concerned about the moral effect the movie set might have on the locals. When a dude named Dean (a possible tribute to Hopper’s friend Jimmy Dean?) accidentally dies while shooting the last scene of the Billy the Kid film after falling off from a building and smashing threw a roof, Kansas decides to quit the movie business and stays in Peru, as he has a superficial idealized view of the country and its ‘noble savage’ inhabitants. While driving around with Marie, Kansas spots some Peruvian Indians driving around with a bloody and beaten corpse tied to the back of their car and the American cowboy seems somewhat bothered by the fact that his girlfriend couldn't care less at the grizzly sight. One night while hanging with his girlfriend, Kansas is approached by the Priest, who seems rather worried about something. When Kansas asks him, “What the hell is going on down there?” in regard to a number of villagers dancing around flames, the Priest responds in broken English, “Hell…and that’s violence and people are killing themselves in the streets. And movies have brought violence here and I don’t like it.” When Kansas goes to investigate, he finds the natives mimicking the behavior of a film crew, albeit using real violence instead of movie magic, as well as fake bamboo cameras and lights. When Kansas attempts to explain to the ‘auteur’ (who the Priest calls, ‘The Evil One’) of the Peruvian pseudo-film that the violence and deaths featured in Hollywood films are fake and simulated, he complains, “but that’s not real” and demands states, “Gringo…go back to your horses.” Indeed, it seems the Peruvian peasants thought the Hollywood filmmakers were performing ‘miracles’ by shooting men who seemed totally uninjured by their wounds, thus they have created a sort of psychotic celluloid cult, with their bamboo cameras acting as religious icons and whatnot.

As The Last Movie progresses, Kansas temporarily ignores the violent native film crew and has fun doing stuff like having sex under a waterfall with his Mestizo girlfriend in plan view, which is seen by the Priest and his altar boys. Kansas also hooks up with his eccentric schemer friend Neville Robey (Don Gordon), who is looking to find $5,000 so he can fund a gold-mining operation. While hanging out a restaurant, Kansas and Neville hook up with two rich American chicks, Mrs. Anderson (Julie Adams) and her daughter Miss Anderson (Donna Baccala), who only looks a couple years younger than her high-class tramp mother. Immediately after, Kansas and Neville attend a party hosted by Mrs. Anderson’s hubby Harry Anderson (Roy Engel) with about a dozen other people. After Neville fails to scam $5000 out of no bullshit businessman Harry, the party host agrees to pay for an all-expenses paid trip to a whorehouse, but Kansas’ girlfriend Marie does not want to go there as she worked there and does not want all her new rich white friends to know she is a sub-proletarian pussy-peddler. Ultimately, Harry pays two Peruvian whores to get it on lesbo style, but the exotic primitive lily-licking fun is cut short when Kansas gets in a fight with Marie’s ex-pimp with a shotgun. Rather irked by the ordeal, Kansas beats up his beloved Peruvian Indian princess. The next day, Marie does not complain about the fact that she has a black eye as a result of her beau's brutality, but instead nags Kansas about her deep-seated desire to own Mrs. Anderson’s fancy fur-coat, because, as she tells her bohemian boy toy, “Just because we don’t have electricity and running water, it don’t mean we don’t like to have nice things, Gringo.” Ultimately, Kansas gets Marie the fur coat, but he is forced to become Mrs. Anderson’s whore as payment and performs cunnilingus on the old broad's lady-fur. Due to prostituting himself to Mrs. Anderson, Kansas also manages to get the $5000 to fund Neville’s treasure hunt, but the expedition, which is not actually depicted in The Last Movie, is totally unsuccessful because, although they find gold, it is not enough to make a mining operation profitable for prospective investors. Not long after, Kansas is attacked and captured by the Peruvian ‘filmmakers’, who imprison him in an old school western jail cell, which previously served as a set-piece for the Hollywood western that was shot there. As the ‘witch doctor/director’ of the non-film tells to his fellow Peruvians while parading the American cowboy around the village, Kansas is, “The best part of the last movie. The dead man!” Indeed, from there, the rest of The Last Movie largely comprises of Kansas attempting to dodge bullets and being brutalized from the crazed coca-chewers. Of course, Kansas’ girlfriend Marie also ditches him and joins the murderous festivities with her savage racial kinsmen. In a pothead flashback scene that recalls Easy Rider, Kansas and his pal Neville discuss the gold-mining operation by a bonfire and the latter mentions how he learned everything he needed to know about gold mining by watching The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Needless to say, in a film where a drugged-out counter-culture cowboy degenerate becomes the prime prey of hundreds of innately irrational brown men and women, The Last Movie does not conclude very happily, but as Hopper once stated in an interview, “it doesn’t matter if Kansas dies or not, it’s the film that dies.”

An aesthetically wayward and thematically nihilistic work that was produced and released by a clueless studio run by kosher capitalists who knew nothing about the art of cinema for an undeserving American audience, The Last Movie is a work that anticipates everything from Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and totally obliterates the silly humanist myth of the ‘noble savage,’ thus making it mandatory viewing for any viewer who thought Dennis Hopper was in spiritual solidarity with the hippies when he made Easy Rider, even if he was a half-crazed counter-culture icon himself. Apparently, it was on the advice of Jewish-Chilean-French auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky that Hopper decided to scrap a more ‘conventional’ edit of The Last Movie than the one that exists today. In fact, as Jodorowsky revealed in a 2008 interview with Bright Lights Film Journal regarding his involvement with the film: “…Dennis Hopper was at one of these private shows, and he liked EL TOPO a lot. And so he invited me to come to Taos. And in Taos, he had four or six editing machines and twelve editors working. At that time, he didn't know what to with THE LAST MOVIE. And I saw the material, I thought it was a fantastic story. And I said, "I can help." I was there for two days, and in two days I edited the picture. I think I made it very good. I liked it. But when he went to show it to Hollywood, they didn't want it, because by then he was in conflict with them. Later, I think that Dennis Hopper decided that he couldn't use my edit, because he needed to do it himself. And so he destroyed what I did, and I don't know what he did with it later […] I took out everything that was too much like a love story or too much Marxist politics. For me it was one of the greatest pictures I have ever seen. It was so beautiful, so different.” Despite Hopper’s cut of the film scaring the hell out of Universal Pictures, especially president Lew Wasserman, The Last Movie premiered at the Venice Film Festival where it managed to win the grand prize for best film, but that is probably because Europeans are typically more cinema literate than Americans.

 A rare piece of experimental Hollywood meta-cinema where a western-within-an-arthouse-film that delightfully degenerates into a celluloid-ritual-within-a-film, The Last Movie simultaneously manages to demystify the western genre and American dream while also demonstrating the hopelessness of the peoples of the decadent and deracinated materialist west living peacefully with the innately spiritual and rooted global south (be it Peru or otherwise). Indeed, although a work that is a little bit rough around the edges and is far from immaculate, The Last Movie is something of a lost flawed masterpiece that has more aesthetic and thematic intricacy in its last 30 minutes or so than Easy Rider has in its entirety. Admittedly, I almost wanted to vomit while hearing Kris Kristofferson (in what was his debut film role) singing the lyrics, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” from his hit song ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ and the inclusion of John Buck Wilkin’s song ‘Only When It Rains’ at the end of the film, which proved to be no less than an aesthetically repugnant experience, but that is the price one must pay for coked out Hopper celluloid majesty. Hopper would later play a similar, albeit more degenerate role in the Spanish quasi-giallo Bloodbath (1979) aka Las flores del vicio aka The Sky Is Falling directed by Italian-Canadian auteur Silvio Narizzano. Made at the height of the actor/auteur's cocaine-addled derangement while in exile, Bloodbath stars Hooper as a junky burnout hippie of the Burroughs-parroting over-the-hill sort named 'Gringo' (not coincidentally, the name that all the natives, including his girlfriend, in The Last Movie call him).  Indeed, both The Last Movie and Bloodbath act as sort of celluloid exorcisms of the counter-culture zeitgeist and that is certainly something I can appreciate.

-Ty E

Apr 13, 2014

Friendship's Death

If some exceedingly effete cosmopolitan leftist art fag attempted to remake Ridley Scott’s culturally pessimistic science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner (1982) as an avant-garde Brechtian chamber piece with video art elements and set it Amman, Jordan during the Jordanian Civil War instead of dystopian Los Angeles, it might resemble the asinine celluloid abortion that is British (anti)sci-fi flick Friendship's Death (1987) penned and directed by English film theorist Peter Wollen (Penthesilea, Crystal Gaze) and starring arthouse diva Tilda Swinton (The Last of England, Only Lovers Left Alive) and Bill Paterson (The Killing Fields, The Witches). Indeed, a film theorist trained in French twaddle like structuralism and critical theory who co-wrote/co-directed a number of films with his postmodern feminist film theorist wife Laura Mulvey—a rather frigid looking chick who utilizes outmoded neo-Freudian hocus pocus to complain about ‘phallocentrism’ and ‘patriarchy’ being supposedly secretly hidden in cinema—Wollen (who is the co-publisher of various journals, including one with the curious name 'New Left Review') certainly seems to have a pathologically passive ‘female touch,’ or so one learns whilst watching the intolerably idealistic slave-morality-laden pomo sci-fi piece Friendship’s Death. The quasi-philosophical tale of an alien robot in archetypically white British female form (quite arguably Tilda Swinton at her physically finest) that somehow develops a quasi-marxist ‘revolutionary’ Weltanschauung and joins the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) after getting mixed up in the events of ‘Black September,’ Friendship’s Death is so ridden with phony bleeding heart idealism of the pedantic armchair revolutionary sort that the eponymous extraterrestrial machine protagonist actually makes the absurd 'post-human' complaint, “I can’t accept subhuman status simply because I’m a machine.” Indeed, if you are hoping to see bold and beauteous blond beast biorobotic androids like the replicants in Blade Runner in Wollen’s noble-savage-saluting arthouse agitprop piece Friendship’s Death, you’re going to be in for a major disappointment as the film mostly wallows in philosophizing about how innately evil humans are, especially of the Occidental sort, as well as the misery of being a person without identity and without home, so as to make the viewer's heart bleed for Palestinians and whatnot. For whatever reason, my girlfriend and I assumed that Friendship’s Death would be similar to an Ulrike Ottinger film, so we were exceedingly disappointed. While my beloved could only handle 10 minutes or so of seeing Tilda Swinton sporting an Arab chādor, spewing insipid intellectual masturbation, and failing to seem like anything resembling an alien robot, I braved through the entirety of Friendship’s Death and must admit that 70-minute work felt much longer than watching Fassbinder’s epic Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) in its entirety. Indeed, if you ever wondered why Swinton finally decided to move out of the arthouse world, Friendship’s Death provides more than enough reasons.

The setting is Amman, Jordan during the ‘Black September’ civil war of 1970 and stereotypical white liberal British journalist Sullivan (Bill Paterson) is sympathetic to the cause of the PLO. Naturally, the Jordanians are hoping to rid the PLO from its city-centers. Sullivan is asked by members of the PLO to help identify a seemingly Anglo-Saxon woman named ‘Friendship’ (Tilda Swinton), who has no papers nor passport and has been captured by the Palestinian ‘freedom-fighters.’ For whatever reason (maybe he thinks he has a chance at bedding her?), Sullivan pretends to know Friendship and brings her to a fancy hotel, where most of Friendship’s Death takes place. Friendship proclaims to be a space robot from the planet of Procryon who was heading to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) but experienced a major malfunction during ‘atmospheric entry’ and somehow landed in Amman where within a matter of hours she managed to get lost in the middle of a tank attack and inevitably become captured by the PLO. After hearing Friendship’s story, Sullivan makes the cynical remark, “Spectacular performance! A woman in jeopardy, a reckless act of self-destruction; it all adds up to nonsense, doesn’t it?,” but the literally soulless extraterrestrial super robot is not laughing. Of course, after much plying and prying for information, Sullivan eventually begins to believe Friendship’s spectacular tale. Meanwhile, Friendship, who was quite disturbed to see her Palestinian tour guide taken hostage by the Jordanian army, begins to forget her mission to MIT, starts sporting typical Islamic garb, and begins sympathizing with the PLO, even though she is not human, let alone an Arab Muslim. As a 'spacey, if not severely self-righteous, chick from another planet that says a lot of pretentious things like, “I dream of succulence…the flow of carbon and acid metabolism…hunters and gathers…Hijack victims,” Friendship seems like she was the victim of a liberal arts college lobotomy, but Sullivan still manages to learn things about her home plane Procryon. As Friendship explains to Sullivan, “Where I come from all the biological life-forms are extinct. After the nuclear winter, they died. Only the computer survived. Of course, they were already far more advanced than any computers you have here on earth.”

Naturally, Sullivan asks about the curious creatures that used to inhabit Procryon and invented the technology that sired the femme-robot in the first place, to which Friendship replies that they were, “Genetically programmed organisms like you. I think I’d describe them as kind of giant tree shrews…a bit bigger than you. They hibernated. They had this zoom lens system in their optical vision, too…I think some spiders do here. And these heat-seeking sensors which were like a ray of sunken pods.” While doing some snooping around, Sullivan friends some colorful crystals owned by Friendship in one of the few discernibly sci-fi scenes of Friendship's Death and when the rebel robot walks in on the journalist playing with them, she gives him one as a memento. Obsessed with ancient human ruins, especially those in Jordan and how they relate to events of today, Friendship has little interest in soccer, complaining to Sullivan regarding the sport, “It’s hard for me to see the attraction of it. I think I would prefer if the camera just chose one of the players and followed him. I mean, the players are more interesting than the ball, aren’t they? The ball has to be the most uninteresting item of the game…totally devoid of color or expression….incapable of independent action…it’s just round.” Despite being an exceedingly emasculated left-wing weakling of the proudly cosmopolitan sort, Sullivan is somewhat offended by Friendship’s remark and responds by stating, “What are you talking about? Britain’s greatest contribution to the world; the family of balls […] they're all British made. It makes you proud, doesn’t it?,” as if he were a card-carrying member of the BNP. As the days pass, the hotel the journalist and robot are staying at becomes bombarded with PLO snipers and other militants, thus making their conversations much harder to hear. Overtime, Friendship becomes increasingly misanthropic and develops a sort of Marxist-robot ideology, complaining to Sullivan, “I’m a robot, I’m a machine. Well, what replaced the machines here? Slaves. Unpaid labor. Moral dead matter. You can do what you like to a machine. It has no voice, no rights, no feelings. It’s a new sphere for human cruelty. I know their vengeance and they act out of rage, but I have every reason to identify with the Palestinians,” thus demonstrating her innate slave morality despite being a superior being to that of earthlings. Due to the violence of the civil war, Sullivan opts to leave Jordan and manages to snag two tickets to Damascus, but Friendship has already made up her mind to join the PLO and die in battle, stating why she has decided to abandon her original mission to MIT, “I’ve seen enough of earth to know that if I go to the United States I’ll just be frog-marched off to some safe house somewhere in Virginia for debriefing…then when I’ve been squeezed dry, I’ll be handed over to the engineers and the A.I. people. I’ll be stripped down, cut-up, and be submitted to every kind of sadistic test they can devise.” As a goodbye present, Sullivan gives Friendship a razorblade (she previously showed an interest in shaving) and she returns his kindness by kissing to “seal the gesture.” Of course, Friendship presumably dies, but years later Sullivan remembers her after running into his friend Kubler (Patrick Bauchau), who is a member of the International Red Cross. With the help of his wiz kid teenage daughter, Sullivan is able to decipher the special crystal that Friendship gave to him and he learns that it is a ‘digital storage system’ (aka a sort of memory card) from a futuristic camera. The crystal reveals images of Amman, esoteric information, images of a human fetus, and countless other things that Friendship had recorded on her journey, thus giving Sullivan something to truly remember about Friendship.

A preposterously sanctimonious and unintentionally silly piece of hipster humanist celluloid hogwash that would only appeal to the science fiction fan who thinks Spock of Star Trek is a leftist hero and appreciate his Judaic Vulcan salute, Friendship’s Death is nothing short of an archetypical bad British arthouse film from the 1980s. As someone who rather enjoyed the quasi-feminist dystopian flick Closet Land (1991) directed by Indian auteur Radha Bharadwaj, I can say my disdain for Friendship’s Death was not simply due to its cliché globalist humanistic ‘we-are-the-world’ message but mainly due to its outmoded postmodern Brechtian and conspicuously contrived directing style, grating theatric tableaux, and almost childlike essence, as if the film was specially made for the children of left-wing MPs living abroad at boarding schools as a sort of cinematic therapy for their homesickness. Undoubtedly, director Peter Wollen is probably best known to cinephiles for his first film credit as the co-writer of Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975) aka Professione: Reporter, which also features a deracinated journalist as a protagonist and also deals with themes of rootlessness, loss of identity, and civil war.  In fact, Wollen would once state of Friendship's Death that it is a sort of “a sequel” to The Passenger, albeit more “enclosed and claustrophobic,” which certainly sounds like an unappetizing prospect for a film and the British auteur certainly delivered in that regard. While I am not fan of The Passenger, it demonstrates why Antonioni was a master cinematic craftsman and Wollen is a pedantic professor of plodding pretense who approaches directing films the same way a scientist looks through a microscope, with Friendship’s Death being nothing more than a failed experiment of a film theorist's hypothesis for what might make an interesting ‘avant-garde sci-fi’ flick. In a favorable puffery-ridden review of the film written by German film scholar Thomas Elsaesser, who is a comrade of Wollen’s, he revealed that, “In the early 1990s, at a conference in Vancouver about avant-garde, modernist, anti-narrative and neo-narrative filmmaking, Peter Wollen proposed a new category: films without a passport. What at the time was may be a lassitude with labels seems in retrospect to have been a programmatic announcement. Wollen’s first solo film as a director is literally about existence without a passport, and is much more an exploration of the attendant state of mind, than a psychological study of two characters or of the generic complications resulting from a sci-fi plot in a polit-thriller.” Rather unfortunately, with the dissolution of European film industries and the rise of international co-productions, Wollen’s warped liberal wet dream of ‘films without a passport’ has come true, albeit not in the way he probably imagined. Of course, Wollen has not directed a single film since Friendship’s Death, thus demonstrating you cannot get too far artistically without an ‘artistic passport’ (i.e. serious sense of identity, kultur, and nationality). More banal than bizarre, superficial than sincere, whiny than witty, derivative than diacritic, pedantic than provocative, and cold than charismatic, Friendship’s Death has confirmed that I will never dare to watch any of the other experimental films that Wollen co-directed with his wife. Featuring a pansy cuckold xenophile as a male protagonist (a stand-in for Wollen perhaps?) who cannot even manage to seal the sensual deal with the exotic extraterrestrial, as well as a truly intellectually ‘out-of-this-world’ fem-alien robot that tries to make an argument about the ostensible connection between the big toe and the supposed oppression of the fairer sex, Friendship’s Death is guaranteed to be aesthetic torture for cinephiles and sci-fi nerds alike, which is certainly at least one achievement on Wollen’s part.  Indeed, if the Israelis want to scare the Palestinians out of the holy land for good they should maybe consider screening Wollen's Friendship's Death all around the so-called Israeli West Bank barrier.

-Ty E