Apr 16, 2014
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.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:59 PM
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