Apr 5, 2014

Kyodai Makes the Big Time

Long before he de-christened himself ‘Aryan Kaganof’ (Shabondama Elegy aka Tokyo Elegy, SMS Sugar Man) after meeting his biological father for the first time, the South African auteur formerly known as Ian Kerkhof shocked the Dutch world by winning the ‘Golden Calf for Best Long Feature’ (the Dutch equivalent to the Oscar) for his minimalistic 16mm low-budget avant-garde debut feature Kyodai Makes The Big Time (1992) at the 1992 Netherlands Film Festival. At the time of winning the highly coveted prize, Kaganof was only 28-years-old and a second year student at the Dutch Film and Television Academy, yet he managed to win an award that put him in the company of the top Dutch actors and filmmakers, including Paul Verhoeven, Rutger Hauer, Fons Rademakers, and Alex van Warmerdam, among countless others. Despite winning the most mainstream of Dutch film prizes, Kaganof thankfully opted for becoming more experimental, iconoclastic, and eclectically cinematically subversive over time, with his third film Ten Monologues from the Lives of the Serial Killers (1994) being like no other film made before or after it, as a sort of foreboding celluloid essay that finds the beauty and intrigue in ugliness, depravity, and inhumanity. Luckily, I was recently able to track down a copy of Kyodai Makes the Big Time and can say without hesitation that it seems that Kaganof has always been a celluloid master with an uncompromising vision. An auteur that seems to have skipped his formative years as a filmmaker, Kaganof created a work with Kyodai Makes the Big Time that dwells on the impossibility of love and romance in a dull post-counter-culture age where empty sex reigns and where romantic commitment is an act of the ‘naïve’ (or so says a character in the film). An intentionally slow-moving yet strangely atmospheric piece of unwavering pessimism featuring mostly still static shots that recalls the early films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kyodai Makes the Big Time is an anti-romantic tale about the metaphysical battle of sexes that manages to make the avant-gardism of Jean-Marie Straub quite palatable by mixing it with a little Warhol/Morrissey-esque degeneracy and Rebel Without a Cause (1995) inspired antisocial youth spirit. A work that is bound to offend both fickle feminists and beta-male manosphere-obsessed misogynists alike, the emotionally-ravaging and romantically tragic spirit of Kyodai Makes the Big Time was probably best described by auteur Kaganof himself in an interview: “I am always amazed by women who stay with a man who uses physical violence or is emotionally closed. Men are different. There is always the urge to possess and once you have it you don't want it anymore. That is the constant problem in relationships...in fact men want to fuck all women.” 

Opening with a scene of muscular and handsome self-absorbed antihero Kyodai Rogerson (Koos Vos) perniciously pounding the puss of his quasi-girlfriend/steady fucktoy Stephanie aka ‘Steph’ (played by Janica Draisma, who also won a ‘Golden Calf’ for her performance in the film) shouting at his beloved romantic things like, “You fucking cunt, I’m fucking your cunt,” Kyodai Makes the Big Time immediately lets the viewer know they are about to enter a sexually oppressive, if not somewhat pathetic and even humorous, world of misguided male narcissism and female masochism. Indeed, Kyodai is a self-absorbed bourgeois bum of sorts who dreams of being a film actor and rides on a motorcycle. A postmodern Narcissus, Kyodai is so unwaveringly in love with himself that he literally masturbates while staring in the mirror. Presumably to pump up his own self-esteem, Kyodai always surrounds himself with inferors and hangs out with mostly junky losers (in fact, one of his friends even eloquently asks him, “why the fuck do you hangout with me?”), including a Burroughs-brainwashed dope fiend with long greasy hair who proudly states, “I’m a junkman, I’m a professional. Some people study to become lawyers or doctors or a fucking psychoanalyst…Me, I studied on the streets and became a junky, and one of the best at it.” In terms of advice on love, Kyodai turns to his too-cool-for-school hedonist friend Jacques (André Arend van de Noord), who is against love because it is ‘serious’, stating to his friend, “There’s no use in being serious. I mean, it’s hard…being serious. Not only is it hard…it’s also stupid. Not stupid…but naïve. To be serious, you have to be naïve. If you’re not naïve, which you are not, then you have to pretend…and to pretend, you have to be an actor.”  Of course, as his failed attempt to get into the film acting trade will prove, Kyodai is not much of an actor and will ultimately fail to treat Stephanie in a manner different than that of a mere fuck-buddy.

 Used and abused lover girl Steph has no serious hang-ups in terms of her relationship with Kyodai and her man's almost bestial form of buggery, even confessing to her friend Colette (Ysabel Evers) regarding her lover, “I get so turned-on when he cums, he makes these growling sounds like a wolf. Really primitive.” As Steph explains to Colette, she does want Kyodai to open up to her, but the more she attempts to be loving and tender with her boyfriend, the more he pushes her away. When Steph pleads to her beloved, “I just wish it wasn’t always so violent. Sometimes I just wish you would hold me and be tender,” and then asks him, “What are we doing together?…What’s the difference between my cunt and Colette’s?,” Kyodai coldly and callously replies, “I haven’t tried Colette’s……yet.” Indeed, Kyodia is up his own ass with “James Dean bullshit” and he is not about to change for anyone, especially for an immature teenager with a rather idealistic view of love and romance. Of course, Kyodai is in for a rude awakening when he goes to a casting agency and the lady there tells that, “We need more acting experience than cheek bone.” Indeed, Kyodai may have the striking appearance of a Nordic Übermensch, but he has the personality of a braindead psychopath and the morality of a gypsy beggar. Naturally, when Stephanie’s friend Colette, who is a jealous bitch who is fed up with “clean cut college guys” looking for her clit during cunnilingus, begins a short-lived affair with Kyodai that de-evolves into a banal bizarre love triangle, the two lovers' relationship finally dissolves for good. Strangely, Kyodai unconsciously confesses to his androgynous man-woman mother figure friend Jeff (Jeff Babock)—an exceedingly effete man with long girly hair who loves to feel up his male friend and seems more like a post-menopausal grandmother than a young man—that he indeed loves Stephanie but, of course, it is too late to repair their shattered love affair. In the end, it is revealed that two years after the couple broke up, Kyodai ironically died after crashing his beloved motorcycle, but he called Stephanie right before his death, meekly confessing to her, “I would love nothing more than feeling your breasts rubbing into my back while riding into the big time. The big time, Steph… The big time.” Indeed, Kyodai finally reached the big time, with his whole superficial and senseless rebel-without-a-cause persona resulting in his bitter and ultimately pathetic demise. As for Stephanie, she states in retrospect regarding her troubled romance with Kyodai and his tragic, if not inevitable, death: “I was crying because I had become a woman and would never again become that loving, sweet, fearless girl who was so certain that things would work out for the best. Kyodai had been my rite of passage into the bittersweet world of adulthood. There is not much more to say. I loved Kyodai…passionately, ecstatically… I don’t think of him all that often. ” 

 In terms of its depiction of a young woman going through her ‘rite of passage’ by falling in love with an abusive asshole loser that has a complete and utter incapacity for love, Kyodai Makes the Big Time is rather realistic in its essence that expresses in emotional tone and atmosphere more than mere words could ever hope to achieve, as a malignantly melancholy work that manages to reconcile Bresson with Fassbinder. Indeed, a dirty Dutch depiction about how ‘love is colder than death’ in a country where prostitution is legal and the native indigenous women are less and less interested in their own men, preferring instead to copulate and reproduce with foreign men from the global south, Kyodai Makes the Big Time is undoubtedly one of few truthful films of its time, thus making it a work that most people do not want to see lest they have to confront the lies of their own lives. When the film was nominated for ‘Golden Calf for Best Long Feature’ at the Netherlands Film Festival, it apparently caused some protest, with Dutch film producer Matthijs van Heijningen complaining, “It further increases the already existing gap between Dutch film and the audience,” as if cinema is a distinctly proletarian artistic medium. As Kaganof would also explain, “Some leading Dutch filmmakers this week advised me to withdraw my film from competition as a possible prize could exclude me from getting subsidies for future projects, but I did not listen to them.” Although only speculation on my part, it seems those leading Dutch filmmakers Kaganof spoke of were jealous that some young and upcoming South African that no one ever heard of would show them up at their own national film festival. Of course, Kyodai Makes the Big Time does show its Dutch cinematic influences, as a work with an innate apathy for Hollywood cinema convention, as well as an unflattering depiction of the wanton war of the sexes, that has not been seen in the Netherlands since the beauteously grotesques films of Frans Zwartjes (Visual Training, Living), whose feature Pentimento (1979) inspired hateful protest from feminists. Blowing his entire lifesavings and swallowing his pride and asking his ex-girlfriends and girlfriends for additional funds to finance Kyodai Makes the Big Time, Kaganof would be able to create a minor masterpiece that enabled him to make the big time and the auteur would later rub it in the faces of the Dutch by remarking in an interview, “I never understand why more films aren't made in Holland. This must be the easiest country in the world to make films in. Just about everybody has a 16mm camera, and there is loads of old film stock lying around waiting to be used up. If people spent less time in cafes zeuring about other people's lousy films and more time just making their own there would be sprake of a real film culture here.”  For those that doubt the Netherlands has ever produced a work that rivals the great works of the French New Wave and German New Cinema, check out Kaganof's Kyodai Makes the Big Time and bask in the brutal beauty of immature sex and anti-love.

-Ty E

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