Monthly Archives: March 2013

  • Stoker Chan-wook Park (USA 2013)

    P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; } Stoker Chan-wook Park (USA 2013) Mia Wasikowska; Nicole Kidman; Matthew Goode Viewed Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle UK 1st March 2013; Ticket: £8 a kiss is just a kiss This piece of Gothic Amerikana is in one sense another revisiting of Park’s (P) favourite theme, incest. The incest theme was the mainspring of Old Boy and it is the psychic mainspring behind Stoker but for this film the incest idea has been transposed to the ut – (dys)- topia of suburban upper middle class USA. The film takes its psychic mainspring from the eponymous word in its title ‘Stoker’ Some one or something that builds up a fire, feeds the flames. So either India’s hormonally charged sexual development that stokes the fire, or perhaps the obsessive nature of hypocritical family secrecy, the keeping of skeletons locked in cupboards, feeds the flames that burn through the scenario. Interestingly, the Stoker (der Heizer)is also the title of the first short story by Kafka and became the first chapter of his uncompleted novel ‘America’. At the core of the story is a grudge and the turning point of the story is a revealed quasi incestuous relationship between nephew and forgotten Uncle. Although Kafka’s short story is an imaginative journey, Kafka expresses an intimate understanding of his characters; whereas Park as director communicates detachment from his material. As if his main point of contact with this cultural strand of American life has been watching the movies of Terrence Malick. Like Hollywood in general and Malick in particular a careful avoidance of context (social occupational historical) is critical to the way that Stoker’s coding deciphers the human relations in the scenarios. There are no dates, no real occupations (there are offices locations of employment but these too are dislocated decontextualised. [nb the deceased Mr Stoker is supposed to have been an architect but the house does not look like an architects home]), no media. Only hermetically sealed worlds in which the angels and demons of a shared post Spielberg moral consensus can be set in play. We are looking at a deterritorialised characters. They exist as oppositions in relation to each other: husband /wife, brother/sister, mother/son, but not as possibilities in relation to the world. And it is in this world voided of the actual, that Park has chosen to direct Stoker. The world as a bell jar. P’s style of filming is very like the cinematography of Malick’s movies. The tracks have a similar slow floating enunciate style which functions as a cue, that something of significance is in train, whether or not this is the case. The look of the S has that same hyper real HD luminance that is intended in Malicks’s cinematography to imbue the shot with a symbolic shimmering resonance; the more banal the shot the more both Malick and Park work to give the images a liminal meaning to add lustre and link to narrative structures shaped more by cod psychology than real forces. Hence perhaps, this piece of American gothic, like other films such as Ramsey’s ‘We need to talk about Kevin’, is filled out with Americana weird. Little shots, bolted onto the shooting script to show us that the film has moved into ‘weird’ territory, so that we can expect weird ‘stuff’ to happen. Stoker has it’s insects (Bunuel inspired perhaps), the fetish object it makes of India’s shoes, eggs, the metronome etc all which are supposed to imbue the scenario with psychic significance, psychological depth. In effect this style of film,to avoid taking risks, abuses symbolism as an cheap and easy means to express inner movement. The reason I use the word abuse is that the symbolism used by Park here and Ramsey is plucked from a compendium of Freudian dreams, an c arbitrary or opportunistic plucking from the dictionary. The symbols and the symbolic images they generate are not won from context, grounded in the material and then understood as possessing a wider signification. Like the shoes in S they are represented from the start of the film as being very significant. They then become a little puzzle built into the film; why are these symbols significant? Like Malicks’s script, P puffs out S with inscrutable philosophical phrases, lines spoken by the lead characters. These have a fake Zen quality, perhaps because faux Zen is perfect grist to the Hollywood script mill. Whereas insights that are hard won in the Zen tradition, in the Hollywood tradition they can be cheaply traduced as realisations, exploited by Hollywood scenarists who need a fix of philosophy to bulk out their characters. Malick tends to bulk out his characters’ emptiness with little quips about the realisation of ‘love’, by way of bestowing meaning on the proceedings. P and his script writer Miller, use the same ploy to insert proto Nietschian sentiments into the mouths of the characters from time to time. So we have India telling that she is as she is because…..’ a flower doesn’t chose its colour.’ Debatable what this means, but it is the basis for presenting the triumph of nature over nurture. A kiss is just a kiss….? Like many film of this type it is ultimately rendered uninteresting by its intrinsic mechanicality. A slasher vampire or zombie movie is enjoyable in its mechanistic working through of permutations of death. But these movies generally avoid inventing formed characters to whom the viewer can assign markers of an assigned individuality. Evelyn Stoker is such a character in Stoker, supposedly the widow of Richard (there is a case that Charlie and Richard are split personalities of the same man) and mother of India. P lavishes his movie with an opening relationship between Evelyn and Charlie, but then the script reveals this relationship is really a cover for the hard on that Charlie in fact has for India. We gaze upon this reciprocated revealed incestuous relationship, as does Evelyn who witnesses a deep French kiss between the niece and uncle (father?). When Charlie realises he has been seen with his tongue down India’s throat, he tries to divert Evelyn into dropping her guard, by making an immediate play for her (before admittedly strangling her with his strap). Now this play for Evelyn is led with his tongue, which he extrudes and is eagerly gobbled down by Evelyn, who sinks to the ground under the passion of Charlie’s hot kiss. At this point we enter pantomime land, the never never land of the mechanicality of the film maker. Charlie can drop Evelyn’s knickers, pant on her, but he cannot kiss her on the mouth with his mouth still dripping with India’s saliva. The film dies back at this point. Park seems well out of his cultural depth with Stoker. It is made with a eye to stringing together a series of arresting arbitrary images to make a piece of gothic americana that he does not really understand. He did this sort of thing better in Korea where he understood better the transgressions and cultural parameters needed pull of this kind of movie. In the USA he only succeeds in making another weird deterritorialised movie. Adrin Neatrour

  • Daughters of Darkness (Les Levres Rouges) Harry Kumel (Fr 1971)

    P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; } Daughters of Darkness (Les Levres Rouges) Harry Kumel (Fr 1971) Delphine Seyrig Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne, 3 March 2013; Ticket: £5 retrocrit: Reading the runes in the dunes or Marienbad transposed… The seaside hotel by the sea on the sands at Ostend, that is the location of Daughters of Darkness, is an architectural statement that resonates along a parallel frequency to that of the chateau at Marienbad. Harry Kumel (HK) in visualising Daughters of Darkness (DD) must have had the notion that in having successfully contracted Delphine Seyrig as his lead actress, DD could take on in some of its formal aspects, the form of a subtle parody of Last Year in Marienbad (LYM) Geometry The interiors of both LYM and DD both allude to the taste spectrum and formal aspirations of particular social castes. The Ostend hotel built for a burgeoning bourgeois market seems to consciously replicate the pretensions of an earlier aristocracy. The resort hotel at Ostend is laid out as a palace, and its opulent geometrical reception and public spaces will have been planned as a sop to the aspirations of the European bourgeoisie and lesser aristocracy that in a more public sphere they could by imitation equal the taste of a foreclosed aristocratic age that defined itself by private opulence and conspicuous consumption. Whereas Marienbad was situate in grounds where nature was made subservient to an ornamental geometry imposed by the hand of man; the Hotel in Ostend is positioned by the sea. Its geometric lines with regular columns and serried windows seems built to oppose the force of the sea, but is doomed to fail, to be rendered insignificant by the elements of darkening nature. Within their settings, their variegated encompassings both LYM and DD share a metaphysical core, which revolves about ideas of time. LYM with its infinite tracking across surfaces and through mirror worlds, creates a metaphysic of time that is presided over by the unnamed woman (Delphine Seyrig). Time becomes a function of space, a function of a Nietzschian eternal recurrence. More crudely perhaps DD, with its vampire and human blood theme also has an underlying temporal motif, the notion of eternal life, life eternally relived and renewed through the medium of human blood. It may be thought that LYM is much subtler in its insinuation of the time motif, but there is attaching to Resnais and Robbe-Grillet’s mis-en-scene, something of the form of a religious sacrificial ceremony. Appropriate then that Delphine Seyrig (DS) should play a key role in both movies. But whilst her role in LYM is pivotal, in DD is central. With her performance as the Comptess de Bathony in DD, her persona dominates the film from the moment she enters frame poised like a spider at the centre of her web waiting to enmesh and devour her victims. In her poise, DS effortlessly assumes the high status of her queen spider/ high priestess and whilst on screen she spins our in her delivery of her dialogue, a spell of enchantment, effortlessly without over determination or crass exaggeration. The delivery of her lines, pulled from the silky depths of her throat, is perfectly synchronised with her breath and the vowels shaped delectably by the reddest of red lips. The voice engages at once both with a knowing entrapment, but also with an ironic distancing that allows us to see she is having fun with her arachnoid role in a vampire movie. She knows how to wear the frocks with an architectonic nuance as she has been here before in another incarnation albeit with a different haircut. In LYM the dresses were breathtaking, all white and feathery, DS a priestess cold with erotic indifferent to imprecation. In DD, HK encases DS’s body in a series of unceasingly stunning power frocks, blacks and golds enabling DS to move through the scenario beguilingly and effortlessly with increasing power as the personification of the hunger for death. In both DD and LYM, DS embodies the dark side of the anima, the feminine bringer of death; both movies are built upon her abilities to bring onto the screen this idea of a lethal anima. In filming DD HK was assured and confident in the understanding of how to use signs. Signs are of course what make horror movie genre work. Contradictory signs relating to roles, and the directional signs that point without ambiguity to the path the script will follow in pursuance of its narrative. The signs that point are critical of course for arousing anticipation, and anticipation either of pain or fear is what powers states of arousal. Many contemporary horror films, such as the Cabin in the Woods often archly overplay signs, making them very blatant; intended it would seem, not to arouse but rather set up the viewer for an ensuing voyeuristic gore/ slash fest; satiation of violence, rather than fear, being the purpose. So some ‘horror’ movies made today almost do away with the use of psychological signs preferring to cut straight to the chase, the final blood sequence, either played for laughs or whatever. Movies of this era, such as DD, rely on signs to prime the audience ( which is not to say that many of the films are not tongue in cheek and capable of ironic self comment – DD often is.) But the viewer is given work to do in interpretation of signs and allowed to build their own anticipation of outcome. Movies shot using such formal scripted methods enlist more viewer involvement and the occasional moments of dread. There is no voyeurism rather it is anticipation of outcome that holds us, the sign pointing the way. The play on our minds. Haircuts play a important part in the filming of DD as of course they do in many movies – in particular film noir. But in DD, and horror genre they have a particular use as signs. The hair of the those representing the forces of darkness, in this case Comptess Bathony, is usually rigidly styled, like a wig (baldness can have a similar effect), DS’s hair permed in frozen locks that frame her face like a judge’s periwig and suggest the idea of judgement, judicial authority. DS under her periwig becomes she who must be obeyed. It also functions as a counter sign to her voice which teases and bewitches, paralysing her victims in the interplay of contradictory signage. Victims hair for a woman is usually long, often blond and hanging long. In DD, Valerie’s hair covers her face like a death shroud, wrapping about her face, exaggerating and heightening the expressive affects of her eyes and mouth and throat. Like a lamb for the slaughter, the sign points as soon as she appears. DD is a woman’s movie in the sense that the only players are the women. It is woman’s business that comprises its subject matter; it is about the dark force of the female anima, In movies of this kind the men really have no role and therefore usually have nondescript haircuts. In DD Mark’s longish neatly cut hair marks him our from the beginning as a non player. Although he has a role, he is a pawn, not central to the forces at work and expendable. As a horror movie DD is old school, It does exactly what it sets out to do. It sets up what is going to happen allows the audience to anticipate it (understand the inevitable) and for the signed events to come to pass, and then it tells you they have happened. Managed through superb acting and excellent pacing, the tension and humour are balanced, and deliver to the audience a film that works as planned. Adrin Neatrour

  • Possession Andrzej Zulawski (Fr 1981)

    Possession Andrzej Zulawski (Fr
    1981) Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill
    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema; 28 Feb
    13; Ticket £5

    retrocrit: Shot to death

    Set in Berlin in about 1980, Zulawski’s
    (AZ) Possession (P) was presumably intended to echo back, in its
    psycho-sexual schizoid script, as an allegorical comment on divided
    condition of Germany exemplified by Berlin split in two by its
    East-West Wall and the rise of European revolutionary terrorist
    groups. Art house intellectual horror was perhaps his intention.

    The opening shots track down a length
    of the Wall from the West looking over to the East, an enclosed vista
    of boarded up delapidation and dereliction. Z then cuts to another
    kind of architectural statement, a marble clad corporate headquarters
    with serried columns, inside of which festers some kind of state
    twilight agency. This agency employs Mark, in a non specific
    capacity, and seems to have a sinister perhaps menacing security

    And as a set up that’s it. There is
    not much else that is cogently fed into the script to enable the
    viewer to read signs in the film as to what it is about: it might be
    an quasi- allegorical political piece, or something else even less
    specific than the agency. Perhaps that is the point. However the
    film was made at the height of the activity of left wing
    revolutionary cells in Europe in Italy the Red Brigade and in Western
    Germany the Red Army Faction, Bader-Meinhof activists. Both these
    groups and the various spin off revolutionary cells, entered into a
    train of murderous killings and assassinations justified both by
    revolutionary liberation rhetoric borrowed from South America and
    traditional European Anarchism and Maoist-Marxism; driven by a naif
    belief in the USSR and China, and mistrust of the neo-fascism they
    perceived at the root of the Italian and German democracies in
    particular and Western democracies in general.

    Public shock in Europe in the 70’s and
    80’s, at the appearance of revolutionary groups in their midst was
    further increased by the realisation that the members of the groups
    hailed form the prosperous educated middle classes and that women
    were at the core of these revolutionary groups. Given that women had
    always played a prominent role in revolution (Rosa Luxembourg; the
    nihilist groups of Russia in the 1870’s) this was hardly a surprise.
    What was different was that this era was the time of the paparazzi.
    Sex sold magazines and newspapers, and revolutionary women were ‘hot
    dangerous dolls’! Dolls being the operative word as women were
    scorned as independent agents so it was the convenient working
    assumption that they were literally screwed into belief, by the
    ultimate succubus, the revolutionary monster. So although it is in
    fact poorly sketched out, and ultimately AZ seems to have lost
    interest in the political allegorical model whilst making his film,
    this is still the path that seems to be suggested allegorially at
    least, that is taken by Anna in P.

    Anna, despite being a mother, abandons
    her husband (who is away a lot doing whatever) first, for a new age
    lover who having practiced all the correct Tantric exercises knows
    how to fuck her good. She still continues to try and pass as if
    she’s leading a ‘normal’ life but, sexual degradation at some
    undefined point in the movie, starts to invest her being and she ends
    up in East Berlin the sex slave of a sort slimy betenticled squid
    like monster, who fucks the brains out of her. It all ends badly of
    course (as it did with the Red army Faction and like) in stake outs,
    shoot outs and a final Armageddon. Oddly enough as part of the
    narrative development AZ introduces during the second stage of Anna’s
    corruption (when she abandons her child) a sort of doppelganger for
    Anna in the form of Helen (also played by Adjani) as a good Anna, the
    Anna that Anna was supposed to be, but had split from, introducing
    another schizo level in the film, which again fails to add up to or
    mean anything, just hangs limply like another dead branch on AZ’s

    In fact the remains of the allegorical
    structure are so slight that I felt as if I was pulling it together
    from an intense reading of its residual signs. It’s possible this
    reading might be purely fanciful. But in itself this attempt at
    reading indicates the movies core weakness: it doesn’t have a core.
    Z has shot a film empty of any force moving through either its
    structure or content that makes for a coherent set of responses to
    the material. As such P lacks tension. Even the shot, presumably
    supposed to be the “WoW’ moment in the movie, when we see the
    creature fucking Anna, panders to voyeurism rather than to horror,
    affect rather than effect; in revealing this in all its full on
    imagery, the monster becomes a joke rather than a force. Although
    the shot is rated by the supporters of the movie, this is as voyeurs
    ( nothing wrong with this in itself); but direct gazing upon this
    scene adds nothing to the movie as a whole.

    Polanski’s REPULSION, on which some
    elements of the film certainly the Anna roll has been modelled, has
    the defining characteristic of being a forceful expression of a dark
    carnal degeneration. Repulsion knows what it is about where it is
    going, and takes the viewer on the appropriate cinematic ride. AZ’s
    P, its sketchy (perhaps inexistent) allegorical structure, is fuzzy
    and unspecific. It takes the viewer nowhere; rather offers them
    ‘moments’: pink socks, the beast, nasty slayings of people as if they
    were sacrificial victims (RAF) some fun cod philosophical dialogue,
    and architecture. But everything slithers into inconsequentiality.

    One key element of the film holds it
    together that makes it watchable.

    Bruno Nuytten’s camera work is
    extraordinary, embedded not just into the structure but in the
    possible reading of P. The camera constantly suggests the
    possibility of effect. The camera, tracks, floats reveals and
    penetrates. The movement of the camera through architecture of the
    60’s apartment with its corridors, right angles and blocked fields of
    vision, captures the menace that suddenly appears in the core of the
    relationships of the family. The camera understands this space. The
    tracks that float out from close-up scrutiny of a scene to wide shot,
    powerfully suggest the opening out of awareness to a new dimension.
    The reveals such as across Mark and Anna as they lie in their bed,
    the penetration of the camera into the darkness, all prime the viewer
    to expectation. However the expectation is all there is, as after
    these camera movements, the viewer is usually dropped back into
    incoherent void that comprises P. But in itself the camera movement
    is so assured and composed that it holds the incoherence together.
    The final shot, around the spiral staircase, although empty in
    content is so full of architectural form, as to almost be complete in

    Adrin Neatrour