Monthly Archives: February 2020

  • Parasite       Bong Joon-ho (2019; S.Korea)

    Parasite       Bong Joon-ho (2019; S.Korea) Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, and Jang Hye-jin


    Subterranean home sick blues

    Bong’s Parasite (Parasites – plural in the original Korean title) reminded me of Lanthimos’ Killing of a Sacred Deer in as much as both movies bring buried psychic forces into play in contemporary settings. Both films are scripted as black comedies working irony as a leaven for the humour; both films summon chthonic agency to wreak disaster on the arrogance those who enjoy privilege but are blind to the primal forces that surround them in the social matrix; both films use space in a very particular way.   The spaces in both films exploit the idea that within themselves they contain the tensions of different opposing worlds: on the surface we see a conventional room; superimposed over what we see is its hidden fate, to be the place of a necessary playing out of myth.

    Both films create spaces in which the veneer of order will be destroyed and caste back into primordial chaos.   Space is treated as an intrinsic part of design where all those who are marked out for death, die.    

    In Lanthimos’ movie the key settings were: the hospital, presented as a cool arena for the practice of industrialised medicine; and, the expensive comfortable suburban house, home to the doctor and his family. This house, a statement of status, comfortably and expensively arrayed. But it is a house that is turned inwards on itself. From the windows there are no views out into the exterior world, in this culture there are only interiorities; in this culture no one is interested in what is outside; what is outside is mediated via the TV and the phone.  Lanthimos’ scenario plays out in an interior.

    In Parasite, Bong’s settings also comprise two main two interiors. But both these interiors are strongly linked to an exteriorality in the views afforded by the dwellings. The main area of the open plan house of the rich family looks out onto a garden; the semi basement home of the poor family, has a sunken window from which they can look up onto a rundown urban street environment. The one is an extension of the dream; the other an extension of the real.

    The rich family’s house and its garden are part of the same plan. The house is open plan designed to replicate the American living experience. It is an American house in Korea, and the garden is also designed as an American suburban experience: backed by a mountain the garden is dominated by its neatly maintained lawn. There are a few shrubs: the experience is one of ‘grass’, nature manicured and controlled. The executive house and its garden represent alienated territory that has been taken over and claimed by an occupying power.

    ‘Parasite’ is sold on the billboards as a movie about inequality and class. But this is not the core idea of the film. The core idea of Gong’s movie is the claim on life, made by dispossessed forces, those vanquished primal forces representing the elements of the Korean earth and the unconscious mind. The family who take possession of the house are as earth spirits, earth daemons, agents summoned from an underworld of submerged psyches, activated to re-possess that which has been sequestrated.

    There is a class/inequality dimension in Bong’s scenario. But this overlays his energising perception that his protagonists are executing a kind of shamanistic repossession. An idea that in another form grounded his film ‘Mother’. Gong’s perception sees into the consequences of industrialisation for Koreans. They are a people torn up from their roots, their psyche’s grafted onto the industrial engine of capitalist business interests.

    Early in the film, the son of the de-territorialised family comes into possession of a large stone torn out of the ground whose possession is said to bring prosperity.  The idea of something buried, inanimate, arising out of the earth, that has an animating property, exerts its influence over the film’s parallel subterranean presences. For under the house there is a trapped subterranean spirit-being. Atrapped living man who exists to haunt and finally destroy the life of the occupants. And in one sense ‘Parasite’ is a account of how one subterranean spirit is replaced by another as a sort of domestic earth bound incubus.

    The occupying family are agents of chaos. They are let loose to avenge negligence and destroy the corruption of wealth. For one moment in time to overturn the occupying power and reclaim what is theirs turning the placid grass of the lawn into a sacrificial killing ground. What is theirs is theirs. The final act reminiscent of the opening of Fraser’s Golden Bough, sees that one underground presence is replaced by another, one priest of Nemi replaced by another.

    The film’s construction, comprising long held takes comprising many medium and long shots mainly from a mounted camera allows the viewer to see into the frame and absorb the elements of the picture.  The viewer has to read into the frame. In this respect Gong’s film is characterised by restraint understatement and humour. This is not in yer face bucolic high jinx with the ancient ones, as represented by over-the-top films such as Midsommar and some British box office offerings. His settings and his playing out of the characters are all held in low key, allowing the dramatic crescendo to build up and climax in the final blood bath.

    adrin neatrour






  • Jojo Rabbit   Taike Waititi (USA; 2019)

    Jojo Rabbit   Taike Waititi (USA; 2019) Roman Davis, Scarlette Johanson, Thomasin McKenzie

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 29 Jan 2020; ticket: £10.75

    Mock Hitler Soup

    Taike Waititi’s Jojo rabbit re-imagines Nazi German as an idyll set in a Californian suburb. Even the corpses we see hanging from the gibbet in the town’s market square ( one of which is Jojo’s mother) look decorously pendant as if they were waiting for a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Like Spielberg before him Waititi confirms the ability of the suburban imagination to absorb anything the world might throw at it.

    Spielberg’s films are all consuming monsters that can swallow up any genre or situation and regurgitate them in a form that fits into the straight tree lined streets, the manicured lawns, screen doors and mild eccentricities of American suburbia, a la Fernando Valley.

    With ET one of the biggest grossing movies of the 20th century, Spielberg expanded the ambition of the suburban ethos so that it swallowed up the sci fi genre. Cute, boxed and branded like a breakfast cereal, ET neutralised the critical and disturbing aspects of its sci-fi heritage.   The idea of developing the genre to serve as either a warning to or a critical perception of the American way of life was inverted in ET. The sci-fi genre in Spielberg’s hands becomes a validation of middle American values, of individualism in particular. He does for ‘80’s America what Frank Capra had done with his 30’s and 40’s movies: legitimising American values despite the evidence that in many ways they were no more than a chimera.

    And, Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit does for the Nazi’s what ET did for Sci-fi. His film like some strange acid dissolves the Nazis in the comfort bath of the suburban ethos. It uses one of Spielberg’s favourite notions, the imaginary friend, to present a substantiation of Hitler in a mock humorous key. Like ET, Hitler has his otherness neutered and assumed into the middle America psyche.   If burlesque mimicry is the cheapest form of humour, then this stage Hitler parody, amounts to a marked down comic stock.  

    And the audiences: ‘like’. Cheap degraded laughs like cheap degraded food is easy to swallow. Iannucci’s ‘Death of Stalin’ pulled off a similar stunt. Both Hitler and Nazism with its obsessive mandatory rituals, are remote from the experience of most consumers of media; hence both are safe easy targets to exploit as a send up. Most of today’s viewers have only a vague awareness of the events in Europe in the middle of the last century; for the most part, unless you are Jewish or Roma, familiarity is almost at the level of a folk story, a de-intensified memory of history. People have little knowledge and no experience of the actual situation in Germany of the 30’s and 40’s. So both Hitler and Nazism can be targets of an eidetic parody in which their murderous brutality as content can be extracted and separated out from their visual image, leaving behind an empty form that can be played out as a comic device comprising gags, mild eccentricity manic behaviour and of course, innocence.  

    The aggressive fervour with which Waititi’s scenario plays with anachronistic effects, such as the sound track’s use of a range of pop music (the Beetles) heavy metal and jazz, lends a contemporary allure to some of the sequences, all that is missing is a home delivery company called Ubermensch.   And when the Hitler Jugend engage in a bit of book burning, it looks like it might be a fun thing to do. At this point you might pause to wonder if the film is suggesting its theme might be an analogy for Trump’s America. But there is not enough parellism of effect to extrapolate this purpose fromWaititi’s direction.   The anachronism’s, the ‘cool’ language the contemporary jokes are all part of a calculated affect: to soak the material for maximum laughs and extract a sentimental politically correct morality tale out of the situation. It would have been a film made with a different intent if Jojo had had Donald Trump as his imaginary friend.

    At the core of Waititi’s script there is something rotten and dishonest. The death of Rosie Jojo’s mother has an abstracted exploitative quality which is unsurprising given that the parodic goof-ball form of ‘Jojo Rabbit’ generates relationships based on the scripted directions to actors, not on the creation and exhibition of affect. There is a moment when in front of Gestapo police, Klenzendorf (the buffoon character) discovers that Elsa ( the Jewish hideaway) is not Jojo’s sister. Instead of denouncing her he conceals this knowledge from the Gestapo goons.  The script renders Klenzendorf ‘s behaviour as that of a friendly eccentric Californian suburbanite; but members of the Wehrmacht weren’t like eccentric suburban neighbours. This scripted response of Klenzendorf is simply part of the normalisation the film promotes: sadists are really in their hearts just nice guys.

    Iannucci’s Death of Stalin and Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit are both exercises in transposing.  Iannucci’s movie transposes the machinations of Stalin’s court to the setting of luvable London gangsters. Waititi, transposes Hitler’s Germany to the American Suburbs.

    This shifting of time and space works as a device for exploiting humour and cheap laughs, extending the Mel Brook’s Springtime for Hitler routine into a whole feature. The question is how long before Mao Zedong becomes the next subject for a Whacky Commie Movie? 

    And anyone for al-Baghdadi the wicked caliph?

    adrin neatrour








  • The Red Shoes   Powell and Pressburger (UK; 1948)

    The Red Shoes   Powell and Pressburger (UK; 1948) Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema   16 Jan 2020; ticket: £7

    What is this thing called ‘Dance’…?

    Powell and Pressburger made a series of films, ‘Black Narcissus’, ‘I know where I am going’ and ‘The Red Shoes’, in which the key characters are all women. The governing concept of all these films was the absorption of the principal female characters into a mythic type structure. Powell and Pressburger’s protagonists are set into situations where their individual purposes and desires are overwhelmed, they have understand how to live with the unleashed judgement of cosmic forces over which they have no control.

    What is radical in their female protagonists is that they are protagonists: the characters are not stereotypical women’s parts made up of types: wife, betrayed woman, mother, revengeful lover etc.   They are women abroad in the world on their own terms.

    And the worlds into which they’re released, are outside the genre conventions of Hollywood. They are arcane worlds created by Powell and Pressburger, worlds without rules in which the women have to seek out their own destinies, where as the protagonists they must understand and come to terms with the forces set against them and determine their own fates.

    The nuns in ‘Black Narcissus’ with their sense of order and duty, are overwhelmed by the latent sensuality of their new home embedded in and expressed by the films powerful colourisation of the world they have come to help.   Understanding they are unequal to this psychic challenge they retreat. Joan, the protagonist in ‘I know where I am going’, prevented by the sea from crossing the narrow strip of water to the island where her wealthy husband-to-be waits to marry her, experiences the limits to her individuated will. The sea, the rocky promontories and the wisdom of the islanders finally permeate her psychic response; she understands that she must take on a new way of seeing her situation which incorporates the historical and mythical elements that shape the people and their environment. In ‘The Red Shoes’, Moira Shearer, as Vicky, with her flaming red hair, embraces dance as possession; she embraces the mythic death that has already been mapped out for her as she dances her role in the eponymous ballet piece for which she becomes famous. Her death, is her choosing of dance as an intensity beyond the claims made upon her by men. It is a fable of the power and danger of possession; but it is also an affirmation of a life, of a possibility of a realm beyond life which can be realised in dance. The dance dream sequence of the Red Shoes ballet is not just a spectacle it is an affirmation of a shamanistic belief in the capacity of dance to carry the dancer beyond herself.  

    Although dance fantasy sequences, in particular those directed by Busby Berkeley, were staple Hollywood fare in the 1930’s, these were normally presented as erotically charged assemblages using a mass of dancers, mostly women, to create a mechanical expressive machine, responding to and giving visual pulse to the score. Astaire and Rogers personalised dance, making their own unique claim on cinematic movement but the presentation of their dance remained located in ‘the world’ set up in the script, however surreal that world might me, such as the wings of an aircraft. Notable also is that these big number dance sequences of 1930’s vintage were all placed at the end of the movie, so that the films are ultimately defined dance in terms of spectacle.

    What is interesting about The Red Shoes’ dance sequence is that it comes more or less in the middle of the film.  There is a reason for this. The sequence is an intrinsic part of the film’s plot and is so placed as a critical juncture in Vicky’s life. It represents Vicky’s psychic absorption into the dance. Her dance is spectacular but it also represents her experience as a dancer possessed, an experience that lives on in her and is a vision that carries her through the rest of the film. In this sense this outstandingly choreographed dance sequence has a psychic reality: it is not a fantasia. The sections after this sequence show Vicky’s integration of her dance into her being.

    Powell and Pressburger in the Red Shoes (with the sublime help of of Jack Cardiff’s cinematography) turn Vicky’s dance into her complete freedom to move through worlds. Dance is passage from one world to another; ‘dance’ as a kind of worm hole, connecting distant worlds. The dancer becomes shaman, in one movement able to span universes in hallucinogenic flight. Moira Shearer in ‘The Red Shoes’ sequence, traverses multiple experiential situations that close in around her like a dream before the impulse and impetus of the dance enable her to cut through each successive dream barrier onwards finally reaching her own final death sequence. “Dance is no longer simply movement of world, but passage from one world to another, entry into another world, breaking in and exploring”. (Deleuze – Cinema 2 p.63). Dance becomes for Vicky a magico-religious rite, an opening of the doors of perception; such a rite of course incorporates death into its realisations.

    Minnelli and Kelly must have looked carefully at ‘The Red Shoes’ structure before creating the scenario of ‘ An American in Paris’ . But these directors adopted Hollywood’s imperative of ‘spectacle’ before meaning, and so placed the ravishing Gershwin scored choreography at the end of the movie. The dance is beautiful but not transcendental, rather it is a full stop, leading us no further towards an internality of vision. It not the charged psychic resonator that carries Vicky foreword into life into death.

    adrin neatrour