14 July 2006

Friday Morning: Dual Roles, Karen Black, Visionary Trannies, Middle-Class Malaise, and Tinto Brass' Love of Ass

Here's a rundown of a couple of films I watched in between posting my four-part 100th blog. Each of these films have been released on DVD within the past few weeks.

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (
Warum läuft Herr R. Amok?) - dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Fengler - 1970 - West Germany

Similarly to Nicolas Roeg’s
Walkabout, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? falls under the category of films that you essentially “get” more than half-way through. But in a good way. You find yourself sitting through most Todd Solondz's films saying the same things (well, in the case of Palindromes, you probably realize there’s nothing to “get”), but it’s much different when it comes to this film. It’s most similar to Katzelmacher, where we receive single-takes of long scenes that seem to go on longer than our comfort level would allow. Specific scenes like one where Kurt Raab tries to find a record of a song he heard briefly on the radio play like Curb Your "Begeisterung" in its awkward hilarity. The girls at the record store laugh at Raab, just as we do. When the film comes to its climax, we are not greeted with a worthy tension-release as in films like Breillat’s Fat Girl; instead it climaxes with a huge dud. The dud, though, completely works, as even in Raab’s escape we find him to be utterly pathetic. There’s also a strange relief and optimism in our pessimistic final twist, as you almost want to applaud the tragic Raab for doing what we all could have subconsciously wanted to do. Also see: Michael Haneke's The Seventh Continent.

Tiresia - dir. Bertrand Bonnello - 2003 - France/Canada

Based on a Greek myth about a person both man and woman at the same time, Bertrand Bonnello’s new film presents us with a man (Laurent Lucas) who kidnaps a transsexual prostitute named Tiresia (Clara Choveaux), holding her captive in his cellar. As time passes, Tiresia begins to transform back into a man, as she’s not able to take her hormones. I don’t like to give away much about films when I write about them, but like the majestic Tropical Malady, Tiresia completely changes its form about an hour in. After being left for dead and blinded, Tiresia (now played by Thiago Telès) develops a clairvoyance, seeing events in the future and cautioning those he sees in his visions. A friend of mine called Bonnello’s first feature, Le pornographe, a disaster, remarking that his use of hardcore sex during one scene was simply a way to get more people to see a bland film about a son trying to reconnect with his father. I didn’t dislike it as much, but it left very little imprint in my memory. Tiresia, though dark in theme, works as a mood piece about faith instead of addressing really any issue of gender. It’s certainly a film that most audiences would easily reject, yet it’s almost easier to just allow Bonnello to take you where he wants you to go. Tiresia plays by its own rules and that alone is commendable. It also helps that Bonnello accomplishes a haunting mood and atmosphere, even if it's not easily discernable what he’s doing or where he’s going.

Cheeky! (Tra(nsgre)dire) - dir. Tinto Brass - 2000 - Italy

Tinto Brass still makes films as if it were the 1970s. We open
Cheeky! with our heroine, Carla (Yuliya Mayarchuk), strolling through a London park like Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can’t Help It to an amusingly high-cheese score, where it just so happens everyone around her is engaging in lusty sex. Everywhere she turns, there’s a woman uncrossing her legs to reveal she forgot to put her panties in the laundry that morning. Or there’s a couple in heat, appeasing one another’s sexual urges. Of course, Carla, looking like an Eastern-European streetwalker dressed up as Brigitte Bardot, joins in on the fun, wearing a see-through skirt and exposing her buttocks to passer-byers. There’s a story that follows involving Carla’s tight-ass boyfriend and her search for an apartment, but really this is only an excuse to introduce Carla to as many sexual partners as possible or place her in a situation where others are about to bang. The playfulness of Cheeky!’s sexuality is admirable and refreshing, even if the film is simply pretext for close-ups of Mayarchuk’s ass and sexual experimentation.

Firecracker - dir. Steve Balderson - 2004 - USA

I saw this horrible film a couple of months ago called Stillwater, a thriller about a man's search for his past that made my student films look like Antonioni, and remarked, "if you're going to be fucking Lynchian, at least throw in some dancing midgets." Though I only stated that in my Netflix "Two Cents," I'm convinced Steve Balderson saw that remark and one-upped me. If he was to be Lynchian, he was gunna give me a midget with pasties on. God bless him for that, but fuck him for everything else. He tried so hard to make this film look like he was the heir apparent to Lynch that he actually tried to get Dennis Hopper to play a character named Frank (Hopper backed out, thankfully). Set in Kansas, Firecracker is about an abusive brother (Mike Patton, of Faith No More) who pesters the shit out of his pussy, piano-playing kid brother (Jak Kendall) against his mother's (Karen Black!!) wishes and ends up dead. Somehow this is all linked to a travelling carnival, where he is having an affair with the main attraction of a girlie show (Karen Black!!! again). It's a terrible fucking mess, shot in both black and white and color (a huge pet peeve of mine) and filled with a plethora of blank references to Lynch. Balderson's first feature, called Pep Squad, was equally messy and just as unsuccessfuly lofty in ambition, a black comedy slasher film that eventually turned into a ridiculous indictment of America. He couldn't direct "actors" then, and, even with top talent like Karen Black (!!!!), he still can't. Even on the grounds of seeing Ms. Black play dual roles, one of them a character obviously written for a woman twenty years younger, I cannot allow you to satisfy this curiosity. (Note: Balderson couldn't and didn't read my remarks about Stillwater, as Firecracker was made a year before Stillwater, not that I really needed to clarify this or anything...)

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