Friday, January 24, 2020

The Naked Fog (Joseph W. Sarno, 1966)

Reportedly last screened in 1966, Joseph W. Sarno's The Naked Fog, shown over the weekend in Anthology Film Archives' Beyond Cassavetes: Lost Legends Of The New York Film World (1945-70) series, epitomizes that point in sexploitation's history when, as outlined by Elena Gorfinkel in her essential book Lewd Looks: American Sexploitation Cinema in the 1960s, directors took advantage of looser censorship laws and became as concerned with showing boobs than telling a story. Fortunately for someone like me who doesn't treat narrative as an automatic virtue, such spectacularization makes for a fascinating watch.

Early in the film, Marge (Sarno regular Tammy Latour), a typical Sarnoian prude, goes to a party with her boyfriend and it turns out to be an orgy. For about ten minutes (or so it seems), she stands in the doorway appalled at all the couplings and nudity. She finishes her drink and can no longer even nurse it in an attempt to avoid sexual contact. It all becomes too much for her and she eventually runs out. The story, such that is, gets under way here. But it will halt on a regular basis for acres of boobage. 

What strikes me about The Naked Fog (and much of Sarno' filmography in general) is that nudity is far from the only thing that stalls the narrative. Immediately after the orgy, Marge's voice over reveals that she took what little money she had and stayed with family in Long Island. But instead of finding a job (or even interacting with said family), she is shown aimlessly strolling on the beach and alongside waterways. Sarno displays her doing this a lot. These moments come across to me as one instantiation of what Betty Friedan called in The Feminine Mystique (1963) "The Problem That Has No Name," that ineffable sense of longing on the part of middle-class housewives for something more useful and meaningful in their lives. And while Marge is not a housewife and the one mother in the film (a madame Marge is observing for an exposé on prostitution) is rendered evil by trying to get Marge to deflower her infantilized adult son, she embodies the signs of that unspecified problem Friedan detected in the women she interviewed: "Their voices were dull and flat, or nervous and jittery; they were listless and bored, or frantically 'busy' around the house or community."

Sarno shows even minor characters ever lounging. At the bar/cathouse where Marge has taken up residency, the prostitutes play cards, smoke cigarettes, and sit around in bra and panties before the bar is open. No one really does anything in this naked fog of spray-stiffed hair and eyeliner Cleopatraed out to the walls. For the characters, this is a life of itches they cannot scratch. But for the discerning viewers at Anthology (and perhaps the masturbating ones uptown on 42nd St. 50 years ago), The Naked Fog is a sybaritic delight.

Actress and Sarno's wife Peggy Steffans was in attendance. 

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Sunday, January 05, 2020

I knew who Alice Guy-Blaché (the first woman film director, for most intents and purposes) was when I was a little kid. She's mentioned in Scream Queens: Heroines of the Horrors by Calvin Thomas Beck, a cheap, popular-press book I received for Christmas when I was eight years old. So it surprises me that many scholars interviewed in the fine documentary Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (Pamela B. Green, 2018) claim to have never heard of her. For sure, the film concerns the historical (i.e., sexist) processes that have rendered her far more obscure than Méliès or the Lumières. But am I jerk to assume scholars should know full well who she was? Anyhoo, the film is part investigative journalism, part just-plain-useful history, and captivating all throughout. A must-see portrait of one of the key innovators of cinema.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Best Films of the Teens

1. This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi, 2011)
2. Autumn (Nathaniel Dorsky, 2016)
3. Un couteau dans le coeur (Knife + Heart) (Yann Gonzalez, 2018)
4. For the Plasma (Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan, 2014)
5. Sleep Has Her House (Scott Barley, 2017)
6. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)
7. Wishing Well (Sylvia Schedelbauer, 2018)
8. Nightlife (Cyprien Gaillard, 2015)
9. Margaret (186-minute version, Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)
10. Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2016)

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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Best Films of 2019

Best Films of 2019

10. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
Yes, Scorsese is still obsessed with goodfellas, wise guys, and tough nuts. The intractable machismo is still suffocating. The narrative trajectory is still Oedipal. But. Women do talk in this film, contrary to some of the negative reviews. In fact, in the last hour or so, they turn the film, if not Scorsese’s entire oeuvre, on its head. What, finally, has all this macho posturing been about, the last hour asks, especially if it ropes you off from those you love the most, and it’s quite possibly Scorsese‘s most moving work ever. I was fighting back tears all the way up until the soon-to-be-classic final shot.

9. Climax (Gaspar Noé) 
Stupid, obnoxious, juvenile, unrelenting, and great! If you don't like this film, then you're no rock 'n' roll fun. 

8. Uncut Gems (The Safdie Brothers)
A thoroughly exhausting film, starting at 10, shifting down to 8 or 9 about halfway through, and then revving up to 11 if not beyond in its nail-biting last half hour. Adam Sandler's superb performance brings to mind Divine's in Female Trouble (John Waters, 1974) in that it's an extended aria (to borrow Jonanthan Rosenbaum's words, I think), a suffocating series of fuck ups. No spoilers but even though you should be able to see the end coming from leagues away, it's no less shocking. All this and another slimy, neon-soaked score by Daniel Lopatin. One of the best films ever made about toxic masculinity (what do these guys want?!?). I've never been so excited about the outcome of a sportsball game in my life! 

7. The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)
Hogg's film keeps you abuzz and relaxed like the best art films. Your mind is working to make sure you haven't missed any narrative information. But the overall languor lowers the blood pressure. It's all about the interstices of a relationship, not to get at The truth but simply, A truth. Pungently observed and transfixing throughout. I'm baffled at all the hate I've read. It's a challenging film but no more so than the art film norm. How did the haters wind up watching it in the first place? And perversely, a sequel is coming albeit sadly without Robert Pattinson.

6. Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa) 
The moment the end credits appeared, a sense of longing washed over me, the feeling of wanting time spent with loved ones to continue. More here.

5. Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello)
Before exegesis, there is observation. More here

4. Show & Tell: Josh B. Mabe
Mabe himself may not believe it. But Anthology Film Archives' retrospective of his work proves he's a major filmmaker. Ranging from one to thirty-seven minutes and mostly silent, Mabe's films evoke Brakhage's Arabics in that you cannot possibly imagine the profilmic event. Color-field oblivions alternately terrify and lull you. Light stretches objects like so much taffy. Etudes and leader collapse into one another. I was lifted. 

3. Liberté (Albert Serra) 
My favorite film at NYFF 57, Albert Serra's Liberté recalls my favorite film of the century, Jacques Nolot's La chatte à deux têtes (aka Porn Theatre, 2002). Based on a play Serra mounted for a controversial performance at Berlin's Volksbühne last year (according to an Artforum review by Dennis Lim, patrons shouted “Louder!” and “Some acting please!”), Liberté's central presentational mode is cruising: a dozen of so 18th-century libertines roam a German forest at night and engage in a variety of polymorphously perverse acts with one another. More here

2. Empire (Andy Warhol et al., 1965) at the Whitney
Saturday, January 12 at 1 p.m., the Whitney Museum of American Art, in conjunction with their Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again exhibit, showed Warhol's silent Empire at 16fps making for a screening of eight hours and five minutes. It was one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my life. More here

1. Un couteau dans le coeur (Knife + Heart) (Yann Gonzalez) 
Un couteau dans le coeur is one of those impossible things - a great slasher film AND a film with a great ending. In fact, it may be the greatest slasher film ever made (unless something like Psycho counts). The most moving of its many, many fine qualities is a compassion for secondary characters (and not just the murder victims). This is a film that shows care for a group of people even though the main character (Vanessa Paradis!) has individual goals of her own. Despite never stinting on seedy sex and violence, Gonzalez infuses every moment with hope and warmth, not nihilism and misanthropy, the slasher/giallo’s default mode. And then the ending...gawd, I’m choking up now just thinking of it. Poetic, dreamy, inviting, astonishing, an absolute stunner from frame one to frame last. 

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Monday, November 25, 2019

Unknown house megamix c. 1990

I finally have the capacity to transfer audio cassettes to mp3s. And my first project is this unknown megamix most likely from 1990 given the preponderance of hits from that year in the mix. I taped it from a friend's vinyl copy and don't recall anything about the label or disc itself except that it looked like a white label bootleg. I definitely don't recall if a DJ's name appeared anywhere on the package. It's an incredible megamix I've listened to dozens of times, still intimate with its every turn. One thing I've always wanted to know, though, is the name of the raw track that starts at 4:40 immediately after a sample of Public Enemy's "Bring that beat back!" and plays under the vocal from Black Riot: "Just Make That Move." What is it?!?!?!?

Also, as the "Just Make That Move" vocal continues, that beat cuts to another beat at 4:56 that I DO know but cannot place. "Ba. Ba da-dum dum dum-dum." And if I remember correctly, a male vocalist sings along to the beat in the original track. Help?

Here's a Dropbox link to the mix.

Warning: The sound quality is rough but perfectly listenable.

And here are the tracks/samples I've been able to identify to coax more info from the interwebs about this megamix. 

Logic: "The Warning"
"The music just turns me on" from Mike Dread: "Industrial Spy"
Black Box: "Everybody Everybody"
2 in a Room: "Wiggle It"
Madonna: "Vogue"
Masters at Work: "The Ha Dance"
Mellow Man Ace: "Mentirosa"
Peech Boys: "Don't Make Me Wait"
Concept of One featuring Tony Moran: "Dance With Me"
Royal House: "Can You Party"
Liz Torres: "If U Keep It Up"
The It: "Donnie"
Technotronic: "Pump Up the Jam"
Vision Masters and Tony King featuring Kylie Minogue: "Keep On Pumpin' It Up"
Jay Williams: "Sweat"
Adventures of Stevie V.: "Dirty Cash"
Lil Louis: "French Kiss"
Black Riot: "Just Make That Move"
Deee-Lite: "What is Love?"
Black Riot: "Just Make That Move" 
"Bring that beat back!" from Public Enemy: "Rebel Without a Pause"
Black Riot: "Just Make That Move" 
Corina: "Loving You Like Crazy (The Todd Mix)"
Royal House: "Can You Party" 
Black Box: "Ride on Time"
Royal House: "I Can't Quite Understand"
Coro: "Can't Let You Go"
2 in a Room: "Take Me Away"
Royal House: "Can You Party" 
Sinnamon: "I Need You Now"
Ram Jam: "Black Betty"
Total Madness: "The Sounds in the Air"
A Guy Called Gerald: "Voodoo Ray"
Orbit: "The Beat Goes On" (I think)
New Order: "World in Motion"
Tony Toni Toné: "It Feels Good"
Mr. Lee: "Pump That Body"
Queen Latifah: "Come Into My House"
Fingers Inc. featuring Chuck Roberts: "My House (a cappella)" 
Dopestyle: "I'll Bass You"
"Bass!" from Public Enemy: "Bring the Noise"
Sinnamon: "I Need You Now"




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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer et al., 2018)

I went in expecting heterowashing and was roundly gifted with exactly that. Instead of getting grumpy, though, I focused on Mercury's unrelenting fabulosity and had a grand time. It was a high simply witnessing Mercury flit in and out of scenes with a "dahling" or "sweetheart." And has anyone noticed how much he sounds like Tallulah Bankhead?!? Best scene (whether true or not): forcing Roger Taylor to do ever-higher Galileos during the recording of the title song. Best effect: a deep dive into Queen's music since, gosh, my teens. People, "Death on Two Legs" and, especially, "The Prophet's Song" are as jaw-dropping as "Bohemian Rhapsody" (and they're off the same album)! And like "1999" and "Rock the Casbah," "Killer Queen" is a song I thought I knew inside out but I now hear as a goddamn masterpiece!

Song to Song (Terence Malick, 2017)

I find it difficult to resist films as obnoxious as Song to Song (Terence Malick, 2017). As always, I have my form/content problems with Malick. On one level, it’s a repulsive orgy of access and privilege. But on another, it can’t pay attention to its rich, white, beautiful, self-absorbed characters for more than a few seconds at a time. So the film is all drift and discontinuity and movement including a clip from Von Stroheim’s Greed and not one but two (2!) Plasmatics songs! To quote I forget who, this is the work of a free man. What’s not to love?

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Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda, 2017)

You know how writers can get clunky and expositional with introducing information about a character's past? Now imagine 98 minutes (980 minutes in psychological time) of that because the near-future concept calls for it! Argh! And Almereyda does little to ventilate the play on which the film is based. Maybe a miscalculated fusion of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Interiors will lead to Oscar glory (the performances *are* uniformly fine). But it gave me a welcome view of the inside of my eyelids. 

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Wednesday, October 09, 2019

New York Film Festival 57 Screenings 4

Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello)
Before exegesis, there is observation. Or, rather, there should be observation. Not only my students and select family members but critics and scholars want to jump to that second-order reality of attaching meaning to a work of art before appreciating or even perceiving the first-order reality of observing (never disinterested or free of power differentials) the qualities of a thing. So many of the reviewers of Bertrand Bonello's new film Zombi Child trip over themselves trying to delineate what the film means. Of course, it's a disquisition on colonialism and the nature of historical memory. An early appearance by historian Patrick Boucheron, essentially playing himself, makes that clear. But can we just take a step back and observe?

Zombi Child recounts the maybe-true story of Clairvius Narcisse (Mackenson Bijou), a Haitian man who died in 1962 only to be disinterred and rendered a zombified slave via regular doses of tetrodotoxin, the somnabulating venom in pufferfish, and Datura, a poisonous species of plants. After his master's death and thus the cessation of dosing, Narcisse regained human consciousness and returned to his family years later, dying again in 1994.

Bonello alternates this tale with present-day scenes at the Maison d’Education of the Legion of Honor in Saint-Denis, "a state school intended for the daughters, grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters of French and foreign recipients of the Legion of Honor, the Military Medal, and the National Order of Merit"* founded by Napoleon around the time Haiti achieved independence in 1804. We come to learn that Narcisse's granddaughter Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat) attends the school and must contend with the rituals promising acceptance from a group of cool girls.

The most remarkable aspect of Zombi Child is how Bonello approaches these latter scenes with just as much ethnographic fascination as the Narcisse story. For Haitian audiences and, indeed, anyone not of such lofty birthright, the traditions and practices at the Maison d’Education are foreign, not some hegemonic balcony from which to observe. Just as bizarre as any of the zombie folklore is an apparently real routine (according to Bonello at the Q & A) in which a group of students all lean back together as if to say "whoa!" in the presence of a high Maison official. And, as always with Bonello, the routine is conveyed through the musical - Voudou drumming, a rendition of "Silent Night," a school report on Rihanna, the Haitian blues rock of Moonlight Benjamin, French rappers Damso and Kalash, and Gerry & The Pacemakers' overripe but now, thanks to Bonello, devastating take on "You'll Never Walk Alone" which, I've just discovered, is the theme song for the Liverpool Football Club (talk about foreign rituals!).

What does it all mean? We'll get to that. But first, let's connect with this absolutely exquisite film.
Grade: A
*Quoted from the press kit. 

 

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