Friday, July 4, 2008

shake me up, you cagey filmworld bastards!

There's a lot to be psyched about.

There's been so much great art and trash and art trash seething forth out there, I'm just lost in the timing of it. While I don't necessarily mind rags concerned with being timely and caught up in pop culture movements (Pitchforkmedia) I feel more at home in the random, Wheel-Of-Fish style content presented in The Onion A.V. Club (you owe it to yourself to check out their Films That Time Forgot or Commentary Tracks of the Damned features).

I just finished reading an A.V. Club article on the Funny Games remake and an interview with star Naomi Watts. After seeing the original recently, I've become fascinated with seeing this. Everyone writing about this film seems to be sparring with arch nature of the director (Michael Haneke) both evident in his interviews and his work. He and his films are pretentious and there could be silly, theatrical reasons why he's chosen to remake his own film (apparently it's shot-for-shot). I, for one, am more interested in the experimental, for the love of one's work side of it.

While it can be damningly soporific, the original Funny Games (1997) has a film style that is nothing if not bracing static (Haneke’s Cache did actually make me pass out, incidentally) . Due to the commitment to realism from the actors (actress Sunsanne Lothar’s performance – mostly in facial expressions and body language -- as Anna takes you to some pretty harrowing places) a remake would be fantastic just to see strong actors (Tim Roth, Naomi Watts) getting some healthy, hearty exercise. Michael Pitt, through the trailer shows me something less intriguing than what the actor displayed in Last Days. I’m not saying he’s gonna be bad, but at first glance he’s not as effectvely unnerving as the original actor (Arno Fisch). Maybe with the spazzcore, blast-beat soundtrack (John Zorn, from his Grand Guginol LP with The Naked City Orchestra) he’s better?


Yes he is. And he also shows admirable commitment to form, but lacks the sunken, skeletal blankness of Fisch. Playing dazed, aloof and reclusive suited Pitt fine in Last Days, but here he's less than ideal. The actor playing Tubby is fairly reminiscent of the previous guy. Watts and Roth are amazing (both have an intuitively adept leg up with daunting, ugly situations played out in real time). But did this need to be done? My question is -- just why is everybody asking this question? Why am I? If you aren't moved enough by this film to get beyond the context, then there's really no point wasting time and energy writing it up. This is a powerful experiment in terror (i know it's a tagline cliche, but it's truly applicable here. It's like Haneke is saying -- hows about we let this horror sink in a bit? Part of what's immensely gripping about both versions of this film is the stark depiction of human frailty and the oppressive and regressive ways it manifests itself in the most extreme of predator/prey scenarios.

I found it to be just as engrossing the second time around. Watts has this impeccably immersive approach to acting that made even the awshucks-style character of Betty in Mulholland Dr. (2001) seem somehow grounded. Roth, who's been a little less blessed with good roles (though one need only see his film, The War Zone (1999), to see how far into absolute bleakness he is willing to go), really comes through with a jilting performance one of the rawest displays of middle-aged humility commited to film. I think the best way to look at Haneke re-doing Haneke -- no matter what the guy might say -- is as though it's a stirring, taut play with a revolving cast. It's ugly, it's merciless, but it's gorgeous. It feels more inspiring to me as a refreshing genre exercise than any satirical statement or societal critique. To me, Haneke's making a bid for film makers working with a potentially potent genre to make better use of the basic ingredients of fear in us all that never truly becomes desensitized. I was shocked and horrified by this story, and I'm okay with that.

But people have certainly gotten caught up with shock movies and I’ve fallen prey to it myself. After sitting through (i don't quite know how I manage it) something like I Spit On Your Grave (1978) or Last House On The Left (1972), I'm frequently left with that big empty WHAT WAS THE FUCKING POINT feeling. Irreversible (2002) prompted me to write a seething, admittedly overzealous, diatribe against it. There’s something just so despicable about a film with no ideas other than to show you something truly foul. I can’t say I’ve stopped subjecting myself to these kinds of flicks. Fulci treads a pretty thin line -- or perhaps he’s just another hacky but died-in-the-wool horror director who wants to have his cake and eat it too. I recall reading Steven Soderbergh had suggested that all films are exploitative. Sometimes you forget that for many people who’ve lived a good chunk of their lives through a ravenous home video coma (see: yours truly) are actually, subliminally letting these movies subtly tell them how to live (more on this later!). This is what makes action and horror, for better and worse, the most crassly exploitative of film genres. The worst examples of this (Cruising, Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, Magnum Force) are always best avoided at all costs. I only saw the first twenty-some minutes of Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and that was enough, thanks. I’d rather watch (blahrf) Sleepaway Camp (1983) again. So why, exactly, am I going to watch N.Y. Ripper (1982)? What purpose is this piece of shit going serve me?? At least Funny Games had the decency to be a structurally compelling (the unique framing, minimal editing and roomy sound and lighting more than anything else) as it is revolting. From what I’ve gathered, this is some of Lucio Fulci’s most heinous, hamfistedly-put-some-doo-doo-in-yr-soul, work. On with the train-wreck, then.


Bleccch! Phooey! Bluh-kowee! Nyueck! (I hate myself)


Best Disturbing Films:

Night and Fog (1955)

Fog of War (2003)

Blood of the Beasts (1949)

Naked (1993)

Crash (1996)

Naked Lunch (1991)

Straw Dogs (1971)

Fire Walk With Me (1992)

What Happened Was… (1994)

A Woman Under The Influence (1974)

Ichi The Killer (2001)

Bring Me The Head of Alfred Garcia (1974)

Bad Timing (1980)

Runners up: Baby of Macon, The Doom Generation, Bad Leuitenant, Happiness, Requiem for a Dream.

And the worst I've more or less covered. I gotta say, though they're disturbing in the most unimaginably nauseating ways, mst'ers like Manos: The Hands of Fate, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies, Skydivers and Girl in Gold Boots -- for starters -- are all bizarrely immersive in their own right.

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