Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Make Mine Miike

After catching up with The Happiness of the Katakuris I feel I have a good handle on Takashi Miike, and even if I suspect he's going to rarely make films I love, I've definitely come around from my position on him from, say, a year ago.

The way I see it, the horror of Audition is part and parcel with the glee of a film like Katakuris, in that Miike's cinema is essentially an affirmation of life: lived life, a sensuous process rather than a concept. And I think only someone intimately comfortable with depictions of death and abjection could pull off the affirmative ending of this genre-bender. I really need to revisit Audition now, but I wonder if a lot of its impact (and I don't deny it has a certain special impact, even if I didn't like the film when I saw it several years ago) has less to do with the avenues horror films usually take, and more with the sort of oblique Miikean closeness to the fragility and transience of happiness, to have one's "dream" attack one mercilessly. (To resurrect a line of thought from a little while back: in a way very different from Romero, Miike too seems to be a fine posthumanist, something echoed by the little girl's narration at the end of this film when she asserts without terror or grief that humans will sooner or later fall victim to natural selection.) In The Happiness of the Katakuris (as with Dead or Alive 2) the characters learn to live with their violent demons, both figurative and literal, and achieve a certain transcendence while negotiating their way through the imperfect, beautiful, demon-filled immanent world. The ambiguous appearances of heavenly existence (or non-existence?) in Katakuris and Dead or Alive 2 makes for an interesting path to go down, but I'm not well-versed enough in the spiritual philosophies that might influence and inspire Miike to comment much on this.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Turning Back Time

I sometimes wonder what I would have studied as an undergrad if I had to go back in time and could not pursue cinema studies or art history. I might have gone with the social sciences: anthropology or sociology. I may have done English, but then again, that seems so ... typical. Pass on that. If I definitely went to NYU and couldn't do film studies, I certainly would have wanted to end up in Gallatin to individualize my major.

But more and more I think that history would have been a wise choice. What era? Too many to choose from. What part of the world? Same thing. But to synthesize the tedious research into something big and meaningful, that's one kind of work I'd find rewarding, and there's a certain escapist pleasure to studying history that, of course, can be easily rooted back into serving and understanding the immanent, material world. Anyway if someone gave me a bunch of money and told me I had to somehow pursue graduate work in history, here would be broad areas I would consider:

1) Christian and Islamic Europe/North Africa/Near East, from roughly 1100-1650 (or from roughly high medieval to early modern era).

2) The cultures of the Indian Ocean. While taking a course on Islamic art I learned about this huge site of cultural cross-pollination, and I find it interesting. My first encounter with V.S. Naipaul some time ago, A Bend in the River, took place in this milieu, East Africa with an Indian narrator of Muslim merchant ancestry (albeit in a modern historical setting).

3) Japan up to the premodern era.


I'll definitely peter out before long, as I always do, but once more I've initiated a close, heavily-noted reading of Deleuze's Cinema 1. If I had money I'd buy Bergson's books (I've read substantial portions of Matter and Memory), knowledge of which would no doubt make the process a little easier. But each time I gain a slightly better understanding of Deleuze through oblique means, and I think I'm really inspired by some potential in his argument for what the movement-image is and does. Sorry to be terse about it here: more on that later, hopefully.

Monday, June 27, 2005


So, at my home videotheque, I am pondering hosting directorial retrospectives for myself. Seeing a lot of a single filmmaker's work in a short period of time has always been something that has intimidated me a little, as if I feel uncomfortable seeing these works out of all context but that of their maker's progression, which can concentrate and intensify some internal values, diluting and eliding some external ones. But I feel I should go ahead and "get it over with" when it comes to certain filmmakers, and see as much as I can (on video) of their work. I've avoided doing this already with some filmmakers whom I love because I've told myself to wait for 35mm ... but Tati and Mizoguchi (for example) make films that work wonders, still, on VHS and 19" television screens. Waiting out for the big experience is a bit masochistic, especially given that some of these filmmakers are for the most part unavailable, even, on DVD.

There remains an increasingly small handful of directors who by any fair "objective" assessment are major names whose work I've never seen (or never seen an entire film by). No need to embarrass myself and shock you readers by revealing these luminaries, and anyway in the next several weeks I'll likely have remedied this so I can say that I've seen at least one film by every director widely and highly regarded by American or Western cinephiles.

But that's the dilemma of renting movies, isn't it? It would all be easier if I had lived in a modest town with, say, a single rep house that managed to show one or two or five decent 16mm prints of older films from across the country and globe each week, in the evenings. (A fantasy, I know.) One of the reasons I've still not seen any number of classics (or "classics") is because I've tried to keep my finger on alternative pulses. I could have dutifully watched the major Oscar winners and such by the age of 16 or so, spent my last two years in high school seeing certain foreign and American independent commercial films, maybe a few avant-garde works, and left my college years to discovering the oddities, the B-films, the underground milestones, the unheralded masterpieces, etc., and seeing things like A Woman Under the Influence and My Darling Clementine in college as revisitations rather than late revelations. It's largely because I spent those "early" years taking chances (some paid off well) on films most cinephiles don't come to until later, if at all--things like Sogo Ishii's Angel Dust, Roy Del Ruth's The Little Giant, Frank Borzage's The Spanish Main, Nancy Savoca's True Love--and even then, usually only in passing.

Oh, well.

In preparing myself mentally for a hoped-for career in academia (read: daydreaming...) I've started to think regularly about what I want my 'beats' to be, and I simply can't feel totally comfortable with any formulation by director/country/era/theory. I suppose this amorphous flexibility is a good thing--it means I've a hungry appetite not to be quickly sated--but I'm also a bit panicked. When I go through my MA/PhD (assuming that I do ever go through with the process: it's not a guaranteed thing) I want to know my shit better than anyone's expectations of me would demand. And I don't want to lose valuable time for viewing, reading, discussing, and thinking on simply playing "catch-up" with the classics.

At any rate, tonight I will watch (it's a toss-up) either Takashi Miike's The Happiness of the Katakuris or Bertrand Tavernier's Let Joy Reign Supreme. This weekend will be a cinephiliac feast (albeit on all video formats: I'm impoverished as usual!), as well.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Monkey Shines (1988)

George A. Romero is American genre cinema's most thorough "posthumanist," the one most deeply and least conflictedly interested in showing the collapse of all social order and the survival of a very few. (Off the top of my head, the American mainstream hasn't offered a vision in the same bleak vein, save the last reel or so in A.I.) What interests Romero are not acting or plotting: he's a grand-vision artist, and happy to let his materials roam within the confines of budget and genre, so long as he can shape to his will the needed portrait of a series of philosophical crises. Sometimes he can "suffer" narratively, as a result. Day of the Dead and Monkey Shines both take quite a while to build up to the payoffs the genre requires (the zombie movie's first hour is dreadful). But the breakdown of state, community, even individual--in the Dead movies and in The Crazies--makes for a biting dismissal of these institutions' importance, and for our willingness to both depend on them and not be able to defend them.

Whereas in those contagion movies the most intelligent people are often the ones to die at the hands of stupidity, in Monkey Shines the intelligent people are confronted not with a pervasive collapse but with the burgeoning threat. (Had the characters failed in the film, Romero could have then made Night of the Monkeys, where the capuchin villain Ella engineers her monkey friends to violently overtake an unsuspecting public.) The impending and surprising threat of a more powerful Other is at the root of much Romero. The difference between his work and a lot of horror cinema is that he's practically neutral about the outcome. He's not particularly sentimental about most of his characters, and he doesn't play his thrills against the monstrosity of the villains so much as in the empathic threat against the heroes.

In short Romero is interested in dismantling the facades we've put up for ourselves: consider too the consequence of physical helplessness on the protagonist, an athlete. ("Ooh, ooh," chimes the budding psychoanalyst in the front of the classroom, "that's castration!")

I'm getting really intrigued to see how Land of Dead shapes up.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Back in Action

So I had to take a break from writing or updating the blog or website because I had to finish papers, graduate, move in with my girlfriend to a place in Astoria (that's in Queens for those uninitiated with NYC), and go for a few more weeks without Internet access. But now that the Web is available again I hope to get more writing online soon.

I'm in the middle of a handful of writing projects, we'll see which ones pan out into substantial and, probably more important, finished works. One of them would be a series of related essays that I'd put up on my website, maybe in .doc format. I don't know. But I'm also toying with a few other articles that I'd like to shop around ... if they ever get to the final stages.