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Not to be Judged as an Exploitation Film.
Is Freaks exploitation or art? I consider it as art or an interesting tale of love, relationships, and revenge. But I do not believe that by putting sideshow freaks as the avengers of their betrayal and abuse that Tod Browning was exploiting them or making them look hideous and evil. Yes, that may be the interpretation. But I think that Browning was presenting the actors as surpassing others and establishing some dignity and respect for people who are usually dismissed as worthless and incompetent. Freaks has been generally called a horror film but I would rather think of it as a drama with elements of infidelity, revenge, and murder. Does Freaks have to be a horror film just because it stars sideshow freaks? Definitely not!
There has always been a fascination with the unusual. Several magazine and websites feature people with deformities and people who do bizarre acts. But lately these mediums have been blending violence and sex with deformities; therefore, warping the original intention of these magazines and sites. This intermixing is historically not a recent idea. People have always made the Unusual synonymous with the Macabre. In one way this idea is similar with blending rock music with sex, as in the 1950's. By judging the unusual with the macabre from this standpoint is how people judged the film Freaks: as a horror movie.
Freaks was banned for several years and was highly edited by distributors. In the 60's William Burroughs and Antony Balch were on of the first people to reshow Freaks in theaters. Freaks was shown in Europe alongside two of Burroughs/Balch pictures. However, it took a while for America to catch on but now here it is finally on DVD.
It is interesting why films get banned for certain reasons and why people want to suppress them from viewers. Freaks was looked at in this way but now is considered tame by most moviegoers. For those who are interested in sideshow freaks (if you would call them that) and their history check out Being Different and Freaks Uncensored. Both films bring up my same argument and go in-depth about their abuse and finally their acceptance by the majority.
Could be presented more accurately but still good.
Not to sound trite but this performance was indeed one of Hendrix's mediocre concerts. However, (still sounding trite) this is a must see film for die-hard Hendrix fans and others considering that he died 18 days after the show. One reviewer mentioned that The Isle of Wight had scheduled Hendrix to perform early in the morning. Yes, that is true but also at this time Hendrix was consuming a large amount of drugs which eventually led to his state of depression and respectively accidental death. This latter factor had also played a part in his inability to play as well as his previous shows --ie, Monterey Pop and Winterland. Nevertheless, the lineup had considerably worked with enough energy to crank out some of Jimi's new compositions, some that already appeared on Band of Gypsies, and others that were about ready to be put on New Rays of the Rising Sun, Hendrix's next album. Some of this new songs "Freedom" and "In From The Storm" and "Machine Gun" were presented hastily and rough compared to there polished studio versions. In addition, some old songs (All Along The Watchtower, Spanish Castle Magic) were performed as well. Unfortunately, Jimi died before the releasing of his new album New Rays so producer Alan Douglas distributed them in several posthumous collections. Alan Douglas, the "butcher" as some Hendrix historians called him, had released several rearranged (and rerecorded) tracks that Hendrix left unfinished. In other words, some studio musicians was ordered by Douglas to taped over some of Jimi's guitar tracks and add other wall of sound instruments in order to fool fans that they were buying unissued gems. Douglas's name is featured in credits of the Isle Of Wight video as producer. It's not surprising to me that he took his little carving knife and embellished some of what we're watching as well. These embellishments were apparently (I had to listen clearly) added audience cheers, double vocals and backstage chatter, and edits of long songs, ie Machine Gun. My suggestion for the die-hard fans is to seek out the posthumous LPs Live at the Isle Of Wight vol. 1-2 and compare to difference of the record from the video. All in all, Isle of Wight could have presented more accurately but check out the film anyway considering it being a part of rock n' roll history.
Luci del varietà (1951)
First Fellini --- not bad.
Variety Lights is Fellini's debut film. The film consists of ideas and motifs that would succeedingly appear in movies like 8 1/2 and The Clowns. However, these traits are still undeveloped but we can see how they would be used as personal metaphors for the director. Running under an hour, the film is shown in black and white with legible subtitles and moving at a smooth pace. The story follows a variety show troupe and an female audience member who is so inspired by one of their performances that she asks to join their group. We are then presented with the rise of the performer's act and how mistakes like having her dress fall off soon attracts the attention of the audience. Soon the variety show begins displaying a more racy repertory all which is fronted by sexy novice. Some images in the film like large behinds and women in bikinis may have been provocative for its time in America --although Italy's standards tended to be more shocking. Nevertheless, as discussed in the documentary Rated X, Fellini's movies was generally restricted to Adult theaters due to subject matter, although much more provocation was soon to come. Variety Lights features Masina, Fellini's wife, in a supporting role as a dancer with few scenes, although she still gives a good performance nevertheless. Masina would soon gather more attention to her acting in succeeding Fellini films like Night of Cabaria and La Strata. However, the focus of this film is directed at De Filippo for his role as the impresario and Poggio as the desperate actress. Veriety Lights is not the best Fellini production but still worth a look.
It all started here -- possible spoilers
Accatone is an interesting film because Pasolini exposes to his audience a particular lifestyle and social class which would not be accurately touched on in an American picture. If Hollywood had ever discussed Accatone's subject matter they would display it with all its stereotypical adornments and falsities which most US moviegoers are accustomed to. Pasolini is not afraid to present the grittier side of the subproletariat as is epitomized in the film's main character, Accatone, who struggles with his profession of pimping and becoming more sensitive to his women and to the world. Pasolini's debut is delicately permeated with political concepts and allegories, yet we can see that he is experimenting newly with the technique of film and developing a filmic narrative structure; more of his full-fledged sociopolitical allegories would be pursued in films like The Gospel and Hawks and Sparrows. The film stars Franco Citti who at the time of making of the film was a nonprofessional. However his performance is substantial considering him being a novice and having his voice overdubbed by another actor. Citti would soon become a Pasolini regular, starring in Oedipus Rex, Arabian Nights, and other supporting roles. However, as the film progresses the attention is centered on the female lead, who plays the naive soon-to-be callous farm worker who is duped by Accatone into prostitution. Before Pasolini ventured into the cinema he had a knack for writing. In his first two novels Pasolini had utilized the language of his mother's homeland, Friuli, for colloquial discourse amongst his characters who lived in subproletariat communities. It is not surprising that the subject of these novels would be the focal point of Accatone. In addition I believe Pasolini had rendered his ideas (from his literature) appropriately for his film, yet not becoming to carried away with fidelity and technical aspects which are profuse in films today. To this day there are apparently no film directors as consciously aware of his country and government as Pasolini was and that would transcend these beliefs into his art with controversy yet at the same time subtlety.
A Fun Trip
The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1959) is a 11 min short by Richard Lester. Supposedly one of his first films, The Running Jumping is basically one sight gag after another, cleverly crafted yet somewhat rudimentary; obviously it was produced as an experiment. Lester's use of droll antics and irony predated what would manifest itself in A Hard Day's Night, although Lester had already developed a certain style in preceding films. Nevertheless, what ignited Lester's career was soon to come, however, as funny as it seems, The Running Jumping billed an actor who would garner more stardom than Lester himself: Peter Sellers. Peter Sellers is featured as a sly Nimrod who prances around a field and soon engages in a duel with a muscleman. This is a far cry from a serious role as Chance the Gardener, however Sellers still is riot and it is appropriate considering that The Running Jumping was made at the height of a postmodern British Slapstick movement. Other hilarities in the film include a frustrated photographer at his wits' end, a family of buffoons dragging an English kite, and the absurd yet cliched boxer signaling a fool into his direction. Although a fun trip, The Running Jumping is not a good introduction to Lester's oeuvre. If you can try to find that rare copy of Hard Day's Night with Running Jumping tagged on at the end: that's how I saw it. Then give How I Won The War, Help, and The Forum a chance.
Il vangelo secondo Matteo (1964)
Pasolini's own rendering of the Scriptures.
Basically, the title is self-explanatory: the gospel according to the Scriptures, about Jesus, in the book of St. Matthew. This was Pasolini's first major production - Accatone was his debut. St. Matthew utilizes a throng of unknown Italian actors that acquired recognition after the film was released. However, amid this interesting quality there seems to be a clashing between the Latin physiognomy in a Biblical Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the film appears to exhibit many anachronisms: A Blues singer humming incidental music, traffic sounds in the distance, street settings resembling 1960 Rome, etc. Likewise, the actor playing the Son of Man looks like a cross between Andy Garcia and Al Pacino ---get a load of the heavy brows.
Despite these minor traits, altogether, the film stands as another great retelling of the birth, death, and resurrection of the Messiah himself. In addition, the film presents a more profound examination of the gospels. Is Pasolini offering a straight-faced story of the Lord or is he telling it with biting scorn? These questions are brought up and the viewer can look at it as either "the greatest story ever told" or as a satirical metaphor on Christ and dogma. To my knowledge, Pasolini had always questioned theology. Be it his famously controversial (some say blasphemous) lament for the near-death Pope or his subsequent film Theorem: these both revealed Pasolini's steadfast philosophy.
Having some knowledge of the Scriptures would definitely help getting through St Matthew. Although, after seeing the film, one may want to go back and reread parts of the New Testament and then re-watch the film. My only complaint about St Matthew is that the subtitles are barely readable, although the re-mastered version may have remedied this flaw - beats me, I only own the original edition. Above all, St. Matthew works as both a creative adaptations for art-house film lovers (or Pasolini fans) and as a family film.
Uccellacci e uccellini (1966)
Not the Usual Pasolini --- but still a great film.
I picked up this Pasolini film a few days back, and I must say it was something a bit incongruous for Pasolini to make. The film takes place in a barren farmland, where a boy and his father meet a talking crow. Thereupon, the film shifts to a local monastery where we see the boy and father as monks. Inch by inch, they have the ability to talk to birds (i.e. chirping and whistling) as well as communicating with them. However, these birds (sparrows) are suddenly being killed off by the Hawks, and the rest is history. Although appearing dull at first, the movie soon gathers interest after the interaction with the crow, but abruptly finishes on a demented yet humorous note. Not as graphic as his later film would be, even so there's a sick sense of style idiosyncratic to Pasolini; although "The Hawks and the sparrows" still seems a bit weird, as if part of the school of Surrealism. I've heard Pasolini made this film as an allegory for his personal eroticism, or an across-the-board motif for homosexuality. If that were the case, it's a very imperceptible one that is obscured by the film's visual aesthetics altogether. Nevertheless, it's worth a look, and most hardcore Pasolini fans would understand it for its existence and beauty.
La vallée (1972)
Pink Floyd, Hippies, Natives, and the Truth.
The Valley is not for everyone's taste but is still worth a look. Sometimes looking like a cross between Jimi Hendrix's Rainbow Bridge and National Geographic, the Valley pretty much centers on the same themes of the former although it exhibits a much more lucid character development, not to mention poetic discourse. The Valley brings up many ideas of its era: free love, mind expanding drugs, psychedelic music, and ontological excursions. However, the foremost point seems to be a clash between the first and last cited, and sometimes presented sporadically.
The film follows a girl who latches on to group of hippies on an expedition for the `Valley obscured by Clouds.' Her primary motive is to collect rare feathers for her husband in France, but she inevitably falls in love with two of the hippies. Amongst their infidelities and hypocrisies, the group manages to find aid with a friendly New Guinea native tribe who slaughter pigs and perform ritualistic dances. Finally, the group makes their way back on the path, but do they?
Although somewhat slow at moments (i.e., the group's interaction with a peaceful African tribe) the Valley primarily has a steady pace; however, this minor flaw is (!) obscured by the beautiful cinematography and scenery. I enjoyed a large percentage of this film (especially the incidental music composed by Pink Floyd) but the ending a bit abrupt, a quality that may upset some viewers wanting more. Nevertheless, the Valley is still a great film with a beautiful story and beautiful images.
Note: about the music, if you're looking for another Pink Floyd album in this movie, forget it! As mentioned above, it's purely incidental and few of the Floyd's songs are in this film. Go buy the complete soundtrack in the stores.
I racconti di Canterbury (1972)
Perverse, Dull, and sometimes Fun.
Chaucer must have rolled over in his grave after this movie was released. Pasolini combines several stories from Chaucer magnum opus, adds a lot of bathroom humor, and gives it a glossed over look purposefully for art lovers and other diehard fans. What we have is a sloppy mess which can be offensive as well as being humorous. Some scenes had me laughing (not to mention the scene where Satan defecates lost souls) while others had me dozing off. Nonetheless, as a whole the film is pretty clever but a little goes a long way. Look close for Tom Baker (the most famous Doctor Who) in a brief nude scene. For Pasolini fans only.
The Way Art Works
I hear a lot of complaints about this little film and I'm wondering "what's the fuss? This is the way art works." Pier Paolo Pasolini was previously known as a writer who finally he got his big break doing film scenarios for Fellini. Thenceforth as a director himself, Pasolini created many films, mostly based on famous literature (i.e., Decameron, Medea, Arabian Nights, etc.) One day Pasolini decided on adapting de Sade's "120 days of Sodom" to the big screen. Little did he know what fuss it would cause. Salo is a film depicting Fascist Italy and it's malefactions while keeping a group of children hostage. The film follows the fascist revelry in the abuse, rape and murder of the children; thus the film is set as an allegory for the decadence and depravity of humanity. Sounds like a great film . . . well, truly it is. Although a controversy at the time (for which Pasolini was murdered for) Salo seems tame today compared to films like Natural Born Killers, Crash, and Saving Private Ryan. Nevertheless, what people seem to not understand is how to appreciate Salo as a work of art that it is. Liken to most controversial art forms (notably Dada and "surprisingly" things done by Andy Warhol) Salo was created to instill a reaction in its viewers. Be it the famous "Circle of Sh*t" which had me gagging on the floor, or "Circle of Blood" which made me feel uneasy and somewhat angry. However, that is the way art works, it is geared to provoke and/or imbue emotions. Andy Warhol had people yawning, L'age D'or had people protesting, and Salo found deep-seated hatred by most of it's viewers; again, these artists all succeeded in making there point. It is sad to say that Pasolini was murdered for this film; if only he lived what other masterpieces would he create. For those who are interested in Pasolini, check out "Whoever Says the Truth Shall Die" one of the better documentaries of the artist himself.