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Poison, the first theatrical film of Todd Haynes, is a grotesque,
pessimistic, and extremely disturbing picture that is both celebration
of misery and cruelty and a reflection of human tenderness and sexual
freedom. The film interweaves three very different stories together
into one narrative line. The film goes back and forth between each
story, and each story is completely different from one another in
theme, content, style, musical choice, genre, and tone. One story,
titled 'Horror', is shot in the style of a 50s B-horror film and is
about a scientist who manages to alienate the human sex drive into a
vial of fluid. Unfortunately, he accidentally drinks the fluid and
mutates into a blistering pile of pus and proceeds to go on an
infectious rampage, spreading his disease to all he comes into contact
with. Another story, titled 'Homo', is a sinister, gritty, muddy, and
emotionally tender love story set in an underground prison of some kind
in which two male prisoners slowly descend into an obsessive and
violent S&M relationship. The story contains flashbacks to their
traumatic youth. The remaining story, titled 'Hero', is shot in what
appears to be a documentary format in which several members of a
distraught community are interviewed about a recent bizarre tragedy
involving a disturbed family. A little boy named Richard shoots his
sexually abusive father and then flies out the window, and the entire
incident was witnessed by his mother who considers her son to be an
angel sent from God to watch over her.
Poison is a rather strangely enchanting film. One of the most enchanting things about it is that it never quite gives you any time to breathe. From frame one, the film plunges you into a world full of cruelty and chaotic confusion and you're left on your own to pretty much sort through the images. It's all rather elegantly pulled off. Haynes manages to capture a lot of the charm and the overall structure from each film medium his stories represent. With 'Hero' he manages to present that optimistic 50s family sitcom outlook gone slightly wrong found in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. He does this by using a lot of bright colors and simplistic architecture. The effect is unsettling, but it is also strangely hypnotic in it's own weird way. By using mostly mastershots and by allowing a little more time for talking heads, he's able to create a real creepy sense of foreboding fury that fits really well with the other two stories. With 'Homo', he uses a lot of low angles and close-ups. He also uses more natural lighting, at least in the scenes that aren't flashbacks. It's a much more testosterone driven story, and so the dark look really helps to highlight a lot of the sweatier, more vulnerable aspects of the bodies of these characters. This adds a much more psychological aspect of male sexuality to the film that carries over to the other two stories, making 'Hero' seem ever so slightly more perverted to the average viewer and making 'Horror' seem a lot more metaphorical and realistic in some ways. With 'Horror', we get the bleakest and most disturbing tale of the three. In order to create that classic horror movie feel, Todd Haynes uses a lot more fade-outs, more specific music cues, and noticeably melodramatic narration. He allows us to really feel sorry for this disturbed character, and that feeling of uncleanliness pervades the rest of the film as a result.
It seems to me that Haynes wanted to create this film in order to develop an intricate puzzle of how genre pictures can manipulate other genre pictures, the viewing experience of each picture, how watching one sort of theme in one picture can invisibly affect a separate viewing of another picture, and to recreate the style of multiple viewing itself. His personal reasons for making this film, however, seem to be much more complicated. Poison is what I would consider the quintessential gay picture. It has everything I love and hate about most gay themed films (the depressing endings, the perverted camera-work, the abundant strange behavior, the gratuitous sex), but it's self-awareness is so fun to watch that it rises above all the schlock and finds it's own path toward narrative freedom.
Above all, Poison is a masterpiece. Along with In a Glass Cage, If...., My Own Private Idaho, Mysterious Skin, and the films of Derek Jarman, it's one of the more challenging gay themed films that you're likely to see. Even if the subject matter disturbs you, there is still so much to digest in terms of imagery and in the wonderful music score. Even if you put aside all that, however, you still have one of the most unusual storytelling structures you will likely see for this kind of film. You can spend the entire film just studying the structure and you will learn so much about scene and theme composition. Even putting aside THAT, however, the ambition of the film is enough to admire. I find that there is way too much going on here that can simply be written off. The things I've noticed upon re-watching this film have chilled me to the bone, and watching it only makes me want to watch it again. It's one of those films that really hit the right notes with me. I will admit that the first time I watched it I couldn't quite comprehend it. It is a dizzying film in that sense, and I don't expect most viewers to digest a lot of the imagery on their first viewing. However, it's a film that I think really says a lot about human progress in terms of sex, imagination, violence, and physical desire. It's a powerful film with a lot of quiet emotion with an ending that left me feeling very polarized. Watching it once is simply not enough.
*to read more, go to cuddercityfilmchronicles.blogspot.com*
In 1988, filmmaker Todd Haynes released a short film about Karen
Carpenter's anorexia-related death. The entire film is, essentially, a
reenactment of the events with the people being played by Barbie and
Ken dolls. The entire film was more from the perspective of Karen
Carpenter and is probably one of the most sympathetic portraits of her
plight in existence. Unfortunately, the Carpenter family was none too
happy about the film's release and, with the addition of several
uncleared music rights, was banned from distribution. Superstar: The
Karen Carpenter Story, found it's place in film viewing from the
hundreds of bootlegs currently in circulation. The film's primary
appeal, nowadays, is in the fact that it's such a controversial and
illegal film. With the advent of the internet and of youtube, curious
viewers can now watch the film online for free without having to pay
for a bootleg copy with mixed quality. I have seen the film in question
several times now and I consider it a fascinating first feature from a
director that would later go on to receive tremendous acclaim for
several of today's modern classics.
There isn't a whole lot I want to say about the film, because part of the mystique of the film comes from viewing it. I do want to say, however, that it is as creative, disturbing, and interesting as everyone has heard. To say that it's a masterpiece of cult cinema is a bit of a stretch, but structurally the film is intelligent. It does have a rather slanted perspective. It's more about Karen Carpenter and her troubles. It paints a very fair portrait of her difficulties with fame, and as weird as it sounds you do feel really sorry and sad when watching her. The film's treatment of the rest of the characters, however, is a lot less fair. Richard Carpenter, her brother, is shown to be very fame-driven and rather selfish. Haynes, in fact, goes so far as to imply that his hesitations in revealing Karen's anorexia are out of fear of her outing him as a homosexual. Their mother is shown in an even more disturbing light. She is ignorant, small minded, loud, and stubborn, and comes across as very manipulative and controlling. However, the worst portrayal is of their father, who seems almost like a mockery of sitcom fathers of the late-50s. It's an ugly and spiteful portrayal, and to be perfectly honest if it were my family that Haynes was making a film about I would probably want to wring his neck. Putting aside the wrath of the script's treatment of the characters, however, it is only a reenactment and reinterpretation and I have seen far more mocking portrayals of famous people on several different made-for-TV movies (Man in the Mirror anyone?). I don't think that the Carpenter family should have taken Haynes so seriously, but I understand completely why they did. It's a well-known fact that Haynes, in order to properly portray Karen's weight problems, actually shaved off layers of plastic off of her Barbie doll avatar in order to graphically show her descent. In addition, he edits in footage of informal ads, television news audio, and graphic footage of holocaust victims. This is a much darker film than many would think.
If there's anything wrong with this, it's that the impact of the film is weakened on repeat viewings. Once you get past the actual visual nature of the film, the dark tone, the graphic material of the footage, and the power of the music of the Carpenters in particular, there isn't much left to really dive into. This is really sad to me, because one thing that I can say with total confidence is that the depth Todd Haynes exhibits in terms of musical storytelling, visual power, multiple centered characters and character arcs, set pieces, genre manipulation, tone distortion, atmosphere, breaking of convention, and sound editing make his films some of the most re-watchable films in existence. Still, just because Superstar doesn't hold up does not mean that it is not worth seeing. It is a must-see film. Just don't bother watching it again, because once is enough.
The Human Centipede tells the disturbing story of a mad German doctor
whose previous whereabouts were in the medical field in which he
performed operations to separate Siamese twins. He has now gone into
seclusion and has invested all of his time and energy into doing the
opposite, crafting living organisms together to create a new species.
Meanwhile, two American female tourists have been unfortunate enough to
stumble upon his home, and now are forced to take part in his latest
experiment along with a Japanese man. This experiment is to create a
human centipede, with the man in the front and the two girls in the
back. To do this, he must split the kneecaps of these three people,
pull out the teeth of the two women one by one, and then proceed to
connect them, via their gastric system, and sew their mouths to each
Two films were released in 2010 (A Serbian Film and The Human Centipede) that were reputed to be two of the sickest and most depraved horror films of all time. After viewing both of them, one thing I can say in absolute certainty is that they are both grossly over-hyped. Neither this nor A Serbian Film, which was infamous for depicting the anal rape of a newborn baby, even come close to being as disgusting and repulsive as most have led you to believe. If I were to choose what films I find most disgusting, Pink Flamingos would still be the reigning champion. Sweet Movie, Meet the Feebles, The Worm-Eaters, Society, and especially Caligula would certainly be high up as well.
What makes The Human Centipede so gross is really the idea that has been presented and the endless atrocities that it could call for. We can picture in our heads the idea of the person in the front of the centipede defecating into the second person's throat and we can picture the idea of the person in the back vomiting into the second person's anus and we can picture the thought of that waste traveling through the bodies of these innocent people, who did nothing to deserve this great torture, until it is expelled. However, this is simply a throwback to exploitation horror films of the 70s and the 80s such as Ilsa, She Woman of the SS and Bloodsucking Freaks. This is not a film that can be taken on the same level as films such as Martyrs or In a Glass Cage, because it is not that graphic nor graphic. This is a campy, mildly gory, and funny horror film that is intended to replicate the sensation of watching a midnight movie.
Yes, the images seem repulsive in our minds, but on screen these images are very humorous. There's an already infamous scene in which the man in the front of the centipede defecates into the second woman's mouth. I'm sorry, but I couldn't take that scene seriously. I laughed. I felt bad for laughing, yes, but the expression on the girl's face is just too over-the-top. The opening scene details the doctor going after a truck driver, who stopped to take a dump in the grass, with a dart gun. The girls stumble upon a gravestone for a three-dog. The acting is so bad that even the actors have a tough time keeping a straight face all the way through. The scene in which the doctor explains his plans, via wall projection, is made ludicrous by the childish drawing of the human centipede. I mean, this is some darkly depraved comedy. If you laughed while watching The Ebola Syndrome or The Untold Story, you will laugh while watching this.
However, don't go into this thinking this is a laugh riot. In truth, there is a lot of horror here. What makes it all hold together and work is the performance of Dieter Laser, who I think plays one of the most over-the-top and stereotypical villains since Jon Voight's character in Anaconda. He is a monstrous, insane, decadent human being who shows no mercy to these girls. He basks in the pain and misery of these characters to the point where they beg for death. Laser goes all the way with his portrayal of this monster, and I loved every second of his scene chewing madness. I loved the scene where he licks the blood off the stairs. I loved the expression he made upon greeting these girls at the door. I loved this man's performance. It is just as sick and as atrocious as you are expecting.
The girls, Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie, were very funny and I had fun watching them in their portrayals of air-headed tourists who can't even bother to learn the German language before going to Germany. There's even a scene in which one of them has the most incredible luck I think I have ever seen in a horror film and gets the perfect time to escape, and then blows it! I'm glad she did too, because I really wanted to see the human centipede! Japanese actor Akihiro Kitamura also gives it his all in his performance of the only person in the centipede who can speak. I thought he was pretty funny. Overall, not a good film, but very enjoyable, scary, and funny. Please don't go into this expecting a depraved shock film about bodily horror. Go into this expecting a twisted B-movie. This is an enjoyable film if you are willing to give it a chance.
Paul Morrissey's gore drenched and X rated shocker titled Flesh For
Frankenstein, originally made in 3D, is a retelling of the tale of
Doctor Frankenstein, only this time with an erotic black comedy twist
to it. In this vile tale, Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier, pulling off a
fearlessly over-the-top performance) and his assistant Otto (Arno
Jurging in another perversely and psychotically memorable performance)
have occupied their time with bodily theft. Ignoring his wife who is
also his own sister and their two offspring, Frankenstein plots to
craft a Serbian-blooded race of zombies that he shall brainwash to do
his bidding, but in order to do this he must finish his male creation
in order to breed him with his female creation so that they can give
birth to the race of mind-controlled and manipulative mutants. However,
complicating matters is a rather sexually outgoing farmhand (once
again, Joe Dallesandro) whose dreamy yet sexually repressed close
friend (Srdjan Zelenovic in perhaps the most memorable and stark role)
has unwittingly become a victim of the bad baron's blood-drenched
I'm just going to say right now that I did not enjoy this film as much as Blood For Dracula. However, I will say that in terms of horror, shock, gore, intensity, insanity, black comedy, visuals, and camera-work, it is the stronger piece of filmmaking. I can't say that I enjoyed sitting through this, but damn was it an effective piece of horror! The imagery in this film is the stuff of nightmares. Unlike Blood For Dracula, Flesh For Frankenstein really gets into the ugliness of the situations that play out throughout the course of the film. Even the main actors don't look quite right. There's something simply off about their mannerisms and their physical appearance, and that includes Joe Dallesandro's character who has been blessed with a variety of sore looking zits on his buttocks. Nearly everyone in this film looks and acts genuinely insane throughout including the children, and the fact that nearly all of the characters have been killed at the end of the film should come as no surprise. I gotta say, though, that when characters die in this film they die hard and die horribly. Nobody here gets a dignified death and the resulting bloodshed is abundant and bright almost all the time. This is a very gory film. I read that Paul Morrissey was inspired by the gore in Italian horror films to make this film, but to be honest the gore in this film is more graphic and more shocking than nearly all of those early 70s horror films. To be honest, this is one of the goriest films I have ever seen in my life. I'm talking a real healthy supply of dismemberments, crushed bodies, dissections, impalings, and disembowelings. Severed hands, heads, broken bones, and guts litter the screen. Intestines are shoved in the audience's faces in one scene (literally in the 3D version). This is a messy, messy film. None of it, however, is fun to watch. All of it looks cheap and bright, yet there gets to be so much of it that it all becomes rather stomach churning. The ending of this film is such a bloodbath that it's impossible to really stomach the horrific aspects and instead you are forced to endure the improbable and the unexpected. This film just goes further and further into perverse depravity, and it it's world of decadence and sexually indiscriminate characters and acts, it becomes tremendously artistic and beautiful. The emotions in this film are played up to such a high degree that one begins to forget that these characters are murderous loonies who get off at sticking their hands into a woman's guts.
Like Blood For Dracula, Flesh For Frankenstein definitely will not appeal to everyone. In fact, even those who could appreciate the perversions of Blood For Dracula may find this nearly impossible to stomach. This type of on screen cinematic horror should be strictly reserved for open-minded viewers only. This is an artistic film and is shot much like a stage play. The music in this is so chilling, so haunting, and so emotional that it really helps bring to life the emotions of the characters. This world of whores, freaks, killers, and mutants can only be viewed in a comedic manner, and this is where the film works best. This is a hilarious film in a lot of ways. You can find the freaks on display funny or you find their mannerisms to be funny. Personally, I found the funniest aspects of the film to be the scenes in which they interacted with each other. This film builds like a situational comedy with a desire to shock in the most depraved ways possible. That's what kind of film this is. This is the kind of film that throws you off constantly in what direction it is going. It starts off somewhat tame and quirky, like a period piece gone berserk, and then descends into more hellish set-pieces before playing out with a surprisingly apocalyptic and pessimistic ending.
Despite the disgusting nature of the film that even I found more than a little offensive, I'm giving this film a high recommendation to open minded horror fans. This is a visceral experience to watch, and it doesn't surprise me that it ended up on the list of the video nasties back in the day. Watching this is like viewing a vision of hell. It's an orgy of gore and painful death. This is a good old fashioned mean-spirited and extreme horror film, and if you can stomach the over-the-top gore, guts, and body parts, it'll be one memorable horror experience for those who have never seen a horror film of this nature.
Paul Morrissey's semi-parody of Sunset Blvd, Heat, puts Joe in the
shoes on an ex-child actor. Living at a semi-resort neighboring a
vulgar landlady and a crazed lesbian named Jessica(played by the
amazing Andrea Feldman in a role that is just as memorable and amazing
as her role in Trash), Joe hooks up with Jessica's mother Sally Todd as
a means of getting back into the industry. The problem is that Todd is
not as prolific or as well known as he was led to believe, and things
get complicated when Jessica decides to get involved. This is Paul
Morrissey's most mainstream film in his trilogy starring Joe
Dallesandro as well as the more narrative-based. In addition to all
this is the Oscar nominated actress Sylvia Miles playing Sally Todd in
what could probably be considered the best performance of all of Paul
Morrissey's films since Holly Woodlawn. This would unfortunately my
least favorite of the Paul Morrissey trilogy, and I will get into why
further down, but I will say right now that this is one of the best
films to start with if you have an interest in this style of film.
Paul Morrissey's Heat has a certain plot-driven confidence about it that is both beneficial and detrimental. It is beneficial because this is the kind of story that needs to be told in a confident and clear manner in order for anybody to get anything out of it. It is detrimental, however, in that the flawed, improvised, and documentary-like quality of the first two films in this trilogy, here, are an overlookable flaw. Lets start with the camera work. No longer do we have as many intimate close-ups, awkward edits, and shaky, shoddy, and accidental camera-work. Instead, here, we have a lot of master shots where we see entire sets. The set pieces, here, look a lot more detailed and more purposefully and intentionally used in regards to the story and less like areas located during random scout-outs. Sylvia Miles does such an excellent and professionally mannered job here that she makes the rest of the cast look almost too amateurish as a result, and often times it really sort of takes you out of the world of the film. The crude dialogue and bizarre sex acts, at times, feel really out of place. This is not a tame film by any means, but the fact that there is an added professionalism to it makes it feel like it was intended to be. Everything is too clean and too stylized for the style of filmmaking to work.
However, Heat is still an excellent film full of life, humor, shock, and color. I think the fact that the film takes place in California instead of New York really makes this a completely different kind of idea, but done in the same style and tone as both Flesh and Trash. As I mentioned above, this is definitely the best film in the Paul Morrissey trilogy to start with. Watching it before Flesh and Trash will help you mentally evolve to the dark tone and intimacy of those, as well as help you appreciate those two more for what they are. This is redoubtably the best and most well made of the three films, but the fact that it has that differentiating quality to it makes it somewhat less fun than the previous two. Still, this is an excellent picture that contains all the Hollywood decadence, horror, confusion, romance, and sex that you could ever ask for, as well as hilarity. Check it out!
Paul Morrissey's follow-up to Flesh is an exploratory X-rated piece
about the lives of decadent heroin junkies living in a dilapidated
apartment home. This time around, Joe is living with his welfare hungry
girlfriend played in an outstanding performance by famous transsexual
Holly Woodlawn. Unable to get by on their minimum constraints and
grotesque living conditions, the pair spend most of their time stealing
from houses, dumpster diving, and drug dealing. Joe has become sexually
impotent due to his addictions and is no longer able to be sexually
aroused. His girlfriend, for the most part, uses him and treats him
like utter garbage. The people that surround them, both rich and poor,
are not getting by much better.
Out of all the films in Paul Morrissey's trilogy, as well as all of the films he has directed, this one is definitely my favorite. This is one of the best films about drug addiction that I have ever seen. After seeing this, I can see that Paul Morrissey's filmmaking style is the real deal. Never before have I seen a film about junkies that actually gets it right in every way like this film does. This film really gives a perspective feeling that these are the kinds of people you would meet on the streets of New York in a dark alley. Not only does the film really get into the lives of these people with almost no struggle, but it also allows plenty of humor and heartbreak to exist in equal measure. This is the kind of film I would prefer to see when I watch a film with this sort of subject matter. This film is shocking, it is brave, it is disturbing, it is sexually explicit, and it is as brutal and cold as they come. You get the sense that the film doesn't have any interest in humanizing drug addicts, nor does it give the feeling that it wants to demonize. It just wants to show the viewer the lowest of low in the most straight-forward, honest, and breathtaking way possible, and it's all done in the same Cinéma vérité style as Flesh was. Flesh was a tastefully made, sexually explicit film about a man whose life revolves around hustling and refusing to better himself due to fear of change. With Trash, however, there is simply nothing tasteful about this. This is a film about junkies made by junkies for junkies (as well as for the curious), and I think that it deserves to be seen simply due to the world that it shows you.
Holly Woodlawn is as disgusting, trashy, manipulative, and terrifying as you would be afraid to believe. She is simply a monster, and she shows this monstrous nature of hers in nearly every scene she is in. Even in a scene in which she masturbates with a beer bottle, she comes off as simply destructive. Oh my god how much I love her. Her character is so evilly sultry and unlike anything I've seen in terms of manipulative female characters. I love her face, especially her overbite. She just has such a uniquely twisted presence, and I cannot take my eyes off of her when she's on screen. The two best performances, however, come from two other women who both have only one scene each and who both take full advantage of the time that they are on screen. Andrea Feldman and Jane Forth. Oh my goodness, they are both so perfect in this film! Andrea Feldman's character absolutely makes no sense in the context of the storyline, and yet her character brings such an otherworldly nature to the film. The way she talks is almost hypnotic. She speaks as if she doesn't even pay attention to what she's saying. She has a slurred, slinky, slight tone that is so incredibly horrible and hilarious, and the way the character simply looks is mindbogglingly bizarre. She's this rich girl who randomly bumps into Joe and begs him for some LSD. She takes him home with her, and from there on out comes a humongous and wacky monologue that I couldn't even describe if I tried. She simply has to be seen to be believed. Jane Forth, on the other hand, with her constant improvising and her talkative and distant manner, is a true sight to behold. As soon as she starts talking, I cannot stop laughing. Never before have I seen a woman who is so bitterly sarcastic and so verbally self-absorbed. Both her and Andrea Feldman deserve some sort of accolade for their memorable performances.
Make no mistake, this is still the same sort of poorly put together piece of pitiful filmmaking that you would expect from Paul Morrissey at this time in his career. However, this is what gives Trash so much power and so much truth. Making a film as alternately powerful, trashy, ugly, raw, cheap, and dirty as this requires a certain sort of fearlessness, and I don't think that most professional filmmakers don't have the guts to really get involved in this sort of drug underworld to be able to pull it off. That's what makes this film really special, I think. It is also deeply sad. Joe Dallesandro's character is nothing like his character was in Flesh. In Flesh, we had a character who was joyous, naive, gentle-natured, sensitive, kind, and physically strong. Here, he looks tired, dehumanized, angry, ugly, bored, and just generally unhappy. He still has the same pock marks all over his body and all over his ass as he did in Flesh, but here we get the sense that it's less from naturally growing up and more from neglect. Joe Dallesandro proves, in the span of five seconds, that he is has versatile physical presence. To me, this only makes the film more real and more deserving of an audience than most, if not all, films of it's kind. Trash is a perfect title for the most perfect film of it's kind.
The first film in the Paul Morrissey trilogy, Flesh, tells the story of
a male hustler Joe who lives with his lesbian wife Geri. Joe also has a
son, whom we see Joe feeding a muffin to very early on in the film.
Geri, in the opening scenes of the film, forces Joe out onto the
streets so that he can obtain money to pay for her girlfriend's
abortion. The film details the various deformed, twisted, perverted,
and addicted people that he is forced to deal with (and sleep with) on
a daily basis. In the end, Joe is left feeling drained, warped, and
vulnerable to every perversion, and the audience is forced to confront
the provocative nature of what it is truly like to be comfortable and
happy in one's own flesh.
This film is a revelation, and I think it's one of the best and most emotionally raw films of the 60s. It has nothing to do with the quality of the film itself, but rather the imagery it summons and the way it presents itself. This is not a good quality film for those who are just looking for a film to watch. This is the sort of film that you need to allow yourself to be emotionally invested in before you make any calls on what it is. To be frank, it's very tough to describe what the film is exactly. It's a very unorthodox film. As a matter of fact, the subject matter of the film, the camera-work, the performances, and the dialogue in this film are all very unorthodox. This film wasn't intended to exactly be viewed as a film, but rather to bring about a world that the audience can witness and get involved with in an emotional sense. I thought that, despite the crap quality, Morrissey was seriously onto something here. As a film, it obviously isn't that good, but as an exploration of sexuality and of emotional disconnection, it's a serious pleasure to watch. It is funny, unusual, sad, and incredibly sweet. It's probably the most erotic film about hustling I have seen, as well as the most tastefully innocent.
I have neglected to highlight what helps the film really come together. That is Joe Dallesandro. This man has a body unlike anything I have ever seen, and a face of completely unpardonable beauty. What makes this film so deeply frightening in a way is his naive and gentle nature, and as a result we don't feel any internal fear from looking at the images but rather a sense of helpless fear. When you watch the film it becomes more and more clear that Joe has lost whatever wisdom and whatever ideas of security he has, and yet he has changed as a man because of it. If anything it has allowed him to revert to a state of abused self-confidence that really make what happens to him over the course of the film a lot more interesting.
Joe Dallesandro is naked throughout about 80% of the film, but this obviously isn't done to titillate or to be shocking or risqué, but rather for the viewer to drop whatever preconceptions they have about seeing the male body and just accept it as part of the character's personal self doubts being put out and left in the open. The viewer no longer feels like a voyeur, and instead feels closer to the subject of the film. This is one of the least brave things that the film does, and yet when it ends it is the one thing that I thought about the most. This film likely has more male nudity in it than any other film ever made, and yet it's impossible to feel dirty or perverted as a result. Instead, we feel rather taken aback by the style and editing of the film(or the lack thereof), which is strictly amateur and impossibly inept. This is how we come into the film, and it is because of Joe Dallesandro that we leave the picture feeling that we didn't just watch what was merely a film made by a bunch of yuppies, nerds, and junkies.
Ultimately, the film is definitely not for everyone. It will be impossible for some folks to accept the fact that the film is as poor quality and as badly made as it is. It will also be impossible for many folks to appreciate the fact that someone as seemingly sweet as Joe Dallesandro is so fearless and so ready and eager to completely put himself into constant vulnerable positions, both emotionally and physically. Flesh is STRICTLY for people who have a desire to be emotionally and visually involved in a film that digs into the darker and more repulsive aspects of the streets of New York, and refuses to place any sort of judgment. Forget that the film is about a miserable man who prefers to use himself endless to further add to the desecration of the lives of the people around him and concentrate on the humorous, horrible, and varied imagery. This film doesn't have much to say, but damn does it leave you feeling raw. Very few films have this much honesty in their imagery, and even fewer of them are nonjudgmental.
Series 7: The Contenders, is a very twisted black comedy about six
contestants on a reality show. The premise of the reality show is that
the contestants are given weapons and have to murder each other in
order to win. The contestants include a mentally insane man living in a
trailer park, a cancer patient, a religious nurse, a high school
teenager, a middle-aged father, and (the reigning champion) a pregnant
woman. The film is structured as a marathon showing and is played as a
series of episodes strung together each following these contestants.
The film depicts these people as normal and everyday people who are
forced into this terrible situation against their will, but the real
meat of the film comes in when we get to learn about the histories of
some of these characters. That's the point of the film where the film
grows out of being a spoof of reality shows and begins to manifest into
a social commentary. The high school teenager has parents who encourage
her every step of the way and help her suit up for the murders that she
is about to commit. The pregnant woman has been disowned by her own
mother due to past incidents. The middle-aged parent has his own
troubles at home. There's a lot more going on here than at first
glance. This is an angry and dark satire that really challenges some of
the concepts of reality and the satire of itself.
There's a lot here that I truly admire. For starters, the performances. They are pretty awful in a way that, at times, seems cringe-worthy. However, when you take a look at reality television shows such as Survivor and The Real World, the acting in those is even worse. It's supposed to be reality, yet the people in them are not believable. That's what makes reality television such a joke, and so in a roundabout way of saying things the performances here are good because the actors are good at capturing the melodramatic mannerisms of the contestants at large. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Brooke Smith as the pregnant woman. She is ridiculously cold and cruel and monstrous, and you can really feel the bitterness that she feels. Yet her mannerisms are so sarcastic and almost pathetic. The same goes for the rest of the cast, but Smith has a visual presence to her that I've always admired. She's a terrific actress. Nobody can forget her performance as the kidnapped victim in The Silence of the Lambs. I've seen some of her television work as well and she almost always sticks out in a good way. Merritt Wever and Glenn Fitzgerald do an equally good job as the teenage girl and the cancer patient, the former being the most likable person in the cast and the latter having all of the best lines and being the most interesting of all the characters.
My favorite thing about this film, however, has to be the momentum of it. Series 7: The Contenders is almost never boring and there's always something going on. It's virtually impossible to stop watching once you've started, even if you pick up in the middle of it. I think this was done intentionally. I think a lot of televisions shows have that same kind of watchability factor, and what I appreciated the most about this film is that there were no commercials that cut into the action. The satire of the film itself is simple and clever, but even if you put all that aside, you still have one hell of a captivating film. Putting the climax of the film aside, you do get to care about almost all these characters and you don't particularly want to see any of them die really.
If you want my personal opinion on the film, I cannot say that I like it too much. I don't personally find the film itself to be very funny. I like dark humor, but I thought that this was too sick, really, to be funny. I also really don't like the ending. It felt like I was being beaten over the head by the satire. I also find that the film itself isn't exactly re-watchable. Once you know how it all ends, you really don't have any desire to ever really sit down and watch it. There are films out there that are sick and that you never really WANT to watch again, but at the same time you feel you should and can't help but feel the need to sit through it, but Series 7: The Contenders plays all of it's cards in one sitting and as a result you really don't feel any desire to absorb any of it. It's more the type of film that you just appreciate rather than like and enjoy. I can imagine a lot of horror fan and readers of Fangoria would love it to pieces or at least get a huge kick out of watching it. In my opinion, as brilliant and as clever as it is, I definitely wouldn't advise mainstream moviegoers to watch this. I thought it was a brilliantly directed film in a lot of ways, and the satire was effective, but I can't exactly recommend it. I'm glad I saw it though.
The legendary film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, was the first
film specifically made for the black community, by the black community,
in order to not only give the black community a hero in the cinemas but
also to replicate the black experience. It became the first
blaxsploitation picture as well as one of the highest grossing
independent films of the 1970s. Melvin Van Peebles not only
self-financed the film, but also starred in it, wrote the screenplay,
and directed it. He also allowed his children to play in it, as well as
many of his closest friends. It is one of the most groundbreaking films
of all time. It not only helped change the shape of black cinema, but
also independent filmmaking at large. It tells the troubled story of a
male prostitute named Sweet Sweetback who, after witnessing police
brutality against a fellow black man, beats up a police officer. Now on
the run from the law, Sweetback must do what he can to avoid and evade
the police, even if that means involvement from the Hell's Angels and
using his "talent".
The big question is, how does the film hold up today? In my opinion, it's still an effective and powerful film in a lot of ways. However, there are some serious problems that many people will either be too distracted or too seasoned to overlook. It's frightfully shot. You can certainly tell that the filmmakers had to use cheap camera equipment because the film looks completely awful. It's one of the ugliest films I have ever seen, and a good portion of the time it's kinda hard to tell what's going on. At a lot of intervals in the film you can see gunk and sludge on the camera lens, and that can most certainly get in the way of the imagery I can imagine. However, personally I think this works to the film's advantage in a lot of ways. It helps add an element of authenticity to the subject matter. This is guerrilla filmmaking at it's best, so I can overlook the camera problems and technical difficulties. This film takes place in a landscape full of junkies, pimps, prostitutes, and other assorted street urchins. A lot of films have a purposefully grungy look and feel to them that gives many films a sense of style. The problem that many people may have here is that in this film it is not used for stylistic purposes. This is where these people lived. This was their world for this particular group of characters. It's rough, it's unpleasant, it's bizarre and it's somewhat nostalgic too. I like how the film gradually shows us more of Sweetback's world than it does of himself. I like that the film is shot in industrial landscapes and grimy alleyways. I think these kinds of settings work really well for a film with this kind of energy. What I appreciate most about this film is that it belongs in a class of it's own. It's definitely not exploitation, nor is it really trying to tell a story. There isn't any character development. There are no revelations or plot twists or surprises, save for the big big one at the very end of the film. There certainly isn't any likable characters, nor are there any characters that you feel you should hate. This film is just good guys, meaning the black community, and the bad guys, meaning white police officers. This film creates it's own landscape. Sure, the landscape may be full of crooked cops and repulsive sex, but it's a landscape that is new and that is fresh and full of energy and life and power and unique imagery. The film has a lot of radical imagery, and most of that comes when Sweetback is actually running from the man. A lot of it transcends the narrative confines of the film and actually makes a transverse turn into an alternate documentary reality that I found incredibly profound, honest, and admirable. Van Peebles obviously had a lot of ambitions for this film, and it shows. In many ways, this is a documentary. Eventually, the film even breaks the forth wall. I'm not going to spoil any surprises, but I will say that somehow this film gets it right.
When we first see Sweet Sweetback, he is only a little boy, played by Mario Van Peebles (Melvin's son), who appears hungry, dirty, tired, and starved. Soon after we, don't so much as see as much as we, witness a woman taking him into a room and having sex with him. The next time we see him, he is a man and he looks like a black cowboy, heroic and angry. When we see his eyes, however, he looks devoid of humanity, life, emotion, and the slightest hint of happiness. He is not a typical hero by any means. He's an underdog. He's a victim who fights back. He's a damaged man who is using all that remains to fight against what has destroyed his life and the lives of all of his brothers and sisters. I think that when it comes to a lot of films, we only get specific kinds of heroes. We get heroes who we could picture having in real life. To me, Sweet Sweetback is an outcast who has spent his entire life in the lowest parts of the low, and he's tired of it. I'm sure many people have felt like outcasts at one time or another, but not like Sweetback has. I think, despite what you may think of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, that this says more about independent film and black cinema than most films would have the balls to say. Even though it may not be a good film, it put a smile on my face and made me want to cheer, and that's something that I can't say about most films of this type.
A Serbian Film tells the terrible story of a retired adult film actor
named Milos who gets far more than he bargained for when he accepts
what he is led to believe is the role of a lifetime. His intentions are
valiant. He needs the money so that he can leave the troubled country
of Serbia and start a new life with his wife and his young son. He
accepts the job based on the intriguing premise of what film director
Vukmir tells him. It's a reality based pornographic art film in which
Milos is supposed to instead act off of the reality of the situations
he's brought into. However, things begin to get too weird when the
reality begins to incorporate some sort of strange revenge fantasy. He
tells Vukmir that he's backing out of the project and has no interest
in continuing. Immediately following his declining, however, his life
becomes a living nightmare of extremely depraved proportions.
A Serbian Film is easily the most disturbing film I have ever seen, alongside Schindler's List(the Academy Award winning Holocaust picture) and Threads(the BBC mockumentary about Nuclear war). This is a deeply troubling film and it left me feeling a great sadness and frustration. Part of what makes this film so emotional and devastating is the heavy (and I do mean HEAVY) exposition that makes up the entire first half of the film. We see the family that Milos has and we, as the audience, cannot help but admire how far he has come. He and his family may be poverty stricken, but they have as normal a life as a family like that can have. The wife is a non-judgmental, unassuming, mostly pleasant person who is faithful to Milos and doesn't fret at the fact that his profession of choice is what he is most known for in other circles. The son is as gentle-natured as a boy like that can be and, aside from viewing one of his father's films in the opening of the film, is completely normal and healthy. Then there's the brother of Milos, whom we only meet a few times and each time he seems like a sleazy, jealous, and unpleasant man. He is also a police officer, but he seems most distracted by Milos and his wife in particular. He has an unhealthy fascination with his family. Vukmir seems most suspicious out of everyone, but doesn't seem too crazy. He seems more eccentric, but that's true of a lot of filmmakers. The film takes it's time showing all these characters as fully rounded people who all have their little personality traits and their own agendas.
As a horror film it works wonderfully due to the suspense of the picture. It has a more classical way of plot development and depicting how it all comes together. A good chunk of the film is told in hyper real flashback, and so the audience spends a good amount of time wondering what the heck is going on and fearing the worst. I like how this film shows events. I like how the film also shows perspective when it comes to what happens. I think one of the more effective parts of this film comes toward the end when it suddenly dawns on us that this story is not going to have the usual horror film ending. This film's way of depicting tragedy is really interesting, because it relies more on personal torment and frustration in order to bring the audience into the situation that Milos has undergone and is still going through. It's a tricky technique, but somehow is works. It especially works when the film finally makes it's biggest revelation, which is just terrible and deeply heartbreaking, and then the horror doesn't stop there. What works the most about all this, however, is how unabashed and how bizarre and off-the-wall the nature of reality becomes as the film progresses. Director Srdjan Spasojevic creates such a chaotic world that we get involved in, and we, the audience, are led to believe that anything horrible and depraved could happen at any moment and there will be no limits.
This film, in terms of transgressive cinema that includes films such as Ex Drummer, Irreversible, Inside, Martyrs, and Possession, A Serbian Film is one of the best of it's kind. It's also one of the most effective films I've seen in years as well as one of the scariest. It's also disheartening, frustrating, and cruel. One thing I can definitely say though is that it's not gratuitous. It's beautifully made, it's heartbreakingly tragic, it's terribly realistic, and it's one of the most effective and well made films as well as one of the most disturbing. The big question is, does it work? Yes, it works. It works a little too well, but it works. So do I fault it for working? No. I praise it. I'm glad that films like this can still be made and I'm glad that filmmakers have the balls to go all the way with their vision. Inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, David Cronenberg, and William Friedkin, this is Srdjan Spasojevic's first film, and I think a lot of Hollywood horror filmmakers could learn a thing or two from him. It's the most disturbing film I've ever seen, and I don't regret watching it for even a second.
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