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Baroque visuals, sometimes plodding dialog
7 September 2004
A late film by Wojciech Has (Saragossa Manuscript, The Sandglass) has fine visual detail the director is known for. The opening scene, depicting the exhuming of a corpse who revives to tell the film's story, is utterly masterful as are many of the following scenes particularly toward the end. The long center section, concerned with moral issues of good and evil often get bogged down in static philosophical dialog. Still, the later scenes are worth waiting for.
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Virtue (II) (1999)
Imaginative low budget social/satirical mind warp
20 August 2004
Made over a number of years (at least 5), this film delves into the nature of virtual reality. While the topic was hot and novel when Ms. Obscura began the project, by 1999 many films had been released on this concept. Still her satiric campy take on the world of computer image addicts still packs some surprises and constantly dazzles the eyes with wild and colorful collages amid the black and white "real" world.

The story involves a strange woman with an odd accent (Hundee) who, after losing her boyfriend, seeks a virtual reality substitute (a "man chip" as she calls it). This pursuit leads her into the prurient world of image addicts who rely on chip pushers (the drug metaphor is obvious). For those acquainted with the San Francisco underground, there are many cameos by such luminaries as The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Jello Biafra and Elvis Herselvis. Beth Custer provides a bluesy score.
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Slow haunting dream film
20 August 2004
Though I was more impressed with this movie when it had it's theatrical debut in the early 1980s, I still recommend this mysterious mood piece. The story concerns a quiet middle aged woman (Julie Christie) living alone during some catastrophic breakdown of modern society. Young illiterate kids live like rats in the subways, garbage covers the streets and nomadic people scavenge in aimless traveling groups. The woman is given a young teenage girl (Leonie Mellinger) to take care of and the girl becomes sexually involved with a young man who takes on the task of caring for homeless children (while he simultaneously sleeps with them). Alongside this melancholic tale, there's another dimension revealed when the woman discovers a Victorian family living inside a strange membranous wall of her apartment. There are curious psychological parallels between the world in the wall and the goings-on in the woman's other dystopia world. The final scenes are truly weird and puzzling so if you like your movies straightforward with tidy narratives, this one isn't for you. For those who enjoy the bizarre and challenging, take a look. My only real criticism is the truly awful synth soundtrack (by Mike Thorne?any relation to Ken?) which constantly works against the imagery.
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A great visionary film
20 August 2004
Few films are as audacious and unrelentingly imaginative as this one. Set in a dreamlike rural Japan, the story starts out to be about an adolescent boy's attempt to escape his overprotective mother and then surprisingly becomes a filmmakers desire to confront his own elaborated creation. There is also an effort to reconcile the individual with the collective or old and new Japan through this parade of emblematic images. Gossiping women wear sinister eye patches. An outcast simple-minded woman drowns her own baby and later returns as a sophisticated prostitute. A circus fat lady yearns to have her fake body inflated by a dwarf. Curious and astounding scenes abound, all contributing to an overwhelming experience of a creative mind interrogating itself.
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El Topo (1970)
Highly layered symbolic vision
20 August 2004
Initially set up as a western movie in the manner of Sergio Leone, the film soon slips out into surprising metaphysical realms. A gunslinging avenger (El Topo; played by the director himself) defeats a local militant tyrant, castrating him and stealing his female lover away into the open desert, leaving his naked son in the care of monks. Goaded on by the woman who becomes increasingly demanding, El Topo (who calls himself "God") faces down several holy men, cheating to win. Not satisfied, the woman finds a sadistic female lover, and turns on El Topo, shooting him several times. El Topo is reborn as a genorous selfless man in a cave full of mutants whom he helps to escape from their enclosed incestuous existence. Reuniting with his now grown son and working with a dwarf woman in the local town to earn money, El Topo finally frees the mutants but on their road to freedom they are massacred. El Topo takes out his revenge on the townsfolk and burns himself alive, leaving his son, the dwarf and an infant behind who ride off into the desert to whatever destiny awaits them. This film is so saturated with meanings, it can be talked about for days if not years. It has haunted me as few films have. Beneath the multiple shocks of the first viewing, there is much careful metaphoric construction which opens outward the more it is pondered.
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Dreams of a young girl
20 August 2004
A "coming of age" story like no other, this Czech Gothic fairytale is possibly the most lyrical film ever made. Valerie, a 13 year old staying with her grandmother while her parents are away has her first menstruation, triggering a series of interlocking dreams about lustful vampires who prey upon her youth. Despite the monstrous goings-on, the film is a buoyant and sensual pleasure to watch. The camera-work and composition never ceases to amaze and the energy of its tuneful folklike score propels the convoluted story forward effortlessly. And much credit should be given to Jaroslava Schallerova as Valerie who inhabits the role with the right balance of knowledge and wonder
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Pretty audacious for an American film
7 August 2003
Stunt double (Dennis Hopper) is on location in Peru making a Sam Fuller western and stays behind to hatch 'get rich quick' plans only to find himself starring in a ceremonial movie of the natives. The big difference is while Hollywood violence is fake but the camera equipment is real, here things are reversed: the camera equipment is fake (fireworks make the camera reels spin) but the violence is real. Crazy imaginative production frequently goes off on hallucinatory tangents and the editing is creative to say the least. Easily the most interesting of Hopper's films. Alexandro Jodorowsky is rumored to have helped with the massive editing job.
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Macabre Kaleidoscope
5 August 2003
The late Polish director Wojceich Has is better known for his amazing "The Saragosa Manuscript" which has a Chinese box structure of nested stories. However, this film (known to english audiences as "The Sandglass"), tops its predecessor in fantastic imagery. Based on several stories of Bruno Schultz, this film might be the most successful recreation of the inner psyche ever commited to celluloid.

A man journeys by dilapidated train (where most of the passengers look like corpses) to visit his ailing father who is kept in a crumbling ornate sanatorium. He is told by a doctor that time exists differently there and his dying father may recover. The man experiences a flood of dreamlike visions of his past and the small Jewish town he was raised in. The father is seen both ill and as a giddy philosopher in an attic full of birds. At some point we get the creeping sensation that it is the man himself who is dying, not the father as a blind train conductor reappears like a death figure. The increasingly baroque episodes become the rich compost of a graveyard.

The film can also been seen as a requiem for the Eastern European Jewish culture that was wiped out by WW2. It isn't an accident that the protagonist is named Joseph and his father Jacob. Many of the films episodes evoke Jewish symbolism.
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