Archive for October, 2010

(Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

(essay by Troy)

Psycho, simply put, is the most influential horror movie of all-time.  Here we have the film that took horror from being generally a genre with supernatural and gothic traditions, making it popular to place the emphasis on the modern, the domestic, and the psychosexual.  Or, as Jamie has stated before it represents the “year zero” of the genre, creating a divide of those films that influenced Psycho and the films that were influenced by Psycho.  50 years later it’s narratives, themes, and aesthetics have been referenced and drawn upon in 100’s of films, yet no one has been able to quite perfect the combination of style, tension, timing, narrative misdirection, and morbid wit that Hitchcock did.

Filled with its fair share of remarkable moments, Psycho is forever connected to one indelible and iconic series of images, “the shower scene.”   It’s memorable for several reasons.  There’s the level of technical ingenuity that’s on display — it famously has not a single penetration of the knife, yet our mind connects those dots in the midst of the scene’s myriad of cuts and camera angles. Of course, there’s also an underlying sleight of hand at work here, Hitchcock slyly playing the audience “like an organ,” wherein he shifts our voyeuristic and objectifying gaze into one of complicity when Marion is attacked and her body is disposed of.

Those are part of what make this a staple of Film Study 101 classes, but what makes it stand the test of time is the abject fear it still manages to create, even after multiple viewings and the likelihood that everyone watching knows what’s lurking around the corner 40-minutes into the proceedings.  I’ve seen it numerous times and it never fails to shock and chill me in its suddenness and violence, a combination of disorienting music and editing, murderous shadows, naked helplessness, and hemmed-in claustrophobia, finalized with Marion’s desperate grasp and a haunting focus on her lifeless stare looking back at us.

It’s the quintessential horror movie sequence and a permanent fixture in our cinematic cultural heritage.



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(Wes Craven, 1984)

(essay by Robert)

1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is a film that explodes beyond its slasher framework by transgressing the boundaries of reality and imaginary.  The film makes no apologies for its preponderance of blood and abruptly challenges us to look hard at the psychological and sociological burdens of the characters.  Craven created a film that is so violent that the true concepts can be lost.  The real genius of the film is in the undertones of his commentary combined with the gripping dream imagery.

The dream motif and the concept of capturing the feeling and obscurity of dreams/nightmares was by no means original.  It was Craven’s seamless connection between the dreamworld and real life that hit home: he does this both literally and figuratively.  The dream/reality transitions in the film are subtle and are a wonderful horror mechanism.  More symbolically, Craven built a relatively complex story-line going back decades to insert a very tangible and somehow believable link between the dreams being experienced and real “awake” events (most importantly death).  Nightmares are a universal yet personal experience. Somehow, regardless of how silly they seem in the day-light, they are startling and trigger real fear.  There is security in knowing that all we have to do is wake-up and the door is closed on the dream.  The idea that this door does not lock and that somehow someone, other than ourselves, can penetrate and control both our dreams and reality is an amazingly chilling notion that touches at the most vulnerable place. This element undoubtedly is what makes the film so intriguing and relatable. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1935 92m) not on DVD

Aka. Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo

It‘s not worth three mon

d  Sadao Yamanaka  w  Shintaro Mimura  ph  Jan Yasumoto  m  Goro Nishi  art  Kohei Shima

Denjiro Okochi (Sazen Tange), Kiyozo (Ofuji), Kunitaro Sawamura (Genzaburo Yagyu), Reisaburo Yamamoto (Yokichi), Minoru Takase (Shigeju), Shoji Kiyokawa (Shichibei), Ranko Hanai (Ogino), Harutaro Mune, Katsutaro Bando, Taro Sochun, Zenichiro Kito,

The most famous of several versions of this famous comic tale is the earliest of the three Sadao Yamanaka films to survive – only Kochiyama Soshun and the previously discussed Humanity and Paper Balloons survive of his later work.  It’s undoubtedly the lightest of the three extant works, and seems more indicative, retrospectively, of the Japan of the mid thirties, the period when Ozu, Naruse, Uchida and, especially, Shimizu, were at the forefront of Japanese cinema.  Sazen Tange may not have the dramatic intensity of Paper Balloons, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, richly entertaining piece for all that

            An old legend tells of how a rich feudal lord buried hidden treasure underground and the only instructions on how to find it were in the form of a map on an otherwise worthless clay pot decorated by monkeys.  One lord finds out this secret, but realises the pot, which had been in his possession, was passed to his brother to give to his future son-in-law on the occasion of their wedding.   The lord takes steps to get a retainer to try and inveigle the pot back into his hands, but smelling a rat the brother beats the truth out of the retainer and finds that it’s potentially worth a million ryo.  The problem is his young wife, who like him had thought it an insulting eyesore up until then, has sold it for a few mon to two junk dealers.  They in turn give it to a small boy to keep his goldfish in.  Then a one-armed and one-eyed samurai, Sazen Tange, is called in to look for it… (more…)

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Very often when I see a movie I find myself conflicted as to whether or not I actually like it very much. Over the course of this year I’ve seen a number of films that I’m more or less 50/50 on– the beautifully shot, but dramatically laughable I Am Love; the dramatically intense but more or less by-the-book backwoods noir of Winter’s Bone; the charged, yet somehow illogical and meandering Animal Kingdom. But of them all, I find myself most divided on the matter of Jean-Luc Godard’s latest, Filme Socialisme, a movie that has already become notorious not just for its narrative (such as there is), its politics (such as they always are in a Godard film) or its visual power (such as it always is when Godard is at his best), but even for its subtitles (such as they are).

So divided am I by it, in fact, that I’m unable to articulate my feelings on it simply through a traditional written review, but have instead decided to supply my own commentary on it via my main creative passion– game design. Being that I’ve been concerned with making games that are all about interactive conversations for the past few years, I figure I might as well use one to start a conversation about a film that more or less demands an active participation to get anywhere with it, rather than a traditional, passive and linear cinematic experience. As such, I’m going to leave this article alone then, and let everything play out in the game and the comments-section– itself a kind of interactive conversation game.

Godard famously said that the best possible way to review a movie was to make one yourself. Well, I’d like to think that I’ve at least met him halfway with this. I more or less expect this will be somewhat outside the gaming-literacy of some of our members here, but it’s worth a shot. You can access it either by clicking the screenshot above or by simply going to my blog here. Oh, and remember to click on the SWF when it opens, and use the Control-Key for… well… pretty much everything in the game.

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(John Carpenter, 1978)

(essay by Kevin)

Much like my dilemma with what to write about in regards to Alien here I am again faced with an even more canonized film; a film that has been written about ad nauseam to the point where anything I say in this essay is going to sound cliché. Halloween is considered one of the great horror films of all time, and it is considered the quintessential slasher film. It seems odd that for a countdown whose sole purpose was to bring awareness to little-seen horror films that my list would be topped by such an obvious choice. It’s true that we wanted this countdown to be unorthodox, but I don’t think for an instant that any of us – Robert, Jamie, and Troy – felt that we could omit the obvious choices from our list all in the name of esotericism. So what makes Halloween the greatest horror film of all time? Perhaps you have preconceived notions of what the slasher film can offer, but for me it epitomizes everything – good and bad (and boy was some of it atrociously bad) – about the horror genre post-1970’s.  Every cliché and every trope found in modern horror can be traced back to John Carpenter’s Halloween. Yes, Carpenter cribbed most of his film from sources ranging from the obvious (the most cribbed man when it comes to terror: Hitchcock) to the unheralded (Bob Clark, director of Black Christmas), but never once does his film feel like a mere copycat, an aping of better material. No, Halloween, even today some 30 years later, still feels fresh and still gives me the chills. (more…)

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(Originally an entry in the “Sunday Matinee” series)

by Joel Bocko

Before the Revolution, Italy, 1964, dir. Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring Adriana Asti, Francesco Barilli

Story: In Parma, a young Communist feels torn between his romantic hunger for life, the security of his bourgeois background, and his ideological duty to the cause. Meanwhile, he carries on an affair with his emotionally unstable aunt.

The opening scene of Before the Revolution, or Prima della rivoluzione as it’s more poetically known in Italy, stands among the most elating passages in cinema. You can’t quite pinpoint how this works; trying to relate the alchemy of these moments in typed prose, my fingers tie themselves in knots. Bertolucci, only twenty-two when he shot the movie, would go on to direct more lush, illustrious sequences especially once he began to use color. But somehow here we feel we are getting closest to the pulsating consciousness powering his vision – a sensitivity and sensibility swooning with the pregnant possibilities and numinous actualities of the moment. What exactly do we see? Close-ups of Fabrizio (Frencesco Barilli), our hero, which loom like wall-sized portraits, even on a small screen; soaring overhead shots of Parma as if Bertolucci began to run through his hometown and in his enthusiasm sprouted wings and began to fly. What do we hear? Fabirizo’s neurotic narration, a mixture of lush language and furious, uneasy denunciation, underpinned by Ennio Morricone’s lush, heart-bursting score – fully invested in its sense of operatic intensity, and as unashamed of it as Fabrizio is wary. This film then is a sensuous experience, maybe even first and foremost, but it is also a film of ideas, and a dialectic exists between Fabrizio’s notions and his feelings (as well as amongst the various feelings themselves).


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(David Lynch, 1986)

(essay by Kevin)

[This is a repost of an entry I did on the subgenre of Neo-Noir a while back…I am leaving it untouched here for one purpose: I have not added any addendums to this essay about whether or not Blue Velvet is a ‘horror’ film; so, let’s discuss whether it is or isn’t in the comments.]

If Chinatown uses the style of noir to create an atmosphere of loneliness and despair – revealing the corrupt truths of America the way Gittes reveals the corruption of the Cross case; and if Blade Runner uses noir’s style to look into the future to raise the level of awareness about a kind of hyperreality we live in; then David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is an attack on the ideological nostalgic 1950’s America filtered through Lynch’s twisted, microscopic lens. Lynch’s film peers into the secrecy of our lives in order to see what lies underneath the façade of Everytown, USA. Blue Velvet involves families, strokes, teenagers in love, severed ears, murder, drugs, and yes, sadomasochism. And yet Lynch does in deed bring all of these elements together in noir fashion to create an ethereal experience, something so surreal and so bizarre, it is as if the viewer is taking hits from Frank Booth’s gas tank.


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Copyright © 2010 by James Clark

      Regarding the reception of her Anatomy of Hell (2004), soon after the shooting of which she underwent a major stroke, from which she has recovered, Catherine Breillat remarked, “I hope they won’t kill me.” She might have found solace in the fact (undoubtedly known to her) that Ingmar Bergman presented the same incendiary zone in his Cries and Whispers (1972), and went on for decades thereafter. Of course the latter had chosen a discreet embodiment of the concern, embossed by a drop dead cinematic elegance more than ample to quell any mutinous inclinations from the customers. Breillat, bless her, came to the party with porn lightning rod, Rocco Siffredi, and a scenario bristling with pugnacious outrage—and so much more!

    Bergman embarks on his discovery, with steady, crystalline ticking of a clock, tapping upon the exceedingly well-groomed grounds of an estate in early morning diffuse light. He then proceeds to the interior of the villa and a sleeping woman restlessly deposited in bed, awakening (with red-rimmed eyes and nostrils) in startlement, and then invaded by a death-tinged realization, her eyes and mouth fighting panic but unable to dismiss the throbbing of a perpetual grief. Breillat, too, opens with insistent sounds, specifically techno-pop issuing from a dance club in the night. Outside, whereas Bergman showed a sedate stone statue of an angel with a lyre, the latter work shows a man sucking another’s cock. Inside, there is an all-male festivity going full-tilt, all but for a dark and attractive woman, who, after watching impassively for a while, makes her way sombrely toward a washroom, in the course of which bumping against another patron, who is acute enough to detect and care about the danger she exudes. He finds her slashing her wrist and rushes her to a clinic. (more…)

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by Joel

#93 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

While he is an infant, Atanarjuat’s family goes hungry. The boy’s father, an outcast and laughing-stock, can’t hunt to save his life – literally; the other men tease him, asking if his wife will hunt while he stays behind, sewing and cooking. That’s humiliation in this community of hardy hunters; still, the hunger must be worse than humiliation. Atanarjuat is too young to comprehend the situation, but his elder brother Amaqjuaq soaks it all in grimly – particularly the mother’s advice: “You must never forget to take care of Atanarjuat.” Somberly, the little boy reaches up to his baby brother, holding out a scrap of walrus heart (which a friend of the family, pitying their destitution, smuggled in to the starving brood). Tellingly, the half-asleep infant does not respond – it’s as if even at this early age he is confident in his own ability to survive, and perhaps complacent in the sense that his family will take care of him.

When we meet Atanarjuat and Amaqjuaq as adults (played by Natar Ungalaaq and Pakak Innuksuk), the big brother is still looking out for the little one. Atanarjuat is a skilled runner and hunter, weak and dreamy in other respects, but holding onto his lifelong faith in survival and confidence in family security. In the course of this striking and stirring epic, that second feeling will diminish drastically, as Atanarjuat is forced to look out for himself. But that first feeling – the confidence in survival – will only grow, and be based on a firmer foundation, because indeed Atanarjuat (the “fast runner” of the English title) will endure what kills other men, and the experience will only make him stronger.


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by Sam Juliano

    Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny developed both the subject matter and the musical style of the opera comique in the middle years of the eighteenth century.  The composer is known to have been greatly influenced by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, an ‘opera seria’ that exerted enormous influence on the direction of music during this period of rapid expansion, in which the genre was transformed from a marked reliance on popular melodies to a time of exceeding musical creativity.  The Italians introduced the French to the idea that libretti be designed to serve and enhance the music, reforming the role of the composer, who had a subservient role in the earlier comedie en vaudevilles.  Monsigny’s earlier works, composed circa 1759 to 1761, were basically comic intrigues revolving around disguises, deceptions, misunderstandings and reconciliations.

     In 1762, Monsigny departed significantly from this overtly comedic style to a one that incorporated elements of humanism and moral enlightenment.  Indeed, the virtues of the common folk, and more importantly personal freedom and equality were themes then embraced by the philosophers of this period.  The musical content of Monsigny’s works – unsurprisingly – became more complex as a result, and a number of vocal ensembles were added.  It can’t be denied that the composer’s style is repetitive, but his skills as a melodist, the comic spirit evident in his earlier work and the immediacy of dramatic expression his his later works made his a formidable figure in French opera from any period. (more…)

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