I watched a couple of movies in quick succession this weekend, and when I was through with the second, I realized they had a lot more in common than I was aware of when I chose them pretty much at random from a pile of DVDs I borrowed from the library. For starters, they’re both Criterion releases: Paul Bartel‘s 1982 Eating Raoul and Samuel Fuller‘s 1964 . Though the former is a sophisticated (albeit at times purposely ludicrous) black comedy and the latter on the surface a lurid exploitation picture, the two also share several central themes: innocence vs. experience, sexual kinkiness and moral hypocrisy, the commodification of the body and desire, violence as a means to an end, the failures of capitalism and more. They would make an excellent double bill for a film class or art house cinema, or just a lively evening with friends. Continue reading
A little comic relief, maestro!
Sheik Imran Hosein is an Islamic scholar of the Sufi tradition, born in Trinidad and educated in Pakistan and Europe. He’s been a diplomat in his native Trinidad and Tobago and imam at a Long Island masjid, among many other accomplishments. His academic specialty is Islamic eschatology, which, like Christian eschatology, concerns the end times. He gives a hint of the flavor of his scholarship at the end of the video posted above, the final segment of a three-part interview with a British vlogger who calls himself 108Morris108.
I’m posting the video here because, in a sense, Sheik Hosein answers a comment from Sreenivas on a previous post marveling at the audacity of Islamic protests against the film Innocence of Muslims in Libya and Pakistan. I have to say I think Sreenivas’s main point about the irrationality of the attacks is hard to argue against. And in fact, Hosein expresses a similar disdain for what he suggests is a non-Islamic reaction that, without reflection and in pure reflex, lashes out violently at the wrong targets. He suggests the protestors behave like puppets on a string being yanked by their enemies. Protestors should peacefully target their own governments, he says, as the Tunisians and Egyptians did in the spring of 2011. Why? Because their governments are enabling the enemies of Islam.
Oddly, he criticizes governments in the Arab world (namely Saudi Arabia) that are lending moral and other forms of aid to the Syrian rebels. Is it because he thinks the Syrian rebellion is essentially violent and “un-Islamic?” Actually, he implies that it’s because the Syrian government, whatever evils it has done in the past, is a steadfast bulwark against Israel. And here is where the Sheik’s eschatology comes in. Just like George W. Bush, the imam believes end times are nigh.
What a mad world we live in!
Curious about how the infamous “Innocence of Muslims” was ever made? The writer Neil Gaiman has one take on the story from a Georgia (former USSR)-born actress and friend of Gaiman’s named Anna Gurji. Here’s a little taste:
My character Hilary was a young girl who is sold (against her own free will) by her parents to a tribe leader known as GEORGE. She is one of his (most likely, the youngest) brides in the movie.The film was about a comet falling into a desert and different tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it for they deemed that the comet possessed some supernatural powers.The movie that we were doing in Duarte was called “Desert Warrior” and it was a fictional adventure drama. The character GEORGE was a leader of one of those tribes fighting for the comet.There was no mention EVER by anyone of MUHAMMAD and no mention of religion during the entire time I was on the set. I am hundred percent certain nobody in the cast and nobody in the US artistic side of the crew knew what was really planned for this “Desert Warrior”. Continue reading
Every once in a while (in truth, probably a little more often than the average person), I will watch two movies in one sitting. Thanks to Netflix instant streaming and my handy-dandy Blue-Ray player with built-in wi-fi, I am able to select two movies almost at random to watch on my TV anytime. Of course, if it were truly random, the potential list would include every film ever made and I wouldn’t have any choice in either of them. That would be an interesting experiment, indeed. But since I do have a say in the matter, I pick films from my bloated queue (usually), which means I must have a pre-existing interest in any given component of any given “random” double feature.
Last night, the films I chose were Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s 1954 Hollywood melodrama The Barefoot Contessa, and Vittorio De Sica‘s 1948 Italian neorealist classic Ladri di Biciclette. Although made within a few years of each other and each taking place at least partly in Italy, the movies are worlds apart in theme, look and sensibility. It may even seem unfair to compare them, like comparing apples and clothes hangers. But I found this pairing surprisingly useful in clarifying some of my personal cinematic tastes. Readers of this blog will no doubt have different takes and tastes. I’d be interested to hear what you think. Continue reading
My last post on Sierre Leone’s NGO Fambul Tok was based on my viewing several weeks ago of the 2011 film of the same name, directed by Sara Terry and co-produced by Libby Hoffman, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in questions of crime, punishment, and justice. In brief, it concerns the NGO’s work in Sierra Leone’s communities with reconciling victims and perpetrators of the country’s civil war, which lasted from 1991-2002. It begins at a bonfire in a small village with a rape victim confronting and eventually forgiving the rapist, her uncle. In another village, former best friends are reconciled; one, as an impressed child soldier for the rebels, had killed the other’s father. A sister of a notorious rebel leader, who remains missing, begs and receives forgiveness on her brother’s behalf from the cousins and neighbors whose families he had brutalized by torture, rape and murder.
As the film explains through its central spokesperson John Caulker, Fambul Tok was developed as an alternative to the post-war commissions that had, until the film was released, prosecuted only a handful of war criminals, none of them of top rank. The cost to the nation of that nearly decade-long Western-style process was in the tens of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, Fambul Tok’s brand of justice had cost about $US 1 million since it was founded in 2007 until the film’s release last year and had reconciled hundreds of former antagonists. Continue reading
I went international with my movie-viewing this weekend. I viewed films, all made between 2001 and 2010, from Iran, France, Thailand and Korea. All of these are available to stream instantly on Netflix, and though, I have reservations about two of them, I recommend them all anyway. Following are my caspule reviews: Continue reading
A few weeks ago, after reading an obituary of underground film legend George Kuchar in the New York Times, I watched Jennifer M. Kroot‘s 2009 documentary It Came from Kuchar, a very enjoyable film in its own right, about the delightfully weird hand-made movies of George and his twin brother Michael. The Kuchars of the Bronx made over-the-top satires with their friends and family on, first, a wind-up action DeJur 8mm camera (the kind I loved making films with as a kid) and then a Bolex 16mm (the kind I always wished I had). Unlike their underground peers Andy Warhol or Kenneth Anger, the Kuchar’s were primarily interested in Hollywood-style narrative (though their movies are far stranger than anything Hollywood could ever dream up) and were heavily influenced in particular by Douglas Sirk, whose melodramas they watched over and over at local movie houses.
From my days of interest in New German cinema, I knew Rainer Werner Fassbinder was also a Sirk fanatic, and I was intrigued by the homages he paid Sirk in films like Lola and Veronika Voss–not the narrative influence so much as the visual influence, the use of primary color light gels and art design components to telegraph emotion. These visuals also clearly appealed to the Kuchars. In It Came from Kuchar, you can see that George was still practicing Sirk-style lighting in his film classes at San Francisco Art Institute. (Sins of the Fleshapoids, which is available in multipart on YouTube, is a good example of an original Kuchar epic employing Sirk-inspired lighting techniques.)
I only knew about Sirk as an auteur worth investigating from my interest in Fassbinder. So far as I know, I had never seen a Sirk until just the other night. It was the Kuchar films that piqued my interest anew, so when I saw Imitation of Life available on Netflix, I queued it up. By coincidence, my own twin brother Erik recommended I see the remake of Philip Yordan’s Anna Lucasta (directed by Arthur Laven) with Eartha Kitt and Sammy Davis Jr just that day, so when Imitation of Life was over, I went right into Anna Lucasta, which is also available for instant streaming on Netflix. They make for an interesting double feature. Continue reading
If you know her only as “It’s Pat” from Saturday Night Live, then you probably won’t know that Julia Sweeney is also a talented writer and performer of monologues à la Spaulding Gray. Unlike Gray, Sweeney moves around on the stage a lot, but like Gray, her subject is her journey into self-knowledge. Her first show, God Said, Ha! (1998), concerned disease, death and survival: the story centered on her brother Michael’s lymphoma and how it brought her closer to her parents–literally closer; they moved in with her to help her care for her brother. It’s a surprisingly unsentimental, unselfpitying show, very funny throughout, and, therefore, a much richer experience than the usual hystrionic tales of family dysfunction and disease.
I picked up the Quentin Tarantino-produced film of Sweeney’s show from the library a few weeks ago thinking it would be about Sweeney’s loss of faith. I’m at the age when titles of movies and plays don’t stick in the head the way they used to and I was thinking of her next piece, with the similarly divine title Letting Go of God (2006). But I’m glad I saw her earlier piece first, not only because it was fascinating and beautifully performed, but also because it drops a few clues about how someone with Sweeney’s deeply Catholic background could take the radical spiritual turn she takes in the second monologue, which I finally got to see last night. Continue reading
I wasn’t expecting to watch either Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) or Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Doulos (1962) last night. Almost randomly, I selected each just seconds before watching them from my Netflix instant watch list, where both had been sitting for perhaps a year or possibly more. Each made a surprisingly provocative complement to the other on my random double feature bill. Continue reading