Saturday, November 19, 2011

Final Flesh: Porn goes apocalyptic avant-garde

Dir. Vernon Chatman

[Drag City; 2009]

After a prologue explains that the atom bomb is about to drop, we’re shown a family of three (mother, father and adult daughter) sitting around a kitchen table, deciding that they will stay and “die with dignity.”  The mother and daughter give birth to various food items and the father tires to climb back into the womb, and then daughter relates a dream.  We see a mushroom cloud, then another trio of actors in a different apartment who believe they are in the afterlife: they recite more humorous nonsense about God, death and the apocalypse and enact more bizarre skits before the action shifts to another trio in a different room, then another…

 For Final Flesh, we’re going to break with tradition and provide four different “indelible images,” one from each segment of the film.  A girl breastfeeds a porterhouse steak; a woman in a jeans, a tank-top and a skull mask threatens a man on his deathbed; a couple make out by mashing the skulls drawn on their backs together; a young lady in black lingerie performs a wedding ceremony on two corpses lying side by side.

 The conceptual art premise of sending a non-erotic script to beacted out by pornstars-for-hire might be weird enough, but when that apocalyptic screenplay requires the bemused amateur actors to bathe in the tears of neglected children and recite lines like “I just creamed my demon” after being slapped, we’ve traveled beyond the snarkily experimental into the realm of the existentially deranged.  All the world’s a stage and these men and women play many parts; if some of those roles require them to pour ketchup in a conch shell and poke at it with a turkey baster while moaning orgasmically, then maybe that’s just how this universe rolls.

Swallow the pill

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tearoom: Vintage glory holes

For two weeks in the summer of 1962, using a two-way mirror, police in the central Ohio town of Mansfield secretly filmed the activity in a public men's room in the town square. The surveillance recorded dozens of men having sex, resulting in more than 30 prosecutions for sodomy, with at least a year in prison time for each.

Decades later, acclaimed filmmaker William E. Jones  acquired the Mansfield footage while working on another project. The images so fascinated him that he's been screening it, unaltered by further editing, as the 56-minute Tearoom.

Shot without sound, in grainy color 16 mm, it's a stunning document. The men range in age from their 20s to their 60s. They are white and black, fat and thin, in a banker's suit or name-patched mechanic's uniform. Faces humorless, eyes on the door, they masturbate, give handjobs and blowjobs, and perform anal sex; a few exchange money. 

The Andy Warhol Museum screens the film. 

(16mm film transferred to video, color, silent, 56 minutes, 1962/2007) 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tarnation: The life of a queer boy and his schizophrenic mom

Your greatest creation is the life you lead

Tarnation is an autobiographical documentary film about the very personal experience of growing up with a mother who was suffering from a schizoaffective disorder, an episodic illness in which both affective and schizophrenic symptoms are prominent within the same episode . It tells the story of three generations of a Texas family. The film was made in 2003 by Jonathan Caouette. He created a collage of still photos, Super-8 video tape, answering machine messages, video diaries and early short films, from the previous nineteen years of his life . It cost just over $200 to make the initial film. Some well-known producers, including Gus Van Sant, spent more money enhancing its technical qualities to bring it to a wider audience.

Tarnation is essentially a film of two parts. The first recounts the author's childhood and teenage years as affected not only by his mother's psychosis but also by her lengthy absences from his life when she was sometimes hospitalised for several years at a time. It tells of his first teenage experience with marijuana, obtained from a drug dealing friend of his mother, which was actually spiked with PCP, resulting in his first admission to hospital and the diagnosis of depersonalization disorder . A core symptom of this syndrome is a subjective experience of unreality, as if dreaming, in which the individual feels that his own feelings and/or experiences are detached, distant and not his own, a quality that the film definitely manages to convey at times. This part of the film also tells the story of his mother Renee's life from her early days as a beautiful child model to a teenager who embarks on a lengthy course of twice weekly Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

The second part of the film deals with the period after Jonathan has left the family home in Texas and moved to New York, where he meets his partner David and begins to work as an actor. His mother comes to visit him there a few years later and he begins to build an adult relationship with her more closely than ever before

The film uses intertitles to tell the facts of the story, speeded up sequences, slow motion frames, multiple images and other special effects to express his inner turmoil.As well as giving us an experience of Renee's mental illness, Tarnation also vividly depicts Caouette's own mental health struggles from drug induced hallucinatory experiences, depersonalization disorder and deliberate self-harm to anxiety and panic. Tarnation is a documentary film about the whole experience of mental illness from a very personal point of view that gives the viewer a real sense, affectively, of being in close proximity to significant mental disturbance. Tarnation doesn't hold back on portraying the pain and chaos that can be part of life where psychosis is present.

The act of making Tarnation could be described as 'creative play' involving the imaginative creation of the film as a transitional phenomenon that helps him to process the highly charged, difficult emotions that exist between him and his mother

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The white sound (Das Weiße Rauschen) : The soundtrack of a paranoid schizophrenic

Lukas takes a trip on magic mushrooms. Lukas is not coming back.

Driving through the countryside, Kati, Jochen and Lukas take some magic mushrooms. One of them, Lukas, is not coming down from them. Hearing voices like multiple different low turned radio programs, changing and mixing altogether. The diagnosis of the physician: paranoid schizophrenia. Not able to filter and interpret the sensations presented he encounters fear, inner voices, paranoia and is drifting away from reality.

The film does not become a clinical case study, but tells an interesting story about a young man, Lukas, who moves to Cologne to share a flat with his older sister Kati  and her friend Jochen. At first everything is going fine; they spend their days full of recreation, but when he abandons his university studies on the first day just because he can't find the enrollment office ,and when a date with a girl goes a little bit wrong the audience begins to suspect that there's something wrong with Lukas. Lukas' schizophrenia attacks become almost physically tangible through very clever use of camera and sound. Whenever he is about to have one, the coloured footage moves to black and white. After the schizophrenia first breaks out, the movie becomes a very intense experience (similar to the films of Darren Aronofsky or even to "Das Experiment"), because on the sound track you hear the same cacophony of voices that begin to torment Lukas...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cat Ladies: (Clinically) Mad about cats

The image of the typical cat lady is a portrait of severe mental disturbance, often used comedically like in “The Simpsons,” where Springfield’s unshowered feline connoisseur leaps into action, using kittens as throwing stars as she clears the room with her garbled ranting. Of course, there’s a dark side to this lifestyle, a portrayal offered a brief but harrowing spotlight in the spellbinding documentary “Cat Ladies.”

In this documentary we are introduced to four women who have an obsession with feline ownership. For Margot, three cats is her limit, showering the felines with love and attention while her personal life turns to stone. Troubled Jenny is a quick-witted 35-year-old single lady who depends on her 16 cats for comfort, pushing her dangerously close to the “crazy cat lady” brand she fears. Diane once had a potent personal life, but a disruption of her career led her to seek out stray cats, with over 100 felines taking up residence in her home. Sigi has the same hording problem as Diane, only she views the mass cat population as caped heroism, trapping feral cats to feed her God complex, imagining herself as the only savior these little furry creatures have.

These are passionate women feeling comfortable enough to allow cameras to capture their shame, bringing the viewer into these hot zones of kitten play. It’s easy to be horrified by these women, and to mock their litter-box-lined lifestyle.

“Cat Ladies” is not a cheap joke. It’s a touching, unforgettable decent into various degrees of mental illness and outright loneliness, looking to probe cat fascination beyond the tempting cliches.

Swallow the pill

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dottie Gets Spanked (1993): Six Year Olds Have Fetishes Too

Anyone who has nursed a childhood obsession with a television program (and who hasn't devoutly wished at one time to escape childhood growing pains by diving through the tube into a magical realm?) should find a haunting resonance in Todd Haynes's ( director of Velvet Goldmine, Sonic Youth's Goo music video, I'm not there, etc.) half-hour film, Dottie Gets Spanked.

Dottie Gets Spanked observes the world through the eyes of a shy 6-year-old boy  in 1960's suburban New York. Steven has a fixation on a Lucy Ball-like television star named Dottie Frank. His fervor is so all-consuming that his parents are beginning to worry.
Sitting inches from the television set, Steven scrawls scenarios starring his idol in a drawing book. 


At night, Dottie's zany misadventures become entangled with his own dreams. Even after Steven wins a contest to visit the New York studio where the program is shot and discovers that the actress playing Dottie is a tough professional cookie who is not like her character, he persists in his obsession.


During the episode under way in the studio, Dottie is given a comic spanking. And the image becomes confused in his own mind with his stern father's tacit threats of corporal punishment. It all comes together in a dream sequence in which spanking assumes a mythical import, and shame and desire become intermingled. 
 One could say it's an excellent depiction of a young boy's Oedipal phantasies and desires over his father.

A similar sense of an oppressive, regimented society cruelly bearing down on a sensitive individual infused Haynes's films Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story and Poison. The most daring sections of the film are its dream sequences, in which the director tries to go beyond surrealistic symbolism and evoke actual dreams.

The film recalls Haynes’ interest in sexuality as well the theme of repression in the family home that would come in later films like Safe and Far from Heaven.

Swallow the pill:

Dose 1
Dose 2
Dose 3
Dose 4

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Capturing the Freedmans: Paedophile Clowns and Computer Geeks

First-time feature filmmaker Andrew Jarecki intended to make a lighthearted documentary about children's party clowns. But after poking into the family history of one of his subjects he found he had the makings of a very different story on his hands, a story of pedophilia, child pornography and terrible accusations of sexual abuse. Jarecki discovered that clown David "Silly Billy" Friedman was the oldest son of Arnold Friedman, a well-respected Long Island schoolteacher who, along with David's younger brother, Jesse, was arrested and charged with crimes ranging from possession of kiddie porn to child molestation. Arnold came under the scrutiny of postal inspectors in 1984 when he ordered child pornography from the Netherlands; three years later, the police raided his house. In addition to Arnold's sizable stash of smut featuring underage boys, they found a list of all the kids Arnold taught at home in an after-school computer class. Suspecting the worst, Nassau County's sex-crimes unit began aggressively interviewing Arnold's students and amassing allegations of sexual abuse that also implicated Arnold's 18-year-old son, Jesse. .

The charges against Arnold and Jesse Friedman escalated rapidly, suspicion turned to hysteria and the whole horrible story spilled into the national news. Through David, Jarecki not only gained access to Jesse and Arnold's wife Elaine (Arnold died in 1995), but the family's huge collection of home movies. They captured not only the Friedman pere et fils in happier times, mugging and capering for the cameras (performance and role playing appear to be a disquieting theme in the Friedman household), but also the terrible arguments that began tearing the family apart. The footage feels like a documentation of derranged family therapy sessions.  

Monster or victim? By switching from the public trial to the private, domestic life and family history of a convicted, and now dead, paedophile, 'Capturing the Friedmans' raises profound questions about prejudice and hysteria in our society, and about the ultimate inscrutability of the human soul in a mediated age. Quietly explosive and determinedly controversial...

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