Saturday, September 12, 2020

Fighting Elegy

In Erections

"You must break school rules one by one to be brave!" — Set by Kaneto Shindō in 1935 at two rural boys' military academies, Fighting Elegy [Kenka elegy, 1966] is perhaps director Seijun Suzuki's most searing denunciation then-to-date of the right-wing militarism that took hold in Japan in the years leading up to the Pacific War or, more broadly, the proliferation of the Axis in World War II. It's also the film in which he most explicitly points to the source of nationalist foment: the "middle schools" operating throughout the country's rural enclaves. The source of the source? Repression, individual and sexual, stemming primarily from institutions such as the macho alpha-male society (erotic transference and release in combat*), organized religion, and family dynamics, nuclear and surrogate. Self-denial, Suzuki suggests, leads to downfall and ultimate defeat (if 'vying''s even in the wheelhouse); abundance, experiential and aesthetic, saves the day. Remarkable, the Scope of the frames, the ingenuity of how (faux) raccord functions in taking us from one scene to the next. Try to see Fighting Elegy on as large a screen as possible: the masochistic acts, the cleats, the tacks, the swinging mace, will be served well: the action will be transubstantial, monsieur.

*e.g., the irrigation well whose muck, as photographed, assumes a semen'y phosphorescence.


Monday, September 07, 2020

Tokyo Drifter

 Draft My Kitsch

Coming back to Tokyo Drifter [Tōkyō nagaremono, 1966] after several years, I'm surprised to recall that the storyline is based around the nuances of a real-estate transaction (read as: extortion) for a building in Tokyo whose special value, besides being a piece of not-especially-prime Tokyo property, remains elusive to me. Yet the movie persists as Suzuki's most popular (famous? infamous?) next to Branded to Kill and, now, possibly, Pistol Opera. My opinion is that Suzuki already went as radical (or as constantly used in reference to his œuvre, "pop art") in many of his earlier works: Youth of the Beast, Gate of Flesh, and the masterpiece Kantō Wanderer. Nevertheless, Kōhan Kawauchi's plot's not the thing. Howard Hampton wrote a good essay with the get-this title "Catch My Drift" for the Criterion Blu-ray, in which he remarks "[t]he plot is just an excuse to set hit men and their ornamental paramours in motion." As I see it, everything leads up to the fulcrum, the literal pivot-point of the figural sculpture holding aloft a lunar donut-bloom blasted by a red, then yellow, filtered spotlight: a cipher, the inexplicable, that represents the Zen 'key' of the movie. The bounteousness and silence of form: a container or structure for plenitude of emotion: fine, then, pop-music for the eye (although the theme song "Tōkyō nagaremono" wouldn't, shouldn't, just can't be the retinal tune: that number's pastiche — although it serves the function of giving the recently-passed Tetsuya Watari, as protagonist Tetsu, an idea for his moniker). The scenes, even the boring ones with men sitting around discussing promissory notes, could seemingly be shuffled in many configurations of chronology, give or take a few maimings or murders (such as that of dippy manga-maniac Mutsuko [Tomoko Hamakawa] whose corpse is shown from a ceiling-alcove's-eye-view) or the ritorno of the totemic leaf-shorn tree and radio tower that capture Tetsu's gaze. (Speaking of which, seeing through walls — a twist on the functionality of the shōji screen — recurs throughout Suzuki, mostly in the form of a back-office able to keep an eye on the proceedings on the dancefloor or bar at the front of the establishment. Here, one can see the dancefloor, illuminated purple, from the side, from above, or even from below in a basement crawlspace jammed with pipes.) Regardless of its ranking in Suzuki's Sixties filmography, Tokyo Drifter holds a special status as the straw that started cracking the camel's back, despite the lunatic entries before (e.g., Story of a Prostitute) and after (e.g., Fighting Elegy).


Saturday, September 05, 2020

Christmas Eve Now


It's the Eve of Eves

What have you come with

The Charles Whitmans are already here

Emilia's scratching her jeans

I'm asking Heath' what she thinks it might mean,

She insists that I'm being the meanie,

That can't operate in this green work-building,

All of a sudden my phone keyboard's looking like teeth

Set to make Keith into the working-board Pretendo gelding.

Thanks to work-place allowance for Heath'

Swap out seminars, pig-tie your grief

Apprehension can't get no relief

Your child-cat arms seek a reef

Like Gainsbourg's girl in the deep....

Now Gramma has casserole fired

It's spilt-over the dishes of beets

Don't ask which uncles she's "sired"

It mixes the boys with the streets!

Hudson's Adventure missing island and soap

Gramma promised the ninnies it couldn't snag scrotes

But Soap-on-a-Rope has Mind-of-Its-Own

It's inclined to hail Mary, unmask its Jabrone'.

I call my dander "chin-chalk" —

Absolute respect to the Sheikh.

My iron witness protects me —

He's Jonas Salk, he's Allah, Khalik.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Du côté de la Côte

An Idea of Eden ("It's Sunday in Peking")

Du côté de la Côte [Around the Côte, 1958], a film dedicated to the memory of André Bazin, marks the second travelogue documentary-essay of Varda's following Ô saisons ô châteaux (a film admired by the late critic, who remarked in some of his final writings upon the unfairness that the film couldn't take home a prize at given festivals because of a limit of three winning works from France!). 

If Varda's film has a central observation, it's "learning to live together" — the 'bumpkin' native-residents and the influx of tourists and campeurs; statues and the merely statuesque; the ancient and the modern. See the opening shot, pictured above, in which a saisonale is juxtaposed with the historical skyline, and looms like a blanker thinker of Rodin. Tombs around the Côte are fashioned with "the charm of existence." Shot sequences contain uniform, but still rhythmic, numbers of frames before and after each cut (a trademark of Varda's editing). Movement and stasis; movement prevails. Note the scene where the camera tracks forward and the shoots of vegetation, believed to be static, part to accommodate the apparatus, finally revealing a white horse in promenade drawing an empty carriage. I'm reminded of some Zen koan or other that I read years ago: white horse, or horsely whiteness? (cf. Moby-Dick, or: The Whale)

Varda recognizes (and as she affirms in the Bonus) the difference between open-Eden (Éden en plein air) and that Eden sequestered — a small shock — behind the gates of private property. (She includes a shot of one emblazoned: "Rosalia," in a small token and reminder to her newborn Rosalie). "But nostalgia for Eden is a garden.... a transplanted garden... the notion of a garden."