Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Friday, June 29, 2007


      ”Pink Film” is something we gaijin would call “soft-core porn”; a Japanese variety of such, to be exact. While as a genre it does feature simulated sex acts and the occasional hint of S/M and bondage, there’s nary a sign of a pubic hair, let alone shots of genitals or Heavens forbid! Actual penetration! By the current Western standards of porn -- even the soft-core variety -- pinku eiga is almost quaint       ...well, almost. In addition to the aforementioned tendency towards ‘rough’ sex in these films (of that particular flavor -- peculiar to the Japanese, I think -- in which the male seems to rationalize his aggressive stance towards the fair sex on the basis of his conviction that women aren’t even of the same species), there also seems to be an increasing tendency towards abstraction that would seem out of place in almost any film, let alone something produced by the Tokyo equivalent of Vivid Video. The most outrageous example of such (that I’ve seen, at least), would have to be The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai.

      The film opens with call-girl Sachiko playing the part of a teacher for a client who seems to like his professors particularly strict. After wrapping that up (as well as the film’s first sex scene), she heads to a diner for a late-night snack -- and promptly drops into the middle of a yakuza shoot-out that results in her a.) receiving a non-fatal gunshot wound to the head (said wound seems to both increase her intelligence and give her a series of disorienting -- and sexually explicit -- hallucinations), and b.) accidentally pocketing the cloned finger of George W. Bush. Which finger? The button-pushing finger -- you know, that button -- the one we all hope never gets pushed. Sachiko’s on the run from there on out -- from the Yakuza, from North Korean assassins, but most of all, from George W. Bush -- and his autonomous and very frisky finger.

      Part of what makes the film fun is that it never forgets it’s a porno; as soon as you start wondering when everybody’s going to stop talking about the ontological implications of quantum brain dynamics, somebody decides it’s time for a blowjob. It’s structured a lot like a conventional porn film in that regard; but instead of lengthy interstitial scenes where the Pizza Delivery Boy talks suggestively to some triple-X starlet, characters chat about metaphysics, Susan Sontag, and post-modern deconstructivist politics for a moment -- then do it doggy style, just to mix things up a bit. Not a bad way to get across some socio-political satire; it certainly keeps one looking forward to the next plot twist, let me tell ya’. In sum, you don’t often see a film which brings together George W., Noam Chomsky, and the dangers of Nuclear proliferation all in the same scene -- let alone one that throws in a money shot for good measure; Sachiko Hanai does just that, with a wink, a smile and a goodnight kiss to send you on your way.

      The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai is being released theatrically here in the U.S. by Palm Pictures, and screens tonight, midnight, June 29th, at the NuArt Theater in Santa Monica, CA. Most of its bookings seem to be for midnight screenings, but for those who can’t stay up that late (or are just hesitant to see a porn movie in a public place), it’s already available on DVD, and can be purchased through Amazon; or just rent it from Netflix -- they’ll mail it to you, conveniently enough, in a plain red wrapper.

Some links:

The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai official website.

Sachiko’s MySpace page.

Palm Pictures webpage regarding this release.

An interesting article about Pinku Eiga.

Next post -- 07/06/07

Thursday, June 21, 2007


      Chris Marker, the writer-director of La Jetée and Sans Soleil, is at least as enigmatic a personage as his films. Personal information about him is scarce and much of it seems apocryphal and deliberately contradictory. The only reliable facts I’ve been able to scrape up about the man is that he is /or was a French National (although some sources claim he is of American descent) and that he was born shortly after World War I (most biographies list his year of birth as 1921, but Marker himself seems unwilling to confirm this). The few existing interviews or personal anecdotes concerning him seem to suggest that he himself seeds this cloud of ambiguity; a likely enough affectation for a filmmaker whose every movie seems obsessed with memory, it’s malleability and the inevitability of its decay.

      La Jetée (”The Pier”) is not a conventional movie, in which images flash by at 24 fps; but essentially a series of individual still pictures edited together, accompanied by a vocal track from an off-screen narrator, and occasional snippets of dialogue and sound effects relating to the scene depicted -- it all may sound a little distancing, but my own reaction to it was strongly the opposite. It’s an incredibly involving experience; as if I was watching the most emotionally wrenching PowerPoint presentation ever created. The plot of La Jetée is going to sound awfully familiar to anyone who’s seen Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys -- which is not a surprise, as Gilliam’s film is a fleshed-out remake of this half-hour short. In a post-nuclear holocaust Paris, a man is selected for a scientific experiment in which he will be “projected” back in time, to a period before the war, in an attempt to find an “escape route” from the devastated present. The man selected for this assignment is particularly well-suited to the task, as he has very strong memories of a visit he made to the airport pier as a child, and of a couple he saw there that day...

      The film’s score is a selection of cues by a prolific composer of stock film music, Trevor Duncan -- his ‘score’ has proven very popular with fans of the film, intriguing the Brothers Quay enough to recycle portions of it for their latest feature, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. Duncan’s other major contribution to film composing is that another selection of his cues were used to score Ed Woods', Plan 9 from Outer Space. Which of these is the greater accomplishment? Don’t let me influence you; I can scarcely make my own mind up on the matter.

      Sans Soleil (”Sunless”) is no less unconventional, but in a different way. First off, it is a “film” (flashing by your eyeballs at the standard velocity of 24 fps), a documentary of sorts; it’s tone is sometimes journalistic, sometimes philosophical, and sometimes just verité style in-your-face funny. There’s no point in trying to describe the “plot”, as it doesn’t really have one of those; the film begins with an off-screen narrator (a woman) speaking as some children are shown walking down a road. The woman relates the contents of some letters she’s received from a friend who’s been traveling between Africa and Japan. From there, it becomes a kind of travelogue, a filmed “essay” covering topics as diverse as the nature of memory, the contrast between modern, technologically advanced society and “primitive” undeveloped ones, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, our relationship to the animal world and Computer Generated Imagery. if the range of topics covered seems rather scatter-gun,       uhh ...well, I suppose it is. What makes the film so amazing is that, by it’s end, Marker manages to convey the idea that they’re all connected...    somehow.

      Marker is frequently credited as being the originator of the cinematic essay, a particular documentary form in which the thoughts and opinions of the documentarian are very much a part of the finished film -- I don’t know if that claim is valid; Luis Buñeul (in regards his film Land Without Bread) seems the more likely recipient of that honor. But Marker, I think, can reasonably be said to have perfected the form; and his style has influenced other documentary filmmakers to this day -- You can see it, from time to time, in the documentaries of Errol Morris or a film like Mysterious Object at Noon; most recently perhaps in Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man.
      La Jetée/Sans Soleil: Two films by Chris Marker comes to DVD this Tuesday, June 26th, as released by the Criterion Company, with brand-spanking new HD transfers and a host of special features (so throw away those crappy VHS copies you may have of either) -- you can rent it from Netflix, purchase it from Amazon, or get it from your local Video Store -- assuming they’re in the habit of carrying Criterion releases.

Some links:

Chris Marker on the IMDb.

The Criterion Collections’ webpage regarding this release.

An interesting article regarding some of Mr. Marker’s films.

An interview with Chris Marker.

Next post -- 06/29/07

Thursday, June 14, 2007


      It only seems appropriate that the first entry in this blog should be regarding a film by Guy Maddin: this forum's title -- the poem that heads it -- even my own choice of nom de plume -- all are derived from one of Maddin's films. Also, Maddin's entire filmography fits neatly into the province of "Beyond the Ranges": his idiosyncratic filmmaking style is as far from the mainstream of Hollywood, or even conventional arthouse filmmaking as you can get; deeply, almost embarrassingly personal movies, made using the tropes of silent era films, which blend autobiography with plot elements lifted from bygone genres, all whipped together using the contemporary tools of modern, digital post-production. INLAND EMPIRE notwithstanding, no other filmmaker working today is pushing the envelope as far -- or is as successful at doing it -- as Maddin is. And even Lynch (who's certainly done his share of experimental/avant garde projects) has yet to mount as daring a combination of live performance and cinema as Brand Upon the Brain!.

      This latest feature from Maddin starts its theatrical run as a kind of live event; the film plays in the background as a 13 piece orchestra, a team of three foley artists (that’s sound effects, for those not in the know), and a lone ‘interlocutor’ (who provides occasional narrative insight into the proceedings) provide everything you hear for the next ninety minutes or so. The experience of seeing the live show really does give insight into the significance of sound in film -- the fact that the medium itself is, at its core, silent -- and from there, acknowledges the inventiveness required to fill the noiseless moments; not to mention the difficult process of manufacturing the sound to accompany the visuals -- especially when you have to do it all live and in sync with the picture running somewhere over your head! 

      The plot, such as it is, is another faux-autobiography (as was Cowards Bend the Knee) of Maddin himself. Middle-aged house-painter, Guy Maddin, returns to his childhood home to do some much needed refurbishing on the family lighthouse. Once there, he is overwhelmed by memories of his past -- which include such elements as an orphanage whose wards are used for sinister medical experiments, a mother who seems to be aging in reverse, and the occasional zombie resurrection or two. If it all seems ridiculous and overly melodramatic, let me assure you that it is! But the sensationalized plot aside, it somehow comes across as a very personal work.   Anyone familiar with Maddin’s writings will find the parallels to his own family life many and deep; a mixed bag of actual events from his childhood, seen through the filter of a kind of Carl Theodor Dreyer-ish family melodrama; with some Hardy Boy style kid detectives and German expressionistic horror movie antics thrown in for good measure. All of it then kidnapped by Maddin’s muse and refashioned for his own nefarious -- but entirely entertaining -- purposes.

      This is what Maddin does best -- blending personal recollection with cinematic artifice -- reminiscing through film, ...but really re-imagining his own life (and by proxy, ours) through the filter of a vaseline-smeared lens and a wittily written inter-title. If it’s all a bit more melodramatic for the reinvention, ...well, who wouldn’t spice up the source of all their childhood neuroses with a bit of Hollywood glamour? If only to make the telling that much more entertaining...

      Brand Upon the Brain! starts its roll-out as a feature with pre-recorded soundtrack this week, in major markets such as NYC, LA and San Francisco. From there, it’ll flit from art-house venue to the occasional mutliplex throughout the remainder of the summer. Check the website for details.

Some links:

Guy Maddin on the IMDb.

The Brand Upon the Brain! Myspace page.

An interesting article regarding some of Mr. Maddin’s films.

An interview with Guy Maddin.

Next post -- 06/22/07