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.


Monday, February 18, 2008


       When you’re writing a blog devoted to “the more obscure outlying reaches of cinema”, you come to accept that there are just certain types of films you won’t get the opportunity to pontificate upon. Popular film genres just don’t tend to lend themselves to the restrictions of smaller-scale, lower-budgeted, unconventional movie-making; and independent filmmakers tend to want to establish their own conventions, rather than work within previously established genres (Wes Anderson, for example). So when Japan’s most prolific contemporary filmmaker decides to make a movie within the Action/Adventure genre -- a Superhero film, no less; and arguably, -- in structure, at least -- a kid’s movie as well... -- well, this blogger feels the need to pay some attention. And while it’s by no means his best film, Zebraman is certainly a worthy addition to Takashi Miike’s ever-growing body of work.

       Elementary schoolteacher Shinichi Ichikawa is a bit of a sad-sack and more than a bit of a bumbler. His co-worker’s like him well enough, but don’t exactly respect him; and his family seems to tolerate him, but not exactly look up to him. Which is probably why they don’t even bat an eye -- or really even much notice -- when he takes to sewing his own costume of his favorite childhood television superhero: Zebraman. Ichikawa befriends a handicapped transfer student, Asano, who shares his love of the long since cancelled Zebraman TV series. They discover that the events related in the series seem to be occurring -- for real -- in their own small village. At the same time, Ichikawa has taken to walking the streets at night in his somewhat crudely-assembled Zebraman costume; but much more inexplicably, he has also started to show signs of manifesting Zebraman’s extraordinary “abilities”. That’s the “set-up” for the film, and if it sounds fairly ridiculous... -- well, you’ll get no argument from me.

       In addition to being the most prolific, Takashi Miike is easily Japan’s most protean filmmaker as well, having made a score of ”Yakuza” (read: “Gangster”) pictures, a number of Horror films (the much-better-than-its-awful-American-remake, One Missed Call; the excellent and previously blogged about Audition); A musical; an elegiac Art-house piece; A bizarre Lynch-ian melodrama and any of a number of period pieces set at various points during the history of feudal Japan. If you give points for sheer variety of styles attempted, than few filmmakers -- from any country of origin -- can outscore Miike. The common threads running through all of his films include a sly, absurdist sense of humor; a tendency to break away from the conventions of “genre”, even when he’s making a film that ostensibly fits the mold; and a willingness to portray a level of graphic violence that would undoubtedly cause some of you, dear readers, to run screaming from the theater. That being said, Zebraman is pretty mild on that front; although, take what I said about it being a “kid’s movie” with a grain of salt -- not too many films for children start with a scene in which one character suggests to another that he “upgrade to a better class of prostitute”.

       This brief scene -- featuring Zebraman and Zebra-Nurse -- gives some idea of the screwball appeal of the film. It becomes available on region 1 DVD this Tuesday, and is a pretty good intro to the work of Japan’s most notorious contemporary filmmaker. Now excuse me, I have some sewing I need to attend to...

Next post -- 02/29/08

Saturday, February 9, 2008


       As if it wasn’t obvious enough from the posts themselves, let me plainly state that I don’t really consider this blog a forum for “film criticism”. While I’ve read my fair share of Bazin and Kracauer, there are other online sites (a few of which you’ll find in the links sidebar to your right) that do a fine job of "critiquing"; better than I could, even if I were inclined to do so. That being said, the subject of this week’s post immediately brought to mind my favorite volume of scholarly cinematic lore -- Bruce Kawin’s Mindscreen. Kawin’s theories are a little difficult to summarize, but they basically boil down to the idea that some films (some of Bergman’s, like Persona, for example; almost everything by Godard; but also some less elitist fare, like Duck Amuck), present themselves to the viewer, not as a “story”; related to us as a second or third-hand account of events; but rather as a first-person representation of a mind -- as if we had a mirror held up to the consciousness, not of the filmmaker -- but of the film itself. Mind you, only certain films benefit from being regarded in this manner; but speaking for myself I can see no other way, to interpret -- or even appreciate -- a film like this week’s object of inquiry: Nuit Noire (”Black Night “).

       Nuit Noire concerns one Oscar, an entomologist at a Natural History Museum who spends his days cataloging insects. I use the word “days” figuratively here, as the film takes place in a setting where the sun shines for, at most, a few minutes -- sometimes just a few seconds -- every 24 hours. Oscar sees a therapist to deal with some troubling issues from his childhood; issues which seem to revolve around the death of a sibling (or childhood friend, perhaps?), whilst on a family outing in Africa -- although the nature of said incident is never explicitly made clear. A female museum attendant of African descent insists to Oscar that she is his sister, and one evening he arrives home to find her in his apartment, in his bed -- and ill. Fearing for her life -- and scandal -- if he attempts to move her, Oscar reluctantly allows her to stay. And that’s as much as you need know.

       The synopsis given above is a very much truncated -- and quite frankly, streamlined for purposes of clarity -- summary of the events which play out in the first third of the film. Nuit Noire is more a series of episodes that revolve around a theme (or a couple of themes, I suppose) than a traditional 3-act movie playlet. The film contains flashbacks, flash-forwards, scenes that take place only in the mind of the protagonist, and other scenes, I suspect, that only take place in the “mind” of the film itself. Like Lynch’s I N L A N D    E M P I R E, Nuit Noire isn’t really designed to be grasped on a rational level; it’s of the same genus as the work of the early surrealist filmmakers -- a kind of cinema where you’re given no answers, but the questions are so beautifully and compellingly presented, you can’t help but be mesmerized by them.

       Nuit Noire is the first feature-length film from Belgian artist Olivier Smolders. While it is available on DVD, It has, in fact never received an official theatrical release here in the U.S. -- partly because, I’m certain, it’s not really a “film”, at all. The movie was shot in HD; and rather than a murky, grainy “look” to it (as you might expect, given the dark subject matter of the piece), it has a vibrant, colorful, crisp aspect and feel to it; something I’ve come to expect -- and even look forward to -- from the many shot-on-HD movies that have been released in the last couple of years.

Some links:

The official website for the movie.

A trailer for a collection of short films by Olivier Smolders: Spiritual Exercises.

Next post -- 02/15/08

Friday, February 1, 2008


       With the Academy Awards presentations less than a month from today, now is as good a time as any to discuss some of the nominated films; except that, -- as I’m sure you’d be quick to point out, dear reader -- Academy Award nominated movies don’t exactly fit the profile of Cinema Obscura; supposedly what this blog is all about, or so I’ve led you to believe. But while the major categories of the Oscars certainly don’t intersect with the avowed purpose of this blog all that much, some of the minor awards might -- not just any minor award, though. An entire post regarding the Award of Commendation that the Academy is giving out this year (To Jonathan Erland, apparently; in "recognition of his leadership and efforts toward identifying and solving the problem of High-Speed Emulsion Stress Syndrome in motion picture film stock") might make interesting reading... -- to some; most likely not to regular readers of this blog, however. On the other hand, an award category like “Animated Short Film” might fit the bill -- why, yes, I think it does! So without further ado... ladies and gentlemen, mademoiselles and messieurs, allow me to present... Madame Tutli-Putli !

       As its nominating category would imply, the film is a short; animated in the pain-stakingly slow-to-create stop-motion style. It’s brief -- just a little over seventeen minutes in length -- and concerns a woman, and what must be all of her belongings, taking a train ride to some undisclosed destination. She shares her cabin-berth with several fellow passengers; all of whom are endowed with some varying degree of grotesquerie. She makes an effort to establish contact with most of them, but ultimately withdraws from any such attempts, into her own musings. Feeling cut off from her fellows, her isolation is made all the more unbearable when she notices some strange goings-on outside the train... and that’s as much as I’ll say.

       The film’s style is reminiscent of the work of the Bros. Quay -- but with a new, computer-processor-driven wrinkle. While the puppets are all animated in the conventional stop-motion fashion, the characters eyes -- and movement thereof -- are all taken from actual, human actors; and digitally composited onto the puppets countenances. It’s a subtle, eerie effect; one that lends the puppets a greater dimension of emotion and depth -- of humanness, if you will. The film itself has more style than substance to it; but it’s a very impressive style, and there are many images from the film that stay with you; even if they don’t quite all add up to a cohesive whole. Madame Tutli-Putli is not, I think, a better film than my favorite animated short from 2007 -- but since that wasn’t nominated (more a matter of Hollywood politics than an issue of worthiness, I suspect), I’m betting Tutli-Putli will garner this years award -- if only for its level of technical achievement.

       You can buy a DVD copy of Madame Tutli-Putli directly from the producers of the film, the National Film Board of Canada, for a rather pricey (given the movie’s brief running time) $14.95. Fortunately for us cheapskates, it’s also available as a download from iTunes for a mere $1.99! At that meager cost, it’s worth the ticket price.

Some links:

Madame Tutli-Putli official website

Finding Madame Tutli-Putli, a short, behind-the-scenes film about “casting” the movie.

Animating Madame Tutli-Putli, a short, behind-the-scenes film about the making of the animation.

Next post -- 02/08/08