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Main article: Herr Schreck

Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)

(Compton Films, 1965)

It's not every day that a film that has been sitting so obviously in my mind's eye for procurement, screaming out for viewing for so long, turns out to be this good after finally relenting, nor is it every day that a film tricks me as completely as Repulsion by Roman Polanski.

On my watch list for a good number of years, there were good reasons for my wanting to see Repulsion: there was something consistent about the reviews from forums and reviews--posts from people I pay attention to and from those I do not really listen much to--that told me, "This film is an excursion into that bizarro nameless territory that you love so much dude... it's probably the real thing. Watch it. You hear me? Watch it."

Even the venerable Criterion Collection's releasing the film on DVD and BluRay didn't spur me into action until finally, some undefinable interior clock went off and it turned out to be my time to grab the film for myself. Even after doing so, it sat for a week or two before I threw it on.

Incredibly, for that week or two I probably watched Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, with Bela Lugosi doing his atrocious humping turn as the Embarrassing Monster, for the seven thousandth time. But still, a confirmed masterpiece sat, unsent-for, waiting for the alarm to go off in my head.

Well finally, this past weekend, the alarm bells battered and banged and the time was nigh to see what all the oozing and cooing was about. Turned out the answer was "An awful goddam lot."

*          *          *

I'm not the most giant-sized Polanski expert. I like Chinatown quite a bit--I love the deadpan way it delivers its insanely wacko universe of complicated simplicity with easy bleak style. Like it a lot, but the film has planted no giant sized magnet in me whereby I make an annual pilgrimage to the film and make sure I keep it fresh in my head. It's been at least ten years since I've seen the thing... probably have seen it three or four times all together.

Rosemary's Baby is on the other hand another box of graham crackers altogether. Adore the film. Love it. Need it in the brain llike the body requires vitamins and minerals; love it as a story to get lost in, to put on and fall asleep to in the dark so it mucks up my dreams with a yellow green aura of horror tinkering with my waking sanity; admire it as a specimen of cinema .  .  .  nod of the head with this camera placement, smile of admiration with this edit, that script line, and on and on.

Created by Polanski in 1965 after the success of Knife In The Water, Repulsion was the result of a Polanski script developed with co-writers, based on his personal experience of meeting a beautiful woman, stunningly attractive .  .  .  yet at the same time agonizingly shy. So shy as to be hobbled, addled with neuroses, perhaps psychotic. To the degree that there was a tangible sense of danger lurking beneath the surface of such physical beauty waiting to be uncovered.

This is a re-imagining of the tale of Beauty & The Beast .  .  .  except in this case both are wrapped up in the trunk of a single human organism: one physically beautiful woman psychologically damaged beyond repair by a damaged beast haunting the reverbing halls of her head.

I am now announcing: there will be spoilers below this line. Eat these words with your eyes only at your own peril, if you have not yet watched this film.

 

Repulsion is, in terms of dialog and physical action, in terms of movement, in terms of suspense, a very quiet film. Shot in stark black and white--gorgeous inky blacks, luminous whites and lovely silver tonalities in between (this would have been a wonderful film to watch, were it still in use at the time, on a first generation nitrate, but who wants to sit in the same room as a projector fire? Me! this is all silliness as nitrate was no longer used at its making in 65)--Repulsion runs on the sensibilities that spin off of the aesthetics of the silent era. 

This is a film that talks to that side of the brain that tosses words into the rubbish heap; it speaks directly to a part of your brain that is soundlessly cultivating a file of impressions on the persona of Catherine Deveuve's lead character Carol, cumulatively watching unusual, soundless behaviors pile up as she writhes quietly through the film. We are never told what is "wrong" with Carol; we are never informed what "happened" to Carol, if anything indeed "happened" to her at all to make her the way she is. We understand and make judgments without words, without labels as we connect her with similar strange souls we've all encountered in our lives. This is the wordless intuition of human existence, which needs no audio track, no title cards, no mickey-mousing score for emphasis. The mind sees, and it understands.

A light sketch in of plot: we open the film with Carol, a manicurist in London attending to a client in a beauty spa/clinique treatment room. Sketching his mise en scene through quiet portaiture and editing rhythms to establish an impressionist sensibility, allowing the aura of character to set the tempo, we are plunked down into the strange intimacy of aging wealthy biddies, chasing after the fleeing angel of youthful beauty. Carol's charge rustles ever so slightly on her padded spa table, the first sign of movement:

"Have you fallen asleep," she asks annoyed, as Carol has stopped servicing her client's fingernails for too long a stretch and gone into a haze.

Carol's interaction with her interlocutors in the film is basically a series of episodes wherein she gives off some specimen of oddball, quiet, "off" behavior wherein they inevitably have to ask--"Are you okay?" The only souls who don't seem to pay much attention to the introverted oddity of Carol is the happyhumping couple of Carol's sister Helen and her lover Michael--played by the super effective duo of Yvonne Furneaux and Ian Hendry.

Carol lives her life in paranoid pantomime, moving soundlessly like a skittish ghost through her workaday business until the departure of her sister and her married boyfriend go to Italy on holiday, leaving Carol alone in her shabby old mansion flat.

This is where the film begins in earnest and is without question where Polanski pulls of his miraculous tour de force of utterly bizarre filmmaking, an art of a stripe that is completely beyond classification: it is not arthouse, it is not horror, it is not suspense, it is not a silent film, but it is hardly a sound film.

It's rather simply Repulsion-- I can't think of anything else to say. With her sister gone--her one toehold, her tiny anchor into the world of responsibility, of paying attention to time and its passage, of routines fulfilled, laws respected, of the world of paranoid fantasy inadvertantly dissolved by the strong sisterly example and presence of Helen--Carole flumps sideways into the jaws of her own mind and the worst that it has to offer itself.

One of the main drivers of Carol's disintegration is her rampant alienation from/hatred of men. Carole is like a foot stamping pubescent girl who rejects out of hand anything that she doesn't understand and which disrupts her comfort zone: thus sexual arousal is a cause for extreme confusion and disturbance, and results in a rage that is focused with laser accuracy on the male that caused it. If a bug bites you, squash the bug. Kill it, stomp it, twist and grind your heel in it until it is neutralized, liquefied goo, never to threaten again.

There is a telling moment in the bathroom of her flat where Carol picks up Michael's dirty bathroom linen.  .  .  her hormonal curiosity overwhelms her and she smashes the sweaty, pheromone-drenched fabric to her face to breathe in the male essence completely, unable to help herself. The sexual self momentarily bursting up through the burbling cauldron of anxiety to have a briefest flash in the world.

As her skittish identity snaps back into the equation and the instinct that triggered the act withers away, Carol is all conscious mind again and erupts in nausea, flinging the offending article away and vomiting in a wastebasket.

This movie kept me unsure until the very end--as Carol endures a complete breakdown, losing her fragile grasp on sanity more and more with each moment that goes by, she begins to hallucinate: cracks erupt in the walls of her flat as her brain starts throwing sparks and sputtering in the direction of complete disintegration. The apartment walls, the rooms, these stretch and grow impossibly. Space and time stretch like silly putty. Rapists appear behind her in the mirror, snap on like flicked lamps behind her on the bed to hump her from behind; multiple pairs of hands reach impossibly out from within the hallway walls to grope and fondle Carol with unbridled masculine lust as she makes her way through the house. Men appear at the door for a visit--already driven to madness by the phantasms materializing in and out of her eyesight, Carol knows she must neutralize these new threats at the first opportunity or more rape, more abuse, more hideous unwelcome maleness shoved into her mind and her body will be the result.

*           *           *

The problem with all of this is that we have been so strictly been following Carol around like faithful dogs in the narrative, warming to nobody else but her, that we have essentially been seeing the world through her eyes. We know beyond doubt that many of the male phantoms that come to haunt her in her flat are not real. As the house is still standing at the close of the film, we're feeling pretty certain that the cracks and the collapses we've been seeing erupt through her warped eyeballs were not real: certainly the hands gumbubbling out through the walls to grope her were not real.  .  . without question the impossible stretching of her living room was not either.

So was the violence that took place within the apartment real too? Were these hallucinations as well?

The answer surprised me--this is a movie neither conventional or predictable.

An extremely unique specimen, Repulsion is a perfect example of the that kind of cinema produced by important filmmakers in all the fire and defiant creative energy of their youth. Anxious to express the newness of their vision and make it more interesting still, they take a large number of chances in an attempt to break through this or that barrier of audience, artistic recognition, or production/studio prestige. The result is pure originality with a pleasing hint of rough edges out on the circumference. I could fill pages with examples of this kind of film throughout history and across the globe--easily, because these are some of my favorites of all time. . . over the hump of learning the ropes, but not a wealthy man living the life of an icon yet. Ambitious, inventive, rare of talent.

Polanski was in a veritable fever of inspiration at this period of his career, a fever than would wane bit by bit, but slowly enough that he would remain a rather vital and inspiring filmmaker for a good number of years to come. He talks about wanting to break through, about wanting to make an impression, to make that break into the English speaking audience, and make it to the big time terrain of his aspirations and live out his destiny.

Via this extremely inspiring example, working with a low budget, seedy, soft core porn production company and distributor, he positively did just that. If you've not seen the film, run don't walk to grab the CC DVD or BD. Sublime stuff.

P. Clive/HSchreck

3/18/2015*** 

 

     

 


Preston Clive mar 18 15, 22:00
0 1

DON'T LOOK NOW (Roeg, 1973), Criterion DVD/Blu Ray

Don't look at your own peril. (Cover c Criterion/Janus)

I have to admit that I have always been a sucker for films that do something very specific: the conceit of placing into the image a passing element that is premonitory of something to come, yet is neither underlined visually, nor called attention to by the characters on the audio plane, thus allowing it to pass completely by the viewer's senses if they're not looking. It's only through repeated viewings of the film that these images are firmly apprehended, and values potentially assigned to them in terms of narrative and/or symbolism.

I love the idea of slipping something in that doesn't necessarily even portend something in the future of the plot--the use of something that borders on the subliminal is extremely exciting to me. It's for this reason that I positively adore a film that was made right around the era of Don't Look Now .  .  .  William Friedkin's The Excorcist, which itself is rich with quick flashes of imagery that can pass quickly by you if you are not looking. A perfect example of this is the face of the demon revealed in a moment of darkness within the flashing of the room lights while Damien and Father Merrin are attempting to exorcise Reagan of that which seems to have taken her over completely. At the moment of this flash, there is no element of portent in the brief reveal; it is simply there as an eerie flicker of identity, reaffirming the process of exorcism.

Here is the moment that I mean:

This face reveals itself in other flashes--one is an extremely powerful moment of Damien dreaming about his dead mother, and the face is spliced in quite quickly-- and in one flickering moment of grinning superimposition later on where Reagan is sitting up and grimacing into the camera in closeup.

Another film which played with the concept of seemingly unrelated images walking by and flickering unannounced through the frame, off to the side, barely in focus, there for you to miss if you are not paying attention, is The Eye by the Pang Brothers. The very nature of the plot of this film made it rich for the planting of such obscure visual material:

At first, the once-blind, new recipient of a pair of eyes doesn't understand the strange phenomena passing through her field of vision; it is only later that we come to understand that she has received the eyes of a dead donor who was capable of seeing the dead.

Don't look now--but if you don't, you might miss something! Nothing is what it seems!

*       *       *

This essay is not going to dwell on the larger enigma of Nicholas Roeg; it will not speculate on the trajectory of his career. It won't assign a value to his films after Eureka and Insignificance or wonder "what happened" to his filmmaking chops as many are wont to do. This is a critical-personal essay on Don't Look Now exclusively, and I will make no effort to tie (nor do I have an interest in tying) the themes in the film into the larger "auterist" framework of Roeg's trajectory of canon. 

*       *       *

Don't Look Now is based on a short story written by Daphne DuMaurier; both concern the subjects of loss, doubt, grief, love, the monotony of life, as well as life's exhilarating and anguishing peaks and valleys. They also dwell and flirt in different ways with the subject of Second Sight (or ESP, or premonition, or whatever you would call it). In the book and in the film however, our male protagonist--in the film played by the massively excellent Donald Sutherland here at his dry laconic best--does not realize that he possesses this gift. A pragmatic man, he is just as much in danger of missing or dismissing these flickering images of portent as they pass through the screen/his field of vision as we, the viewers, are.

The film opens as John and Laura Baxter, a married couple, are sitting in their idyllic country cottage on the suburban green hills of the UK. Immediately we experience the subjective visual life of John, examining as he is a series of slides--one of which in particular is of a church, likely in Venice, though it is not confirmed. The interior world of unconfirmed premonition overlays Johns exterior life like a colored lens laid over another; the end result is that both are rendered somewhat less distinct, so that the man is neither certain that what he is experiencing is premonition--and yet the act of what may be premonition clouds his exterior world. 

The collision between the demands of the physical world and the ethereal flashes of insight requiring an attention to decoding the vague and the symbolic intrusions onto his concrete life--the incompatibility between these two diametrically opposed worlds renders him less than optimally effective in both. No benefit in either direction.

His hard pragmatism keeps him from paying enough attention to these flashes of insight to decode them, thus he is unable to render any profit from them until it is too late. His slowness to pick up on the hints he's receiving in the opening scene, because of his refusal to accept "messages from beyond the fucking grave," (as he cruelly says later in the film) may lead to his arriving too late to save his daughter, and certainly too late to tune in to the meaning and the message imparted by the sisters in Venice--and to his vision of his wife on a vaporatti with the two sisters-- who are trying to save him from his own impulses.

But I'm getting ahead of myself--the film opens with John and Laura reclining, passing time together, living, breathing, existing, doing the things that they do as they make their passage together through life. As John is examining a series of slides, and converses with Laura who is researching the answer to a question posed to her by their younger daughter (at play outside) about "if the world is round, why is the surface of a frozen pond flat in the winter," he picks up on a series of soundless impulses that pass through his substance, invisibly wake him out of his passivity in the moment--like a dog lifting his head to a distant, soundless dog whistle, John senses something is up.

His beautiful little daughter, noodling about in the backyard--it is later pointed out in Venice, by Laura in a supreme moment of "guilting" her husband, that he was the one who allowed the kids to play out there by the water by themselves--has lost her ball in the center of the surface of the watery pond (which is not frozen, incidentally, despite the daughters offscreen question) and is making her way out into the deep water.

The girl is dressed in the brightest, bloodiest red slash of a crimson raincoat--otherwise drained of red, the visual surface of the film brandishes red in precisely the subliminal fashion mentioned above: as a portent, as a hint, an obscure indication of something vaguely worthy of notice: notice me now, for later on you will remember .  .  .  and if smart, will understand.

As John returns to his slide, he observes under a glass the figure of what appears to be a small girl in the church image, wearing a hooded red raincoat. His daughter? Another signal throbs through him--a distortion in the photo? A spill? A crimson streak, flowing directly from the red figure in the image, as though the image bleeds .  .  .  .

Overwhelmed by the nape hairs on his neck standing on end, John rockets up and out into the backyard, not clearly knowing why. As he runs through the little meadow and staggers into the pool to fish his drowned daughter out from beneath the surface, we are enveloped by a cinematic moment of what could be conceivably be the first among very few moments where the film indulges in conceits that do not neccessarily stand the test of time. John's slow mo scream, slowed down on the soundtrack, with bitterly melodramatic strings raking bowed cellos, is a stretch of stereotypical melodrama (cue Phil Hartman's Chuck Heston Solylet Green "It's made outa people!" parody) that has been mimicked and stretched out and milked for laughs.

 

There really is no way to render in words what it is that Roeg is doing here cinematically, via his disordered, fractured narrative. As portents and visual cryptograms come and go, for our and sometimes John's benefit, events and symbol orders are presented out of order. This is a narrative conceit that, along with the subliminal use of imagery I opened this piece describing, I have a great passion for: cinema as a puzzle. 

This is a conceit that stretches back at least to Jean Epstein, and titles like La Glace a trois Faces from 1927. The simple tale of a man considering and then breaking off the idea of engagements with three different women--one a trophy gold-digger, one a mistress of high art, the other a common working girl--the relatively short feature is rendered into one of the most complex film ever made .  .  .  at least as far as the narrative order of its surface is concerned. Hyper complex to the point of being confusing upon first viewing, La Glace has been called a "chinese box" of treasures, compartments open up and give up their secrets, reveal themselves all out of order, etc.

Like all of the titles mentioned above which present key narrative symbols and elements out of order, Don't Look Now is a haunting film that must be seen multiple times to be fully appreciated. It is impossible to apprehend the thick, multileveled web that Roeg and cinematographer Anthony Richmond serve up to the viewer in one viewing and grasp not only the narrative significance but poetic richness of all that is on offer to you.

It's for this reason that the film stands very high on the list of recent cinematic discoveries in my life. I was turned on to this film about eight years ago by a friend of mine who works in the publishing field. We were engaged in a tremendous exchange of collections of DVD's, and he turned me on to this film without a word by just slipping it into the mix of a particular exchange. I watched the film, was completely floored, and thanked him profusely. I still thank him.

I'll refrain from giving any further spoilers away (I have withheld the jolting surprise ending, although I have indeed given some pot points away here), but suffice to say this isn't a film entirely about what is shown. It is equally about how it goes about showing itself.

The Criterion DVD and Blu Ray releases are absolutely beautiful and do a very good job of maintaining the film's color palette, although I did notice a little bit of a cooling towards a bluish white versus the warmer, more aquamarine palette of what we are used to seeing. The extras are sufficiently indulgent to please the newcomer as well as the well-versed veteran--but as I've already yammered on quite a bit, I'll leave the extras to those who are strict disc package reviewers.

All in all, my mission here was to bring out what it is about this film that I love so much, and this lies with the ways and means, the puzzle-like distribution of portents, hints, flashes of the obscure which may or may not be deliberate .  .  . and this I have done.

So----> Bye for now.

Preston C/Herr Schreck

3/9/2015***

 


Preston Clive mar 9 15, 23:23
0 1

Critical Restoration Releases: The Slow Drip . . .

Versus the manic pace that the world of silent cinema once presented to the collector via the endless number of releases in the period running roughly 2000-2009--I want to point out that I am specifically talking about the realm of home video on digital disc--the present market is very slender indeed.

For example, back in these years, we had a large number of companies releasing silent films on DVD at a relatively regular clip: Kino International (pre Lorber days) and Image Entertainment were without question the market leaders. Adventurous titles like Warning Shadows (Robeson 1925), Waxworks (Leni 1924) The Love of Jeanne Ney (Pabst 1927, and one of his best films and my personal favorite by him, even beyond the Brooks films), The Golem (Wegener, 1920), Caligari and Orlac (Weine), A Fool There Was (Powell, 1915, and one very grim picture), Cabiria (Pastrone 1914), Asphalt (May, 1928), A Cottage On Dartmoor (Asquith 1928),  the Stillers, the Sjostroms, the Fairbanks titles, the Griffith titles, the Stroheims, Eisensteins, Valentinos, Langs, Murnaus, and many other one-offs (Gay themed films, odd one-off's like ALIBI, the Jacques Tourneurs) constitute titles that Kino released during the heyday of the DVD age.

Image Entertainment which also included Milestone Films back in those days released their own fabulous litany of titles: the Joe May Indian Tomb two parter, the first DVD of Dr Mabuse der Spieler, the three Eisenstein silents, plus their own releases of some of the Fairbanks classics as well as classic German titles like Nosferatu, Caligari--many of which Kino had released but Image released with David Shepard's Film Preservation Associates, their own one-off's like Lang's Destiny, Chaney's Universal classic Hunchback and Phantom, plus double packages like Shadows/Outside the Law, Nomads of the North/The Shock, along with the DeMille silents, a couple of key Carl Dreyer silents such as The Parson's Widow and Leaves From Satan's Book (both roughly 1920), Louise Brooks double The Show Off/The Plastic Age, The Lost World, the Dziga Vertovs, the Pudovkins (The End of St Petersberg being one of my favorite silents ever), the Dovzhenkos (Earth, Arsenal ditto) .  .  .  and I haven't even moved over to Milestone or Flicker Alley yet.

What has happened?

Well, for one thing, the Eclectic Video Store has perished as a retail species in the life of our big cities. I can't speak to small cities because I don't live in one. But I can only assume that the situation is the same elsewhere as it is here: the street level physical video store is virtually nonexistent.

For one reason or another, the world has changed: art product is rarely if ever purchased from stores any longer. Whether this is because the present generation doesn't perceive artworks or pieces of entertainment to be viable products to be paid for any longer, or they simply have no interest in visiting physical stores for the instant gratification of grabbing a product and taking it immediately home to watch it--or perhaps the online retailer can always beat the price of the brick and mortar retailer .  .  .  or perhaps lastly, the world of online file sharing/torrenting/p2p/general piracy has sucked the viability right out of the concept of storefront retailing of video and audio entertainment. People do not merely wish to pay less--they don't wish to pay at all.

Book stores will be kept for a separate conversation.

An example of the rare and the sublime. (Image courtesy Potemkine)

The tempo mentioned above was a positively manic one. For every title mentioned above, there are probably five to ten not mentioned. I haven't mentioned any Masters of Cinema, any Danish Film Institute, British Film Institute, Transit Films, Divisa Red, or any of the often rather interesting albeit poorly transferred/awful source element products put out by bottom of the barrel distributor Alpha .  .  .  who nonetheless put out some interesting titles--without which we would have no idea what (for example) Roland West's The Bat (1925) would look like. 

Don't get me wrong--titles do come out. As evinced by yesterday's article focusing on E.A. DuPont's Variete (1925), in all of it's bad-score glory. Not long before this we had a revisiting of classic titles from Lang and Murnau from Masters of Cinema and Kino/FWMS, plus the fabulous restoration of Caligari which made it to Blu Ray recently.

But more critically--and more relevant to this article-- is the set put together by French label Potemkine which gathers up the titles of now only-somewhat-obscure French Impressionist master Jean Epstein into a full Coffret Set. Epstein is a man I've been championing relentlessly for almost a decade now. Occasionally by Criterion's Eclipse label we will get some silent Japanese titles by Naruse or Ozu. Or even Carl Dreyer's Master of the House on the main CC label.

And of course, we have Masters of Cinema seeing to it that the classics, when scanned in hi-def by the primary rights holders, will be put out for distribution in their region with wonderful presentations and extras. 

But in the overall, we must admit, the world has changed in a way that makes the tempo of restorations-to-HD scan-to-disc (dvd or BD) extremely slow versus what it once was. The industry has ratcheted back to a virtual creaking crawl. The days of Rupert Murdoch's Fox releasing gigantic boxes appreciating John Ford from the silent era and forward, or Frank Borzage and FW Murnau at Fox, are long gone and likely to not be seen again. Sad for us.

Things often do go in waves, but it is rare to see an industry--once dead-- resurrect itself. The changes that take root in the psyche of a generation often get nailed down for long term posterity.

Will we see video stores start opening up again with tons of DVD's and Blu Ray's up for retail on shelves again? Will all the fabulous titles waiting to be put out on home video after well known restorations--or simple screenings of very good prints--are confirmed as being in existence, will these start suddenly coming out again in a second golden age? Will the Lupu Picks, the Arthur von Gerlach's, the Wegeners, the Karl Grunes, the Lamprechts, the Jutzis, and so many more .  .  .  will these find their way out to the light of day in digital format?

We may as well ask--will we see a day when popular music returns to the qualitative levels of the immortals of yore, ie acts on the level of the Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix, Cream, The Temptations, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, David Bowie, Velvet Underground, Dylan, Aretha, the Doors, King Crimson, the Fifth Dimension, Johnny Cash, Zeppelin, all the jazz greats of yore like Miles Davis, Mingus, Archie Shepp, Coltrane, Dolphy, Sinatra, etc.

Just think that there was a period where all of these acts were out and about and performing all at the same time. And tickets were five to ten bucks, if even that.

It's a rapidly morphing world, my friends. 

Ciao until next time.


Preston Clive mar 6 15, 23:08
+1 5
All topics: 3

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