Monthly Archives: August 2016

Graphic Content – The Rose of Versailles

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress: 
14/501Title: The Rose of Versailles
Author & Illustrator: Riyoko Ikeda
Year: 1972-73
Country: Japan

In the last week I’ve had to make a lot of doctors’ appointments, which of course means a lot of time in the waiting rooms. We’re talking serious waiting time. As such I have had more than enough time to read the Rose of Versailles manga series. Yes, I actually had the time to read all 10 volumes.

Whilst this is not the first manga series I have read it is most certainly the oldest by about 20 years. It tells a fictionalised account of the life of Marie Antoinette and the key figures in her life. It clear that when this started she was meant to be the absolute main character, but as time wore on the focus shifted more and more to another character.

This character is Oscar, a fictional character who served as the captain of the Royal Guard. I can see why Oscar became such a the character… since she is a woman who has been raised, and as such dresses, as a man. It’s one of those archetypes that you find in Japanese comics and anime – apparently it is one of those things that you find in a manga aimed at girls. Oscar is a very interesting character since they could make her do whatever they wanted and so is probably the mouthpiece of the writer.

Since this is a Japanese take on French history it is highly romanticised. The character of Marie Antoinette is painted as being whiter than white. She is someone who only wanted to be an ordinary woman and seek her own love and happiness. Also, all the intentions are pure and done for the good of the nation (at least that’s how she interprets how her actions will be received). Whilst I do not doubt she was heavily manipulated by the members of the French court this manga made light of her gambling and excesses.

You also have highly romanticised versions of Napoleon and Robespierre. We get a short epilogue after the conclusion of the story had no mention is made of the “reign of terror”. In fact, it plays down a lot of the bloody aspect of the French revolution. Then again, this is aimed at girls from a country that has a recognized psychological phenomenon related to the disappointment of meeting real life Parisians.

Whilst it was a bit fluffy in places I have to say that I enjoyed the intrigue, romance and murder. I think that reading this critically acclaimed (and somewhat early example) of shojo (manga aimed at a young female audience) has been education. Sure, I don’t understand why the moment someone appeared attractive entire page filled with roses I’m guessing that is something stylistic I will be seeing when we get around to reading the likes of Fruits Basket and Sailor Moon.

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XL Popcorn – Cléo de 5 à 7 / Bonnie and Clyde

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Cléo de 5 à 7
Director: Agnès Varda
Year: 1962
Country: France

Perception. It is amazing how the way others/society perceive us has a direct impact on how we perceive ourselves. Having watched Cléo de 5 à 7 I found myself looking back on three films that have made an impact on me:  A Streetcar Named Desire, Jeanne Dielman and Before Sunset. They all come to mind based on different parts of the film. The fact that I’ve been reminded of three films that I adore probably demonstrates what I think of this film.

So let’s go through the three films in order. The link to A Streetcar Named Desire is a line that Vivien Leigh says: I can always depend on the kindness of strangers. As we start Cléo de 5 à 7 she is incredibly anxious about an impending set of medical tests. For the first hour or so she is pretty much beyond consolation. Why is this? I don’t think it helps when everyone in your circle refers to you as spoiled. It is only when Cléo meets a stranger who knows nothing about her that things don’t look as bleak.

This leads me onto Before Sunset. Like Before Sunset, this film is shot in real time. As with all films that choose to shoot in this way great editing and dialogue are essential. There is a bit of a dip around the 40 minute mark, the that is to be expected as this is a very hard way to do a film. However, thanks to a very charismatic lead a truly fantastic and final 30 minutes you easily forget everything that preceded it. The link to the Before… films is further cemented by the beginning of a love story.

I have been subjected to a lot of romantic films for that is a lot of a gay man with female friends. However, there are few films that have as romantic half hour as the final 30 minutes of Cléo de 5 à 7. Antoine is exactly what Cléo needed at the time. He is compassionate, non judgmental and a real chatterbox. I have to admit I started for the for him slightly. It’s one of those meetings that films of try to sell us as real life that we all know is the stuff of fairy tales. The way that Agnes Varda sells this with her direction makes it seem like it could really happen.

This finally brings me to Jeanne Dielman. Both of these films from directed by women and have a woman as their focus. The type of women they pick her very different backgrounds, but are both directly affected by society’s view on how they should be. Apart from Antoine all the men in Cléo’s life do not take her seriously and think that she is feigning illness for attention. She is also constantly reminded by the women around her about the best ways to treat a man. There is never any thought that at this point in Cléo’s life she may not need a man.

Cléo also keeps repeating the idea that “beauty is life” so as long as she remains beautiful she cannot die and will be loved. It’s a tragic point, but this idea is one that still remains to this day. Is Cléo a strong person? Probably not as strong as other female role models then again this cancer scare is arguably the first time she’s really been tested. Also – I would probably be exactly the same as her if I were awaiting results that might tell me the worst. And she is not a hypochondriac, as the doctor clearly addresses her as someone who knows they have cancer but not how virulent it is.

Clearly this film gave me a lot to think about and thanks to this fucking awful excuse for vocal recognition software I have spent an hour writing this.

Title: Bonnie and Clyde
Director: Arthur Penn
Year: 1967
Country: USA

The first thing that I have to say about this film, is that it really has been a long time coming. Prior to watching this the only things that I knew about Bonnie and Clyde were gleaned from pop culture references and the obvious parallels in the film Gun Crazy.

The tagline of Bonnie and Clyde reads: “They’re young. They’re in love”. It’s probably one of the most famous taglines in cinematic history and was the genius marketing move by the studio. Because of their pop culture status, due to general notoriety, it was a clever way to ensure as many people got to see this as possible. To be honest, it makes it sound like a date movie.

The Oscar ended up going to In the Heat of the Night in 1967. It’s a really good film and, in terms of how race is depicted in films, it was a very important one. Bonnie and Clyde has their own importance to it before it was one of the first major New Hollywood picture. It would go on to inspire many of the great American directors and the ending broke new ground in how to depict violence. It was also against The Graduate, which demonstrates how good a year this was (I am willfully ignoring the Best Picture for Doctor Dolittle).

Still, despite the fact that this broke ground for violence this film still feels slightly sanitised. A lot of the history surrounding Bonnie and Clyde is omitted such as the repeated sexual assault that Clyde had to endure whilst in prison. I know there’s only so much you can do in 100 minutes, but it would have provided a decent explanation for why Clyde was unable to have sex with Bonnie. There is also the rumour that he was actually gay — but let’s not start on that.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty have real chemistry in the roles of the titular rogues. I can see why they did not win Oscars for their performances, but still they were able to sell it. Also, Faye Dunaway was absolutely stunning. Warren Beatty wasn’t too bad either.

Now I’m gonna take umbrage with the only acting Oscar going to Estelle Parsons the her role as Blanche, Clyde’s sister in law. Firstly I am not buying that this character was so unwilling. In the end she ended up in jail for robbery and murder after singing like a bird after she was called. Putting that aside she was so incredibly annoying. There was part of many that was wondering when Bonnie would shoot her in the head.

It was enjoyable film overall, but as with a lot of these big Hollywood classics there was a slight part of me which was expecting more from this film.

Progress: 494/1007

XL Popcorn – The Fly / The Bird With The Crystal Plumage

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: The Fly
Director: David Cronenberg
Year: 1986
Country: USA

I’m so glad that I watched this without hub. I don’t think that he could have coped with the level of gore. I mean I winced quite a few times, especially when he started pulling his own fingernails out. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Fly is one of those horror films that I’ve been meaning to see for a while. I would have seen it before, but I only really started to enjoy a horror movies and in the last 6-7 years. It still hasn’t toppled The Thing as my favourite horror film of the eighties but is still a definite 9/10.

I’m really going to be conforming with a lot of critical opinion here, but and how on earth did the Academy not even extend a nomination towards Jeff Goldbloom. I mean, talk about giving your all in a performance that is sympathetic, athletic horrifying. Sure, he got a lot of help with that from the amazing make-up work (the final transformation at the end is just… wow) but it’s an outstanding performance. I also have to give major props to Geena Davis as that could not have been easy to play against. I wonder how much of the terror on her face was spurred on by legitimate disgust.

Before The Fly the only other films I had seen by David Cronenberg was Naked Lunch, which meant that I was prepared for some of the disgusting visual effects. There’s this one bit where the Geena Davis character has a nightmare after becoming pregnant with baby of Goldbloom’s scientist. She has no idea if this was before or after he began his transformation so OBVIOUSLY she fears the worst. All I can say is… I have had similar nightmares so that may have made it extra horrifying for me.

I felt a mixture of disgusted and invigorated upon the film’s conclusion. It’s not something you want to watch before having your lunch… but it’s definitely one of those essential horror films that people should see.

There are two more Cronenberg films left on this list (Videodrome and Dead Ringers). I have things are only going to get gorier and more bizzare.

Title: The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo)
Director: Dario Argento
Year: 1970
Country: Italy

Okay so this is a bit of a tenuous link, but here we have a second horror film. This time it is the directorial debut of Dario Argento: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. I have to say that whilst some of the atmosphere generated in the second quarter was palpable the film was ultimately ruined by the fact that it was so easy to work out the murderer.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve watched a lot of television procedural dramas and crime films, but I worked it out within 5 minutes of the arrest of the protagonist. That usually does not ruin a film that I feel has a lot of other things going for it have however this is a film that started to bore me.

Since it was so obvious that neither the protagonist not his girlfriend would be killed at any point in the film (a realization probably due to watching too many films) there was no tension. At all. In fact, it was hard to warm to any the characters involved. I mean why did this writer even get involved in the case? Apart from the fact that the Italian police were basically blackmailing him through the withholding of his passport.

Since I have heard of Argento I really expected there to be a lot of gore. As in orange – red thick corn starch style blood. Alas it was not meant to be. There was not even a moment where I cringed in the slightest.

I do wonder how I will get on with Suspiria once I get around to seeing it.

Progress: 492/1007

XL Popcorn – Get Carter / Hannah and Her Sisters

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Get Carter
Director: Mike Hodges
Year: 1971
Country: UK

Gangster movies probably rank as my least favourite of all movie genres. There are some exceptions, such as White Heat, but on the whole I don’t get the appeal. Also among the films that I tend to dislike are gritty British films. It’s not that I dislike realism as a lot of films I enjoy can all into that of area (I think my newfound love of Abbas Kiarostami is proof of that). Therefore I figured that while watching the Mac daddy of all gritty British gangster flicks I might be able to find one that I enjoyed.

It didn’t really work out for me. Maybe I’m just naive but I find it difficult to buy into a world like this one. There are a number of innocent bystanders, such has Carter’s landlady, but for most part everyone is a different shade of villain. Reviewers of this film have described it as intoxicating, I just found it thoroughly depressing. Not as depressing as Kes, but depressing just the same.

There is a lot of this film that has since become iconic including the score and many of the shots featuring Michael Caine with a shotgun. Speaking of which, it was so weird for me to see Michael Caine in a role like this. Keep in mind that my only real exposure to Michael Caine has been in The Muppets Christmas Carol and the films of Christopher Nolan. So I was very unprepared to see him in this role of a remorseless gangster/killer.

All I can say is bravo to the ending: it was really satisfying the way that went down.

Title: Hannah and Her Sisters
Director: Woody Allen
Year: 1986
Country: USA

It’s gotten to the point where I have started to pair the films I’m watching for the sake of contrast. In my last post I did this with Iranian films because I just wanted to see a second Iranian film. For this post I have ended up watching two films where the link is Michael Caine.

I cannot say that I am the biggest fan of Woody Allen. I have made sure that I’ve only watched films of his that are considered amongst his best. Even then whilst I enjoyed Blue Jasmine and Zelig I just did not get Annie Hall. I have come to realise that maybe I was too young at 13 to properly understand Annie Hall.

I am going to say now that I think this was the first time I laughed out loud at a Woody Allen film. It was during the scene where his parents are over reacting to the idea of him becoming a catholic. His father says something about not being able to understand the can opener so why would he understand the Nazi party. I don’t know why, but that really tickled me.

You have to hand it to Woody Allen he really knows how to create a stunning ensemble cast. I’m not sure if there was a weak link amongst this rather large group of people. It’s interesting how it was Dianne Wiest that got the Oscar for best supporting actress; then again if it was going to be given to one of them she is the best pick. Don’t get me wrong I thought that Barbara Hershey was also very sympathetic in her portrayal, but Wiest really knocks it out of the park.

My question is did Michael Caine deserve his Oscar? Looking at the other nominees I would have probably given my vote to Tom Berenger for his role in Platoon. Don’t get me wrong Caine was really good, I just wanted to punch him.

Progress: 490/1007

New List Appeared: 100 Best Anime Series

Okay so I must be insane. However, I have a feeling this will be the penultimate list to be added to my bucket list blog (other than replacement lists should I actually complete something).

anime

It is hard to find any comprehensive best ever list for anime. I’ve been looking for a while and it would have been included in this blog with the TV and comics lists had found a earlier.

Since I am not in the position to create an anime list like I did with video games I will be relying on the opinions of fans. Maybe in future I’ll shift lists, but until then I’ll follow the myanimelist.net top TV series list.

anohana

Since this is a solo effort rather than doing it with my husband my rules will be different. For example, if I am five episodes in and I absolutely cannot stand it then I will call it the day.

One issue about this list is how volatile it is…  to try and counter-act this I will temporarily skip over shows that are part of the current season in the hope that groupthink will work things out. Also, I will be updating this list semi-regularly with the main list page having a date of the update.  Until a good publication comes out this is the best I can do (looking at you AV Club and IGN – please make a best of list).

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV seriesnichijouProgress: 7/100

As you can see, it’s a long way to go. The shows I have so far seen are: Steins;Gate, Nichijou, Usagi Drop, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, two seasons of Ghost In The Shell and Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. The first and last in this list being my favourite animes of all time.

A large number of the shows on this Top 100 list appear to be based around sports – especially traditionally American sports like baseball and basketball. Therefore, I will be going for one of these sporting shows as my starting point.

Other than these sporting shows – I am looking forward to finally seeing Gintama, Cowboy Bebop and Mushishi! This’ll be fun.

What’s On TV – The Prisoner

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 166/501
Title: The Prisoner
Episodes Aired: 17
Episodes Watched:
17
Year(s): 1967-68
Country: UK

I think it has become quite clear to me that, depending on the TV show that we choose to cover, this is one of those lists where my blog entries are going to be quite sporadic.

The Prisoner is one of those TV shows that has had a ridiculously large effect on pop culture. Even if you’ve never seen an episode you will likely know about the “menacing” white balloon or the famous quote, “I am not a number, I am a free man”. If you’re anything like me your first exposure to some of this would have been on The Simpsons where Homer is kidnapped and taken to an island where he is repeatedly gassed and drugged.

Watching The Prisoner was choice of hub as he has been wanting to talk to me about it for a number of years and we have never gotten round to seeing it until now. At only 17 episodes this really should not have taken over a month to get through. I don’t think it helped that we still had a lot of Iron Chef left to watch.

I’m going to start out by saying that I did not at any point take the side of Number 6. I don’t know why, but he always really annoyed me. Of course you’re not going to be happy to be kidnapped and interrogated by the inhabitants of a wacky village, that’s a given, but he is such a dick about everything. It is not as if I’m incredibly pro establishment, I just liked seeing the very smug Number 6 taken down a peg or two.

Having watched it from start to finish I can see why the creator, Patrick McGoohan, originally wanted to make a lot less episodes. In the earlier episodes as well as the final two there are flashes of genius. The finale has been the subject of many years of critical speculation – for a very good reason: it is utterly batshit! Then again, with a series like “the prisoner” how could you make a satisfying finale that was not utterly batshit?

To be honest, for every three good episodes there was one great one and one terrible one. The worst episode for me being when it suddenly turned into a western. I get what they were trying to do and it was a noble experiment but there’s only so much you can do with drugs and cardboard cutouts. For a show that thrives on fridge logic even this was a step too far. And yet one or my favourite later episodes featured a twist of it being a story the whole time – this twist should have annoyed me but it was so delightfully manic that I just went along with it.

On the whole, I really did enjoy the show. Sure there were times when it became frustratingly camp, but that is how people enjoyed their TV shows back in the sixties. I mean look what they did to Batman! For the sake of his influence I’m very glad I watched this even if it means I will never work at a white balloon or a cup of tea the same way again.

XL Popcorn – The White Balloon / Close-Up

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: The White Balloon (Badkonake sefid)
Director: Jafar Panahi
Year: 1995
Country: Iran

I’m back in Iran and it is a very different world to Through The Olive Trees. It has the same writer (famed director Abbas Kiarostami), but it just goes to prove how different it is in various areas of Iran. The director (Jafar Panahi) uses a similar realistic style to Kiarostami in his direction, which borders on realism with the idea of finding “beauty” is something so normal.

This is his debut film. In ten years time he will go on to direct the more controversial “offside”, a film that I saw 10 years ago (that’s devestating to realze). It is an interesting film to debut with as it is now marketed as a family film. I’ve also seen it written up as a way for English speaking parents to introduce their children to subtitles and arthouse films.

The central focus of the film is a seven year old girl called Razieh. She, more than anything, wants a big fat goldfish. After pestering her mother for the money she sets out to buy her dream fish. Of course, things are not that simple. It is stolen by a snake seller, where none of the surrounding adults actually help the crying girl get her money back. She does when one of the snake sellers takes pity on her, but what about the 15 to 20 grown men who just stand there and laugh at the spectacle. Ugh!

Aida Mohammadkhani, who plays the little girl, is perfect. I mean, sure, she starts off rather bratty since she is asking for a bigger fish as all the others in the family pond are too thin for her. She wins your heart in the end when you realise she’s just a little kid. The goldfish itself appears to be a metaphor for Iranian culture in general. The fish in the pond are probably not as thin as she thinks, there is a scene at the goldfish shop where we get the hint that you’ve been looking at things using the wrong perspective. This only hit me at the end of the film when I started to wonder why this was called The White Balloon.

The focus is so much on the girl who wants money for a fish when there is actually a societal point. The white balloon does not refer to the girl and or her brother (who later joins in search of the lost money), but to the balloon seller that helps them out at the end. He looks different from everyone else we see. In fact, he looked remarkably East Asian (I read up later that he is Afghan). I actually noticed him in the beginning sequence selling his balloons since, obviously, I figured he would be a big character as the title has the word balloon in it.

The film ends with the kids getting their money back and the Afghan balloons seller being left alone without much notice. It’s quite a melancholic ending despite the fact that the girl got the money back and runs off in victory to buy her fish. An interesting one for parents to explain to their children if they notice how the director has chosen to end it.

Title: Close-Up (Nema-ye Nazdik)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Year: 1990
Country: Iran

I enjoyed my stay in Iran so much that I thought I might as well stick around for a second movie. This marks the third Iranian film that I’ve seen since my wrists decided to be little shits. It is only the second film by Abbas Kiarostami and I may be becoming a bit of fan. I’m only left with one more film by him on this 1001 list so I’m torn between watching it soon will saving it for towards the end.

It is hard to describe exactly what Close-Up is. It is, on the one hand, a documentary and yet so much of the narrative’s pacing makes it feel like a expertly scripted drama. In any case this really happened. Picture the scene: a middle aged woman is riding a bus and mistakes a fellow passenger for a famous director. Rather than correcting her this man goes along with the conceit and get himself into a position where, within a week, he has been able to convince members of his family that he is this person and almost as quickly is discovered and arrested.

Websites describe this film as a docudrama much in the same way you would describe Through The Olive Trees. However, unlike that film everything in Close-Up is real. The footage is a mixture of reenactments and documentary footage. In these reenactments the plaintiffs and the defendant portray themselves, which makes it a very weird exercise. It is only in the final scene where it makes sense that both sides and would agree to do this. I’m not going to say what happens, but I was very much moved.

What does it take for someone to go to the lengths that the defendant did when he pretended to be this famous Iranian movie director? I’m not entirely sure we actually get the answer in this film. How often do you see someone who lives in poverty quoting Tolstoy during his trial? I very much agree with the assessment made by the judge and prosecution at the end of the trial. He is probably a man who for the first time in his life was shown respect by those of a richer class. He is also someone who clearly has self esteem issues. It is hard not to pity him. His tears in the final scene feel so genuine… and yet your left wondering if he is having us on.

It is such a thought provoking and slightly off kilter documentary. I’ve not been able to get that final scene out of my head since I watched it. If I don’t end up watching a taste of cherry” soon I might have to dig out my DVD of Certified Copy.

Progress: 488/1007

XL Popcorn – A Chinese Ghost Story / L’Avventura

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: A Chinese Ghost Story (Sien nui yau wan)
Director: Siu-Tung Ching
Year: 1987
Country: Hong Kong

It has been nearly a year since I last saw Leslie Cheung in the 1993 film Farewell My Conubine where he played the role of a gay Chinese opera actor. He plays a rather different character in A Chinese Ghost Story, for one thing he is a straight debt collector who has fallen in love with a ghost.

This film is very much a horror film in the same way that Evil Dead II is a horror movie i.e. lighthearted horror which is to entertain and not to scare. Not what I expected to be honest as with a title like A Chinese Ghost Story I was going for the assumption that it would be more like Ringu than Kung Fu Hustle.

Once I had adjusted by expectations I really started to enjoy this blend of ghosts, comedy and wuxia. Even when it starts to get a little bit Power Rangers towards the end… when a sword was summoned from a felled tree using sanskrit. It’s amazing how in this universe at the same sanskrit phrase had so many uses. I mean, it can conjure fireballs, summon swords, enchant arrows and make invisible things visible.

Nowadays some of these effects appear a bit cheesy and low budget. However, it adds to the charm. It would be boring if the desiccated bodies did not move jerkily as squeak like mice.

I’m not entirely sure how they managed to squeeze out two sequels from this original film and I’m unlikely to get around to watching them as I still have over 500 films to see on this 1001 list. Oh and the anime and the TV shows and the books and the albums and the comics.

Title: L’Avventura
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Year: 1960
Country: Italy

When L’Avventura had its first showing at the Cannes film festival the audience booed causing the director and leading lady to make a swift exit. Now, an animated audience at a film festival is common. Especially at Cannes where it really can be trial by fire. This did not occur after the second screening. I mention this not just because I find it interesting, but because booing apparently happened fairly often when people were watching this film.

Apparently this reaction was due to the audience starting to get a bit miffed during some of the longer scenes without dialogue. Having sat through Jeanne Dielman I have no qualms with scenes without dialogue. In fact, I feel that there are times when a skilled director and actors are able to tell us more with silence than with words. That is the case with this film.

I’m not entirely sure why this film has the title of The Adventure. Unless the director is going for something rather clichéd like “life as an adventure”, which I sincerely hope not. The crux of this film is that you see a woman’s best friend and fiancé deal with the fact that she has gone missing. Now, I did not think much of this woman as she was a bit of a pain. Then again no one deserves to go missing in the Mediterranean the way she did.

What she leaves behind is rather interesting. For someone who would have appeared to be loved no one is actually trying that hard to look for her. Sure, her fiancé makes a bit of an effort but he very quickly makes a move with her best friend Claudia. Claudia resists for a few days and then is madly in love with him.

What is interesting about everyone is that they lack substance. This is not a potshot at the writing as this is how they are. These are spoiled rich Italian socialites and they quickly move on to the next party despite the fact one of the number has presumably drowned.

I think I really enjoyed this film. Especially the cinematography which was, obviously, aided by some beautiful Sicilian scenery. Big praise also has to go to Monica Vitti for a remarkably human portrayal of a woman undergoing internal conflict. She must have lived an breathed the role to be so spot on.

I found out that this is the first in a trilogy that all appear on the 1001 list. I’m curious how the theme progresses.

Progress: 486/1007

XL Popcorn – Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song / Within Our Gates

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
Director: Melvin Van Peebles
Year: 1971
Country: USA

I could summarise this film of reworking the title as Sweet Sweetback’s Bad Movie. However, I can’t just leave it there now can I? After all, I watched the damn thing so whilst this may not be the longest review I have dictated hopefully it will still have some meaning to it.

It is one of those films that made it into the 1001 book not because of merit, but because of influence. The year is 1971 and here we have a film that is aimed at being a revolutionary film that champions the black struggle in America. What is interesting is that amongst the community opinion was very much split on the “revolutionary” aspect.

I would argue that rather being revolutionary it is romanticising the struggle. Something that critics said at the time. The whole premise relies on a black man being able to defeat “the man” through the use of his large penis. I’m grossly over-simplifying things here that this film has all the subtlety of a siren.

One scene that made me cringe was right at the beginning where we essentially watch a grown prostitute taking advantage of a 13 year old boy. Oh and, obviously, we actually see this in full softcore glory. I hope that the view from behind was only “stunt butt” otherwise… I don’t really want to think about what I actually saw.

Now, let’s look at some positives. The way that the film was cut was quite revolutionary at the time. As such it has inspired quite a lot of films that followed. It also gave rise to a lot of the tropes that became part of future blaxploitation films. Personally I did not think much of the soundtrack but I can see its merits.

The big thing that is praiseworthy is how this film was able to influence so many black filmmakers that followed. Whilst I think films like ” do the right thing” actually did a better job we are already talking about 20 years of further element in the film industry.

So many is fair to say – this film is not made for me. That’s fine. Is it is like how many LGBT films are not made for a straight audience. That’s fine too.

Title: Within Our Gates
Director: Oscar Micheaux
Year: 1920
Country: USA

It made sense to pair up these films since they are both influential examples of African-American direction. Within our gates is actually the oldest surviving film by an African-American director and it was almost lost thanks to the censors. Praise be to Madrid for still having a copy of this.

Having such an old film depicting a black point of view means we have access to an invaluable time capsule. We have so many white views of this period, and of every other period, which ends up making this all the more important.

As films go is actually pretty standard, it follows normal rules of filmmaking and there are no revolutionary technological or storytelling leaps. It’s the perspective that matters. Another film you could pair this with is of Birth Of A Nation. It isn’t until the last 10 to 15 minutes that this comparison holds water. It isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that this film ends with scenes depicting why people raping and lynching black people.

I can see why this film would hit nerves with the predominantly white cinema going audience. No one likes seeing the savagery of their race laid bare. However, in general the scenes of white domination feel more naturalistic here than in modern cinema. It’s not about shock, it’s about truth. Why this truth is still not being listened to is a true failing. The film ends on the patriotic note and this rings false, but I think that was the director still trying to show the commonalities that bind Americans together despite how they are born.

Progress: 484/1007

Graphic Content – Iznogoud: The Caliph’s Vacation

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
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13/501Title: Iznogoud: the Caliph’s Vacation
Author: René Goscinny 
Illustrator:
Jean Tabary
Year: 1968
Country: France

Now this is a comic we would not see released nowadays. At least not for children. It is not that this comic is racist in particular, but the idea of setting a comic that has a satirical look at western values in Baghdad just feels a bit daring.

Truth is, Iznogoud: the Caliph’s Vacation exists in a world that probably never existed. The setting is basically a send up of the Arabian Nights world of magic carpets and absent minded sultans.

Iznogoud takes the role of a conniving grand vizier who wants the caliph’s crown for himself. What unfolds is four 10 page stories depicting his misguided attempts to seize power for himself – and so lives up to his name.

Speaking names, you can tell this was written by the man behind Asterix. Some of the names in this comic are just so puntastic. For example, a seller of magical elixirs is called Lihkwid and the palace meteorologist is called Fo’orkahst.

The stories are simple and the humour is very relevant to a lot of modern day life. There is an entire story that sends up package holidays and another that derives humour from rather clichéd, but still funny, tropes related to skiing.

What makes this a fun read is the mixture of ridiculous puns and sight gags. Full credit is due to the illustrator who makes this world feel very much alive. I think I need to read my first Asterix comic now.