Wednesday, February 22, 2012

NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD

For a change of pace, here’s a trio of filmmakers who exist in the strange nether regions between commercial art house cinema, starting with the man known (generally by himself) as the ‘King of the Mammaries’...
Russ Meyer

In terms of images of generously endowed women, if the 1950s belong to Hugh Hefner, then the 1960s belong to Russ Meyer. From 1959 to 1979, Meyer dominated the exploitation game, adding movement and his own gloriously unhinged Looney Tunes sensibility to bring magazine centre-folds to life.
Which doesn't deny the fact that Meyer's films are really friggin' weird. Based in a bizarre nowheresville of desert, back-water hell and rather suggestively shaped hills, Meyer's films set the dubious stage for showcasing his particular brand of Superwoman.
His female characters may look nice, but they certainly don't play nice. Manipulative, scheming, pouting, self-obsessed omnisexual nymphomaniacs, these ultra-vixens prowl Meyerland for whatever they can get - and aren't above breaking a few heads along the way. In the ultimate irony, Meyer is now upheld by feminist film critics for creating strong female characters at a time when no one else was.
And who are the men to tame these she-beasts? Well, they fall into two categories: the evil dumb neanderthal with an overactive libido, and the simpering impotent cuckold. And if you're expecting Meyer to side with either of these paragons of masculinity, you'd be mistaken. Often or not, both these two categories of American-brand idiot are mere puppets in the hands of Meyer's femmes.
Short on plot, character development and edits, long on bat shit craziness and sheer exuberant lust, Meyer's films are a unique schism in independent cinema - never repeated and never bettered.
RECOMMENDED VIEWING: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!; Vixen!; Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; Supervixens!

Seijun Suzuki

Probably the only studio director fired for 'incomprehensibility' (Michael Bay can only dream of such a fate), it goes without saying that Seijun Suzuki is the king of a mountain of crazy. 
A contract director sick of churning out Yakuza movies, in the early Sixties Seijun Suzuki decided enough was enough - since he couldn't turn down every assignment, he'd have a little fun with the generic dreck he was given. Maybe a few screws were loose after his bizarre and short-lived career as a sailor in WWII, maybe someone dropped something in his morning coffee, or maybe it really was the fact he could not give a damn, but the results turned out to be a bit... radical.

Death by sink. Singing corpses. Sandstorms. Animated butterflies. Real butterflies. Random shouting. Rice-induced sex. An upside-down punch up on a chandelier. Thank Christ he had a sense of humor.
I would call it insane, but that seems a bit cheap. His movies may not make much sense, but they always look good, and he retains enough professionalism to deliver some comprehensible moments (the car battle that ends YOUTH OF THE BEAST is fantastic) to interrupt the weirdness. One thing I can guarantee: After one dose of Suzuki’s madness, you’ll never look at a gangster movie the same way again. 
RECOMMENDED VIEWING: Youth of the Beast; Tokyo Drifter; Branded to Kill

Jean Rollin

Jean Rollin made movies with vampires in them, which is to say, he made movies that just so happened to feature vampires. Female vampires mostly, with very little in the way of clothes. 

More reliant on atmosphere than scare tactics and gore, Rollin just seems to be really, really obsessed with the image of female bloodsucker wandering around the corridors of decaying castles. When combined with a visual sensibility that can best be termed 'impressionistic' and at a pace that could be generously termed 'leisurely', even Rollin’s best films can be highly divisive for viewers. Some people really love his films. Most people would prefer they never existed.

I’ll admit, I only like two of his films, and they were the only ones I could get through to the end. However, to the few who can get in the right mood, Rollin's work can be incredibly haunting and, especially in the case of LIPS OF BLOOD, romantic. This may sound like a somewhat half-assed recommendation, but Rollin's work is that kind  of animal.


RECOMMENDED VIEWING: Lips of Blood; Fascination

On that rather ridiculous note, I leave you to more important activities, like sleep. Good night!

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