Category Archives: Films I Do Not Want to See

A Film I Never Wanted to See: Part III

Russian Ark reminded me of this one time I went to The Louvre and saw Tom Delonge with a camcorder, shooting video of every painting he passed. At the time I was all like, “That’s stupid. What, he’s going to go back and watch all of that footage later?” Well, maybe he really likes Rembrandt but is too cheap to buy the book of his paintings from the gift shop. Maybe he has trouble sleeping – and doesn’t own a copy of any Tarkovsky films – and so he makes his own sleep-enduser movies. Or, maybe he was inspired by this little film:

russian ark

In a nut shell, Russian Ark is about the history of Russia and how that fits into the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. In a thinly constructed attempt at plot, there is a man who has perhaps recently died, who encounters “The European” (based on some guy named Marquis de Custine, a man I hadn’t heard of until I read the Wikipedia entry on the movie. every time they referred to the guy as the “Marquis” I thought they were talking about the Marquis de Sade. It goes without saying that I was sort of expecting a crazier ending…) and they proceed to move through the rooms, each representing a different period of Russian history.

heritage museum

Not being a Russian history afficianado (I know nothing about it), Russian Ark was hard for me to follow. I perked up when I heard names like Mikhail or Anastasia, but most everything I learned about Russian I learned from cartoons, and turns out that cold death-trap of a country isn’t so popular with Disney. That’s not to say that you must know Russian history well in order to enjoy the movie, as has been suggested in many reviews. I think a general knowledge of art provides enough of a base. 

However, I know a little about the art in the Heritage Museum (I was especially excited to see some sculptures by Canova) and I didn’t really enjoy the film. Everyone talks about how the movie is boring, but I submit that it is not boring enough. The character named “The European” is constantly talking, making noises like a distressed Anime character. He grunts and groans and says “mhmm” throughout the entire film, making Russian Ark far too noisy.

Marquis de Custine russian ark

I think the choice of shooting in one take is amazing (a bit of a gimick, but still amazing). I think the design of the piece is incredible, and the coordination of it all is astounding. That said, it would have been much more interesting if they had been just a bit braver, abandoning the chatty narrators who feel the need to explain everything incessantly, and moving through the rooms without guidance. It seems to me they are going for a Wings of Desire kind of effect, but only as a way to try to keep people entertained. Their chief concern is obviously the camera and they would have done better to step back and let the camera do all the talking.

Overall, not a horrible hour and a half. It certainly didn’t deserve to be on my top five films I never wanted to see, but I’m also not that excited that I finally saw it. I think Russian Ark might be a film I forget by next week (unless I use it as a way to explain cinematography in intro classes, which is where I first encountered the film). Whether that is my fault for being uninformed, or the filmmaker’s fault for being caught by typical narrative techniques is up for grabs.

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Films I Never Wanted to See: Part 2

The second movie Scott and I watched in my series of Films I Never Wanted to Watch was Kids (Larry Clark, 1995). After a really totally awesome day of Soul Caliber II and crocheting teddy bears we figured a little AIDS epidemic-inspired drama was needed.

Kids

Let me come right out with it: I hate hate hated Kids. I thought it was perverted and pornographic (in bad ways), silly and melodramatic, unrealistic and overpraised. And while I certainly had moral dilemmas about forms of representation at play here and the actual mechanics of filmmaking, my biggest issue with the film was the representation of the characters themselves.

It seems clear to me that Larry Clark and Harmony Korine hate these characters almost as much as I hate this film. Bad haircuts, rotting teeth, clothes that don’t fit, squalid living conditions, not to mention the fact that they shot in the summer (and what disgusting, supposedly shocking movie isn’t shot in the summer through a sheen of sweat?) are all visual decisions that single these children out as pure monsters. Put aside their deplorable actions and you’ve still got a raggedy, sweaty, horribly unattractive group of kids. And this is accomplishing a lot, because this film marks the beginning of Rosario Dawson’s career. Making that adorable hottie ugly is quite the feat.

kids cloe sevigny

This seemed to be the problem with Harmony Korine’s Gummo (1997), as well. Korine claimed that he thought all his characters in that film were “beautiful” and then featured them whipping dead cats and bathing in filth while eating spaghetti. There is something very high-falutin’ and annoying about that statement. Here is Korine, filming people in ways that show them at their most horrible and then claiming that all the judgments we (as viewers) are about to make about them are just wrong because they are, indeed, beautiful. I call bullshit on that one, buddy.

gummo

Korine must have learned a lot from his mentor Larry Clark, who shoots Kids with the same type of disdain that I see in Gummo. None of the children represented here have any redeemable qualities. Arguably, not a one! And there are about 50 acid-droppin’, weed-smokin’, virgin-humpin’ assholes to choose from. In all the talking that they do with one another, no one mentions one nice thing that we could possibly hold onto as a ray of hope. Not only do I find that ridiculous and unbelievable, but I think it’s what adds to the pornographic feel to the movie. Clark seems to hold this really pretentious high-ground while he criticizes the kids for their bad behavior, but he is the one that is actively putting them in these situations. There were reports that the kids on the set were actually drunk and high, and the adult that should know better is the one facilitating the scene for the sake of “art.” What is that? An effort to still be hip while also pretending to be conscientious, it seems to me. Not a bit classy.

kids poster

While Clark condemns the behavior he shows by making is appear repellant, he also continues to show it, in close detail. Whether this is an effort to shock or an effort to entertain is an interesting question. Because of all the things Kids is (silly, perverted, etc.), it is not boring. From one scene to the next there is a plethora of disturbing, yet fascinating behaviors played out on screen. And Clark never cuts away.

Unprotected sex is bad, AIDS is bad, drugs are bad, alcohol is bad, beating up guys with your skateboard is bad. We get it, Larry Clark. So how are all those things bad and yet you still get to profit from them so effectively?

Go check out Scott’s review over at He Shot Cyrus. I made him sit through this one for a second time, it’s the least you could do.

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A Movie I Definitely Did Not Want To See: Part 1

I Spit on Your Grave is as vile as it sounds. Four rapes, four revenges, and one hour and forty minutes later, I’ve pretty much had about about as much as I can stomach of 70s horror films. I’m done with thick, waxy blood, an excess of nudity, constant female screams, flowing dresses with big sleeves. Too bad Scott and I are watching Last House on the Left later tonight! I’m really questioning this new blogging adventure.

I spit on your grave

The marketing for Spit is appalling. And this is definitely not Camille Keaton’s butt.

However, as a political statement and maybe a slightly feminist effort, I Spit on Your Grave is…not that bad. There is a difference between this vile rape/revenge film and a rape/revenge film as egregious as, say, Straw Dogs. The latter shows a rape victim suddenly enjoying the experience sexually, and yet it’s released on Criterion and highly praised by many critics. In Spit it is abundantly clear that Jennifer does not enjoy the experience in the least bit. In fact, she actively manipulates this fantasy myth to enact her revenge. Instead of enjoying violently passive sex, she actively finds ways to enjoy her own version of power through sex. Carol Clover argues that the rapes depicted in the film are not even sexually enjoyable for the men committing the acts, as “the rapes are presented as almost sexless acts of cruelty that the men seem to commit more for each other’s edification than for their own physical pleasure” (Clover, Men, Women, and Chainsaws, 118).

Clover also explains Jennifer’s cruelty as a genre convention. She writes “It lies in the nature of revenge or self-defense stories (horror makes the point over and over) that the avenger or self-defender will become as directly or indirectly violent as her assailant, and, as we shall later see, these films are in some measure about that transformation” (123). As Jennifer makes her transformation from a seemingly civil big-city-girl to a horrifically violent vigilante, it is clear that this story belongs to her. And her violent revenge is her way of reclaiming her sexuality. Because Jennifer does not just take revenge, she takes a sexual revenge. And she is just as easily able to manipulate the mentally retarded rapist, as the supposedly smarter leader of the group. I Spit on Your Grave is out to show rape as a culturally inevitable phenomena, and the way to counteract this phenomena seems to be a crime to fit the crime. As Clover writes “If maleness caused the crime, then maleness will suffer the punishment” (123). The film continually focuses on the gun that Jennifer has access to, only to throw it away in favor of castration and strangulation. Unlike the men when they are about to get their just desserts, Jennifer never expresses regret for her violence. The final frame of the film seems to prove this, showing Jennifer triumphant and almost smiling.

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Despite the leanings towards a sort of reactionary feminism, the film is deeply disturbing in ways that a rape-revenge film like Straw Dogs might not be. Clover again seems to have a legitimate answer: “I Spit on Your Grave shocks not because it is alien but because it is too familiar, because we recognize that the emotions it engages are regularly engaged by the big screen but almost never bluntly acknowledged for what they are” (120). The film has no music or blatant special effects (but the blood looks spectacular) and even the efforts at comedic relief are terrifying.

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This is one of the hardest films I have ever sat through. Brutal and disgusting. There is also the question of audience reaction that needs to be addressed. Roger and Ebert apparently reported that audiences laughed and cheered during rape scenes in the film, and thus used the film to launch a campaign against this sort of brutality being depicted on screen. While this might be a nervous reaction to what they are seeing (I experienced this directly during The Strangers, for example), the question of appropriateness is reasonable. I don’t have the answers. I’m not particularly glad that I ended up seeing this film, but I think there is more to it than a simple dismissal will allow.

For a different take on things, check out Scott’s blog. I think he had an even rougher time than I did with Spit.

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Giving In

Brian, Scott, and I have decided that morals are for suckers. We’re giving into bad taste/immorality/boredom and are going to suffer through some movies that we have previously claimed we never want to see. While we might have been placing ourselves on the moral high ground at some point or other, we have finally decided that all movies might be worth seeing … especially for sensationalist blog posts about sodomy, incest, and AIDS.

So here is my list of the five movies I never want to see, but am going to anyway:

1. I Spit on Your Grave (Meir Zarchi, 1978 ) – Also known as “Day of the Woman” this is one of those films that claims to be an exercise in feminism but is actually just an excuse to show some violent sex and some violent retributions. I’m all about graphic violence in film, but pair that violence with a mentally retarded guy participating in rape, and I think maybe you’ve crossed the line. The entire film seems absolutely repulsive to me. And check out this poster:

i spit on your grave

This film always seemed like poorly disguised torture-porn. HOWEVER, Carol Clover has some extremely interesting arguments about this film in her book Men, Women, and Chain Saws. Basically she claimed that this film isn’t nearly as offensive as male dominated action cinema that fails to reminisce about the extreme violence and high body count. She said she was more disturbed watching a Rambo sequel than I Spit on Your Grave (although she also makes no excuses for the marketing of the film). So I’m actually looking forward to seeing this Film I Said I’d Never Watch, if only for the detached scholarly approach I might be able to maintain.

2. Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2002) – This one is apparently worth seeing. Blah blah blah All in one take Blah blah blah. Looks as boring as a trip to Cove Fort. I don’t know what I have against Russians and their art, but I have always been reluctant to devote my time to it. OK, I liked Crime and Punishment, but The Idiot is, like, twice as long! Plus, I know nothing about that stupid country and I have heard that the film is hard to decipher without a knowledge of Russian politics. I can only hope that Meg Ryan shows up at some point, I guess.

anastasia

Basically, I’ve just seen this movie as a bit of a sensationalist scam. It’s neat that they pulled the one-take trick, but is there anything redeeming or interesting besides that one take? We’ll see.

3. Kids (Larry Clark, 1995) – Everyone has told me not to see this film. I’m expecting it to be repulsive, but worse than I Spit on Your Grave? I think Kids‘ hardcore realism comes at me from a bit of a disadvantage because I’ve always been very skeptical of dogme95. It’s like the one-take-trick of Russian Ark. Is there anything interesting in your film besides the fact that you use natural lighting and only found props? I’ve seen The Bicycle Thief and I doubt your more contrived attempt at disturbing realism will measure up. If this film is anything like Harmony Korine’s other work, I’ll be more annoyed than disturbed.

4. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975) – I’ve neglected Pasolini for so long because, basically, I’m afraid.

salo

Judging by reactions to this film that I have read and heard, he’s a scary kind of guy in regards to the imagery he is willing to delve into. I’m looking forward to this film the most out of all the films listed (which is, naturally, not very much).

5. Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) – 238 minutes??? WTF.

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So now I go about watching this babies. Now that I have them all listed I don’t know how good of an idea this was…

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