Sunday, 26 February 2017

On a Thousand Walls #4: Marebito (The Stranger from Afar) (2004)

I went through a phase about fifteen years ago where I watched as many Japanese horror movies as I could find – I'd started with Ring, and moved to Uzumaki, Pulse (Kairo), Audition, The Grudge – and then that phase ended, as phases do. And I moved on to other fads. So I think I saw a review of Marebito somewhere and thought, hmm, looks interesting, and then forgot about it, which, as you'll probably have realised if you're a regular reader, something I do. It was a regular reader of this blog who, when I announced I was doing an urban wyrd series, asked what I thought about Marebito.

So I went and looked, and it's that film that Shimizu Takashi did after doing the English language remake of his breakout hit The Grudge (Ju-On) and so I picked up a copy of Marebito because I'd liked The Grudge, and I watched it and... this is the sort of film that has me knitting my brows and taking in a deep breath through my teeth when you ask me what I think of it.

Note that nudity in one of the screenshots below makes this post NSFW. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

In defence of flowers taped to lamp posts

The tree, which stands alone on one of the gentle slopes of the park near my home, not far from the boundary of the local comprehensive, is entirely covered with hundreds of cloth flowers fixed to its bark with drawing pins, graffiti, gifts tucked in its nooks, laminated Christmas and birthday cards, letters. Beads and trinkets hang from its branches. A bouquet of flowers lies at its roots.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Cult Cinema #3: The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

It's 1964. County Dublin, Ireland. We are introduced to Margaret. She's a bridesmaid. A boy takes her upstairs to a room and there he rapes her, perfunctorily, deliberately, not in the heat of the moment, a premeditated brutality. She does what she's always been told to do, and tells someone. She is blamed. A few days later a priest comes in a black car and takes her away.

Bernadette lives in an orphanage. She is pretty, flirts with the boys who congregate on the other side of the railings of the orphanage yard. One day, her bed is empty. It remains so.

And Rose has just had a baby, although her parents will neither acknowledge the child's existence, nor even look at her. She's forced to give up her baby, and then they send her away.

All three of them arrive at the same day at the Magdalene Laundry, an institution managed by the Sisters of Mercy where "fallen women" are imprisoned, often for life and set to work washing clothing and bedding for convents, and orphanages, and prisons. For the next seven years, the three of them experience physical and psychological torment. They're beaten, humiliated, tormented. They're forbidden to create friendships. They're made to stand in a line while the nuns pass loud judgement on their breasts and arses. They have their heads shaved when they step out of line. They're encouraged to be cruel to each other, and then, seven years later they get out.

That's pretty much the plot of The Magdalene Sisters, actor-director Peter Mullan's best known and most controversial film.

Monday, 13 February 2017

We Don't Go Back #35: The Swords of Wayland (1985)

By 1985, Doctor Who had gotten rubbish, and in my parents' home we had by silent consensus changed sides. Which was OK, because Robin of Sherwood was on.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

When I am gone, I want you to do this:

When I am gone, I want you to do this:
Hold a memorial where all the words are mine
The epitaph a thing I wrote myself
And demand that all the guests wear black
And weep, and bow their heads,
And miss me, and miss me.

When I am gone, I want you to do this:
Tape an inexpensive white bouquet
To a lamp post by a dual carriageway
And leave it until the flowers have wilted
And replace it only then, and when you pass
Think of me, for I am gone.

When I am gone, I want you to do this :
Erect a statue of me in a public place
And write upon the pedestal the ways I changed the world
So that in a thousand years they'll find it in the ruins
And add me as a footnote in their history,
Make me part of history.

When I am gone, I want you to do this :
Carry a cold, hard weight beneath your chest
And feel a terrible affront, a deep offence
When the people that you meet might not
Be grieving for me also, and regret
You never got to say the things you meant to say
And you will never get to say you're sorry.
For I am gone forever. I am gone.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

We Don't Go Back #34: Onibaba (Demon Woman) (1964)

Two soldiers of medieval Japan escape from  a battle, run terrified through a field of high susuki reeds until, spent, they collapse in a tiny clearing, to take a breath, to wonder what to do next. It's all right. It's all right.

Seconds later, both are dead, each impaled on a spear that erupts from the reeds. The owners of the spears, two women, one in her late teens, one in her late thirties, enter the clearing and strip the men of their arms and armour, pack it up in baskets. Then they drag the bodies to a gaping pit and dump them. Then they just get on with their day. After they've had some food and a nap, the women take the arms to an arms dealer who sits in a cave, and exchange them for bags of millet.

This is their everyday life. They live in a world of damp and sweat. Soldiers stray into their fields of reeds and the pit grows ever more full of corpses, picked clean quickly and efficiently by the crows. If they're lucky, they might find a dog they can catch and kill, but their life depends on stolen arms from murdered soldiers. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

On a Thousand Walls #3: Helen (2008)

While I'm firmly of the belief that you really don't need  to have a degree in media studies to appreciate a movie any more than you need training in Art History to enjoy a trip to Tate Modern, I'd be silly to pretend that some films don't require a bit more effort to engage with. It seems that some films are easy to like; in fact it's not as simple as that. We learn how to watch every kind of film, even popcorn blockbusters. But some films need you to learn a different cinematic language. Every so often, you'll see a critically aclaimed and pretty artsy film on IMDB with user reviews like this:
...the acting is terribly stilted, the film constantly uses the same slowly panning camera technique which just becomes tedious. You can see pauses where the actors are trying to recall dialogue etc.

I've got to be honest, I think all this lottery funding is continuing to lead to hopeless UK films being funded and produced. I don't know why this film would have won an award.
And that's absolutely tragic. I mean, just because a film is artsy doesn't mean it's automatically good, but there are films that have a real mark of an auteur on them, that have real technical and emotional investment and which say or attempt to say something fascinating and beautiful, and often I see user reviews for films like The Witch or Upstream Color and I think, why can't you see the good in this?

And please, please, don't get me wrong. My mother-in-law, who I adore, last night apologised to me for being uncultured because she had not been able to follow a slightly artsy crime thriller (Y Llyfrgell, for what it's worth), and I told her not to be so silly, because there's no shame in not grasping a movie. Some movies are hard to follow. Some films hide things, or imply things that you have to dig deep for and think about later (I'm still working out what I think about Berberian Sound Studio, for instance). It's a not a moral failing not to get a film; you don't have to get a film. And some films, there's very little to get.  

So what I quoted above was an IMDB user review for Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor's award-winning 2008 film Helen, and I'm going to stop here and say, Helen is the sort of film that you're either going to find mesmerisingly, heartbreakingly beautiful or approximately as entertaining as watching the drying process of that magnolia emulsion you've just applied to your lounge wall. I'm going to work on the principle that the film is the former, and if you've seen it and found it the latter, I doubt anything I write here will change your mind, and that's OK.