Hey there, folks: just breaking the surface for an update. I flew in on Friday, and caught a matinee of Shohei Imamura’s superb Pigs and Battleships at BAM. In the evening I rendezvoused with Mr. and Mrs. Filmbrain, the Siren, and Mr. Siren, for a great French meal and energetic conversation at a Brooklyn bistro.
On Saturday, Zach and I met up at MoMA to see Rossellini’s Descartes (1974), then headed out to the East Village to join his friend Nirav. We ended up eating, drinking and talking for nearly eight hours straight.
Then yesterday, Zach and I did two Kiarostami programs of several short films, and I also squeezed in Rossellini’s Paisan which I’d never seen before. All of the films were strong, and I hope to say something more about them later in the week. In a few minutes, I’ll head over to Washington Square Park for the best masala dosas (barring my mom’s, of course), then two screenings: more Kiarostami at MoMA, and Imamura’s The Insect Woman at BAM. I’ll fly home tomorrow.
Just a few bullet-thoughts on Imamura’s Pigs and Battleships (1961):
Imamura’s film frame seethes with energy and unexpectedness. It’s open, threatening to erupt and spill over outwards, off-screen….
With physical filmmakers like Imamura and Sam Fuller, whose shots and cuts are like blows not just to the eye but to the whole body, I think it’s definitely important to try to see their films in a theater whenever possible. It’s thankfully hard to maintain a cool and intellectual distance when you’re getting pummeled in the third row for two hours! In one horrific sequence, three drunk American sailors gang-rape a Japanese girl; when they throw their first punch at her, the camera recoils as if it was hit (as it did in Fuller’s The Naked Kiss a couple of years later) and then spins around, accelerating. When it comes to a stop a few seconds later—with no cuts—the rape is over, the girl is on the bed and the three sailors are sharing a post-coital shower, and singing at the top of their lungs….and this in a commercial film from 1961!
James Quandt has said that a key influence on Imamura was the lesser-known filmmaker Yuzo Kawashima: “[T]he hard-drinking, eccentric, and rebellious country boy Kawashima represents the “authentic” Japan. In his tribute to Kawashima, whom he referred to as “my teacher,” Imamura wrote of the director’s country roots, his love of vulgarity and of red-light districts. In the latter half of his short career, Kawashima favored the ‘Scope format for his pungent, occasionally crass portraits of the pillow geishas, sugar daddies, and oddballs who inhabit his favorite setting: the inns and brothels of the “pleasure quarters.””
This movie just might have the strongest critique of American imperialism in any Japanese film I’ve ever seen. And right from the get-go. The first five seconds of the film ring out with a martial arrangement of the opening couple of bars of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which is then quickly and perversely mutated into some other, more Eastern-sounding melody altogether! (How strange and clever.) At one point, we hear a voice-over of a child reading from his history textbook, which sings the praises of the “flexible” and accommodating Japanese culture, “open” to Western influences as it leaves the feudal system behind….
I’m guessing that Imamura has to be one of the few male filmmakers in the history of cinema who (feministically) depicts female sexual desire as being powerfully, nakedly, indecorous, something truly incapable of subjugation and control by man….
Great news via Acquarello: there's a seven-film Jean Renoir box set out next month (La Fille de L'Eau, Nana, Le Marseillaise, Sur un Air de Charleston, La Petite Marchande d'Allumettes, Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier, Le Caporal Épinglé). If the quality is even half-way decent, it'll be a steal for twenty bucks.