Monday, March 12, 2007

New York/Imamura

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.

30 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

Sound like a terrific jaunt! I haven't seen Paiasn or Insect Woman in years, and I've seen none of the of the other films you mention.

But the highlight of the trip must be meeting up with the New York filmblogging paisan and their friends and spouses. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

March 12, 2007 6:46 PM  
Anonymous Matthew M. said...

Imamura is among my handful of favorite directors, occupying a special place in my heart as the creator of films which, upon simply a moment’s reminiscence, can bring a smile to my face. Pigs and Battleships is fabulous—your write-up being quite valuable and observant; additionally, you’ve now seen it in a way a bloke like myself living in mid-Missouri shall likely never have the opportunity.

I doubt it’s within your schedule at this point, but do yourself a favor and see Profound Desire of the Gods at your next opportunity. It’s an absolute must, in many ways Imamura’s epic.

March 12, 2007 9:58 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey thanks, Brian and Matthew!

Brian -- You're absolutely right of course. The highlight of the trip (the wonderful films notwithstanding) was definitely social. Especially for someone like me who lives in cinephile-barren territory and hungers for social contact with my sub-species, this was a real thrill...

And Imamura's The Insect Woman turned out to be, in many ways, very different from Pigs and Battleships and (for me) an even stronger film...

Matthew -- I have Profound Desire of the Gods taped off UK television but have been holding out for a theatrical screening. I think I'll wait a few months longer to see if the touring retrospective happens to come my way, and if it doesn't (which is very likely), I'll be looking forward to watching my copy of it...

Zach -- If you happen to be reading: beaucoup thanks for everything. And pl. convey my apologies to your gf for monopolizing all your time this weekend...! And thanks also for introducing me to other cinephiles whom I've read for a long time but never met, like Steve Erickson and Daniel Kasman, which I greatly appreciated.

A spring break NYC cinephilic pilgrimage is definitely something I need to try to do every year if I can....

And now, off to the airport; this trip really flew.

March 13, 2007 11:00 AM  
Blogger girish said...

-- Several cinema posts at the academic blog Dr. Mabuse's Kaleido-scope following the annual SCMS conference.
-- Jonathan Rosenbaum blogs from the Mar Del Plata film festival.
-- The Siren on John Ford's The Informer.
-- Zach on the NYT Kiarostami interview by Deborah Solomon, another example of her quote unquote provocative schitck that she's plied for so long in the NYT interview columns. In this Noam Chomsky interview, her questions include "Your father was a respected Hebraic scholar, and sometimes you sound like a self-hating Jew [...] Have you ever been psychoanalyzed?" and "If you feel so guilty, how can you justify living a bourgeois life and driving a nice car?". Not that there's anything wrong with asking these questions in principle, but her motives often come off seeming really cheap and suspect to me....

Prepping for the avant-garde blog-a-thon last year, I read her biography of Joseph Cornell, Utopia Parkway: the book turned out to be quite good! (Which was kind of disappointing, because I was all ready to hate on it...)

March 13, 2007 6:24 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Welcome back, Girish. I saw Pigs and Battleships on the big screen as part of the second Sontag-programmed series a few years ago, and concur with your reaction to its visual energy and flamboyant absurdism. One of the most bizarre--but totally absorbing--climactic set piece in a commercial movie...

March 13, 2007 7:01 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Girish, glad you had so much fun in the city. And you didn't monopolize my time at all, I think the three of us would all agree that it was a completely fun afternoon/evening out.

At any rate, if any NYC readers wonder where Girish & Nirav & I spent those East Village hours, we were at Caracas (this was just Girish and myself), DBA, Kenka, and Xunta--in that order. (Xunta was actually first on the agenda as I had proposed it, as the spicy potatoes and grilled bacon-wrapped dates are essential, but Barcelona vs. Real Madrid ensured it to be quite packed for several hours.) One needs plenty of sustenance for all this Kiarostami, Rossellini, and Imamura!

March 13, 2007 10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: "Utopia Parkway" The life of Cornell is fascinating but the writing and amateur psychoanalyzing in that book drove me batty. How many sentences following a biographical point begin, "Perhaps..." and then proceed to make an amateur I once read Freud fake psycho-babble point? By the middle I was hesitant to go on, though I did as a Cornell admirer, so as to avoid the horrible writing and awful "incite" End of rant.

March 13, 2007 11:59 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Doug -- I didn't realize it was part of a Sontag series. I enjoyed your review of Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, which I also first heard about through one of her series. (There was one film in that series that I had never heard of then, and haven't since: Mother Dao, Turtle-Like...)

Anonymous -- Yes, all the amateur pyschologizing was really cheeesy, e.g. her obsession with all the sweets he ate, and their pyschological meaning...! But I did find the book valuable, since I knew little about Cornell's life or art, and it was a good crash course in the facts.

Zach -- I didn't realize some of those restauarants and bars had websites! If I had to pick any favorites (which is hard here), I might have to go with the arepas at Caracas and the India Pale Ale at DBA. I regret a bit that I was humming strongly when we got to Xunta, our last stop, and I don't remember the bacon-wrapped dates much (except that they were good). For New York food buffs, let me cut and paste from the arepas menu at Caracas two highly recommended items: La De Pernil ("roasted pork shoulder with tomato slices and a spicy mango sauce") and La Sureña ("grilled chicken and chorizo, avocado slices and the classic and always enigmatic oregano based sauce chimichurri").

March 14, 2007 9:09 AM  
Blogger girish said...

If you're in the mood for some weighty but interesting philosophy reading, there's a great post at Steve Shaviro's:

"I just finished reading Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, Peter Hallward’s recent (2006) book on Deleuze. Hallward knows Deleuze’s texts very well. His formulations are quite lucid and quite powerful, and he systematizes Deleuze, or shows the fundamental unity of Deleuze’s philosophical project, in a way that most of Deleuze’s interpreters and followers have not been able to do. But Out of This World is fundamentally one-sided, so much so that it ends up being altogether misleading. In this respect, I find that I am in agreement with Glen’s critique of the book.

"In a certain sense, Hallward takes Deleuze’s own methodology and turns it against him. Deleuze’s treatment of the philosophers he writes about is a complicated one: one that is obscured more than it is explained by Deleuze’s flippant and notorious comment about impregnating the past philosopher from behind, in order to produce a monstrous offspring. Deleuze is always closely attentive to the words, and the concepts, of the thinkers he is writing about. He quotes them a lot, and paraphrases their points using their own vocabularies. At the same time, Deleuze never provides an interpretation of the thinkers he is discussing; he is uninterested in hermeneutics, uninterested in teasing out ambiguities and contradictions, uninterested in deconstructing prior thinkers or in determining ways in which they might be entrenched in metaphysics. All this is in accord with Deleuze’s own philosophy: his focus is on invention, on the New, on the “creation of concepts.”

"It’s not a matter of saying, for instance, that Plato and Aristotle and St. Augustine were wrong about the nature of time, and Kant or Bergson are right. Rather, what matters to Deleuze is the sheer fact of conceptual invention: the fact that Kant, and then Bergson, invent entirely new ways of conceiving time and temporality, leading to new ways of distributing, classifying, and understanding phenomena, new perspectives on Life and Being. A creation of new concepts means that we see the world in a new way, one that wasn’t available to us before. This is what Deleuze looks for in the history of philosophy, and this is why (and how) he is concerned, not with what a given text “really” means, but rather with what can be done with it, how it can be used, what other problems and other texts it can be brought into conjunction with. Deleuze writes about philosophers whose ideas he can use, or transform, in order to work through the problems he is interested in."

March 14, 2007 8:10 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Kristin Thompson critiques Neil Gabler's recent L.A. Times article on movies.

March 14, 2007 8:14 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Check out a superb Kiarostami post at Zach's place.

March 14, 2007 11:03 PM  
Anonymous cinebeats said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts about Pigs and Battleships! I really want to see it now after reading your enthusiastic review. I'm fascinated by Japanese films from the 1950s-70s that as you say, "critique American imperialism."

March 15, 2007 7:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Cinebeats.

You know, Imamura found dozens of ingenious ways to express that theme, all of them hard-hitting. e.g. the port where the American battleships dock is right next to the red-light district, and the highest ambition of a Japanese prostitute is to "catch" and marry a US solider (which of course they never do); Imamura casts huge Americans, like twice the size of the average Japanese person; and the slops from the American ships are smuggled out to feed the hogs (of the title), so they can be slaughtered and used as food for the Japanese. So, the Japanese are way down (literally) on the food chain. And I'm sure I'm forgetting 101 other such examples from this film...

I hope Superhappyfun gets their hands on it and puts it on DVD...

March 16, 2007 9:19 AM  
Blogger acquarello said...

I'm pretty sure that one point, SHF had this title, then yanked it when Japanese New Wave did their high quality version boots (which was fulfilled by SHF). What's a head scratcher is that after JNWC decided to close up shop, they posted this disclaimer which threatens lawsuit if any outfit bootlegs their bootleg editions. Eh? :-/

March 16, 2007 3:00 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Acquarello, I hadn't realized that JNWC had closed up shop. And that disclaimer is comical...!

March 16, 2007 3:41 PM  
Blogger girish said...

A. ~ Re: your African film festival anticipation post, I look forward to your write-ups. Surely Africa is the continent least written about in the film-blogosphere (not counting Antarctica!)...? And you are always (among many other things) a rare and valuable source for our African film info and leads each year...

I was excited to see a Stephanie Black film in there but unfortunately it's a concert/music film (not that there's anything wrong with those!) rather than something, like Life & Debt, that can be used for pedagogical purposes (as we've been doing at my college).

March 16, 2007 3:49 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Considering the sheer number of words expendeded on the likes of Happy Feet and March of the Penguins, Antarctica may actually top Africa.

March 16, 2007 4:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ain't that the truth, Brian...

March 16, 2007 4:26 PM  
Blogger acquarello said...

Thanks, Girish, I really like this festival, it's very intimate and the audience is pretty eclectic - we're all just there to learn and absorb. Actually, come to think of it, I think it was Brian's posts on the old Cinemarati board about the dearth of discussion on African films that finally pushed me to attend my first NYAFF a few years ago instead of trying to catch a smidgen of films at ND/NF, and I've been hooked ever since.

It looks as though I will get to see Black's documentary which I kinda had to think about, I haven't exactly listened to reggae since the mid 80s. :( It looks as though I'll be able to make ten of these on two full days, including three short film programs...should be interesting since I'll be fasting on one of those days (Good Friday). :)

March 16, 2007 9:03 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Wow! I noticed (and heartily approved) that Strictly Film School's coverage of African cinema had stepped up in the past few years, but I didn't realize my comments had had an effect on that! If I recall, my lament was directed at nobody in particular, but then I guess it was directed at everybody too.

I remember really enjoying some of those discussions in Nick's World Tour forum on the old Cinemarati site. It was like having fun, somewhat managable assignments to help guide my exploration through the vast realms of uncharted cinematic territory for me, whether Dusan Makavajev during the Baltic cinema focus, Kon Ichikawa during Japan month, or Djibril Diop Mambéty when Africa was the topic of discussion.

I guess it was kinda like a month-long Blog-A-Thon in some ways. Speaking of which, (and this too is directed at nobody in particular, and also everybody who might be interested): there are still five more days until the 'Thon I'm hosting on my site on Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors. Still enough time (barely) to have the disc shipped by an e-tailer. I have no idea what the 'queue' situation might be for rent-by-mailers out there.

Hope you don't mind the shameless plug, girish!

March 17, 2007 5:09 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Acquarello and Brian!

Brian, I don't mind at all! In fact, I was planning to write a new post and put it up before the end of the day today, and include in it a reminder to the event. And as a little test, I put Virgin on my Netflix queue just now and noticed that it had no wait, and was "available now"...

March 17, 2007 8:19 AM  
Blogger girish said...

-- Two posts at Jeeem's place (Scanners) on: Bad endings; and Bunuel's My Last Sigh (probably my favorite of all the filmmaker memoirs I've read).
-- David Bordwell has a good, lengthy post on Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto films.
-- A post from Jonathan Rosenbaum in Mar Del Plata: "Other Voices, Other Blogs".

March 17, 2007 8:32 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

Did I just say Baltic? Remind me not to trust my geography late at night...of course I meant Balkan- actually I think Nick's focus that month was actually inclusive of Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans.

March 17, 2007 4:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Slacked on writing today; spent the day cooking up Indian food--was feeling the craving real bad. Hope to return with that promised post tomorrow. Have a good Saturday night, everyone.

March 17, 2007 8:27 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Interesting dustup in the comments section of Dave Kehr's blog, about Altman's way with actors.

March 17, 2007 8:34 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah, thanks for the tip, Noel. Here's that link.

There's a handful of WC Fields films that have just been released at Netflix. I don't know any of them: Never Give A Sucker an Even Break; The Old Fashioned Way; You're Telling Me; The Man on the Flying Trapeze; Poppy. Any recommendations/favorites among these? I'd love to know.

March 18, 2007 8:08 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

"Never Give A Sucker an Even Break" is one of the most bizarre movies about movies I've ever seen...right down to that fabulous scene where Fields jumps overboard to save the booze.

March 18, 2007 8:32 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Flickhead, I've always been a sucker for movies about movies, and will add that to my queue...

March 18, 2007 8:37 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

It's been years since I've seen any of the Fields films, but I hope you get around to seeing all of them. since you have Sucker on your list, I would next add Man on the Flying Trapeze.

March 19, 2007 8:55 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Peter, you read my mind. I was also thinking that I should simply see all of them.

(And I recently learned that the jazz composition "Filthy McNasty" by Horace Silver, covered brilliantly by pop singer Steve Miller, is actually the name of a character in The Bank Dick!).

March 20, 2007 8:17 AM  

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