Tuesday, April 01, 2008

heep see

I've been re-watching a few of my favorite films, curious as to what some of my original blog entries were on them.

Love Streams dir. John Cassavetes

I'm surprised at the copious amounts of blood that get shed in Love Streams. Who doesn't have blood stain their forehead, their hands, the corner of their mouth, their ears at some point here? Also, I forget how fall-down hilarious it is at points. It's both Cassavetes's bloodiest and funniest movie I can recollect. Much like his classic film Husbands, Love Streams only saw release on VHS.

Cassavetes and Rowlands play kooky siblings (though I realize now that fact doesn't surface until 2/3s through the movie), drunk on their notions of love. For her, it's 'the ultimate,' the biggest chip on the table, the greatest bet there is in the universe; for him, love is just about a woman giving up her 'secret' to a man; 'secret' meaning 'lady-yum,' 'man' meaning him. The beginning scenes of him at some weird tranny wine bar with Bob Marley lip-synching and with a mansion full of honeys (peep the one in the swooshing white jumpsuit that just screams Falcon Crest) are brilliant, with John smirking through all the insanity, even as he protests to be sane himself.

Conflicts are like clockwork, all a-grind, continuous, and unresolved even by movie's end. Lovers cannot communicate and neither can generations. Parents and children squabble, the former unable to reign in their crazy tendencies, the latter young but quickly learning to be in such an unstable state, making life miserable for all. The product of divorce, I feel for both the eternally-single man and his abandoned child. You have to be deluded to stay sane.

In a similar on-screen deluge, decisions are quietly --almost imperceptibly-- made by both Robert and Sarah, and whether there is hope of true change, or just irrational hope, the change is decisive, if slight, and the last image of the movie is of our man, soaked from the downpour, behind windows blurry from the everflowing water. It's his last role, and knowing that death is imminent, he waves goodbye, both to his sister and to us.

The Gang's All Here dir. Busby Berkeley

What can I say about The Gang's All Here, except that it is literally bananas? Boundaries exist only in the audience's mind, with Berkeley flooding the rational with bewildering and vivid sensations. Dosed on Technicolor, my presumed sense of space is constantly blown out, re-evaluation just another rickety shack before the next vibrant gale blows through to expand the scene's parameters once again, time and space rendered meaningless, the idea of a linear plot something that just barely holds it together. Perhaps that's why one tag called it an "apotheosis in vulgarity"? Uncle Samba dances and slinging of war bonds barely hide the mischievous psychedelic glee that shimmies seductively on every number. Yes, there is Benny Goodman (also singing about the war effort), but there's also banana-colored oxen that tow Carmen Miranda into the hallucinatory bananas and "shwaw-bewwies" sequence of "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat." Insane plantains.

And I'll just leave a description of the children's polka-dot polka turning into a giant manicured hand meditation that reveals a futuristic hula dance (bathed in magenta light that Marian Zazeela must've based her life's work on) with a pink and lime dot dance that defies gravity and time until it crashes into a mélange of petticoats exponentially fracturing via kaleidoscope to the clip below. That Brady Bunch blue screen floating head finale just puts a cherry on top of the banana cream pie.

Sansho the Bailiff dir. Kenji Mizoguchi

I understand just why Sansho has been relegated to the lower depths of public consciousness, in that his mastery of understatement, subtlety, and capturing the smallest gestures of the human situation don't shake the seats quite like exploding helicopters. There's not even a samurai showdown. Or a defeat over evil, or a conquering of adversity, of the balm that we ask of all our entertainment. Instead, the film whispers about mercy, murmurs about how "humans have little sympathy for things that don't directly concern them," mentions just once about having closeness to the Buddha, but Mizoguchi's devout Buddhism infuses his later works.

There are no real sparks, but the friction that gives the two hours its sloooow burn arises from how such a small spark of idealism nears extinction in the bluster of this world, lost in its chilly reality. There's an acceptance of brutality by a family broken apart by slave-traders, a near-surrender to fate. A prayer from behind a gate has a slave longing to be "reincarnated rich." The protagonist, Zushio, actually abandons all hope and behaves as his masters do, cruelly branding runaways and leaving the sick to be picked apart by carrion birds so as to curry their favor. Inoculated to their cruelty, it's only in the smallest of kernels that hope continues to flicker and exist.

And go figure, such resilience is expressed through song, a plaint sung by Zushio's mother, separated by the slave trade and kept on an island. Somehow this sung fragment carries across the waves, instilling hope in her imprisoned children when they overhear their names in its coarse melody. The chorus, much like Buddhism itself, acquiesces to that most basic quality of being here and makes it into a mantra: "Isn't life a torture?"