Saturday, March 31, 2007


Roger Watkins is most well known, among cult film fans, as the director of the enigmatic Last House on Dead End Street. A masterpiece in it's own right, most fans of the film are only vaguely aware of the career direction that he followed after that film, moving into hardcore films. Luckily, the same elements that made Last House... a minor classic remain present in Watkins' hardcore films, which make them entirely unique.

Jamie Gillis plays Alan, a man who's credo is more or less (I'm paraphrasing here) "if something isn't dangerous, it's not worth doing." The film opens with Alan nonchalantly killing a man. Later, Alan ends up sleeping with the mob boss' wife, which leads to him hiding out, avoiding the threat of death. While Alan is stuck in his slummy hotel room, the viewer experiences flashbacks that Alan has of elements of his life (all involving sex) which have more or less led him to the place where he is today; he is more or less apathetic, an "hollow man" as T.S. Eliot (who is briefly referenced) would say.

We're shown how his relationship with his wife disintegrated by his utter apathy, his inability to emote, or even really have an emotional response to anything. We're shown how his relationship with a whore leads to him having larger, higher profile hit jobs. And none of it is very pretty. Eventually Alan calls an escort service and has two girls come to his hotel room. Once there, he watches while they fuck each other, claiming that he "prefers to watch." After the two are done, he pays them and asks one of the girls, Diane, to say. Despite some concern from the other call girl, Diane agrees.

The two then enter conversation, and an odd dynamic develops between them. They both have more or less desolate, emotionally devoid pasts that have put them in their current place. Aside from Alan's memories that are depicted on screen, the viewer is also privy to some of Diane's past, mainly her relationship with her ex-husband. The two finally end up sleeping together, and the shocking ending is something that would (and possibly even could) never happen in a more recent pornographic film.

Being a pornographic film, there are, of course, many hardcore sex scenes throughout the film. There is nothing remarkable about the sex scenes themselves, but both the context and the actual conceptual implications behind the sex scenes make them above average. Virtually every sex scene in the film is shown not for titillation, but rather to show the power dynamic sex enforces over human beings. The film even opens with a quote from Henry Miller, mentioning that "sex can become a weapon." Sex is used as a control method, and aside from a single seemingly "filler scene" between Alan and the "bosses daughter," none of the film exists as startlingly erotic. It's mostly desolate, with average looking people, in what seem to be more or less desperate situations.

The film as a whole contributes to the idea of modern man being empty. Cut throughout the film are slow-motion shots of homeless people and bums wandering the street or sitting along the gutter. Excellent sound design also further extends this idea, dark somber chords interrupt what would generally be considered to be the generic porno music of the time. The film, as a whole, ends up being a fairly harrowing ideal, while managing to avoid being moralizing in the least. Watkins simply reveals these empty characters, he doesn't pass judgment on them. He seems to view them as stoic; they've put themselves into the modes of life that they currently live in, so they themselves are responsible.

While it's not up to par with Watkins' masterpiece Corruption, Midnight Heat exists as a brilliantly thought-provoking pornographic title. It carries a wonderfully consistent dark atmosphere, and actually has something to say.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


I originally saw La Belle Captive as an Nth generation bootleg without subtitles a year or two ago. I still watched the movie eagerly, savoring the bizarre internal logic and beautiful images which had meaning that I knew I couldn't comprehend with my meager understanding of French. Regardless, I enjoyed the film and knew that I would enjoy it even more once I had an opportunity to see the film with some sort of English options, which I was expecting anytime soon.

Luckily, Koch Lorber has recently released the film on DVD with English subtitles (a first for a Robbe-Grillet directed film), so I have finally had the opportunity to view and evaluate the film while actually understanding the dialogue. And as per usual in a Robbe-Grillet film, the dialogue is a key element to the film, revealing elements that are not implied or ignored by the visuals themselves.

Walter is passing the night at the Matchu Club. He ends up drinking quite a bit, and catches the eye of a beautiful blonde woman. She refuses to give him her name or telephone number, but they dance and laugh all night. Eventually Walter's fun is interrupted when he gets a call from his boss, who needs him to deliver an urgent letter to Henri de Corinthe. On his way delivering the letter, in the middle of the night, he encounters the beautiful blonde woman from the club, lying in the road, injured. He gets her into his car and arrives at the first house he can find with a light on, where there appears to be a mysterious meeting occurring.

He takes the woman to a room where a doctor says he will help her. The doctor then locks the door, and the woman wakes up, appearing nude, and seducing Walter into a night of sex. When he wakes up the next morning, the woman is gone, there is nobody in the house, and the house itself appears to be in ruins. He also has mysterious wounds on his neck.

Walter goes to a nearby cafe, where he picks up a newspaper. The front page of the newspaper alerts Walter to the fact that the beautiful blonde woman was set to be married the next day, and she has been abducted. With his mysterious meeting behind him, Walter spends the remaining running time of the film trying to piece together exactly what happened. Different clues point to the woman being Marie-Ange, Henri de Corinthe's former fiance who died seven years ago. Is the woman a ghost? If the woman who disappeared is a ghost, why are the police still looking for her? While all of this is going on, scenes are repeatedly broken up by Sara Zeitgeist, Walter's boss, riding her motorcycle at night.

La Belle Captive is a brilliantly constructed mystery, begging to be solved by almost every character in the film, as well as by the viewer. It is meticulously elliptical, repeatedly coming back to the same semi-ending (which is even referenced by a character in the film, calling to the fact that it is indeed a film the viewer is watching) in which Walter comes to his demise. Robbe-Grillet drops many clues, some of them add up to something, others just create more confusion.

Watching the film with subtitles is honestly such a eye-opening experience, as it reveals how, for the first time, Robbe-Grillet remains utterly complex while being (somewhat) more accessible than he usually is. Really, the internal logic of the film is easy to access, not half as esoteric as the logic of his films like Eden and After or even Last Year at Marienbad (which he wrote while Resnais directed).

Robbe-Grillet also brilliantly incorporates Magritte like work, which is obviously what inspired the 'novel' that shares a title with this film, as well as the film itself (although, contrary to the DVD case, this is *not* a film adaptation of Robbe-Grillet's own novel, there are similar themes, but the narrative strand is utterly different). Where Magritte used the frame within a frame to construct his 'alternate word' that exists and echoes the real world, Robbe-Grillet uses the technique to add a layer of depth to the alternate 'realities' that are co-existing in the film.

These interior juxtapositions also create a structuralists wet dream; aside from the connective images that flash on screen, Robbe-Grillet takes the theory one step further, emphasizing connections between shots and frames within the frame and in relation to the frame-- in other words, the structural elements of the film are so strong it's virtually impossible to view the film without being completely aware of Robbe-Grillet's desired ideas and themes, yet these juxtapositions are handled so well it never seems heavy- handed.

While many have commented on the film in claims that it exists as a sort of "art-house erotic thriller," in reality Robbe-Grillet retains the same sort of icy disconnect from the "erotica" present on screen as he often does in both his books and other films. There is nudity and sex, but it is approached more as a narrative transition towards something further, less as eye candy or an erotically charged moment. Walter and the possible Marie-Ange's initial sex-scene serves only to further a sort of obsession between the two and to introduce the vampiric markings on Walters neck. Marie-Ange is, as a nude, very enticing, but that's the whole point; she's entrancing the character of Walter, pushing the story forward.

A very interesting element of the story is Robbe-Grillet's subtle approach towards vampirism. The "Marie-Ange" character leaves bite marks on Walter's neck, and when Walter discovers Henri de Corinthe dead, Henri has the marks on his neck too. However, instead of turning into a vampire himself, in the traditional mode of vampirism, the marks simply seem to extend Walter's connection to the vampiric character; Marie-Ange is not 'stealing' Walter's blood, she's 'stealing' his mind by utterly occupying it.

What remains utterly satisfying about the film is that ultimately, it is a simple ghost story between the living and the dead. It is in this aspect that the film attains a humanistic element that is generally ignored in most of Grillet's films. The only aspect of the film that remains unsatisfying to me is the ending, which is a play on the "was it just a dream?" ending that has almost become cliche; yet that I can excuse as it exists as another window into another world; which is what the film repeatedly does over and over again. However, there is a sort of bizarre coda to the film, a voice-over narration while Sara rides her motorcycle, dressed in black leather; commentary on the 'angel of death' that seems bizarrely out of place.

Regardless, overall the film exists as one of Robbe-Grillet's most successful films to date, and it's release on DVD with subtitles is truly something remarkable.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


It's hard to imagine that when Jean-Pierre Bouyxou made Satan bouche un coin he imagined anybody outside of his close friends seeing it. It's a very peculiar film, somewhat amateur, yet carrying the spirit of the films that Bouyxou was more or less renown for supporting- the fantastique, the erotic horror film, the films that most of the critics of the time (and even today) overlooked. And possibly for that specific reason, it exists as a brilliant ten minute film.

The film is a series of images, shown in short takes (anywhere from a few frames to 30 seconds), of more or less fetishistic imagery (something Bouyxou was particularly fond of). After a credit and title sequence written on naked human flesh, the viewer sees the brilliant Molinier standing sanctimoniously in front of a screen. Soon he is joined by a woman, and he fondles her breasts while retaining his signature grin. Molinier seems to almost be the 'ringmaster' of the incidents, with almost every minute episode cutting back to him. His presence is one thing that makes this film remarkable; the same sort of aura that exists in Moliniers famous self-portraits and cut-ups is present here, on screen. The man truly is remarkably charismatic doing little but grinning and standing.

Other images that follow include a nude woman being bathed in blood as she writhes on the ground, a little girl staring in awe and terror, individuals grinning almost maliciously at the camera, a nude man wrestling the head of a statue after he finishes whipping it, and eventually, models of the human body, and fake cadavers. It is these images at the end of the film, the medical diagrams and models, that ultimately bring full circle the age old concept of sex and death. Sex seems to be the theme of the first third of the film, pleasure (indicated mainly by the malicious grins) the second thirds' theme, and then death, the final theme. Taken as a whole the viewer in enveloped in the films atmosphere, left to deal with the implications of what he's just scene.

The film moves at an energetic, jovial pace, and in tone feels very similar (yet almost remarkably darker) than Kenneth Anger's later films like Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and the more chaotic, interior parts of Lucifer Rising. Another connection can be drawn from Anger's satanic intentions and the "satan" of Bouyxou's films title. Aside from the chaotic array of images, the film is also accompanied by a bizarrely grandiose score, heightening the ecstatic mood. While conceptually, I'm not exactly sure if there is anything deeper than the connective images and aforementioned themes, but that doesn't stop the film from being wildly entertaining to a person like me. Also despite the occasional image being terribly underexposed (of course, the darkness of the image could also be due to the print that I saw), there exist a large number of amazingly composed and memorable images throughout.

As I hope I've implied, the film is actually a remarkable piece of work that is definitely of interest to anybody who thrives off of the decadent, chaotic, and erotic existence of films like those of Jean Rollin, Renato Polselli, or even Kenneth Anger. All in all a very rewarding piece of history.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Hisayasu Sato's brilliant Survey Map of a Paradise Lost is a truly unique film. It approaches many of the themes that run rampant through Sato's work of the time (mans relationship with technology, alienation, emptiness, and sexual disorder) in a method which is completely new, completely different from anything that had been put on celluloid before.

Nukada is a journalist working on a story about "The Banana Club," a telephone sex club in which (presumably) customers call a line and are connected to a woman for phone sex or to arrange a meeting for actual sex. Nukada's coworker Koto knows a girl name Midori, who he offers to set up an interview with for Nukada. The two meet for an interview one day, but before the interview can get under way, a man pulls up in a car, voices how he had an appointment with Midori first, pulls her into the car, and drives off.

The man is Kihara, a twenty-nine year old who works at NDT, a large phone company. He seems to have some sort of affinity for Midori, and also somehow always ends up connecting to her through the phone club. The sex he has with Midori (and for that fact, his wife) is very rough. The woman is tied up and often blood play is involved.

After a rather strenuous sex session, Kihara and Midori go for a walk, ending up on top of a tall building. Midori tells a story about a pop star that killed herself of a building, and how she saw it while she was working in a deli. She remarks how she wants to fall, someday.

Later, Kihara attempts to have sex with his wife. She has developed some sort of psychosomatic itch that she gets when she doesn't take a copious amount of unidentified pills. Her itch begins while they're having sex, but Kihara refuses to let her take the pills. He ties her up and video tapes her as she wriggles around trying to scratch herself. He seems to get some of perverse pleasure out of it, while it pushes his wife over the edge.

Some time later, Kihara picks up Midori again. Against Midori's wishes, Kihara once again brings out the video camera. Midori argues with Kihara, and eventually he pulls a knife out. Midori gets a hold of the knife, and slashes his arm. She scrambles to the bathroom, her feet tied together. Kihara follows with the video camera, grinning. Midori, still clutching the knife, climbs into the full bathtub. Kihara sets the camera tripod down, aiming at the tub, and lunges at Midori. The knife plunges into his chest, killing him.

The incident shows up in the news, and Midori is more or less getting out of the crime by calling it an act of self defense, which the video tape more or less proves. Nukada, aware of the incident, is thrilled when his coworker (the same one who introduced him to Midori) tells him about the existence of the video tape, and then manages to get him a copy. While watching the video tape he notices a few frames of video at the beginning that are not from the night in the love hotel. After freezing the frames Nukada discovers that it is Midori and Kihara's wife talking on top of a roof.

Within the last fifteen minutes of the movie, much is revealed that comes as a shock to the viewer, without revealing the main "punch" of the ending, it's safe to point out that in reality, Kihara was suicidal, but unable to kill himself. He more or less manipulated his wife and Midori into the situation where he knew he could die, and it would simply appear to be an act of self defense from Midori. But the real shock is yet to come.

Sato once again proves he is a master of the subversive, pushing the sex scenes in this film to what is basically the hardest point he could within the context of the film. The extreme violence of the sex scenes fully expand upon the state that Kihara himself is in, and Midori's reactions are perfectly consistent within what is revealed to be her outlook on life.

Sato also handles his fascination of the interaction with technology greatly, with key elements playing out on TV and monitors, slowly being followed by a pan to the actual action; the double view points out to us, as viewers to a) think about our reality versus the reality of the film and b) create a divide in the motivations and actions of the characters themselves in the film. In a brilliant move by Sato, the ultimate reality of the characters, at the end of the film, is revealed through a video cassette.

The revelation of Kihara's suicidal intentions are also linked to technology; Kihara says he has compiled all of his life's data into a computer program, and the program has chosen suicide as the most reasonable and preferable death. This method, aside from commenting on the technology issue, also touches on Kihara's isolation; he puts more faith into a machine than he does in any of his interpersonal relationships (of course; the only relationships we are exposed to are those of Kihara to his wife, Midori, and briefly to Nukada).

Midori also reveals an intense sort of desperation that Sato seems to find in many young characters in his films. She was witness to a pop stars suicide and becomes more or less obsessed with the details and the actual situation (the act of falling, and hitting the ground) itself.

All in all, Survey Map of a Paradise Lost is a very powerful film. It's social commentary and artistic achievements (Sato's world view has always been ahead of it's time) are vast. If one can view sadomasochistic sex not as exploitive titillation and more of a metaphor of the desperation for a final pleasure, then the film is wholly relevant and a great way to spend sixty minutes.