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Cinematic One-Sided View

Anyone who knows me knows I love film and music. Music must surround me at all times and my taste in music varies a great deal. Also, the happiest place for me to be is the cinema. However, with each passing year I have become bored with American film making. The major American studios have even managed to infiltrate the independent American films — or, the indie film makers are so intent on “making it” in the major markets — they follow all the cliches set forth by the American film industry. So, I am a major fan of European cinema.

However, once again, we in America see only a very small fraction of what is out there from world cinema. Nothing seems to make me happier than seeing a new film from France — a country which is slowly coming back into focus with interesting and challenging film making in a way the world has not seen since the days of Goddard and the like. A year or so ago I “discovered” Rainer Werner Fassbinder and I engulfed myself in German cinema — which has proven to be a fascinating and fractured view from a country which has been fighting its way through major cultural changes since 1945. The views presented by German film is an extraordinary psychological web of emotional, social and political confusion. Fassbinder was most definitely at the head of presenting this for his generation — and, Werner Herzog was not far behind him. Now, of course this is only my opinion — all of art is subjective.

Over the years I would occasionally see an Asian film that would grab my imagination and challenge the way I view the world. A while back I saw a disturbing horror film by Takashi Miike, AUDITION. Upon my first viewing I found the film to be two movies in one. The first half was devoted to the romantic but somewhat cruel pursuit of perfect love — the second was focused on extreme horror with violence that went further than any I had the displeasure of seeing. I decided that I didn’t like the film at all, but I could not shake it from my memory. I researched the work of Takashi Miike and discovered his work to be sitting on a fence between high political art and totally exploitive sex and violence which seemed to be aimed at the lowest denominator. I have since seen AUDITION several times and now consider it to be one of the most powerful comments on a culture which has lost touch with itself and the sad state of affairs between people in relationships. Miike’s work is not for everyone. He loves to shock and pushes the envelope all of the time, but it offers a very exaggerated view of politics — both from a societal and sexual view.

Since “discovering” Miike I have thrown myself into Asian cinema full force and have discovered an incredible wealth of complex, beautiful and unforgettable cinematic work. Not the normal “epic/heartwarming” stuff the Oscars likes to highlight — tho, that form of art is certainly there to be found. HERO is one of the most poetic films I have ever seen —- sadly, 30 minutes were trimmed for US/UK release. The film as it was meant to be seen can be found out there if you look hard enough — and for all of $20 at that!

When I do discuss Asian cinema with friends I have found that most throw Japanese, Chinese, Korean and all other Asian countries into the same pot. This is a major mistake. Every country offers its own unique take on the world and people. There are two uniquely Korean films which really fascinate me — BAD GUY and SORUM. BAD GUY is written and directed by Korea’s version of Miike, Ki-duk Kim. Kim presents a harsh mirror to his country. BAD GUY is almost a re-take of the horrid PRETTY WOMAN in reverse. A drug-dealing, pimping gang leader essentially forces a pretty college girl into a life of prostitution. …and she falls madly in love with him. The movie is entertaining, shocking, funny, and grotesque. The end result is an unforgettable film that challenges the viewers to re-examine society’s view of women and criminals. That re-examination is needed to find a way for society to improve and heal. With Sorum, Jong-Chan Yun presents a Korean horror film thru the tragic relationship between a dim-witted cabbie and a broken woman. The film is more sad than horrific. The real horror is not the ghost that haunts, but the place society has put these two people — who are both essentially victims of a world that refuses to help and protect them.

Which makes me think of another point — the horrible way that the American film industry is raping the power out of the entire horror genre to be found in Asian cinema. Two classic examples are the recent remakes of popular horror films, Ring and Grudge. I have not yet seen the American version of Grudge (which was made by the original writer/director, Takashaki Shimizu), however he had to make some fairly significant changes to his original script to obtain a PG-13 rating and to cut down on the intellectual pieces to his original film, Ju-On. The same was true for The Ring. The tone, violence and essential atmosphere is lost in the American-ized version of Nakata’s Ringu. The American take is bombastic and puts the viewer on a fun rollercoaster — but offers nothing for the viewer to take away from what he/she has seen.

In a very real way, I think, it is our failure to view and appreciate the cinematic art from other cultures — which leads to our misunderstanding and distrust of other cultures. A very American film like PRETTY WOMAN shows a culture that is, at once, obsessed and repressed about sex. A culture that de-values women to a group who just wants to be swept away by a good looking man and shop. It presents a very shallow and commercial view of itself.

Please do not misunderstand me — I do think there are and have been some astounding films made by Americans that do a much better job at representing our culture — but very few, if any of those, had the commercial impact of Julia Roberts as a whore with a heart of gold and a desire to shop.

Another interesting American film, Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, shows how disinterested “we” are in the actual teachings of Christ — “we” seem to be more interested in watching Christ be tortured for 2 hours with very little mention of his love. Gibson does show us that Christ liked his mom and invented the table, but I personally think that those very short scenes serve to allow us to run out for popcorn so we don’t miss any of the gore and pain that followed Christ to his mortal death. The film makes the assumption that all viewers know that Christ rose from his mortal death — the film shows us a naked and cleaned up Christ hunched over as if for a race —- and walking out of the frame. Chances are that a lot of folks who see Gibson’s film might think Christ is walking into heaven or —- is stepping out as a spirit hell-bent on revenge. This is an American film which focuses on the torture and death vs. the most important piece of Christianity: love and forgiveness. Sadly, when one listens to most Southern Baptist Christians we hear only hate hiding behind a guise of Christ. In my opinion this R-rated $400 million dollar grossing film is a shallow shell of a movie.

Art, and cinema in particular, are powerful mediums. I find it sad that so many of us are frightened of sub-titles and to think. …To challenge our basic beliefs. It is my opinion, that if an intelligent individual were to step back and review the world events of the last 10 years — that person would fully realize why the United States is so hated by other countries, and —- at the very same time, desire to copy much of what we produce. I think that individual just might see why the war we started in Iraq is leading us back into the hell of Vietnam. If we are to judge our culture by the films we seem to love — we are a truly fucked-up bunch headed to oblivion.

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October 17, 2004. Uncategorized.

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