Off to the Printers: Film International 63-4 – Double Issue
The Engels Project
What Engels writes about education, about housing, about employment practices, about health and general social inequality, remains as valid today as it was in 1844, when he wrote the book. Although the material infrastructure of life has of course changed massively for the better, with clean water, sewer systems and gas and electricity piped directly into our homes, the broader social relations of power between the elite and the majority have barely changed at all. After all, what is the point of having heating systems in your house if the prices are so high everyone is scared to use those heating systems during a cold winter? The bourgeoisie have certainly changed since the mid-nineteenth century. They have become more removed from the local, more deterritorialized and international, more interlocking and more abstract from tangible experience. But the one thing they have not done is disappear, even if our capacity to map their movements and power has declined with the retreat from class as an explanatory framework. Our time in Venezuela, where we were part of a revolutionary process, made us want to reclaim Engels as part of the present and not simply consign him to the past.
Mike Wayne and Deirdre O’Neill write about their hybrid film and theatre project, The Condition of the Working Class, bringing Engels work alive in contemporary Manchester.
Desiring to Merge: Restoring Value in Niche-Interest Adult DVDs
One of the most prolific but underexamined genres during the 1960s, sexploitation films typically feature characters whose curious desires lead them into the newly liberalized climate of the so-called “sexual revolution,” despite these titillating narratives often ending in punishment or personal downfall. This political ambivalence about changing sexual mores mirrored the opportunities and constraints for on-screen sexual representation as censorship restrictions gradually eroded over the decade, making these films historically significant records of the era’s more lascivious cultural undercurrents. Although the “problem” of female sexual agency is often foregrounded in these films, the teasing alternation between the seen and unseen primarily catered to male desire, promising to break former taboos while also depicting dire consequences. With major scholarly monographs on the sexploitation film forthcoming by Eric Schaefer and Elena Gorfinkel, the genre is primed for a resurgence of critical interest, so the recent rediscovery of three such films by Herschell Gordon Lewis, one of exploitation cinema’s foremost cult icons, is all the more apropos.
David Church puts the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, “one of exploitation cinema’s foremost cult icons,” in their historical context.
Transvestite Mammy Caricature: Its Cinematic & Social Evolution in Hollywood Cinema
Although it has evolved into a historical staple in Hollywood cinema, the phenomenon of black male comedic performers in drag or the transvestite Mammy also simultaneously promotes derogatory images of African American men and women. As a fellow audience member, I feel compelled to analyse the underlying factors behind the ever-evolving acceptance of this culturally regressive caricature and the big budgets and major national advertisement behind it. I begin by providing a brief historical overview of the social creation of the Mammy in American culture. I will then show how although the performance of the transvestite Mammy provides more successful opportunities for African Americans in American film, the socially irresponsible caricature still presently stifles the social and sexual image of the African American male and female. Although the comedic actors who perform this caricature created “her” from a positive and inspirational platform, nevertheless, these performers tend to lose control of their cinematic creations once these caricatures are socially transformed through the ultimate “Hollywood Machine.”
Yjarvoe Jensen looks at the Hollywood craze for black male comedians in drag, as seen in films like The Nutty Professor (1996), Big Momma’s House (2000) and Madea’s Family Reunion (2006).
Last Man (With)Standing: The Character-Disaster Film
Informed by the “extreme,” the disaster style has reformed by abandoning its communal/social roots. Disaster has been telescoped to the human body and to feature-long experience of the individual (in lieu of the microcosm) under slow destruction. Many would describe such a style as “atrocity,” with the inherent physical brutality and violence. But I argue that these films show the disaster tradition retreating away from the broadest threat (universal destruction) to refocus back to humanity. This new style of disaster film, which I call “character-disaster,” often returns to the generic motifs of hubris and the powers of nature, though the new disasters concern an individual who becomes isolated and victimized. The all-star ensembles of the classical style now condense into one role, a largely solo performance that demands star quality, even if unlikely in casting. Tabloid sensationalism has inspired many of these films, and hence the cinematic styles transform the communal genre of “disaster,” with its associations to melodrama and spectacle, into restrictive, often subjective, film-making.
Matthew Sorrento on American cinema’s answer to New French Extremity, manifested in films such as Stuck, Buried, Take Shelter and Compliance.
Hitchcock Goes to the Dogs
Hitchcock would have known quite well that a noteworthy and venerable tradition in both English art and English home life was the canine portrait, realized with some substantial repetition during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by such luminaries as Richard Ansdell (1815–85), John Emms (1844–1912), Arthur Wardle (1860–1949), Thomas Blinks (1860–1912), Herbert Thomas Dicksee (1862–1942), Maud Alice Earl (1864–1943), Florence Mabel Hollams (1877–1963) and the celebrated (and later insane) Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802–73). Landseer’s paintings in particular depict not only the grace and beauty of his sitters but their idiosyncratic intelligence and soulful characterization. With him, as with other painters but less distinctively so, the image of the dog confronting the artist with its gaze betrays the deep-seated conviction that canines saw the human world, understood it, evaluated it and offered sympathy. The tranquillity of the snout, the expressiveness of the mouth, the lambent and penetrating openness of the unwavering eyes…
Murray Pomerance on the subject of Hitchcock and dogs.
The Invisible and the True Story of Italy: an interview with Giovanna Taviani
“It is essential to say that in Italy the situation is a bit particular; we are just coming out from the critical disenchantment of the 1990s. What do I mean by this? We have been, according to me but also according to many, in a muffled country during the last twenty years, thus with a cinema that had interrupted the fundamental relationship typical of the Italian scene, between culture and society, between cinema and reality. Italian cinema has always been in osmosis with everything that was taking place around it. At some point, due to the arrival of Berlusconi, who has monopolized all consciences and all dreams and has transformed the world into a society of entertainment, made of television, big brothers and veline [showgirls]; this muffled world has, in a way, led to the aphasia of the cinema. Italian cinema was not telling real stories.”
Giovanna Taviani, film-maker and scholar, interviewed by Giovanna Summerfield.
Resisting Bollywood: Monpura as Popular Folk Cinema of Bangladesh
Bollywood films, soap operas, film songs, music videos, celebrity shows and so on have become the staple and common diet of the South Asian countries particularly Bangladesh. Despite the official ban on Indian Hindi films, Bollywood’s infiltration of Bangladesh through transnational media sources has created an endogenous form of cultural dominance in the country. As a consequence, locally produced Bangladeshi cinema has lost its huge popularity and mass audience. Middle-class viewers have stopped going to theatres and hundreds of cinema theatres have shut down due to the cultural hegemony of Bollywood. Recently, however, the film Monpura (2009) countered this trend by becoming a big hit at the box office. Monpura gave the local film industry a break through its popularity, drawing a mass audience to theatres once more.
Md. Towfique-E-Elahi examines the narratives and cultural patterns represented in the film Monpura to show why they proved to be resistant to the cultural dominance of Bollywood.
Representation of Poverty in Indian Mainstream Hindi Films (1947-1990): A Case Study
Films, it is said, provide a mirror for us to see a heightened reflection of our lives. Bollywood often loses sight of the reality. It produces feel-good films for a resurgent India. Now there are only two types of Indians – those who are happy-happy or those who are even more happy-happy. Critics are of the opinion that reality, like poverty, has stopped selling. Popular mainstream Hindi films refuse to touch it. To take on reality-oriented pictures is dodgy. The hymn is that viewers should leave their brains behind at home. They should not be given time to reflect. The perception of the majority of the mainstream film-makers is do not talk of reality. Do not touch the stories of the “bhookha-nangas.” Go rich and famous. Go ahead, do a risible Welcome (2007) or a Partner (2007). Do not even dream big about Do Bigha Zameen or Mother India.
Pallav Mukhopadhyay looks at the history and demise of representations of poverty in mainstream Indian cinema.
Spotlight on Marleen Gorris
Academy Award-winning Dutch film-maker Marleen Gorris has made a career of directing films with outspoken female protagonists. Her first film, A Question of Silence (1982), was highly inflammatory upon its release, with extreme reviews tipping the scale on both ends. The New York Times began its review this way: “The feminist cause will not be well served by ‘A Question of Silence’, a Dutch film that tells of three women who stomp, kick and pummel to death a male shopkeeper.” In contrast, London’s TimeOut had this to say about the film: “Her feminism is uncompromising, but of a disarmingly undogmatic kind. The result is at once accessible and deeply unsettling.”
Anna Weinstein interviews Marleen Gorris.
SPECIAL DOSSIER ON CEBUANO CINEMA
Ang Pelikulang Binisaya: Cebuano Film and the Search for a Regional Cinematic Heritage
For many outside the Philippines this country’s national cinema is understood largely in terms of Tagalog and Manila-centric productions. The most recognized names for an international movie-going public are likely to be Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal or more recent art-house exports like Raya Martin, Brillante Mendoza and certainly Lav Diaz. Without attempting to reduce the force and importance of such work, it is worth noting from the outset that there are very specific historical, cultural, economic and linguistic reasons for this cinematic hegemony. The Philippines is an archipelago composed of 7,107 islands and eight recognized languages (each of which has its own endlessly mutating regional counterparts and dialects) and in the last few years there has been a movement to give voice to cinemas coming from areas outside of Manila. These cinemas are being called, with fervour and fidelity, regional cinemas. While many regions are today producing some of the most innovative work in the Philippines, historically there is one challenger to the Tagalog film hegemony that has its own history, its own “auteurs,” its own stars and a long tradition of, for better or worse, local film writing: Cebu (Sugbo).
Paul Douglas Grant introduces a selection of articles on Cebuano cinema.
Our Decaying Object of Desire: The Lost (and found) Cebuano film, Badlis sa Kinabuhi (“Lifeline”)
If one is an unrepentant, die-hard chocoholic, and is deprived for three years of even the slightest whiff of the object of one’s obsession, you can imagine the insatiable joy of finding even one small piece of Toblerone, even if the packaging looks like it’s been relegated to some old dusty cupboard, it’s past its expiration date and upon unwrapping it is ever so slightly mouldy. Any way you cut it, that first bite will be bittersweet. Such was the experience of finally seeing the decaying (but still recognizable) figures of the Cebuano film Badlis sa Kinabuhi […].
Misha Anissimov on a “lost Cebuano film classic.”
The Theology of Gambling
Ang Manok ni San Pedro/St Peter’s Rooster tells the story of how Teban, a regular bettor at the local cockfighting derby, was asked by the rich and pretty girl Lisa to pretend to be her boyfriend in order for her to avoid marrying Arnold, the man her dad Don Miguel had arranged with Don Alfonso, her suitor’s father, to be her husband. Lisa offers to give Teban his gambling bet every Sunday so he agrees. This leads to trouble as Teban finds himself going against the wealthy and powerful Don Miguel and Don Alfonso, who both conspire to kill him. After a failed attempt to get Teban killed in a boxing match, they succeed in bringing him to go scuba diving, which leads to his drowning. In heaven, Teban’s ghost meets St Peter who sends him back to earth with Ugis, the saint’s talking rooster, after he couldn’t find his name in the book of the dead.
Radel Paredes about a 1977 film that attempts a hybrid media where radio and film are fused into a single popular art form.
One Take, Many (Hi)Stories: Notes for an Appreciation of Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria
In Remton Zuasola’s first feature-length film, Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria (2010), the titular “Teria” (as she is amicably nicknamed in the film) is a young woman, presumably in her late teens, who is about to be uprooted from her native Filipino island and flown to Europe. There, she will marry a much older German man, Hans – a name so emptily typical that its function is undoubtedly synecdochical – indenting to convey not a person but a general sense of arid northern European-ness to be contrasted with the southern vitality of the Filipino culture Teria is being forced to leave behind. Indeed, this shall not be a marriage of love, but a business transaction of sorts arranged by Teria’s mother with the help of an agency “recruiter” in the hope that the girl’s union with a wealthy European man will help the family cope with their pressing debts.
Stefano Ciammaroni on a “complicated tale of competing psychologies, agendas and emotions [told] in real time and by means of one continuous, uncut shot.”
A Cebuano Zombie Invasion: Di Ingon ‘Nato
A jaundiced zombie subgenre is given fresh bleeding eyes in Cebuano film-maker Ivan Zaldarriaga’s debut feature Di Ingon ‘Nato/Not Like Us (2011), co-directed by Brandon Relucio, in which 28 Days Later tears screaming through the heart of a remote jungle barrio in the Visayas with a newsreel-like ferocity. Less of a calling card than a double-barrelled shotgun blast to the face, Di Ingon ‘Nato introduces a dangerous new talent to Philippine cinema’s landscape and sends out a very clear signal that there are rumblings in the former regional film-making centre of Cebu. Can the Visayan film industry return from the dead?
Wonders Andrew Leavold.
Cebu’s Black Sheep of God: Interview with Keith Deligero
Every film scene needs its enfant terrible, and there is no question that in Cebu that role is taken up by Keith Deligero. While the creativity that Cebu is injecting into Filipino cinema is being accomplished collectively by the diverse wealth of Cebuano film-makers, Deligero is creating work that is independent and uncompromising in the strict sense of both of those terms. Keith emerged onto the film seen with a group of young film-makers in the mid-2000s. He has worked closely with Remton Zuasola, perhaps the most renowned of the contemporary Visayan film-makers, yet Keith’s vision runs counter to most of his contemporaries. Whereas his colleagues in Cebu approach cinema via genre or art-house conventions, Deligero creates feature-length works that are composed of illicit images and a harsh pastiche of metal, punk and other sonic disturbances. Deligero’s first feature film Baboyngirongbuang (2010) may have betrayed the director’s affinity for Harmony Korine, but the influence is quickly surpassed by his refusal to err where Korine so often does: the cynical, forced clichés of Korine’s films give way to a vérité aesthetic that disturbingly naturalizes Deligero’s aesthetic sensibilities.
Paul Douglas Grant interviews Keith Deligero.