Monday, 26 April 2010

Apocalypse Now (workprint)

Apocalypse Now (workprint)
The original theatrical version of Apocalypse Now (one of my all-time favourite films) was two-and-a-half hours long when it was released in 1979, and a further hour was added when the film was released in a Redux version in 2001. However, there is also a five-hour version (!) which has never been officially released. This workprint is only available as a bootleg, duplicated from six time-coded Betamax tapes, with consequently reduced image quality [as you can see from the photo].

Even though the workprint is double the length of the theatrical version, it is still incomplete: it contains numerous 'scene missing' cards, and some of the familiar highlights from the film (the "snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor" recording; the peaceful schoolyard before the helicopters attack; the buffalo sacrifice; the voice-over narration) are absent.

Much of the additional footage was eventually used in the Redux version, such as stealing Kilgore's surfboard, the French plantation sequence, finding the Playboy bunnies, and Kurtz quoting Time magazine. However, there are some sequences which are unique to the workprint: a prostitute is seen in Willard's bed in Saigon, the boat's crew-members are introduced in a double-exposure shot, Lance kills a buffalo and sees a floating booby-trap, and two boys dangle insects into Willard's cage. Natives taunting the caged Willard with spears, and Kurtz (renamed Leighley) reading The Hollow Men, are the workprint's longest exclusive scenes.

Dennis Hopper has substantially more dialogue, most of it profane and superfluous. His scene outside Willard's cage is an alternate take. He is shot by Colby, and his last words are: "Kill Kurtz! Kill him!". Kurtz himself is first seen wearing war paint, not emerging from the shadows as in the original version. His dialogue scenes with Willard are alternate takes. Also, there is less build-up to Willard's encounter with Kurtz: with no voice-over, and the long digression of the French plantation sequence, Kurtz is somewhat marginalised until he actually appears.

The workprint is also noticeably lighter in tone. Partly, this is because it de-emphasises the foreboding presence of Kurtz but also because there are three romantic scenes and the soundtrack consists of quite upbeat Doors songs such as Summer's Gone, People Are Strange, and When The Music's Over.

Empire magazine printed unofficial screengrabs from the workprint in March 1997 and November 2006, and Peter Cowie wrote an authorised synopsis of it in The Apocalypse Now Book. Clips from the French plantation sequence, and out-takes of Kurtz's monologues, were included in the documentary Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.

An alternate take of the Hollow Men reading is included as an extra on the Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier DVD, along with twelve time-coded workprint scenes and an additional non-workprint sequence in which Willard finds a sampan boat full of monkeys. An alternate ending featuring the destruction of Kurtz's compound, which is not in the workprint, was included as an extra on the original Apocalypse Now DVD.

The Offensive Art

The Offensive Art
The Offensive Art: Political Satire & Its Censorship Around The World From Beerbohm To Borat, by Leonard Freedman, is a survey of satirical comedy in America, Britain, India, and the Middle East. Its focus is on the subversive media representations of National Socialist and Communist dictators, and the criticisms of American presidents protected by the first amendment. Freedman selects from a variety of media, including feature films (Dr Strangelove) and editorial cartoons (including Kurt Westergaard's Mohammed caricature, which is reproduced).

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Avatar (2D)

Avatar
Avatar was filmed in 3D, creating an immersive theatrical experience, though the film retains its spectacle in 2D. As with any epic film, the screen size is more important than how many dimensions are involved. In fact, the 2D version actually seems brighter and more vibrant, perhaps because the 3D glasses in the cinema acted as a filter.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Roberto Rossellini

Roberto Rossellini
Roberto Rossellini, Carlo Lizzani's documentary about the influential Italian director, features archive interviews with Rossellini, Francois Truffaut, and Federico Fellini. Martin Scorsese discusses Rossellini's influence on his own work, as he did in My Voyage To Italy. Lizzani (who contributed to the documentary Il Etait Une Fois...) gives quite a dry commentary, though he does reveal a surprising detail: that he met with Marlene Dietrich as background research for Rossellini's film Germany Year Zero.

Il Etait Une Fois... Rome: Ville Ouverte

Il Etait Une Fois...
Il Etait Une Fois... Rome: Ville Ouverte, directed by Marie Genin, is a France 5 TV documentary about the making of Roberto Rossellini's masterpiece Rome: Open City. It includes extensive archive interview footage of Rossellini, Federico Fellini, and Francois Truffaut.

One of the highlights is an account of the scene in which the priest is arrested. Apparently, during the filming of this sequence, a member of the public threatened the actors with a gun as he believed that the scene was happening for real. Rossellini's eventful personal life is also discussed, including his relationships with actresses Anna Magnani and Ingrid Bergman.javascript:void(0)

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Horror Cinema

Horror Cinema
Horror Cinema, written by Jonathan Penner and Steven Jay Schneider, is a survey of the horror genre edited, like Art Cinema, by Paul Duncan for Taschen. The book's format is very similar to Art Cinema's, with equally glossy photographs. However, both books also have the same limitations: an emphasis on breadth at the expense of depth, a pointlessly brief filmography, and the lack of an index.

The introduction, What Is 'Horror'?, provides a potted history rather than a satisfactory definition or demarcation, though it serves as a brief orientation before the subsequent thematic chapters on zombies, ghosts, demons, vampires, and werewolves. The authors take a "liberal view of what constitutes a horror film", also incorporating elements of the science-fiction and thriller genres.

One of the more original chapters discusses "revenge-of-nature" films, citing The Birds and Jaws as classic examples. As the authors explain, this sub-genre is "overlooked and insufficiently appreciated", and its inclusion in Horror Cinema contrasts with the emphasis on urban paranoia in Horror. The final chapter, however, The Monstrous-Feminine, is merely a summary of Barbara Creed's excellent book of the same name.

It's not clear if Jonathan Penner and Steven Jay Schneider wrote the entire book collaboratively or each wrote separate chapters. Penner is credited before Schneider, suggesting that the latter made a lesser contribution, which is disappointing as Schneider is by far the better writer. While Penner is more notable as a television actor, Schneider has edited some of the greatest books on horror (Fear Without Frontiers) and cinema in general (1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die).

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

South Park: 200-201

South Park
South Park
South Park
South Park has again provoked controversy, by featuring censored depictions of Mohammed, in a two-part storyline which also featured a litigious Tom Cruise. In the 200th episode, broadcast on 14th April, Cruise threatened to sue South Park unless Mohammed was shown uncensored.

In response to the lawsuit, Mohammed was seen wearing a bear costume, and a stick-figure "sketch of what Mohammed could look like today" was also shown. [Charlie Hebdo published a more tasteless 'Mohammed today' cartoon in 2006.] Mohammed's other appearances in the episode, as one of the Super Best Friends league of divinities, were censored, though the other deities (including a cocaine-snorting Buddha) were uncensored.

In the 201st episode, broadcast today, Mohammed reappeared, though his image was censored and his name was bleeped out by Comedy Central. Mohammed was also censored from two South Park episodes in 2006 (Cartoon Wars I-II), though he appeared briefly in the show's sixth-season opening titles and prominently in the 2001 episode Super Best Friends.

Visual and satirical depictions of Mohammed have caused protests and violent reactions ever since twelve Mohammed caricatures were published in 2005 and subsequently reprinted. South Park's decision to revisit the controversy was perhaps prompted by the recent murder plots against two Mohammed cartoonists, Lars Vilks and Kurt Westergaard.

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"Mohammed med hustru"

Skane Party
Skanepartiet, a Swedish anti-immigration party, has placed twenty posters around Malmo which feature naked portraits of Mohammed and his child-bride Aisha. The poster's caption reads "Mohammed med hustru" ("Mohammed with his wife"), and highlights the substantial differences in their ages.

A less provocative drawing of Mohammed appeared on a Danish political poster in 2007. Images of Mohammed and Aisha have appeared in the Thai magazine Sex No Go and the Dutch book Misselijke Grappen.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass
Kick-Ass, directed by Matthew Vaughn, is an action comedy in which a teenager decides to become a real-life superhero. There is a refreshing lack of stars, with most leading roles played by relatively unknown and average-looking young actors. The violent action sequences and comic-book references are rather Tarantino-esque, with Kill Bill presumably a key influence. The arch-villain's HQ is adorned with artworks by Marc Quinn, Damien Hirst, and Andy Warhol.

The character attracting most publicity is Hit-Girl, played by pre-teen actress Chloe Grace Moretz; she is a deadly assassin (like the pupils in Battle Royale), and her use of strong language has provoked controversy in the media. In the Daily Mail, Christopher Tookey even called the film a "crime against cinema", but it's really no different than thirty years ago when child-actress Linda Blair played the violent, profane Regan in The Exorcist.

One word in particular, spoken by Hit-Girl in the teaser trailer for Kick-Ass, was used by an equally surprising character in Legion, also released this month. In that film's most (or only) enjoyable scene, Gladys, who appears to be a sweet old lady, turns into a foul-mouthed demon.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Cinema Of Death (DVD)

Cinema Of Death
Adoration
Dislandia
Pig
Hollywood Babylon
Le Poeme
Cinema Of Death is a DVD compilation of five transgressive underground films, limited to 500 copies (of which mine is #785). It also includes five postcards. The five films are:

Adoration
(a young man invites a woman to his apartment, then shoots and eats her; directed by Olivier Smolders)

Dislandia
(a disabled little girl wearing a mask explores a deserted house; directed by Brian M Viveros and Eriijk Ressler)

Pig
(a man in a pig mask abuses his bondage/murder victim; directed by Nico B)

Hollywood Babylon
(an exhibition at the Museum of Death; directed by Nico B)

Le Poeme
(an autopsy on a male cadaver, accompanied by a poetry recital; directed by Bogdan Borkowski)

The films are similar in tone to the L'Erotisme anthology. All except Le Poeme are monochrome, though Disturbia is tinted. None contain spoken dialogue, though Adoration and Le Poeme both feature narrators reciting poetry. In Adoration, the narration is diegetic: a woman reads a poem into a microphone, and, after she dies, her recording is played back; in Le Poeme, the narrator represents the voice of the cadaver: when the dead man is placed in a body bag, the narration stops.

Adoration, with professional lighting and special effects, has the highest production values. The camera, filming in a static long-shot with a wide-angle lens, remains objective, though the protagonist approaches the camera and his gaze directly confronts the viewer.

Le Poeme features a real human autopsy. Some horror films (Superbeast, George Schenck; Beyond The Darkness, Joe D'Amato; Autopsia, Juan Logar; Men Behind The Sun, TF Mous) and music videos (Live & Confused, Hijohkaidan; Despair, SPK) have also incorporated genuine autopsy sequences, though Le Poeme is closest in tone to Stan Brakhage's underground art film The Act Of Seeing With One's Own Eyes and the Alain Resnais drama Providence.

Hollywood Babylon and Dislandia are both largely hand-held, and sometimes barely in focus. Dislandia is somewhat unsettling, as a little girl with apparent mental and physical disabilities wears a slightly sinister mask. According to the director, the mask was coated with various bodily fluids and buried for three days.

Hollywood Babylon, an amateurish record of an exhibition based on Kenneth Anger's book, includes morgue photographs of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe (also featured on one of the postcards included with the DVD). Pig, by the same director, is much more effective, and is perhaps the most disturbing film in the collection. It reminded me of images by Robert Mapplethorpe (X Portfolio) and Charles Gatewood (Forbidden Photographs).

Monday, 12 April 2010

Shutter Island

Shutter Island
Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Edward Daniels, a US Marshal investigating the mysterious disappearance of Rachel Solando, a patient from a mental institution on an isolated island. The Solando case (which acts as a MacGuffin for Daniels and a red herring for the audience) is complicated by the Marshal's obsessions with both his dead wife, Dolores Chanal, and the man who killed her, Andrew Laeddis.

Scorsese sets up the island as a foreboding and sinister environment, leading us to expect a Spellbound-style revelation about evil psychiatrists, though the plot twist is actually closer to that of Memento or even The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari. Everything is turned on its head, and there is a great deal of misdirection, with frequent dream sequences and hallucinations. It remains debatable whether the final explanation is either therapy or conspiracy; the former seems far too elaborate, while there are coincidences that appear to disprove the latter.

The avant-garde soundtrack, comprised exclusively of modern classical music, includes compositions by Krzysztof Penderecki and Gyorgy Ligeti, who were both also used by Stanley Kubrick for The Shining. This may be more than accidental, as Kubrick's film also features a delusional and violent protagonist. Both films involve dead children, though Shutter Island's exploitation of Holocaust victims is surprisingly tasteless.

Like Scorsese's previous film The Departed, also starring DiCaprio, the events take place in Boston. (The actor and director have also collaborated on Gangs Of New York and The Aviator, both of which were less successful.) The supporting cast includes the legendary Max von Sydow as a somewhat menacing German doctor; Ben Kingsley, who was surely chosen for his work in Death & The Maiden rather than Gandhi; and Elias Koteas, in a cameo role, who is the spitting image of former Scorsese collaborator Robert de Niro.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Free Willy

Free Willy
A shopkeeper in Leeming Bar, northern England, has had a phallic garden ornament confiscated by North Yorkshire police officers, after they received complaints from the public. Ten of the stone sculptures had been sold at Jason Hadlow's shop, Simply Dutch, before the police intervened, and Hadlow has ordered a further 150 from the suppliers in Indonesia. He has also formed a campaigning group, Free Willy, to protest against the confiscation.

Titanic

Titanic
This month's issue of the German satirical magazine Titanic features a painting of a priest standing in front of a large relief of the crucified Jesus. In the image, by Rudi Hurzlmeier, the position of the priest's head could be interpreted as a sexual innuendo. Consequently, the magazine's editor is now facing two criminal charges.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Sibathontisele

National Gallery
Zimbabwean artist Owen Maseko has been released on bail, after spending four nights in jail following his arrest on 25th March. Maseko's exhibition at Zimbabwe's National Gallery in Bulawayo has been closed, and the police have covered the gallery's windows with newspapers to prevent the twelve paintings and three installations from being seen.

Maseko's exhibition, titled Sibathontisele, is a direct attack on President Robert Mugabe, and a commentary on the Gukurahundi massacres carried out on Mugabe's orders in the 1980s. Sibathontisele is the second anti-Mugabe exhibition to be closed in Zimbabwe in the past few weeks, following the closure of the Reflections exhibition in Harare.

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Reflections

Reflections
Zimbabwean police seized sixty-five photographs from Gallery Delta in Harare on 23rd March. The images, collected by ZimRights, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, depict violence meted out to opponents of President Robert Mugabe, and the exhibition was scheduled to run for ten days.

The photographs were returned to the gallery the following day, following a ruling by the High Court, and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai presided over the opening of the exhibition. However, the police returned to the gallery that evening, again demanding that the photographs be removed. Although the gallery refused to hand over the pictures again, ZimRights decided to close the exhibition early due to police intimidation. Reflections will now be held at Amakhosi, an art centre in Bulawayo.

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Crossfire

Crossfire
A gallery in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was closed by police on 22nd March, to prevent the exhibition of a series of photographs by Shahidul Alam. The exhibition, titled Crossfire, exposes the extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the Rapid Action Battalion, a branch of the Bangladeshi police force.

Following an appeal by the artist, the police finally withdrew from the gallery on 31st March (Crossfire's original closing date) and allowed the exhibition to open. Crossfire will now close on 14th April.

[Three years ago, a Bangladeshi cartoonist was jailed after a newspaper printed his "Mohammed cat" cartoon.]

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Saturday, 3 April 2010

Blasphemous

Blasphemous
An exhibition intended as a direct challenge to Ireland's blasphemy law opened yesterday in Dublin. Titled Blasphemous, it features provocative works including the poster image God Dates Fags (a subversive reappropriation of the anti-gay slogan 'God hates fags') by Will St Leger.

Blasphemous is at the Irish Museum of Contemporary Art until 25th April. A similar exhibition, Forbidden Art 2006, was held in Russia, and S Brent Plate's book Blasphemy examines blasphemous art.