If you’re one of those people who follow the year-end tradition of list sharing, celebrating the past twelve months of cinema with Top 10’s and blog awards, adding fuel to the festive fire with a glass chink for its celluloid triumphs, perhaps the biggest comedown of all, the facilitator of those yuletide blues, is the publication of Indiewire and Film Comment’s ‘Best Undistributed Films’ polls. They’re a bit like finding tickets to A Brighter Summer Day and Out 1 in your cracker, only to learn that the screenings were held six months ago.
I’ve only seen 8 titles from the Indiewire poll, and count 19 which are entirely new to me. I began to wonder just how many films go unreported each year, and tallied the number of titles on Festival Scope I’d never heard of; the results toppled into the hundreds. I can find very few reviews for these films, and in some cases no IMDB or Letterboxd pages. There is scant evidence of their existence outside of Festival Scope, so I’ve decided to make a small right to that huge wrong by keeping a blog of mini-reviews to log what I see there. This is the first, hopefully of many…
In Nicolas Provost’s Long Live The New Flesh (2013), images of prosthetic horror are bled over a digital mixing board, engaging a dialogue between form and content as the video image becomes fleshy and palpably alive, like a mess of swarming insects arranged into a mosaic of genre iconography. The Shining‘s Jack morphs into the body of American Psycho‘s Patrick via their axes, and as Patrick chases his victim down a hotel corridor with a chainsaw, he becomes Leatherface of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. As the cutting rate doubles and the juxtapositions become more violent, we identify David Cronenberg’s Videodrome as a central and recurring motif. After all, Tetsuo excepted, which film better merges technology and flesh?
But is Provost’s film, where we witness the shapes and textures of horror absorbed into a fluid nightmare, a celebration of horror’s malleability, its ability to eat and regurgitate itself for new socio-political climates, or a damnation of its lack of originality and new monsters, as recognizable images are swamped by digital noise and colour blurring, making them an indistinguishable haze? Would it not be a contradiction to be the latter, as Long Live The New Flesh is itself an item of grotesquery, and something to be abhorred? Is the title, as in the film it comes from, a battle cry? Yes, that suggests celebration. But it could just as well be a cry for new ideas (no film featured is younger than 2o years), or even for digital. After all, Provost has here made video feel pulpy, gloopy, destructible… human.
Texture is also important to Athina Rachel Tsangari’s The Slow Business Of Going (2000), a film whose etiolated compositions emphasize vacant space, and relieve cinema of its ability to communicate sensorial experience; in the hotel rooms of Manhattan, Tokyo and Tangiers, there is no smell, no taste, the soft static only relieved by voiceover. There are many films about loneliness, but few actually feel lonely. Perhaps only Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and Bergman’s Winter Light are capable of suggesting such a phenomenal absence as The Slow Business Of Going, whose protagonist, cyborg Petra (Lizzie Martínez), is freed of any true emotional association – her job is to record the lives of others, and therefore absorbs experience only to deposit it into a memory bank.
Tsangari says her film spans “geography and genre: from slapstick to surrealism… film noir to science fiction… tragedy to travelogue… multimedia to melodrama“, and though there are moments of fleeting beauty to each encounter, like Petra’s tango with a stranger in Thessaloniki, or her stop-motion adlib with a nameless man in Prague, as a catalogue of human experience it barely registers as human. Its encapsulation of pre-millennial stress, and troubled view of the future now seem prescient, as Tsangari’s second film Attenberg, and the films she has produced in the Greek New Wave, are reflective of a turbulent social, economic and political present – strange and broken mirrors to a ruined country.
Time, identity and friendships become fluid in Matías Piñeiro’s They All Lie (2009), a playful summer drama which feels like no less than a modern Rivette film. A girl walks in the woods and dictates… “it’s been a family tradition that, once born a female child, the father dies“. She disappears, and revealed is a secluded house of twenty-somethings whose ties are uncertain, and seemingly flexible. At a picnic they play fancy dress, tease and flirt, kiss and prank, all while listening to a meandering and complicated story whose meaning could hold an (unspecified) reward. Or perhaps this is play for the sake of play, a folly for friends reunited? The tone is gentle, and Piñeiro’s camera keeps close, capturing the scene in one long, roving shot.
In fact, the film (which is split into enigmatically titled chapters) is all captured like this, in long takes where characters enter and leave the frame of their own free will. Rumours and stories spread across the house, chinese whispers in a human kaleidoscope, and we long to not only watch these games, but play in them too. This scampish sense is aided by Piñeiro’s loose-limbed structure and pastrol photography, which create an intoxicated atmosphere – the film is heady; coquettish; intimate, and like Rivette’s, feels like an invitation.
From Canadian writer/director Elza Kephart comes Go In The Wilderness (2013), a re-imagining of the creation myth shot against the expanse of Quebec’s North Shore. Lilith (Stephanie Chapman Baker) has escaped from the Garden Of Eden, the first emancipated woman, and discovers that nature can nurture her stunted womanhood. One early shot sees blood trickling down her goose-pimpled legs, announcing her freedom, but it’s not long before a man (Kevin Jake Walker) appears to take her back. Lilith asks him questions but receives inadequate answers; like the Garden, a matte backdrop shot in bright digital cling film, he appears artificial, and reveals no truth about life or being.
Lilith finds this truth in the wilderness, where empathy, lust and a maternal instinct begin to flower in her, to complement her already fiery curiosity. Baker’s smoky, caliginous vocal and pretty features stress a dilemma also present in her performance – already a woman, intelligent and sensual, she is still burdened with something childlike, an inquisitive nature true to a girl half her years. When the drama falls flat in Eden, it is Baker’s presence which sustains the magnetism felt in those first, fascinating frames.
Once Upon A Porn (John B. Root, 2013) (above) and Pleasure (Ninja Thyberg, 2013) (below) observe the personal and professional rituals of preparing for a porn shoot, transforming projected fantasy into mundane reality. Root’s documentary recalls Full Tilt Boogie and Lost In La Mancha as another behind-camera peek at a passionate filmmaker in his element, but refreshingly extends its gaze to reflect the experiences of the cast and crew, who form a small community and enjoy BBQ’s at the end of a hard day’s work. They encounter problems just like any film shoot, including budgetary concerns, weather, and interruptions from the police, and by the end of the film feel oddly close to us. One porn star, Nikita Bellucci, explains the conflict of loving her work but letting it impact her ability to form and maintain relationships; “I have sex in private, but it’s not the same“. The film won’t be for everyone – it gets right into the explicit detail of the shoot – but it is balanced with humour and humanity, and puts a series of likable, authentic faces to an artificial and often troubling industry.
Thyburg’s Pleasure is a fiction short about a day on a porn shoot, when a rumour begins that an actress will be performing double anal – a painful and complicated position which intimidates the other girls. It could just as well be a film about Hollywood, as the scenario boils down to a drama about the peer pressure inherent to a performance environment in which one actress holds – or is thought to hold – a talent the others do not. Though again buoyed by a sense of humour, Pleasure is a darker, more clinical film than Once Upon A Porn, and suggests that, like any workplace, vanity and ambition can be dangerous. It’s just that, in porn, the stakes are higher.