1960's Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Kuroneko (1968)

Yone and Shige live in a peaceful bamboo grotto, both waiting for the return of Hachi.  A band of soldiers descends on their home, devouring their food before raping and murdering the two.  In the cinders of their once-peaceful home, a black cat perches itself on the two, and soon a mysterious force begins murdering the local samurai.  Kaneto Shindo wrote the screenplay for and directed Kuroneko, which stars Nobuko Otowa, Kiwako Taichi, and Kichiemon Nakamura.

A thought experiment.  In the United States, we have a system of justice that's built on the bones of racist and sexist oppression.  I snap my fingers and, tomorrow, this system is gone.  No police, no militarized zones for patrolling, no drug raids - nothing that resembles the system of justice we have.  What does society look like?  Has it collapsed with the disappearance of our system of justice and enforcement, or have those who lived under those conditions continued to live their lives in a freer state?

Kuroneko, in ways both unsettling and revolutionary, suggests that any system that thrives on the pain of those it's supposed to protect needs to be eliminated.  All at once is impossible barring some total societal collapse, but one at a time the weeds can be plucked from the spring of human existence until we come to a place where a measure of peace might be obtained.  There is no peace in Kuroneko, not in the terrifying opening moments or the tragic conclusion.  Yet there's some part of me that can't help but think maybe, just maybe, these women who were once innocent and alive are onto something by destroying the system that was supposed to protect them one samurai at a time.


Mid-Week Painleve: Comment Naissent Des Meduses (1960)

The films of Jean Painlevé I'll be writing about for this series are part of Science is Fiction from The Criterion Collection.

Comment Naissent Des Meduses (1960)Life, so it goes, finds a way.  What's been wonderful about watching Jean Painlevé's films has been seeing this reaffirmed with each new subject.  But, as much as life manages to spring up in the most unlikely circumstances, without the proper tools we would not be able to observe some of these unusual creatures in their natural habitat.  "Natural" may be something of a misnomer here because of the conditions Painlevé had to film in, and we do get a glimpse of these conditions at the beginning of Comment Naissent Des Meduses (otherwise known as, How Some Jellyfish Are Born), but out technology has progressed to the point where we can observe these creatures with as little disturbance as possible.

That idea creeps in slowly before being directly addressed to the audience in Des Meduses.  Painlevé starts off with another one of his magnificent shots which hide their true scope.  As he discusses the shallow waters which allow access to the jellyfish he'll be discussing, we switch between three different wide shots of their habitat.  It isn't until the third shot, which also looks like another wide take due to the angle of the camera along with the black and white stock, where a arm suddenly breaks into the frame and pulls up a bit of vegetation where the jellyfish live.


Mid-week Anger: Invocation of my Demon Brother

The Kenneth Anger films discussed as part of this project are available for purchase in a collection from Fantoma.

The real human centipedeIt was only one week ago I wrote of Kenneth Anger’s Kustom Kar Kommandos and how much fun I was watching his movies.  I don’t know if you’d call it hubris, ironic, or revelatory but the joy I’ve processed in his movies was replaced by pain and nausea this week.  Invocation of My Demon Brother is as deeply unsettling an experience as I’ve had with movies, and in its own simultaneously hypnotic and off-putting fashion may be the best movie about the poison which infected America during the Vietnam War.

Anger primes us that Invocation, perhaps more than any of his previous work, is to be felt rather than intellectually processed.  That can mean so many nebulous things, so focus on the first two images is important.  We first see a trio of circles arranged in a pattern my religious upbringing instantly coded as father / son / holy spirit.  Then the devil arrives in a subtle fashion as the simplicity of the trinity gives way to a textured painting shot in a close up so tight we can see the individual mounds of paint on the canvas.


Mid-week Anger: Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965)

The Kenneth Anger films discussed as part of this project are available for purchase in a collection from Fantoma.

View into the theater of chromeIt's been a long time since I've been shocked by a director's work.  I don't mean this in a pearl clutching, self-fanning, "Oh won't someone think of the children" mean of shock.  Instead the films of Kenneth Anger have, so far, thrown together so many elements of pop culture the effect has been dizzying.  Lucifer Rising was the likely apex of this method of film making and Scorpio Rising a decent offshoot of it.

But it wasn't until Kustom Kar Kommandos (and no, I'm not abbreviating that) that I realized just how much fun I've had being shocked by the wild assemblage of pop art and music.  Kommandos, in anyone else's cinematic canon, could be read as a breather of sorts.  Instead of going to the extremes of sex and fetishism Anger lets his camera luxuriate over both the body of the young man who owns the wonderfully pink and chrome vehicle and the vehicle itself.


Mid-week Anger: Scorpio Rising (1963)

The Kenneth Anger films discussed as part of this project are available for purchase in a collection from Fantoma.

How sexy are you making thisIn post-Eisenhower America we created a strict fiction among well-to-do whites about what proper gender roles are.  Sex was a binary, and whether you were born a man or woman determined your standing in society and what was expected of you.  Then as the waves of feminism then queer theory came rolling in the gendered distinctions began to blue as we unfurled the assumptions made of men and women.  Further advances in biology and social theory revealed true intersex people or those who had their sex assigned at birth.

I'm all for many of these advancements, but one I'm hesitant to accept is the idea that everyone is a little gay or no one is completely straight.  It places an undue emphasis on sexual desire instead of identity and, strangely enough, eliminates nuance by assuming everyone is in the shade of grey.  This is important when talking about Scorpio Rising because it's sexy.  My god is it sexy.  But it's the identity and aesthetic aspects of Scorpio Rising which up my blood temperature a tad, less a wish to jump on the admittedly attractive leather-bound men who seem to be the primary subject of Kenneth Anger's bewitching direction.