Saturday, October 12, 2002

AWESOME MOMENTS IN MASCOT HISTORY

A Japanese College football team, The Tokyo Terrors, enlisted the services as their cute mascot of no less than the Godmeister himself. Yep, Godzilla would prance up and down the sidelines and do a little jig with the cheerleaders (all schoolgirls in pigtails and tight little school uniforms that reveal white cotton briefs that were later auctioned to eager Japanese businessmen).

During half time he'd go out to centerfield and get the crowd stomping. Well, stomped, anyway. Still, he was a great asset during the Tokyo Terror American tour of '93. The Japanese team were not expected to win a single match against the towering American forward line. However, after Godzilla ate the Miami Sharks, burned alive the Houston Hawks, totally trampled the Yankee Stadium and gave the San Francisco Fruitbats a dose of lethal radiation poison (however the sport section of the Daily Tribune said this wasn't any great loss), the Tokyo Terrors were at the Rosebowl in the finals against the Luddite all-stars, the Ohmish Owls of Purity and Everlasting Torment in Hell, the only surviving US team.

Tokyo won by default when Godzy mistook the Rosebowl as a sanitary receptacle and made a deposit (constipation meaning a three week, thirteen city build up of refuse - Godzilla wasn't used to American fast food; well, it runs faster) obliterating the opposing team (two weeks of excavation - comparisons to Pompeii were made). Film critics argue that Godzilla's ruining of the half-time show - Cher and her Tattooed Buttock Dancers and a special presentation by the third graders of George Leroy Washington Brown Municipal School of Downtown Queens portraying the defeat of redskin heathens during the glorious settling of the west by god-fearin' folk - led to the inevitable failure of the movie even though a simple replacement of the computer graphics with Sean Connery as the Big G would have assured a mega-hit.

The 94' tour of the Osaka Orioles looked to be a repeat of Tokyo's triumph, but during second quarter against the Chicago Chipmunks, their mascot heard the telepathic call of a Russian Space Monkey who's capsule suffered gyro errors and was heading for the sun. Gamera blasted off, causing third degree burns to half the Oriole players and the entire cheerleader team, forcing the game to be given over to the chipmunks who were delighted as it was the first game they've won since 1972. However, their mascot, Chuckles the Chipmunk, went missing very early on in the game, only to be discovered
three years later by the Space Shuttle Columbia while on a routine mission to give the Hubble telescope a bit of a thump.

Sadly, the Nagasaki Newts were refused entry into the country as their mascot, Rodan contravened security airspace and had developed the reputation that every time someone started a Mexican Wave, Rodan would take off and blow over the stadium and the downtown shopping district.

Meanwhile, an alien football team from Zeta-Reticuli have put in a request to Tour Europe, Japan and the United States, but their mascot, King Ghidora won't be allowed to join them unless he wears a muzzle on all three heads.

And on this note, Robin Pen, who has started perceiving himself in the third-person, decides it is indeed time to go to the mountain. He’s packed his banana sandwiches and begun his trek. He will be gone for three, maybe four weeks, but Robin promises to return, happy or sad, stressed or relaxed, naked or insane, but he’ll be back.

But he does depart with one message for you all. And that is, “Talk amongst yourselves.”

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

BEING BRANDED

Two films I've been curious to see for some years were Seijun Suzuki's TOKYO DRIFTER (1966) and BRANDED TO KILL (1967). Finally I've seen them and though TOKYO DRIFTER is certainly an interesting, entertaining and significant pop-icon flick of the '60s it's the follow up that I want to talk about here. Upon its original release BRANDED TO KILL caused a great deal of stir and damaged the director's commercial career. Since then, the film has become a source of inspiration for various and varied filmmakers. Three filmmakers who have acknowledged its influence are John Woo (yeah, you can see it), Beat Takeshi (oh, boy, you can see that) and Jim Jarmusch (he recreates a scene from BRANDED for GHOST DOG). But there are three (four) other filmmakers who undoubtedly have used this film and this filmmaker's technique to get a lot of their own style and ideas.

One thing I did not expect from a '60s Japanese gangster movie was for it to be such a dark, demented Coen Brothers style movie, creating an almost satirical atmosphere where mythical characters merge with realistic ones, where caricatures bewilder in mundane situations and with various people standing around being all archetypal but impotent nonetheless. And it had that bizarre twisted plot of betrayal and misdirection and quirky murders.

Just as equally, it was a David Lynch movie with his use of composition, lighting, weird angles, seemingly still images of characters "locked" into the architecture, personas overlaid on female forms of desire, illusions projected, one way or another, over decay and surrealist interior decoration. And it has his sense of sound design and his iconoclastic use of music. It also has his loving way to drape dead bodies over the domestic clutter. And all through the portentous pretension was the prankster, trickster director, laughing from deep in the back stage.

And as equal to Lynch and to the Coen's, BRANDED TO KILL was a Cronenberg movie, using his way of reality dissolving, morphing, into semi-organic scapes of rearranged dead things, like sets for normal movies moved about to make them abnormal movies. And the sense eroticism, death and paranoia; of things just behind the walls that will reveal the awful truth of mortal disillusionment but they stay hid behind the walls, scuttling away like rats. There's a scene where our anti-hero (a cold as ice hitman who gets sexually excited at the smell of cooking rice) enters the apartment of a strange face girl he has become entranced with, a woman that loves and hates him and he also loves and hates. He's come to kill her and she's been ordered to kill him but they end up in a bizarre ritual of threatening each other with various weapons as they struggle to make love while both are physically and emotionally inhibited (she needs dead creatures of flight and he needs the smell of rice). And this is all happening in an apartment where the girl's bedroom is covered from floor to ceiling with moths and butterflies pinned to the walls, almost as thick as wallpaper, and her bed is made of dead birds. And at one time, in the most Cronenberg of fashions, as they are physically conjoined, a large unrealistic moth comes down from the ceiling, lands on the woman's thigh and moves along suggestively. This doesn't weird out the girl but it sure weirds out the guy. A moment where Lynch and Cronenberg merge while the Coen characters wait outside.

It was all fucking weird but it was great fun. Even the paranoia gets so intense you have to laugh at it, especially when another hitman insists our hitman anti-hero go everywhere with him arm in arm and continually promises that he'll kill him eventually.

Oh, and this is the famous movie where the butterfly lands on the hitman's rifle barrel altering the shot and changing the course of the man's life. Believe it or not, I knew of the scene (Jarmusch philosophises around it for GHOST DOG) and I knew of the importance of BRANDED TO KILL, but I did not know that the butterfly incident was from that film. So it was with obvious delight to finally witness this great moment in chaotic theory in alternative, cult cinema.

I thought I'd share that with you.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

KAFKAESQUE

After Steven Soderbergh had a great success with his debut feature, SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, he was allowed to make anything he wanted. And so he made KAFKA in 1991. Instead of getting international promotion and release the film was as good as shelved and although it did get some release somewhere, you'd be surprised how many filmgoers aren't even aware that Soderbergh made a black-n-white surrealist fantasy on the life of Franz Kafka.

Finally having seen it, I think it a great pity this film was so hard done by. Sure it isn't at all commercial but it had a place to be sure. That place evidently didn't exist in 91/92. Today, this film would get fair attention, play at all the arthouses, if not get an extended run in that little theatre reserved for Coen Bros films in the megaplexes and Jeremy Irons would surely have been nominated for best actor in various awards and festivals. If ever there was a Cannes Film Festival entry, this is it.

Set in 1919 in the city of Prague, the morbid but distantly pleasant Kafka - insurance clerk by day, writer of "terrible fictions" by night - is slowly but inevitably caught up in a conspiracy evolving bureaucracy, secret societies and mad science. The world is not ours, its Kafka's world and it is more so than even Kafka himself realises. Shot in beautiful black-n-white in the exotic streets of Prague the best way to try to describe the feel of this film is to imagine some kind of breeding of Cronenberg's NAKED LUNCH (but with no monsters) and Lynch's ELEPHANT MAN (but with no dream sequences) and set in a world reminiscent of a
suppressed Gilliam BRAZIL.

Perhaps it's a bit too much like BRAZIL which was such a Hollywood embarrassment particularly because it was so well received critically. And by also being in B/W (for the most part) the execs just got freaked and hid it away. Pity, as today this film would get the same push as BEING JOHN MALCOVICH and SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE and arguably is better than both (but direct comparison doesn't do any of these films any good - that's what wonderful about them).

This is a controlled film for the most part, keeping its excesses to only when they are needed and deciding to leave most of the tale to be told with subtle, but nevertheless subversive, tone, just tweaking things with little uprisings of satire and weirdness (some of it quite funny). The cast is great, especially Joel Grey but Ian Holm, Alec Guiness, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Jeroen Krabbe give class to the whole thing. My only criticism is that perhaps Theresa Russell is too flamboyant for the rest and stands out in her performance style a tad too much. But then again, that is part of her point in the story.

If your a Kafka fan, and to a fair degree this is a Kafka fan movie, you'll enjoy the references to his tales and the way they stick to the true details of his life. Some of it subtle, but some they have no intention of being subtle with at all. Such as when you the centre of bureaucratic and cadaverous evil is revealed to be The Castle (don't panic, I don't do spoilers). Of course, if you know bugger all about Kafka then the injokes and slant references aren't going to mean squat but that shouldn't be an issue. The whole thing is set in some other universe and things not making sense seems only normal in this place.

One important thing about this film is it hints at multi-universes. Oh, not in the film itself, although there's one point where Kafka passes through a place where you can choose to leave that option open as explanation to what you saw. But I'm talking about multi-universes attached to our real world. Soderbergh's career was in trouble after the enforced failure of KAFKA and he didn't get back on his Hollywood acceptable feet till 1998 with OUT OF SIGHT. Although I still admire this man's style of filmmaking it makes you wonder what direction his films would have taken if KAFKA had had the chance. Would Soderbergh now be the director of ERIN BROCKOVICH, TRAFFIC and OCEAN'S ELEVEN? Or would he have gone the way of Cronenberg, Lynch and the Coens? Who knows what fascinating films Soderbergh would have made (although THE LIMEY, THE UNDERNEATH and his bizarre SCHIZOPOLIS shouldn't be ignored). All I know for sure is I wasn't too down on Soderbergh writing and directing SOLARIS, but now I've seen his KAFKA I'm downright intrigued by what he could do with it. Perhaps, Like Peter Jackson was for LORD OF THE RINGS, when it comes to adapting Stanislaw Lem, Soderbergh might be the best man for the job.