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The 300 Week 29: Night Is Short, Ride a Yellow Submarine Girl

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Three cartoons, three films by women, and a violent overthrow of the US government by a black paramilitary group

Hey, you guys, welcome back to The 300, a recurring feature on my perilous attempt to watch 300 movies in theaters in the year 2018. I’ll be watching new releases, classics, hidden gems, and festival films to experience the wide world of cinema in all its forms. I hope there’s something here for you to enjoy and share as well.

As always, there are three rules for The 300:

  • The movie must be at least 40 minutes long, meeting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ definition of a feature film.
  • I must watch the movie at a movie theater, screening room, or outdoor screening venue.
  • While I can watch movies I’ve seen before 2018, I cannot count repeated viewings of the same film in 2018 multiple times.

The Japan Cuts Film Festival is in full swing, and I was able to catch two movies during the opening weekend. I’ll be catching two more this weekend as the festival closes, including the latest film by Hausu director Nobuhiko Obayashi.

Apart from that, just too much humidity and a bout of burnout on the road to 200 movies. I’m so close to the double Benjamins I can almost taste it. It tastes like bifocals and kites. It is not pleasant. Sort of the like the current stock price of MoviePass. (Come on, baby, just hold out for three more months.)

And so, onward.

191 of 300: Yellow Submarine (1968)

Director: George Dunning
Starring: Paul Angelis, John Clive, Geoffrey Hughes, Peter Batten
Country: UK
Seen at IFC Center (New York, NY)
Thursday, July 19th

Seeing Yellow Submarine for the first time as an adult, I was stunned by its quick wit and dazzling psychedelic beauty. I may have watched this kooky adventure regularly growing up (it was my first exposure to The Beatles), but my appreciation for the film is so much greater now. At 50 years old, it’s aged beautifully. I wonder if the colorful, Peter Max-esque art set me on the path to loving the work of Rene Magritte, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky as an adult. I also think about the “All You Need Is Love” scene here, and how words and music might be enough to fight the forces of gloom. (In the “All You Need Is Love” scenes in The Prisoner—another work of British psychedelia I love—you need words, music, mod couture, acts of rebellion, and maybe violent revolution to fight fascism and conformity.) There’s something funnier to me as an adult about the Blue Meanies being portrayed as a bunch of campy philistines who just need to lighten up.

This was the first time I’d seen the “Hey Bulldog” scene, which apparently wasn’t included in American versions of the movie until the 1999 home video release. The song is just all right—a Beatles also-ran in the style of “Lady Madonna,” just not as good—and the animation seems less engaging than the rest of the movie. But hey, it’s a bit of slapstick flotsam amid the rest of the surreal sea.

192 of 300: The Spook Who Sat By the Door (1973)

Director: Ivan Dixon
Starring: Lawrence Cook, J.A. Preston, Janet League, Paula Kelly
Country: USA
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Friday, July 20th

I experienced a fascinating shift in tone while watching The Spook Who Sat By the Door. The film centers on the first black CIA agent who leaves the agency and starts a black paramilitary movement to overthrow the government. I initially went in expecting a satire of the CIA, tokenism, race, and passing. All of this is explored, but the satire is primarily contained in the first half of the film. Our hero Dan Freeman (Cook) becomes the CIA’s Section Chief of the Top Secret Reproduction Center. In other words, he makes photocopies in the basement. (Notice the wording again. Hilarious.)

When Freeman goes to Chicago, it became clear that The Spook Who Sat By the Door was really a story of righteous revolutionary anger. After the struggle, tumult, assassinations, and disenchantment of the 1960s, the film feels like a cathartic scream in the night. Why not just burn all of it down, and take out some of the oppressors with it? What if The Black Panthers really could rise up with the right know-how? It’s almost like the inverse of Afrofuturism—no new world in outer space to make one’s own, but worldwide guerrilla warfare to remake or unmake the world we have. The political content caused the film to get yanked from theaters, and it was difficult to find for years. While blunt and discomfiting, The Spook Who Say By the Door makes for a vital watch.

193 of 300: Violence Voyager (2018)
(aka バイオレンス・ボイジャー; Baiorensu Boija)

Director: Ujicha
Starring: Aoi Yuki, Naoki Tanaka, Shigeo Takahashi, Tomorowo Taguchi
Country: Japan
Seen at Japan Society (New York, NY)
Japan Cuts 2018
Friday, July 20th

If Takashi Miike made Stranger Things and told the entire story using paper dolls, the result would be Violence Voyager, one of the zaniest movies I’ve seen all year. Picture a hodgepodge of 1980s child-in-peril movie tropes and then add a mad scientist and body horror. Somehow the characters seem so earnest in their friendship and heroism, even as they die with their two-dimensional entrails hanging out. It’s gross, it’s funny, it really just needs to be seen. Far more engaging than the director’s previous effort, Burning Buddha Man, Violence Voyager is destined for cult classic status.

Rather than traditional animation, Ujicha uses gekimation, which consists of flat color pencil drawings on paper moved across background images. It’s basically Colorforms, but with interesting in-camera effects and some digital manipulation when necessary. As our young heroes wander a mysterious amusement park shooting water guns, little sprays of real water emerge from their weapons. When they barf, something barf-like comes out. It works as a strange hybrid of influence and styles—the movie, fittingly, is an adolescent mutant cyborg.

194 of 300: Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (2017)
(aka 夜は短し歩けよ乙女; Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome)

Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Starring: Kana Hanazawa, Gen Hoshino, Hiroshi Kamiya
Country: Japan
Seen at Japan Society (New York, NY)
Japan Cuts 2018
Saturday, July 21st

Of the three Masaaki Yuasa movies I’ve seen this year, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is my favorite. A riff on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the film is a magical all-nighter where people get drunk, fall in love, pine from a distance, liberate rare books, and spontaneously stage rebellious plays. Time distends and space distorts to contain all that life has to offer as our unnamed girl walks Kyoto on a bender that seems to last a year. The movie is so joyous and zany, and Yuasa’s visual style is at times as kooky as Tex Avery and as sumptuous as Gustav Klimt. The movie muses about fate and coincidence in matters of love, all the while pointing out the underlying absurdity of romanticism. For instance, one man refuses to change his underwear until he reconnects with a woman he thinks he loves.

While the animation is breathtaking, the humanity is where Night Is Short shines. I was set on disliking the male protagonist of the film, writing him off as a toxic jerk with a creepy, obsessive crush on a girl. Yet there’s a moment where we get inside his head and hear the unhealthy voices of self-doubt and self-loathing he struggles with each day. Suddenly he made sense and was so achingly human; I became infected by the movie’s overwhelming compassion. Like Lu Over the Wall (The 300 Week 8) and Mind Game (The 300 Week 10), Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is a movie about the fundamental interconnectedness of existence and how lovely it can be to acknowledge our connections.

195 of 300: The Red Kimona (1925)
(aka The Red Kimono)

Director: Walter Lang and Dorothy Davenport Reid
Starring: Priscilla Bonner, Carl Miller, Virginia Pearson
Country: USA
Seen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)
Sunday, July 22nd

BAMcinématek is currently running a program called Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers. The series wraps tomorrow, and I was fortunate enough to catch two silent movies by Dorothy Davenport. The first was The Red Kimona, a well-made melodrama with shades of The Scarlet Letter that was inspired by the true story of Gabrielle Darley. In the film, Gabrielle (Bonner) is a young ingénue lured away from her country home by a wheeling-dealing city man. He marries her and then forces her into a life of prostitution in New Orleans. She tracks him down to LA, shoots him in cold blood, and tries to lead a normal life after her story makes her a media sensation. It’s not so easy. There are not many options out there for women, and even less for women who have a publicly known past like Gabrielle.

What’s fascinating about The Red Kimona is how it explores the stigmatization of sexual assault and abuse survivors. The movie is timely even now. While Gabrielle wants to lead a normal life, no one will allow her to do so because of her past. Perhaps a sign of its time, the film seems to unconsciously participate in the same stigmatization against survivors of abuse since Gabrielle keeps talking about redeeming herself. Today we can say that despite whatever shame she may feel, Gabrielle did little wrong; in 1925, maybe not. Lang and Davenport use color tints to convey the mood of each scene, with some select hand-tinted shades of red to signal marks of judgment and scandal.

196 of 300: Linda (1929)

Director: Dorothy Davenport
Starring: Helen Foster, Noah Beery, Warner Baxter
Country: USA
Seen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)
Monday, July 23rd

I wish I could say something substantive about Linda, a solo-directorial effort by Dorothy Davenport (credited as Mrs. Wallace Reid). Unfortunately, this was a case of a solid silent melodrama with distracting musical accompaniment. The movie is about blue collar hill folk in the lumber industry and how our title heroine is forced into marriage due to limited options in life. Despite the setting and tone, the music was dissonant experimental jazz, full of upright bass plucks, noodly xylophone, wailing saxophone, and psychobilly guitar solos. It was like a Twin Peaks-esque collaboration between Angelo Badalamenti and Harry Partch.

The music by Renée Clark Baker and the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project was admittedly cool on its own, but paired with Linda it undermined everything on screen, subverting all of the film’s tender and triumphant moments, essentially overwriting the text. The music even threw off the rhythm of the editing and the movement of the performers in each frame, giving the whole film the sinister feel of a bad dream. By contrast, Libby Meyer’s recorded piano and violin music for The Red Kimona complemented the action on screen, had a haunting recurring melody, and was otherwise unobtrusive. If anything, watching Linda was an interesting experience; what happens when there is a total disjunction between sound and image?

197 of 300: Wanda (1970)

Director: Barbara Loden
Starring: Barbara Loden, Michael Higgins
Country: USA
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Tuesday, July 24th

Sad and darkly comic, Wanda is an unsung lo-fi classic about an aimless life without agency. We get a sense of that in the opening scenes as a lone figure clad in white walks the dreary black landscape of Pennsylvania coal country. Wanda is a lost soul wandering, unable to right her situation, and just barely wanting to live at all. She’s a neglectful mother and unfaithful spouse, and yet there’s something compelling about her. Maybe it’s just pity and empathy. She stumbles into a robbery and winds up on the road with the crook, the couple like a sadsack Bonnie and Clyde. I wondered how Wanda would survive this ordeal. She’s not crafty or clever, and not particularly brave. But that’s maybe the point. Her life is a constant act of mere survival, mere existence, mere getting by, the mere day-to-day; a character without power or control, only in possession of tragic mere-ness.

I wonder how Wanda would pair with Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar (The 300 Week 14); Wanda is Morvern with poor luck, a greater ache in her heart, and just enough ability for self-reflection to notice the meager mere-ness of her life. Leaving the theater on the subway home, I thought of how many times I’ve felt like her. Wanda was the third movie in a row I’d seen about women leading lives with limited options, and yet each film was different geographically and in how they dealt with their characters’ circumstances. It’s a shame that this was Loden’s only film behind the camera; she passed away in 1980.

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Hubert Vigilla
Hubert VigillaContributor   gamer profile

Hubert Vigilla is a writer living in Brooklyn, which makes him completely indistinguishable from 4/5 of people living in Brooklyn. more + disclosures


 


 



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