Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Masahiro Shinoda: 'Pale Flower' / 'Kawaita hana' / 乾いた花 (1964)

Masahiro Shinoda's Pale Flower / Kawaita hana / 乾いた花 (1964). 

Whereas Seijun Suzuki's 1964 Gate of FleshNikutai no mon / 肉体の門  is set in the immediate wake of the Second World War and shot in garish colors, Shinoda's 1964 film is set in the early 1960s and shot in black and white. Japan has begun to rebuild and we can recognize it as contemporary modern. But the code of gangsters (yakuza) is key to both films, and to both periods in Japanese society. So is the underground scene in general -- dangerous and alluring. 
'“There was a strong influence of [Charles] Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal throughout this film,” director Masahiro Shinoda would later remember of his 1964 squid-ink noir Pale Flower.'" -- Chuck Stephens, "Pale Flower: Loser Take All" (2011), The Criterion Collection. Link here.
"Bewitchingly shot and edited . . ." The Criterion Collection has special features, all nifty. 
Who will pay the Piper? But first, who is the Piper? 

"A sumptuous sonnet to unrequited amour fou, Pale Flower remains Shinoda’s most enduring creation." -- Chuck Stephens, "Pale Flower: Loser Take All" (2011), The Criterion Collection. 

Today's Rune: Strength

Monday, February 12, 2018

Seijun Suzuki: Gate of Flesh / Nikutai no mon / 肉体の門 (1964)

Seijun Suzuki's Nikutai no mon / 肉体の門 / Gate of Flesh (1964): set in the post-World War II devastation of Tokyo, a dazzling look at how people struggled to survive. Part pulp, part Surrealism and part everything but the kitchen sink, Gate of Flesh has a fresh, crazy feel even now. 

Destruction is everywhere. Much of the population suffers from some variation of post-traumatic stress, shell shock and "nostalgia" -- psychic damage from firebombings and other forms of mass violence, both dealt out and received. 

The "returnees," as veterans from the various battlefronts were called, are warily received, while organized gangs (yakuza) run rampant, black markets flourish, and prostitution is pervasive and brutally competitive. American occupiers, including Military Police (MPs) roam through the urban tangle with weapons at the ready, half suppressing and half participating. It's a sort of massively scaled industrialized version of Deadwood.    
Gate of Flesh is based on a 1947 novel by Taijiro Tamura (1911-1983). What's striking about the Seijun Sazuki (1923-2017) adaptation is how much wilder it is than Japanese films made during the actual American occupation. Why? Because immediately after the war, American authorities censored everything in occupied Japan with a heavy hand, but by 1964, that was gone. 
The Criterion Collection DVD set has lots of extra goodies. It's also worth noting that there are five adaptations of the Tamura novel, three of them made after Sazuki's version. 

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Hiroshi Inagaki: 'The Samurai Trilogy' (1954-1956)

Hiroshi Inagaki's The Samurai Trilogy (1954-1956): five hours of cinematic groove divided into three movies revolving around the adult life of Miyamoto Musashi (circa 1584-1645), author of The Book of Five Rings, artist and winner of sixty-one (or more) sword duels, played by Toshiro Mifune (1920-1997), and based on the thick Musashi novel by Eiji Yoshikawa (1892-1962). 

We are immersed into 1600s Japan, codes of ethics, social systems, gender roles, Buddhism, philosophy, art, meditation, and death by sword-play. Musashi's character and skill develops as things move along, and look for the women, too. A sprawling epic that let's us flow along with its varying tempos.  
Hiroshi Inagaki's The Samurai Trilogy (1954-1956). In it, many die by the sword, but only "Moderate Violence" -- or so says the cover of this DVD.  I, II, III: Musashi Miyamoto (1954), Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955) and Duel at Ganryu Island (1956). 

The accompanying music by Ikuma Dan (1924-2001) adds to the pacing of the film. For about twenty seconds of the overture, you can catch the first inklings of Ennio Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold" in the main theme. (See Sergio Leone's Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo / The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966). 

Today's Rune: Breakthrough. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Henry Fielding: 'The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling' (1749), Part VII - Finale

Henry Fielding (1707-1754), The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. London: Andrew Millar, 1749.

In which, for now, we end our exploration of Fielding's language, including expressions still employed in the 21st century.

[The novel is divided into eighteen "books" (sections), each with its own chapter numbers starting with "i." References will be made to book number followed by chapter number; parenthetical page numbers correspond to the Modern Library edition published in 1985.]

“Beauty never looks more amiable than in distress.” (XV: ii) (page 785). Compare with Luis Buñuel’s El ángel exterminador / The Exterminating Angel (1962): “Your disarray becomes you.”

“’The Fault is not mine, Madam. It lies in the Dulness [Dullness] of the Age that doth nothing worth talking of. –O la! tho’ now I think on’t, there hath a terrible accident befallen poor Col. Wilcox. – Poor Ned.’” (XV: iii) (page 791)

Mrs. Western: “’Have I not often told you, that Women in a free Country are not to be treated with such arbitrary Power? We are as free as the Men, and I heartily wish I could not say we deserve that Freedom better.’” (XVI: iv) (page 846)

Mrs. Western: “’Lord have Mercy upon all Affairs which are under the Directions of Men. The Head of one Woman is worth a thousand of yours.’” (XVI: v) (page 848)

Mrs. Western: “’Do you think yourself at Liberty to invade the Privacies of Women of Condition, without the least Decency of Notice?’”  (XVI: vii) (page 861)
 “Reverse of Fortune” (XVII: viii) (page 900)

Jenny Jones, assuring Tom Jones that he has not killed Mr. Fitzpatrick in a duel, only wounded him a little: “’Pugh,’ says she, ‘you have pinked a Man in a Duel, that’s all.’” (XVII: ix) (page 911)

“’I tell thee ‘tis all Flimflam. Zoodikers!’”  (XVIII: xii) (page 974).

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Henry Fielding: 'The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling' (1749), Part VI

Henry Fielding (1707-1754), The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. London: Andrew Millar, 1749. 

In which we continue our exploration of Fielding's language, including expressions still employed in the 21st century.

[The novel is divided into eighteen "books" (sections), each with its own chapter numbers starting with "i." References will be made to book number followed by chapter number; parenthetical page numbers correspond to the Modern Library edition published in 1985.]

"'Among my Acquaintance, the silliest Fellows are the worst Husbands; and I will venture to assert, as a Fact, that a Man of Sense rarely behaves very ill to a Wife, who deserves very well.'" (XI: viii) (page 602)

"The Antients [Ancients] may be considered as a rich Common, where every Person . . . hath a free Right to fatten his Muse. Or, to place it in a clearer Light, we Moderns are to the Antients what the Poor are to the Rich, By the Poor here I mean, that large and venerable Body which in English, we call the Mob." (XII: i) (page 620; proper attribution where possible is given for due credit by Fielding to the original author, page 621)

On War: "'What matters the Cause to me, or who gets the Victory, if I am killed? I shall never enjoy any Advantage from it. What are all the ringing of Bells, and Bonfires, to one that is six Foot under Ground? There will be an end of poor Partridge.' 'And an End to poor Partridge,' cries Jones, 'there must be one Time or other.' . . . 'But there is a great Difference between dying in one's Bed a great many Years hence, like a good Christian, with all our Friends crying about us; and being shot To-Day or Tomorrow, like a Mad-Dog; or, perhaps, hacked in twenty Pieces with a Sword, and that too, before we have repented of all our Sins. O Lord have Mercy upon us! To be sure, the Soldiers are a wicked Kind of People . . .'" (XII: iii) (page 629)

". . . Partridge, who at several Times had refreshed himself with several Naps, was more inclined to Eating than to Sleeping, and more to Drinking than to either." (XII: vii) (page 643)

"THEY now discovered a Light at some Distance, to the great Pleasure of Jones, and to the no small Terror of Patridge, who firmly believed himself to be bewitched, and that this Light was a Jack with a Lanthorn, or somewhat more mischievous." 

[Early form of Jack-o-Lantern, then also called will-o'-wisp, a distant cousin, perhaps, to the whip-poor-will in eeriness, one by sight and the other by sound.]  (XII: xii) (page 663)

"An Invocation . . . I shall be read, with Honour, by those who never knew nor saw me, and whom I shall neither know nor see." 

[Writing for the ages.] (XIII: i) (page [682]).

Lottery Card, British Museum
A mishmash of phrasings still employed: "This Point being cleared up, they soon found themselves so well pleased with each other . . ."  "'I will give you up'" and "He would have gone on." 

(XIII: xi) (pages 732-733)

" . . . in some Cases, to lie, is not only excusable but commendable . . . though at the Expence of a little Fibbing." (XIII: xii) (page 736)

"A true Knowledge of the World is gained only by Conversation, and the Manners of every Rank must be seen in order to be known." (XIV: i) (page 742)

Today's Rune: Harvest.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

'Helen of Troy' (2003)

John Kent Harrison, director. Helen of Troy (2003). A lot of mythical ground is covered in just under three hours. This made-for-cable version mixes together bits of Greek and Roman lore, lots of stuff not in Homer and some that is. Though a little silly at times, Helen of Troy gives us interesting angles on Helen and the Trojan War. 

Emphasis here is placed on Helen, Paris, Theseus, Cassandra, Hector, Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus. Odysseus (Ulysses) is on the edges, portrayed mostly as a jerk. Achilles is inexplicably depicted as a tall and bald brute. Goddesses appear (briefly) in the Judgment of Paris, a scene that seems thrown together like an afterthought but featuring Hera (Juno), Aphrodite (Venus) and Athena (Minerva).The sacrifice of Iphigenia is included. (Recent post on Iphigenia here). Troy is set too close to the sea, with little room for all the fighting that takes place in Homer's detailed descriptions.   
Despite various quibbles, Helen of Troy is still fun to watch. Is Helen the fairest of people, or the most clever, or both? Is Paris an idiot, or Hector? And what about poor Cassandra, always pushing for her brother Paris' death to no avail? 

The tale is told mainly from the point of view of Menelaus, with Agamemnon as a sometimes humorous villain.   

BBC One and Netflix have reportedly partnered to produce Troy: Fall of a City, an eight-part mini-series that will probably come out later this year. Given that this is one of the greatest stories ever told -- especially with all the ancient spin-offs and prequels to draw from -- I look forward to seeing what they've come up with for 21st century audiences. 

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Frederick Turner, 'Renegade: Henry Miller and the Making of *Tropic of Cancer*' (2011)

Frederick Turner, Renegade: Henry Miller and the Making of Tropic of Cancer. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2011.

Turner lays the groundwork for Henry Miller's breakthrough novel by putting it in context. He goes back to the American frontier mentality, the development of American folklore (much of it rough and biting), and on through Walt Whitman and Mark Twain to Miller. 

Frontier folklore: "The Yankee spun his tales, performed his sleights-of-hand, and changed his name and address, all with a blank, impenetrable mask behind which was -- what? Maybe only a collection of personae." (page 29).

This is the third time in less than three weeks that the ideas of "masks" and "personae" and cultural milieu have popped up: previously, in recent posts on James Brown (here) and Anaïs Nin (here). Zeitgeist, meet synchronicity. 

And then there's the palimpsest, in which earlier writings are partially erased or faded, and new texts are piled on top like archaeological layers, with bits of the old coming to light from time to time. 

"[I]t is surprising how many facts of Miller's life are either unknown or in dispute . . . The major problem here is Miller himself. who was as compulsive a mythologizer as he was autobiographical, incessantly and even gleefully inventing competing versions of events . . . so that what he left behind at his death was a vast palimpsest presenting biographers and critics with a plethora of problems that can never be definitively solved." (pages 57-58).

Miller loved burlesque: "In the darkness of the hall and the focused lights of the stage, in the deliberate thinness of the make-believe, things otherwise off-limits were not simply allowed, they were celebrated. Here the masks were joyfully hurled aside and the knock-down power of the frontier-formed culture was in plain view." (page 72).

". . . against his many poses, his masks and disguises, his evasions and indecisions and prevarications . . . was a tough, knotty core of artistic integrity that made him show up for work . . ." (page 127)

"'I will never become a European,' he said, '"but thank God, I am no longer an American. I am one of those things you call an 'expatriate,' a voluntary exile. I have no country, no frontiers, no taxes to pay, no army to fight for.'" (page 171) 

Quoting Emerson: '"The way to write is to throw you body at the mark when your arrows are spent.'" (page 188)

Quoting from the novel: "'One is ejected into the world like a dirty little mummy.'" (page 204)
Brassaï, (Conchita & Friends), 1933
Fun book. Anaïs Nin plays an important role, there is mention of the French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline -- whose work Miller's Tropic of Cancer was compared to at publication (Tropic was banned in the USA until the early 1960s) -- and others play their parts, too, such as the photographer-artiste Brassaï. 

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.