From Black-and-white

Carl Th. Dreyer’s Day of Wrath: An Allegory of Power and the Raw Truth of Religious Cruelties

Day of Wrath. 1943. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Screenplay by Dreyer, Pol Knudsen, & Mogens Skot-Hansen; based on the play Anne Pedersdotter by Hans Wiers-Jenssen.
Starring Thorkild Roose, Lisbeth Movin, Sigrid Neiiendam, Preben Lerdorff Rye, & Albert Hoeberg. Palladium Productions.
Not Rated. 97 minutes.
Drama

★★★★1/2
POSTER History allows us to look back on films and compare them to the times in which they’re made. When there’s a war or a big event happening, people don’t necessarily have the chance – not all of them anyways – to step back from it all and admire the artists creating during times of oppression and turmoil. In 1943, Carl Th. Dreyer made Day of Wrath, and though likely intending it to carry a message more contemporary than its plot, audiences didn’t receive so well. Not only is it a slow paced film, the darkness of the witch hunts and the terrible persecution of so many women for supposedly being in league with the devil makes for heavy viewing. All the same, the witches become a direct parallel to the Jewish people being persecuted at the time of filming under Nazi rule. Of course Dreyer himself denies the film is about the Nazis. Yet artistic intent is not everything. As the witches stand in for the Jews, morbidly fitting is the element of fire existing parallel between the two, this film takes on an even more grim tone than already exists. But even without assuming Dreyer uses the witch hunts as a symbolic way of talking about the Nazis, the Holocaust, Day of Wrath is beautiful as it is difficult, and the importance of this film cannot be undone regardless of interpretation. It only helps cement Dreyer as a significantly powerful filmmaker in the history of moving pictures.
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The cinematography is steady, often using long takes. For an early ’40s film, Day of Wrath draws us into the story and its characters almost simply by forcing us to spend so much time in their space. Many would come to identify this technique with Dreyer as part of his style in subsequent works. Coupled with that, the actors never go into overly melodramatic performance. This is perhaps one of the hallmarks of his directorial style. In a time where overacting was most definitely common, in part due to the expressiveness previously needed in the solely silent picture era, Dreyer’s actors manage to express restraint. Their abilities make the characters much more believable. Instead of feeling like a stage play (based on a play called Anne Pedersdotter by Norwegian playwright Hans Wiers-Jenssen in turn based on the woman of the same name), despite well blocked scenes, the film plays out in a more reality driven fashion. There is certainly melodrama in Dreyer, particularly here. The character of Anne is an embodiment of melodramatic elements, as her personal and sexual stifling comes to represent a whole other aspect than the witch hunt plot element.
The terrifying witch burning early on turns up in a later cult film about similar themes, The Witchfinder General, in a scene with a witch strapped to a ladder then dropped into a fire is all but literally ripped from Dreyer. Much more effective here, in my opinion. Especially considering it was 1943. The editing and the timing of that shot is absolutely incredible. Very impressive work all around.


Above Dreyer’s style or anything else it’s the themes here which drive his film. Shadowy and eerie almost constantly, Day of Wrath gets at the fear and intolerance of a society bent on creating the type of citizens it wants, and not being created as what its citizens want/need. The religious cruelty of the plot is a smothering, suffocating force, which is symbolic of the religiously driven (albeit maniacally so) rhetoric and belief of the Nazi Party during the time this film was made.
At face value, though, we can also interpret Dreyer’s movie as one with aims of examining early feminism. The danger a man faces here is much less corporeal, more of the spirit and to do with shame. Whereas a woman is not only subject to shame, she is also in physical harm’s way, often to a fatal point. And ultimately that burning of witches, as well as the final burning, or expected burning, of Anne herself, is way of denying and literally cauterizing the wounds of the male ego. In those final moments after Anne is betrayed totally by Martin, the hypocrisy of the witch hunt is at its most chauvinistic.
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The performance of Lisbeth Movin is a knockout. She gets more intense as the film gets going. There are such affecting looks on her face, as the camera captures her perfectly drenched in shadow, half covered by darkness in the flickers of candles, looking both innocent and sinister at once. One reason why the film works is because she offers up such a dual feeling role that makes Anne epitomize the way witches were perceived. Even the audience at times can’t be sure of her attitude, as Movin keeps people guessing. It is an emotional performance that makes the romantic elements, and the briefly sexual elements, work so well. The long takes Dreyer uses are suited to her, as she lets us become part of the character’s world and allows our eyes a peek into her psychology.
While Vampyr is my favourite of Dreyer’s films, Day of Wrath is a loaded bit of cinema that on the surface explores the jaded days of witch hunts, while plumbing the depths underneath and serving as the direct parallel for Nazi power and the plight of Jewish people during the latter days of World War II. The cinematography and style is what goes on to be known as recognizable Dreyer. Here, it takes the audience into a repressed and quiet space where the intolerance of religion, all the fear it creates boils up into a mess of forbidden love, anger, and so much more.
Dreyer is a titan of cinema. If you’re at all serious about your love of film he is someone that absolutely needs to be explored. So if you dig this, keep digging. He has a lot of wonderful work and showed how possible it was to make engaging, exciting, unique cinema even during the early decades of the industry.

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David Lynch’s Eraserhead: Existential Terror at its Finest (and Most Elusive)

Eraserhead. 1977. Directed & Written by David Lynch.
Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts, Laurel Near, V. Phipps-Wilson, Jack Fisk, Jean Lange, Thomas Coulson, John Monez, Darwin Joston, T. Max Graham, Hal Landon Jr., & Jennifer Chambers Lynch. American Film Institute/Libra Films.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Fantasy/Horror

★★★★1/2
POSTER One of my consistently favourite filmmakers is David Lynch. The first of his films I’d ever seen was Lost Highway. Then I moved to Blue VelvetWild At Heart, and finally went for Eraserhead, his groundbreaking and eternally confusing feature-length debut. This started out as one of those old late ’70s midnight movies, not expected to draw out a huge crowd. Until it did. Today, it’s one of the most talked about debuts of any film director in the history of film, right up there with Citizen Kane. More than that, and especially due to the coy attitude of Lynch, it has remained one of the most inexplicable, hard to pinpoint films ever made. While part of its mystery can sometimes piss me off, mostly it is impressive. Because many artists, film or otherwise, are so eager to let the world know what their art means. In opposition, directors like Lynch, Michael Haneke, Bruno Dumont, they challenge what we see as regular art by often defying any sort of ready made explanation. Not that there aren’t explanations. Likely, someone has guessed the meaning of Eraserhead, only Lynch prefers never to confirm, nor deny, and likes to let his audience determine meaning on their own. But to sit down and try extracting some type of definitive meanings from this movie is futile. Sure, like any great artistic experience there can be parallels, allusions, metaphors, many instances of symbolism. Here, though, Lynch keeps things just weird enough as to elude the easy grasp of definition. And in the process, properly disgusts, disturbs, as well as horrifies us on a physical and existential level all at once.
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Obviously there are major portions of the film influenced by Lynch, his own personal fear of becoming a father, which also has to do with his daughter having trouble with clubbed feet after she was born. It’s easy to read this angle of Eraserhead. But there’s more than simply the fear of fatherhood. In our main character Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) is the overarching existential fear of life, the different phases, the various expectations which come along with it. Particularly when it comes to lower class living. Henry and his wife live in a veritable ghetto of industrialized America where the smokestacks rise up and spew their filth into the air, infecting both the atmosphere and the people surrounding it. So in a way, Lynch’s time in Philadelphia certainly plays a part in the story, and the bits of discernible plotline. The fear of giving birth to a mutant child is both a normal fear of fatherhood, as well as a fear of our external environments bleeding into the internal components of our life. As if all the fear and anxiety and horrible pollution of the outer world is expressed directly in Henry’s monster baby.
Above all, the fear of fatherhood is the fear of creating life. The fear of casting a new life you’ve made into the dark abyss of the modern world. All the terrors of becoming a parent by bringing life into a miserable world are on display; a dreary, filthy, industrially driven world that Lynch pushes forward both with the industrial city visuals, as well as the constant sound design of background sounds rattling and banging, the whistling of the radiator, a non-stop hum of white noise, the sounds of a partner’s teeth grinding in the night, an eye being rubbed as the socket bubbles around at the skin.
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But the imagery concerning parenthood is downright frightening. First we see pups suckling at their mothers teets, the sound of them whining and sucking and trying hard to get at the milk is unnerving, as it’s right out in the open. Then there’s the baby itself, which is like an animal fetus and some sort of alien mixed together. Altogether a foreign object, as many children feel to parents after their birth; they feel unnatural, almost like a screeching little animal. Lynch personifies that sentiment here with a hideous, deformed creature.
And then later, one of the most significant fear of fatherhood images comes to us in the form of Henry’s head falling off, then erasers being mined from his brain. Whereas the pencil is the creator – a.k.a the penis, the organ which creates life – the brain is the eraser, in the sense that the brain is meant to be able to outwit the dick re: any big decisions, such as getting a woman pregnant, for instance. So, in effect, Henry’s eraserhead should have scrubbed clean the decision to have sex with Mary, clearly with reckless disregard, as it eventually led to the birth of a monster.
There are so many striking images in the film, it’s hard to pick one that is the most intriguing. The Man in the Planet by the window, pulling levers; a hideous, ugly god behind the scenes? Pulling levers in his sickly condition, running things below and putting people through the motions of their horrible lives in an industrial, almost toxic environment.
The man-made chickens – everything man made, including children, are bound to be fucked up in this Lynchian version of industrial Hell on Earth. So it’s no surprise there are some genetically modified, bloody chickens in here. As if to symbolize everything born is, at its core, a disgusting thing, from babies to chickens.
Finally, the image of the Lady in the Radiator onstage, singing, dancing, then stepping on the strange sperm-like creatures, maybe fetuses. This one is as striking as it is unsettling. My take is that this represents his inner mind, the voice speaking to him deep down. While she stomps on the strange fetuses, then sings “In Heaven everything is fine” this can be seen as the inner urge in Henry to kill his child; those dark, unmentionable feelings of wanting to shake a screaming child that’s disrupting life, making everything worse. As if in Heaven, the child will be fine. So stomp on it like those fetus things. And of course after dreaming of his head falling off and being mined for erasers, the Lady in the Radiator egging him on, Henry goes and kills the baby after removing its bandages. After Henry tries erasing his failed love life, but is effectively rejected, all his miserable failures are compounded by the laughing baby. He even sees himself as the hideous alien-like monster baby several times, once involving the woman across the hall with whom he imagined escaping the dreariness of his old life. So if he can’t figuratively erase that old life with Mary, the rest of his unhappy existence, he decides to be rid of the monster for good. That way, he also rids himself of the hideous part in him. But in doing so, Henry may just have killed the last remaining light in him, too, which is ultimately signified by the breakdown while he tries to kill it.
Yet after all is said and done, everything is fine for Henry, in Heaven, with the Radiator Lady. Because everything is fine, when you’re dead.
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If there were maybe a few more concrete moments, Eraserhead would be flawless. While I love mystery and elusiveness, sometimes this movie gets frustrating, even as I love it to death, simply because there’s so much defying explanation. It is well filmed, acted with unsettling subtlety. The sound design and the mysterious of the imagery is all beyond compelling. A 4&1/2-star masterpiece of weirdness, that spans both a fantastical aspect, as well as a straight up examination of personal psychological horror. Do not think my explanation nor that of anyone else will get to the bottom of David Lynch’s debut masterpiece. Explanation, at least definitive and sure explanation, is basically futile. This experience is about taking away from it what you will, answering your own questions. Because Lynch only asks them, giving us the contents of his horrified mind in relation to the world around him through cryptic and usually eerie imagery. I’ve sat through this movie many a time and still can’t get a full grasp on it. Part of it makes me frustrated, yes. Most of it makes me happy to have a director and writer out there like Lynch, probing the dark heart of our cinematic minds one picture at a time.

Avoid The Bunny Game & its Needless Misogyny

The Bunny Game. 2010. Directed by Adam Rehmeier. Story by Rodleen Getsic & Adam Rehmeier.
Starring Rodleen Getsic, Jeff F. Renfro, Drettie Page, Coriander Womack, Gregg Gilmore, Loki, Curtis Reynolds, and Jason Timms. Death Mountain Productions.
Unrated. 76 minutes.
Horror

No ★s
bunny_game_ver2Sometimes there comes along a film that is so dreary and needlessly graphic that I question why it was ever made. Now, before anyone says “Well if you can’t handle it then that’s not the film’s problem”, let me tell you this – I’ve seen plenty of disgusting, disturbing, outrageously graphic, gory, and beyond fucked up films in my time. I’ve seen a little over 4,100 movies in total. Many, many of those are horror. I’ve seen my fair share of good horror, as well as a lion’s share of terribly made, awful horror movies. I own Cannibal Holocaust, which is a nasty piece of work, and I’ve actually seen Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom one more than once occasion – don’t ask me why. Plus, I’d actually consider those good horror. Then there’s the type of stuff I’ve just about perished while trying to watch, like the absolutely terrible August Underground stuff; pure, utter tripe, does nothing for the genre except make it look awful. Realistic? Sure. Realism does equate to quality, though.
So when I say that The Bunny Game is a grim and dreary, nasty piece of work, I’m saying it in the sense that it is all that but nothing comes of it. It’s not a good film overall. Ultimately, this is one of those brutal horror films which goes nowhere with what it’s trying to accomplish, and by the end you’re just wondering: A) why didn’t I turn this off sooner?, and B) I hope nobody makes a sequel to this one.
Either way, the result of The Bunny Game is not, as some no doubt paid crew members have spouted off on IMDB and other sites, in any way the reinvention of the genre. No way, shape, or form is it anything close. I never like to rag too hard on a film, but unfortunately for this one I just cannot find the words to express anything enjoyable or positive about any aspect of this muggy turd.
IMG_1084 Bunny (Rodleen Getsic) is an unfortunate soul, left on the streets – who knows what her sad story truly is – and resorting to prostitution.
She goes from one motel room to the next, searching for another meal, trying to stay high and alive. She squats and pees on the side of the road because she has nowhere else to go. She’s also so coked up that she passes out; one of Bunny’s customers goes ahead and has sex with her anyways, then proceeds to loot the bag she carries around constantly. After waking up to find the trust backpack empty, she loses her mind. But it’s just back out on the street once more, on to another miserable day.
Finally, she gets picked up by a trucker who wants to do some drugs with her; he needs a pick me up after a long stretch on the road. But that’s not all he wants – Bunny is taken hostage, thrown into the back of his truck, where a camera is setup, there are chains, and the trucker has plenty of sick games in mind for the poor, lonely girl.
IMG_1085 IMG_1086At times we’re treated to these shots that go on for what feels like eternity, and I’m truly at a loss as to why they’re in film. I get that the trucker guy this insane dude, is supposed to be developed slightly before things get going into the brutality full-on. However, having this man just walk around a little, smoke some cigarettes, drive – I mean, what’s the purpose? Perhaps if there were some nuisance, subtlety in this character, or in the performance, there’d be a reason to focus so much on him in such a languid, boring way. The camera’s not doing anything interesting, we’re simply watching this man. There’s nothing going on much in his face, in his mannerisms, though, I suspect there should be. We’re just not seeing much.
Then he climbs into the back of the truck with Bunny, who is out completely cold, and the real misogyny and nastiness begins. I honestly loathe the stupid “torture porn” label because I think it’s stupid, although I realize what the label is meant to convey. That being said, I’d go ahead and say this is the concept of “torture porn” at its worst, at the most base and vile it can be on film. We’ve got to watch this mental trucker suck on Bunny’s nipples, play with her earlobes and other weird sexual stuff. It’s fine to have a character that deranged in the movie, but why do you have to explicitly show all this stuff? Only makes things disgusting. There’s nothing scary about what he’s doing, it’s the same as watching a badly lit, poorly shot pornographic movie that’s all about sadomasochism and extreme bondage. That’s pretty much what this whole section felt like, as he trucker revels in having Bunny captured in the back of his truck’s trailer. You don’t have to go subtle on every last creepy/scary scene. For me, though, I find there needs to be some sort of tension through not having to graphically see every last bit of the nasty business. Adam Rehmeier says fuck that. Leave nothing to the imagination.
Also, just the fact that the trucker does a bunch of nonsense supposedly “crazy” stuff, it really took me out of things. So much overacting. Awful, really. I thought it was bad, others think he’s some kind of amazing villain. Seriously? I couldn’t get into it. One bit of bad shlock after the other. Huff gas – go crazy – laugh – tell Bunny to shut up or shhhh – repeat.
IMG_1077The black-and-white also did nought for me. I honestly gave The Human Centipede II a star or so just because I found Tom Six’s use of black-and-white pretty interesting in some of the more tame scenes. They gave it a nice off-kilter feel that was very creepy. Here, The Bunny Game feels like it used black-and-white to try and force the idea that this is somehow an innovative or interesting film. There is nothing good about the movie and the use of black-and-white only made things more dismal; not in a good sense.
Ultimately, the whole movie is a bunch of perverse nonsense, mixed with Rodleen Getsic screaming at the top of her lungs a little, plus a ton of quiet, boring moments with the trucker doing nothing at all. Honestly, I don’t jump on a film for the sake of jumping on it. I’m actually one of the types who is often a fan of films people hate – not as a rule, there are just a handful or so of movies I love that others despise (like Exorcist II – fucking love it!). But I just simply can’t bring myself to like what Adam Rehmeier has done here. There’s nothing inspiring in terms of the horror genre, it’s a retread through territory we’ve seen before, just as nasty, but there are plenty of so-called “torture porn” films out there which aren’t this terribly made or as horrid for no purpose.
IMG_1080 IMG_1081I also saw, maybe on Bloody Disgusting or a similar site, that someone said this was extremely well edited. Is that truly their opinion? My good lord Satan. If they think this is masterful editing, I don’t want to see what they find to be bad examples of editing. Because this is, at times, like a black-and-white music video on crack. There’s a frenetic quality to it that’s absolute irritating, as well as fairly useless in my opinion. I really hated the way this was edited, and to think others found that to be one of its best, probably its only, good aspect – I can’t fathom what other poor movies they think contain nice editing. There’s not a moment where I found myself impressed by any of the technical side to The Bunny Game. I’m not trying to be mean: there’s nothing here that’s any good.
IMG_1079In all good conscience, I cannot give this film a single star. On IMDB, you can’t give 0 ratings, so if you happen to come across my ratings page on there and see it has 1 star, versus my 0 here, just remember: they won’t let you do it.
There is not a solitary redeeming aspect of The Bunny Game. It aims to be terrifying and disturbing, and while it may come across as the later at plenty of moments there’s nothing overall scary about this film. There’s not an ounce of suspense or tension in the whole lot; that’s enough to kill any horror. The acting is bad. There’s mostly a lot of yelling and screaming and spitting and weird touching and sexualization at every near, but no good acting, the script is complete trash, and the thing is filmed poorly.
I suggest that you see this only if you’re a completist, or if you’re one of those people who gets off on terrible horror that borders on the line of being the recreation of a snuff film. Otherwise, pick up a better bit of horror and have yourself an enjoyably creepy view! This didn’t make me feel anything, not for a second, and if a horror doesn’t scare me, even in the slightest sense, I don’t see what the point of it is in the end.