Archive for March, 2010

Shock Corridor

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2010 by anubhavbist

Few directors in American cinema have ever been as revered and influential as Sam Fuller; a maverick who worked in the low budget B film with very pulpy material to explore taboo and controversial subjects. An outspoken critic on the Korean War, the red scare, and southern racism, Fuller’s films often mirrored his 0wn political views, giving artistic merit and social relevance to material that would otherwise have been labeled as schlock. Few times has a director working in the genre ever been so revered and a common influence on some of the greatest filmmakers ever like Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard (who even gave Fuller a cameo role in his film Pierrot le fou). It’s the reason a film like Shock Corridor, Fuller’s mental hospital psychodrama, is hard to dismiss as just another product of B exploitative cinema of the era.

The film’s plot which follows a journalist named Johnny Barrett, played by Peter Breck, who commits himself into a mental institution in order to investigate a murder that took place inside, feels secondary to Fuller’s original intentions. The mystery at the heart of Shock Corridor, the murder of a character named Sloan, is not what interests Fuller nor the audience; Its the obsession that consumes the protagonist as he loses his own sanity trying to solve the case. The character Breck plays is also far from sympathetic, as we see his stubbornness ruin almost every facet of his life including his relationship with his girlfriend, played by Constance Towers (who would star in Fuller’s next film, the cult classic,The Naked Kiss). Yet when Fuller externalizes his character’s deteriorating psychological state with sequences, further foreshadowing Barrett’s eventual downfall for his article and chance at the Pulitzer, it’s hard not to feel empathy for the character.

Fuller visualizes Barrett’s sad sacrifice of his sanity in beautifully shot, surreal sequences such as one where Barrett is visited by his stripper girlfriend who appears as a sort of shoulder devil that teases him. Another memorable sequence shows Barrett running through the rain in an empty mental facility. What makes these scenes all the more impressive is how Fuller achieves these sequences with a shoe string budget. It’s not hard to see why Fuller is so revered among many of this generation’s independent auteurs like Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino.

But Fuller’s film is not just an excellently filmed psychodrama but a fascinating allegory for America in the early 60s. As we follow Barrett interview the witnesses of the murder, we realize that Fuller isn’t trying to make an in-depth examination at America’s mental institutions along the lines of a film like Titicut Follies. Instead Fuller explores the various taboos that has made Fuller and his films such a subject of controversy.  The first witness we are introduced to is a Korean War veteran who believes himself to be a confederate soldier from the Civil War after being ostracized as a social outcast for being a Communist sympathizer; The second witness is an African American white supremest who believes himself to be the the Grand wizard for the KKK; the third witness is a once genius scientist who was involved in the development of the atom bomb, but now is a man who believes he’s a child. Off the bat, we know this isn’t a normal institution but Fuller’s own critique of America. Visualizing America as an asylum while also representing what Fuller perceived as the “insanity” of America. As we view his work today one can officially say that Fuller was not wrong in his assessment of the times; the red scare, nuclear war, and southern racism are all part of the dark side of 20th century American history.

Fuller’s is able to elevate what could have been a run-of-the-mill genre film into a kind of 60s’ Greek tragedy painting a stark portrait of America.

Oscar Thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized on March 15, 2010 by anubhavbist

Well it’s been a week since the show and I guess it’s time for my though. Firstly, many of the results didn’t shock outside of Mark  Boal, The Hurt Locker, beating out Quintin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds, in the original screenplay category and Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, beating out Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air. Boal’s win was a bit more shocking since his script had come under much scrutiny by war corespondents and Iraq War veterans. Another shock was the foreign film Oscar which was given to The Secret in Their Eyes over Jacques Audiard’s brilliant gangster opus A Prophet, which placed number 2 on my list of favorite films of 2009, and Michael Haneke’s equally deserving Golden Palm winner The White Ribbon. Even Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani’s Ajami was beginning to pick up some steam, yet they give it to a film no one has heard of from Argentina. I haven’t seen The Secret in Their Eyes, but it has to be a  masterpiece not only beating the films I mentioned, but also being selected over Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman as Argentina’s official selection. But in hindsight i shouldn’t really be all that surprised by the Academy’s choice since their winners in the category have been baffling to say the least. Last year the Japanese film Departures beat out the Golden Palm winner The Class, Ari Foldman’s animated masterpiece Waltz with Bashir, the Janus release Revanche, and the critically aclaimed The Baader Meinhof Complex. Another problem I had with the show was the Honorary Award presentation. Many film fans were excited when news was announced that Roger Corman was going to get the award along with Gordon Willis and Lauren Bacall, but of course we were all cheated of that and just shown a short montage of an event that took place early. Then there was the horrendous celebration of horror films with an even worst montage. The celebration was probably to honor Corman, but it was hard to tell since he montage didn’t include a clip from any of his films. It was even worse seeing the kids from Twilight to present the montage and see a clip from Twilight in the montage. It easily ranks among the stupidest things done by the Oscars ever. The montage was just awful, selecting the most predictable choices (Jaws, Shining, Exorcist, Psycho) yet they didn’t include a clip from Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, Evil Dead, Suspira, or anything by David Cronenberg. But the worst part of it all has to be the fact that they thought that a stupid little montage was a good way to show respect the genre. I have a better idea, why not nominate a horror film once in awhile? This year was as good as any especially for American horror films with Ti West’s House of the Devil and Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, but of course both films garnered the total of zero nominations. The final thing I wanted to discuss was the memorial for John Hughes, which I thought was actually pretty cool. Seeing the whole group of 80s actors together was a hell of a sight. But when I saw the the “In Memoriam” segment, I thought there were questions to be answered. Obviously the absence of Farrah Fawcett, as well as others, while Michael Jackson, star of only film (The Wiz), was left is noteworthy and pretty damn stupid, but my biggest problem was the fact that Eric Rohmer only mentioned for 3 second. No offense to any John Hughes fans, but it’s kind of hard to justify a long 10 minute memorial for him but only have a three second for a director like Eric Rohmer who is considered one of the most important figures of the French New Wave and one of the great directors ever. But I had the same problem when the Academy didn’t do much for Michelangelo Antonioni or Ingmar Bergman, both Oscar nominees and honorary winners, when they died a few years back. Well that’s about it for the Oscar rant and now that it’s over expect to see a few new posts in the near future  (including my long promised review of Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor and my selections for the best from the previous decade). Thanks and till then.