Saturday, July 18, 2009

SUSPIRIA in HD

Stefania Casini welcomes you to SUSPIRIA.

I want to caution WatchBlog readers that the version of Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA which is being shown this month on Action Max, the Cinemax subsidiary, is not only the cut US theatrical version (which renders nearly all the violence incoherent) but, for some reason, the stereo surround track is lacking much of its original, room-shaking bottom end. However, on the plus side, it IS being shown in True HD -- as far as I know, the film's high definition debut. For this reason alone, I found it hard to peel myself away... the wallpaper alone (blue velvet, silver foil...) is enough to poke your eyes out. Next showing is at 2:30am eastern, tonight -- and sister station Thriller Max HD is showing MOTHER OF TEARS just before at Midnight.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Notes on SZAMANKA

In preparation for 200 words I needed to write about writer-director Andrzej Zulawski, last night I watched what is presently his penultimate feature, SZAMANKA, a French-Swiss-Polish co-production from 1996. Set in Warsaw, Poland, the film is, like much of Zulawski's work, a human story staged against a shifting political dynamic and it is also, like all of Zulawski's work, a shriek directed at the cosmos in objection to the essential incompleteness of man. His films have a reputation for being erotic, but they seldom are; they are about sex, and they are often graphic without becoming pornographic, but the sex is never satisfying for the characters or the viewers because they are meant to lay bare yearnings that can only be satisfied by our ultimate return to God. The sex in SZAMANKA ultimately takes on a religious connotation, which can be seen here in the face of actor Bogoslaw Linda, who gives a remarkable performance.

Linda plays Michal, a Polish archaeologist who meets a college student known only as "the Italian" (Iwona Petry) when his suicidal priest brother abandons his apartment. When the Italian expresses aggressive interest in taking over the lease, the archaeologist takes sexual advantage. She doesn't object but doesn't seem to like it either, until she turns to him mid-coitus with a "gotcha" smile that makes sense only as the story continues to unfold.

The two characters embark on what seems a mutually addictive, LAST TANGO-like sexual relationship within the claustrophobic apartment. One of their trysts becomes humorous in that, every time we assume it has ended, it begins again, for what seemed to me five times running, at which point the perspiring couple begin laughing themselves.

But, as in all Zulawski relationships, where there is desire, there is pain -- pain tapped by the impossibility of true spiritual connection. The Italian's emotions are played so as to seem rooted in the objectification and sexual imposition that all attractive women suffer, and though the film might sound exploitative, it paints a very bitter portrait of the indignities women endure in an exploitative culture.

But the Italian is more than she appears to be. As the story gains a sometimes baffling philosophic complexity, Michal is changed from sexual predator to the predated. (Often in Zulawski's work, the most initially repugnant characters become surprisingly sympathetic.) Here we see him literally brought to his knees by photos of details of the Italian's nude body, arranged into an icon appropriate to his new religion.

As the dialogue explains, the Italian is actually a szamanka (shaman or succubus) who, while Michal believed he was ejaculating inside of her, was in fact ejaculating "female sperm" inside of him, which has infested and taken possession of him. Consider this information only a semi-spoiler, as where their relationship finally takes them is, I think it is safe to say, astonishing.

While this bizarre love story is proceeding, Michal is having exciting times in his day job, as the ancient mummy of another shaman, male, is unearthed for the examination of his team. The shaman's body (discovered in possession of psylocybin and other antique hallucinogens) is covered in tattoo spirals and other arcane markings, and the back of his head has been shattered, ostensibly to permit the fleeing of his soul.

In a tremendous sequence, the archaeologic team appear to succumb to mass insanity as a result of exposure to the shaman's remains and undertake to revive him while getting high on his stash.

The moment when the mad team of scientists walk like Egyptians across the screen is simply one of the most impressively preposterous in Zulawski's filmography.

But greater still is the moment when -- possibly real, possibly hallucinated -- the shaman does revive and whispers words of wisdom into Michal's ear. Alas, it is too late for wisdom and the story to which the principals are doomed must play itself out, as indeed it did centuries before.
SZAMANKA (in Polish, the feminine form of "shaman") is available only as a Russian import DVD on the Premier Digital label. It is NTSC and all-region with French and Russian audio and English or Russian subtitles. (Alas, no Polish track so all the audio is dubbed -- with the Russian being dubbed over the French track in the manner of verbal subtitling.) Tony Simonelli at Xploited Cinema tells me he has only one copy left in stock, which they will not be renewing, so I would recommend that anyone interested in seeing this fascinating, mad picture should act... like yesterday.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Now Accepting Comments

By popular demand, Video WatchBlog is now accepting comments from its readers! In other words, now you can help me to do the work I so often don't want to do.

All 870 postings (to date) can now be commented on, but anything older than five days requires monitoring by me and will not appear immediately... but it will, once approved.

Mind you, the Comments box is not a letters page; the correct address for that is letterbox@videowatchdog.com. The comments are to be used for responses to what I post here on Video WatchBlog. Within that framework, I welcome and look forward to your participation.

What Gets Your Dark-On?

I recently saw a reference to DARKON (2006), a documentary about the gaming subculture, and thought to myself, "Now there's a word that should be hyphenated." So here's my latest contribution to the lingo of the horror culture: "dark-on." As in, "I've got a real dark-on for Jess Franco movies." Or "I've got a dark-on for H.P. Lovecraft stories."

Okay, people -- go to town with it! And don't forget to send me my cut, should it become profitable for you. ; )

In the meantime, tell me... What gets YOUR dark-on?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Blogging 'Bout the 'Dog

VIDEO WATCHDOG contributors par excellence Stephen R. Bissette and Sam Umland have devoted space in their blogs today to write about the milestone that is VW's forthcoming 150th issue. I was very touched to read these articles and commend them to your attention, and I am grateful to both of these gentlemen for what they expressed and for what they both continue to bring to VIDEO WATCHDOG itself. Click on their names and you will be taken there.

First Look: VIDEO WATCHDOG #150

A little late, but worth the wait!

Full details, free samples and the proverbial much much more now at the VW website's "Coming Soon!" page.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I'm Garrulous About Garrel

Here's my monthly link to my NoZone review in the pages of the current SIGHT AND SOUND, which this month is about two films by Philippe Garrel: I CAN NO LONGER HEAR THE GUITAR and EMERGENCY KISSES. Worth knowing about, especially for fans of Nouvelle Vague cinema and fans of the late Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico.