R.I.P. Kôji Wakamatsu

Once again, there’s no room for the planned and/or promised updates, as it’s time to pay tribute to a recently and suddenly deceased director. This time that’s even to be read literally, because Japanese cult director Kôji Wakamatsuwas run over by a taxi. Some

Violence without a cause
Violence without a cause

sources claim it was no accident as Wakamatsu had claimed he wanted to make a critical movie about the nuclear company Tepco. Of course, that’s only speculation at best, but how fitting an ordered execution would be for such a director.

When these pages belonged to a cult review site, DV, Wakamatsu’s filmography was mentioned and discussed. One of the most overused expression was fitting for him: you either hated or loved him. Smutty pornographer to some, bleak observer to others, his movies didn’t leave most members unmoved. And whereas it’s true that some of his work was little more than pornographic (especially in the 1980s), the same could be said for Jean Rollin or Jess Franco, directors who did get to keep their medals of cult directors.
Make no mistake, The embryo hunts in secret (1966) is extreme cinema. Basically, it’s like watching a woman who’s constantly tortured by a man. Like Fifty Shades then, but bleaker, less eroticising and more stylistic. Well, a lot more stylistic.

Kôji Wakamatsu directed so many movies – his IMDb profile, which may not even be complete (but it’s hard sifting through the movies with countless titles) – clocked off at 105 titles. That’s more than a hundred titles for a director who didn’t do anything between 1997 and 2003, or indeed skipped a couple of other years too. By contrast, he managed to complete ten titles in 1964. (He debuted in 1963, at the age of 27.)

Go go, second time virgin
Go go, second time virgin

No wonder then that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish which movie you’re watching. There are so many and most carry his cinematographic style. When asked why his body of

work was often repetitive, the director answered: Because the basic theme is the same, because all my films deal with the same primal element – the fight against authoritarianism, the individual hate and revenge against authority and repression. That hate and revenge explode in lust and violence. Is this bad?”

Wakamatsu was also a producer and even made some of his fame there, being the executive producer of In the realm of the senses, Oshima‘s erotic classic. Oshima is a lot more known and a little less extreme than Wakamatsu, but if you like Oshima’s work, there’s a chance you’ll like Wakamatsu as well. (I had to think of Oshima’s Naked Youth a.k.a. Cruel story of youth the first time I watched a Wakamatsu movie.)

For a lot of Wakamatsu’s work you’ll have to rely on the internet as most of his movies aren’t out on DVD anywhere else than Japan. A couple of movies were released in the US,

Shinjuku mad
Shinjuku mad

such as the excellent Go, go, second time virgin or Ecstasy of the Angels (both Image) or The notorious concubines (SWV). If you manage to catch Italian channel RaiTre, the often excellent Fuori Orario is currently showing a weekend long of movies as a tribute to the late director. On the internet, MUBI has a page on him with more than 20 films which he either directed or produced.

To me, Wakamatsu’s work are more political than erotic, no matter how much sex there is in some of his exploitation movies. (Then again, I’ve only seen ten of his films, that’s less than 10% after all.) The low budget he often had forced him to limit locations, but it helped to make his films claustrophobic. His style allowed you to understand his movies even if you can’t speak a word of Japanese (check). One of his films is called Violence without a cause, which neatly sums up Wakamatsu’s body of work. You can find a lot of clips from his movies on YouTube, but I’ll leave you with the opening scene of Ecstasy of Angels, which shows Wakamatsu didn’t need sex or violence to know where to point his camera to.

“I don’t think much of critics, so naturally they don’t think much of me either.” (Kôji Wakamatsu, 1936-2012)

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Lonesome released soon

Occasionally, we post an additional extra article when there’s a longer gap between the 30th of a month and the 5th of the next. As this is post 404, the idea of a short movie or clip about internet error 404 looked like a good option, but then there’s sometimes news that’s too good and/or important to be shelved until the next scheduled update. Such as this…

One of the victims of the Avenue’s hyperbusy activities (Sept 2010-June 2012) was Paul Fejos. Not that he’ll mind – he’s been dead since 1963 – but we never had the time to add him to the Vault (our list of 30 movies that didn’t get enough praise). Apart from not enough time, there was another issue that delayed that post. Which movie should we put in the Vault: Marie, Légende Hongroise or Lonesome?

Good news on one of those movies: Criterion has already made their decision and will release Lonesome at the end of this month. If you’re now not jumping up with joy, it’s clear that you don’t know this movie. Personally, Fejos’s movies manage to grip in ways few movies of the 1920s and 1930s can. In a fair world, some of his movies should be next to lists which include King Kong, Der Letztste Mann or La passion de Jeanne d’Arc.

Because this is just an extra post and it’s summer time, we’ll not bore you will a long essay on why this is great news  about a great movie. Instead, Criterion themselves will give you three reasons why you should be saving already.

Criterion’s release is also memorable for its extras:

  • New digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary featuring film historian Richard Koszarski
  • The Last Performance, director Paul Fejos’s 1929 silent starring Conrad Veidt, with a new score by composer Donald Sosin
  • Reconstructed sound version of Broadway, Fejos’s 1929 musical
  • Fejos Memorial, a 1963 visual essay produced by Paul Falkenberg in collaboration with Fejos’s wife, Lita Binns Fejos, featuring the filmmaker narrating the story of his life and career
  • Excerpt about the Broadway camera crane from an audio interview with cinematographer Hal Mohr
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by critic Phillip Lopate and film historian Graham Petrie and an excerpt from a 1962 interview with Fejos

It’s mainly thanks to the Italian show Fuori Orario that I’ve heard of him: they occasionally show some of his movies. The only movie by Fejos that’s easily available on dvd is his Fantomas movie (not the one with de Funes, of course).

Fuori Orario

My previous post concerned that odd television programme, Fuori Orario. It’s broadcast on Italian channel Rai Tre late at night. It’s shown nightly for a couple of minutes. Monday nights the show is longer and a documentary is shown. But the real stuff is broadcast during weekends. Fridays and Saturdays Fuori Orario kicks off between midnight and 2am and lasts until 7am. On Sunday nights it’s shown till 6am. What do they show? Movies. Sometimes extremely rare movies. And yes, that for nearly six hours. Every week.

Fuori Orario always starts with a clip montage of similar movies to that night’s theme. Then after a while the theme tune starts, a clip from L’Atalante set to the music of Patti Smith’s Because The Night, which looks a bit like this:

Maybe some more clips follow, it all depends on how packed the show is. Anyway, after a while the host appears. His name is Enrico Ghezzi and he has a peculiar way of hosting: we only hear him talk about the movies, but the image we get to see is an old video of him (two options: either him in white T-shirt and white background or him talking in an old radio booth). Which means audio and video are completely out of synch. It’s arthouse, baby! (If you’d like to see a sample of that, click here.) Luckily my Italian is rather poor, so I can just fast forward that bit. (To be honest, there’s still a third option: sometimes Ghezzi makes a new introduction. My favourite one is where he tried to stay out of the camera’s reach. And jumped. Or that one where we didn’t get to see him, but the camera moved from his chair to the wall and back again, for five minutes.)

But honestly, I don’t mind all that. And the reason is that the selected films are often brilliant and people who display such movie knowledge are allowed to do whatever they want, especially if their show lasts five to six hours. Name me one other movie programme which often shows movies by Koji Wakamatsu or a retrospective of Russian arthouse cinema from the fifties or a Samuel Fuller weekend.

This weekend Fuori Orario has but one theme: “De(u)tour”. Its opening montage on Friday contained footage of Gun Crazy (hmm!!!), They Live By Night, Bonnie and Clyde and a Takeshi Kitano movie I haven’t been able to identify. The movies themselves were so nice too, they get a special mention here. If you have no plans for next weekend, why don’t you try and rent all these movies and have a weekend of renegade couples on the road. You’ll enjoy yourselves.

FRIDAY

Another Day in Paradise (Larry Clark, 1997)
In the hope of a big score, two junkie couples team up to commit various drug robberies which go disastrously wrong leading to dissent, violence and murder. James Woods and Melanie Griffith star.

Running in madness, dying in love (Koji Wakamatsu, 1969)
A student comes home after a manifestation and has a fight with his brother. He accidently kills him. He tries to make it look like suicide and flees to Hokkaido, accompanied by the wife of his brother.

Stesso Sangue (Cessa & Eronico, 1987)
Two orphans (brother and sister, aged 24 and 14) leave the city and rob banks. Impending doom awaits. A road movie of despair, love and violence played against a background of desolate post-industrial landscapes. Excellent photography. Believable performances.

SATURDAY

98 Octanas (Fernando Lopes, 2006)
He and she don’t know each other but, both at loose ends, they meet at a gas station somewhere on the highway between Lisbon and Oporto. Almost without saying a word, they drive off in his car. What follows are the gas stations, the motels, the conversations and the silences, the revelations and the mysteries. She hopes he will take her to a primordial, almost mythical place: her grandmother’s home. In their solitude, each one of them can, simply, lose themselves or meet each other.

They Live By Night (Nicholas Ray, 1948)
The script involves a mail carrier (Farley Granger) who, worried about taking proper care of his pregnant wife (Cathy O’Donnell), impulsively swipes an envelope full of money. Hard upon that “one false step,” the family man finds himself caught up in a dark scheme involving blackmail and, several times over, murder.

The Honeymoon Killers (Leonard Kastle, 1970)
Based on the true story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, who met through a lonely-hearts correspondence club, Ray is weedy, feral, and untrustworthy; Martha is enormous, compulsive, and needy. Together, they play out a horrifying scheme in which he lures lonely women out on dates and proposes marriage to them, with she pretending to be his sister. They take the women’s savings and then murder them remorselessly. Dank, claustrophobic, and weirdly engrossing, this movie never quite gives in to the comforts of conventional narrative. Francois Truffaut named it as his favorite American film.
(followed by a conversation with director Kastle on the making of this, his only movie.)

SUNDAY

SCARECROW (Jerry Schatzberg, 1973)
Max is an ex-con who’s been saving money to open a car wash in Pittsburgh. Lionel is a sailor who’s returning home to the midwest to see the child born while he was at sea. They form an unlikely pair as the brawling Max learns a little how Lionel copes with the world: Lionel believes that the scarecrow doesn’t scare birds, but instead amuses them – birds find scare-crows funny.

ZABRISKIE POINT (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1970)
An epic portrait of late Sixties America, as seen through the portrayal of two of its children: anthropology student Daria (who’s helping a property developer build a village in the Los Angeles desert) and dropout Mark (who’s wanted by the authorities for allegedly killing a policeman during a student riot).

Focus

Fuori Orario’s sexually themed weekend was a bit strange. Not because of the subject, but because of its execution. On Friday night the transmission started with such a delay the programme was different from what had been promised in the tv guide. Still the two movies they’d planned to show (the homosexual drama Sex in Chains and Koji Wakamatsu’s Sex Jack) were shown, which cannot be said of day two. Completely unscheduled but perennially welcome, we got to see Hedy Lamarr again. If you need me to tell you the movie was Ekstase, you should be ashamed of yourself. And go and rent it now.

dvd coverAfter Sex is Comedy by Breillat (which I skipped, as it was dubbed) it was time for another unscheduled event: Focus, the making of a porn movie. This documentary was filmed by Francis Leroi, also director of the porn movie Regarde-moi. Focus opens with Leroi admitting he’s financially forced to make the porn movie and really not looking forward to it. Leroi wrote, directed and produced saucy movies and porn movies from the 60s to the 80s. He is the producer of the cult porn Le Sexe Qui Parle (Pussy Talk – I’ll leave it to you to gather what the synopsis is) and some of his saucy movies have titles that make you expect the worse (Charlotte gets her panties wet, anyone?). If you want to look at his filmography, be my guest. In 1983 Leroi tried something different (just after the movie Ma Mère Se Prostitue – I wish I was making these up) and helmed the horror movie Le Démon dans l’Île. It’s still unwatched on my shelves, but apparently it’s quite a good horror movie. Sadly, Leroi couldn’t continue with his new found love and went back to directing movies about Emanuelle (chapters 4, 7 and the tv series) and Rêves de cuir. Finally the man cracked in 1995 and turned his back on cinema.

Francis LeroiFast forward to 2000 and his financial problems. Hardly motivated to direct another Film X (as porn movies are called in France), he decided to have a digital camera follow him and his actors. The result, Focus, was shown on Leroi’s website.

Hindsight is a nice thing. Now we know that Leroi died of cancer in 2002. This sheds an extra light on Focus and the unwillingness of the man to film another hardcore movie.

One of the key scenes is the fight Leroi has with his lead actress Ovidie. Ovidie acted in pornographic movies before directing porn movies herself and writing her Porno Manifesto. Right after Ovidie and Leroi are having words on a scene, the camera follows Ovidie. She tells the other people in the room she won’t allow being treated like this. By now she’s worked with Truffaut star Jean-Pierre Leaud (in the movie Le Pornographie, co-starring her and Jérémie Renier) and Diva director Jean-Jacques Beineix (in the movie Mortel Transfert) and claims she can tell when someone wants to abuse her. Leroi claims she’s an arrogant starlet. It’s hard to pick sides here, even though you tend to feel more sympathy for a dying man (but we don’t know if anyone at the time knew the man was in his final years). Basically, Leroi wanted to do another take of a sex scene. Ovidie claimed she’d already done all that was in her contract and that the director wanted to get her to do a sex scene for free. In the end a producer had to step in and tell both parties to leave each other alone.

Focus tells you what happens on the set of a glamourous pornographic movie. Material being stolen, sexual scenes being rehearsed (“So if he does this, you’ll do that…”) and egos clashing. I’m assuming there was also hardcore footage, but this being a national tv channel those scenes were not included (instead, they showed clips of Dreyer‘s Gertrud, the movie they were going to show the following week). Allow me to speak for everyone when I remark: Ermm??!? (Quite odd to see a documentary about a porn movie mixed with arthouse cinema.) Focus also included interviews with people close to Leroi, most of them having worked with him on several movies.

One scene is completely different though: we see two people on a bench, sitting near the water. One is Leroi, the other is his mother. He asks her question, some of which she answers reluctantly. One is a vital question: how is it for a mother to realize her son is making his money by directing pornographic movies? The mother admits that wasn’t easy. Two people on a bench, saying true things as the water floats by.

The full title of the documentary is “Focus – Les Coulisses du Porno”. It’s no longer available on a website, you may find the film on DVD (but even that one seems to be out of stock).

The Last Tears From Planet Earth

Saw this on Fuori Orario (Rai Tre) the other night.

THE LAST TEARS FROM PLANET EARTH (2003)

A visionary voyage in a deserted land where the human race is a distant memory. This fusion of live footage, mirror photography and computer animation set to the pulse of electronic music of Lorenzo Brusci is a hauntingly beautiful elegy for humanity.

Director: Graziano Staino
Actors: Nami Ha-vinh and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Length: 5 min
Genre: experimental, avant garde, sci-fi

http://www.undergroundfilm.org/films/viewer.tcl?wid=1013588&oftype=lar
(Quicktime)