Saturday, April 1, 2017

An April Fool's Day Essay on How to Stuff a Wild Bikini

Good evening my friends, and you are all my friends. For your consideration, we shall today, on this prestigious April the 1st, be looking at the artistic merits of the unsung classic How To Stuff a Wild Bikini. Hark, does that appellation not doth give you chills?

Beach enthusiast Frankie (Frankie Avalon) is out in South East Asia on navy reserves, where he's banging every native girl with a pulse, yet doesn't want his girlfriend Dee Dee cheating on him, so he goes to a witchdoctor Bwana (Buster Keaton), to get a spell done to make sure that no man goes near Dee Dee. The spell takes the form of Cassandra (Beverly Adams), a beautiful, yet clumsy bombshell, who's meant to distract all men from Dee Dee. The plan would work, if not for ad exec Peachy Keane (Mickey Rooney) discovering her and hiring her for his new girl next door ad image. A worker for the company, Ricky (Dwayne Hickman) is attracted to Dee Dee, and the two hit it off really well. Meanwhile, biker and head of the Rat Pack Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) falls for Cassandra, and as the two team up, they and Ricky and Dee Dee are in for a motorcycle race to decide the girl and boy next door...

The subject for tonight's essay shall be on the somewhat precarious mental state of one Eric von Zipper. Despite his mean biker-ish exterior, he's really a big huggably wholesome man-child in a sense, and perhaps this contradiction is a good showcase of his fractured and splintered personality. Never lucky in love, and not seeming to have found the right path in life, he ends up meeting his dream woman-Cassandra. She is everything he thinks he wants in a partner-Stunningly beautiful, smart, and klutzy just like him, but never while with him, because their natural clumsiness cancels each-others' out. It truly sounds like a match made in distant Aidenn, but alas, the problems are apparent with Cassandra's true nature, and that is she doesn't really exist...

Cassandra's secret is that she isn't really one with our physical plane of existence. I know this may come as a shock to those of you who saw the movie and didn't pick up on this, but bear with me. Let's start with the pair's first meeting. From the first moment he sees her, von Zipper joyously declares that she is his idol. Why would he say such a thing when he's literally only just met her? Simple. He does already know her in a sense, in the respect that she's always been a part of his subconscious.

There's further evidence of her nonexistence, such as how she pops in out of nowhere, following her bikini by only a few seconds, or how she makes very little impact on the plot herself but rather events unfold around her, almost like she's not really there. And then there's the climax, and THAT'S why von Zipper is disqualified at the final bike race! You see, I thought it didn't make sense that the race for who gets to be the girl next door is contingent on the man winning the race, and if the woman is riding while their bike passes over the finishing line, they instantly lose! That's patently unfair! What monstrous sexism...Or is it! You see, if Cassandra never really existed, then of course Eric didn't win, because if the nonexistent Cassandra was riding it, nobody was, and thus he was declared ineligible.

'But how is any of this possible?' you ask, 'Cassandra clearly has a physical presence on this realm, as she was noticed and picked up by Peachy and co., and she's briefly with Ricky at the end. Well there's a simple explanation. Eric von Zipper's delusions warp reality! 'Of course!' you say in a startled tone, 'It all makes sense now, like a jigsaw puzzle expertly coming together. Why the gosh hell didn't I think of this before?!'. I don't blame you. This is challenging stuff, and hard to take in on first viewing, but there's clear evidence of it. And this is a film set in a universe with magic, as well as ghosts, aliens, and mad scientists so it's not too out of the ordinary.

Another question you may have is 'How can these events be reconciled with Cassandra clearly being created by Bwana?' Well that's simple! That's all a delusion by Deedee, who subconsciously wants to imagine her boyfriend Frankie is being unfaithful to her despite a complete lack of evidence. She chooses to imagine that fiction to feel good about finding another partner, and the magically appearing Cassandra fits right in with that worldview. How about Frankie magically appearing to her at the end? Well that too was imagined, and that along with her breakup with Ricky was her way of coming to terms with accepting that her boyfriend is worth holding onto, despite whatever hardships the couple face. As for Cassandra, she vanishes on Ricky at the end despite Bwana specifically saying that wouldn't happen! If Bwana himself is only a figment of Deedee's imagination, that contradiction suddenly makes perfect sense!

Back to Eric von Zipper, we see more of the discontent he feels when he strives to change his image and be a new man, dressing up in very classy businessy attire and trying to act civilized. His friends are shocked and dismayed at first, but keep faith in him, and soon join in, if only to help Eric feel good about himself. The unconscious desire von Zipper has to be someone else is key to his mental roadblocks. He's displeased with the way things are, not because anything's actually wrong, but because he's not sure if it's the right path, and he's anxious the bottom will all fall out, so he constructs this new identity, with the catch-line of "If there's an image to preserve..." then it's this new one, trying to delude himself into being someone and something else. There's still a lingering sense of doubt though.

Now we come to the finale, once the race is done, and the race is lost...but all is not lost for Eric von Zipper, as he has finally made the key internal realization, and is happy. He discovers that Cassandra isn't the one for him. In his own words after they lose the race, "Don't feel too bad about this, young lady, because you're gonna go a long ways", and she responds with "Farther than you think.", "Only I ain't gonna go with you.", "That's what I meant". The meaning is clear. Being part of his subconscious, Cassandra already knows of his intentions and is at peace with them, and the couple amicably break up, knowing they simply can't be together forever.

Having faced up to his insecurities, Eric rediscovers his own self worth with the epiphany of "I am my ideal, and the Rats are my idols". von Zipper realizes and admits to himself that his delusions of romance aren't necessary, and not only is he already a complete person unto himself, but he's got a band of 7 loyal and faithful friends he can always rely on. Plus, two of them are female, so he finds out the reason he's unlucky in love has nothing to do with how the fairer sex views him, but is rather just bad luck-Bad luck he knows he will one day overcome.

Eric von Zipper has not necessarily led an easy life a times, but it's the road he chooses to tread, and he does to in the company of true friends. May we all be as lucky as this roguish rapscallion and his of compatriots!

In closing, I hope this most illustrious essay has helped to inform any of my readers about the true meaning behind this entry in the 60s beach movie canon. I am here to serve and teach, now and always...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The House is Black (1963)

At this stage I guess I could say I know a little bit about Iranian cinema. Not nearly as much as I do about Italian or Turkish, or even Mexican, but I'm beginning to learn more, be it from the works of Jafar Panahi, the Makhmalbaf family, The Cow or the early days of films in Iran. Today, for Fritzi of Movies Silently's Early Women Filmmakers blogathon I'll be looking at the 1963 documentary The House is Black...

This film is set at a leper colony, and it shows the residents in their daily lives, from prayer, to receiving medical treatments, taking care of their children, learning, singing, and engaging in activities such as playing games as best as they can. Throughout we see people coping with their deformities, and learning to manoeuvre as they could before despite their disabilities.

There's not really a 'story' as it were to this documentary. It's not  but rather simply showing these unfortunate souls in their day to day life, with poetic verses narrated to us from their point of view, as well as actually by them. There's poetry written entirely by Farrokzhad (I think) as well as some slightly rewritten (again, I think) Quran verses. The writing on display here is very good, and sets the tone very well, establishing a tone of gloominess and despair, but pared with shades of optimism from certain things we see on camera. Perhaps the most important and hopeful line present is the simple statement from a doctor of "Leprosy is not incurable".

A big recurring theme is religion among the people of the colony, and how they keep their faith despite the cards they've been dealt.

Despite its relatively short runtime, The House is Black is definitely open to plenty of interpretation, in many different ways, and that's certainly a fine achievement!

One random thing to note is that this movie is not for the squeamish, but I hope that doesn't put off anyone who is, because it's still an important watch/viewing experience.

Onto the woman behind the camera-Forough Farrokzhad. Not only did she direct the film, but she also edited it, wrote and read aloud the poetry we hear throughout, and God knows what else! I can imagine she presumably had a big part in the production of the movie too.

From what I've read, Farrokzhad was so moved by the plight of those afflicted with leprosy that she adopted a child from the colony as one of her own, and took care of it, which shows the kind of person she was. Sadly things didn't turn out well for Forough, as in 1967 she was caught in a car accident and killed.

At only 32 on her death, she may have only been around for a few short years, but Forough Farrokzhad certainly seems to have left one heck of an impression on Iran, and even outside for those in the know of foreign poets. As for her lone movie, it may be a short documentary, but its importance can't be overstated, as it was one of the precursors to the Iranian New Wave, which saved cinema in Iran as we know it, and has produced many fascinating artistic products, which stand on the shoulders of giants such as Farrokzhad...

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Songs of Annie (1982) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

I'm going back to Australian cinema for this review, which is always something I'm up for! Too many films are American! The subject in question is the 1975 adaptation of Joan Lindsay's book Picnic at Hanging Rock...

On Valentine's Day 1900, the students of Miss Appleyard's School for Girls go on an excursion to the area of Mount Macedon, nearby the ancient natural formation known as Hanging Rock. Despite warnings to stay away from the dangerous and craggy mountain, four girls led by the alluring and mysterious Miranda go anyway. After a few hours, something unexplainable happens, and three of the girls go missing, and the other runs away screaming. Searches are undertaken by the police, as well as locals, but nothing can be found, and the girls remain lost, along with one of their teachers. A young aristocrat from Britain who feels an emotional attachment to the case tries, with some luck, but not enough to solve the mystery, which might stay such forever...

There aren't that many movies where I've discuss the score before I do the story or other such elements, but in this case, it's justified. The iconic soundtrack in this film is definitely something special, particularly the pan pipe music courtesy of Gheorghe Zamfir. The score is beautiful, yet eerie, and really makes the movie, along with the weird noises  Unfortunately the two big pieces of the score are repeated quite a bit, which kinda dampens their power a tad near the end.

Picnic at Hanging Rock has often been misunderstoof as a true story. It isn't, but it's not hard to see why people might think it is. The film is presented in a true-to-life way, especially with little touches like the text at the beginning, or the voiceover at the end.

The story makes no effort to dwell on the cause of the mystery itself. Rather, the freaky things happen, no-one knows why, and we see life going on for everyone in the area. This is actually a good decision, as had the movie focused deeper into the mystery, it'd be more frustrating when it inevitably doesn't give any answers. The flipside though is that because of the somewhat lacking final half hour, the movie feels a little...listless?  Back to the positives brought about by this structural decision, there's how it makes the film feel genuine. Unlike a supposedly 'based on a true story' film that might see fit to embellish the events in order to give a narratively satisfactory answer, Picnic at Hanging Rock feels like it's accurately portraying real events, because of how it never speculates directly what the cause of the disappearances might be, or tries and give its own answer.

Another praised elenent is the character of Miranda. She barely appears, yet her character permeates the entire film. It's just a shame she and the others disappear so early on, we don't really get much time to get used to their presence and characters before they're whisked away.

The ending is a bit weird (in a bad way) and confusing, as well as extremely abrupt. In fact, abruptness is a problem in other places too. When the three girls disappear, for example. The sky seems to turn a shade of red, and Edith runs away shrieking, while bizarre sounds are heard over the soundtrack...and then the scene almost immediately cuts to Miss Appleyard's office later that night. I wish the scene had've lingered a little longer, and transitioned less suddenly to such a different feel and location. Another annoyance is that we never see Miss McCraw's disappearance. We just hear about it after it happens. Because of this, I didn't know she was the teacher who had disappeared on my first viewing.

Another problem is the brother-sister relationship between two random characters who never meet. It just seemed like a pointless addition, since nothing came of it. I felt similarly about the sort-of lesbian subtext, which for me seemed too unexplored, resulting in it being a bit superfluous.

An interesting question is whether or not Picnic at Hanging Rock is a horror movie. After all, what's the base requirement of horror? That it should scare the audience, and this movie certainly does that. It's incredibly haunting and eerie. However, a lot of the story is focused on the effects the incident is having on the residents of the area, in what feels rather like a character drama. Whatever one's thoughts on the matter are, it's definitely an interesting thing to talk about, which is yet another reason the film is great! It just keeps provoking more and more different discussions about its nature.

Peter Weir's direction is fantastic! The camerawork is great already, but what really helps is the way the film was shot. Weir and crew deliberately filmed at certain times of the day when the sun shined/shone through the trees best, or by putting lace over the camera to achieve a more ethereal look to the movie.

Finally, onto the acting. It's all good, with some great performances. A lot of the performers come across like they're real people, which sells the 'true story' feel. Anne-Louis Lambert is great in her relatively small but important role as Miranda, while Dominic Guard carries large portions of the film well, as does a young Jon Jarratt. Rachel Roberts does very well as Miss Appleyard, capturing both her severe nature and also more vulnerable moments, and the very Aussie Helen Morse's French accent doesn't sound unconvincing to me, someone who doesn't speak French, nor can pick up on such subtleties, whatever that's worth.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a great example of Australian cinema, as well as low-budget cinema, and is still a revered film over 40 years on for very good reason. I wholeheartedly recommend you watch it! With luck, it'll creep you out and make you think...

Poison for the Fairies (1984) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

Jane and the Dragon (2006) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

The Bad Seed (1956) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]