No Dog in this Fight: My first viewing of Straw Dogs.

The end of Straw Dogs has Dustin Hoffman’s David Sumner driving an uncredited David Warner’s Henry Niles back to town after the climatic showdown in the Sumner house. Henry tells David, “I don’t know my way home.” To which David responds, “That’s okay. I don’t either.” This final exchange sums up the entirety of what  Straw Dogs conveys. At the end of the day, just what are we? 

There will be spoilers here.

Prior to my viewing of Straw Dogs, the only film by Sam Peckinpah I’ve seen was The Wild Bunch. I took that film as a more visceral version of a Leone western. However having only seen it once, I didn’t get the themes that are prevalent with Peckinpah’s work. This film is rife with controversy and complications and interpretations. It is not an easy watch. Things do not resolve themselves. People are not good and don’t nescesarily become better people by the end of this.

This film is certainly one that earned its controversial status. It raises questions. Even if you answer one question, you may not answer the next question the same way.  Is Straw Dogs a condemnation of violent masculinity? One may interpret it that way. Or is it a celebration of that? It may be as well. Is Peckinpah blaming women for the violence that occurs against them? It seems that way, at least to me it did. Early on David asks his wife Amy (a heartbreaking performance by Susan George) why doesn’t she wear a bra if she doesn’t want the leering eyes of her ex-boyfriend and his cohorts focused on her chest. This moment is actually one of many that show her husband is not only meek, but part of the overall problem. He disrespects his wife at times and belittles her. He blames her sexual freedom for the attention she did not ask for. By time we reach the climax, you’ll see David is no better than the brutes who invade their home. It just took him a little longer to get there.


The controversial rape of Amy is still a discussion point to this day. Becuase of how Peckinpah filmed the scene, there are indicators that Amy at first refuses but then acquiesces. Now I do not see it that way. I saw a woman trying to cope with the violation being committed against her. The scene is brutal and uncomfortable and I actually feel uncomfortable trying to discuss it. Yet this is film criticism and I’d be remiss to not mention it at all despite its notorious reputation.


This is a very complicated film, directed by a very complicated man. Did Peckinpah hate the violence within himself? Did he allow that to manifest in this film? Does he think David is a hero or antihero? So many questions. It’s fitting that this film came out in 1971, the same year as fellow controversial director Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Straw Dogs, like that film are not easily watched. Yet both films hold a mirror to the ghastly primal nature of humanity and at the very least, make you look inside and question just what are you. Straw Dogs, structurally is a time bomb, ticking away during its runtime until it explodes in the climax. 

Is it just a matter of time for any of us? Just another of the many questions it forever brings. Endless questions and endless discussion.

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Iconic? Really? A First timer’s time at Camp Crystal Lake


I have not posted in a long time, a long time (in my Obi-Wan voice). So instead of overextending myself with some grand essay to announce my return to the Shame, I’ll keep this simple. Plus there really isn’t too much I have to say on this.

For years I knew of the great horror Monsters of the 70s/80s. You have Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger, Leatherface and Jason Vorhees. Believe it or not I had never seen a Friday the 13th film. I’ve seen Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but never a film with Friday in the title that didn’t star Ice Cube or Chris Tucker.

Well I knew I missing out, these are the things that when you’re growing up in the 90s are signs of your growing-upedness. “Hey did you see the new Jason movie?” Nope never. I resolved back during the first year of CinemaShame to watch at least the original film. I got collection of the first four for a really cheap price. So what happened? How did I receive these classics of modern horror? These iconic films of the slasher genre?

Answer: I didn’t receive them at all and wondered how they got their iconic reputation. 

There was nothing in the original film that to me came close to the achievements in the films by John Carpenter, Wes Craven or Tobe Hooper. In Halloween we get the suspense of the unstoppable Michael Myers, in Nightmare, the fear of dreams. For Texas Chainsaw we have an almost documentary like shoot of madness and murder. Even if you aren’t scared, you’re always engaged. Friday the 13th had none of that. I felt no tension, no thrills, I cared so little about the characters that I don’t even remember their names. Only Kevin Bacon. And I don’t actually remember his character’s name, just that it’s Kevin Bacon.

That was my face while watching. 

Sean Cunningham does have an interesting found footage type of style to his shooting of the film, it just sucks that there were no thrills until the end. Thankfully the movie is less than 2 hours so it is brisk. It’s just an interesting brisk. 

So after finally seeing Friday the 13th and some of the following films, I can why Jason is an iconic character, but not why this film or series has that same description. It’s not quite the “killer” I thought it would be.

So Zatoichi is kinda like James Bond, except blind – Vol. 2

I’ve been watching… oh have I been watching… but I’ve long neglected the part of this project that documents thoughts and feelings. This is important. This is the catharsis.

As a creator of Cinema Shame, I feel obligated to be a role model. And even when I finish this second installment of Zatoichi Shame, I’ll still be delinquent on posts for The Commitments, The Gold Rush, and a handful of W.C. Fields films. As W.C. Fields would say… “Godfrey Daniel! Lets cut through the jibber jabber!” …which is a weird intro to Zatoichi, but roll with it.

Last we checked in with my Zatoichi journey I’d just finished the first four installments and noted a few interesting DNA matches with James Bond.

Zatoichi on the Road

Zatoichi on the Road (1963)

After the series switched to color after The Tale of Zatoichi (Zat 2) Continues, the color films had failed to distinguish themselves visually. Zatoichi the Fugutive (Zat 4) told a ripping tale but looked like a B-production. Zatoichi on the Road marks a step forward in the franchise. Director Kimiyoshi Yasuda makes clear and distinct compositional choices. He allows his camera to linger and bask in the color and landscape. Yasuda also amplifies the action and fight choreography. In many ways Zatoichi on the Road circles closer to the Zat-ideal. It also loses some of the character development and meaningful subtext that breathed life into earlier Zatoichi films.

The narrative doesn’t stand out in my memory. (WELL IF YOU’D WRITTEN ABOUT THIS SOONER, MORON, MAYBE YOU’D REMEMBER.) In Zatoichi on the Road, our mythic hero has sworn to protect a young woman and finds himself (again) at odds against two rival gangs. Some of that moral complexity comes through in the young woman’s struggle against the male hierarchy of perpetual assholiness. She’s wanted for killing the man who tried to rape her.

It’s Zatoichi that feels stuck in a limbo throughout Zatoichi on the Road. Already, here in the fifth film it’s growing difficult to compare and contrast the films. Shintaro Katsu imbues the Zatoichi character with so much vitality and depth (gambler, drinker, spurned human and lover, slovenly eater, etc.) that when we reach a film that removes the focus from the depth of Zatoichi’s character, it’s easy to find the film wanting even though it excels in many aspects of pure, visual cinema and storytelling. Some rank this as a favorite Zat-pic, but my meager notes on the film seem to corroborate my latent sense that the film belongs in the second tier of Zatoichi.

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Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (1964)

I’m going to again cite my notebook:

“The first of the Zatoichi films that feels B-grade in execution. Lesser film stock (?). More blood. Some gratuitous (!). But the story engages, unlike prior On the Road. More Zatoichi quirks and more of the worst of humanity on display.”

This is Zatoichi moonlighting in an exploitation sandbox. The casting of Tomisaburo Wakayama (who would later star in Lone Wolf and Cub) as the villain sets up certain expectations. Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold delivers on all of it.

A face-value uglier Zatoichi picture, Chest of Gold foreground stunts and action choreography. This is the type of Zatoichi picture that’ll take you by surprise now that you’re in the Zatoichi groove. The narrative concerns some missing tax money. Zatoichi, who happens to be in town to pay his respects to a dead man, of course, gets blamed. He’s an outsider, a blind man. As “the other” he’s certainly to blame. Money turns average men into monsters. At first, Zatoichi, the noble warrior, attempts to navigate the fracas with logic and reason. Soon the logic and reason gives way to bloodshed and violence because evil men get what they deserve.

An arterial geyser spray might shock you. It’s the first truly magnificent bloodshed in the series. It certainly took me by surprise. It also took my daughters (ages 7 and 4 at the time) by surprise as I’d been letting them tune in to my Zatoichi marathons because the bloodletting had been nonexistent and death scenes mere chest-clutching.

Make no mistake, daughters also find blood geysers to be great fun.

Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, however, only serves as a ramp up to the next Zatoichi picture.

 

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Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword (1964)

Again, my notes:

“So that scene where Zatoichi leads his combatants into the river before dropping beneath the water and attacking like a killer m’f’ing sword-wielding shark.

AND THEN THAT SCENE IN THE DARK CORRIDOR. HOLY MOLY DID I LOVE THIS ONE.”

I had some other thoughts but they lack the all caps.

Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword also from Chest of Gold director Kazuo Ikehiro takes everything I loved about the former picture and turns it up to 11. The film opens slowly. Some goofy and occasionally funny comedy at the expense of Zatoichi’s blindness dominates the first third. The casual cruelty stands as another blemish on humanity. Everyone, it seems, can’t help but demean our hero. The film indulges in a small dose of slapstick — a refreshing re-introduction after the grimmer Chest of Gold.

The narrative again pits two villages against each other in a local squabble over river-crossing fees. One guy charges too little. He believes river-crossing is a right! The other guy wants to create a monopoly and bleed the poor river-crossers dry! BWAHAHA! Between the long stretches of political machinations and goofy comedy, you’ll be wondering you’re ever going to see Zatoichi’s sword again, let alone a flashing sword.

And then the whole film shifts in a moment. Zatoichi flips his “Jules Winnfield path of the righteous man” switch and suddenly Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword becomes one of the most innovative and majestic swordplay bloodbaths in cinema history. THIS IS NOT HYPERBOLE. Well, maybe a little. BUT IT’S NOT.

Your ultimate opinion of the film rests on how strongly you value the action set-pieces contained in the final third of the film. The film lacks a consistent, driving purpose. Zatoichi again attempts to navigate politics without bloodshed, but power-hungry maniacs only respond to violence.

To give you a taste of the transcendent set pieces:

Zatoichi lures a handful of skilled combatants into the water and then drops into the murk where he systematically drops them one by one (see above shark comment).

Zatoichi massacres an entire army of swordsman while fireworks light his gnarled, angry face. A rare occurrence when Zatoichi’s placid exterior falls alway in the face of pure evil.

Lastly, there’s this brilliant moment of pure cinema when Zatoichi lures his attackers into a pitch-black house. Zatoichi runs through the house extinguishing the candles to eliminate their advantage. Shades of Barry Lyndon — as the entire scene was shot using only the ambient candlelight.. at least until the scene goes black except for the contrast of shadow versus complete blackness.

I still get giddy when I think about that last scene.

 

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Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (1964)

Ironically, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight features the least amount of fighting on any Zatoichi film.

Notes:

“An emotionally resonant entry in the Zatoichi series that punctuates our hero’s inability to trust or love. It’s not that he’s unwilling; it’s that he recognizes the consequences for anyone that loves or depends on him. He’s forced to give up a baby to which he’s promised his undying care. He abandons the woman who’s professed her love. He once again heads out, alone and heartbroken, into a world of moral turpitude.”

F, Z, F forces Zatoichi into the role of caregiver as he attempts to deliver an orphaned baby to its father. After the badassery of Flashing Sword, director Kenji Misumi tones down Zatoichi’s sword skills and brings back the emotional resonance missing from the last few films. In many ways, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight is a gut punch. The plight of the newly orphaned baby mirrors Zatoichi’s sense of homelessness. He doesn’t belong. Without family, without love, without a home, Zatoichi wanders this world looking for acceptance.

At one point, Zatoichi doesn’t have money or food. In order to sooth the hungry child he offers his own nipple for suckling, merely hoping the child will find a moment of peace.

Current Zatoichi rankings:

  1. Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword (Z7)
  2. Tale of Zatoichi (Z1)
  3. Zatoichi the Fugitive (Z4)
  4. Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (Z8)
  5. Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (Z6)
  6. Tale of Zatoichi Continues (Z2)
  7. Zatoichi on the Road (Z5)
  8. A New Tale of Zatoichi (Z3)

8 down. 18 more to go. Zatoichi will return in So Zatoichi is kinda like James Bond, except blind – Vol. 3.

 

 

 

 

One Man Up (2001, Paolo Sorrentino)

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I’ve been calling myself a fan of The Young Pope director Paolo Sorrentino for a while but I’d never seen his debut movie One Man Up. I reckon I’ve got a decent alibi for this Cinema Shame entry as the film didn’t get a UK cinema release only becoming available as part of a pricey (£60) Sorrentino box-set in 2011. It’s always interesting going back and looking at a director’s first film, especially if they have developed their own distinctive style. One Man Up is more understated than his later films but there a few hints of the visual flamboyance to come in films like The Great Beauty, notably an elaborate dream sequence featuring ballerinas.

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Despite the title it’s a film about two men, one a footballer and the other an ageing rock star. Like the dual protagonists of The Double Life of Veronique (91, Krzysztof Kieslowski) they share the same name and seem to have some kind of otherworldly connection. However they are not mirror images of each other like Veronique/Veronika. Antonio Pisapia (Andrea Renzi) is a quiet man, a centre-half for a Seria A team who sports the classic mullet and moustache combination favoured by defenders in the 1980’s. Tony Pisapia (Toni Servilla) is a hedonistic pop singer who still dresses like it’s the 70s’ and performs his greatest hits to his loyal fanbase then drags his middle-aged entourage out to nightclubs when they’d rather be at home with their families.

Photo 14-04-2017, 21 02 02We first meet Antonio during the half-time break in a match they’re clearly losing. You can tell by the way the manager (Italo Celero) takes off his jacket, swings it over his head, then throws it across the room, before launching into a spectacular rant targeting each player individually for abuse but also telling them what they should be doing out there on the pitch. While his teammates are terrified and stare at the floor, Antonio calmly offers tactical advice to his disbelieving manager. When it’s rejected he storms out of the dressing room and out onto the pitch where he takes the acclaim of the crowd.

Both of these introductions hint at their downfall. Antonio’s separateness from his teammates is emphasised in a later scene where he refuses a bribe to throw a match. One of the players who wanted to take the money goes studs up in a 50/50 challenge in training and destroys Antonio’s leg. Tony’s decision to bed a young admirer he meets in the nightclub costs him dearly when his wife catches them together and points out the girl is clearly underage. The Pisapia’s find themselves in limbo. Their careers are over but they’re still recognisable everywhere they go. Tony is probably going to jail, but Antonio has planned for this moment. He has developed his own tactical system and wants to try out his new ideas as a coach but nobody’s willing to take a chance on an untried young manager. Even his former club fobs him off with an empty promise of a job at some point in the future.

Sorrentino films pretty much all tell a similar story about an isolated male protagonist (usually a creative) struggling to connect with those around him. They either come to terms with some past traumatic event or destroy themselves. In The Consequences of Love an exiled mafia accountant puts his life in danger when he falls in love with a barmaid at the hotel he’s hiding out in. The Family Friend subversively reworks Beauty and the Beast into a tale of a vicious loan shark being tricked out of his fortune by a young woman. Sean Penn’s Robert Smith inspired rock star leaves his reclusive Irish home to hunt down the Nazi war criminal who tortured his father in This Must Be the Place, while in The Great Beauty Jep Gambardella’s hack writer is shocked out of his hedonistic complacency by the death of an old lover. Both protagonists in One Man Up fall into this category of being creatives at a moment of crisis in their lives, though to be honest I was only interested in one of them.

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Antonio is loosely based on ex-Roma captain Agostino Di Bartolomei who struggled with depression after retiring from the game and eventually took his own life at the age of 41. There are plenty of films about rock stars finding themselves (Sorrentino revisits this theme with This Must Be The Place) but One Man Up is the only film I can think of about a footballer coming to terms with ageing out of their profession. It’s a portrait of somebody slowly drifting away from their own life. The attempts to create some otherworldly connection between the two men feels like warmed over Kieslowski and just gets in the way of the more interesting story. Maybe the contrast is needed between the two leads though to appreciate Renzi’s quietly moving performance. Servillo is a commanding performer and would go on to become Sorrentino’s regular leading man, but it’s Renzi who is the heart of the film.

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When accepting his Academy Award for The Great Beauty Sorrentino thanked Federico Fellini and Diego Maradona. It is clear he regards both men as being equals in terms of artistry. Maradona even appears as a character (though not sadly played by the real one) in Youth, while Cardinal Voiello in The Young Pope is an avid Napoli fan and relaxes by watching old clips of the Argentine legend on Youtube. It wouldn’t surprise me if once he’s finished with his HBO series Sorrentino follows it up with a biopic of Maradona.

Episode 4: The Marx Brothers / Greg Sahadachny

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Greg Sahadachny (@mistergreggles) atones for his sins against classic comedy by watching not only one, but two Marx Brothers films — Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera. Along the way to redemption, we also discuss the Marx Brothers entire showbiz career from vaudeville to their final films together at United Artists, the history of cinematic comedy, perils of intellectualism, and the fate of modern cinematic funnymen like Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler. Later on, Will McKinley (@WillMcKinley) answers our call to the Old Movie Weirdo Hotline to discuss his childhood connection to the Marxes (and scrambled pornography).

Subscribe on iTunes / Stitcher Radio

CREDITS:

Talking Heads:

James David Patrick (@007hertzrumble) – Host, longtime Marx Brothers fan.

Greg Sahadachny (@mistergreggles) – Podcaster extraordinaire. Credits include The Debatable Podcast.

Will McKinley (@willmckinley) – Switchboard operator of the Old Movie Weirdo Hotline

Direct download (right click, save as): http://traffic.libsyn.com/cinemashame/CinemaShame4_Marx_Brothers.mp3

Music Contained in this Podcast:

“Everyone Says I Love You” – written by Bert Kalmer, Harry Ruby

“Cosi-Cosa” – written by Ned Washington, Bronislaw Kaper and Walter Jurmann; performed by Allan Jones

Supplementary Materials:

Groucho:  The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx

The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection Blu-ray

The Marx Brothers Collection (MGM/UA) DVD 

Harpo Speaks by Harpo Marx, Rowland Barber

Brain Donors – Warner Archive DVD

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Recorded on April 21, 2017 and May 5, 2017.

Copyrights are owned by the artists and their labels. Negative dollars are made from this podcast.

Episode 3: The Godfather / Carlin Trammel

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Carlin Trammel (@nerdlunch) confesses his sins against cinema. My guest today runs the SHAME! gauntlet to discuss his resistance to watching the Godfather and how he overcame that barrier with a little help from Cinema Shame. We talk about the film’s cultural omnipresence, the state of the Godfather as a “man’s movie,” play the Shamely Feud and discuss the moral compass of Don Vito Corleone.

CREDITS:

Talking Heads:

James David Patrick (@007hertzrumble) – Writer of fiction and non-, former entertainment journalist, host.

Carlin Trammel (@nerdlunch) – Podcast impresario. Credits include Nerd Lunch, Dragonfly Ripple and Pod, James Pod.

 

Music Contained in this Podcast:

Nino Rota – The Love Theme from the Godfather

Nino Rota – The Godfather Waltz

Big Daddy Kane – The Beef is On 

Family Feud Theme

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Recorded on March 1, 2017 and April 22, 2017.

Copyrights are owned by the artists and their labels. Negative dollars are made from this podcast.

RENT (2005)

No, I didn’t see the play. But there is a film. And here I was watching it, just a few hours ago. It wasn’t on my original list for this year, but today I wanted to just sit down and watch something. I clicked around Hulu, looking for some classics because I was in the mood for catching up on an old film. But there I saw the film version of Rent from 2005, directed by Christopher Columbus and featuring some familiar names.

I have never listened through the soundtrack all the way through, though I am familiar with a bunch of the major musicals.

Mostly I want to talk about the cinematography. I mean, mostly I want to talk about a lot of things about shooting cinematic takes on Manhattan. And mostly I want to write like the person I had envisioned myself becoming.