Tag Archive: Story


The Misandrists: It’s… interesting…

The Misandrists by director Bruce LaBruce is… interesting. I’ve been mulling it over in my head for a few days now and I think in a way it needs to be taken more as an experience than a traditional story-driven film. By virtue of its director alone it is a transgressive film and an almost conceptual one. The closest analogy that comes to mind is Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, which was about the death dream of a dying drug dealer. Both films are intense, visual, helmed by extremely creative outside-the-box artists and films I have no intention of ever seeing again. This is not so much because I don’t think highly of the films. Rather it is because now that I’ve seen each once, I just don’t need to do it again. I think for those, like myself, who are raised on a relatively mainstream diet of cinema, watching these kinds of films is a good exercise. It is a way to view the world of cinematic storytelling through a new lens and be exposed to new ideas. A nice place to visit, but perhaps you don’t want to live there.

What follows in this article is a breakdown of things I noticed as I was watching the film, supplemented a bit by an after-film interview by the director himself. Because I came to the theater expecting a more traditional work, I kept trying to figure out how everything fit together. If the film is understood as a more abstract work, however, perhaps the traditional complaints will fall away. It will still be an intense experience, but there might be fewer questions about what is going on.

Storytelling

Dancing Nun

My issues really revolve around choices in scenes that appear during the film. These choices, for me, amounted to a lot of unnecessary misdirection. This might be partially my fault as I tried to understand where the film was going. As I mentioned before, a better strategy might have been to just absorb the film and mull the overall meaning later. That said, the first scene to take note of was the “Dancing Nun” scene. This was a moment when a nun, whose face isn’t seen, walks very purposefully and slowly before looking around and then breaking into dance. This happens for a moment, then the nun returns to walking purposefully and slowly again.

A couple things to note here. First of all, it’s established earlier in the film that the nun outfits are mostly just ruses. Unless there’s someone in authority nearby, the outfits are never worn. Secondly, there’s no real connection in this scene to the rest of the film. It’s just a strange non-sequiter. Perhaps it could be taken as a symbolic moment (perhaps some idea of being reserved and disciplined, but being unable to prevent loosening up once in a while.) Even if that were true, however, there seems to be no immediate connection to the rest of the film. As mentioned earlier, the very idea of wearing a nun’s outfit on a regular basis seems odd given that it was clearly initially worn by characters in the film as disguise.

Secret Nun

The next issue revolves around a cameo by the director himself. In one scene, a nun’s face appears and looks out into a courtyard where an event is taking place. That “nun” is the director in a nun’s outfit. The pupose of this moment made sense in the interview after the film, but it completely misled me prior to that point. In the interview after the film, Bruce LaBruce mentioned that he liked to make the audience part of the film. This “secret nun” moment was part of that. Essentially, the camera watches the nun look out the window and then cuts to view the courtyard from the nun’s perspective. The problem here is that, without the benefit of the after-film interview, it appears as if the secret nun is an actual character. I certainly took it that way. Until the interview, I really kept trying to figure out who this nun character was. I kept expecting to find out that this secret character was in fact controlling the events of the film while hidden way. Watching the film in this context made me feel there was a real unresolved storyline.

Big Mother

Speaking about unresolved, I feel there were some issues surrounding the character of Big Mother that were not properly laid to rest. In particular, there were a number of cues that seemed to me to indicate that Big Mother was heading towards failure. The first indication is very early in the film when one of the girls, Isolde, openly voices opposition to Big Mother’s policies. Doing this so early in the film sets the tone for a tale of authority versus resistance. This thread continues on with a discussion of rules about smoking. This is forbidden by Big Mother in the film, but everyone, including Big Mother herself breaks the rules casually. Thus Big Mother’s authority is false, even to herself.

To be honest, the whole environment Big Mother has set up feels cultish and artificial. The girls are regularly told stories that revolve around mythology and could easily have been made up. The exercise regimen includes pseudo-militarized chanting. Educational material is delivered with such heavy modification that it is reduced to propaganda. In a replay of the false authority issues mentioned earlier, the girls are shown as not even listening to the teacher. In the meantime Big Mother is extolling the virtues of prostitution as she prepares to enact a plan to create a pornographic film. One she admits needs to be done for money while declaring that it will also be her group’s manifesto.

The Ending

The above issues seem to mean the film is headed to an ending of disappointment for Big Mother. In reality, the plan ends in complete victory. Big Mother makes her film resulting, among other thigs, an ending scene showing the audience of her film inspired into an orgy. This didn’t make much sense to me from the standpoint of a logical plot, but the reasoning behind it was made clear in the after-film interview. The interviewer noted that Bruce LaBruce tends to end his films with orgies. LaBruce confirmed this and indicated that he likes to end films on a positive note, which for him would be an orgy. This is fine, but it is a significant break from all the cues being delivered throughout the film. This more than anything else brings the film into the world of magic reality. Essentially, it is a confirmation that the film is a conceptual exercise rather than a more conventional tale. Were I so inclined to see the film a second time (I really don’t think I will be), I would try to view the film through that perspective.

Conclusion

None of the above should promote the idea that I think the film is bad. It’s certainly the product of strong creative vision. I also think it was worthwhile to see the film if for no other reason than to step outside my regular diet of cinema. It’s important to be exposed to new and alternative ideas once in a while. For purveyors of mainstream films, I would recommend taking The Misandrists as a magic reality film. I feel, after some thought on the subject, that it is more of a presentation of a particular idea or theme rather than any traditional narrative. Audiences, particularly mainstream audiences, should absorb the film as an experience and try to understand the events seen in a somewhat symbolic or non-literal manner.

Please be aware, however, that no matter how you approach the film, it will be an intense and, in some parts, deeply unsettling experience. If you’ve seen Bruce LaBruce films before, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, well… good luck.

Concerns About Ghost In The Shell

Ghost in the Shell Live Action FilmThe upcoming live-action Ghost in the Shell film captures the look of the anime films, but does it capture the soul? View full article »

This may surprise some, but I had never seen the original or “final cut” of Blade Runner. The first viewing of the film that I can recollect was the Director’s Cut with the added ending sequence. For years, I thought that was the actual final cut of the film, not the director’s version. This past Friday at the NuArt theater in Los Angeles I was surprisingly corrected.

For years, at least since 2002 or so, the NuArt has been showing “Midnight Movies” on Friday nights. Here film buffs get to see a wide variety of cult films, art films and more. Naturally, when the listing for the “Final Cut” of Blade Runner popped up, I had to go. Wow. What an eye-opener.

Hard-Boiled Sci-Fi Noir

It’s thematically a completely different film. It’s almost worthwhile to own both the Final Cut and the Director’s Cut just to compare them. The lack of narrationĀ  turns the film on its head. It’s no longer about the philosophical question of humanity and “human-ness”, but instead a hard-boiled detective story set in the future, featuring a burned out investigator.

The change was noticeable from the first moment of the expository text crawling across the screen. Although having someone read words that are already on the screen isn’t generally a good idea, the weight of the voice went a long way towards setting the tone for the film. Further, the introduction of Deckard, the burnt out investigator feels remarkably empty. It looks like the any noir pulp detective intro. With the narration, we get an instant sense of Deckard’s character, his world-weariness and his place in the world. This plays through all the major character introductions of the film.

When Deckard “retires” his first target, the narration leaves a noticeably void in the story. We seethe gunshots, we watch the carnage, but we lose the philosophical questions that Deckard brings up about killing. We see him act in a stressed manner, but its hard to tell if it’s the result of the beating, the chase, or the moral ramifications of what he has done.

A Curt and Empty Ending

Roy Batty’s death scene is a thing of beauty. What gives the scene its weight is the acting. What gives the scene a satisfying cap is Deckard’s narration. Here, he comes to an understanding of what motivated Batty, his final target for retirement. Unfortunately, this understanding is almost completely lost because in the Final Cut version of this film, there is no narration! The realization of the motivations of his opponents and what that meant is completely gone, leaving a sort of thematic void in the moment.

The final ending of the film is given short shrift in the Final Cut version. Deckard returns home, finds his romantic counterpart and they leave, noting that Gaff, Deckard’s rival had been there first. That’s it. Again, the narration that would have explained the significance of this is critically missing. Further, a final section is left out that provides closure to the entire story.

Incomplete or Simply Different?

On it’s own, Blade Runner the Final Cut is more or less a noir film. We know who the good guys are, we know who that bad guys are and we know they are trying to kill each other. That’s the movie, basically. The standard Ridley Scott brilliance is there in each frame so the film stands on its own in a visual artistic sense. The problem for me is that I saw the actual vision Ridley Scott imagined.

For someone not already exposed to the Director’s Cut, I think Blade Runner is a good sci-fi noir film. It’s beautifully shot, and many of the scenes still resonate. For someone like me who practically grew up on the Director’s Cut, the film is incomplete. The question of morality and humanity is gone because critical pieces of the puzzle are missing. The ending is not satisfying because there is no final cap to the story. It just sort of ends with Deckard walking off.

Conclusion

Seeing the “Final Cut” version of the film was an eye-opener. I’m glad I did, but in the end I prefer the Director’s Cut more. Fortunately, I’ll have to a chance to finally see that one in theaters. It’s going to be shown at the NuArt the Friday after New Year’s. A sci-fi classic is a great way to begin the new year!

 

Writer Alan Moore on Superheroes as Cultural Catastrophe

The Guardian has a new interview up with noted comic book writer Alan Moore (of Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fame). He notes the difficulties he’s been having with allegations that his work is racist or features rape too heavily. In Mr. Moore’s defense, he never really shied away from an issue that he wanted to confront, be it racism, sexism, child abuse or other serious issues. What’s interesting, however, is his take on the current interest in superheroes. According to the interview, he states:

It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.

The inherent problem with this statement is that it ignores the fact that the cultures of previous eras are constantly woven into the fabric of the cultures of current eras. That is to say, we take from the past and incorporate into the present. Although superheroes are the current fad (it comes and goes and seems to have since the 70s at least), it could just as easily been knights or pirates. In fact, in Watchmen, Moore posits a world where superheroes are real, leaving the comic books in the story to cover other subjects like pirates and whatnot.

The point is that superheroes, like knights and pirates, are subjects of parables, myths and legends. They are all stories that we tell ourselves to engender a moral or ethical direction. To promote building character or deal with loss or pain. In this, they are relatively timeless. Their fantastical nature allows them to be woven into the fabric of almost any type of story in almost any type of era.

In the end, it isn’t the actual subject of a story that defines the culture of an era, but the story itself. That the story incorporates superheroes really speaks more to a fad of the time than the attempt to escape the realities of the time. We would agree more with Mr. Moore’s statement if he noted that the current interest in superheroes also came with a lack of addressing the issues of our day, but this isn’t the case. As has happened since the days of the ancient Greeks, we use stories to analyze our culture and our place within it, and that will render the artifacts of the story, such as superheroes, continually relevant.