Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Made at a time when the British were coming (alledgedly), the intervening years have not been kind to Company Of Wolves. It still looks gorgeous, and has a worryingly attractive young female lead in Sarah Patterson, but the idea of taking old fairy tales and goreing them up seems... well... a bit passe, really.

The story (such that it is - the film is really an excuse for a series of setpieces loosely based on the short stories of Angela Carter) concerns a girl who has shut herself in her bedroom, put on her sister's make-up and fallen asleep. She then dreams that her annoying sister has been killed by wolves in a Grimm Fairy Tales forest setting, and the rest of the film shows the results of the not-real tragedy.

All very odd, made odder by of having the girl wake up and fall asleep again, making things change and jarring the plot into dream-like incoherence.

"So if you should spy on a naked man in the wood, run as if the Devil himself were after you!
Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet!"
At points she's listening to granny (Angela Lansbury) telling fairy stories and warning of men who are "hairy on the inside" and whose eyebrows meet in the middle, then she's telling tales of her own to her mourning mother. Meanwhile dad (the always-confused David "From Beyond The Grave" Warner) is busy hoping to hunt down the guilty wolf.

Unfortunately, for a film which glories in its werewolf transformations, the effects aren't really up to much. They're not a patch on American Werewolf In London (which predates it by a good three years) and they look distinctly plasticky.

One man rips his face off to bring the wolf out, another has the wolf in him burst out through his mouth. And in the most famous sequence, a bunch of Regency revellers have their party cut short when a pregnant redhead turns them all into confused-looking Alsations (hairy knockers ahoy!).

We're also denied the pleasure of seeing Angela Lansbury getting torn to shreds by a wolf - when it's her turn to bite the dust, she turns into a porcelain doll, T'pau video-style. Well, it was the mid 80s, I suppose.

The sexual imagery is also layed on with a trowel - Rosaleen (Patterson) experiments with make-up (much like Anna in the similar but better Paperhouse) as she turns into a woman, and of course she paints her lips big and red. The giant mushrooms peppered about the set are ridiculously phallic, and despite granny's warnings not to "stray from the path", she does so - with devastating results. That'll teach her.

Everyone concerned with making Company Of Wolves seemed to think they were making high art, but to modern audiences it's just not that clever.

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A bag full of symbolic folklore about werewolves, or, rather, their sexual connotation. Granny tells her granddaughter Rosaleen strange, disturbing tales about innocent maidens falling in love with handsome, heavily eyebrowed strangers with a smoldering look in their eyes; about sudden disappearances of spouses when the moon is round & the wolves are howling in the woods; about babies found inside stork eggs, in a stork nest high up a tree; etc., etc. Of course the story of Little Red Ridinghood is also present, with a very handsome he-wolf! (And of course this he-wolf consumes Grandmother, but 'consumes' Little Red Ridinghood). All the stories are somehow reducible to loss of innocence, and fear of/hunger for (a newly acquired sense of) sexuality; their Freudian character is mirrored in their dreamlike shapes. This movie is not really a horror movie; it's more a multiple tale about growing up into adolescence.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Persona (1966)

Persona is a film by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, released in 1966, and starring Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann. Bergman held this film to be one of his most important; in his book Images, he writes: "Today I feel that in Persona—and later in Cries and Whispers—I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instances when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover." He also said that

At some time or other, I said that Persona saved my life—that is no exaggeration. If I had not found the strength to make that film, I would probably have been all washed up. One significant point: for the first time I did not care in the least whether the result would be a commercial success...

Bergman wrote Persona during nine weeks while recovering from pneumonia. During filming Bergman wanted to call the film A Bit of Cinematography. His producer suggested something more accessible and the title of the film was changed. Persona is a minimalist film: although five actors appear onscreen, Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann are the only ones to appear for more than a minute, and Elisabet Vogler (Ullmann's character) speaks only fourteen words in the film. There are no dressing-props; only items the characters use are shown onscreen. The imagery is dominated by extreme contrast, with the cottage scenes being drenched by intense sunlight that washes the image out in a white glare, and the actors wearing solid black costumes, simple hairstyles, and no make-up.

Persona is considered one of the major works of the 20th century by essayists and critics such as Susan Sontag, who referred to it as Bergman's masterpiece. Other critics have described it as "one of this century’s great works of art". In Sight and Sound’s 1972 poll of the ten greatest films of all time, Persona was ranked at number five.

Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part01
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part02
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part03
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part04
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part05
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part06
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part07
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part08
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part09
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part10
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part11
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part12
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part13
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part14
Ingmar Bergman - Persona Part15