Monday, March 26, 2007

165. After the Fall

Seijun Suzuki is exhausting; he refuses to look on Creation and say "It is good." Maybe that's because he comes to it, as we all do, so late in the day, long after the quiet promise of dawn--you know about that, don't you? How day is to follow dawn, and so on, until they are well-measured and long, balanced by steady revolutions of sun and moon? That promise? Well, here we are now, the indulged languor gone, the hunger having peaked about mid-morning, and all promises broken by lunchtime to fill our bellies with meat, years of it.

Suzuki sees this state of affairs pretty clearly, despite the fact that--ah; because?—he didn't have two yen to rub together. So the one he did have he fired in his modest melting pot, and poured into his audience's ears, like Claudius with his brother Hamlet, a teaspoon of lava from the scarier part of "the deep heart’s core." This poison, though, wakes you up--OK, with a yelp and a groan; but you nonetheless have no doubt you’ve been poisoned; and here's another analogy: You're Edmond O'Brien in D.O.A. watching your death-clock, until you're out of time and you drop so fast that no one can break your fall.

The odd thing is, in a Suzuki movie his characters--and his audience--in a queasy kind of way have some fun on the way down. In Gate of Flesh we see post-War Japan through a scowl, with the Americans drunk and consuming everything in sight, then hanging in tatters from Tokyo's charred walls like movie posters, mocking with the promise of happy endings. And Suzuki's band of prostitutes will have nothing to do with broken vows; they create their own world, with its own code, like Plato's cave, in which the worst one wins. But despite the nausea of the world turned upside-down, Suzuki gives us color and even a kind of humor, albeit rough as the torture-punishments the prostitutes inflict upon one another for falling in love--evidenced, of course, by doing it for free--but still with a crooked grin that ripples just below or along the movie's surface, a sly Suzuki tickle, setting us up for the punchline, but not without warning. Pie-eyed and feckless, the girls and their adopted tough guy, at least for a while, sing and joke, rough-house and tease--until, of course, the day goes on, and the bright primary colors they wear turn cheap, smearing easily and dripping like blood from a pulp-fiction dagger.

When I was young the whiff of a grindhouse* movie was both enticing and troubling, like something delicious burning. I knew the print version already--E.C. comics, certain Charles Addams cartoons, the Cold Warriors of '50s science fiction, Roughnecks all--and consumed regular doses of cinematic big bugs and tipsy saucers; but true grindhouse often--and thankfully--eluded my sight, except for some unexpected arrivals, such as Mark of the Devil when I was in eighth grade, and I think a bit young to spend any length of time with Udo Kier. I remember audience members were given "barf bags," and I felt a little sick just holding the damn thing. Such tender sensibilities; but still, I was eager to pry open the rusty downtown film cans of exploitation cinema, and "hoped" I could one day see Color Me Blood Red and Carnival of Blood and Blood Feast—a pattern emerges, like a seeping stain. And stupid me, I eventually got my wish, and still do. Gate of Flesh reminds me that the line between a "nudie-cutie" and a "roughie" is as mushy as the corpus callosum, and while it also may be as important, it too is better off untouched. In the end, Suzuki's instructions make sense only if you want to dismantle stuff; this can be a good thing, especially with bombs and tyrannies. But it's nerve-wracking, and one should rest a long time between attempts.

*I'm not going to say anything about the upcoming Tarantino/Rodriguez movie; I'm sure it will have its moments. (I will be forever grateful that Kill Bill introduced me to the music of The's.) And who am I to sneer at affectionate parody? I loved the Blues Brothers, and they ripped off the Real Deals at least as much as Tarantino and Co. Still, I did know most of the original versions before I bought Briefcase Full of Blues. Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S., anyone?


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