Taiyo Matsumoto is tough for me to write about in any kind of formal fashion. Not sure why. I think maybe some of it may be that he’s such an old influence for me—like I came into his work before Nihei or Daisuke Igarashi—maybe even before Inio Asano-though Asano hasn’t really influenced me artistically—but I think how I got there was I was reading Stray Toasters because when I was first sort of starting to figure out how to draw, I practiced by redrawing Frazetta and BWS, but I was looking at like Sienkiewicz and Ashley Wood—anyways so I was reading Stray Toasters, and my wife of the time saw one of the panels in it, and was like “oh wow, that’s Klimt”—so I went and looked up Klimt and was like “whoa” which led me to Schiele which was a life changing moment. As soon as I saw Schiele I knew there was something in there that I just FELT, and I wanted to explore that feeling through my own work and find my own expression through it.
So in trying to figure out how to take Schiele into comics I ran into Taiyo Matsumoto’s work. I think Tekkinkinkreet was the first work of his I read, then No. 5, then Gogo Monster, then Ping Pong, then Takemitsu Zamurai, and now Sunny. Ping Pong and Takemitsu Zamurai are prolly my fave works by him, with Gogo Monster a close third. But these works were huge to me, and I mean eventually I found Daisuke Igarashi—and I think Daisuke is even closer to my like platonic ideal of comics than even Taiyo is—but Taiyo was key. Maybe THE key. At least after Schiele. So there’s a lot of emotional investment with Taiyo.
So I was really ready for Sunny when I first saw the scanulated pages and once I learned it was coming out officially in the US, I stopped reading those pages and just waited. What excited me with Sunny was that in Takemitsu Zamurai Taiyo really found this incredible dynamic and expressive way to really sort of put his line in the forefront. And he ditched a lot of the heavier rendering techniques that were kind of holding that line down, and just trusted his brush for textures and tones— and it was amazing.
So when I first saw Sunny, I was like—well this is the logical end point of this like 30 year progression of his style. So I was crazy for this book.
But when I finally got it, that first volume was really brutal for me. The dynamism that I expected, and the expressionism was really paired back, and I thought the first book really started to highlight for me Taiyo’s inadequacies as a writer compared to someone like Igarashi, or Inio Asano.
I thought that the over abundance of these water color inks with just a lot of heavy black—and less sort of body bending compared to previous works that it looked like a children’s book almost. It had this “literary” stuffiness to it that really lacked the psychosis of Taiyo’s older work. Which was a shame, because Sunny was meant to be such a painful personal story of Taiyo’s own upbringing—but it seemed even the story had a restraint—like the dark corners of what was really going on were very hemmed in and restrained—almost sanitized. The whole thing had me really down on his work as a whole, and I was really considering how I thought about Taiyo’s work as a whole, and what role it would play for me going forward.
But out of trust I kept up with it, and…oof it was rough for awhile. It took me four months to read the second volume just because it was so demoralizing to me how much I didn’t like it—and I was just going to be done with the series there—but the last story of the second volume it finally hit me. This is the story about Haruo visiting his mother in Tokyo. And finally, FINALLY I had what I needed to hold on with the story. Haruo is absolutely the star of this book, and it’s because he is in some ways the most unrestrained character in the book—even as he is the most kind of fucked up and emotional too. He is a type of character that Taiyo has done really well in a lot of different books—he is kind of a combo of both black and white—because he has the coolness of black, even as he has the manic-ness of white. And initially Junsuke is kind of set up as the white character of this book—but I don’t think it really works quite the same, and anyways—so this Haruo chapter largely works in the loud unsaid howl of Haruo’s whole way of being. And really after this chapter it feels like Taiyo has finally found his footing with these large cast of characters—because after that there’s the great Megumu chapter, the Makio chapter—he’s figured out that this book is kind of about this kind of emotional frailty of these children, even as they are intensely strong in their abilities to adapt—but that that adaptation has it’s cost, and for as much as the adults around the star kids do their best—the damage of being discarded by your parents is real.
I also think by the third volume the stylistic choices by Matsumoto are much more in balance. After all of these styles he can approach a panel in any number of ways—and where the first volume I thought was quite rigid, and maybe it was just about nailing down the baseline style of for the book—there seems to be more of the sense by volume 3 of a master using his whole toolkit and knowing when to kick this kind of style in one panel vs. another.
I think fundamentally the strength of Taiyo’s work for his whole career is that he doesn’t just tell you here is a boy doing this thing—he gives you something more about the boy at that particular time just in the way his line jitters, or the way the shadow will cloud a face—and maybe the shadow will be these impressionistic brush strokes—or maybe it will be more traditional cross hatching techniques? But the choice always was about communicating something beyond simply what is physically there in the scene.
The Makio chapter in vol. 3 is an excellent showcase for this versatility of skill, and the pointedness of Matsumoto’s choices. We see this impressionistic jittering of styles that shift and change depending on the role that Makio is performing—so when he is more of an adult with his girlfriend at the restaurant—everything is very stable and adult, makio has his really heavily hatched sports coat which really restrains his form and constricts him. But later when he is playing baseball with the star kids, the coat is gone, and his form is stretched and bending and has less weight. That beautiful panel of Makio as a mountain climber. His face rendered heavily, inside of just these really beautiful loose lines and brush strokes. We don’t know exactly what he’s thinking in that moment—but it still is the climax of the chapter. It is the most truthful expression of Makio as the man he has become. It is his most honest portrayal so far in the book(though the earlier Makio chapter in Sunny is also pretty good).
It was interesting I started to watch the anime adaption of Ping Pong that Masaaki Yuasa is directing and while it is it’s own weird thing separate from the manga—it’s interesting to see other artists try to duplicate what Matsumoto does, and copy his lines—-and while I’m enjoying it all, and it is gorgeous—it isn’t Taiyo. When you have a style so hinged on an almost signitory movement of the line—it is uncopyable in that way. A line like that is so personal and so expressing and so singular. And it’s different to see the comic where Taiyo is just expressing himself, vs. an anime where others are trying to express Taiyo to others—and the effect is really interesting and bizarre. But it speaks to my own convictions about the line and how the line is everything. To really get up close with an artist’s line, it’s like…a fingerprint. And I love that with Taiyo that element is so up front. These are stories and they come from a place inside of me and all of my experiences to this point. That’s on the page. You don’t need to bring anything outside to glean that. You look at it and it tells you everything. It’s the same thing I think that causes some people to not be able to look at Schiele’s work. Because that line is so disturbing. There’s a deep psychosis there that can make people really uncomfortable. But it’s so beautiful to me. So simple but so beautiful. So yeah, I’ve come back around on Sunny.
A Story of My Death is a spanish film written and directed by Albert Serra about basically Casanova vs. Dracula, or romance and death—or like…eating.
It’s really more a film about the night, and what people do at night. Dinner. Conversation. Fucking. Defecation. Death. Murder.
The composition for the film is largely this classical triangular pattern of threes that every scene kind of orients itself around, and by using natural light and candle light for the lighting sources, it has the quality of like a Rembrandt painting maybe.
Casanova is always eating, always talking. He finds everything fascinating, and is amused at his own shit. This is contrasted by the more silent, brooding, sexuality of Dracula—and there is a dichotomy set up between people’s appetite for pleasure vs. pain with the conclusion being that people seem to find the latter more alluring.
But that’s not wholey correct, because the jury in this are these three daughters who are basically slaves to their world, and who see its upheaval and destruction as to their advantage—and for them pain is something they already experience with Casanova’s world where their experiences are barely recognized let alone empowered. Dracula offers them agency and empowerment. His main selling point to the olderst daughter isn’t actually sex—but her being able to learn to read and paint.
This gives us one of the more stunning images in the film where she flays her father while Dracula watches. Initially when they are talking about doing this, Dracula proposes leaving him there to bleed like a pig, but Delfina corrects him and says they will leave him there like a calf. The distinction is important because while a pig is exhorbant and greedy in appetite, which is how Dracula largely views male power—a calf is dumb and naive and innocent of it’s footprint. And it is this impotent ignorance which most characterizes how the women of the film view Casanova and his son Pompeu.
The film has this twilight at the end of an era feel to it, upheaval is coming, and in fact Casanova IS cognizant that revolution is coming for his kind, and that it will in fact be due to their treatment of women. He says as much in the opening of the film.
Besides these interesting sort of gender battles going on in the film, it was interesting to see how animalistic Serra’s portrait’s of humans are. So much of the film is just a long series of days situated around finding exorbitant amounts of food and then eating it to gluttony, and then fucking, and shitting. The food itself is actually the most erotic element of the film. We hear the sounds of chewing, slurrping, fluids oozing out onto hands—the sound of bone being pulled apart—the pouring of wine—there’s a scene towards the end where we watch Wolves tear a body apart that mirrors perfectly a scene earlier in the film where Casanova and crew watch as a huge cow is butchered for meat. The process whereby that happens is really interesting to me, because it is so primordial. The way they have to remove the skin, chop apart the different parts of the body with axes and then the meat cooking on the huge fires that spire up into the night sky—and just the sense of time that all of this takes—they start in the later afternoon, but it’s midnight by the time every thing is ready to eat—and there is this community around eating there—and I don’t know. I always find that aspect of food really interesting. Just the time of many hours of preparation and everyone sitting around drinking while the meat cooks, sometimes in silence, sometimes talking—and then the satiety of feeding. It’s really sublime to watch—and just the different way that kind of process casts time—your day isn’t really about minutes or hours—it’s in dragging the meat to the place, cutting the meat open, cooking the meat, eating—time pulls apart completely differently there.
To make a movie about these kinds of excesses in a time of world economic downturn, particularly in Spain, the country of the film’s origin, can’t go without passing notice.
This is the aesthetic of the passing of the age of man, and it passes quietly into the evening.
And then it’s also about death, and the shared traits of both oblviousness to our encroaching demise, and constant awareness of it’s possibility. How when it’s all done, it’s less a thing of expectation, and more a thing without qualitative judgement—that simply happens as it does. Casanova talks like a man of time, but he pulls for everything on his way down like a man running out of it. In many scenes here he starts out laughing, and then moves into howling depression.
Mostly though just pretty pictures. Lots and lots of pretty pictures. Sublime images of night, death, and shit.
I had been wanting to see Lav Diaz’s Melancholia for a minute, ever since stills from it came across my tumblr dashboard, and I was like “whoa, that looks like my kind of thing”—it was also my first Diaz film to see. I pretty much devoted my Tuesday to see the whole movie. Melancholia is about the search for identity and purpose in the wake of state sponsored trauma as explored through three principal characters: Julian, Rina, and Alberta.
The 8 hour film unfolds like a drowned out howl. And the depth of the pain and the extent to which these characters will go to try and escape the pain is tremendous. The film is less a salve for the pain, than the expression of it. Diaz moves around the edges of ideas—he films complex emotional concepts which you can understand watching, but are difficult to fully explain.
When you have a longer film, you can allow a shot to build up, and a moment to explore itself fully. The film here exists both in the macro accumulation of all of it’s shots, and the micro sublime nature of these 5-15 minute shots, where we’re given our surface, and allowed for our appreciation to come to an understanding through the time of our gaze. So like these massive landscapes you can watch characters slowly move across from the distance to the nearness—the tangibility of space in Melancholia is really wonderful—but it speaks to something larger, that though the Philippines are are small system of islands, they are also vast within that. Or what’s more the vastness of the depth of the sorrow and loss and meaninglessness that an individual can experience within something that seems small from the outside—can feel without end from the inside.
I said to someone when talking about watching this film…basically that I would watch anything of any kind of length so long as it was beautiful—and I think the base of what Diaz has created here is something aesthetically beautiful. Whether it’s young filipinos dancing at a concert, or a man crying into a river, or a prostitute with her leg propped up on a gated rail—you can screen capture the film at any moment, and the singular image making at play are things you could lose yourself in regardless. There is also poetry in how these images are connected, and within the images themselves. You can lose yourself in just the sounds of the different scenes. The dogs barking in the distance. The roosters crowing. The sound of almost ever present rain—at times there is a musical quality to it and how it feeds itself in and around the spaces these characters take refuge in.
One of the story points that the film hinges itself on is this process that Julian, Rina, Alberta are subjecting themselves to, where they leave their bourgeois life to go immerse themselves in separate lives, so that they can try to find their truth in a greater experience—this is meant to help them deal with the ways in which their identity has been broken by their traumatic loss of friends and family to the state—friends and family who they never really get to have closure on and know for sure whether they are dead or not. When we first meet the three we don’t know them as Julian, Rina, and Alberta—but as a pimp, a prostitute and a nun. Rina’s nun is really incredible because she is the one who is least able to handle her role. Going around the city and ostensibly lying to people who have less than she does, under the auspices of religious charity, while not feeling capable of doing any real thing to help with these people’s lives—drives her insane—and she has psychological breakdown because of it. Which deeply affects Julian, who developed the process to try and help Rina and Alberta. His spiraling depression and madness at his inability to help Rina ostensibly through his art is as palpable as the mass delusion that he ends up propogating on the people around him—the kind of hypnotic state of bullshit that he eventually blows the surrounding culture into is remarkable—particularly as you are watching a film that is thematically trying to wrestle with the same notions of what art can do to heal people—and to see it in the end only able to brainwash people to ignore the horror around them places the film’s conclusions in an extremely depressing situation. We have the image of Alberta’s lost lover, alone and mad in the jungle, death encroaching upon him, writing things furiously down on paper and then throwing them away into the river—the feelings of art’s impotence in the face of crushing horror couldn’t be more beautifully expressed. Art becomes less the attempt to speak, than the attempt to be simply heard—not even understood, simply heard—even if it is only to oneself—and even in that there is no salvation.
That all of these horrors are also the engines of our greatests expressions as a culture is shown as the kind of perverse joke that it is. Art here has become more just the measure of pain before death. Even as all of these ideas spiral together with sound and image to approach the sublime—that kind of beautiful horror that is the drug behind most great art.
I dunno. Those are my crazy scattered thoughts. There’s also a fascinating section in here which conflates Filipino history and their film history which I’d love to research more. But anyways. An experience like this is one that you kind of months away from it you kind of remember a part—like see something that is maybe elucidated more because of it, and yeah. Good stuff, hungry for more.
The great thing that Claire Denis does in Bastards is that she promises us release through revenge, and then rather than give us release, throws us farther into hell and leaves us there.
In the film’s lead played by Vincent Lindon, we have the highly capable man. A man who as Denis herself says, when he drives a car, he drives a car, when he washes a dish, he washes a dish. She said the genesis of the story started with her idea of Lindon and how he reminded her of Toshiro Mifune—and that kind of ease of deadly purpose and focus is ever-present in every motion by Lindon on screen. His body is an architecture of taut chords wrapped around the notion of the singular thing that he must do in an exact moment. This is not a man who wastes himself in superfluous gesture. As a character it is interesting to compare him with the more ostentatious Liam Neeson, Taken or Grey character—as with Neeson, there is the functional dismissal of emotion in favor of cold hard process to complete the task at hand, and that the craftsmanship of survival or revenge is a more suitable release than emotions, and indeed my notion watching him was that here was a man who was dependable, who could be relied upon to do the thing that needed to be done, no matter the cost. But Lindon’s character is flawed because of this, whereas Neeson’s character is heroic because of the same traits.
Lindon’s flaw in Bastards, is that in this manly valor he sees women as something that he also has dominion over, and that do not themselves make choices(sometimes good ones, sometimes bad ones—but they make their own choices, without respect to the virile righteousness he feels about his cause). He doesn’t understand their agency within his worldview. And this blindness dooms him. Which is an interesting take on the notion of the femme fatale. In Bastards, these women make their choices because of their own values and lives—whereas traditionally, the femme fatale is just a mysterious lunatic whose very nature as a woman makes her a threat to the hero. Here this is flipped because it is Lindon’s nature as a man which is a threat to himself.
It is first his inability to see women as anything but victims which cause him to tragically misread the scale of the situation he has stepped into. We see this both in his initial misplaced trust in his sister, who he gradually comes to find out is not some blameless princess waiting for rescue. He repeats this mistake in his dealings with Chiaro Mastroianni’s character. And it is this inability to see women which also causes him to literally be unable to see his own niece, who he is trying to save(but perhaps for his own honor, rather than hers?)
Weaving through this is a story of recession, bankruptcy, greed—the evil that the greed for money does—and how the rich are rich because they never lose. It is this incendiary message which twists Bastards through it’s genre pacings into something very much of the now. Something that speaks to now. That all of the misery and horror that is perpetuated through society, on top of it is the rich white man who never loses and always gains.
Beyond the themes is another terrific score from The Tindersticks, whose soundtrack album for this film is another in their line of haunting Claire Denis soundtrack albums, highlighted by the brilliantly haunting “Put Your Love In Me”.
The cinemtography from Agnes Godard is again amazing. I’ve never seen a bad looking Agnes Godard. She may be one of my very favorite cinemtographers. Her sense of color in all of her films is really incredible. From the scene toward the beginning of Bastards with the white road, white silos, and a white truck pulling onto that road, to the rain bathed sickly greens and oranges that she pulls off with a sophistication above others who try to rock out with a similar palette. There’s a wonderful driving scene which recalls the beauty of Lynch’s Lost HIghway that I could watch on loop.
Bastards is such an incredibly rich film just frame to frame. It speaks eloquently and at length, with few words. This is my third Claire Denis film after Trouble Every Day, and 35 Shots of Rum. She has never once disappointed. I’m excited at all of the terrific films she has done with Agnes Godard that I still get to see.
Oh yeah, and I don’t think anyone shoots skin better than Agnes Godard. Which is a weird thing to say, but also true.
Cinder and Ashe is published by DC Comics and is available now wherever fine comic books are sold…errr something.
Cinder and Ashe is a comic by Gerry Conway, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Orlando about two mercenary detective friends who are unable to escape and reconcile with the horrors of their shared past in Vietnam—a past which has become actualized with the returning of a mad killer who they both thought was long dead. The story takes place in New Orleans with flashbacks to Vietnam, and some stops in Washington DC and Iowa.
It reminds me of a kind of well executed 80s film like maybe a less supernatural Angel Heart or something. Or like Death Wish plus Deer Hunter. I dunno. Or maybe a better comparison would be a comic like XIII. There’s just a sophistication to a story that is otherwise fairly middlebrow in terms of content. Maybe it’s comparable to the types of comics Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips like to make.
Thematically the most interesting thing is this character of Lacey who haunts both Cinder and Ashe’s past and present. Lacey was supposed to have died in Vietnam—but here he is alive, and haunting Cinder and Ashe’s life. He’s less a man, than a repressed apparition made manifest to force particularly Cinder, to deal with her traumatic past. What’s interesting is how Garcia-Lopez sort of underscores the inescapability of Cinder and Ashe’s past, just with the subtleties of their character design. Cinder wears slight modifications on the clothes we see her wear in the flashbacks to her time in Vietnam. She is in some ways always the short haired street thief, and all of the horrors she experienced because of that. Ashe is even more overt. There’s nothing he wears that doesn’t connotate some version of a military uniform. Even the way Garcia-Lopez draws him standing and moving—he’d look like a soldier even if he was naked. He went to the war one thing, and that thing stayed there, as he came back another. We actually can see this in the changed expressions and posture of Ashe before and after the war. Ashe before the war rarely covered his face, and had a certain wide eyed innocence to him. Afterwards his face is almost always obscured by a cap or shadows. His eyes are downcast. He doesn’t meet people’s gaze. His shoulders slump a little bit. It’s subtle, but masterful enough that Conway never really has to totally belabor the point in the script. We see the difference, we know the shorthand of ‘nam as a cultural touchstone—and the rest we can fill in, in our heads.
The nam flashbacks are themselves some of the most beautiful and enduring panels in the entire series, with the colorist Orlando choosing a palette of reds, mustard yellows, greens, and orange to create this garish nightmare of visceral jungle and deep psychological trauma. It’s contrasted against the cooler blues and more color bare panels that make up the present. As if some of the color of the real world has been bled out through the horrors of war.
The most impressive thing with the book though is obviously Garcia-Lopez. Because of the clarity of his art, and his considered compositions, it just seems like he has all the space in the world for his pages. His 9 panel grids feel as expansive as most artist’s 2 page spreads. He knows what to show, when to show it, and the most dynamic way to position everything in a way that leaves enough space for the page to flow—but with enough detail and beauty that you can lose yourself in a panel. I think there’s only two splash pages in the whole series, and they’re nowhere near the most impressive pages in the whole book.
A big reason why Garcia-Lopez’s art really hits so hard though is because Orlando doesn’t overwhelm Garcia-Lopez’s lines. By sticking to flat colors, and simply modulating the tone and space of the page through palette and contrast—you are really allowed to be drawn into the book’s warm newspaper print pages. I was really happy that DC didn’t reprint this book on glossy shiny pages like some companies do—the softer newspaper-ish pages allow for Garcia-Lopez’s line to soften in with Orlando’s colors, and you really do sink into the pages like a warm bath.
Garcia-Lopez’s lines though clean and somewhat minimalist compared to other spanish and argentine artists of the surrounding eras is never stiff. His characters are never in a static position, they’re always stretching, or crunched up, or twisting—there is constant dramatic content in their movements. And even beyond the body language are the glances and expressions that make up his character’s faces. You don’t need Conway’s first person narration to know what these characters are thinking or going through—or to even see something there that is beyond the words Conway has put on the page. You know how some actors get great performances from their actors, and others don’t? I think that this sort of eye for performance is at work here as well. Garcia-Lopez gets wonderful performances from his actors.
I also mentioned earlier the character design, but beyond the thematic linkages that Garcia-Lopez has built into these designs is their just sheer…fashion on pointedness. All of his characters you feel like have their own sense of style, and through the myriad of outfits Garcia-Lopez runs through, you always have the sense of these characters getting up in the morning and choosing to get dressed in this way. And Garcia-Lopez’s ability to draw those clothes is similarly masterful. The way Cinder’s short sleeve tops drape off of her shoulders, or the way Ashe’s clothes hang off his stooped shoulders. The way his blazer moves when he’s running vs. standing still. You can understand the fabric and how each piece of clothing wears. And the overall sense of how these characters dress is pretty dope too. Modern comics don’t seem to quite have this same fashion sense. 80s artists for whatever reason seemed to get really into the fashion of the time, and were generally pretty good at coming up with some great looks in a way that you kind of miss in contemporary comic art. Not sure what exactly the reason for that is. But nice accessories like Cinder’s glasses or headband, red and black polka dotted blouse under her grey striped suit—shit is just plain cool. I mean, Garcia-Lopez even changes Cinder’s earrings depending on the outfit she’s wearing.
It’s all so considered without ever calling attention to itself. There’s an effortlessness to Garcia-Lopez’s work here, where it’s just like “oh, this? yeah, that’s just something I do”.
Yeah cool book.
Also it was cool to see a comic set in New Orleans (1). And (2) reference my alma-mater all through it. I was all geeking out like “holy shit, I’ve been on that street—and THAT’S MY COLLEGE!” Sigh. I miss NOLA.
I got the excellent Possession Blu-ray release from Mondo that came out recently, which was a substantial upgrade on my South Korean bootleg dvd(which I think was a different cut anyways)—so I took the time to rewatch what is definitely one of my favorite films. Possession is probably part of a trio of films (Trouble Every Day, Antichrist) that mean a lot to me and are hugely inspirational on how I approach my own art. Particularly in terms of what I’m into with Horror(with a healthy dollop of Jean Rollin).
Those three films also have my three favorite actors: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Isabelle Adjani, and Beatrice Dalle. The three muses or whatevs. I think these three women in particularly these films sort of hit some kind of wild note that I relate to, but feel stifled in personally expressing. All three in those performances are kind of this revealed darkness. I think I feel a certain kind of evil through which I lens the world, and somehow makes me a really kind person. I think this is also the depression that I deal with. Anyways, what I see with particularly Adjani’s performance in Possession is the struggle to explain this base corruption in words that anyone can understand, and finding language completely inadequate.
Watching Possession this time, I was actually reminded a lot of Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen documentary film on Vodoun and some of the scenes in there where humans gyrated and danced and moved into an extra-human state to interact with ideas beyond the mind’s ability to normally perceive or receive.
Zulawski has crafted a similar sort of ritual as that with Possession(and his film Szamanka has this too) with the constantly moving camera, the actors who are constantly moving—whose every thought or word comes with some attendant twitch or gesture. The exhausting emotional release between Sam Neil and Isabelle Adjani, just coupled with the sheer athleticism of their perofrmances and that of the cameraman, all who basically start the movie running a race, that never really stops once for a breath. Zulawski has edited out breaths. This relentless emotional and physical expulsion by both actors causes both characters(and perhaps the actors) to enter trance states similar to the ones from Divine Horsemen. Obviously the subway scene with Adjani is the most written about example of this. But we see this too with Neil’s character and the rocking chair or the phonecall where he loses the ability to speak his thoughts.
He becomes through the film diabolic. This demon of course escapes into the doppelganger that Adjani grows through her loss of faith.
That’s another thing. Freaking dopplegangers. The intense constant doubling of this film is very much something I pursue in my own work and a concept I find endlessly interesting. Dopplegangers are by their nature an intricate dance of repression, negation, and obliteration.
It’s actually very difficult to talk about a film like Possession well. I’ve yet to read a singularly great piece on it, and this is most certainly not one. But the reason is because of how removed Zulawski has positioned the film from language. This is not a film that can’t be written about adequately, because if it could, it would be a novel as well. Thematically, and in it’s construction, Possesion is extra-lingual. It is simply a film, and you can’t write about it anymore than you can write about great music. At the end of the day, the best you can do is try and funnel the unexplainable through your own words and see what sticks.
It is with Szamanka the most relentless film I’ve ever seen. There is no wasted space, and every thing screams past. It’s exhalation not only elevates Adjani and Neill’s characters, but you as the audience as well. You become overwhelmed, and yourself become possessed which allows you to ebb right up against the higher ideas that the movie is attempting to show. Zulawski hides nothing. He wants desperately to show everything. He wants to look at everything, and almost concurrently.
This is also an amazing film just in terms of body language. Anna, Heinrich, and Mark are all tied by some kind of invisible field in their scenes together. Heinrich has that scene with Mark where he’s almost tied into him, and the scene in the kitchen with the meat grinder between Anna and Mark is the kind of things that makes all other depictions of domestic malice seem tame by comparison. The way mark keeps cutting off Anna’s space, and the way when one turns to talk to the other, the other turns away—you can see this violent push and pull in the space of that small kitchen—it throws you right on edge—and it’s tough to say that that scene climaxes with both parties mutilating each other—because every scene is a climax in Possession.
The Stendhal Sydrome is one of the later masterworks in Dario Argento’s career, and to be honest I had no idea what to expect, because I’ve heard so many mixed opinions, but I’m glad I watched it, because it’s really another one of these films that really grows in your mind the days after you’ve seen it. It was all I could think about all day at work after watching it. It’s such an interesting film.
The version I saw was this crudded up DVD version that looked like it had been videtaped off of a vhs recording bootleg style or something, which I know the movie is supposed to be kinda ugly, but maybe not as much as the version I saw. But even so, it was incredible. The crudd definitely added to the grimy hellishness of it, particularly in the second half of the film.
I actually ordered the blu-ray online pretty much half way through the movie, because I realized it was a movie I would want to watch and rewatch once Asia Argento kicks her (very hot) rapist off a cliff, and there was still an hour to go in the film.
It’s really a film in two halves, the first half is largely marked by Argento’s character freaking out over amazing art, and getting kidnapped and raped over and over by Thomas Kretschmann’s character. Kretschmann’s character also makes Argento watch as he rapes, tortures, and kills other women in front of her. Argento’s already shaky mental state begins to detoriate rapidly, and after the first rape she cuts her hair short and starts beating up her police partner. After the second rape, she not only brutally tortures and murders Kretschmann, she dons a blonde wig and basically becomes her own doppleganger.
The formula from Ms. 45 where the woman sees her rapist in all male threats around her, is inverted, because Argento’s character carries her rapist inside her, and externalizes him to feed her repressed anger at the patriarchal world around her which is in no small way responsible for the horrific crimes that have been visited on her. She uses her rapist as a second personality through which she is able to kill the men around her, while simultaneously re-engaging the original trauma and victimization she has experienced. She becomes both attacker and victim while occluding the men around her from the experience entirely. Even as they are the ones now being horrifically butchered left and right.
It’s really fascinating to work through, and even though Argento’s performance is somewhat modified by the way Dario Argento dubs his films, so in the english dub it’s not Asia’s voice—but the disconnect only highlights the physicality of her performance to that point. The way she shapechanges through the film from young innocent girl walking through a musuem—almost as a young student, to nightmare walking, psychopath stalking is really amazing. And it’s also a template for Argento’s acting career going from this point. You can see the early genesis of some of her later performances(including the very underrated performance in Land of the Dead).
This is also an interesting turn for Dario Argento because though this is still a stylish film in it’s own way, it’s guttural in a way that his work preceding it isn’t necessarily. The nightmarish dream logic that powers his best work is here looped through an ever darkening black mud of deteriorating madness.
The final scene where Asia is being pinned down by her fellow officers while she freaks the fuck out in the middle of the street is one of the most creepy and dark things I’ve seen in a minute. In that final scene Asia’s character incriminates all of them in the culture which has cost her her sanity. And her father puts us right in her point of view for it. Tragedy whips around one last time into monstrous horror. It’s amazing.
This Week’s Horror Movies were:
#85: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2(Dir. Tobe Hooper)
#86: Daughters of Darkness (Dir. Harry Kümel)
#87: Lifeforce (Dir. Tobe Hooper)
#88: Eugenie De Sade (Dir. Jess Franco)
#89: Black Sabbath (Dir. Mario Bava)
#90: Red, White and Blue (Dir. Simon Rumley)
I didn’t write about any this week. But Red, White and Blue and Daughters of Darkness were the best. I also did some Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 fan art:
And then here’s the master list:
#32: Halloween III (Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace)
#33: Halloween 2(Zombie) (Dir. Rob Zombie)
#34: Dark Touch (Dir. Marina De Van)
#35: Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Dir. Lucio Fulci)
#36: The Vanishing (Dir. George Sluizer)
#37: Living Dead Girl (Dir. Jean Rollin)
#38: Zombie (Dir. Lucio Fulci)
#39: Maniac (Dir. Franck Khalfoun)
#40: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (Dir. Roy Ward Baker)
#41: Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (Dir. John D. Hancock)
#42: Kill List (Dir. Ben Wheatley)
#43: Don’t Look Back (Dir. Marina De Van)
#44: Alligator (Dir. Lewis Teague)
#45: Ganja and Hess (Dir. Bill Gunn)
#46: The Burning (Dir. Tony Maylam)
#47: The ABCs of Death (Dir. Various)
#49: Cat People (Dir. Jacques Tourneur)
#50: The Curse of the Cat People (Dir. Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)
#52: Marebito (Dir. Takashi Shimizu)
#54: 5 Dolls for An August Moon (Dir. Mario Bava)
#55: I walked with a Zombie (Dir. Jacques Tourneur)
#56: The Legend of Hell House (Dir. John Hough)
#57: Psychomania (Dir. Don Sharp)
#58: Inside (Dir. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)
#60: Left Bank (Dir. Peiter Van Hees)
#61: Simon King of the Witches (Dir. Bruce Kessler)
#62: Blood and Black Lace (Dir. Mario Bava)
#63: Nightmare City (Dir. Umberto Lenzi)
#64: Rogue (Dir. Greg McLean)
#65: Snowtown (Dir. Justin Kurzel)
#67: Horror of Dracula (Dir. Terence Fischer)
#68: Christine (Dir. John Carpenter)
#69: Demons (Dir. Lamberto Bava)
#70: God Told Me To (Dir. Larry Cohen)
#71: Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (Dir. Tony Randel)
#73: Lips of Blood (Dir. Jean Rollin)
#74: A Blade in the Dark (Dir. Lamberto Bava)
#75: Demons 2 (Dir. Lamberto Bava)
#77: Baba Yaga (Dir Corrado Farina)
#78: Amer (Dir. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani)
#80: The Hunger (Dir. Tony Scott)
#81: Witchfinder General (Dir. Michael Reeves)
#82: Vinyan (Dir. Fabrice Du Welz)
#83: They Live (Dir. John Carpenter)
#84: Cat People (1982) (Dir. Paul Schrader)
#85: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2(Dir. Tobe Hooper)
#86: Daughters of Darkness (Dir. Harry Kümel)
#87: Lifeforce (Dir. Tobe Hooper)
#88: Eugenie De Sade (Dir. Jess Franco)
#89: Black Sabbath (Dir. Mario Bava)
#90: Red, White and Blue (Dir. Simon Rumley)
Palm Ash is a comic by Julia Gfrörer set during the Diocletianic Persecutions, which were the most severe persecutions of the Christians by the Romans. It is 20 pages long and can be had via her Etsy page for $5(though there are few copies left)
Julia Gfrörer is someone whose work I’ve wanted to write about for some time. Her book, Black is the Color, put out last year through Fantagraphics was one of my favorite books from last year, and I think one of the strongest books by a contemporary artist that Fantagraphics has put out in a while. Gfrörer’s work is kind of intimidating critically though, because the space it creates for itself is so intelligent and considered, that there’s a real question of whether you really have anything to say to the book that doesn’t immediately demean your own words by comparison.
Palm Ash is more of the same in this respect. There are beats in a Gfrörer comic that are so assured and naturalistic in their wit and brilliance that you have to double take that you are in fact reading a comic still. The 9 panel grid that Black is the Color was cordoned off into is repeated here with much the same effect in that the restriction and repetition of form allow for the details of figure and gesture to become louder on the page, and the smaller character moments of the book become more noticeable. Gfrörer’s comics often live in the space of subtle hand gestures and wry looks between characters. As I mentioned when I wrote about Katie Skelly’s book Operation Margarine, the control and modulation between the wide shot and the close-up in Palm Ash, perhaps even moreso than Black is the Color, really go a long ways toward dictating mood and emotional tenor for the characters involved. We zoom out at key moments to a character with their back turned to a conversation before coming into a tight sweaty closeup within the same scene and segment of panels.
The speed with which Gfrörer can set up the emotional playing field between her characters is nothing short of remarkable. Most of these scenes that make up this book’s taut 20-pages are only two or three pages long, but you get a lot of character development just because of the assured sense of character at play here.
Let’s examine one of my favorite pages from the book to sort of see what I’m talking about with these elements:
So to contextualize this scene, this is a scene between Dia who is the lover of a Roman soldier named Drusus, who her friend is occupying while she meets with Simeon, who is a christian Martyr whose secret Martyr trick is that lions fall asleep next to him instead of eating him. Dia has a son named Maioricus who she wants to bring to Simeon so he can baptize him.
One of the interesting things with early Christianity, and one of the reasons why the Romans were initially so aggressive against it was that it largely started with women and slaves in roman society, because the faith largely sold a liberation from the yoke of the traditional role of a woman in roman society. And so a lot of the roman power structure was being undermined by this new religion which struck at a lot of the exploited labor on which the society was nestled, and what’s more, it glorified martyrdom, so it wasn’t like you could really threaten these people with death and that would be that.
So what’s interesting here is that even though Dia knows the tremendous costs associated with getting her son baptized, she still wants to because she believes in the power of Simeon’s God.
So that first panel, is after Simeon has told Dia that they will meet again in the next life, and we get this wonderful reaction where Gfrörer has whited out her eyes and there’s these heavy lines around the nose—we can see the cloudiness of her soul in that moment, her uncertainty, and there’s a certain thought process conveyed there in that simple look that is underscored by the panel after it where she looks gloomily at a smiling optimistic Simeon, and this is where she makes the decision to risk her son’s life so that he may have a better afterlife. And again we get little gestures, notice how Simeon’s hand is on top of Dia’s, he’s the certain one, Dia’s hand is pulling back, her soul is clouded in that moment. She is considering the totality of the risk, and it’s all just in this silent medium shot panel nestled between two almost repetitive close-up panels of Dia’s face. Again you can see the mental state has changed for Dia between the first and third panel, and it’s all in the subtleties of how the eyes are shaded. Again, this is accomplished because of the rigidity and repetition of the page layout, and the repetition of forms so you can register their differences.
When you get to the second row look at how much Dia’s disposition has changed from the 2nd panel in the first row and the 1st panel on the second row. It is night and day, even though it is the same shot with the same characters.
Simeon’s performance on this page is similarly brilliant. His expression in the middle panel of the page, his sad astonishment at what Dia is willing to risk. The first panel on the bottom row is probably my favorite singular panel of the entire book, and in some ways it is the pivotal panel of the book because it is where Simeon takes on the weight not only of his own arc, but also that of Dia and her son—he is willing to shoulder the responsibility for the horror that is going to happen(and most certainly, in graphic detail, does happen). His resoluteness in the final panel of the page is fully earned from the first panel to the last.
And it’s not all hyper emotional moments, there are a lot of really funny moments in Palm Ash of just black sarcastic gallows humor. Gfrörer’s comic timing is largely built on a lot of the same precepts which allow her dramatic angles to work, in terms of repetition and gesture. That she is able to easily shift between both is remarkable, and there are few writers who are as gifted in western comics at shouldering both elements so ably.
It’s interesting to think about Palm Ash in comparison with Black is the Color, because even though Black is the Color is the longer work, Palm Ash is the denser work. There are more interweaving narratives at play here. There’s several small bits like Geta’s ring—that weave through the background of the book, and create this interconnected narrative space that is extremely rich. Even though the joy of Gfrörer’s work is still largely in the details, the totality of Palm Ash is quite substantive. There is a fairly clever and brave story at work here about motherhood and the role of women within these sort of Roman Coliseum stories that have largely been taken over as male narratives. While also powerfully illustrating the both the role women played in early Christendom, and the threat they posed to the empire through that behavior.
It is horrific when Drusus charges in and yells at Dia “everything about you belongs to me”, but she has already subverted this statement, and even as everything in her life is taken from her, that defiance and her agency in the choices that precipitate the final actions of her life have already given her back a measure of humanity that previously had been closed off from her.
I have certainly said it in places before, but Palm Ash is nothing if not more evidence to it’s testament, Julia Gfrörer is absolutely one of the most gifted storytellers in comics, and anytime you get to read one of these books, it’s really quite wonderful.