Bela Tarr’s last film could just as easily be retitled ‘The Wind’. Labels such as slow cinema insist we look at films in a certain way but here is another theory that seems to have run its course, duly causing a backlash. There is no denying for a film lasting over two hours and thirty minutes Tarr is preoccupied with real time, not screen time. If this is supposed to be the end, the apocalypse, then everything becomes distilled to the point of abstraction. Tarr relies on primal, ethereal textures so that we can taste the potatoes that they eat, feel the ferocity of the howling wind that envelops the house like some demonic possession and smell the pestilence ravaging the bodies of the exhausted man and his servile daughter. I’m inclined to say The Turin Horse is a film about textures. The perpetual storm, framed as an unholy harbinger is accentuated by the wind, an apocryphal force. Tarr’s strategy of repeating daily actions ritualises ordinariness to the point of exasperation. Amidst this routine enacted by both characters in the farmhouse, suspended in time, is a disrupting metaphysical unease conjuring an all-pervasive dread. Not sure if The Turin Horse is the Nietzsche inspired masterpiece that some have declared it to be but it is a mighty fine way to conclude what is an inimitable body of films.
If John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids influenced the post apocalyptic trajectory of Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s science fiction-horror 28 Days Later (2002) then it is a novel which reaches back to the past and affects the present day consciousness of Hollywood cinema. For a long time, the undead was fragmented from the gothic into the vampire and zombie film. Perhaps the one pre-28 days Later text cited by many attempting a new variation on the zombie film was Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Although Romero modernised the zombie flick by saturating the narrative with a socio-political perspective, it wasn’t long before parody rendered Romero’s dead films as a mute point in terms of zombie referencing. If cinema has secretly longed for the end of the world with its endless post apocalyptic fantasies then 28 Days Later merged familiar horror idioms with an underlining nastiness about the human condition. 28 Days Later repressed the zombie, perpetuating a forgotten horror trope – the infected. More importantly, the resurrection of the infected as a post 9-11 horror convention laid bare an allegorical opportunism that projected a plethora of geopolitical anxieties. Whereas the zombie was an icon of the undead, the infected after 9-11 seemed logical since ideological infection was rife, contagious yet somewhat inexplicable in a world being reconfigured by demagogues and iconoclasts. If 28 Days Later led to a new interest and revival in zombie cinema then it also spawned a line of post apocalyptic films with the infected as an allegorical catalyst. In other words, zombies representing no real social or political threat rendered them essentially irrelevant and this meant reiterating their presence in horror films as nothing but gore. The infected on the other hand isn’t as empty when it comes to ideological interpretation and the ‘rage’ virus in 28 Days Later sought to situate the symptoms of the infected in contemporary social reality.
World War Z, a post apocalyptic blockbuster, takes a similar premise as 28 Days Later and gives it an international context by transforming the central protagonist of Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) into a global citizen, travelling to places such as New York, Jerusalem and Cardiff in order to find a vaccine to an unexplained infection. Typically in such post apocalyptic Hollywood narratives, the central protagonist would either by an ordinary individual, extension of the government or someone with a past in the military. Given the presence of Brad Pitt in the main lead and who also acts as a producer on the film, it’s not surprising that his ties to the UN in the film constructs him as a global citizen and since much of the film takes place internationally rather than typically in America (as do so many Disaster/post apocalyptic films), an attempt is made to refashion the end of the world scenario as a globalist allegory. Given the current civil unrest brought on by the failings of market liberalism and the end of capitalism, allegorically the sense of destruction envisioned in the film is less of a warning about populist resistance and more of a semi-meditation on global interconnectedness stemming from multi protagonist films such as Syriana and Babel. While the film is ambitious in terms of reinvigorating the post-apocalyptic sub-genre, the attempts to narrate a seemingly intelligent story is crudely interrupted by a series of well-executed but immaterial set pieces. Bookended with the instrumentals of Muse, World War Z is a mildly diverting blockbuster that is likely to grow as a potential franchise for Paramount and Brad Pitt. If we get a sequel, the mention of the infection originating from India in the film points to a likely South Asian geographical context.
|The A Bomb|
Joe Dante is by far the most mischievous of the filmmakers spawned by exploitation maestro Roger Corman. Unlike his contemporaries Dante has made fewer films. His oeuvre is characterised by a darkly satirical edge and his nightmarish representations of American suburbia have run contrary to the mainstream. Consider the way he smuggles a creepiness about Reagan’s America into a populist film like Gremlins but all with a sense of anarchic fun. Dante’s mischief did him no favours with the studios so it was lucky directors turned producers like Spielberg shared such zany and cartoonish tendencies. Both Gremlins and Innerspace were backed by Spielberg and Amblin. Dante’s finest satire is his 1993 film Matinee and it is a terrific genre film that deals with three of my favourite cinematic themes; childhood, politics and cinema. The backdrop is the cold war era and the Cuban missile crisis. As tension between America and Russia escalates, a small town in Key West Florida anticipates the arrival of B movie horror director Lawrence Woolsey (a riff on Hitchcock and played by John Goodman) with his latest shlock flick Mant (a man who is exposed to radiation and an ant). A young boy Gene, whose father is part of the US navy assigned to defend American waters, is a lover of cinema especially bad horror movies. Gene prefers his movies to girls and when Woolsey comes to town Gene confesses an unhealthy love of the horror genre. Dante juxtaposes the imminent threat of the atom bomb to the way cinema offers fictional solutions and escapist diversions; it’s a potent satirical combination since Woolsey’s horror creation Mant is an anxious manifestation of nuclear radiation. Woolsey makes no excuses for the way he exploits and benefits from the pervasive climate of cold war anxiety, producing films that are hyperbolic and demented. The local cinema, owned by a neurotic manager, has only one screen and caters to mostly the adolescent school kids who converge on the screening of Mant turning the auditorium into a controlled chaos. Woolsey’s plans of self promotion involves placing buzzers under seats, using his own state of the art Rumble-rama and getting the town’s delinquent to don a rubbery Mant suit. In case you’re wondering, yes, all three succeed in convincing an observant cinema chain owner to invest in Woolsey’s taste for theatrics. Dante’s nostalgic depiction of cinema going is one to be savoured as it is the cinema theatre that becomes a microcosm of the town’s various social, political and personal dilemmas. The ending is also powerfully self reflexive demonstrating with great fun the way audiences can be duped so easily by the most seductive of illusions. Also watch out for the terrific cameo by director John Sayles.
Horror is a genre absent from much of Hindi cinema and whilst not much work has been carried out to study its development as a genre and why it continues to operate in a state of terminal decline and critical derision (not surprising given its low cultural status), the supernatural aspects of the genre in the form of ghost stories and the occult offer what are some of the strongest and clearest links with Hindi cinema of the past and present. Additionally, reincarnation is a religious thematic that has remained popular with mainstream Hindi films. One only has to acknowledge the significance of the Ghatak scripted Madhumati from 1958 and perhaps more importantly Amrohi’s overlooked Mahal (The Mansion, 1949). Both films are representative of a classical era and deal with reincarnation, implementing an expressionist style accentuating striking Gothic imagery in which the woman’s appearance as a ghostly lover haunts the tragic heroes of Dilip Kumar and Ashok Kumar. If it is true to say that the horror film deals with all manner of repression then a film like Ankahee uses the infinite gaze of an aging astrologer to predict life and death of those around him. Directed by Amol Palekar and released in 1985, Ankahee succeeds in creating and sustaining a terrifyingly potent atmosphere of dread often found in the supernatural/ghost film. Palekar was a terrific comic actor and later forged a successful career as a director but I feel much of his work has been dismissed outright. When the astrologer predicts his son Nandu (Amol Palekar) will have two wives and the first one will die within eleven months, the arrival of a young village girl into their home leads to Nandu concocting a game of deceit so that he can protect the girl he really loves whilst trying to outwit the language of destiny. What really works about Palekar’s understated direction is the love triangle as it’s slow development leads to a moving denouement in which the astrologer’s gaze is coldly absolute. Lurking beneath the more familiar conventions of melodrama is a subtle meditation on the inevitability of death. Iconic Bengali actor Anil Chatterjee also shows up and impresses as usual in a minor role.