Intolerable Material Part 2

I seem to have this subject on the brain; it may have something to do with a series of particularly shocking cinematic episodes I have undergone in the last few months. I think it was kicked off when a friend of mine loaned me the Takeshi Miike film, Audition. 

Audition was a remarkable film. It is essentially the story of a lonely middle-aged man who decides, with the encouragement and assistance of a film-producer friend of his, to set up an audition process for a fictional film, whose actual object was to find him a girlfriend. As is always the case, such a venture has disastrous results. It is a stylish, sophisticated film which I felt was Hitchockian in the truest sense of a term which is heavily accreted with cliché; Audition is very much a formal exercise in exerting a psychological sensation so powerful on the viewer that it becomes almost physical.

Having seen Audition, I was open to giving Miike another spin. This time, it was Ichi the Killer. The cover of the DVD was resplendent with warnings about its gruesome content; imagine my disappointment to discover the actual disc was not inside the case! I googled the film and watched something entitled ‘the torture scene’ on youtube. It was, to that point, the most hideous thing I had ever seen. It was American Psycho come to life. I watched a few other clips from Ichi, most strikingly one in which a woman tears a man’s cheek off his face and has an orgasm during the process.   

When I googled Ichi, a list of other clips appeared along the side of the screen. One of which was entitled, ‘The Ten Sickest Films of All Time’. I ran the clip and was astonished to discover I had only seen three; Irreversible, Salo and Ichi. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of most of the others. Those who read my previous entry are aware of my attitude to Irreversible. I have seen Salo – twice – and have since watched the supplementary disc which gives documentary and critical context to the original film, which are the reason for its recent release on DVD. It struck me that I don’t know if I had the intellectual maturity to understand Salo when I saw it, and will therefore reserve comment for another instalment.

I once remarked to a friend of mine that the last of the truly great films were made in the seventies. He replied, ‘You can’t say that; next thing you’ll be saying, ‘That’s not music, that’s just noise.” Profound words, indeed. Furthermore, they make me question if in fact I have become a fuddy-duddy like those irritating teachers at film school; no modern film-maker was ever going to square up to Bergman or Fellini – it just couldn’t be done.

In fact, a friend of mine in his late twenties, who loves Gaspar Noe, seems to delight in pushing things under my nose like a kid who puts mice under a teacher’s feet to watch her screech and leap onto a chair. So far, much of it just doesn’t ring my bell. But the fact that people ten years’ younger than I am love these films actually worries me. Maybe I am missing the point. Maybe there is something going on and, from my vantage point in culture, I’m just not able to see it.

One of the other sick films I hadn’t seen was a Japanese film called Flower of Flesh and Blood. Fantastic title, if nothing else. The film was made in the mid-eighties and runs for, I think, 70 minutes. It doesn’t have much of a story and concerns itself primarily with a man who is dressed as a samurai. He has captured a young woman and tied her to a cot in his lair. The duration of the film is the real-time process of torture through dismemberment. The film has achieved a certain notoriety on the basis that Charlie Sheen, seeing a bootlegged copy of the film, believed it to be an actual snuff film and reported it to the FBI.

Again, I have only seen clips of it on the internet, but I don’t think it’s drawing too long a bow to assume that this film belongs to a markedly different subset of the horror genre. Traditionally, horror films, even those I would have considered at the violent extreme for my age group – Dawn of the Dead, I Spit on Your Grave, Last House on the Left – were longer narrative pieces that, to a greater or lesser extent – sought to involve you in the psychological dimensions of the film’s ‘reality’. I would say this was a generic constant still prominent today – think Wolf Creek or any slasher remake, really.

The other films as catalogued on the ‘Sick’ list – August Underground’s Mordum, Cutting Moments or Autopsy, are what appear to be short films – around the hour mark, or even shorter. At that running time, it reminds me a bit of amateur porn. A potential actress is interviewed as to why she wants to break into the porn industry, and the rest of the scene is a kind of audition tape. Whether it’s real or not is hardly the point – the film is all about the mechanical ‘story’ of the act.

I think it’s foolish to conflate porn and gore flicks as having too much in common; here, I guess, the principal point of correlation is the mechanical documentation of a riveting physical act. I’m certainly not going to suggest that the films are inherently immoral or ‘bad’, or even corrupting, as the old argument goes. I watched clips of all these films on the internet and felt desperately ill, but it hasn’t motivated me to go out and dismember anybody (not that I didn’t want to dismember beforehand, anyway).

So what’s the point? I believe I get it in the case of films like Straw Dogs and Salo that use violence to stiffen their evocation of a psychological reality and draw us into its complexities. What does Flower of Flesh and Blood really have to offer me, other than trauma? I don’t ask this question rhetorically. I respect that art means different things to different people, and I really want to know, what do other people think?    

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