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Hullabaloo


Saturday, March 29, 2008

 
Saturday Night At The Movies


Divine Trash, Hidden Jewels, Part 6: Short Attention Span Theater

by Dennis Hartley


One of the most striking signs of the decay of art is when we see its separate forms jumbled together.
-Jean Luc Goddard


A mixed-up mix
Mix up your journey to the next journey
Mixers rock
-DJ Takefumi, from the film Funky Forest: The First
Contact





So, do you think you’ve seen it all? I would venture to say that you haven’t- until you’ve sat through a screening of Funky Forest: The First Contact, originally released in 2005 as Naisu no mori in Japan but now available for the first time on Region 1 DVD.

The film is a collaborative effort by three Japanese directors, most notably Katsuhito Ishii (The Taste of Tea). Ishii, along with Hajime Ishimine and Shunichiro Miki, has concocted a heady “mixed-up-mix”, indeed. There is really no logical way to describe this blend of dancing, slapstick, surrealism, sci-fi, animation, absurdist humor, and experimental filmmaking, married to a hip soundtrack of jazz, dub and house music without sounding like I’m high (perhaps I already sound that way in a lot of my posts-n’est-ce pas?), but I will do my best. There is no real central “story” in the traditional sense; the film is more or less an anthology of several dozen vignettes, featuring recurring characters a la late night TV sketch comedy. Some of these disparate stories and characters do eventually intersect (although usually in a somewhat oblique fashion). The film is a throwback in some ways to “channel surfing” anthology films from the 1970s like The Groove Tube, Tunnel Vision and The Kentucky Fried Movie; although it is important to note that the referential comic sensibilities are very Japanese. If a Western replica of this project were produced, it would require collaboration between Jim Jarmusch, Terry Gilliam and David Cronenberg (and a script from Charlie Kaufman).

Although there are ostensibly no “stars” of the film, there are quite a few memorable vignettes featuring three oddball siblings, introduced as “The Unpopular With Women Brothers”. The barbed yet affectionate bickering between the hopelessly geeky Katsuichi, the tone-deaf, guitar strumming Masuru (aka “Guitar Brother”) and the pre-pubescent Masao, as they struggle with dissecting the mystery of how to get “chicks” to dig them is reminiscent of the dynamic between the uncle and the two brothers in Napoleon Dynamite and often quite funny. It is never explained why the obese, Snickers-addicted Masao happens to be a Caucasian; but then, the whole concept wouldn’t be so absurdly funny, would it? The scenes centering around the relationship between Notti and Takefumi, a platonic couple, probably come closest to displaying any kind of conventional narrative structure (well, at least up to the point where they start telling each other about their dreams). Then there are the 1001 Tales of the Arabian Nights-influenced trio of giggly “Babbling Hot Springs Vixens”, who tell each other tall stories in three segments entitled “Alien Piko Rico”, “The Big Ginko Tree” and my personal favorite, “Buck Naked and the Panda”. I could tell you more (I haven’t even scratched the surface on the really bizarre stuff) but I’ll let you discover all that on your own-if you dare.

You will need to clear some time-Funky Forest runs 2½ hours long, in all its challengingly non-linear glory. So is it worth your time? Well, it probably depends on your answer to this age-old question: Does a movie necessarily have to be “about” something to be enjoyable? At one point in the film, Takefumi goes into a soliloquy:

The turntable is the cosmos
A universe in each album
A journey, an adventure
A journey, a true adventure
Journey, adventure
Journey
Needles rock. Needles rock.
Music mixer and the mix

There is also another significant clue on the film’s intermission card, which reads: “End of Side A”. I think that this may be the key to unlocking the “meaning” of this film, which is, there is no meaning; perhaps life, like the structure of the movie, is best represented by a series of random needle drops, no? It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey (OK, now I’m stoned.) With an underlying spirit of winking goofiness running all throughout this unconventional weirdness, perhaps the filmmakers are just paraphrasing something that Mork from Ork once said about always retaining “a bit of mondo bozo”. God knows, it’s helped me get through 52 years on this silly planet.

WTF?: Paprika, The Falls (1980), Bliss (1985), What the Bleep Do We Know!? Sans Soleil , Waking Life, Schizopolis , Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, Beat the Deva, Eraserhead, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, The Ninth Configuration, 8 1/2, Forbidden Zone, Love and Anger, Dancer in the Dark , Pee-wee's Big Adventure, The Short Films of David Lynch, The Brothers Quay Collection, El Topo, Arizona Dream, The Ruling Class, Greaser's Palace, Head, The Acid House, The Bed Sitting Room, The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, Naked Lunch , Delicatessen, Being John Malkovich, UHF, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

And one more thing…

I’m sad to note the passing of actor Richard Widmark, he of the patented “stare”- who died at the age of 93 earlier this week. He appeared in over 70 films from 1947 to 1991. Widmark specialized in tough guy roles; he certainly played his share of killers, cops, rugged cowboys, and steely-eyed military men.

Few actors have ever made a screen debut as audacious or memorable as Widmark’s psychopathic killer, Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death. One particular scene, wherein Udo shoves an elderly crippled woman down a flight of stairs, was shocking enough for 1947, but I’m sure audiences never expected Widmark’s character to then laugh manically at the sight of his hapless victim as she tumbled ass over wheelchair to her grisly demise.

Nearly all the films noir that Widmark starred in early in his career are now considered genre classics; in particular I would recommend Night and the City (1950) and Pickup on South Street (1953), which have both been given the deluxe DVD treatment (including luminous transfers) by Criterion. Another recommendation from this period would be No Way Out (1950), a hybrid noir/social issue drama with Widmark and co-star Sidney Poitier both in top form.

Widmark teamed up again with Poitier in 1965, giving a great performance as the captain of a naval destroyer in one of my favorite nuclear paranoia thrillers, The Bedford Incident (1965). A few other mid-career highlights include one of the seminal “cop on the edge” dramas, Madigan (1968) and the epic Cinerama spectacle, How the West Was Won (which will be airing on Turner Classic Movies April 3; check your local listings!)

Widmark’s career came full circle in 1984, when director Taylor Hackford cast him in Against All Odds , which was a loose remake of the 1947 film noir Out of the Past.

Definitely one of the last of a certain breed of Hollywood icons.

-D.H.

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