Sunday, September 30, 2007

Savage Messiah (1972)

(Directed by Ken Russell, UK, 1972)

"Savage Messiah" is an intriguing film from director Ken Russell. After a trio of great films: "Women in Love", "The Music Lovers" and "The Devils", "Savage Messiah" was a failure. The film depicts a fictionalized version of the pre-modernist artist and sculptor Henri Gaudier (as played by Scott Antony). At the very beginning of Russell's film he meets a Polish poet Sophie Brezska (played by Dorothy Tutin) in the Bibliotheque National in Paris and they lived together in London, he eventually co=opted her name to his, and is now known as Henri Gaudier-Brezska.

If one can get past the annoying British accent of Antony's portrayal of Gaudier, the film is a rather high-spirited portrait of an artist trying to defy poverty and create. While not a strict bio-pic on an artist, Russell tries to give a visual rhapsody of the artist creating in an absolute vacuum, combining a total lack of recognition on the part of British art critics and snobs of the Edwardian period and the existence of an artist's absolute poverty. While not at all true to life, (what Ken Russell movie is?) it is exhilarating to watch, as an invention of one filmmaker's response to an artist he truly admires. The highly visual sets support this, (thanks to Derek Jarman, set designer for this film): several scenes take place in a garret reminiscent of a setting for the "Lower Depths" and a 'Vorticist' nightclub that wouldn't be out of place in a German Expressionist film (say "Cabinet of Doctor Caligari").
Helen Mirren is on hand in one of her early roles as a suffragette, and an unlikely patron of the sculptor.

"Savage Messiah" ends abruptly with the mention of Gaudier's death during the First World War and the camera cuts several times to Brzeska crying and to a memorial exhibit of the sculptures. It's a very moving sequence, visually taking Gaudier-Brzeska's sculptures from the realm of the film into the here and now. The sculptor was one of the more unfortunate casualties from the First World War, he died an early death at the age of 23.

This film deserves to be seen, and is ripe for a re-evaluation, at least as a genuine DVD release. I can't think of any other film on an artist that is so joyful, so crazy and so colorfully vivid as this film.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Halloween (2007)

(Directed by Rob Zombie, 2007, USA)

Usually I try to never see sequels because I am sure to be disappointed.While having very fond memories of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), I guess I should have stuck to my basic rule: NO WATCHING REMAKES.

Rob Zombie's Halloween starts off with good intentions, but doesn't go anywhere. Yes, we see the young teen Michael Myers with his unhappy homelife: drunk stepdad (William Forsythe), slutty sis Judith (Hanna Hall), lil' baby Boo and stripper Mom (the ever watchable Sheri Moon Zombie). The first act of the movie focuses incessantly on the young 12 year old Michael Myers and his upbringing: torturing and killing animals and eventually turning on the people who pick on him at school. He comes under the care of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) and eventually is institutionalized after the usual family blood bath. Everyone is killed except for stripper mom and baby. Needless to say, little Mikey is sent to a state hospital for the criminally insane.

Fifteen years later, Mikey Myers gets out to wreak his revenge by going home. There is very little connection to why Michael Myers returns home: he's (I think) looking for the baby girl (?), his sister and doesn't care who gets in his way. Typical slasher mayhem ensues. It's incredibly not interesting.

It was very hard for me to watch this tepid remmake without thinking about John Carpenter's original: with a lesser budget than this movie and practically no special effects. This remake was the ultimate curse of a horror film: it was dull, and just not really interesting, not even in its climax. By focusing on how Michael Myers became the killing machine, the director neglected one basic fact: we want our horror movie killers to be killers, not have some mopey, artsy background, explaining why they did it, what turned them into this....blah blah blah. The final girl was no Jamie Lee Curtis either: in the original, Curtis is resourceful; here in the remake, the girl screams a lot, lets the kids she's babysitting to fend for themselves and you really don't care.

Stick with Carpenter's original, you won't go wrong.