D I S O R I E N TAT I O N
A MOVIE GUIDE FOR FRAMES OF MIND
A MOVIE GUIDE FOR FRAMES OF MIND
D I S O R I E N T A T I O N
GASPAR NOÉ ENTER THE VOID IRRÉVERSIBLE
8 11 13
THE TREE OF LIFE SYNECDOCHE NEW YORK
DAVID LYNCH ERASERHEAD MULHOLLAND DRIVE
20 25 26
BAD BOY BUBBY BEGOTTEN JACOB'S LADDER MARTYRS
28 29 30 31
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY THE BIRTH OF THE MIND BENDER THE HOLY MOUNTAIN
LARS VON TRIER ANTICHRIST MELANCHOLIA
40 44 45
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW HOLY MOTORS
Altered States is a movie guide for your frame of mind. The movie genre is an outdated and inaccurate way to classify movies, especially when deciding on one to indulge in. This is where Altered States comes in. Each issue focuses on a certain state of mind, mood or emotion and dives in, head first. Altered States is not a reference guide, nor is it a â€˜top 100â€™ list. Altered States is a guide to movies based upon the moods, emotions or frames of mind they evoke or the mindset of the viewer. This is a guide to the movie you feel like, the one you are in the mood for, the one you genuinely want to see.
disorientate or disorient — verb • to cause (someone) to lose his bearings • to perplex; confuse
The mind bender; a classic and obscure sub - genre in film. Spanning almost all traditional genres and yet conforming to none, the purpose of the mind bender is to transport the audience to a place somewhere between nowhere and everywhere, the womb and the void, heaven and earth. The mind bender will do exactly what it says it will, bend and warp the viewer's consciousness in whatever way the director sees fit. It may be confusing, and you may well have to Google something along the lines of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey ending meaning’ at some point, but the following movies are often more than just entertainment. These movies are an experience, and depending on which you choose, you might not be the same on the other side…
Gaspar Noé is tired and hungry. It's a hot afternoon in a London restaurant. He orders a steak, no fries, sauce on the side. He doesn't touch the sauce. Lunch is just a slab of meat. This is somehow exactly what you would expect of Noé. His films slap you round the face, and they demand a strong stomach. The first scene of his first film, the forty minute Carne, showed a horse being killed and butchered. The second was of a steak on a plate, much like the one in front of him now. Noé's notoriety was sealed by his subsequent features, Seul Contre Tous and Irréversible, both of which were punishing ordeals of brutality, misanthropy and sexual violence, all delivered with undeniable technical brilliance.
SPOTLIGHT : GASPAR NOÉ
“Before being humans with morals, people are mostly animals, fighting for domination and survival,” he says, between mouthfuls of steak. With his bald head, dark eyebrows and handlebar moustache, Noé looks like an underfed circus strongman. He says he had a terrible night, but he doesn't seem tired, and he's used to getting little sleep. Shooting his latest movie, Enter the Void, in Tokyo, he says he barely slept at all. “In Japan we work 14 hours a day, then I'd go back to my hotel room, all stressed. The actors would bring me out to have some drinks – I'd sleep three, four hours max. After a while you start having visual hallucinations during the daytime.” Again, this is comes as no surprise with Noé, especially when you see Enter the Void. This one is less a slap in the face than a spiked cocktail. Shot in the sleaziest parts of Tokyo, mostly at night, it's a psychedelic movie that goes far beyond the usual acid - trip cinema shorthand, using digital effects, swooping cameras, computer graphics and optical tricks to untether the viewer from reality. The screen crawls with computer - animated tendrils, flashes pure white or at one point goes black for a full minute. At times we're flying high above the city so the streets resemble a lit - up toytown, or we're gliding across the ceilings of blacklit strip clubs in which everything looks fluorescent. All of this we observe through the eyes of a lost, young American drug dealer, Oscar – even after he is killed, at which point his ‘spirit’ floats free from his body and swoops across Tokyo, voyeuristically watching over his sister, flashing back to their damaged
GASPAR NOÉ childhood, and going over the events leading up to his own murder. Narratively, it's a long, bleak melodrama, but visually it’s like a mix of Kubrick's 2001, Tron and Google Earth. As usual with Noé, reactions to the film have been polarised since it first played at Cannes in 2009. “Its obsessive emphasis on sex and drugs makes it virtually unwatchable,” moaned the Hollywood Reporter. “The work of an artist who's trying to show us something we haven't seen before,” enthused the New York Times. “Not clever enough to be truly pretentious,” sniffed Variety. “I've had the very best reviews I ever had and the very worst,” says Noé. “I didn't expect it, but it's ended up being more controversial than Irréversible or Seul Contre Tous; not because of the story but because of the feelings or perceptions that come out of it. People don't know how to respond to it.” One thing nobody could dispute about Enter the Void is its sheer labour intensity. Even the title sequence feels like about 10 movies' worth of work. Making it was a four - year labour of love, Noé says, but the gestation period was even longer. The story came to him when he was 25 (he is now 47), as a result of watching The Lady in the Lake – the gimmicky 1940s noir thriller shot entirely in point - of - view – while under the influence of magic mushrooms. “Since then, from time to time, I've tried psychedelics, almost in a practical way because I knew I wanted to do some psychogenic movie,” he says. He's taken LSD four or five times in his life, he says, but doesn't smoke joints any more “because I get paranoid every time.” He's smoked DMT (dimethyltryptamine), and even went to the Peruvian jungle once to drink ayahuasca, the psychoactive brew of the native Indians (“it's extremely powerful”). “They're not recreational drugs,” he says. “They're mind - opening, and that can be extremely scary, so it was kind of work. Research.” Nice work if you can get it, some might say, but Noé doesn't look like he's been living it up, and he gave up all drugs except alcohol the moment he started on the movie, he says. “The life of directors seems easy, funny, full of sex from the outside, but most of the ones who do good movies, it's because they are workaholics.” He says he worked so hard, for so long, on Enter the Void, that he can barely watch more than a few seconds of it now. Nor does he relish talking about it again. “I need to detach myself from this movie, and it's weird doing promotion,” he says. “It's like giving birth to
triplets, then being told there's a fourth kid inside the belly, and you have to do it all over again.” So, changing the subject, does he believe in life after death? “Personally, no.” So why make film about it? “I think life after death is in the mind of the people around you. It's what's left in this world in the memory of others, but when the flesh starts rotting, the spirit disappears. When you're dead, you're dead. I believe in shapes – you're not conscious of it, but you're like a tree that grows but takes a particular shape that is pre - written.” Does he believe in destiny? “Yeah… kind of. But you're participating in writing it.” The factors that shaped Noé's destiny might include his father, Luis Felipe Noé, a renowned Argentinian artist (his paintings feature in Enter the Void); a childhood spent between Buenos Aires and Paris; and seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey at the age of seven, which made him want to become a film - maker. Thanks to a friend whose uncle worked in a cinema, he watched films almost every day in his youth, he says – often things he wasn't supposed to be watching. He went to film school in Paris when he was 17 (“I was considered a crazy guy”), and at 27 he won a prize at Cannes with Carne. By contrast, Noé's characters struggle to write their own fates. Often their lives are altered by a single, catastrophic event. In Carne, it was a butcher's mistaken suspicion that his daughter had been raped, and his decision to act on it. In Seul Contre Tous, the same butcher, played by Philippe Nahon, attempts to wrest control of his life but again descends into horror. In Irréversible it was the rape of Monica Bellucci; and in Enter the Void it's a car crash that kills Oscar's parents, and bends his and his sister's lives out of shape. Then there's his recurring preoccupation with sex. As well as his feature films, he's also shot music videos and shorts that verge on pornography, including an explicit French anti - Aids ad and films of model Eva Herzigova writhing around with not much on. The suspicion Noé is a bit of a perv isn't dispelled by his third feature, Enter the Void. Between the protagonist's all - seeing vision, his breast fixation and the sex - club milieu, Noé again finds plenty of opportunities for explicit visuals, including, at one point, a view of sexual intercourse from inside the vagina.
“Why would you be ashamed of shooting things that you do in your own life?” He asks as soon as the subject comes up. “I have a penis. All the girls I loved had a vagina. What's the problem?” Is he happy for his work to be described as pornographic? “People use words,” he says. “If I hear that some art movie is pornographic nowadays, I don't trust it. I know what pornography is. I was a huge consumer of porno movies when I was a teenager – maybe because that was when I had the highest level of testosterone. And then you get excited and you have to masturbate – in a way it's an interactive movie. Some are good and some are bad, but you're not passive watching porno – you become active. But what's actually missing in cinema is clear or proper or joyful presentation of adult love.” His next project, he says, is an “erotic love movie”. Possibly filmed in 3D. Would he ever consider doing a movie without lots of sex in it? “Yeah, of course. I also want to do a kids' movie.” He's probably not joking. But as well as being a social provocateur in the tradition of Buñuel or Pasolini or Fassbinder, Noé is a showman like Hitchcock or horror director William Castle, who would install buzzers under cinema seats and warn the audience to leave before the gory finale (a trick Noé borrowed for Seul Contre Tous). Noé doesn't just use cinema to provoke an emotional response, he wants a physiological one too. “Life can be a game and when you make movies, you want to play with the audience,” he says. “It's part of the fun. Like when a magician wants to scare people by sawing a woman in two, he knows it's fake but you want to see people's reactions.” Might that become the mission in itself, though? “No. The mission is to surprise yourself. Sometimes if you surprise other people, you surprise yourself.”
ENTER THE VOID From the moment the opening credits accelerate into a pulsing concert of epileptic typography, Enter the Void often surpasses cinema's precedent for transportive power. In a nearly three hour cut, the film may very well be debated in years to come by a Venn diagram of critics and stoners, as a revolutionary work : a 2D wallop that visually rivals the latest 3D wave out of Hollywood and the darkest anxiety of a drug trip. Set in contemporary Tokyo, the entirety of Enter the Void is presented from the first - person perspective of its main character, a young drug dealer named Oscar (newcomer Nathaniel Brown). Noé's dedication in the film to this novel technique is rare for the medium – wherein the audience literally sees through the character's eyes, or from directly behind his figure – and mirrors the vicarious rush of a video game. Except the film is anything but an example of escapist entertainment. Much of the film is experienced inside Oscar, post - life, as a spectre of consciousness under the influence of a psychedelic, floating and racing over the rooftops of the neon metropolis, or into a strip club where his sister works (an unleashed, unclothed Paz de la Huerta), or through the corridors of an epic day - glo love hotel. Noé set out to do for spiritual nothingness and the cyclic nature of sex what Stanley Kubrick did for outer space and the human race in ‘2001’; create the ultimate trip.
GASPAR NOÉ ON ENTER THE VOID
HUNTER STEPHENSON GASPAR NOÉ
Hunter Stephenson speaks to Gaspar Noé about his third feature length movie, Enter the Void (2009) I read recently that you wanted to stop drinking vodka. Well, only at parties. The problem with vodka, which is my favourite, but the problem is the more you drink the easier it is to black out with vodka. Whereas with whiskey and rum, you take too much, the headaches start before you black out. With gin and vodka, you go much farther and then you wake up the next day…[pained look] When I screened Enter the Void at Soho House, it was the first time I have witnessed so many grown men squirming in their seats during a movie. Some of the visuals, it seemed to make people uncomfortable…
INTERVIEW : GASPAR NOÉ [smiles] They were complaining then? No, they were twitching. There may have been one or two walkouts. I found myself staring at the floor at one point, overstimulated. There was a point where I'm not sure I could have told you which way was up or down in the room. For a 2D film, that's insane. I tried to get very close to an altered state of consciousness. Or, I tried to, in a cinematic way, reproduce the perception of someone who is on drugs. There are moments in the movie closer to a dream state, and through that, many people have told that they felt stoned during the movie, and felt they had done, like, an acid trip. There are people, you know, who are comfortable with that. But maybe for the people who don't enjoy losing control of their perceptions, maybe that is where they get annoyed with me. For example, people who have done acid in their youth or whenever, they say they feel like doing acid again after the movie. But people who have never done drugs, or only smoked marijuana, they say to me, “After watching your movie, I know what drugs feel like… but now I will never never never do them.” [laughs] Through the movie, I wanted to wash myself free of expectations, I was not trying to upset people, but I don't care if they are. I did the movie for myself and my friends. You work in cinema, you might consider what a director you respect thinks of your film. Eighty - percent of Enter the Void is a traditional narrative movie. I suppose it's more similar to Jacob's Ladder or Videodrome than it is to Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome by Kenneth Anger, which is very experimental. It's the other 10% of 20% that reminds you of the language and glamour of dreams. If I screened the film at home, I'm not sure it would be as powerful. At my screening, even the way certain colours flickered on the tops of the leather chairs in front of me, it added to the intensity. The bigger the screen and the louder the sound is, the stronger the film as an experience will be. Sure. But also, see, I think the best time to watch a movie is on a plane. For example, today I was on a plane and could not have been happier because the movie, United Red Army by Koji Wakamatsu, was three and a half hours long. In a theatre, a three hour movie, maybe the day you go you have personal issues that you need to conquer.
I enjoy having the option. Movies are best when your mind is open. When the main character, Oscar, dies and begins to trip across the afterlife, his thoughts remain earthbound and primarily confined to Tokyo. The universe at large, an interplanetary scope is not addressed, like it was in say, the starchild sequence in 2001 : A Space Odyssey, which seems influential. Why not? If you've only seen the film once, you may not have connected the face of the woman who gives birth at the end. It's not Oscar's sister, it's Oscar's mother. Also, the whole movie is a dream of someone who read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and heard about it before being [shot by a gun]. It's not the story of someone who dies, flies and is reincarnated, it's the story of someone who is stoned when he gets shot and who has an intonation of his own dream… At the end of the movie, you don't know if he died or will wake up at the hospital. It's like Videodrome, where you just don't know. I am not Buddhist at all. I want to make clear that I do not promote any belief of a lord or a reward after this lifetime. If you want to be rewarded, reward yourself during this lifetime. No one is going to help you out. Right. To clarify, I wasn't alluding to religion with the question about outerspace. I like that Oscar maintains a sense of humour and a fiendishness when he leaves his body. People have told me the real drama in this movie is that Oscar dies before having sex with his sister. [laughs] So, the first thing he does after dying, he flies to see her and be inside of her. The movie is anguishing but at the same time, it's funny. I can't prevent myself from being funny. People, they tell me to do a comedy. Supposedly I'm funny when I party. I hope that one day I can turn serious, but for now, I am having fun. You have said the decision to shoot the film in first - person was inspired by the time you watched Lady in the Lake, a film made in 1947. Did you consider how Enter the Void might speak to generations who grew up with video - games, where this perspective is commonplace? Yes. That's funny. I am not a video game addict, but I had played one in an arcade where people are walking around. I had to shoot zombies, and one zombie
would appear. Then four. Then one hundred, and suddenly I felt like I was inside Night of the Living Dead. It was like a nightmare, it was exciting. But when I first started writing the script, it was 15 years ago and I went through 10 or 15 versions. At that time, I was thinking of films like Altered States and Lady in the Lake. I also thought that Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days conveyed astral vision really well, and of course many films by Brian De Palma. Ever since I was really young, shots in films of astral visions above a small set, I have always loved them. There is a classic one at the end of Taxi Driver. De Niro's character shoots a guy who's on the sofa, and the camera climbs above. I always thought it would be cool to have cameras flying above characters and you never get close to them, like a ghost. I've been told I should film Philip K . Dick, specifically his book A Scanner Darkly, but it's already been done. That would be interesting to me, because most of the movies based on Philip K . Dick from Hollywood are made for a younger audience. There is something much more adult, a sickness, in the novels that you don't see in the adaptations. I spoke to Richard Kern recently, and he said when he was photographing Paz, she was one of the only women he's worked with who demanded to keep going, for him to shoot more photos of her naked. Was that your experience? Oh, she loves being photographed. She loves being filmed. I like her energy and I felt she was gorgeous, perfect for the film. She could cry and scream for me on demand, and I knew she had no problems with nudity. And she's very willing in real life. I'll tell you, there are people you want to go on holidays with, and if you want to have fun on a set, you better pick only those people. The more fun you can have on a set, the better the work in my opinion. We all become friends. What was the extent of your dealings with Tokyo's Yakuza in making the film? There are certainly parts of the city, like in Hong Kong, that deal with gambling, prostitution, and bars that are run by people linked to these organizations. In some neighbourhoods in Tokyo, we needed to go them and make an agreement. I didn't do it myself, but it was done. The Yakuza were not involved in the movie.
IRRÉVERSIBLE Just what has happened to result in a man being stretchered out of a dodgy looking nightclub called Rectum? Who is his haunted looking companion, escorted out by cops to a torrent of homophobic abuse from onlookers? Well, we soon find out – as Gaspar Noé's film doesn't work forward in a conventional sense ; its internal chronology goes backwards, the scenes ordered in reverse. So, the film starts with its narrative climax and ‘builds down’. The two men are Marcus (Cassell, with the broken arm) and Pierre (Dupontel), desperate for vengeance – enough to attack clients in Rectum, a gay S&M joint. Marcus is looking for a man known as El Tenia (‘the tapeworm’, Prestia) When he thinks he's found him, a fight ensues and Marcus has his arm broken. Pierre steps in and beats the man's head to a pulp with a fire extinguisher. But what drove them to this violence? Eventually it's revealed that Marcus' girlfriend (also Pierre's ex), Alex (Bellucci) was anally raped and savagely beaten by El Tenia. Marcus and Pierre had hunted down El Tenia, helped by two underworld fixers, who insist, “Vengeance is a human right”. This rape – presented unflinchingly in a static ten minute take – is the focus of the controversy surrounding Noé's film. But the media controversy surrounding the scene misses the point. The scene is shocking and horrifying, but justified in the narrative, and not at all gratuitous. Irréversible is intriguing, and despite some irritating contrivances, contains bravura elements. Particularly beguiling is the way the personalities of the characters change as time regresses, confounding earlier expectations. It's a skillful, provocative conceit and highlights the manipulation at the heart of characterisation in storytelling. Are these characters thugs or criminals? Do Marcus and Alex have a difficult, even violent relationship themselves? The first twenty minutes raise such queries. The last twenty minutes ultimately present them as an ordinary, loving couple naturally oblivious to what their futures hold (although Alex does comment, “It says the future is already written”, while reading ‘An Experiment In Time’). Their innocent behaviour and sex games provide chilling parallels, making their amorous love queasily questionable and reiterating the abject horror of the rape.
THE TREE OF LIFE “There are two ways through life : the way of Nature, and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.” There's a deliberate lack of control in Terrence Malick's, The Tree of Life, an attempt to offer us life, the universe and everything, where in the final analysis, the role of both filmmaker and philosopher is as much about what you choose not to say. We can and should admire Malick’s ballsiness. However, it is scale and structure that would give the cornucopia of organisms, their lifecycles and their habitats a semiotic significance for the viewer – and there's little value placed on such data in Malick's magical mystery prelude. This trait will, of course, be a plus point for many viewers. The majority of the film's 139 minute runtime is a prettily shot look at the life of a family of five in 1950s Waco, Texas. This section is accompanied by an ethereal voiceover which sounds like it has escaped from a life coach's self - help tape. The cinematic touchstone here is surely the teacher in Donnie Darko who informs her students: “The lifeline is divided into two polar extremes, fear and love. Fear is in the negative energy spectrum, and love is in the positive energy spectrum.” Does Malick mean us to take this sort of stuff at face value? Perhaps not (in which case why it is here? Spiritual red herring? Transcendental linguistic MacGuffin?). But if meant seriously, the extremely talented director of Badlands, The Thin Red Line and The New World may have strayed into a period of his career analogous to The Beatles' dalliance with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Malick would appear to be experimenting with ideology that might be tolerable to robust adults who know their own limits, but to which you wouldn't want impressionable school children exposed. Voiceovers aside, performances in this section are uniformly excellent (especially that of Brad Pitt as the authoritarian father) but since the actors are not given much character or decent dialogue to work with, their strength here is a testament to their mastery of their craft. It's a wonder these ciphers even have names; you suspect an early script may have boasted a list of roles reading Father, Mother, The Bad Son, The Good Son, and Other Biblical Archetypes.
Although the Bible's Book of Job is referenced several times, this family actually feels like a throwback to Europe's medieval Morality plays (cosmic in scope and with similar realism of character; a typical list of players might read Pity, Freewill, Knowledge and so on). These Morality plays frequently tracked the passage of stock characters from natural, sinful fallibility to a state of grace, delivered by the mysterious power of Grace itself. Malick's maternal character (played by Jessica Chastain) also represents “the way of Grace”, while her more human sons are free to choose wrongly.
Brad Pitt Sean Penn Jessica Chastain
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK With Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman lays it all on the line. He spent five years making this, his directorial debut. The maverick scriptwriter is on a quest for truth. Not facts. The truth as we live it. The awful splendour of everyone. Previously, Kaufman's quest took us through the head of John Malkovich and around the memories of Jim Carrey until – in Adaptation – it lighted upon the ultimate self - reflection of Nicolas Cage playing Kaufman in a film about the writer's struggle to dig out something real and true from the elaborate three - act mausoleum of the Hollywood blockbuster. His scripts stage that most un - cinematic of substances, thought; he makes the stuff that goes on inside your head – the ineffable you, the qualia of everyday inner voices and memories and secrets – into drama. The inner space is slathered all over the outer. Synecdoche, New York is the writer-director's most demanding and ambitious work; afterwards you will feel not only that you have walked a mile in Charlie Kaufman's shoes, but that you have also plumped up his pillow, pulled back his dirty sheets and finally snuggled up inside his skull. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a theatre director in the autumn of his life. His wife, Adele Lack (Catherine Keener), is an artist who paints upon miniature canvases. They have a four year old daughter, Olive, and they live in down - at - heel bohemia. Caden's body is starting to fall apart. Adele is fantasising about his death so that she can be free without guilt and their daughter's poo is green. The green poo is the first incursion of the unreal into their domestic set - up. The TV in the corner shows cheery adverts for drugs to help you when the time comes for your chemotherapy. A tap blows on Caden's sink, gashing his forehead. Under medical examination, it appears that one of his pupils is not dilating properly, a symptom of a brain tumour. The underlying code of this movie is what Martin Amis called ‘The Information’, the realisation that you are going to die that seizes you in middle age in the middle of the night, a message blipped out in a series of ones and zeros, life and death. Caden's adaptation of ‘Death Of A Salesman’ starts its run. He has cast young actors in old roles to heighten our sense of the tragedy of youth's inevitable march into mortality. He is also
attracted to the woman who works on the box office, Hazel, played by Samantha Morton. Hazel is very available to Caden. She wants to get stoned with him in her big station wagon. Her cleavage is very promising. Back home, Adele has also hooked up with a lover, her assistant, whose cleavage is offered with similar gusto. Hazel begins as a figure of wish - fulfilment for a middle - aged man. In a scene that marks the film's acceleration into unreality, Hazel is shown around a house by an estate agent. A house that is on fire. She buys it, despite her concern that she may burn to death. After the success of his ‘Death Of A Salesman’, Caden is given a MacArthur grant, basically a blank cheque to realise his most ambitious artistic vision. He acquires an enormous aircraft hanger in the middle of New York and it is here that he sets about recreating his life, casting actors to play himself and Hazel. So the battle between the true formlessness of life and the lies art requires is staged. The theatrical re - enactment will go on for 17 years and we follow it as it sucks in more and more of the real world.
Philip Seymour Hoffman Samantha Morton Michelle Williams
David Lynch, of course, is best known as the vanguard director of dreamlike and disturbingly allegorical films such as Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet (1986), and Mulholland Drive (2001) — movies that are as idiosyncratic and independently spirited as movies come, yet consistently flirt with a kind of mainstream Americana. Films like Wild at Heart (1990) and Lost Highway (1997) teem with sex and violence that is anything but cartoonish, while Lynch's heartland tale, The Straight Story (1999), proved clean enough to earn a G rating. He has consistently coaxed vivid, career - defining performances out of his female leads, including Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, and Sherilyn Fenn. In 1990, well before shows like The Sopranos or Mad Men transformed series television into a creative hotbed, Lynch revolutionized the medium with Twin Peaks, a stark, surreal serial about the investigation into the death of a homecoming queen in a small town in Washington. He was also an early adopter of the Internet as a forum for creative work, producing a set of online shorts dubbed Dumbland, as well as a sitcom, Rabbits, about a family of humanoid bunnies. Lynch's career, though, has, in many ways, embodied the great dichotomies in his work. As a director, his characters are almost neoclassical, wholesome archetypes that one might find in the movies of the 50s and 60s by directors like Nicholas Ray and Billy Wilder ; yet his films are also uncompromising explorations of the societal id and the dark underside of American dreaming. As much as he has created within the confines of popular culture, he has continued to be an outlier ; he has been nominated for three Academy Awards for directing, most recently in 2001 for Mulholland Drive, for which he won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and which helped launch the career of yet another of his leading ladies, Naomi Watts — then, just five years later, he opted to self - distribute his next film, Inland Empire (2006). Although Lynch hasn't put out a feature film in more than half a decade, he has hardly been idle. He began his creative life in Missoula, Montana, as a painter, and recently compiled Works on Paper (Steidl), a career - spanning monograph of his wideranging output as a visual artist. Renowned for his meticulous sound design and the innovative use of music in his movies, Lynch also released his critically acclaimed first solo album as a musician and singer, Crazy Clown Time (Sunday Best).In conversation, the 66 - year-old Lynch proves to be a living, breathing analog to his art : a beguiling combination of the cosmic and the mundane, the surreal and an abnormally normal - seeming normal. We spoke in Los Angeles, where Lynch lives.
SPOTLIGHT: DAVID LYNCH MATT DIEHL :
DAVID LYNCH :
I've noticed a thread throughout your recent activity. You've made a new album, you helped put together a new nightclub, you have the comprehensive Works on Paperbook that brings together all the strands of your visual art, you've taken film distribution into your own hands. Adultery is something of a prominent theme in your films, and you currently seem to be in a moment of creative promiscuity, philandering between genres and mediums. [laughs] Right. You know, I've always said cinema combines so many different art forms. As a kid, I was always building things. My father had a shop in the house, and we built things – we were kind of a project family. I started out as a painter, and then painting led to cinema, and in cinema, you get to build so many things, or help build them. Then cinema led to so many different areas – it led to still photography, music… Furniture is also a big love of mine. I started building these kind of sculptural lamps. Then I got into lithography at this printing place in Madison, Wisconsin, called Tandem Press. For the last four years, I've been working on lithography in Paris at a great, great printing studio called Idem. And I've always been painting along the way, as well as doing drawings and watercolours… There are just so many things out there for us to do.
INTERVIEW : DAVID LYNCH As I understand it, when you originally got into film, it was to try to make your paintings move. Is that correct? Yes. I wanted to make a moving painting. It's funny because I recently watched The Alphabet , one of the early shorts that you made in art school, and it reminded me exactly of that : it was as if a Francis Bacon painting had come to life. Ah, well, Francis Bacon is one of my giant inspirations. I just love him to pieces. You've always been considered an auteur as a filmmaker, but it seems like you've become an auteur of many things. I heard that you now even have your own brand of coffee beans. That came about with these two guys I work with, Eric and Erik. I hate making coffee, but one of them started getting heavy into making signature designs on the foam of the cappuccinos, and then the other started telling me I should have my own brand of coffee. So one thing led to another, and it happened. You make sinks, you make coffee – is it possible that you might someday have a kind of David Lynch version of IKEA, where everything necessary for everyday life is created with your vision? No, no – I'm not doing that! I'd have to quit everything and just design away… But it would be kind of fun. You've been making music for years, starting with the soundtrack to Eraserhead. But in 2001 you released your first proper solo album, Crazy Clown Time. Right. I worked on that with my friend and engineer ‘Big’ Dean Hurley. We pretty much did everything together except for the track ‘Pinky's Dream,’ which we did with Karen O. Many tracks on Crazy Clown Time have a surprising dance - music influence. A lot of them would weirdly work in a DJ set at a club. My music agent, Brian Loucks, always brings people up for a coffee, then we talk, and then sometimes it forms into a collaboration. Brian has brought up some great people over the years. So I had been working on music, and one of the first people Brian was going to bring up to
meet about it was into dance music. After that, I started thinking about dance music, and all of a sudden some lyrics and a little tune came. The next day, Dean and I started working, and out came the song ‘Good Day Today.’ We played it for Brian, who loved it, and he gave it to Jason Bentley [music director of Los Angeles radio station KCRW], and the story goes that Jason thought the song was by Underworld. I was also intrigued by Karen O's appearance on the record. That’s the only outside collaboration on the album, and the only song that you don't sing. How did that come about? Several years ago, Brian introduced me to Karen O. On that trip, nothing happened, but then last year, Karen O appeared again. She came in, and I gave her the lyrics, then she listened to the track over and over. She kind of sat there, you know, thinking, going over things in her mind. It was quite a comfortable situation. Then, at a certain point, Karen went into the booth and knocked the song out of the park. You have a sort of magic with female characters. I found it kind of genius that you included that feminine energy in there. Karen O serves as a kind of presence in your music the way, say, Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive or Laura Dern in Wild at Heart exist as the heroines and femme fatales of your films. Yes, you're onto something. [laughs] Well, there are different types of music, and sometimes Dean and I will do a track and we know right away it’s not for us – that it's gonna go to some girl because it's just that kind of thing. I also work on music with this other girl, Chrysta Bell, and she's a real leading lady. She's gonna be big, I hope, one day soon. But I love women. I can kind of sit and go into a world where the women… Talk to me. Jean-Luc Godard once said, “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.” Nope, you don't need much more than that.
The tagline to your last film, Inland Empire, was “A woman in trouble,” which I also thought could be the tagline to many of your films. In so many of them, the women become the emotional pivot for the action. There are men and women in the world, and they're different in many ways. It's really beautiful and interesting when the two meet. When a certain girl and a certain guy get together, certain things are going to happen. It's always these combos and different characters coming together in a story that make certain things happen. These things are what kind of makes it, and the women play a huge role. It's interesting because there are frequent connections between the way some of the women look in your films – that sort of 50s or 60s inspired, all - American aesthetic – and what's going on in contemporary fashion. I remember those hairstyles and jewel tones from Blue Velvet suddenly became a look, as did the extreme rockabilly style in Wild at Heart. Prada's Spring 2012 collection really echoes the way some of your characters dress. A couple of years ago, I know that you also made a short film, Lady Blue Shanghai, for Dior starring Marion Cotillard. We know that your work has been an influence on fashion, but does fashion play a role in your work? Well, the women dress a certain way for my films, for the world. I want to say one thing about that look; I work with this woman, Patricia Norris, with whom I started working on The Elephant Man. I loved the 50s and early 60s and that sort of started the style of Blue Velvet, but Patty deserves all the credit for the way people dressed in it. She has a knack for putting clothes on people that really fit them in every way. The way she dressed Dennis Hopper, too…Well, the way she dressed everybody was perfect, it has to be. If that part of the movie is wrong, then it'll jump out and bite you.
You're known for having so many key long- standing collaborators, like Laura Dern, Kyle MacLachlan, and the late Jack Nance, for example. You've also transformed people's careers at unlikely moments, like Dennis Hopper (in Blue Velvet) and Robert Blake (in Lost Highway). How do you choose whom to work with?
In your best - selling memoir, Catching the Big Fish, you say, “For me, film is dead.”
There are so many people I've loved working with, but you've got to get the right person for the project. Sometimes a person can be your dearest friend, but there's just not a role for them in the next film. That's kind of a hardship. If they're right for the part, though, you rejoice, because you not only love this person, but you've worked with them before and developed a shorthand. It's a beautiful ride.
It might, though, be the death of film as a director's medium, where the artist gets final cut. It's interesting how so many filmmakers with established oeuvres and visionaries who have changed how we perceive cinema – people like you, John Waters, Gus Van Sant, and even Martin Scorsese – often still struggle to set up projects today.
There's a song that you sing on the soundtrack to Inland Empire… That's the song ‘Ghost of Love.’ I had sung before that, but that one is where I got more comfortable. That song, I really love. It did start something… At one point while watching Inland Empire, I realised that I was watching a movie conceived by David Lynch, with a song sung by David Lynch, over a scene conceived by David Lynch. It was like full immersion, visually and aurally, in that moment. That's beautiful. And then on top of that, I learned that you self - released the film. You took charge of every aspect of that movie, from its creation to its distribution. Well, everybody knows that the art houses are pretty much gone. It's the mainstream films that get the theatres now, and theatres can't survive if nobody's coming to them, so it's big advertising and big money that talks. We didn't have the big money, so we figured that if we could go and book theatres and do it on our own, then it might be the best way. I don't know if it was, but that’s what happened with Inland Empire.
I meant that celluloid, the actual film that runs through the camera, is dead. That's gone, and now digital is here. But storytelling with cinema never will die – ever, ever, ever. The way the stories are told may change, but it will always be.
Thousands of other filmmakers out there would agree with that. The studios are super reluctant to give final cut. They have so much money riding on these things, so they want a committee to go and rule the roost. The poor director just dies a death. More and more, when a committee at a studio sees something that maybe people won't understand, they'll kill the thing quickly. It's an insult. I don't know why anyone would make a film if they couldn't make the film they wanted to make with all the freedom and the support they needed. But it happens every day, so you have to be independent. You have to not only find enough money to make the film, but you have to have final cut – you absolutely have to have it. Otherwise, you're gonna die. But there's always a way. Sometimes restrictions are a big blessing. When you have to build something yourself, ideas start coming that never would've come otherwise. New ideas flow in. Happy accidents do occur. With Inland Empire, you seemed liberated to run with your vision like never before. Well, it's a very big freedom to have lightweight equipment and a smaller crew. The pressure is so much less. Pressure equates to money, so it's really, in a way, a blessing to go low budget.
Mulholland Drive started out as a TV pilot at first. But when that failed, it actually opened the door for it to become a theatrical film. It was a closed - ended pilot, and then the ideas came to make it into a feature. I was meditating, and all these ideas just flowed in, in one meditation – all the ideas to finish that into a feature. You're a devotee of Transcendental Meditation, which you've practiced for more than three decades. What does it do for you? Well, you're swimming in the transcendent twice a day, and when you swim there, the world gets bigger, and you get wet with that, and the creativity grows. The Beatles, who did Transcendental Meditation, always talked about how the ideas for all those great songs came to them when they were working with the Maharishi. I always say it's not Transcendental Meditation that does it, but the great treasury within – the great field at the base of all matter and mind. But you need to transcend to get to that field. People have a lot of different, strange ideas of what meditation is. I meet people who say, “My form of meditation is jogging,” or “I lay in the sun. That's my form of meditation.” But that's not meditation. You need a mental technique that truly gets you to a field that is beyond the field of relativity. The key word is transcend. Transcendental Meditation is like a key that opens the door to that deepest level of life, that ocean of pure consciousness.
INTERVIEW : DAVID LYNCH You've said meditation helped you in the making of The Elephant Man, which was really your breakthrough film. Meditation does open up a kind of an understanding that grows. The Elephant Man was such a gift to me. I was a kid from Missoula, Montana, who had made one film at that point that was considered very strange by most people, and here I was in London, England, making a Victorian drama with some of the greatest actors in the world; a lot of people thought I was really not right for that job. One day, I was standing in a derelict hospital in East London, long since it was a working hospital. The halls had the remnants of gas lamps, and it was filled with pigeon shit and broken windows. Then a wind came and kind of blew through me, and I suddenly knew exactly what it was to be alive at that time. Once I got that feeling, no one could take it away from me. I kind of owned it after that. We live in a moment where violence is pervasive in pop culture. When you made films like Wild at Heart and Lost Highway, you came under fire for the graphic depictions of violence that they contained. But I always felt you were bringing that violence to the screen so we could transcend it, in a way. Most films reflect the world, and the world is violent and in a lot of trouble. It’s not the other way around. The films don’t make a peaceful world violent – the violent world made the films. In a way, though, the way you've reflected the very surreal world in which we live in your films has helped make surrealism itself a part of the popular cultural discussion. Well, I don't know. I love the surrealists, and I sort of understand what they're saying, but I just think that maybe things aren't always surreal. To me, a story can be both concrete and abstract, or a concrete story can hold abstractions. And abstractions are things that really can't be said so well with words. They're intuited. They're understood in a different way, and cinema can do those things. Cinema is a great, great language for concrete stories, and concrete stories that hold abstractions, and abstract stories. It's so much like music in that way.
Except for Dune (1984) and The Elephant Man, all your movies are set in America – and often a mythic America of your own making. What is the myth of America that intrigues you now? I'm an American, and I love America, even with the problems we've got. Stories come out from where we live and what we hear and see and feel, so I don't know what will come next. It's like fishing: You just wait… I'm starting to catch ideas for the next film, but I don't know what it is yet. It's like I always say, “The chef cooks the fish, the chef doesn't make the fish.” Desire is the bait, the fish is caught, and then the chef cooks it. Ideas are like fish. They just come to you sometimes, and when you're really lucky, you fall in love with them and know exactly what to do.
ERASERHEAD The film least likely to make Good Parenting magazine's all - time top ten list. In an absurdist, post - industrial world, Henry Spencer (Jack, credited as ‘John’ Nance) is forced to marry his girlfriend Mary X (Charlotte Stewart ) when she becomes pregnant. Their scraggy, wailing baby – something like ET's deformed little brother – is brought up by Henry and kept in a drawer. Lynch's origins as an art student were never clearer: surrealist images (seaweed in Henry's room, the singing puff - cheeked girl in the radiator) establish a disturbing but comic mood, with atmospheric sound effects and chilly black - and - white photography pushing unease into pole position. Yet somehow, by the end, Lynch has us rooting for the little guy. After an opening which shows Henry Spencer (Nance) floating over a roughly hewn planet and (after Fisk's horrifically burnt 'man in the planet' pulls on some levers) releasing a foetus - like entity from his gaping mouth, the film shifts the ‘action’ to an imposing industrial landscape through which Henry walks, tiny and alienated, on his way back to a dingy, cell - like apartment. The beautiful girl living next door (Roberts) informs Henry that Mary X (Stewart), his ex, has invited him to dinner at her parents' house. There, a grotesque meal of painfully awkward conversation, perverse psychosexual tension and animated ‘manmade’ chicken is interrupted by news from Mrs X (Bates) that Henry is father to Mary's premature baby. Now married, Henry shares his apartment with the loveless Mary and the baby (swaddled, but for its alien neck and head, entirely in bandages), but chooses not to tell his wife about a small, foetus - like worm that he has received in the mail. When one night Mary, unable to endure the baby's endless crying, walks out, Henry, left alone with his stunted progeny, experiences a series of dreams all loosely reflecting his frustrated desire for erasure - not that it is easy to tell Henry's dreams apart from reality. The baby falls suddenly (and hideously) ill, preventing Henry from leaving the apartment to check for more mail. A heavenly blonde lady with unnaturally puffy cheeks (Near) dances on a stage hidden behind Henry's radiator, all the while squashing underfoot the foetuses that rain down onto the floor. Henry extracts foetuses from between the legs of a sleeping Mary and flings them violently against the wall. Henry is visited
and seduced by his neighbour and tries to distract her attention from the crying baby as the lovers sink into a milky pool in the bed. The lady in the radiator sings but when Henry joins her onstage, she disappears and his head is pushed off his shoulders by a second, foetus-like head that emerges crying from his neck. A little boy (Coulson) sells Henry's disembodied head to a pencil factory which uses the brain to make pencil erasers. When Henry eventually wakes up, rejected by the neighbour and mocked by his baby, he decides that the time has come to see what is beneath those bandages – but is it heaven or hell that awaits our hapless hero? No plot summary can do justice to the unsettling experience of watching Eraserhead for the first time. Confounding, hysterical and almost unendurably tense, it leaves viewers as disoriented as Henry himself. The effect is only enhanced by Alan Splet's extraordinary sound design, where factory ambience, organ drones and other, heavily treated noise combine into a fully immersive kind of musique concrete, jarring one moment, ethereal the next but always forming a carefully calibrated continuum with the film's nearly tangible vibe.
Jack Nance Charlotte Stewart
DISORIENTATION : DAVID LYNCH
MULHOLLAND DRIVE Surreal noir about Hollywood corruption, originally shot for American television. A naive wannabe starlet arrives in town only to become embroiled in a passionate lesbian relationship and a shadowy conspiracy surrounding a new movie. Mulholland Drive shares its beguiling dream logic with Lost Highway, but resolving in a way that is symbolically – if not narratively satisfying. Betty Elms (Watts) shows up in Hollywood displaying small - town gee - whiz enthusiasm for stardom. Staying at her aunt's place, she discovers Rita (Harring) crouching in the shower. We have already seen Rita cruising toward Mulholland Drive in the back of a limousine, her journey interrupted when her chauffeur pulls a gun on her. She survives thanks to a joy - riding jeep ploughing into the car just before he shoots. Together, Betty and this beautiful amnesiac with blood - matted hair set off to discover who she is and why she has thousands of dollars in her purse. Sounds simple? It isn't. In a parallel story, young buck director Adam (Theroux) is being bullied by a sinister cartel, led by Mr Roque (Andersen, the 3'7" actor who used to talk backwards in a red room in ‘Twin Peaks’). They want Adam to cast a particular actress in his new movie, and close down the production until he cooperates. How these two plot lines resolve will be the point that the Lynchophobes storm out. As in Lost Highway, the characters mutate, exchange names, and suddenly we move from the Nancy Drew - ish quest for Rita's identity into the sordid side of Hollywood, where Betty is now a failing actress called Diane. Her relationship with Rita – now called Camilla – is all but over, but her obsessive love demands some form of retribution. The lugubrious dream logic of the plot accelerates toward something – paradoxically – more real, leading to more discontinuities and stretched moments of white - out horror. DIRECTOR
Naomi Watts Laura Harring Justin Theroux
DISORIENTATION : ANTI-THEISM
BAD BOY BUBBY Upon its 1993 release, Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Bubby upset many viewers with its confrontational portrayal of abuse, incest and mental illness, and stirred controversy with Italian animal rights organisations and the British censors – and yet it also won the Special Jury, FIPRESCI and OCIC (Ecumenical) Prizes at the Venice Film Festival, and was the second biggestgrossing film of its year in Norway. Not bad for an odd-ball, low - budget Australian film about a lost soul's redemption. Pitched somewhere between The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Being There and A Clockwork Orange (with touches of Eraserhead too in its claustrophobic opening third), the film's picaresque plot follows crazy - haired man - child Bubby (Nicholas Hope) as he emerges into the unknown world beyond the Freudian prison in which his mother (Claire Benito) has isolated him well into his adulthood. This stranger in a strange land, always mimicking the violence, hostility and menace of those around him, eventually discovers the joys of music and pizza, the hypocrisies of religion, and the possibilities of a loving family – and so at last becomes his own person, himself now mimicked by others. Bad Boy Bubby also features one of the most powerful monologues on anti - theism in cinema history. Delivered by ‘The Scientist’, Bubby is lectured on how “it is the duty of all human beings to think God out of existence”. This scene alone is worth experiencing, and at points, enduring the abrasive and claustrophobic first act. Shot by 31 different cinematographers to capture its protagonist's constant sense of disoriented wonder, and recorded binaurally using a customised pair of mics attached to either side of Hope's head, this dark satire - cum - parable wraps itself in a quirkily beautiful aesthetic that keeps us watching even when the material is at its most repellent or alarming. It is a rich, idiosyncratic and at times very funny glimpse into the corrupting, contradictory nature of modern life.
Rolf De Heer
Nicholas Hope Claire Benito Ralph Cotterill
BEGOTTEN Begotten can easily be described as “A Tale of druid human pain and suffering”. It is in all breathing essence an atheism promoting film, even though it disguised itself as a rather religious film which is then disguised again as an art house slasher surrealist piece of cinema. The opening scene features a figure labelled as God disembowelling himself with a straight razor for what seems to be the longest opening 5 minutes in a film. What emerges from his bloody filth is a woman labelled as mother nature, who soon becomes pregnant after engaging in necrophilia with God. What mother nature gives birth to is not a baby, but a full grown, rotting, nude man labelled as “The son of earth: Flesh on bone”, who is then stolen by a group of shadowy primitive figures who proceed to drag him across the central setting of the film, a barren, hellish wasteland, and finally burn him assumingly, to death. All the while flesh on bone is convulsing like there is no tomorrow and will on occasion vomit out some solid, organic matter, which the natives accept as gifts. Luckily our convulsing hero of the story is reincarnated after being potentially burned and reunited with his mother. Another group of people find them and proceed to brutally sodomise and murder mother nature and kill son of earth. No time later, another group of humans show up and take the corpses. This group of druid humans seem to be more up to date with industry and agriculture. This colourful bunch end up burying the two bodies, after they dismember them of course. The film seems rather pointless, but yet, it isn’t. It’s director E. Elias Merhige's attempt to convert the thinking viewers. He makes a smart move in killing off God in the first scene of the film. After that point, it feels like there are no rules. The plane for the characters to move around on is an anarchist based one. The film also tries to pass along the message that we are destroying the world and the director couldn't have said it more angrily, with some of the longest ‘murder’ scenes in any movie. Showing long sequences of human evil, and removing God from the equation to punish them tries to ask a question. If there is a God, then why isn't he righting the wrong that we have done?
The film is beautiful and ugly at the same exact time. The film is grainy and disgusting and for about a third of the time you can't tell what is going on, making it one of the most disorienting film experiences ever put to film. Why did the director want to bother us with such confusing images. He could very well be trying to test our patience as well as trying to test our faith. It's a film that requires audience patience. Begotten is reportedly a result of E. Elias Merhige's near death experience, and after enduring it's 72 minutes, it's evident that what Merhige saw on the other side was a long, long way from heaven.
E. Elias Merhiges
Brian Salzberg Donna Dempsey Stephen Charles
DISORIENTATION : HORROR
JACOB'S LADDER Genesis, 28:12: “[Jacob] dreamt that he saw a ladder, which rested on the ground with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were going up and down it...” In Jacob's Ladder, Tim Robbins plays a philosophy graduate turned postal worker in 70s New York. Jacob Singer's first marriage failed and one of his sons was killed in a car accident. Now he lives with his co - worker Jezzie (Peña), haunted by memories of Vietnam. But Jacob's demons are not simply figurative; like his biblical namesake he starts seeing things, faceless creatures on the subway. He begins to suspect that something happened to him during the war, that his own side experimented on him. Together with other survivors of his unit, he scrambles to find the truth about what is happening, but somehow Jacob's former brothers in arms are dying. Bruce Joel Rubin's script can be regarded as the evil - twin version of the phenomenally successful Ghost, which he also wrote. Both Ghost and Jacob's Ladder explore grief and the after - life and both end with similar moments of apotheosis for their lead characters. But Jacob's Ladder proceeds without the gloopy sentiment of Ghost – there are no supernatural pottery lessons here – and it never tries to sanitise its hero's pain. Tim Robbins gives one of his best performances as Jacob, grounding the film in reality no matter how weird things get. Adrian Lyne's direction is a world away from the high - gloss soft core (Indecent Proposal, Fatal Attraction) that made his name, with brooding photography and a chattering soundtrack creating a downbeat tone. Subtlety is not something he's accused of very often but everything is kept under strict control here. The demons in Rubin's original script were very literal – horns and pointed tails – but Lyne's creatures are more disturbing, especially since he hides them in the shadows. It could be argued that Lyne is actually too subtle, especially since he refuses to give us a resolution that tidies up all the loose ends. It's a fair criticism: this is one of the most mind - bending films ever to come out of Hollywood and is frustratingly short of explanations (Jacob's trip into the hospital's hellish basement strapped to a gurney is both horrifyingly
disturbing and cryptic in the extreme). But Jacob's Ladder is less concerned with plot than mood and feelings. It's a disturbing experience: while it offers few answers, it manages to get under the skin.
Tim Robbins Elizabeth Peña Danny Aiello
MARTYRS Following on from its controversial reception at Cannes, there were rumours circulating that Martyrs caused one or two members of the normally hardened audience attending the Film4 FrightFest in 2008 to exit the packed auditorium and throw up in the toilets. Regardless of whether the story is true or mere hype, it does reflect something of the visceral effect that Pascal Laugier's feature is likely to have on anyone who witnesses it. This is, after all, a film about a highly particularised, carefully manipulated act of extreme spectatorship – and it rather queasily implicates us all in its uncomfortable nexus of desire, guilt and abject horror. Martyrs is also very much a film of two halves. As a traumatised and unstable Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) blasts her way into a leafy home and shoots down the bourgeois nuclear family within, whom she believes responsible for abuse that she suffered 15 years earlier, it is left to her only friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) to clean up the mess and to protect Lucie from the demonic creature (Isabelle Chasse) that dogs her every step. So the first 45 minutes offer an arresting combination of ill - fitting but tautly interwoven genre elements – the hallucinatory home invasion of Switchblade Romance (2003), the shocking female vengeance of Baise - Moi (2000), the hideously contorted supernatural fury of Ju - On: The Grudge (2003). Almost exactly at the film's halfway point, after viewers have been painstakingly pummelled and pounded into a vulnerable state of disorientation, unsure where exactly their sympathies should be directed or who has been the real victim amidst all the bloody carnage on display, events suddenly take a rather different dramatic turn, and a new kind of horror begins – and from here on in, Martyrs adopts the disarmingly reflexive strategy of calling into question what it is to ‘witness’ scenes of horrific human degradation, whether as a wide - eyed insider or a casual viewer. Comparisons with Michael Haneke and his cake - eating critiques of the horror genre seem inevitable, but Laugier's preferred mode of audience interrogation is not a lecturing shout but an enquiring whisper, as he holds out the promise of a transcendent experience to be had from his abject materials, and then leaves viewers to supply it (if they can) for themselves. The ensuing quasi - mystic reverie on sadism and suffering eludes the ‘torture porn’ label precisely by examining what those
terms might mean, what appeal they might possibly have, and what questions – fundamental, even metaphysical questions – they might answer. The torments that Laugier shows in such repetitively banal detail are neither sexed up, nor ironised, nor sanitised, and will certainly not titillate or provoke any hipster laughter from the aisles – but they might just leave viewers as glaze - eyed and transfigured as the heroine in her final scenes, or alternatively as confounded and despairing as her own specific audience. Martyrs, you see, turns out to be about the crowded auditorium of filmgoers that watches it, all filled with hope and dread for what is inevitably to come. No wonder, then, that it proves so confronting. Love it or loathe it, Laugier's shocker will get you thinking, talking and arguing with anyone else who has seen it – and survived to relate their experience.
Tim Robbins Elizabeth Peña Danny Aiello
One of the greatest films ever created, by one of the greatest film makers that ever lived, 2001: A Space Odyssey is inspiration for some of the best films that proceeded it in the years and decades after its release. Still incredibly important to this day, Altered States takes a look in to the film that was the genesis of an entirely different way of film making. We also visit an early adopter of the mindâ€‰bender as a style, one whom delved head first in to the obscure and surreal, taking it to its very extremes with almost nightmarish results. In this section, we visit The Holy Mountain.
THE BIRTH OF THE MIND BENDER The genius is not in how much Stanley Kubrick does in ‘2001 : A Space Odyssey,’ but in how little. This is the work of an artist so sublimely confident that he doesn't include a single shot simply to keep our attention. He reduces each scene to its essence, and leaves it on screen long enough for us to contemplate it, to inhabit it in our imaginations. Alone among science - fiction movies, ‘2001’ is not concerned with thrilling us, but with inspiring our awe. No little part of his effect comes from the music. Although Kubrick originally commissioned an original score from Alex North, he used classical recordings as a temporary track while editing the film, and they worked so well that he kept them. This was a crucial decision. North's score, which is available on a recording, is a good job of film composition, but would have been wrong for ‘2001’ because, like all scores, it attempts to underline
The music is associated in the film with the first entry of man's consciousness into the universe — and with the eventual passage of that consciousness onto a new level, symbolized by the Star Child at the end of the film. When classical music is associated with popular entertainment, the result is usually to trivialize it (who can listen to the ‘William Tell Overture’ without thinking of the Lone Ranger?) Kubrick's film is almost unique in enhancing the music by its association with his images. Kubrick had been working on the film in secrecy for some years, in collaboration, the audience knew, with author Arthur C. Clarke, special - effects expert Douglas Trumbull and consultants who advised him on the specific details of his imaginary future — everything from space station design to corporate logos. Fearing to fly and facing a deadline, Kubrick had sailed from England on the Queen Elizabeth, doing the editing while on board, and had continued to edit the film during a cross - country train journey. To describe the first screening of ‘2001’ as a disaster would be wrong, for many of those who remained until the end knew they had seen one of the greatest films ever made. But
the action — to give us emotional cues. The classical music chosen by Kubrick exists outside the action. It uplifts. It wants to be sublime; it brings a seriousness and transcendence to the visuals. Consider two examples. The Johann Strauss waltz ‘Blue Danube,’ which accompanies the docking of the space shuttle and the space station, is deliberately slow, and so is the action. Obviously such a docking process would have to take place with extreme caution (as we now know from experience), but other directors might have found the space ballet too slow, and punched it up with thrilling music, which would have been wrong. We are asked in the scene to contemplate the process, to stand in space and watch. We know the music. It proceeds as it must. And so, through a peculiar logic, the space hardware moves slowly because it's keeping the tempo of the waltz. At the same time, there is an exaltation in the music that helps us feel the majesty of the process. Now consider Kubrick's famous use of Richard Strauss' ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra.’ Inspired by the words of Nietzsche, its five bold opening notes embody the ascension of man into spheres reserved for the gods. It is cold, frightening, magnificent.
not everyone remained. Rock Hudson stalked down the aisle, complaining, “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?’’ There were many other walkouts, and some restlessness at the film's slow pace (Kubrick immediately cut about 17 minutes, including a pod sequence that essentially repeated another one). The film did not provide the clear narrative and easy entertainment cues the audience expected. The closing sequences, with the astronaut inexplicably finding himself in a bedroom somewhere beyond Jupiter, were baffling. The overnight Hollywood judgment was that Kubrick had become derailed, that in his obsession with effects and set pieces, he had failed to make a movie. What he had actually done was make a philosophical statement about man's place in the universe, using images as those before him had used words, music or prayer. He had made it in a way that invited us to contemplate it — not to experience it vicariously as entertainment, as we might in a good conventional science - fiction film, but to stand outside it as a philosopher might, and think about it.
The film falls into several movements. In the first, prehistoric apes, confronted by a mysterious black monolith, teach themselves that bones can be used as weapons, and thus discover their first tools. The smooth artificial surfaces and right angles of the monolith, which was obviously made by intelligent beings, triggered the realization in an ape brain that intelligence could be used to shape the objects of the world. The bone is thrown into the air and dissolves into a space shuttle (this has been called the longest flash - forward in the history of the cinema). We meet Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester), en route to a space station and the moon. This section is willfully anti - narrative ; there are no breathless dialogue passages to tell us of his mission. Instead, Kubrick shows us the minutiae of the flight : the design of the cabin, the details of in - flight service, the effects of zero gravity. Then comes the docking sequence, with its waltz, and for a time even the restless in the audience are silenced, I imagine, by the sheer wonder of the visuals. On board, we see familiar brand names, we participate in an enigmatic conference among the scientists of several nations, we see such gimmicks as a videophone and a zero - gravity toilet.
The sequence on the moon (which looks as real as the actual video of the moon landing a year later) is a variation on the film's opening sequence. Man is confronted with a monolith, just as the apes were, and is drawn to a similar conclusion; this must have been made. As the first monolith led to the discovery of tools, so the second leads to the employment of man's most elaborate tool: the spaceship Discovery, employed by man in partnership with the artificial intelligence of the on - board computer, named HAL 9000. Life on board the Discovery is presented as a long, eventless routine of exercise, maintenance checks and chess games with HAL. Only when the astronauts fear that HAL's programming has failed does a level of suspense emerge ; their challenge is somehow to get around HAL, which has been programmed to believe, “This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardise it.” Their efforts lead to one of the great shots in the cinema, as the men attempt to have a private conversation in a space pod, and HAL reads their lips. The way Kubrick edits this scene so that we can discover what HAL is doing is masterful in its restraint : He makes it clear, but doesn't insist on it. He trusts our intelligence.
Later comes the famous ‘star gate’ sequence, a sound and light journey in which astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) travels through what we might now call a wormhole into another place, or dimension, that is unexplained. At journey's end is the comfortable bedroom suite in which he grows old, eating his meals quietly, napping, living the life of a zoo animal who has been placed in a familiar environment. Then the Star Child. There is never an explanation of the other race that presumably left the monoliths and provided the star gate and the bedroom. ‘2001’ lore suggests Kubrick and Clarke tried and failed to create plausible aliens. It is just as well. The alien race exists more effectively in negative space : We react to its invisible presence more strongly than we possibly could to any actual representation. ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is in many respects a silent film. There are few conversations that could not be handled with title cards. Much of the dialogue exists only to show people talking to one another, without much regard to content (this is true of the conference on the space station). Ironically, the dialogue containing the most feeling comes from HAL, as it pleads for its ‘life’ and sings ‘Daisy.’ The film creates its effects essentially out of visuals and music.
It is meditative. It does not cater to us, but wants to inspire us, enlarge us. Nearly 30 years after it was made, it has not dated in any important detail, and although special effects have become more versatile in the computer age, Trumbull's work remains completely convincing — more convincing, perhaps, than more sophisticated effects in later films, because it looks more plausible, more like documentary footage than like elements in a story. Only a few films are transcendent, and work upon our minds and imaginations like music or prayer or a vast belittling landscape. Most movies are about characters with a goal in mind, who obtain it after difficulties either comic or dramatic. ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is not about a goal but about a quest, a need. It does not hook its effects on specific plot points, nor does it ask us to identify with Dave Bowman or any other character. It says to us : We became men when we learned to think. Our minds have given us the tools to understand where we live and who we are. Now it is time to move on to the next step, to know that we live not on a planet but among the stars, and that we are not flesh but intelligence. ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is the birth of the mind bender.
ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY : THE HOLY MOUNTAIN Jodorowsky's 1970 underground breakthrough El Topo unleashed a new form of spiritual film onto the hippy generation. Three years later, the Chilean - born filmmaker took this cinematic quest for enlightenment to new heights with his follow - up, The Holy Mountain. Jodorowsky's lifelong obsession with the tarot and alchemy are made explicit in this film. The symbols of the tarot litter every scene: most notably on a huge revolving set lined with garish tarot cards. More significantly Jodorowsky himself plays alchemist as both actor and director : designing the film as an alchemical experiment. Jodorowsky intended his audience to be literally transformed by the experience. The Holy Mountain is essentially made up of three parts. The first section opens on a comatose thief (Salinas). The journey of the thief traces the stages of alchemical transmutation; he is the base metal being transformed into gold. A gang of kids ties the thief to a cross and unceremoniously stones him. He breaks free, scares the young rabble off and gets stoned with a legless dwarf (González). Bonded, the two venture into the city. There they discover a hell on earth: trucks filled with corpses; students routinely executed; a procession of crucified lambs; an American tourist filming his wife being raped; and a circus detonating toads and chameleons as part of its bloody ‘Conquest of Mexico’ show. A transvestite Virgin Mary and two fat Roman centurions ply the thief with booze and lure him into a warehouse. While he is laid out on the floor unconscious, the unscrupulous trio make a plaster cast of his body. The thief awakes to find himself surrounded by Christ - like figures in his image. Maddened, he flies into a violent rage and destroys the effigies. He has rejected the corrupt institution of the Church and is now ready to follow a new path. So begins the second instalment and the thief's cleansing process, as he scales a huge tower in the city's market place. Bursting through a membrane - like wall, the thief enters a vast rainbow coloured space. At the far end he finds the Alchemist (Jodorowsky), flanked by stuffed rams, and
his assistant the Written Woman (Saunders). In an elaborate alchemist's still, the mysterious pair turn the thief's shit into gold. The Alchemist then invites the thief to join his journey to find the Holy Mountain and overthrow the nine immortals at its summit. The thief is introduced, through a series of satirical vignettes, to the other seven members of the sacred mission: “They are thieves like you but on another level. They are the most powerful people on the planet, industrialists and politicians.” Each are assigned a specific planet, believed by alchemists to govern specific base - metals. Before they can begin their ascent of the Holy Mountain, these sociopathic capitalist icons have to incinerate their ill - gotten gains. The mission can begin. So far, so far out, and it doesn't get any straighter. What follows is a mountaineering adventure epic featuring a chimpanzee in an anorak, addled prophets and a milk - spraying hermaphrodite. The relentless delirium peaks in the final moments with a hokey camera trick, used by the director to reveal the secret of immortality. Depending on the disposition of the viewer, it is either a denouement loaded with profound sacred significance or a cop - out played for laughs. Either way, it is an audacious and unforgettable gesture. The Holy Mountain sees its mischievous director at his most sacrilegious. A babbling priest is seen in bed with an altar statue of Christ. In a poke at the pietà, the thief lies drunk in the lap of a man dressed as the Virgin Mary. And the thief’s Christ-like miracle to feed hungry children results in a violent brawl for bread. Most barbed, though, is the thief’s transformation into a saviour at the end of the film: the Alchemist sends the now Christ - like thief off into the world with a prostitute wife – Dan Brown's ‘The Da Vinci Code’, anyone? Stylistically, Jodorowsky is at his most lavish and masterful. He marshals big set pieces with confidence; from the city's complex crowd scenes, to the impressive interiors of the Alchemist's tower. But amongst these grand sequences, Jodorowsky also produces some delicate and exquisite moments: small birds flutter out of chest wounds and red ribbon streams from bullet holes. The director is at the top of his game here, managing a light poetic touch in the middle of his sprawling DeMille - scale extravaganza. It is all the sadder then that The Holy Mountain would be impounded for over 30 years. The collaboration between Jodorowsky and producer Allen Klein had been a successful one. Following the success of porn movies like Deep Throat and The Devil In Miss Jones (both 1972), Klein was keen for
Jodorowsky to follow The Holy Mountain with an adaptation of Pauline Réage's 1954 sado - erotic bestseller ‘The Story of ‘O’’. But the director walked out on the deal, uninterested in making a sex film. Infuriated, Klein withdrew all prints of El Topo and The Holy Mountain. Requests from festivals to screen either film were automatically declined. Jodorowsky encouraged bootleg distribution of both El Topo and The Holy Mountain, but to all intents and purposes the films were buried and the director was condemned to cinematic obscurity (after a failed attempt to film ‘Dune’ and the disastrous kids’ movie ‘Tusk’, it would be 26 years before Jodorowsky would return to form with the Oedipal freak show Santa Sangre). The legal battle only ended in 2004 when Klein's son called Jodorowsky and effected reconciliation. The Holy Mountain is not only a masterpiece, it's a spiritual journey, and it just might very well change the way you look at the world. The Holy Mountain is one of the most underrated and important films ever made.
Lars von Trier famously doesn't take planes – they scare him and so he travels everywhere by road. Which means that the trip back to Copenhagen from the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 must have felt even longer than the 900 miles it was. The festival had booted out Von Trier and declared him persona non grata for making a joke about the Nazis at a press conference. The 55 - year - old director drove home to Denmark with one of his sons and was dreading seeing his wife. “She was so angry with me,” he remembers. “My son and I kept talking about staying the night in different bits of Denmark just to delay getting back. My wife is very sweet, but she just kept saying to me: ‘Lars, didn't you think about the children?’” As he recalls this, he's laughing a little, nervously, and his hands are shaking. It's been a few months since Cannes, and he has had time to think. We meet in his work bungalow in the grounds of Zentropa, the company he runs out of an old barracks on the outskirts of Copenhagen. He's wearing dark trousers, a black T-shirt and a leather jacket, and he comes in an electric golf buggy to pick me up from the canteen, where awards hang high above an old drum kit. There's a Banksy - style stencilled sign on the wall that reads, ‘No artistic integrity beyond this point.’
LARS VON TRIER ON MELANCHOLIA
Dave Calhoun speaks to Lars Von Trier about his 2011 slow - burning apocalyptic feature, Melancholia Immediately, the riddles start. “First, I must apologise,” he says, shaking my hand. “I'm sober, and that press conference in Cannes was the first one I ever did sober.” I'm confused, I say. Usually people blurt out regrettable things when they're drunk. He just laughs. In the buggy we bounce over the concrete as it starts to rain, with me huddling close to the director of The Idiots and Dogville to avoid a soaking. I point out some impressive trees and he stops. “Recently, I've been teaching my kids the names of trees.” So, which is this, I ask, amused to be seeking a nature lesson from the director of Antichrist. “That's an ash. It has such beautiful leaves; I remember filming them for my first 8mm films. The problem is it's also the symbol of a far - right party. And, also, Wagner wrote a lot about the ash. So I need to stay clear of it.” But it's just a leaf, I say, as we step out of the rain and into his cabin, outside of which he has parked a more regular form of transport, a small BMW. “No,” he says, looking serious. “Nothing is ever just a leaf.”
INTERVIEW : LARS VON TRIER The film that Von Trier was showing in Cannes back in May 2011 was Melancholia. But already his mind is on a new one, Nymphomaniac, which he says he's “preparing very slowly”, adding that it will be “extremely long, extremely boring and extremely philosophical”. The title is a giveaway: it's about sex and female sexuality. “I'm doing lots of research where I go out and talk to women, especially ones who have been screwing around like hell. And it's so much fun. When they get to the age of 50, they can't stop talking about it.” He tells me about a prostitute in her forties – “a happy prostitute, or so she claims” – who told him the only clients she couldn't bear were masochists. He's laughing a lot. “The masochists are never satisfied! You can't do anything that is right, she said, you have to read their minds and they are so demanding.” This amuses Von Trier a great deal, and you wonder with all this talk of masochists whether he's thinking a little of himself – an awkward man, hard to satisfy, intent on inviting a beating wherever he goes. As a director, he's been accused of sadism too, for putting his actresses and characters through the mill – Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves and Nicole Kidman in Dogville come to mind. But it looks like an empty accusation when you consider the many actors who come back for more. Charlotte Gainsbourg returned to make Melancholia after Antichrist, and Von Trier tells me that Kirsten Dunst – who sat wincing to his left throughout that disastrous press conference – wrote to him the other week to say she'd love to do another film with him. Mindful of how extreme Nymphomaniac will be, he turned her down. “I wrote back to her saying, ‘No you don't! You don't know what you're saying!’” In the middle of talking about Nymphomaniac, he raises his voice. “There will be sex in the film. As a cultural radical, I can't make a film without penetration. It would be ridiculous.” I nod in understanding, as if talking as one porn director to another. Von Trier could speak about Nymphomaniac all day, but I push the discussion towards Melancholia, a pristine but lethargic film that unfolds over a few days at the country - house wedding of a woman called Justine, played by Dunst. She's a depressive, and the impending end of the world is only making things worse. There are Dogme - style, shaky - cam episodes illustrating her absurd wedding, where actors including John Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland and Charlotte Rampling join the
ensemble. There are quieter moments too, in the days that follow as Justine and her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) react differently to the apocalypse. Von Trier is prone to dismiss Melancholia, which he says was “a bit rushed”. When I ask if he's happy with the film, about which I have doubts, he sighs and lets a moment of silence pass. Then another sigh. “It's a little difficult to answer." A pause. “I feel ashamed a bit because I take the easy way out with this film.” He lunges for a gardening analogy and explains how the stick should always be higher than the flower you want to grow up it. “The stick I used for Melancholia was maybe not high enough.” He looks agonised and then perks up suddenly. “But I had a lot of fun doing it.” That's okay, then, I say. “No. Being Protestant, that's not okay.” I suggest to Von Trier that both Antichrist and Melancholia are painterly, which is unusual for a man who stripped cinema bare with his Dogme film The Idiots and his two Brechtian tales, Dogville and Manderlay, each shot on bare soundstages with chalk markings to denote walls. In contrast, Antichrist and Melancholia are carefully lit and composed, and many frames would work as photographs of the likes that Gregory Crewdson shoots – suggestive, overwrought, menacing, full of meaning. If you look at some of the shots of Melancholia, you could even call them – God forbid for an ageing film - school punk like Von Trier – beautiful. “Which I’m not proud of,” he says. It hasn't happened by accident, I say. He sinks into the sofa. “It's just I have other… ideals.” At the time of the release of Antichrist in 2009, Von Trier spoke about how he made the film during a depression. Has he put it behind him? “The depression? Yeah, I think so. It takes a couple of years.” Did he have therapy? “Yes. The idea is that you have given up. You lie there, face a wall and cry. They ask what you hate the least, then I say a computer game I played years ago. ‘Okay,’ they say. ‘So that will be your treatment, three times a day for five minutes.’ That's how you start. Then there are medications, of course. It's about trying to put your life back together.” He explains that as awful as depression was, it gave him a release from anxiety. “It was building up and the depression is a break from it. You fall down and you're like a bird with a cat and you say: ‘Eat me, for Christ's sake!’ And it's a good thing. It's terrible for the family, of course, and all the children think it's their fault and don't know what's happening. But maybe it's good that
they see this side of life.” At the time, many people scoffed at Von Trier’s explanation that Antichrist had emerged from a depression. It was just another stunt, they said. Yet listening to him talk now, it's hard to deny his suffering was genuine. He says he was wrong to portray his relatives that way, especially as in reality they had nothing to do with the Nazis. Quite the opposite. “During the war, my mother went to Sweden because she was a resistance fighter and my adopted father went there because he was Jewish. My real father went to Sweden too as a freedom fighter. But they were German, that was what I meant.” He's decided to embrace his Jewish background more. The Jewish parent who raised him may not have been his real father but “ this Jewishness is my upbringing… My decision is that I'm as good a Jew as anyone. That's where I come from. I don't give a shit where the sperm comes from. I'm a cultural Jew.” He also says he won't be doing any more press conferences as they're ripe for misunderstanding. “If I say to you now, I'm a Nazi, you'll say: ‘What do you mean?’ And some sense might come out of it.” But he's already broken that rule. The week before we speak, he went to Berlin to make an appearance at a retrospective. He says he was treated ‘like a rock star’ by the audience and ‘five hundred people’ asked him for an autograph. He says with a chuckle that every time he “said the word ‘Nazi’, they were going, ‘Yeah!’ That's dangerous for me, of course, as I was pleased by that.” He also says he shared his thoughts with the crowd that “the real Nazis were the French”. What does he mean by that? “It's this feeling I have that the whole anti - Semitic thing was something Hitler stole from the French.” We don't have time to dance on that minefield. But it's not the last time Hitler comes up. We talk about how in Cannes he said he can ‘understand’ Hitler ‘a little’. He's unrepentent. “I know it sounds unpleasant, but I believe we can learn things from what has happened, and if we make a lot of taboos about it, it will slow this process down or stop it completely – which would be so unfair to the people who died in Auschwitz, for instance.” We talk at length about the threat of the far right in Denmark and how disgusted this makes him feel. He felt forced to comment after it emerged that Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in July 2011, had listed Dogville as a favourite film on Facebook.
That horror prompted him to speak out against the anti - immigration Danish People's Party (DPP), which won almost 14 percent of the vote in 2007, and say it needed to take responsibility for spreading ideas to Norway. The response was curt. “They said they would never enter into a debate with a man who is mentally ill and a perverted Nazi.” You could say he asked for that. On one hand, there's the Von Trier who gets a thrill from talking blithely about Nazis in front of a crowd of Germans. On the other, there's a thoughtful, uncompromising mind who isn't willing to retreat into a shell just because he got his fingers burned. The first Von Trier doesn't do any favours for the reputation of the second. But there's something likeable about his willingness to mix serious comment with humour, and he spends much of our interview sniggering. His films have amazed, frustrated, moved and repulsed. Should we expect anything else from him? He looks like he's having a good time. and yet there's that shaking of the hands, those frequent slips into the depths of the sofa and those groans that remind you that, for Von Trier, with pleasure comes pain. As I stand to leave, I point to the tattoo he has of ‘Fuck’ on his knuckles. Somehow, I'd remembered him having the words ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ on each hand. “Oh no,” he says, “but, then again, ‘fuck’ does sit between love and hate.” At which he chuckles. A lot.
DISORIENTATION : LARS VON TRIER
ANTICHRIST “There is nothing atypical about your grief”, declares an unnamed cognitive therapist (Willem Dafoe) to an unnamed patient (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who also happens to be his wife, and whose grief is, at least in theory, equally his own. Yet in Antichrist, this psychologist's optimistic, even arrogant belief that anguish can be measured, quantified and rationalised will be sorely tested as both he – and viewers – will be taken to the very depths of human despair and depravity, and left there without a meaningful map to find the way back out and home. If Antichrist deals with raw, primal emotions, its formal prologue (introduced, like all the film's sections, with an intertitle scrawled in childish crayon) is, both in Freudian and Biblical terms, the ultimate primal scene. A toddler climbs out of his cot, watches his parents having explicitly presented sex, and then climbs past three toys (labelled ‘Pain’, ‘Grief’ and ‘Despair’ – also the titles of subsequent chapters in the film) to an open window from which he plummets, with unnerving serenity, to the wintry street below. Shot in a hyper - detailed slow - motion monochrome that captures every water drop and snowflake, and set to the Baroque strains of an aria from Georg Friedrich Händel's ‘Rinaldo’, this heady mix of sex and death is all the more horrific for its coolly aestheticised stylisation – and for ending not, as might be expected, on the orgasmic faces of the parents or on the limp body of the child, but on the incongruously domestic image of white clothes spinning in a washing machine. Antichrist is Von Trier's first foray into the horror genre – but not so much the horror of cheap frights and bogeymen in cupboards, as of the imagination's capacity for violence, perversion and destruction. As the therapist/husband chirpily reminds us, “what the mind can conceive, it can achieve” – and this is a nightmarish film that will present the darkest thoughts and feelings of a traumatised subject (or two) as narrative actions on screen, realised in Anthony Dod Mantle's crisp, occasionally warped, colour digital cinematography. Like the couple in Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, this husband and wife will travel to a place where they will face unresolved feelings of anxiety, guilt and recrimination over their child's death – but if the isolated cabin in the woods, along with its attached toolshed and its spooky attic (fit for a mad woman,
or a witch), is familiar from any number of horror movies (or indeed children's fairytales), there are also broader resonances at play here. The very name of their woodland retreat – Eden – suggests something of Original Sin about all the carnal transgressions on display, as does the wife's insistence that “nature is Satan's church”. Here evil, if it exists at all, is taken all the way back to its Scriptural source – while the film's title and the casting of the man who played Jesus in The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988) points to the ordeals of a newer Testament. There is, indeed, no shortage of flesh - rending ordeals in Antichrist, although it remains unclear whether all the physical suffering and genital mutilations are meant to be taken at face value or as cathartic dramatisations (“like role playing”, to quote the husband) of pain that is really internal. After all, how literally can one take a film that features a talking fox, a crow that will not die, and a constellation that (expressly) does not exist? Von Trier marks his woodland gardens as a playground for hypnotic states and slips of the mind, where history, myth, biology, psychology, astrology, religion and sexuality all vie as ideological frames for the (in)human drama that unfolds. It is a symbolist's dream, or at least nightmare, which must be traversed and experienced in order to move on – but instead of giving us somewhere to go, Von Trier takes us round in circles, until we too are trapped in the dark forest, sharing in the self - torments of these lost souls. Antichrist was both written and filmed by Von Trier when he was still recovering from his own crippling depression, and the film enabled him to work though his personal issues (including a disinclination ever to direct again) while affording him a controlled and mediated arena in which to explore the outer limits of misery (indeed, the film references Rob Reiner's Misery in its later scenes), fear and therapy itself. As the final credits roll, one can almost hear the director cackling demonically and declaring, like Gainsbourg's character halfway through the film – or like Alex at the end of A Clockwork Orange – that he is ‘cured’. With Antichrist Von Trier, is as contradictory, confounding and confrontational as ever.
MELANCHOLIA Melancholia commences with a symphony, not just of sound but of images. The dead stare of a young woman framed by small birds falling around her. The cosmic grandeur of the earth in space. A lush lawn with a perfectly manicured row of trees and a sun dial that looks like a Salvador Dali painting come to life. Every scene shares the same sense of moving, breathing art, advancing in deliberate, extreme slow - motion, as if in sync with the speed of the earth's rotation, all set to a booming classical score. None of this should surprise Lars Von Trier fans familiar with the director's arresting visual style. The surreal beauty of Von Trier's Melancholia opening continues throughout the film, which is portioned into two parts, or more specifically sisters. Part one: Justine. Part two: Claire. Part one begins with a joyous and somewhat comical occasion, the wedding reception of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). On the way to their party, the blissful newlyweds are delayed when their driver can't maneuver the white stretch limo through a curve in the country road. Laughing, Michael and Justine take turns trying to navigate the corner themselves, and ultimately arrive over two hours late, on foot, to the party – at a luxurious estate owned by Justine's sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland). It soon becomes evident that a lurking melancholy threatens their happiness and that Justine, though lovely and charming, is ill, most likely suffering from bipolar disorder. She frequently disappears and delays the reception, as when she decides to take a bath when it's time to cut the wedding cake. It doesn't help (though it's amusing) that her spoon - stealing father (John Hurt) insults her ‘domineering’ mother in his toast. Not to be outdone, their mother (Charlotte Rampling) parries with a speech about the futility of marriage and tells Justine to “enjoy it while it lasts.” Part two picks up post - wedding disaster as a very depleted, sick Justine arrives back at the estate where Claire cares for her. At the same time we learn that the planet Melancholia is on, according to some scientists, a crash course with Earth. This doomsday prediction has Claire more than a bit anxious, especially with the blue - and - white planet ominously hovering on the horizon. In her sullen state Justine comforts her sister by assuring her, “The Earth is evil… nobody will miss it.”
Melancholia floats in an air of supernatural malaise and tension, a melancholy mirrored in everything and everyone. With Oscar-worthy brilliance, Dunst embraces Justine's fragmented soul – simultaneously full of effervescence and dark despair. Alexander Skarsgard as the desperately - in - love yet defeated husband, and Gainsbourg the stoic yet strained sister, are equally poignant. The remaining supporting cast from Sutherland to Hurt all play their parts potently and with perfect pitch. It's all as gorgeously profound as the opening. The film is also thought - provoking. Is Melancholia a metaphor for manic depression? A commentary on existence? Both minute and grand, human and ethereal, Melancholia is a cinematic symphony that will sweep you away in its rare atmosphere.
DISORIENTATION : AVANT-GARDE
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW As a movie, ‘Escape from Tomorrow’ is a dark, weird, smutty, fitfully amusing comedy that ultimately wears out its welcome. As a provocation, it’s aces, especially if — like the film's writer - director, Randy Moore — you hate Disney and everything it stands for. This low - budget black - and - white comedy about a husband and father going mad at Disney World is clearly the work of a filmmaker wrestling with demons. It was shot on location in Disney World without permits. Judging from what's onscreen, that was the only way it could have been done; If Disney had known what the cast and crew were up to, they'd never have allowed them anywhere near the parks. “Escape from Tomorrow” is an act of cultural vandalism, the feature film equivalent of drawing genitals on cute storybook animals. Roy Abramsohn stars as Jim, the beleaguered husband of Emily (Elena Schuber) and father to two small children, Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) and Eliot (Jack Dalton). He already seems distracted or dissatisfied when we meet him, but the sudden news that he’s been fired from his job pushes him over the brink. Something inside of him snaps. He behaves with impatience and then bitter anger toward his wife and kids, develops a pathetic sexual obsession with two beautiful teenage girls (Annet Mahendru and Danielle Safady), and hallucinates sinister visions on harmless rides. The latter include a visit to Disney’s “It’s a Small World After All” that transforms the chirpy, one-world puppet show into a psychedelic nightmare. As Jim, Abramsohn has a bit of the beatendown schlub quality that Matthew Broderick brought to the hero in “Election.” He doesn’t sugarcoat the character’s unlikable qualities; he puts the desperation front-and-center, and makes sure that Roy owns all of his thoughts, including the sleazy and revolting ones. The movie’s wild and disturbing climax unleashes the moviemaker’s id by way of Jim’s flipped-out imagination, and suggests he’s right to think that the Mouse has a sinister agenda. There’s a sense of missed opportunity at the end: “Escape from Tomorrow” could have been a sneaky masterpiece, and it isn’t. But it’s still a vital and significant American feature; all movies should be this “disappointing.” With its sneaky production history and low-tech special effects (including green-screened backgrounds a couple steps up from a karaoke video), “Escape from Tomorrow” is guerrilla art. It lashes out against the placid, sexless, clean-scrubbed version of happiness
peddled by Disney, not because it thinks sanitized diversions have no place in American life, but because the Disney vision is as blandly oppressive as Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” “Escape from Tomorrow” screened at Sundance and EbertFest. It had good critical notices and a lot of sight-unseen support, mostly from filmmakers who resented the way that media corporations squash art that tries to comment on their world view, their characters or their corporate history. Some assumed the movie would never get a proper theatrical release. That Moore’s film did, in fact, see the light of day suggests a sea change in media corporations’ sense of what the phrase “Fair Use” means, and what level of bullying they can get away with. Maybe Disney’s lawyers realized it’s not appropriate to try to silence a comedy because it dares to treat Disney World and its copyrighted rides and characters as one might treat any other iconic site that families visit, such as the Washington mall or Times Square. To insist otherwise might have invited a legal battle—one that Disney would have lost, once the jury realized that “Escape from Tomorrow” was a political as well as an artistic statement, and that the decision to shoot on location was essential to its mood and message. This is a small film set in small world, but its audacity makes it important. It feels like the first salvo in an intellectual property war. The enemy was wise not to shoot back.
Roy Abramsohn Elena Schuber Katelynn Rodriguez
HOLY MOTORS A man (writer/director Leos Carax) wakes to find, hidden behind the forest wallpaper of his hotel room, a door leading to a packed nocturnal cinema. What follows, whether it takes place on the cinema’s screen or in the theatre of the man’s still dreaming mind, is a surreal odyssey in which, over one long day and night, Monsieur Oscar (a sublimely versatile Dennis Lavant) travels in a white stretch limousine to his various ‘appointments’, donning a different guise – banker, female beggar, mo-cap performer, bestial monster, killer/victim, father, bandleader, anarchist, old man at death’s door – for familiar-seeming scenarios scripted and staged before unseen cameras and an unknown audience. The second film of 2012 (after Cosmopolis) to be set mostly in the back of a limousine, Holy Motors presents us with an everyman always in motion, not just because of the vehicular transport speeding him from scene to scene and genre to genre, but also because of his own postmodern, Protean nature. With the lines constantly blurring between where performance ends and reality begins, Carax’s digitally-shot movie is a hall of mirrors, built from the recognisable images and ideas of films past, while driving forward into an uncertain future for the traditional machinery of cinema, ever at risk of being stored away in the dark. By turns bizarre, moving, funny and melancholic, Holy Motors is a meditation on movies, mutability and mortality, in which all the world is a screen, and we are each of us merely players.
Denis Lavant Edith Scob Eva Mendes
A MOVIE GUIDE FOR FRAMES OF MIND Altered States Collection One : Disorientation Designer & Editor Sean Edgar Contributors Hunter Stephenson Matt Diehl Dave Calhoun Typefaces Optimo Theinhardt Lineto Akkurat Pro HVD Supria Sans Stock Xerox 160gsm Canson Purple 300gsm