Ecstatic Stigmatic

Ecstatic-StigmaticEcstatic Stigmatic is an early product of the New York Cinema of Transgression movement which was active during the late 70s to late 80s. Directed by Gordon Stevenson (bass player for the seminal No Wave group Teenage Jesus and the Jerks) and starring his wife Mirielle Cervenka (little sister of Exene Cervenka of the band X), Ecstatic Stigmatic is the bizarre tale of Rose F., a stigmatic who is confined to a psychiatric hospital.

The film opens with a reading from Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis which happens to include an entry on Rose F., a stigmatic who was formerly the leader of a dangerous blood-letting cult. We are then introduced to Rose at her current residence, a home for the mentally ill where she lies around in the crucifixion pose convulsing in ecstasy and speaking in tongues while bleeding from her hands, feet and mouth and refuses to eat anything but the Eucharist (this is all explained via narration).

Inter-cut with the hospital scenes are flashbacks to Rose’s childhood where we see young Rose (Mirielle Cervenka now wears pigtails and cute little dresses) interacting with her Father, a deranged preacher / tattoo artist and mother, a tattoo-covered performance artist. One night, while backstage at one of her Mothers performances poor little Rose is molested by a hilariously creepy and face-painted Arto Lindsay (of DNA “fame”). There also multiple visuals of religious imagery, gay pin-ups, tattoos of the crucifixion.

As it goes on, the film gets increasingly harder to follow but is mainly made up of scenes of Roses parents, Rose convulsing and being drip-fed raw egg, Arto Lindsay doing his facepainted multiple personality act, and plenty of other oddities.

It appears Ecstatic Stigmatic was shot mostly silent and then overdubbed with overly dramatic sound effects and a soundtrack of alternately screeching violin, No Wave-esque rock, Jazz and short bursts of white noise. Sadly the picture isn’t too hot as the only available copy of this film is a nth generation VHS dupe.

All in all Ecstatic Stigmatic is a highly experimental film that manages in turn to shock, confuse and at times even amuse. Sadly it was Stevenson’s one & only film as he died not long after from AIDS. A few years later, his wife and leading lady Mirielle was killed in a car crash.

I’d highly recommend fans of Transgressive, Experimental and Art-house cinema to seek out this obscure little flick.

Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom

Salo-120Taking place in an isolated mansion located in the Fascist-controlled Italian Republic of Salo in 1944, four powerful libertines – the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate and the President – abduct eighteen teenagers, 9 boys, 9 girls, to indulge in four months (120 days) of debauchery and sadism with.

In-between storytelling sessions wherein three elderly prostitutes entertain both captives and sadists with lascivious tales of child abuse designed to set the mood, the four pillars of society put their slaves through harrowing acts of degradation until an eventual excruciating death.

Pasolini’s final masterpiece is a retelling of de Sade’s degenerate tour de force The 120 Days of Sodom, though various other literary giants are also referenced throughout. Dante’s Divine Comedy is used as inspiration for the segmented format, the film being broken into four sections: the ante-inferno, Circle of Manias, Circle of Shit and Circle of Blood. There’s also frequent nods and winks to Pound, Proust, Baudelaire, Nietzsche and Dada.

As a youngster exploring the depths of video nasties and extreme cinema, Salo was seen as the ultimate. Stories circulated of people puking, passing out, and being unable to make it all the way through. When I finally got the chance to see it, I must admit I was slightly let down. Yes, there’s shit-eating, eye-gouging, rape and numerous other paraphilias, and of course the infamous torture-ridden finale. But it was all set within this arthouse framework that made it feel somehow “highbrow” to me, not lowdown and filthy enough.

Now, as a “grown-up” years later, I can more thoroughly appreciate the impact it had, and still has. Not only concerning the confronting shock value but the exploration of themes such as political corruption, abuse of power, the human commodity and the role of the spectator. Pasolini was fiercely anti-authoritarian and opposed capitalism and what rampant mass culture and consumerism was doing to traditional Italian culture and age old values, these are dominant themes in Salo.

Yet despite all the depravity and allegorical statements there’s also a perversely comic element present, chiefly manifest in the role of the President (played to perfection by the late Aldo Valletti) with his lazy eye and literal shit-eating grin, he’s truly a memorable character that induces queasy giggles and groans.

Salo is a film everyone should see at least once. An absolute must own at $10 on DVD and $20 on Blu-Ray you should get this now. NZ has been waiting years for a local release and this is a great alternative to the very expensive Criterion release.

Extras:

  • Open Your Eyes – A newly created on set 20 minute full colour documentary shot in 1974 by Journalist and Pasolini expert Gideon Bachmann. Mostly consists of on-set interviews with a few actors and footage of Pasolini filming the torture sequences in which I cannot believe on previous viewings I never noticed they are wearing massive fake cocks.
  • Walking With Pasolini – A 20 minute documentary with BBC archive footage of Pasolini and interviews with Neil Bartlett, Roberto Purvis, David Forgacs and Noam Chomsky. An insightful extra in which interviewees discuss their opinions of the themes in Salo.
  • Fade to Black – 23 minute documentary including interviews with Bertolluci, Breillat, John Maybury and David Forgacs.
  • Whoever Says the Truth Shall Die – An hour documentary that looks at the life and death of Pasolini. Although not terribly insightful it has interviews with director and literary friends as well as actors and interviews with Laura Betti who also reads Pasolini’s poetry.
  • Ostia – A 25 minute film by Julian Cole about the death of Pasolini featuring Derek Jarman.
  • Ostia Music Video – Also included is a music video for Coil’s track Ostia (The Death of Pasolini). Shot by Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle on location in his adopted home of Bangkok, it essentially recreates the scenario of Pasolini’s death-by-rent-boy using Thai rent boys.

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray in Shock’s Cinema Cult series.

The Drift

 

Based on Tennessee Williams’ novella, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, The Drift tells the decadent tale of Karen Stone, an aging, recently widowed actress who moves to Rome looking for love. While in Rome Karen meets The Countessa, a glamorously degenerate Madam who hooks her up with a succession of gigolos, then, once she has fallen for one known as Paulo, threatens to blackmail her with photos of them together…

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Stroszek

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Call me an artless heathen but I’ve never really been down with much of Herzog’s work at all. Whether or not a lot of his comments in interviews are tongue in cheek, he just comes across as totally condescending. His comments about Abel Ferrara while being interviewed about the Bad Lieutenant remake (insert “reinvisioning” or another beating round the bush euphemism of your choice here) had me spitting blood. His dry German “wit” rubs me like a cheese grater.

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Suddenly Last Summer

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Suddenly Last Summer is the second installment in John Aes-Nihil’s trilogy of Tennessee Williams adaptations, the other titles being The Drift and Boom (which as far as I know is not currently available). Now, having never seen any of Williams’ original plays nor any of the numerous film and television adaptations myself, I can only judge his work from the interpretations of Mr. Aes-Nihil which, to say the least, are utmost bizarre.

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Festen

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Some films are impossible to review without some discussion around their method of production. One such example of this is Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen (AKA The Celebration). Critically acclaimed and hugely successful on release (including securing the Grand Jury Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival), the major talking point around the film remains the fact that it was the flagship release under the DOGME 95 banner.

The brainchild of Vinterberg and fellow Dane Lars von Trier, the DOGME 95 manifesto was a set of rules known as the VOW OF CHASTITY (always in upper case!) that aim to reduce dependence on what the pair viewed as unnecesary filming techniques. The feeling was that modern filmmaking had placed emphasis on technical audiovisual aspects rather than on actors and drama. The prescriptive rules enforced everything from no special lighting to exclusive use of handheld cameras to allowing only sound recorded at the moment of filming. Continue reading

Scorsese: My Voyage Through Italian Cinema

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Scorsese: My Voyage Through Italian Cinema is a 7 disc box set that gives the viewer a small taste of Italian cinema. This collection combines films from the greats such as Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and Michelangelo Antonioni. By all means this collection makes only a small dent in the genre as the films of Roberto Rossellini, Cesare Zavattini and Giuseppe De Santis do not appear in this set, (these directors are also considered to be among the major figures in Italian Neorealism). Fear not as Scorsese indulges the viewer in his 246 minute look at Italian films titled My Voyage to ItalyMy Voyage to Italy showcases many films that do not appear in this set, and apart from that is a very interesting watch as Scorsese muses about the profound affect many of these films had on him as a child and how many of these films have inspired his own films. Continue reading

Kiss Napoleon Goodbye

kiss-napoleon-goodbyeKiss Napoleon Goodbye is essentially a film about relationships and the jealous, hateful and obsessive natures of them. Hedda (Lydia Lunch) and her husband Neal live in an isolated castle in the countryside that was formerly the home of Napoleon. They live a pretty relaxed life and are expecting their first child, and then one day Hedda’s ex-lover Jackson (Henry Rollins) comes along and everything starts to go wrong.

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