Tag Archives: Porn

The Miscreants of Taliwood @ Sheffield Doc/Fest

Terrifying is not an adjective you can readily apply to most documentaries, at least not beyond the subject matter at hand. Sure, plenty take horrifying travesties of justice as their core focus, and consequently make for a ‘tough watch’. The Miscreants of Taliwood goes one further in effectively making a documentary horror film. Anything can happen, and consequently does. The Doc/Fest catalogue somewhat glibly ends its synopsis reflecting that Miscreants is “at times difficult to watch.” The film goes far beyond that, occasionally to the point of forcing more sensitive viewers out of the screening I saw. Personally I had the good fortune to almost look away, to second guess my line of acceptability. Miscreants definitely crossed that line.

The setup is that of Australian artist/filmmaker George Gittoes, living in Pakistan, off in pursuit of the indigenous Pashto film industry. Micro-budget films that come somewhere between Rambo, Bollywood and Jackass, with political commentary and guaranteed midgets in every film. The heartland of this industry in Peshawar, close to the borders of Afghanistan, is closer still to political rule of the Taliban. As has been well documented, the Taliban hate all ‘frivolous’ creation that isn’t in the name of god, and consequently don’t look too favourably on camp action films with scantily-clad women. Film producers, and dvd vendors are both under persistent attack, kidnapping and threatening individuals, blowing up the stalls of those who sell the films. Still the industry keeps on turning, the producers on the run, the stars living an uneasy existence in an unacknowledged but ever present public eye.

The terror beyond the subject matter itself comes in the merry abandon Gittoes holds towards the telling of this story, his scant disregard for maintaining a register the audience can be comfortable with. Observational footage is inter-cut with overt and covert dramatic/satirical recreations, Gittoes role as observer pushed right to the forefront of the film by maintaining an assistant camera man at all times, consciously filming the filming of the indigenous film industry. When the outsider chooses to personally get involved with the industry, stumping up $4000 (US) and taking a key supporting role, his position as observer, documentary filmmaker, Pashto star and producer gets mixed up into a frankly dizzying mix.

There’s the palpable tension of watching Gittoes drive into the Taliban heartland to interview a prominent Mullah on censorship, an anxiety of the Gittoes becoming just another kidnapped Westerner, executed for the world to behold online. Not that this is played deathly straight, as on either end of the segment are some pretty hilarious clips of Gittoes practically falling over himself in the role of local action superstar.

The central question at the heart of the film seems to be what kind of film star is Gittoes destined to become: that of the AK-wielding Pashto action hero, the dead subject of a gruesome Taliban execution tape, or even just as a unabashed, exploitative and unreliable gonzo documentary maker?

The broad laughs of a Western audience at the high camp shenanigans of the Pashto film industry are all fine and well, but Miscreants’ brilliance comes in the genuinely horrific last chapter of the film, where this very laughter is turned to political ends. Taliwood is as daft as a brush, but it’s one of the region’s few areas of self expression. The Taliban are doing their utmost to terrorise this industry out of existence, and in its place only an industry of propaganda can exist. But just like Pashto action films, the execution propaganda films are pushing towards even more hyperbolic levels of audience engagement. Gittoes goes the distance in showing this horrifying absurdity by throwing an execution film up there. He shows some of it, he partially censors some of it. I couldn’t tell you how much as I’m no big fan of snuff films myself, and chose to close my eyes for the climax. Others didn’t, a few even took this as a cue to make a swift departure from the cinema.

I hated Gittoes for going where he did, for showing the unshowable, while still sort-of-but-insufficiently censoring it at the same time. I couldn’t quite believe the festival would let people see the film without a sliver of warning.

But then the film makes its points, about the indoctrination of the young, about the escalation of terror on both sides of the conflict, about the sheer absurdity of the Taliban’s hypocrisy. Wham-Bam-chew-on-that pal.

Perhaps it’s a bit cheap to knock your audience down, and then effectively lecture them while they’re still on the mat. But it works, the conflict is fucking terrifying and to do it with even an iota of justice you can’t shy away from things. Which is perhaps the ultimate cliché, but never was a stronger case made for it, and all the power to a documentary for going where mainstream news couldn’t go in a million years. A disconcerting experience through and through, and unlikely to be on More4 or BBC Storyville anytime soon.

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The Joel Schumacher Film Noir

Nic Cage Watches a film in 8mm gauge8MM: A Joel Schumacher Film Noir about Snuff films, starring Nic Cage.

That’s as effective a review that can ever be written about 8MM. Its’ short pitch neatly ties together just how awful this film is. But then it is bizarrely compelling at the same time.

It pains me to admit it, but 8MM is a guilty pleasure. A wafer of a film, it’s impossible to defend its artistic worth to either the Cinerati or to the average-punter-in-the-multiplex. Its’ hooks (Nicholas Cage + grotty porn-ish narrative) are obvious; its’ look, its’ soundtrack and its’ plywood acting even worse. But I just can’t resist having it on in the background. Cheap and charming wallpaper, you could say. But then there’s still more to it than that.

The premise is drawn from the cod-noir trope of the gumshoe hired into clean up the dirty business left behind by the Establishment. The feature revolves around the titular home, a snuff film found tucked away in the safe of a deceased Captain of Industry. The dirty secret of a seemingly respectable family man, his widowed wife recruits Ol’ Horseface Cage to come in and prove that the film isn’t a real snuff film. It’s just very cleverly faked, of course, using make up and special effects. Of course.

Snuff PosterThe tale of a flick which carefully depicts the slow and deliberate execution of someone in an almost pornographic manner is a myth many have capitalised on before, most notably in the predictably named Snuff. A sub-standard exploitation horror, it reached new heights in headline grabbing by having a ‘real’ faked murder tagged onto the end of a unsellable film, a reel that the dastardly filmmakers ‘forgot’ to cut out. Ee-gads, if the morbid teenagers didn’t queue around the block to see the notion of someone really being killed, crikey such a thrill! As an individual somewhat obsessed about film censorship, and getting a glimpse at what shouldn’t be seen, I should perhaps not go throwing rocks, but Snuff is about as cynical as exploitation cinema gets. And that’s saying something in its own right.

Nic Cage Looks at Naughty Stuff 8mmAnyways, Ol’ Horseface sets off on his investigations after the girl featured in the snuff film, and his path leads him towards the sordid backwaters of Hollywood and the ‘adult entertainment’ industry that Cage feels certain the girl fell into. As he trawls the seedy bars, and the red light districts of the big smoke the soundtrack rolls out a bizarre arabesque of pure Orientalism. Fresh off his commission for Fry’s Turkish Delight, the score’s composer goes wild on chanting arabs, oud’s and dulcimers. An allusion perhaps to the taboo vices of Marrakesh, and the sweaty boys that fill William S. Borrough’s fevered vision of Tangiers in Naked Lunch. It’s all playing with notions of the Middle Eastern that are non-kosher at best, pretty racist at worst. These associations are continually spun as Cage enters the underground filth bazaars of LA. Imagine a second hand record fair, but for paedophiles. When Cage starts asking around for the Xtra hard ‘snuff’ stuff, these high principled nonces take the moral high ground and shout him out of the market. Tsch, come on Nic, there’s paedophilia, and then there’s going too far!

Peter Stormare Frank Sobotka Tony Soprano in 8mmA few dead-ends later and he’s chasing the trail to a porn casting agency run by a porn baron, played by none other than Tony Soprano! And here the film takes an amazing turn, as brilliant actor after brilliant actor start stumbling into the roles of the devious trio behind the snuff film. First Tony, then Peter Stormare shows up as the visionary S&M director behind the snuff film, and then finally Frank Sobotka (from Season 2 of the Wire) is unmasked as the murderous gimp in the film. We’ve already had Joaquin Phoenix pop up as a Nic’s side-kick/inside-man from the porn shops, sporting a look styled after a pensioner’s distracted recollections of seeing the front man from Janes Addiction on TV last night. One solid actor is one thing, but four has you doubting quite how bad this film actually is.

Frank Sobotka is revealed in a dramatic flourish right at the end of the film [not a spoiler per se] and the shock of having the murderer revealed is only surpassed by the shock of seeing a genuinely good actor beneath the mask. And all these assorted actors do a tremendous job of pulling their weight with a by-and-large leaden script. Their work however, remains built on the shaky foundations of the acting talent that is Nic Cage, and that is quite possibly where the whole film comes undone.

The film wastes no time throwing Nic right into the deep end when it comes to pooling his thesp-y skills, giving cinema of the highest cringe factor as we watch him pretend squirm infront of a pretend snuff film we are forbidden from pretend seeing. He’s a father, a husband, and the outrage and the disgust at the horrors he sees knows no bound! The poker face he has, the lies he has to tell to get into the close circles of these perverts, the double lies, the deceit! Such anger, such frustration, such emotion!

Nic Cage Watches a Horrible Film 8mm

It’s a demanding role, and Cage wholly, uttely and desperately fails to even approach the heights or nuance the role actually demands. The conflicted dick is the unshifting anchor of a good film noir; Bogey in the Maltese Falcon, Joseph Cotton in the Third Man, Fred MacMurray in Sunset Boulevard. Cage is an unguarded sledgehammer through every scene in this film, a cardboard cut out of himself that occasionally amuses but predominantly reminds you that you are watching a Nic Cage film.

Because that’s what it is. A Nic Cage film. A Nic Cage film with some very interesting notions about the value of the recorded image, the sexualisation of violence, the aggressive undercurrents of pornography, the parallels of the legitimate and illicit film industries in Hollywood, the myth of the snuff film, and the bizarre compulsion to hide from the most gruesome sights known to man, while simultaneously watching it through shielding hands. The awfulness of this film could be read as perfect illustration of this repulsion/attraction at work, but that really would be giving this film a lot more credit than it’s due.

There are distant echoes of Cronenberg’s Crash in all of this, and many other fine film besides. Perhaps knocking the budget down and making it a bit more ‘indie’ would have stood this film to good stead. Perhaps recasting either Stormare/Sobotka/Soprano in the lead role would have stood the film even better. Either ways, it still won’t stop me from watching the-amazing-film-that-could-have-been again sometime in the not too distant future, Nic Cage be damned either ways.

Nic Cage and Joaquin have a smoke in 8mm

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The First Coming of Antichrist

charlotte gainsbourg in antichristThis is it. The eye of the media shit storm; after the cultural digestion from the liberal arts programmes and columns but still before the reviews start raining in the ‘official’ verdict. Lars von TriersAntichrist has been a fair while coming, but the great Dane has got the media machine humming to his tune, a maestro of stoking controversy, a grand master of publicity. To borrow the sacrosanct yet divine language befitting of the film I can say I’ve been blessed to see the film, and there is a lot to digest.

Firstly we need to establish some parameters to von Trier’s game, for those are the rules we have to play by.

Don’t ever take anything he says at face value. The hook he has given himself in the promotion of Antichrist is that he is ‘The Best Film Director in the World’ and countless hacks have taken the bait. Even if they all contextualise the statement and the humour in which it was said, the headline remains the same. Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday Times tries to put down von Trier by inventing his own word and denigrating that it as ‘pure undergraduatese.’ The fact that Appleyard continues to play this game on von Triers terms is proof if any that Trier’s declarations are anything but naïve.

A few critics have done a good job at calling von Trier out on this sport, and hats go off to the Guardian’s in-house film-hater-extraordinaire Peter Bradshaw for presciently speculating on the publicity value of von Trier announcing his depression over two years ago. That was the first word I heard of Antichrist, and it is wholly unquestionable that this is a film defined by a nigh chronic depression. It is bleak, unrelenting, and it spirals towards a hysterical ending. It remains firmly in the subjective of the female lead, struggling and failing to break out of a cycle of grief. As she is locked in depression so too is the viewer rooted, shackled to their seats throughout.

In its’ premise Antichrist is easily summarised, and its critics are quick to quip about its blunt symbolism. A husband and wife fall into deep mourning after the tragic death of their child. The ‘She’ is briefly hospitalised, physically debilitated by her loss, while the psychoanalyst ‘He’ carries his loss in a ‘typical’ manner. To tackle her ‘atypical’ mourning, the couple retreat to their isolated cabin, Eden, set deep in an overbearing almost monstrous forest. The husband is blindly convinced that he alone can give active and adequate therapeutic guidance to break his wife out of her depression. Despite promising signs early on, it all goes terribly wrong.

In its weakest guise this is a film about psychotherapy, and films shot from the therapists couch rarely grasp you by the eyeballs. Onscreen discussions on the value of medicated ignorance or the importance of exposure therapy clunk about in a heavy handed way, railroaded through the film by an increasingly insistent husband/therapist. Yet these doubts fade as the folly of this dominant approach slowly unravels, turning instead to a confrontation of cold rationalism against emotional hysteria. Put bluntly it turns into a straight up clash of the sexes.

This is hardly new territory to von Trier and his critics are all too quick to cite his major post-dogme films and the trail of ‘destroyed’ women he has left in his path. Dragging Nicole Kidman through misery on Dogville, driving Björk to eating her own jumper on Dancer in the Dark. While this rather glib trope of ‘dragging women through hell’ might be obvious in these later films, Antichrist draws its conflict from further back in von Trier’s past, harking back to his widely overlooked TV film adaptation of Euripides’ Medea.

A true archetype for the conflict and contrast of the hysterical wife against the coldly rational and distant husband, Medea casts the imbalance of the sexes at the heart of its conflict, and the tensions between the responsibilities of the mother (Medea) against the liberties of the father (Jason). It ends with Medea rejecting the shackles of her maternal role, killing her sons by Jason, and fantastically disappearing on a golden chariot driven by dragons. While von Trier’s Medea doesn’t end quite so fantastically, it keeps the bloody ending and the inner conflict of a woman uncomfortably vulnerable to a cheating husband she still loves remains as the films definitive dynamic.

This very anxiety carries over into Antichrist, driving a personal tragedy deeper into the realms of metaphysical and symbolic horror. Before the film has even been released across Europe discussions are already raging on the pages of the respectable press whether this film is misogynist or not. To boil it down as such is about as complex as speculating if the coin has landed heads or tails. Is the switch on, or off? Does von Trier hate women, or not? Such headbangingly simplistic debate is about the greatest injustice you can do the film, as it does away with the nuance of the personal and the broader issues that von Trier targets in Antichrist.

Chaos Reigns in Antichrist

Equally the excessive violence at the end of the film does not definitively flick this switch on or off. For the media to be endlessly scratching their heads over it is surely to miss the forest for all the trees? In terms of British exhibition this film is unequivocally a milestone in what can be shown on legitimate screens, and some media debate over the role of the BBFC, and what they think about Antichrist, is natural. Yet when it boils down to the usual claptrap of ‘but is it Art?’ and ‘What DOES it take for a film to get banned these days?’ you can’t but worry for the state of educated discussion of such matters. Yes it is shocking, wince worthy, enough to make any human genuinely uncomfortable. But this is just about underlining the horrors that the characters go through. When Oedipus claws his eyes out it isn’t to anti-titillate the audience, it is (arguably) to drum home the horrors he has just realised, to make physical the dramatic revelation of irony that has been building up throughout. This is the school of tragedy von Trier is dealing with. Physical mutilation: par for the course. Deal with it.

Or is it?

The devilish imp von Trier really cannot be trusted, and for all the interviews with director and cast consistently pointing to the sincerity of this production you can’t but wonder what ire he was hoping to stoke up with all of this. He has widely discussed the two edits he had made, the uncut Protestant version and the cut Catholic version, and with his canny producers’ hat on von Trier must have seen this coming. Undoubtedly, but for all of its most extreme moments Antichrist is none the less a tremendously challenging watch, and all the better for it.

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Real Life Swashbuckling Pirates

Real Life PiratesMaybe it was a little premature to declare the bootleg hawking Pirate of the backstreets to be a dying breed.

For sun has finally hit these shores in some meaningful sense of the word, and it was a lazy Sunday afternoon fit for the Kinks themselves. To the Pub! To the sunny, if not so green beer garden down the way!

And settled as I was, beverage in hand, my heart genuinely dropped to see a chap with backpack and DVD’s doing the rounds. Most tables gave him short thrift, but he managed to find one table where they were happy to specifically ask our man here if he had any pornos going spare.

I mean COME ON. Haven’t you people heard of The Internet?

Christ, if ever there was an industry that took a kicking from piracy then it must surely be that of adult entertainment. You rarely hear the Federation Against Copyright Theft speaking out in their defence. Perhaps a few lessons could be learnt from the one film industry which in spite of online piracy embraced the anonymity the internet offered and sold that fact to its legions of ‘keep-it-behind-closed-doors’ customers.

Still, the staff at this pub were quick to spot what was going on and duly sent Mister Shakey-cam on his way. Which then begs the question: why don’t FACT (et al) target pubs and open workplaces that attract the bootleg hawkers? I doubt there are many hostelleries that are glad to see illegal wares being peddled under their roof. Let alone porn.

I mean COME ON. Porn? In a pub? In the middle of the day? On a Sunday?  From a pirate?

Seriously. People. Whats. Wrong. With. Just. Going. On. The. Int. Er. Net?

In other vaguely related piratey news, PC World have started running an advert saying how they’ll help set you up to stream (illegally) downloaded films from the PC in your study to the TV in your living room. Which is a handy alternative to bootleg DVD’s if you’re really fucking desperate to watch porn on something other than your computer.

Movie World at PC World
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