Friday, 24 July 2009

DVD from my Collection: Onibaba, A Film by Kaneto Shindo

A horror movie in all but name. Set in a swampy landscape of reeds and grasses during the endless strife of feudal Japan, two peasant women survive by murdering soldiers fleeing the bloody battlefields and selling their armour. The film consists largely of their hand to mouth existence and the erotic interplay between the younger woman and the lone male inhabitant of the swamp-there is a fair share of naked breasts and sweaty sex. The supernatural intrudes at the end in the form of a demonic mask-fans of Japanese horror will recognise a precursor of films such as Ring.

Onibaba, a black and white film from 1964, is creepy and atmospheric. The horror ending is effective and quite frightening but the rest of the film is engrossing too. In its two central characters, turned into killers by their circumstances, both victims and perpetrators, we have an indictment of war and an uncaring social system.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Book Review: Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One by Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche has a bad reputation. He's considered at best a selfish amoralist, at worst a harbinger of Nazism. But actually engaging with Nietzsche's ideas counteracts the above to some extent. Reading 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra' is no exception, although much of his philosophy and tone of language is unsettling to liberals and left-wingers. It's not a work of philosophy as such but a mock biblical prose poem outlining Nietzsche's message to humanity, represented by the figure of the prophet Zarathustra. God is dead and Christian (slave) morality's foundation in the passive resentment of the poor and the weak exposed. Zarathustra proclaims the coming of the Superman; someone who has overcome weakness (physical, spiritual and psychological) and individually encapsulates the powerful life-forces of creativity, non-conformity and the will to power-a celebrant of life affirmation in all its aspects. Transformed by stifling religious piety and the ressentiment of the conforming 'herd,' the values of the Superman are twisted into European civilization's concept of evil-selfishness, lust and greed, etc.

The proclamations of Zarathustra (Nietzsche) in this gloriously excessive and grandiose book are not even remotely socialist. He castigates all forms of collective endeavour and philosophies of egalitarianism and idealises the almost pathological self-sufficiency of the extreme solitary. Furthermore, although not directly stated, an aura of social Darwinism pervades throughout. This as well as praise for masculine warrior virtues, alongside an utter disdain for women, suited only for the breeding of children, does indeed give an impression of fascism. So why have I, a socialist and ardent anti-fascist, found 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra ' an inspiration?

Firstly to say Nietzsche was a fascist is an outrageous over-simplification. He despised German nationalism and racialism, admired the Jews and advocated miscegenation. Hitler and the Nazis would have been deeply repugnant to him. Fascism is probably the ultimate political ideology encapsulating conformity and the herd mentality, singly based on hatred (ressentiment) of the outsider. Secondly I'm not only a socialist but also a libertarian. It's clear Nietzsche's Superman is a vision of a liberating and creative individuality, in opposition to authoritarian (religious) morality and the state, not an Aryan master race. Many liberals and left-wingers (now made up today almost exclusivily of the white middle-classes) have embraced a guilt inducing 'hand wringing' pity for those considered beneath them on one hand and a stereotyping of the working-class, the poor and oppressed on the other, as mere victims in need of salvation, rather then potentially active agents in their own lives, seeking their own individuality and liberation. (Of course this can only be achieved working with others in an egalitarian fashion and is the reason why I describe myself as a socialist.)

But I need living companions who follow me because they want to follow themselves-and who want to go where I want to go.

A light has dawned for me: Zarathustra shall not speak to the people but to companions! Zarathustra shall not be herdsman and dog to the herd!

To lure many away from the herd-that is why I have come. The people and the herd shall be angry with me: the herdsmen shall call Zarathustra a robber.

I say herdsmen, but they call themselves the good and the just. I say herdsmen: but they call themselves the faithful of the true faith.

Behold the good and the just! Whom do they hate most? Him who smashes their tables of values, the breaker, the law-breaker-but he is the creator.

Behold the faithful of all faiths! Whom do they hate the most? Him who smashes their tables of values, the breaker, the law-breaker-but he is the creator.

The creator seeks companions, not corpses or herds or believers. The creator seeks fellow-creators, those who inscribe new values on new tables.

Further reading: An interesting article on Nietzsche and his influence on ararchists and anarchism by Spencer Sunshine.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

DVD from my Collection: A Clockwork Orange, A Film by Stanley Kubrick

This controversial adaptation of Anthony Burgess's novel about mind control tells of Alex (Malcolm McDowell ), a teenage thug in a tawdry near future-dehumanizing and luridly presented-who is cured of his violent ways by a sadistic form of aversion therapy. It was the (arguable) glamorizing of Alex's anarchic sex and violence that provoked so much angry reaction in the media...The film is not in fact amoral, though its moral is controversial: A Clockwork Orange is a religious allegory with a Frankenstein theme-it warns humankind not to try to compete with God-but Burgess reverses the theme, showing it to be as evil to unmake a monster, by removing his free will, as to make one. ACO is an intensely visual tour de-force, deploying clinically a spectrum of powerful cinematic effects. As in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, some sequences were rendered even more disturbing by the use of music contrasting wildly with the visual content, most famously in Alex's rendition of "Singing in the Rain" while kicking in the ribs of a woman he is about to rape.

From The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls

The above entry from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is an overall accurate description of Kubrick's film but ignores its one major flaw-its misogyny. Although the violence is over emphasised by zealous moral campaigners and the pro-censorship lobby; A Clockwork Orange includes not one but three rape sequences. Exacerbated by the absence of any major female characters and the clinical coldness of Stanley Kubrick's style, you come away with an impression of women as objects (see picture above for a literal depiction). The only woman with any 'balls' is bludgeoned to death by a giant fake penis.

Still A Clockwork Orange certainly has relevance in our era of hoodies and happy slapping, alongside the moral panics instigated by the media.

My Ten Favourite Science Fiction Films:

1: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

2: Solaris (1971)

3: 2001: A Space Odyssey

4: Blade Runner

5: Stalker

6: Quatermass and the Pit

7: Forbidden Planet

8: Dr Strangelove

9: The Incredible Shrinking Man

10: Alien

Friday, 3 July 2009

DVD from my Collection: Eyes Without A Face (1959), A Film by Georges Franju

Eyes without a Face mixes horror with eerie visual artistry-a true masterpiece of the genre. A simple plot consisting of a mad plastic surgeon kidnapping young women for 'donors' to save his daughter's mutilated face, is transformed into a disturbing fairy tale of guilt and obsession.

My Ten Favourite Horror Films:

4: Eyes without a Face