New DVDs: Nikkatsu on Parade

pdvd_265Nikkatsu, the venerable Japanese studio, seems to be on a licensing binge lately.  The latest titles to appear are “Pigs and Battleships,” “The Instect Woman” and “Intentions of Murder,” featured in Criterion’s Shohei Imamura box set, and two campy action pictures,  Seijun Suzuku’s campy “Detective Bureau 2-3″ and Motumu Ida’s “3 Seconds before Explosion,” both from Kino.  Reviews here.

IndieWire has the list of the Cannes award winners, lead by Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon.”  I thought we were through with that guy after his English language remake of “Funny Games” gave the game away, but apparently Haneke’s brand of finger-wagging sensationalism still wows ‘em on the festival circuit.

In the meantime, Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” has won an “anti-prize” from the high-minded Ecumenical Jury,  suggesting that the great provocateur has once again completely succeeded in his intentions.  Alas, IFC has announced that they’ll be issuing a censored cut — what von Trier’s reliably sardonic producer, Peter Aalbaeck Jensen, has referred to as “the Catholic version” — when the film gets to the states this fall.

UPDATE:  I’ve heard from IFC’s Ryan Werner, who says that, in regards to “Antichrist,” “In theaters, we will release the Cannes version and the TV version is under discussion not only in American but around the world.  Anything done will involve LVT’s supervision.”

328 comments to New DVDs: Nikkatsu on Parade

  • Johan Andreasson

    Mike, you’re making an interesting point here, and I think you had a post in an earlier thread about how we evaluate movies differently if we come from a literary or a visual background. (I think the example was DETOUR visual and DOUBLE INDEMNITY literay.) I’ve never been able to make up my mind whether I should work as an illustrator or an editor, and keep wobbling back and forth. I hope it’s possible to keep both viewpionts and value movies as well as TV series. I think John Ford is the greatest visual storyteller I have ever seen, but I very much also value the novellistic qualities of some very good tv series being produced right now. And if you take a closer look at DEADWOOD I think that “realism” is not the first word thet will come to mind.

  • Alex Hicks

    Kent, In the Bordwellian terms I’m using (competently I hope), you’re imposing the Classical Hollywood criterion of tidy narrative development and closure upon an “art film” and rejecting its claim to the ambiguity not as a narrational failure but as a form of realism. I don’t see the last shot of “Cache” as a move as a false toward clarification but as an introduction of further questions and a deepening of ambigiuity. (Steven’s Astaire gets the girl but De Sica’s Ricci goes off unsure whether he’ll ever get the job, Spade and Harry Caul identify the killers, but Antonioni’s Sandro and Thomas both withdraw from their invetigationss, Hitchcoclk’s mcKennas succeed in oicking up “Hank” but Truffaut last shot of Antoine Doinel in THE 400 BLOWS asks a troubled “What next?”)

    Johan, To your view of DEADWOOD’s season two as “a little too far out” I’ll propose “a little historical insight beyond the old Western cliches” –at long last.

    “When the legend becomes fact… get back to history.”

  • Johan Andreasson

    Alex, I have to confess that I haven’t read up on the historical reality behind DEADWOOD – is this a case where truth is stranger than fiction? You have to bear in mind that I’m a fan of CALAMITY JANE with Doris Day.

  • Alex Hicks

    DEADWOOD, Season Two, is a nice extention of Pete Dexter’s original novel “Deadwood” in light of the Gilded Age (a term coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their 1873 “The Gilded Age.”) The classic novel of Big Capital out west is Norris’ “The Octopus.” DEADWOOD, Season Two, wouldn’t be the first victim of a cinematic attempt at de-mytholization of the West (e.g., cf. “Heaven’s Gate”).

  • Johan Andreasson

    Alex, I stand corrected.

  • Alex Hicks

    Johan, Hope Swedes do a lot of flamboyant cussing or your enviable translation job could end up almost as tough as translating Shakespeare.

  • Johan Andreasson

    One last question about DEADWOOD: is it actually written in blank verse or does it just sound like it to a foreigner?

  • Kent Jones

    Alex, to clarify: it’s one thing to resolve a film tidily; it’s quite another to leave a film unresolved without knowing exactly WHAT is being left unresolved. In other words, I don’t believe that Haneke knows the answers to his own questions, which is quite different from a film like BLOW-UP or PERSONA on the one hand, or 2001 on the other. Or. for that matter, THE BIG SLEEP and the supposedly unanswered question of who killed Owen Taylor (which is actually cleared up in the original cut). So, please don’t accuse me of adhering to the Sundance lab/Syd Field school of dramaturgy. If such were the case, I’d have to sell off half of the DVDs on my shelf.

    Mike, you should look a little more closely at other people’s posts. First of all, I believe I went on for a whole paragraph about the visual style of THE WIRE and even mentioned a particular camera movement in the first season. More importantly, no one that I know of is singling out THE WIRE or DEADWOOD simply because they have narrative forms that resemble Dickens or language that evokes Shakespeare’s. God knows, there is plenty of garbage that is meant to operate similarly. And there are plenty of other films that work differently. For instance, two of the best movies of last year, THE HEADLESS WOMAN and RR. Or the films of Philippe Garrel, two of which begin this week’s thread. I haven’t done so myself, but to compare THE WIRE to Dickens seems like good sense to me, not as a way of elevating it but of describing it.

    As for science fiction, I apologize – I know you’re a stickler about the term, so no, HEROES is not true science fiction. I’ll let someone else rule on whether or not it represents another step backward for American culture.

  • Kent, isn’t it interesting how any attempt to describe something by analogy is instantly read as a comparison in quality (cf, Jesus’s assumption that I put Garrel on the same level as Jo Swanberg)? It is perfectly possible to notice that Charles Dickens and the creators of “The Wire” share an interest in multiple plot strands without claiming “The Wire” as the artistic equal of “Little Dorrit.” Or at least it was until the internet came along.

  • nicolas saada

    Since we talked about american tv, and that I am not sure about getting into Garrel yet, I Have tos ay, that, although I am not familiar with Nat Hinken, I am on the other hand a huge fan of ERNIE KOVACS. Glad to read that Juno does not share the overall enthusiasm on Kawase.

  • Kent Jones

    Dave, it’s one of the odder developments to occur within our lifetime. For that reason, it’s interesting, I suppose. Lee Siegel got into the incivility of the internet with his book (AGAINST THE MACHINE), but he didn’t get near this phenomenon, the strange variation of Telephone that gets played. Except that it only goes down the line once before it starts to distort.

    Here’s a question, perhaps more appropriate for the next thread: does Bujalski consider himself a Mumblecore member?

    Getting back to courtroom sequences, I just watched BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT again. The most astringent of all courtroom sequences in one of the most unsettlingly bare bones films ever made.

  • nicolas saada

    BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT may be the best film Oliveira ever made…

  • Richard Suchenski

    Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a very interesting film and “astringent” is a good word for the courtroom sequences there, which hover in some weird nether-zone between austerity and abstraction. Lang’s ability to make that pared-down, almost totally flat style expressive is remarkable (this is also true of 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse) and the film as a whole has always struck me as a good test case for auteurism. As a Lang film, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt seems amazingly pure, but I can’t imagine it working from any other perspective. The plot itself is too convoluted for its own good and I shudder to think what the remake will be like.

  • Richard Suchenski

    Nicolas,

    That’s certainly an interesting way of looking at it! Oliveira has never made anything so completely lacking in visual texture, though. Budget was obviously a factor in the style of Lang’s last American films, but surely he could have used more nuanced lighting (as he did beautifully only a few years before in films like The Big Heat and The Blue Gardenia) if he wanted to. It’s a strange film, but the strangeness is haunting.

  • Kent Jones

    Richard, I went back and read Rivette’s piece on the film after I saw it. Which interests me, because I almost agree with him and then he moves outside of the film. He wants the film to be something for Lang that it isn’t – not quite – and he gives the final reversal an extra layer I’m not sure is there. To be clear, I think it’s an incredible movie, in which Lang obviously worked very closely with the screenwriter and then made the limitations function for him. Rather than struggling with the drabness of the sets and the flat lighting, he puts them to work: the action feels absolutely elemental. The newspaper editor/father is basically a suit with a man in it, as functional as his desk. The purely perfunctory aspects of Dana Andrews’ hazy abstractedness (probably alcohol-induced) and Joan Fontaine’s sultry middle-aged angularity work for rather than against the movie, because as Rivette says, it’s all action: no pleasantries, no remarks about the weather, about two exteriors in the whole movie, and we’re left contemplating nothing but action, eventually foiled by chance and then by impulse. And the tawdriness of it is overwhelming: the body make-up rubbed into the car upholstery, the jailhouse greyness of the image, the sad, constantly reiterated equation of sex with money. And Lang’s precision is even more harrowing than usual, given the minimal elements: the eye is always directed so precisely through the placement of the camera relative to intersecting planes and degrees of height and distance. But after Andrews delivers the final revelation, I don’t think the movie goes any further. Up to that point, it’s like watching layers of consciousness being peeled away. I don’t think I ever liked an Oliveira film as much, except maybe INQUIETUDE.

  • Alex Hicks

    Kent, I see no reason to think that Haneke doesn’t know WHAT is being left unresolved: for example the Laurents comprehension of each other, George’s comprehension of his relationship to his son and Majid and Majid’s son and his world. As for plot mechanics, it’s not clear to me that Haneke has any more need to know just what exactly has generated the events that have impinged on the Laurents than Antonioni had need to now know what exactly led to the murder (if any) of the park companion of Venessa Redgrave in BLOW UP. It’s Thomas (David Hemming’s) and George Laurent’s psychological and moral reactions to murder, suicide, etc., that are the topics of interest to Antonioni and Haneke. These are topics quite unlike who killed whom in THE BIG SLEEP –unless perhaps Haneke has wondered into plot complications that demand to be tidily resolved like those of Classical Hollywood narrative, which I doubt. (I’m not sure because Haneke doesn’t ground his film’s ambiguity by the application of a stict adherence to point of view like Thomas’ in BLOW UP but instead bookends and intersperses CACHE with shotS from some vantage point(s) not of either Laurent, from some mysterious vantage point(s) suggesting those of whomever has disturbed the Laurent’s world, and that might contain an answer or two. But I see this more as slightly off key post-modern teasing than serious incoherence.)

    No more meant to “accuse” you of anything than, I suspect, Johan intended to “equate” the quality of “The Wire” to that of major serialized Dickens (though after willful association of David Milch and Balzac, I could sympathize with the enthusiasm.)

  • Johan Andreasson

    “though after willful association of David Milch and Balzac, I could sympathize with the enthusiasm.”

    No matter why you read them, just cheers to the great 19th century novelists! I haven’t found a way to talk about him here: but watch out for Anthony Trollope!

  • Kent Jones

    Alex, I see it as “slightly off key post-modern teasing” (of the extremely willful variety) rather than “serious incoherence” myself. For me, that’s the limitation of the film, and it’s what finally makes it so pretentious. I suppose I’m with Godard on this kind of point, and I’m reminded of his comments on PERSONA: “In the end, I always believe in realism…I mean, if you didn’t base yourself on realism you wouldn’t be able to do anything any more, you couldn’t even step into a taxi in the street, assuming you dared to go out in the first place.”

  • Alex Hicks

    Johan,

    jOHAN,
    Alas, you address one who, despite pretensions to literary omnivore status, has read ZERO Trollope. Where do you suggest I start? With (a) The Warden and Barchester Towers, which sit neglected on my book shelf; (b) somewhere among the political novel; (c)other novels; (d) some available TV series or, even, film?

  • Johan Andreasson

    Alex, I started with the TV series THE WAY WE LIVE NOW and then went on to “The Warden”, “Barchester Towers” and the rest of the Barset novels. Got me hooked just fine!

  • Alex Hicks

    Thanks, Johan, I think I saw (and liked)bits of THE WAY WE LIVE NOW back in what seems like the late 70s.

  • Richard Suchenski

    Kent,

    That’s an excellent description of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt and I think the Rivette essay is itself most interesting for extra-cinematic reasons. The reference to the “most secret form of the power and the glory of being man,” the interest in destruction and the “movement from the Interior,” and even the description of the mental processes the viewer goes through in transforming surface contradictions into more abstract, conceptual patterns all apply much more strongly to the films Rivette started making shortly after writing this piece (I think work on Paris Belongs to Us began in earnest a few months later) than to Lang’s film. It’s a rather ingenious piece of criticism too, of course, full of that mad enthusiasm that made the best Cahiers pieces from the late 50s so distinctive, but I agree that it does go beyond the film at a certain point.

  • Kent Jones

    Richard, that’s the beauty of those pieces by Rivette and Godard and Rohmer – they’re making cinema without a camera through their engagement with it as critics.

    Have you looked at THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR recently? It’s been years since I’ve seen it, and then it was only on VHS from a company called Video Search of Miami. Truly, it’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever laid eyes on. If I had to define mise-en-scène, I’d show that movie.

  • Rivette on Lang Where are you all finding Rivette’s essay on Lang ? Is it translated into English? For the record, I don’t have any of the books in the English Cahiers anthology series.

  • Richard Suchenski

    It’s been several years since I’ve seen Lang’s Indian films too, but they made a huge impression on me. The sense of space seemed overwhelming. Fantoma put out a pretty good DVD several years ago, but I’d love to see a good 35mm print.

  • Richard Suchenski

    D.K., Tom Milne’s translation of the Rivette essay (called “The Hand”) is in the Hillier Cahiers anthology on the 1950s and it’s also in the long-out-of print BFI book on Rivette (Rivette: Texts and Interviews) that Jonathan Rosenbaum edited in the 1970s.

  • Richard Much thanks. Once you mentioned the title, I remembered that I have the Rivette book! Got to get those Cahiers anthologies, though.

  • Kent Jones

    DK, I have the Cahiers anthologies, and they’re invaluable.

    Richard, I have the Fantoma DVDs, and they’re beautiful.