This Week in Geek (2-08/06/14)


DVDs: 1983's Videodrome is still one of David Cronenberg's strangest films, and that's really saying something. I don't think its Kafkaesque (or Dickian) take on television is so much prescient as it is commentary on the TV/video of the day. I think snuff films like Faces of Death were much more of that time, for example. The story about a television program that makes your brain evolve takes us into Cronenberg's surreal (and as ever, squishy) territory, and because hallucinations abound, is filled with ambiguity. I hardly know what to say about it, except that it's a completely original, darkly comic, thinking man's piece of retro-SF. And you can't glibly sum it up as a critique of sex and violence because Cronenberg obviously doesn't believe these lead to the decay of society or contribute to decadence and violence in society. The Criterion Collection DVD includes two eloquent commentary tracks, one with the director and his DOP, the other with stars James Woods and Debbie Harry. You'll also find an unusually poignant short film called Camera, made by Cronenberg with one of Videodrome's character actors, a retrospective making of, audio interviews with special effects people (including make-up legend Rick Baker; and they also comment on effects test footage, just as the director comments on the raw footage of TV productions seen in the film), a vintage round table discussion between Cronenberg, John Carpenter and John Landis, lots of stills and graphics, and of course, the inevitable full-color Criterion booklet.

I'm a huge fan of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski (The Double Life of Veronique, Three Colors trilogy) and the Decalogue is his reaction to someone saying there ought to be a film about the Ten Commandments to counterpoint the sex and violence in late 80s cinema. He made ten. These one-hour dramas aired on Polish television, and if you were to fit them into the color scheme of his later films (Veronique as gold/yellow, and the Three Colors' Blue, White and Red), it would be Gray. Though each film has its own characters, they are set in and around the same gray concrete apartment building in Warsaw. Only one film could actually be called "colorful". But it's the content that truly merits the "gray" label. The films' themes aren't really one-for-one with each of the Commandments, but rather explorations of how several of them could contradict one another. Morality isn't a black and white thing that can be codified the way religion sometimes tries to, and Kieslowski's characters are trapped in ethical puzzles that surprise and confound by their anti-formulaic presentation. The stories character-based, the endings poignant by their ambiguity. None of them left me cold, and I wish I'd watched them with other people, because each deserved a good discussion afterwards. A great achievement. The DVD set includes a slightly spoilery (or at least, it felt like it, but not so bad when you watch the films) introduction by Roger Ebert, a short behind the scenes featurette, a Polish TV show in which antagonistic critics ask Kieslowski questions (it's a strange format, but the director's intellectualism triumphs), and a retrospective in which colleagues remember Kieslowski two years after his death in '96. My only complaint is that these last three features are dubbed over with English voices. Why not subtitle them as was done with the films themselves?

In our weekly(ish) cultural exchange, DJ Nath brought Breakfast at Tiffany's - we needed something light and non-violent on Friday after the highly-mediatized shootings and manhunt here in Moncton - the classic Audrey Hepburn film based on Truman Capote's novel. I'd never seen (or read) it, and found it a very enjoyable experience indeed. Not only was it more daring than I would have expected from a 1961 big studio romance (though Holly Golightly's employment as a prostitute was kind of glossed over), but its central theme of finding oneself is a universal one. The romance felt adult, the characters have charm to spare, and the comedy mostly works, with the possible exception of Mickey Rooney in "yellow face" playing a "comical" Japanese stereotype. Was Jerry Lewis not available? As if to beg forgiveness, the DVD includes a featurette on racism in films of the era, especially as relates to Asians (didn't watch it, it wasn't my disc). Stealing the show, however, is the nameless cat, one of the very best feline actors I've ever seen on film. Poor thing doesn't know it's a metaphor, but looking exactly like the cat in Inside Llewyn Davis, and just as central to the film WHICH ALSO TAKES PLACE IN 1961, well... I've decided they're one and the same. Anyway... I really need to add more classic films to my viewing regimen, especially those I think of as Hollywood puff pieces. These cultural exchanges have really opened my eyes.

Publications: The Canada-grown Doctor Who criticism&analysis 'zine Enlightenment published and sent out its last paper issue at the end of 2013, renewing itself by going paperless, which I wholeheartedly support. Issue 172 is finally out and the zine has gone full color and is perhaps three times the page count. I've been contributing to Enlightenment for about a year, just audio and book reviews at this point, and have kept those items "exclusive" by not repeating them here. In any case, editor Cameron Dixon has, I think wisely, chosen to make this new issue available to all, even without subscription/membership. CHECK IT OUT HERE.

And of course, I'm still shilling my OWN Doctor Who pdf publication, the Second Doctor's Expanded Universe Sourcebook, which does tie into the Doctor Who RPG, yes, but isn't all stats. If you're a fan of Doctor Who novels, audios and comics, you'll find encyclopedia-style entries, a chronological timeline of events, etc. from the 2nd Doc's extracanonical stories. A few written by me, most by collaborators. We're very proud of it and are working on the 3rd Doc book even as you read this.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - Slings & Arrows


jdh417 said...

Out of some geeky fan worship, what did Debbie Harry have to say about Videodrome?

Actually, what I'd really love to hear would be her comments about being on the Muppet Show.

Siskoid said...

Off the top of my head...

It was one of her first acting jobs. She thought the script was fascinating. She was worried the director would be aghast that she'd changed her hair from blond to brown. She didn't mind the nudity because she'd been a right hippie. I can't remember anything from his analysis of the film per se, but her commentary was all anecdotal.

Everybody else involved in the production agreed she was hilarious, sharp and witty all through the shoot.

That's what I can remember 8 days on.

jdh417 said...

I was shocked by the hair color change too. Thanks for posting that.

I gotta make sure to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's at the next opportunity so I can take special note of the cat's performance.

Siskoid said...

Top 3 cat movie performances of all time. Possibly top 1.


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