Showing posts with label art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art. Show all posts

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Flesh for Frankenstein & Blood for Dracula (a.k.a. Andy Warhol's Frankenstein & Andy Warhol's Dracula) (1974)


Dir. Paul Morrissey || 1974 || US-Italy-France & Italy-France  

It is advisable to watch Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula back-to-back if possible. It is how they were made and both have the same main three actors (Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Arno Juerging) in similar roles - Kier as Dr. Frankenstein, then Dracula; Dallesandro as the proletariat servant-gigolo, and Juerging as Frankenstein and Dracula's assistants. Although the films appear to take place in different time periods, they also seem to be similar in atmosphere...and that atmosphere is bizarre, trashy, and campy. These are not adaptations to watch if you are looking for faithful adaptations of Frankenstein or Dracula. Both of these films seem to take place in some realm either before or after those stories, or almost a netherworld just outside of the original stories. It is a world that takes some adjustment because while it is laughable in Frankenstein that an actor with an Italian accent and Joe Dallesandro with his heavy New York accent are supposed to be lifelong friends who grew up together in some European countryside; by the time you get to Dracula you just kind of have to accept that Dallesandro is going to stick out like a sore thumb. Udo Kier takes some adjusting as well, although he fits into these films easier than Dallesandro, especially Dracula. For at least the first half-hour of Frankenstein, I could not shake the notion that Tommy Wiseau has been fooling us all along and is just doing a very extended impersonation of a young Udo Kier in Frankenstein. Except Udo Kier actually seems to be mentally present in his scenes, and not in space like Wiseau. 

While Flesh for Frankenstein ends on a note similar to Twitch of the Death Nerve, I find Blood for Dracula more interesting and prefer it a little more. In Blood for Dracula, Dracula and his assistant have traveled to the Italian countryside so that Dracula can find a bride, preferably a virgin. They take up with a family with four beautiful daughters who have fallen on hard times due to their father's gambling problems. They are able to keep their villa, but the daughters must do the farming. They only keep one servant - a handyman played by Dallesandro of course.  And of course the mother is insistent on allowing Dracula and his assistant to stay with them, although almost all of the daughters find him to be creepy and too sickly to marry. The family has two virginal daughters who are actually virgins; and two wild daughters who lie about being virgins, because they have both been having sex with the handyman, and apparently with each other. The wild daughters are steadfast about their lying, even when Dracula tries to insist that he does not mind if they are not virgins and that it is just something his family insists on. Dracula  finds himself poisoned as soon as he tries to drink the blood of the two wilder daughters.

What I find interesting about Blood for Dracula is that the daughters' situation or prospects is beset on all sides. Dallesandro's Socialist handyman character insists that the aristocracy is dying and perhaps the girls should learn how to work; which is not a terrible idea, except for the fact that Dallesandro's character is a rampant misogynist and a rapist. Blood for Dracula takes place in the early 20th Century, not the 19th, so it is a bit odd that there is the insistence of keeping up appearances with the mother, although it is often remarked that the family has not had visitors in years. If that is the case, then there is no need to worry about shocking society if the daughters do not marry an aristocrat or a wealthy man. The other side to this is that other than perhaps the youngest daughter, the daughters seem to be settled into the idea that they should marry up (just up, not middle or down or even for love really) and that there are no other options because that is how they were raised. The father (played by director Vittorio de Sica) leaves the film early on for London, leaving the mother and daughters to fend for themselves (i.e., remain willfully ignorant of how dangerous Dracula is). Only the handyman catches on to Dracula's nature which leads to the gory and over-the-top fight sequence at the end of the film. And Dracula is not a romantic hero, he is a conservative traditionalist and a rapist as well considering that he attacks the daughters often in mid-conversation. While one could find the end of Blood for Dracula a bit more hopeful than the ending to Flesh for Frankenstein (or see it as the Socialist/proletariat killing off one more crumbling aristocrat), I do not believe that the survivors are much better off with the handyman. The film seems to be more concerned with the Socialist argument with just a bit of subtext thrown in to acknowledge the changing times, but it does not appear that it wants to give the female characters in the film too much choice in the matter. 


And this is just creepy. 
(I am not commenting much on the hand that Andy Warhol had in making these movies, because it seems as if it was in name only; besides the presence of Joe Dallesandro, who was one of his people. If one was expecting a set of films with pop-art sensibilities, they would be somewhat surprised that both films were shot in neutral tones. I guess better to see the eventual blood, gore, and Udo Kier's blue eyes with.)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Notes on Shulie (1997/2000?)...


Originally posted in December 2011. I actually read The Dialectics of Sex shortly after writing this, and used it as the critical basis for an insane paper I wrote my last semester of grad school concerning the Twilight films.

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Dir. Elizabeth Subrin || 1997/2000 (?) || USA

I am in the process of making up the viewing and work for my Experimental Film class this past quarter. It was the only class I had to completely stop attending because the films tended to cause relapses with bad headaches and nausea. Since my professor tended to show films that were actual film prints, some of the films I will never be able to see. So she gave me an alternate list of sorts for anything that was not on VHS or DVD. Shulie was one of the alternate films. In this class, I have tended to enjoy the films made by women or LGBT people more than the other films. Looking at my journals I had/have to keep for this class as apart of the coursework, I occasionally made or make the correlation between some experimental films and my old medium of zines. When I made, read, and distributed zines I tended to prefer ones made by women and LGBT people. Both mediums tend to be done as art for art's sake, and not to make money...although some experimental film makers like Kenneth Anger wanted to be mainstream and never totally got there. Not too different from some people in zines, although those people tend to be frowned upon, if not downright shunned. Both have their own distribution networks or similar set-ups. Another theme of my journal entries tended to be varying levels of indifference towards the films, which is basically my attitude towards zines for the past five or six years to the point where I rarely read them now. I owe a lot to (post-riot grrrl) zines for helping me develop critical thinking skills, but it's those same skills that kind of make me unable to read zines much now.

Anyway...

[SPOILERS AHEAD...although you can probably only find this film at university libraries...which are open to the public, I might add]

Shulie is an odd film. Its set-up is that it is a found-footage documentary on feminist Shulamith Firestone that was shot in Chicago in the late 1960s while Firestone was about to receive her BFA in painting. This hearkens back to the idea that a lot of women's creative work has to be found or re-discovered, which was a big part of the second wave feminist movement that Firestone was a part of. In turn, at least in literature and sometimes in art, this allowed  more women to become a part of the canon. This film may also be pointing out that this needs to be done with Firestone...which while I have heard of her occasionally, I admit to have never read her work. After watching this film, I would like to, but her most famous book is out of print and used copies on Amazon cost anywhere from $35-500. 

But eventually, the found footage concept has some holes poked into it. When Firestone is being asked about being apart of the "Now" (NOW? Is this a play on words/later organizations, perhaps?) generation, and she gives an indifferent answer about how she only occasionally stops by protests; there are shots of people in the park putting on facepaint and they look somewhat modern and a bit crust punk-y. Subrin then has a shot of a kid playing basketball in a very modern Chicago Bulls jersey. I am not totally sure what this scene is supposed to convey. Firestone never speaks of feeling alienated from the protests in the film, so I am not sure if this a commentary on the romanticizing of the 1960s that went on in the 1990s or what. I cannot think of or remember much of what people would protest in the 1990s except the WTO...but then again, I was a teenager in the 1990s.

Another issue as that time goes on, you notice how charmingly, then oddly self-aware Firestone is. Like any young person, she kind of hates where she currently lives. She speaks early in the documentary about wanting to move to NYC to live with the other outcasts. She speaks of art school making her more inarticulate at the age of 22 than she was at the age of 18 (I strangely feel the same way about grad school). But there edges of radicalism that likely became more pronounced when she published The Dialectics of Sex at the age of 25. So perhaps this is an attempt to make her more human and relatable, since there is this tendency in feminism to mistakenly think that the more popular or famous feminists are not really human or to treat them as if we own them (not too different from any fandom really). I had an English professor who freaked out when Gloria Steinem got married. Ten years ago, people were more freaked out that Kathleen Hanna* of Bikini Kill/Le Tigre** was dating a Beastie Boy because the Beastie Boys second album was sexist. But anyway, self-awareness was a 1990s thing, no?

Then there is the scene where Firestone's artwork is critiqued by a group of her (male) professors. There is something odd and uncomfortable about this scene, and it hearkens back to the scene earlier in the film where Firestone explains her current inarticulateness. Part of me wants to claim that this scene is over the top, but perhaps it is not, given the time period. Another part of me is sympathetic to Firestone in this scene just because well, similar scenes are in my future as a grad student.

And then there's the twist...that this entire film was a recreation of that documentary. I still have not decided how I feel about this. Subrin does a remarkable job with making much of the film look like it was shot in Chicago circa the late 1960s (all hail the Super 8!), and if it was on purpose, gradually pulling the curtain behind the fact that it was a recreation. It is only in the last 15-20 minutes of this 37-minute film that the issues start to pop up. But I am still trying to work out this "twist"...

* Kathleen Hanna is given a shout out in the credits of this film.
** Sadie Benning, ex-Le Tigre band member, makes experimental films as well and worked on this film. I consider her the Matt Sharp of Le Tigre, since the band suffered on a few levels after she left, including music-wise.