Shorts #12.1

Today’s Shorts: Young Frankenstein (1974), Goecha La: In Search Of The Holy Kangchenjunga With George Thengummoottil (2011), The Killers (1956), The Jungle Book (1967), The Girl On The Train (2016), The Accountant (2016), John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Quite possibly the best spoof movie ever made – though, the competition out there isn’t too tough – Young Frankenstein captures one of the greatest meetings between Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder.

With a perfect combination of insanity and satire, Young Frankenstein is giddy fun and a great poke at the plethora of Frankenstein movies as well as classical horrors in general. If I were to criticise this movie, which I could only do half-heartedly, I’d say its critique and revision of the classical films isn’t that clever, only slightly witty. With that said, the performances and characters are all pretty great, but my favourite aspect of this movie is undoubtedly the raunchy screwball comedy elements which confine the absurdity of this narrative in the best way possible, allowing it to be over-the-top without coming off as plain stupid.

All in all, a great comedy that gets better every time I see it.

A pretty brilliant ‘home video’ film, Goecha La documents a man’s journey into the Himalayas whilst he exposits numerous facts about the region and culture.

Beyond being well shot (though with a few minor editing issues), this is a short documentary that’s really worth watching for the fact that it can be classed as a ‘home video’ film – which is a genre or form of cinema that, despite never really being given a spotlight, has of course become ever more relevant in the past decade or so with the internet and sites like YouTube.

So, embracing its simplicity and sometimes rough aesthetic, Goecha La is a really pleasant film that provides great incite into a tiny corner of the world with a nice personal touch given by the director.

An incite into a master’s earliest works, The Killers is Andrei Tarkovsky’s first film that he made as a student attending VGIK. It is an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story of the same name and is centred on a bar that two gangsters enter with the intention of assassinating a boxer.

Co-written and co-directed by Tarkovsky, you could argue that this isn’t really his film, however, he did propose this idea and he did direct the majority of the film (2 of the 3 scenes). So, assessing this as a film of his, it is little more than an opening act that only begins to imply a more complex and compelling narrative of a competently directed and written film – nothing that is transcendent or particularly indicative of what Tarkovsky would go on to do in his later features.

This will be a good watch for anyone interested in the career of Tarkovsky – maybe of Hemingway adaptations too – but little more than just that.

Just like all the best Disney films, you can see it a million times, yet it will still hold up and somehow will not be torture – in fact, it’ll be quite the opposite.

What really struck me on this re-watch was the intricate manner in which music was stitched into almost every moment of the narrative, emphasising movements, emotions and keeping track of tone. Whilst a consistent score, not matter how good, will reduce the quality of a film for some, I think animated films like The Jungle Book act as a strong rebuttal to someone arguing for pure cinematics and an emphasis on the image alone.

All in all, a classic that certainly deserves all the praise it gets and maybe one to re-watch with an ear to the score.

The Girl On The Train is a pretty excellent film. Formally brilliant in many respects with great performances, though with some shaky characterisation of peripheral characters, this is ultimately a really strong thriller.

Somewhat reminiscent of Gone Girl and Elle, the most compelling aspect of this film is certainly the manner in which it explores the phenomena of people taking all that is broken within them and projecting it on to the world. This of course has innumerable consequences, but one of the most devastating would be meeting someone else just as, or more so, broken that you. Fire feeds fire, fire consumes fire and before you know it, there is nothing but destruction. The only hope for someone who stumbles into this situation is that they emerge from the ashes a better person, their broken internal dead wood shed.

This is a pretty complex and powerfully articulated idea that, unfortunately, is held back by the genre elements of this film. In such, the form of the film and structure of the script are too focused on making this is a psychological thriller rather than a narrative that solely serves this greater idea. If The Girl On The Train had managed this, I wouldn’t be saying it is reminiscent of Gone Girl or Elle, rather, something like Persona. The fact that we didn’t get this is somewhat disappointing, but this is a good film nonetheless.

The Accountant is a strong movie with quite a few layers – probably too many. Not only does it try to grapple themes of mental disorders, but also romance, brotherhood, childhood, morality and justice – all with, as many have pointed out, Batman dressed up as Jason Bourne. Individually, The Accountant manages each of these themes somewhat well, but never delves too deeply into them, nor does it bring them together into a cohesive and profound whole.

What really depreciates this film is that this is all it really has going for it. In such, the only elements of real worth are the mentioned themes as well as Affleck’s character’s relationship the one played by Kendrick; the thriller genre attributes are a dud, the direction is ok, the action scenes are underwhelming and the narrative isn’t very entertaining.

Looked at from a distance, I can appreciate what The Accountant attempts to confront, but I will probably never be seeing this movie again.

I hate to say it, and I’m shocked that I have to, but, Keanu Reeves was the worst part of this movie. Though we can all appreciate the immense amount of work and effort that must have gone into this movie on his behalf, it’s clear that Reeves simply isn’t Bruce Lee. In other words, you can see that he’s an actor playing John Wick – especially in the action scenes–which is of course a huge let-down. And added to his shaky action performances is a horrific character performance. The lines he has to say throughout this movie are terrible on paper…. but so much worse as he delivers them.

That said though, you can have quite a bit of fun with this movie. My favourite aspect was the ludicrous lengths it took the ‘guy code’ of hitmen with all their rules and regulations. A lot more can be said on this topic, but John Wick 2 is simply a somewhat well executed, dumb, fun movie.



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Every Year In Film #14 – The Blacksmith Scene

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Every Year In Film #14 – The Blacksmith Scene

Thoughts On: Blacksmith Scene (1893)

Today we will be exploring the birth of commercial cinema.

When we previously looked at Edison and William K.L Dickson, we introduced the two figures and talked about their Monkeyshines, the first American films; failed experiments conducted by Dickson in 1889/90. The faults of these experiments primarily concerned the manner in which they were filmed and thought of as ‘movies’. As said previously, the Monkeyshines were invented to be seen with a microscope as they spun on a device that resembled a phonograph drum:

This, was an incredibly impractical precursor to what would become Edison’s Kinetoscope whose film was too small and image was captured, with the first of the Kinetographs, very poorly. To improve upon this design, Edison directed Dickson to work on a wider film format (35mm, which was initially created by slicing 70mm stock in half) that would be perforated. Edison was inspired to create (suggest) such inventions through his meetings with figures such as Reynaud, Marey and Ottomar Anschütz.

Having likely seen Reynaud’s Théâtre Optique – which we covered in detail in the previous post – Edison would have then known about the mechanical advantages of perforating film; it allowed for a controlled movement of photographic strips around a system. Added to this, from his meetings with Etienne-Jules Marey, Edison would have come into contact with an idea of flexible film stock through Marey’s chronophotographic gun, which can be considered the first portable motion picture camera – a subject we will likely explore in the next post of the Every Year series.

At the Exposition Universelle, which is where Edison would have seen Reynaud’s work, he would have also seen the inventions of Ottomar Anschütz. Anschütz, a German inventor and photographer, was the creator of the Electrotachyscope, and this was a device somewhat similar to a phenakistoscope…

… in that it played with the phenomena of the persistence of vision (which, as we know, isn’t such a simple topic) using a rotating disc. The difference between Anschütz’s device at the Victorian toy concerns the Electrotachyscope’s size and its use of light. The best way to understand this motion picture precursor is through this video demonstration. (Direct link here).

Having seen this device, Edison would have realised the importance of ‘the persistence of vision’ and intermittent viewing – as represented by Anschütz with the pulsing light (what would have been a Geissler tube – a precursor to neon lights). This combined with his knowledge of flexible film and perforated stock, lead to improved designs of his Kinetograph – the camera with which Dickson shot his earliest films – and, later, his Kinetoscope.

The improved Kinetograph was essentially a horizontal camera. Most notably, it featured a small sprocket system that would allow the passing of film behind its lenses and spinning shutter. The film itself, as said, was perforated – look to the holes on either side of the film:

This was done manually, and would allow the film to circulate the Kinetograph’s horizontal system at around 30 frames per second. The best way to explain this device, however, would be through another video about a replica Kinetograph made in 2012. (Direct link here).

This is, in essence, the device that was invented by Dickson and his team in 1889/90. On a slight side note, what you will find when looking at a lot of Edison’s work are quite a few questions concerning the actual time in which they were invented. The reason why comes down to Edison’s own fabrications, formulated so that he could better push patents and build his public image. With that said, having invented this motion picture camera around 1889, Dickson would have to continue his work on Edison’s Kinetoscope – the device through which his films would be seen.

The Kinetoscope, much like the Kinetograph, was an amalgam and an improvement on the works of Reynaud and Anschütz. It was a system inside a wooden box that, in the simplest terms, rotated lengths of film around a light source and shutter which would allow for the projection of imagery through a peep hole. (Direct link here).

The Kinestoscope was developed over many years and wouldn’t be completed until 1892. And whilst Edison’s Kinetograph camera was partially patented in this year, it wouldn’t be fully patented until 1897, four years after its accompanying motion pictures were released for public viewing in 1893 (for commercial purposes, 1894) with the Kinetoscope. However, before much of this, Dickson and his team would have to construct Edison’s first production studio.

This was called the Black Maria because of its resemblance to the police vehicles of the time, which, in slang, is where this name originates. Moreover, the Black Maria also got its name because it was such a stuffy and humid studio – Edison even called it the Dog House (though, he would very rarely be working in it). The reason why this was such a claustrophobic and stifling space was because it was covered in tar-paper so that it was completely black. This ensured there would be no reflections and that the light, which would flood in through the retractable roof (this can be seen in the above picture), would be as best controlled as possible. Much like many early studios, such as Méliès’ which was completely made of glass, the Black Maria was constructed so that it could allow as much light into its space as possible – primarily because artificial lighting wasn’t yet truly conceived of, nor would it be very functional or practical, leaving early filmmakers to rely on natural lighting.

And so, it’s the Black Maria that is not only thought to be the first American production studio, but the first film studio in the world. It was here that Dickson shot numerous vaudeville acts, dancers, athletes, boxers, actors and showmen from 1892/3 onwards.

With these three major components, the Kinetograph, Kinetoscope and the Black Maria, there was the foundations of Edison’s Manufacturing Studio. The first official film that is thought to have been shot and publicly shown is our subject for today: the Blacksmith Scene. However, that isn’t an entirely true statement. As we’ve explored, the Monkeyshines were Dickson’s first experiments. Following these, and as he developed the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope (and before the Black Maria was full constructed), he began to shoot successful experiments. The first of these that was shown outside of the studio was the Dickson Greeting.

Made in 1891, this is simply William K.L Dickson moving his hat. It was shown with a prototype Kinetoscope at the Menlo laboratory for a convention of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs later that year. But, whilst this can be considered one of first public showings of Edison’s films, it is a somewhat unofficial showing as it used a prototype Kinetoscope. We instead see the culmination of all completed work on the Kinetoscope, Kinetograph and the Black Maria with the Blacksmith Scene. This, possibly among other films which had been previously shot in the Black Maria, were supposed to be presented at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 through up to 25 Kinestoscopes. But, this was delayed due to Dickson, who had had a nervous breakdown because of the gruelling work hours and the stress he was put under by his task to essentially invent the first American motion pictures. Edison’s picture, the Blacksmith Scene, would then be unveiled for the first time later that year at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences to a lesser reception. And this is the film:

Above everything else, Edison’s Blacksmith Scene, as shot by William Heise and directed by William K.L Dickson, is a foreshadowing representative of cinema as produced in a studio – as it was the first of this kind. It had controlled lighting as well as a non-realist aesthetic and setting that pre-dates the Lumière ‘documentary’ shorts – an interesting point of comparison being Les Forgerons (The Blacksmiths) from 1895…

Contrasting the two blacksmith scenes, Edison’s short almost becomes an inadvertent epithet for the re-creation and re-invention of reality by cinematographic manufacturing companies: film studios. What we are thus seeing with the Blacksmith Scene is the birth of commercial cinema–quite literally. A year after this was first publicised, Edison would have commissioned the opening of the first Kinetoscope parlor as managed by the Holland Bros, which would resemble something like this…

Patrons would pay 25 cents to access 5 machines or 50 cents for 10 – and this wasn’t considered to be very cheap; for a high-end Vaudeville show, people would often only be paying 25 cents. Nonetheless, the Kinetoscopes were of course incredibly popular and would spread across America with more parlors joining Edison’s Kinetoscope Company. For the following few years, Dickson, Heise and others would shoot numerous subjects for Edison in the Black Maria, producing a plethora of Kinetoscope strips, all until 1895 when the Lumières fully established and materialised the modern concept of cinema – a pivotal point that we are hurtling ever closer to.

It is from this point that Edison’s company made many ventures into sound, projection and also faced its own trials and tribulations before an eventual dissolution. However, in not wanting to tire us all out, this will all be saved for another post of the series.

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Shorts #12.1

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Blood Of The Condor – Sterilise

Quick Thoughts: Blood Of The Condor (Yawar Mallku, 1969)

This is a film made by Jorge Sanjinés and is the Bolivian film of the series.

Blood Of The Condor 2

There are very few films that actually manage to tangibly impact the world; in spite of hidden meanings, social commentary and subtext, most movie are just movies. Blood Of The Condor is then less a movie, more a historical document, one that served as a voice for the indigenous Bolivian community of the late 60s. Its narrative is centred on a small community in rural Bolivia that are receiving aid from “Progress Corps”. The people receiving this aid, however, do not believe that they are being given help of any kind, instead, they believe their women are being sterilised against their will – and so they rebel. This results in the attackers being shot – the brother of the protagonist being one of these victims, leaving him and his brother’s wife struggling to find money so that he can receive care for his wounds at a hospital.

Sanjinés, the maker of this film, based this narrative on allegations made by indigenous peoples in 1967 against the American Peace Corp; allegations that claimed the Peace Corp volunteers were sterilising their women without their knowledge and consent. It seems that the Peace Corp were in fact distributing contraception as as well as inserting IUDs into women – but, as they claimed, with their consent. There thus seems to be controversy and confusion surrounding this whole topic which has continued over the decades with claims of US-backed eugenics programs and forced sterilisations. This was fuelled and made much more complex by the ejection of the American Peace Corp in 1971 – which is considered a direct result of this film’s release. Under military dictatorships in the late 60s and 70s, the distribution of birth control in Bolivia was made illegal. This had a lasting impact in Bolivia as not only were American peace groups generally not trusted, an emphasis of an already existing disdain for imperialists and colonialists, but neither were contraceptives trusted by many.

Blood Of The Condor is an incite into this historical issue as well as a film that acts as a window into Sanjinés’ Marxist idealism. Not only does he combat Bolivian social issues from the perspective and the side of its indigenous people, but his aesthetics are imbued with realism that is supported by a very noticeable type of montage. Advocating a 1920s Soviet Cinema of montage and symphonies through his approach to editing, Sanjinés, much like Vertov, Eisenstein and Dovzhenko, then encompasses a communist aesthetic, which is emphasised by his narrative’s focus not on individual heroes, but the collective plight and struggle.

What all of Sanjinés does through this film, which seems to be predicated on an agenda, seemingly brings into question the credibility of this narrative, raising ever more debate and controversy around the issues he depicts. In such, is this an ethical film based on fact, not just speculation? And as a result, were his associations made with the opening title cards as well as his final image of armed rebellion justified?



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Nina – The Femme Fatale

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Every Year In Film #14 – The Blacksmith Scene

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Nina – The Femme Fatale

Quick Thoughts: Nina (2014)

A gangster must assassinate a woman he used to love.

Nina is a simple short film with some nice cinematography and direction that is essentially every gangster film with a femme fatale boiled down to 6 minutes.

Stretching far back into ancient history, the femme fatale is a seductress, a vamp, a siren, a vampire, a bad girl, a broad you just can’t get your mind off – maybe even Eve in the Garden of Eden. Her purpose in a narrative is usually an exploration of a core weakness in (usually) corrupt, naive or morally questionable men, one that tests his ability to be John Wayne or Clint Eastwood; the cowboy who rides off toward the horizon at the end of the movie for the greater good of all. The femme fatale is then a trap in a narrative of self-sacrifice and an independent struggle; an archetype that fuels a narrative about morality, responsibility and doing the right thing.

Through this film, we have a short, yet precise expression of this through a gangster that is immoral, yet has his own rules and structure, but betrays even them for a girl. This demonstrates that this tale of responsibility and self-sacrifice isn’t always about the woman being evil, but the woman being an extension of a man’s own evil or downfalls that creep up from his past – and often leaves him for dead.

To see exactly this, check out the short that director, Uri Carrasco Salinas, uploaded to YouTube. Direct link here.



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The Cup – Preservative Change

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Blood Of The Condor – Sterilise

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The Cup – Preservative Change

Thoughts On: The Cup (Phörpa, 1999)

Though this film is about Tibet and is set in India, it is made by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, a Bhutanese director and so is our Bhutanese film of the series.

The Cup

The Cup is a rather heart-warming film about young Tibetan monks living in the Himalayas who desperately want to watch the 1998 World Cup. Initially they sneak out of their monastery to watch the football (soccer) games, but eventually are caught. Undeterred, they still want to watch the final and so decide to form an agreement with their teachers; if they are allowed to rent a television and watch the Cup final, they’ll all study harder.

This is a light film, slowly paced with subtle characterisation, comedy and a subdued narrative arc. The Cup is then seemingly an enjoyable, yet inconsequential, movie. However, there is a little more to this narrative than a simple story about change concerning tradition and Buddhist methods.

The Tibetan monks of this story are based in a monastery in India. This implies that they are Tibetan diaspora, a term that defines communities of Tibetans that are spread outside of their homeland. The reason why there are considerable factions of Tibet’s population spread outside of its boarders pertains to its complex history, primarily concerning China and sovereignty. In such, there is an on-going debate that questions if Tibet should be a sovereign state, separated from the People’s Republic of China (which it is still considered to be apart of, though, autonomously so), and also if it was ever historically an independent region. Over time there has been uprisings against China, and a significant example of this are the uprisings of 1959. During this devastating period of rebellion, the 14th Dalai Lama and fractions of his government fled to India with many Tibetans following him. This is considered to be the first wave of mass Tibetan emigration. A second wave occurred when China opened its boarders to Tibetans in the 80s, and a third that is still considered on-going began in the mid 90s. The third wave of emigration, however, is not always characterised as such as there are many families that will temporarily (emigration is permanent) send their children outside of Tibet so that they can be given traditional educations.

We see this history in The Cup through a couple of the main characters: an uncle and his young nephew that have been sent to India for a traditional Buddhist education – the young nephew’s watch (which his mother gave him) symbolising that his stay isn’t permanent and that he waits for it to be over. There is further commentary on this long and complex history of Tibet, however, through the game of football. As is shown in the film, football represents a change in the perspective of young Tibetan monks; they know about their place in the international landscape thanks to technological evolution and are aware of the wider world whilst older monks don’t necessarily have this knowledge in respect to world cultures and events (The World Cup being an example of this).

There is then a tension throughout the film that can be considered an archetypal fear or problem in many cultures. This tension is centred on an idea that the broadening of the young monk’s horizons will dilute their traditional senses and cultural identity – which is represented by the young students’ lack of focus in their studies. What then makes this film quite profound is its commentary on such an idea through football. Whist our main character is the most distracted from his studies and the most fixated on football, he is the one who learns the most through organising his World Cup viewing party. In such, by the end of the film, he showcases traits of self-sacrifice and empathy that his teacher says indicate that he could, after all, be a good monk.

What is most intriguing about The Cup is probably its ending. In its conclusion, we are told 4 things. The first is that the head teacher, the abbot, fulfilled his dream and moved back to Tibet. This implies that the state of Tibet has gotten better over the previous decades and so has again become a genuine homeland for many emigrants and exiled citizens. The second thing we are told is that our main character still dreams of a Tibetan national football team. As a film that came out in 1999, this film pre-dates the formation of a national Tibetan team by only a year. In 2001, they played their first international game against Denmark – who persisted with the organised match despite threats from China, which warned that they would cut off all trade with them. This team and The Tibetan National Football Association are ran and fuelled by Tibetan exiles and are still trying to be recognised as a national team by FIFA and other organisations.

The third thing that we are told is that many monks await the next World Cup – that being the 2002 Cup. This implies that there is a continued development amongst young monks; one which can be interpreted to mirror the positive change showcased by this film. Finally, we are told that the Chinese are still serving rice in Tibet. This is a euphemism of sorts that comments on China’s hold over Tibet and the fact that they still refuse to recognise the country as a sovereign state and not just an autonomous member of the People’s Republic of China.

Knowing all of this context makes The Cup a much more complex movie, its subtext actually enriching its already present feel-good tone. So, with a positive outlook, The Cup is essentially about a form of change that doesn’t leave tradition and culture behind; it is about philsophy, religion, knowledge, personalities and individualism separating to a certain degree, but nonetheless supporting one another. And with this subtext, The Cup is also a hopeful statement for continued change and development of this kind.

To end, what are your thoughts? Have you seen this movie? Do you think there is more about a Tibetan history and context to be found in The Cup?


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Onibaba – Selfish Sin & Chaos

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Onibaba – Selfish Sin & Chaos

Thoughts On: Onibaba (Devil Woman, 1964)

During war time, a mother and her daughter-in-law kill Samurai to stay alive by selling their equipment.


Onibaba is first and foremost a striking film with amazing cinematography and cinematic language that captures motion, expression and patterns with an incredibly strong and poetic prowess. Beneath this skin, however, is a dark and dizzying story about very little – at least, that is how it seems.


This narrative is centred on two women, a mother and a daughter-in-law, and is set in the mid-fourteenth century in rural Japan as a civil war rages around them. Without their son and husband, and with very little means of growing food and accumulating resources, the mother and daughter kill soldiers that wander into their fields – which are saturated with tall reeds. They steal what equipment they find on the soldiers, dump their bodies in a deep hole and sell the armour and weaponry for food. This keeps them alive in these harsh time, but, one day Hachi, their neighbour, returns from war (which he fled from disguised as a priest). He tells the mother that he saw her son (the daughter’s husband) killed by farmers that they tried to steal from, but, the mother doesn’t trust him, instead, believes that Hachi probably killed him. Nonetheless, the trio live alongside one another, eventually going on to share food, resources and even kill stray soldiers together. However, Hachi wants the daughter-in-law to marry him – and she soon falls for him. Not wanting to be made obsolete with no one to share resources or kill soldiers with, the mother tries in many ways to prevent their affair, eventually warning her daughter-in-law about demons from hell that will come for ‘bad’ people. The rest of the narrative is then a blend of deception, lies, sexuality and desperation that ends with the mother disfigured after a mask she uses (which she stole from a Samurai she killed) to scare her daughter gets stuck to her face. After tearing this mask off – breaking it with a hammer – the daughter-in-law flees in fear from her mother and her demonic resemblance, the final image being the pair jumping over the hole that they throw murdered soldiers down.

Whilst there are a few more details to this plot, what is clear is that this film is rife with what some may refer to as sin. There is murder, lies, disrespect, debauchery and so much more imbued into almost every moment of this narrative. With every character ending up dead or punished in some way, this seems to be a nihilistic film without much reason or a message embedded into it. (A detail from the ending that I didn’t mention is that the mother didn’t actually kill the Samurai, only lead him to fall down the hole – which left him seriously injured. He must have recovered and climbed out with the rope left behind. From here he must have took refuge in Hachi’s hut when he wasn’t present. When he returns, the Samurai kills him).

With so much desperation, evil, immorality and fatal punishment in this narrative it appears to wrap itself up in an air-tight bubble, which, as said, makes it seem nihilistic and rather pointless. However, when we consider the director, Kaneto Shindo, and his interests as a filmmaker, this film begins to open up. Shindo made many films that were in some way linked to the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the end of WWII – and Onibaba is one of them. Shindo has said that the Samurai mask is not only a reference to a Buddhist parable that this movie is based on (one that is about fear, lies and punishment), but also a symbol of the disfigurement that the atomic bombs inflicted upon their victims.

Onibaba is then quite clearly an exploration of war’s effect on a society, moreover, it is seemingly an extension of the decades-long debate over the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This debate is seemingly one that can’t really be pinned down as it is based on so much speculation and emotion. Whilst the bombing lead to Japan’s surrender and so contributed to the end of the second World War, it of course ended around 130,000 innocent lives, impacting countless other thousands – if not millions. It cannot be accurately estimated, however, how many lives this bombing saved – both of the Japanese and their enemies who would continue their battles, possibly to the demise of their whole populations.

With so much to object to, yet so little to say about one of the most horrifying events in human history, to even begin to articulate anything about it is incredibly difficult. When we turn to Onibaba, however, there seems to be an opening of incite into this whole topic. In such, the crux of this film is its exploration of how war leads people down a winding path of immoral acts that can only be justified or deemed ‘sinful’ selfishly and relative to individuals’ own biases. And it’s this base of Onibaba’s narrative that gives it a post-modern aesthetic and tone; it focuses on the relativity of all acts. However, this film is not, at least in my view, entirely postmodern as it does provide reason, answers and boundaries of judgement.

Judgement and commentary are then provided by this narrative with its symbolic mask. Whilst it represents disfigurement with implications of physical damage, it also implies a psychological damage. This psychological damage is sourced from the act of war – in the context of this story, the Japanese Civil War of the 14th century. War is chaos and so it dismantles structures of morality. This is directly alluded to with the hunger and desperation of the mother and daughter; they did not decide for this war to happen, they never even choose a side (much like Hachi and their son/husband). This hunger dismantles their moral structuring and it leads them to murder for selfish reasons. However, can this selfishness be justified? They are starving, they will die if they do not kill. What choice are they left with? These are questions that chaos leaves a society; these are questions that destroy moral structures. Moreover, these are the questions that leave the mother dependent on the daughter-in-law as she can only kill with her help and will probably be abandoned if she leaves her. Again, societal structures are being dismantled; all foundations of community are being questioned to damaging consequences.

The only means through which individuals can bring order into this chaos is to define new structures around themselves. This is what leads to dehumanisation, lies, debauchery, destruction, murder and, arguably, an atomic bombing. When we then face this universal conundrum of chaos and its devastating effect on structure in society, there only seems to be one cure: order. Order is peace, community and responsibility; it is what ends war and allows societies to flourish in a sustainable manner. The implication of such an assertion is that to combat chaos, people can only come together in a transparent manner, understanding and supporting one another’s needs so that healthy streams of social and material exchange can function. However, if order is established with the tactics of chaos (those being lies, cheating and evil of various sorts), the system that is trying to be controlled is doomed to failure.

As symbolically represented by this narrative, chaos is established in the first act through the murders and a lack of community; the two women having to kill and sell stolen goods instead of working with the merchant they sell to (who is also a proponent of chaos as he only wants to sleep with the mother). Moreover, we see chaos through the meeting of the two women and Hachi – they never trust one another or help one another with a perspective of a greater ideal: survival as a unit. And an interesting caveat to this first act is the definition of these two women only as relatives to Kichi, the son and husband who dies and is never seen. It is with this that they are bound inextricably to war and chaos – which is what began the destruction of their individuality. All of this chaos is confronted throughout the second act, but is combated with the tactics of chaos by all; cheating, distrust, lies, murder, manipulation, etc. This leads to literal traps being set by all, which ultimately leaves them tainted, disfigured, dead or forever jumping over the pits that they dig for themselves and others – and such is the final image of this film.

Onibaba’s intricate commentary on both war and its effect on people is then based around the dissolution of structure as ignited by a significant act of chaos. Its critique is on those that dropped the atomic bomb, but also those at all levels of society that contributed to the World War’s beginnings as well as those that propagate the essence of those initial chaotic actions in the post-war era. Through Onibaba, Shindo ultimately echoes the most significant lesson that the destruction in the 20th century should have taught humanity: peaceful order, in every level of society, is what we should all strive for before anything else; a room of any size cannot be put to good use if all that resides within is destruction and disarray.

To end, I’ll turn to you. Have you seen Onibaba? What are your thoughts?



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Passengers – Auto-Pilot

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Passengers – Auto-Pilot

Quick Thoughts: Passengers (2016)

On an over-a-century long voyage to a new planet, two passengers are woken up decades too early.

Passengers was a surprisingly good film. Whilst the characterisation was a weak support to this high concept that is somewhat cliched, the execution was quite all right – and this was in spite of a few initial things that were annoying. As implied, Passengers is not a very original film; it very openly uses aesthetics from 2001: A Space Odyssey (which almost every space sci-fi movie feels it has to), as well as elements from The Shining. In fact, there are many aspects of the opening which suggested that this was going to be a re-working of Kubrick’s classic horror film – and in certain respects it is, but not to the jarring degree I initially suspected. Layered onto this are also clear inspirations from WALL-E and every other ‘last survivors’ movie. However, the greater and more damaging problems that this narrative faces all reside in the second half. In short, everything to do with structure and conflict (script, direction, characterisation, editing) was juddered, jumpy and frenetic in a poorly calculated manner – which reduced the overall quality of the film. Passengers is then not a masterpiece, but is probably worth the watch if you haven’t seen it yet.

One of the most expressive ideas within this film that served as a hugely redeeming element is the meeting between some pretty non-reflective humans (a consequence of their weak characterisation) and some seemingly equally ‘conscious’ computer programs. The only real difference between these two beings, between our main character and the computer programs that serve them, is that the humans have to give themselves purpose whilst the robots are given purpose. Despite this major difference there is a significant connection between the two and that is, once they have some given purpose, they follow it blindly. And this is the core conflict at the heart of this movie that is captured by themes of romance, isolation and connection; the ‘passengers’ are then not just confined to the ship they are on, but are confined to the bodies and minds they exist in. Without purpose and clear reason it is not the thousand foot long cage that they then have to worry about – it’s the meat sack prison that they have to live through that is their main problem.

Passengers is then a pretty traditional allegory that uses its space ship as a slight metaphor to suggest that our main characters have to embrace their ‘auto-pilot’ together once they have secured and repaired their vessel through life – both the abstract idea of their relationship as well as the ship taking them through empty space. Though there isn’t an incredible amount of depth provided beneath this subtext – seemingly because the writers and director didn’t fully grip the profundity belying their story – Passengers is quite an interesting, arguably somewhat rare, blockbuster thanks to this subtext and re-affirmation of classical ideas.

The last thing I’ll end on is then that Passengers is essentially The Shining re-imagined to depict a narrative centred around things not going so horribly with Jack, the axe, the knife, the snow and so on. With that said, have you seen Passengers? What are you thoughts on this movie?

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