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February 12, 2019

Blue Movie

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Wim Verstappen - 1971
Cult Epics two-disc all region DVD/BD set

There is this shot repeated in Blue Movie that neatly sums up viewing the film almost fifty years after its production. The cinematography is by Jan de Bont, early in his career. The camera is completely overhead, looking straight down, on two couples having sex. They are seen on a green surface, within a circular frame. The effect is as if viewing some form of life under a microscope. Voyeurism is a theme that pops up in the films by Dutch filmmakers Wim Verstappen and Pim de la Parra, that of both their films characters, and by implication, the audience.

Known collectively as Pim and Wim, the two set out to prove that Dutch filmmakers could succeed in the international market back in the late Sixties. Blue Movie was one of the films Verstappen co-wrote as well as directed, a 16mm production designed to compete with soft core films of the time. What temporarily got in the way of the film's initial release was that the Netherlands had an older rating system that had not caught up with the more liberalized standards and self-imposed adult only ratings in the U.S. and some other western countries. Blue Movie changed how films were rated in the Netherlands. That it made over a million dollars helped pave the way for other erotically charged Dutch films, especially those by newcomer Paul Verhoeven.

Those who saw Blue Movie weren't there for the nonsensical story. Michael, just out on parole, moves into an apartment in a huge, anonymous building. Michael's crime was having sex with an underage girl. Lonely, Michael gets to know some of his female neighbors by "borrowing" a cup of sugar (a plot device that was creaky even then). Michael becomes very popular with several of the women in the building, but finds himself falling in love with a young single mother. His parole officer, whose attention to Michael borders on the homoerotic, shows up at inopportune times. Initially not putting any effort in gainful employment, Michael becomes an entrepreneur of sex shows and films.

Whether one finds the antics in Blue Movie erotic is up to the eye of the individual viewer. Most of the scenes of sex are played for fun. For myself, I think I have seen more than enough of star Hugo Metsers nude. It may be to the film's credit that the actresses have an everyday kind of attractiveness, neither glamorized or artificially enhanced.

Putting Blue Movie into historical context are the generous supplements. The first is an interview with Wim Verstappen prior to the film's release in 1971. Producer Pim de la Parra speaks about making Blue Movie as part of the introduction to the series of Dutch films shown at the Cinematheque Francaise in 2018. An interview with Hugo Metsers, Jr. includes an anecdote of the son discovering Blue Movie by accident when he was ten years old. There is also a brief documentary on the Eye Film Institute, responsible for the restoration of several vintage Dutch films. The three supplements from 2018 were produced by Cult Epic's Nico B, who has made several of these almost forgotten Dutch films available for a wider audience.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:04 AM

February 01, 2019

Piercing

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Nicolas Pesce - 2019
Universal Pictures

Piercing is based on a novel by the Japanese author Ryu Murakami. While the name is more familiar to those with an interest in contemporary Japanese literature, more may be know his name through the most famous, or perhaps infamous, film adaptation of his novel, Audition. As a filmmaker of body horror, Nicolas Pesce is not as extreme as Takashi Miike, but there is enough going here to make most viewers feel uncomfortable once the two main characters meet.

Pesce, who also wrote the screenplay, transposes the action from a contemporary Japanese city of 1994 to a fictionalized New York City that appears to be mid 1970s. The first giveaway is the close-up of the push-button phone. There is also the double-breasted suit worn by Christopher Abbott, and telephone booth across the street from a hospital to serve as reminders of a past time. Pesce also announces the influence of giallo with the use of Italian composer Bruno Nicolai's music during the opening credits. For the most part Piercing takes place in a dark hotel room and an equally dimly lit apartment, with designer and the prostitute having a tenuous relationship to the outside world.

Much of the novel consists of interior monologues, including disassociation, of the two characters, only sliver appears in the film. Like Audition, this is about a man whose plan for a specific kind of relationship with a woman is upended by the woman. The man and woman in Murakami's novel both have childhood traumas that are both complimentary but also literally tear the two apart. The motivations in the film are not given that kind of clear explanation. While Murakami takes a look at class and culture in Japan, Pesce's film might be best described as an exercise in mood and style, about two people trying to control themselves and each other, most explicitly through psycho-sexual games.

Mia Wasikowska might not have been considered as a Hitchcock blonde, especially with her short, Dutch boy style hair. It may not have been intentional on Pesce's part, but by having her character as a blonde, she recalls the Hitchcock film about childhood trauma, Marnie. The difference is that the prostitute, Jackie, refuses to let herself be a victim to the men who are her clients, even when hired to be submissive. While Marnie is disturbed by the color red, Jackie is immersed in a color that might even be described as Deep Red, the interior of her apartment, with the theme by Goblin also part of the soundtrack.

Pesce is an admitted fan of horror films. The tracking shot in that long, dark hotel corridor recalls Dario Argento, while the use of split screens was probably influenced by Brian De Palma. While the buildup slowly builds up the feeling of impending dread, the entire films runs slightly more than eighty minutes. There is also some witty use of several familiar pop songs, especially the mopey "Bluer than Blue", as part of the soundtrack. Ultimately, the worst of horrors are that which adults inflict on children, while those between adults are only skin deep.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:08 AM