Post by Obveeus
What did you watch?
While awaiting Irma's arrival on Sunday, I watched:
"Belladonna of Sadness". A peasant woman makes a pact with the devil after
she's banished from her village in order to gain magical powers and get
revenge on those who wronged her.
Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
"From Astroboy to Belladonna" teased the poster for Belladonna of
Sadness, the allegorical and sexually daring animated 1973 feature
from Japanese filmmaker Eiichi Yamamoto and producer Osamu Tezuka.
That is indeed quite a leap. Tezuka was one of Japan's most popular
manga creators when he formed the independent animation studio Mushi
Productions and Yamamoto was one of the maverick artists who joined
the renegade studio. Through Mushi, Tezuka transformed his two most
beloved manga series into the hugely popular animated TV shows
Astroboy and Kimba the White Lion (the first Japanese anime to be
syndicated widely in the U.S.) and Yamamoto was one of Tezuka's most
important collaborators on both the TV shows and on his more
Inspired by George Dunning's fanciful and surreal Yellow Submarine
(1968), which impressed the filmmaker when it played in Tokyo,
Tezuka and Yamamoto teamed up to make One Thousand and One Nights
(1969), an ambitious animated feature with adult content for mature
audiences, and Cleopatra (1970, renamed Cleopatra: Queen of Sex for
the U.S. release). Belladonna of Sadness was the third and final
film in what has been called their Animerama trilogy. Based on an
episode in the 19th century French novel La Sorcire, a sympathetic
history of witchcraft in the middle ages written by Jules Michelet,
their story dramatized the ordeal of a beautiful young peasant woman
who is raped by the town's feudal Baron, accused of witchcraft, and
finally approached by the Devil himself. As production began,
however, Tezuka left the studio he had created and Yamamoto took
over, effectively producing as well as directing.
Yamamoto brought in Yoshiyuki Fukuda to co-write the script--"It's
porn," he told Fukuda, "but make it a pure love story"--and manga
artist and illustrator Kuni Fukai as the film's art director. Fukai
remembers Yamamoto describing his idea for the production: "It's not
animation, but I want to make something unique with no movement, and
I want you to join." The result is an animated feature with little
traditional animation. The camera tracks over Fukai's elaborate,
abstract paintings like a classic Japanese scroll painting, with
minimal animation of individual figures and brief animated sequences
between the canvases. "Yamamoto had this vision of using white at
the base," recalled Fukai. "When I heard that, I pictured Japanese
painting. I thought of using watercolor to match Yamamoto's vision."
For the music, Yamamoto approached composer Masahiko Sato, a young
musician who studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music and was an
early proponent of the synthesizer in the early 1970s. Sato combines
jazz and rock with classical themes and suggestions of medieval
ballads for a score played on harpsicord, Hammond organ, Rhodes
piano and synthesizer, which was utilized to create the eerie,
multi-layered soundscape of the plague scenes. Sato's wife Chinatsu
Nakayama, a singer and actress who voiced the lead in Cleopatra,
narrates Belladonna and wrote the lyrics to and sings the film's
Part subversive folk tale, part rock ballad musical, and part
impressionistic art film, Belladonna of Sadness is at once a
feminist critique of the oppression of women and the poor by the
rich and powerful and an exploration of female sexuality in a
medieval culture where such expression is considered sinful at best
and the work of the devil at worst. The artwork, a mix of sketchy
drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings, is filled with phallic,
fertility, and menstrual imagery, and the mix of abstract and pop
art evokes Peter Max, art nouveau, Guido Crepax, Sesame Street
animations, and psychedelic posters. Belladonna of Sadness has more
in common with the animated science fiction cult film Fantastic
Planet (France, 1973), the early features of American animation
rebel Ralph Bakshi, and the live-action Czech new wave masterpiece
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) than the manga serials and
sexually explicit anime horrors that come to mind in the
intersection of Japanese animation and erotica.
It was well received at the Berlin Film Festival but a financial
failure when it was released in Japan in 1973. Mushi was on the
verge of bankruptcy with the exit of its founder and the film's
distributor confused audiences by opening it in mainstream theaters
with the tagline "From Astroboy to Belladonna," which did not
prepare audiences for the erotic content, the psychedelic imagery,
or the brutality of the story. Eight minutes of the most explicit
imagery was edited out of the negative for a 1979 rerelease in Japan
and those sequences were lost for decades until independent American
film distributor Cinelicious Pics teamed up with SpectreVision to
restore the film from the original 35mm negative in 2015. The
missing footage was restored from a 35mm release print preserved by
the Cinematek film archive in Belgium. Over 40 years after its world
premiere, Belladonna of Sadness received its long-delayed American
debut to largely glowing reviews. Writing for The New York Times,
film critic Glenn Kenny described the film as "undoubtedly a
landmark of animated film, and arguably a masterpiece. But it's a
very disquieting one."
"Fantastic Planet". A french cartoon about blue giants keeping humans as pets.
René Laloux came relatively late to filmmaking. In fact, though he studied
painting and worked in advertising for a time, his first animation efforts
were part of a project with patients at a psychiatric institution. One of
those short films won an award at an animation festival, where he met Roland
Topor, an author, graphic artist, and political cartoonist who co-founded the
Panic Movement with filmmakers Alejandro Jodorowsky and Fernando Arrabal.
They hit it off. Topor leaned toward the satirical and the surreal and Laloux
toward the allegorical and the fable-like, but they both embraced political
and social commentary. The cross-pollination of these sensibilities flowered
in two animated short films, Les Temps morts (1964) and Les Escargots (1965),
and they decided to embark on an animated feature.
They chose Oms en serie, a 1957 science fiction novel by Stefan Wul (pen
name of Pierre Pairault) about a race of highly advanced giants called the
Draags that bring humans to their home planet and turn them into pets, as
their source. Topor designed the look of the film and co-wrote the screenplay
with director Laloux. Their film, which had the working title Sur la planète
Ygam (On the Planet Ygam) but became La planète sauvage and was released
under the name Fantastic Planet in the U.S. This was the height of the French
nouvelle vague and new ideas were the currency of the filmmaking culture, but
they faced a more immediate challenge. A serious, adult-minded animated
science fiction feature with fantastical imagery and mature themes was a
difficult enough undertaking but France had no animation industry to support
their project. Laloux looked to Czechoslovakia, with a vibrant animation
industry supported by the government, to realize his ambitious feature and he
secured the respected Jirí Trnka Studio to animate his film.
Fantastic Planet took six years to produce. The production shut down briefly
to secure additional funds and was halted when the Soviets invaded
Czechoslovakia and put all artistic projects under scrutiny to "allegorical
content." Fantastic Planet is nothing if not allegorical--the oppressed Oms
(a pun in French; "oms" is a homonym for "hommes," the French word for men)
live in a world ruled by blue-skinned Draags, an advanced but oppressive race
that treats the diminutive Oms as pets at best and vermin at worst--but
eventually (and amazingly) was allowed to resume, in part because it was a
French production bringing in money from outside the country.
Rather than traditional cel animation, where images are drawn on transparent
celluloid sheets and photographed one after another against a painted
background, the filmmakers turned to stop-motion process with cut-out figures
drawn on paper and manipulated against flat backgrounds, with soft colors on
paper rather than ink and paint on cels, and pen-and-ink cross-hatching to
give the figures a suggestion of depth and contour, like a book illustration
in motion. It gives the film an alien beauty that decades later is still
unique in animated cinema. It's oddly static but the weird, lush landscapes,
pastel color palette, and bizarre imagery create a fantastical world of both
wonder and terror, which Laloux presents from an eerie remove.
As much fantasy as science fiction, this strange, metaphorical portrait
plays out in a world as psychedelic as Yellow Submarine (1968) but far more
predatory. Laloux creates a culture where intellect is disconnected from
morality and sensual decadence rules. And if the mix of "David and Goliath"
and civil rights appears simplistic, it's not a stretch to see the fight
against oppression reflected in the civil rights struggle in America, the
French in Algeria, Apartheid in South Africa, and (when injustice takes a
turn to wholesale annihilation of the "inferior" race) the Holocaust itself.
The theme of resistance and rebellion against an oppressive power surely
inspired the animators in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia, who at one point
were on the verge of rebelling against Laloux and taking charge of the
Fantastic Planet premiered at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, a rare animated
feature invited to the main competition, and it won a special jury prize. It
was a commercial success and an internationally recognized cult movie (Roger
Corman dubbed the film for the American released with young Barry Bostwick in
the voice cast). Laloux opened his own French animation studio, which largely
supported itself making commercials, and he made two additional animated
features--Les maitres du temps / Time Masters (1982) and Gandahar / Light
Years (1988)--but never had another critical or commercial success as great
as Fantastic Planet.
THE LOVE BOAT:
"The Frugal Pair". A cheap retired couple (who I think got the cruise as a
retirement gift) squabble after the husband discovers they were well-off,
thanks to the wife's investiments.
"Doc's Dismissal". Doctor Bricker is accused of making advances to the wife
of a jealous man.
"The Girl Next Door". Another story I do not remember.
THE SHAHS OF SUINSET:
"Hooray for Holy Land!". These assholes vacation in Israel. Naturally, the
impact is lost on them.
"Old Wounds". After divorcing his wife after catching her cheating with a blue
alien, Ed Mercer is promoted to captain, but his enthusiasm wanes when his
ex-wife is assigned first officer; an alien race ambushes the crew in an
attempt to steal a time-accelerating device. This was OK, but seemed to be
trying too hard to be funny.
What did you watch?
Dems & the media want Trump to be more like Obama, but then he'd
have to audit liberals & wire tap reporters' phones.