Monday, December 28, 2015

The Line, The Cross & The Curve (1993)

With a debut single like “Wuthering Heights”, albums like The Dreaming and conceptual suits like “The Ninth Wave”, Kate Bush is anything but predictable with seemingly everything she’s involved with coming out of left field. As evidenced by her music, Bush is clearly a film fanatic and has an obvious appreciation for cinema of a slightly sinister nature having expressed admiration for Hitchcock in interviews as well as writing songs like “The Wedding List” based on Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (1968), “Get Out of My House” inspired by The Shining (1980) and of course the sampling of the “Its in the trees! Its coming!” line from Curse of the Demon (1957) on the title track for the Hounds of Love album. There has always been a visual side to Bush’s music and with The Sensual World album Bush took to directing her own videos. For her 1993 album The Red Shoes, Bush again chose to do things a bit differently. Rather than simply film videos for the singles, Bush instead chose to write, direct and star in a film around the songs loosely inspired by the 1948 Michael Powell film which gave The Red Shoes album its name. In classic Bush fashion, the resulting film, The Line, The Cross & The Curve is as bizarre as it is original and left many, even some of Bush’s most loyal supporters scratching their heads.

Following a rehearsal, a dancer (Bush) is startled when out of nowhere a mysterious woman (Miranda Richardson) appears before her from behind her mirror. The woman frantically begs the dancer to help her return home, which she agrees do to by simply drawing a line, a cross and a curve on three sheets of paper. As a gift, the women gives the dancer her pair of red dancing shoes, however once she puts them on she realizes she’s been tricked as the shoes are cursed and she is unable to stop dancing. A strange guide appears beckoning her and the dancer is sucked into a fantasy world behind the mirror, forced to find the woman and free herself from the cursed red shoes.

Hardly surprising considering its creator, The Line, The Cross & The Curve is a quintessential Bush creation being wonderfully weird and defying both convention and any attempt to pigeonhole it. Despite being constructed around six music videos, the film is much more than simply a collection of video clips and at the same time the last thing the film plays out like is a standard musical. Whatever it is, it works. One of the reasons it works as well as it does is because the transitions from the music videos and the narrative interruptions in-between are smoothly executed and move the story along quite nicely no matter how illogical it may seem. Its the videos though which are the main attraction. As a director, Bush clearly has an excellent eye and there is certainly isn’t a lack of innovative ideas with each of the videos having their own distinct visual personality (and musical as well with The Red Shoes being one of Bush’s most eclectic albums) with opener “Rubberband Girl” showcasing Bush’s innovative dancing, “The Red Shoes” recalling the phantasmagoric flamboyance of Ken Russell whereas it would appear David Lynch was a source of inspiration for Bush during the opening moments of “Lily”. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be the euphoric, almost ceremonial fruit squishing set to the tropical tune of “Eat the Music”. Even a relativity simple video like “And So Is Love” feels like a scene out of a gothic horror film thanks to Bush’s stylish lighting choices.

In August of 2014 when Bush made her return to the live stage with her series of “Before the Dawn” concerts in London there seemed to be a newfound interest in all things Kate Bush with multiple albums even re-entering the British charts. Despite this, The Line, The Cross & The Curve got little to no mention at all and that was probably to Bush’s liking. While there are numerous Bush fans who’ve found the film hard to take too, Bush herself is perhaps its harshest critic, claiming in interviews that she feels she let her crew and Miranda Richardson down and is really only happy with very little of the film. She also blatantly referred to it as a “load of bullocks”. In fact Bush also expressed disappointment in the production of The Red Shoes album even re-recording seven tracks for her 2011 album The Director’s Cut. The film has yet to be released on DVD and unless Bush has a change of opinion it will probably stay that way for a while which is too bad as its really a testament to Bush‘s creativity. Fans of Bush who’ve yet to see it should track it down just because but fans of strange cinema that might not be familiar with Bush should also seek out The Line, The Cross & The Curve and in the process be introduced to a brilliant artist.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bordel SS (1978)

AKA Bordello a Parigi (Bordello in Paris)

Unlike fellow Euro cult contemporaries Jess Franco and Jean Rollin who turned to adult features for financial purposes (or had their films meddled with by producers and distributors who later added hardcore inserts) and usually worked under pseudonyms, José Bénazéraf had no issues whatsoever taking the hardcore route, proudly signing his name on all his adult films earning himself the moniker “the Goddard of porn”. Although Bénazéraf didn’t make the full jump into the adult film market until the mid-70’s, the seeds for his transition were planted long before with his films drawing the ire of the French censors with their melding of sex, violence and radical politics which eventually led to Bénazéraf’s Joë Caligula (1966) being outright banned the night before its intended premier, a stunt which cost Bénazéraf one million of his own Francs. Bénazéraf was once quoted as saying “In bourgeois society, eroticism is a form of anarchy” and like many others of the era considered making adult films a form of social rebellion but he also believed that it could be done artistically, although he would eventually begin shooting on video with increasingly low budgets. Out of all of Bénazéraf’s hardcore films, Bordel SS is perhaps the most interesting as it see’s Bénazéraf trying his hand at the nazisploitation subgenre and the resulting film turned out to be one of the most ambitious entries said subgenre has to offer.

During the Nazi occupation of France, one particular Paris brothel becomes a popular hangout for a Nazi unit stationed nearby. Captain Willhem, a decorated and highly respected Nazi commander soon becomes a regular, although complications being to arise when Willhem finds himself falling for Amelia, one of the prostitutes, whom unbeknownst to Willhem knows more than she should regarding the war as she’s providing information to the resistance movement, putting herself and the rest of the prostitutes in grave danger.

Bordel SS is certainly an oddity in that despite being not just a nazisploitation film but a hardcore film belonging to a subgenre notorious for its rampant sleaziness, those looking for a barrage of bad taste will quickly become bored with the film. Bordel SS is first and foremost a story driven film, however there is one thing that holds in back in the eyes of many and that being the editing in the Italian version of the film, which is the most widely available, is rather choppy and as a result the narrative probably doesn’t make much sense. The fact that the film is non-linier also adds to the confusion however with subsequent viewings more loose ends are tied up and the film feels more complete. Clearly the story came first for Bénazéraf as the actual hardcore scenes feel almost like an afterthought although Bénazéraf’s occasional use of mirrors does add some visual flair. What’s also refreshing is that the prostitutes aren’t simply fodder for the sex scenes, they’re all fairly rounded characters each with their own distinct personality and the way Bénazéraf has Willhem’s “relationship” with Amelia play out is quite interesting. That’s not to say that Bénazéraf completely forgets about the mandatory nazisploitation sleaze as its well represented here in the form of the bizarre sadomasochistic lesbian fantasies (which eventually become reality) of an imposing female Nazi officer and torture via electrocution. The film also benefits from high production values featuring authentic looking costumes and even some WWII era vehicles.

Bordel SS is also notable for featuring a still dark haired Brigitte Lahaie in an early role. Although her part is technically a supporting role, it didn’t stop distributors Punch Video from making her the main attraction on the VHS box when the film hit video. When it came to working with Bénazéraf, Lahaie had mixed feeling stating in the episode of the 1999 Eurotika! documentary series centered around Bénazéraf “Bénazéraf is a crazy man you know. Sometimes it was wonderful and sometimes is was very bad… he don’t like people, he don’t like actresses and don’t like actors. It was difficult to work with him”. Bordel SS also has the distinction, perhaps due to its nazisploitation credentials, of being one of the easier Bénazéraf films to track down in an English friendly version. The film does have an official DVD release in France from a company called LCJ who also released Bénazéraf’s Joë Caligula, Frustration (1971), The French Love (1973), Le bordel 1900 (1973), Anthologie des scènes interdites (1975), Brantôme 81 (1981) and Les contes galants de la Fontaine (1981) although unfortunately none of the discs are subtitled. In pure Bénazéraf fashion, Bordel SS is a film that’s liable to frustrate many, however Bénazéraf’s ambitions with the film make it unique in the field of nazisploitation and the type of political (s)exploitation film that only Bénazéraf would be audacious enough to make.