Categories
Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Multiple Maniacs (Dir. John Waters, 1970)

He is regarded as The Pope of Trash and now John Waters’ third feature film, unavailable for decades, has been “restored, remastered and re-vomited” by premium label The Criterion Collection, following a limited release in arthouse theatres.

Multiple Maniacs stars Waters’ merry band of misfits, including David Lochary, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, and Edith Massey. Those who would appear in most of his subsequent films, and led by the Queen: Miss Lady Divine, who we first see lying naked on a chaise longue, her Rubenesque derrière framed and in close-up. She leads the sideshow of “freaks” within Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversion, a travelling band of “real, actual filth”. There’s a naked human pyramid, bra fetishist, a women giving oral pleasure to a bicycle saddle, a Jonesing addict, “actual queers kissing” and a bonafide puke-eater. Of course this is all a ruse, a front to house psychotic kidnappers and murderers. The brains (and beauty) of the outfit is Lady Divine. She’s the leader, the matriarch, think Ma Barker by way of a transgressive Elizabeth Taylor, who will do right by her people if they do right by her. Woe betide anybody who, for example, cheats or betrays.

Shot on 16mm and made with a $5000 budget – via a loan by Waters’ father – Multiple Maniacs is deliberately offensive and grotesque. It has an avant garde sensibility, with low contrast grainy black and white film stock, which makes the sprawling chaos, horrible camerawork and zoom abuse more bearable. For all its gleeful delinquent subversion, it actually has a lot of charm. Sure, it glorifies carnage and wears its anti-establishment, anti-bourgeois respectability, and sacrilegious, cannabilistic heart on its sleeve but it does so with such veracity, it’s admirable. Disgusting and atrocious, it may be but it’s also hilarious.

Hippy values take a few knocks, there’s a definite anti-war vibe to the denouement but it celebrates art via the Warhol and Lichtenstein pictures on an interior wall, its Czech New Wave style, and even surrealism – it’s hard not to think of Dalí when Lobstora rears its rapey pincers. Nothing is sacred. Least of all Catholicism. There is religious iconography dotted amongst the mise-en-scène, and The Stations of the Cross is even recreated as Divine receives a seemingly never-ending “rosary job” from Mink Stole, in a Church pew. All to the strain of He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.

Waters and his maniacs deliver on the blackest of comedies. All dialogue is frantic, emphatic and, at times, stilted and a little repetitive but that’s the Waters way. He and his friends, some from childhood, some dropouts from NYU created a filmmaking family which celebrated difference, embraced outsiders and misfits, and forged an artistic front for freaks. Divine was the heartbeat; loud, brash, crude, angry and trashy. She didn’t give two flying kitten heels what people thought of her, she knew she was beautiful.

In the words of the great auteur himself (oh, he’d hate that): “To understand bad taste one must have very good taste. Good bad taste can be creatively nauseating but must, at the same time, appeal to the especially twisted sense of humour, which is anything but universal.” Multiple Maniacs is a transgressive, blasphemous, and iconic piece of celluloid. It won’t be for everyone, but for those of us with a wicked sense of humour and good bad taste, it will be a religious experience.

Categories
Review

Review: Selah and The Spades (Dir. Tayarisha Poe, 2020)

Pennsylvania’s Haldwell School sits on vast green grounds on the edge of a wooded area, away from civilisation and governance – although, bless his heart Headmaster Banton (Jesse Williams) tries. He attempts to push School Policy and assert authority but tends to, more often than not, falls short. The elite boarding school is in the hands of five factions (gangs are against the rules): The Sea, The Skins, The Bobbies, The Prefects, and The Spades. The Spades provide the ‘booze, pills and powders’ and business is booming. They all run the school but the most power appears to be in the hands of Queen bee Selah Summers (Lovie Simone) and her closest ally and associate Maxxie Ayoade (Jharrel Jerome).

Selah is in her senior year and should be thinking of college. It turns out it’s only her mother (Gina Torres) with whom she has a terse relationship who actually is, seeking an institution which will “keep you in your place, save you from yourself. Something has to.” The young entrepreneur would rather concentrate on her business and leaving it to a worthy protégée. Enter new scholarship student and keen photographer Paloma Davis (Celeste O’Connor) who appears to take it al in her stride and quickly aligns herself as a Spade.

Near the film’s beginning, The Spirit Squad (cheerleaders) perform one of their routines and it is here that several facts are laid out for us. “They never take the girls seriously… when you’re 17, everybody is telling you what you do with your bodies…” The crux of it is, The Spirit Squad took back that power, they decide the uniforms, routines and how much skin to show. Selah uses that power and runs with it. The control intoxicates with a fine line drawn between leaving behind a legacy and being erased from history, and it during those moments of fear that Selah exhibits the real darkness of her character, and where Lovie Simone comes into her own as we start to see that perfect façade begin to crack.

First time writer/director Tayarisha Poe makes an impressive and memorable feature debut – and a perfect jumping-off point for an original TV series (handy since one has already been commissioned). Selah… is an extraordinary and unique look at young adult life encapsulating satire, surrealism and style in a world of teen politics with razor-sharp dialogue and noir character study. It’s part Lord of the Flies, and Brick (ish) by way of Dear White People, Heathers and Ozma of Oz – that opening quote and the world it belongs to is hinted at throughout via the ruling princess (AKA the one true monarch), school colours, props, costumes even the location within the mise-en-scène, the Factions stand-ins for the Land of Oz’s quadrants.

Certainly Haldwell gives off the feeling of a world far from the emotional ties of home. This is thanks mainly to Jomo Fray’s hypnotic cinematography and Aska Matsumiya’s eclectically composed soundtrack replete with contemporary music and mystical dreamcatcher-like chimes adding an ethereal quality to an already uncanny setting. Colour is vibrant and varied, the use of light sublime and heightened. Make no mistake everything here is, it’s school (eye roll) – despite never actually depicting any lessons or classrooms. While the almost bored-sounding voiceover narratives ground in verisimilitude.

However, the film’s strength lies in its ensemble of characters – “a film by us all” as the credits declare – from poised perfectionist Selah to diet-Margo Tenenbaum Bobby (Ava Mulvey Ten), peacekeeper Paloma, loved-up Maxxie (Jerome continuing his run of multi-faceted characters and solid performances), and immaculate, yet inept, Headmaster. Whether these characters and their respective players turn up in the TV series remains to be seen but Selah and The Spades is an impressive, if fraught, first term in the halls of Haldwell.

Selah and The Spades is available now to stream through Amazon Prime Video.

Categories
Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: The Congress (Dir. Ari Folman, 2013)

congress header

Robin Wright (the actress playing a version of herself) has made some lousy choices when it comes to her film career and men, or so she is forcefully told by her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) at the beginning of Ari Folman’s The Congress.

congress

Her son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has health problems, her daughter Sarah (Sami Gayle) thinks she should ‘do’ a Holocaust film as she can perfectly encapsulate ‘Nazi and victim’. These chalk-and-cheese children are just two of the reasons listed why character Wright ultimately chose life over the film offers and now Miramount Studio executive Jeff (Danny Huston) wants to offer her the chance to sign away the pressure. They wish to own “[the] thing called Robin Wright”; to create an image they manipulate and render in any filmic form as long as she retires from acting altogether. Any initial reluctance is given way to an affirmative and Wright is scanned; every emotion , every line, twinkle and wrinkle (a sequence that is particularly breath-taking, if completely isolating). The viewer is then transported twenty years into the future and the pension-age Wright is thrust into Abrahama City – the animated zone where she meets a 2D Disney-fied Jon Hamm.

The Congress, based upon a Stanislaw Lem story, is relevant, provocative, thematically rich – often to its detriment – and is almost impossible to categorise; part sci-fi, fantasy, family drama, there’s even some speculative dystopian fiction thrown in for good measure. However, what begins as a stinging critique and almost sly satire aimed primarily at the commodification of celebrity disappointingly loses its anger and gestates into something else entirely. The animated world is hallucinatory and disconcerting, a sinister Disney World™ where eagle-eyed viewers can spot Michael Jackson as a restaurant waiter, Grace Jones as a nurse or an exaggerated toothsome caricature of Tom Cruise. It is exhilarating, mesmerising and a little tiresome but perhaps this is the point in a post-avatar, digital-obsessed world? The questions of mortality our protagonist faces are replicated in our own manipulated interpretation; we should beware of the image. While its plethora of ideas and ambition feels relentless and even a little confusing, The Congress finally finds its humanity amid an existential denouement.

congress2

In any other actor’s hands, The Congress could have been a huge failure but the luminous Robin Wright delivers a stunning performance thanks, in part, to an excellent supporting cast of Keitel, Hamm, Huston and Paul Giamatti but mainly due to the fact that she is just that damn good. There is one scene in which the forty-plus Wright gazes at herself as Buttercup on a Princess Bride film poster, perhaps nostalgic for youth or the career she might have had, yet aside from the hair and the odd wisdom line, she appears exactly the same. If this film is one of her lousy choices, let’s hope she keeps on making them.