Saturday 26 November 2022

URGENT LATEBREAKING NEWS - Experimental film-maker and curator David King invites you to participate online at the Exploratory Visions Film Festival

This information was first published on Peter Tammer's blog Friends of the Armchair Traveller . The program finishes this weekend at close of Sunday 27 November - Dutch time - and next weekend's program starts on 03 December and runs until end of 04 December - also Dutch time). The link to the program is provided at the end of the Program Information. I guess one day we'll learn why an Australian film-maker and curator is screening out of the Netherlands instead of from his own country.


David King writes: Echoes of war reverberate through the first weekend’s Exploratory Visions animation + experimental + avant garde film program this year.

From Finland, Eija Temiseva’s abstract but powerful Feelings of War is followed by Indian director Debraj Naiya’s Seedlings which looks at the trauma suffered by children in an unnamed theatre of war, followed by Janja Rakus’s Song For Haron (Slovenia) which evokes a ferry taking the dead across the River Styx.

 'Feelings of War' - Eija Temiseva

'Seedlings' - Debraj Maiya

'Song or Haron' - Janja Rakus

But it’s not all doom and gloom. This is the first time the program will open with a student film – Yuzuki Tachibana’s Deduce from Genjipai is a delightful and intriguing experimental animation from Japan which evokes the spirit of Rene Magritte.

'Deduce from Gejapai' -Yuzuki Tachibana

Australia’s Ian Gibbins gives us a haunting and visually seductive video poem in After Image while the USA’s Dee Hood explodes our minds with Fragments of Knowable Truth, and Canada’s Deb Ethier - Best Film award winner at the 2021 Hell Chess Film Festival – brings us her award-winning animation Once There was a Girl.

 'After Image' - Ian Gibbins

'Fragments of Knowable Truth' - Dee Hood

 'Once There was a Girl' - Deborah Ethier

There’s also a special presentation of ABODE – a series of films made by an international collective of filmmakers who took Ito Takashi’s 1985 experimental horror film GRIM as a source of inspiration for their own films about a place of residence, work or refuge. The filmmakers are Kunal Biwas (India), Camelia Mirescu (Italy), Rrose Present (Spain), Hiroshi Atobe (Japan), Anna Grigorian (Armenia-Canada), Debjit Bagchi (India), David King (Australia – also curator) and Serge Maslov-Szymarski (Stateless).

And for the trance-pumping grand finale we welcome the return of Dean Winkler and Don Butler (USA) with their eye-popping and mind-bending blend of live action, 2D, 3D and CGI animation in Our America.

'Our America' - Dean Winkler & Don Butler

And all this in just one hour. So put aside an hour over 26 – 27 November and tune in to The Screening Room at  for the first weekend’s edition of Exploratory Visions animation + experimental + avant garde film program for 2022.

See Trailer below.

Wednesday 23 November 2022

For one night only (30 November) at the TAP GALLERY, Surry Hills - Barrie Pattison presents from his own private collection A QUICK HISTORY OF THE MOVIES

Sydney's supercinephile Barrie Pattison has come out of Covid hibernation and has agreed to do a public show drawn from his extensive private collection of films on all formats. Barrie, who has mounted programs for the London National Film Theatre and Cinémathèque Francaise in Paris, is doing a one-off event which traces film making from the first days to the present.


Barrie writes: It’s hard to imagine a city the size of Sydney without a Cinémathèque. A dismaying number of attempts to establish a base for serious film viewing have folded. That means important films (and quite a few trivial ones) that viewers in other centers take for granted remain inaccessible here. The isolation shows up in a whole lot of unwelcome ways.

Flickering shop front shows become picture palaces and multiplexes, through the arrival of sound, colour and big screens, Broncho Billy Anderson shares the screen with the European art movie, Hollywood nostalgia and the kung fu spectacular. 

You won’t find Battleship Potemkin, Bicycle Thieves, Ingmar Bergman and Superheroes. What will be on show are the ways changes in materials and taste have shaped the films we know. Newcomers will get an insight into the problems of handling and watching material in a way that does justice to the intention of the original makers. The program will use original celluloid film, some of it a hundred
years old, to put these on show.

Here’s a unique chance to rub shoulders with people who take their movies seriously - along with those who know that they can be one of the most fun ways to spend their time. You wouldn’t want to miss that! 

Below is the leaflet for the show which goes on at 7:30pm. Wednesday Nov. 30 Tap Gallery 1/259 Riley St. Surry Hills 2010. 

Phone 0400 610 440 or 9211 65 14 (after 11 am.) All Welcome - a gold coin or paper donation would be welcome.

Tuesday 22 November 2022

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema - Bruce Hodsdon continues his series - 6 (5) ‘New Hollywood’ (1) - Arthur Penn, Warren Beatty, Pauline Kael and BONNIE AND CLYDE

Arthur Penn, Warren Beatty

The series on the 60 years international of art cinema 1960-2020 by Bruce Hodsdon continues with the first essay on New Hollywood. 

These notes are accompanied by a set of summary table and decadal lists of art film directors 1970-2020 (click to link)  which contain 5 lists 1970-2020 including a list of women art film directors over the full 60 years from 1960),  

The sixties is the subject of an on-going separately annotated listing of directors in part 6 divided by nation-states in multiple sections.  


Thomas Shatz identified three distinct decade-long phases in the emergence of so-called New Hollywood after the War: from 1946-55, from 1956-65, and from 1966-75 marked through these four decades by the shift to independent film production, the changing role of the studios, the take-off of commercial television, and changes in American lifestyle and media consumption. (Elsaesser 239-40 ref ch 18, fn3 end note p.361).                                                                                                                                                                            

Arthur Penn (1922-2010) is perhaps the director who best typifies the new cinema of the 1960s. He  came up through live television in the 50s and achieved success as a director in the theatre. Penn first went to Hollywood in 1956 where he made The Left-Handed Gun (1957) at Warners with Paul Newman only to have it taken from him for editing, later by chance seeing it playing in a New York cinema on the bottom half of a double bill. It nevertheless attracted positive critical attention, particularly in France. He was more successful directing the film of William Gibson's The Miracle Worker (1962) which he had earlier directed on television and to plaudits on the stage. What comes to the fore is the intense physicality of the central performances which transmutes in his subsequent films to “arguably the most complex and mature treatment of violence in the American cinema” (Wood 12).  

Paul Newman, The Left-Handed Gun

Penn was replaced as director, at Burt Lancaster's insistence, after only one week on his first big budget film, The Train (1963). Then followed Mickey One (1964), Penn's personal 'Euro-American' art film. Despite its failure he saw it as an important transition in his stylistic and thematic development. The downward spiral continued with another critical and commercial failure, The Chase (1965), adapted by Lillian Hellman from a novel and play by Horton Foote. In his only extended experience of directing a major production in the mould of 'old Hollywood', Penn spoke of his complete bewilderment at the imposed daily re-writes of the script which culminated in producer, Sam Spiegel, re-editing and cutting 13 mins. 

Marlon Brando, The Chase

Beatty’s persistence                                                                                                 

Penn's fortunes in the industry dramatically reversed when Warren Beatty, who had played the lead in Mickey One, approached him about directing Bonnie and Clyde from a script by Robert Benton and David Newman, for which Beatty had secured the rights; they had earlier written it in the hope of interesting Godard or Truffaut to direct. Penn was initially reluctant, not much liking the script, but as a result of the strength of Beatty's persistence, finally agreed ( Biskind pp.26-36). Although Beatty considered Mickey One pretentious and affected he recognised Penn's talent. He had to fight for the film to be shot on location in Texas “far from the heavy hand of the studio.” Beatty may have had misgivings along the way, none more so than when the script was in trouble or crucially at the final hurdle when the studio was massively short changing the film's release in the US.  

Warren Beatty, Mickey One

Beatty's persistence was born of a need for a career success and with Bonnie and Clyde he became, “if not necessarily an auteur, one of the most powerful figures in the industry” (49).  Estelle Parsons related to Biskind how Beatty and Penn “argued over every shot,”  with the film's script doctor Robert Towne acting as a buffer. Benton and Newman, Beatty and Penn did, however, all agree “that the violence should shock.” Penn explained that they would not be repeating what the studios had done for so long: “that you couldn't shoot somebody and see them hit in the same frame” (34-5).

David Newman, Robert Benton

Bonnie and Clyde marked a turning point in the editing of feature films. Much of the action is perceived from Clyde Barrow's point of view, his subjectivity, and that of Bonnie Parker, coming to dominate. Dede Allen's fast cutting requiring careful layering to avoid viewer confusion. In a manner influenced by French new wave directors, most notably early Godard and Truffaut, establishing shots were dispensed with through the film, abrupt cuts to angled shots and close-ups replacing conventionally ordered establishing cut-ins and fade outs for entering and leaving scenes. This was central to Penn's intention of eliminating the clear-cut distinction between the good guys and the bad guys while it was also central to Beatty's concept of creating a visually distinctive “new American cinema.” It was soon widely adopted in Hollywood but generally without the underlying artistic intent of Allen and Penn to reorient viewers' relationship with the characters. At the same time Dede Allen denied that it constituted a New York based “Dede Allen” school of editing, joking that it was really an “Arthur Penn” school because he shot so much footage that she required several assistants to handle it (Monaco 90-2).

Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde

The pleasure of pulling this account together is the uncovering and testing of one's past intuitions on key films now overlaid by the memories of countless other movies, buttressed by claims of frequently enshrined auteur credentials. It involves reviewing a benchmark film like Bonnie and Clyde which then seemed to confirm what we felt about Penn's talent revealed on the first viewing of  The Left-Handed Gun at a mid-week suburban 'ranch night' in the mid sixties. This has been supplemented by turning up reviews and interviews in the likes of 'Sight & Sound' and 'Movie', the latter most notably bringing the serious weight of retrospective reflection to the auteur's body of work. The Left-Handed Gun and Night Moves both have the credentials for cinephilic recovery or revisionism, each being seen to have been stranded respectively by the indifference of the studio and dismissal or neglect by much of the critical establishment. 

Kael’s defence                                                                                                             

Bonnie and Clyde was a hit in London at the end of 1967 but the indifferent US run had finished following repeated attacks by Bosley Crowther in the 'NY Times' and labelled in extremis as “a squalid shoot 'em up for morons” by Joe Morgenstern in 'Newsweek'. Pauline Kael launched a 9000 word defence, a counterattack on the critical consensus. She reportedly persuaded Morgenstern, for one, to re-view the film; he recanted, which was unprecedented. 'Time' magazine came out with a cover story on the New Cinema  - “Violence … Sex … Art” - prominently featuring Bonnie and Clyde. Robert Towne said that “without her, B & C would have died the death of an effing dog”; for the writers, Benton and Newman, her review was the best thing that ever put us on the map” (Biskind 40).  

Pauline Kael

Kael was motivated, in the defence of the film, to range combatively over issues like film's status as mass art, the Barrow gang as outlaws holding a special place in the public imagination and as film art, comparing it with the classic You Only Live Once (1937). Another retelling of the B&C story, They Live by Night (1948), was a notable debut by Nicholas Ray as director, “a very serious and socially significant melodrama” which made little impact on American audiences - “its attitudes,” writes Kael, “were already dated thirties attitudes” (61).  In Fritz Lang's film, contemporary audiences were also shown the “outlaw couple” as tragic figures, unremittingly portrayed as victims of fate. For young audiences in the late sixties, the period setting of the Depression was already distanced into a seemingly simpler time in which the outlaws are 'innocent' identification figures transformed into “Depression people” but killers nonetheless; the Depression is not being used to heighten social consciousness. “Audiences are not given a simple, secure point for identification” (Kael 64). 

Beatty's portrayal of Clyde Barrow's dysfunctional masculinity - an expression of vulnerability and understated torment that is extraordinarily touching - breaking new ground in the portrayal of the gangster anti-hero. Penn's sensitivity to the ironic contradictions in the couple's spontaneously murderous bloodletting, and the denial of it, expressed in Bonnie's published poem, of themselves as “honest, upright and clean,” is central to Penn's embrace of a revitalised romanticism in Bonnie and Clyde (see below) already apparent in The Left-Handed Gun. This contrasts with 'B' movie surrealism, for example, of the amoral portrayal of l'amour fou in the earlier evocation of the outlaw couple on-the-run drawn together by a mutual love of guns in Gun Crazy (1949).

Clyde's death, Warren Beatty,  Bonnie and Clyde

To quote Robin Wood, “even in death [Bonnie and Clyde] are completely alive, and it is the insistence of life within them – of spontaneous, socially amoral and subversive energies – that makes it necessary for them to be destroyed,” for what Wood calls “the artist's tragic sense” (75). Kael concludes that, in its comic tragedy, “Bonnie and Clyde, by making us care about the robber lovers, has put the sting back into death,” (79) standing in stark contrast with the obligatory sentimentalising of the lovers' deaths overlaid on the ending of Lang's film, presumably with his resigned acceptance. 

Old Hollywood’s last stand                                                                                       

The initial industry indifference and mainstream critical assaults on Bonnie and Clyde's first release can be seen, in retrospect, as a last stand by 'old Hollywood'. The film's spectacular comeback after the initial debacle, contributed to the prospect of the opening of further unbridgeable gaps between the tropes of classical narrative and those of a 'new' romanticism.  Kael, in her essay, takes issue with other pillars of the classical system then in retreat: censorship and the violence which raised many voices against Bonnie and Clyde which, she argues, “is essential to the film's meaning... art is not examples for imitation- that is not what art does for us.” Kael also further insists that the deployment of violence in non-art films should also be beyond the ambit of law singularly dedicated to the preservation of “giant all-purpose commercials for the American way of life.” 

Kael finds cause to praise the editing of Bonnie and Clyde “as the best in an American movie for a long  time,” for which she “assumes” Penn deserves credit along with the credited editor, Dede Allen. She finds it “particularly inventive in the robberies” and “brilliant,” in what she calls, “the rag doll dance of death” at the end (which Biskind confirms was originally Penn's concept), particularly noting the quick panic of Bonnie and Clyde looking at each other's face for the last time, as the gun blasts keep [their] bodies in motion, is brilliant...a horror that seems to go on for eternity yet it doesn't last a second beyond what it should.” 

Arlo Guthrie, Alice's Restaurant

Kael goes further in identifying Penn's “gift for violence, and, despite all the violence in movies, the gift for it is rare,” a gift she intriguingly considers Penn shares with Eisenstein, Dovzenko and Buñuel (75-6). Penn and Allen edited four more films together: Alice's Restaurant (69), Little Big Man (70), Night Moves (75) and The Missouri Breaks (76). Nowell-Smith comments that “Penn's films do not so much play with conventions as strain against them, extracting significance from the constant pressure of content upon form” (460 N-S ed.).

The fact that Penn was not credited as writer on any of his films is taken up by Kael to air her opportunistically recurring critique of auteurism: the claimed neglect of the writer. She makes the point that unlike European writer-directors like Fellini and Bergman, Penn was “far more dependent on his collaborators and the original material.” In canvassing the cause of the writer Kael does ignore the complexity of guild rules covering the allocation of credits in America. The opposite generally applies in Europe with the director invariably given a co-writing credit in France, for example, in recognition that he/she will have made, at the very least, significant contributions to the screenplay. In Hollywood directors of 'A' features in the studio system were usually allocated in the budget some weeks to work with the writer in pre-production. Penn acknowledged that he always worked closely with the writer in this way. An exception was the debacle of The Chase (see above). Even on his most personal film, Mickey One, Penn did not receive a co-writing credit. 

To support her case Kael dismisses Penn's film as “an art film in the worst sense of the word” to support her case: “[Penn] had full control, proving that a director cannot redeem bad material.” At the same time Kael acknowledges that in Bonnie and Clyde “one cannot say to what degree it shows the work of the co-writers, Benton and Newman, and to what degree they merely enabled Penn to “express himself,” which illustrates the problem – screenplays have a very different role in the scheme of things than plays written for the stage. Here Kael imposes her own value judgement on the director's contribution to Bonnie and Clyde: “Penn is a little clumsy and far too fancy; he's too much interested in being cinematically creative and artistic to know when to trust the script” (74).  Kael considers that “the solid intelligence of the writing and Penn's aura of sensitivity help Bonnie and Clyde triumph over many poorly directed scenes” (76).

The Romantic tradition                                                                                               

Boosting its claims as a seminal art film, Robin Wood in saying Bonnie and Clyde 'romanticises' the couple felt that, “perhaps the word can be restored to something of its original dignity by relating to the Romantic tradition – the  movement that in English literature begins with Blake and has its last great explosion in D.H.Lawrence whose main source of vitality and impetus has consistently been the belief in the importance - even sacredness - of the spontaneous-intuitive side of man's (sic) nature.” (75-6). This claim would seem to best apply to this, Penn's most successful film with audiences by a wide margin. 

Gene Hackman, Night Moves

In more contemporary terms I see romanticism grounded by irony in a dialectic that marks Penn's major films from The Left-handed Gun to Night Moves (The Miracle Worker and the self-admitted diversion of The Missouri Breaks are possible exceptions) reaching a point in Little Big Man and Night Moves in which “Penn's vision shows complete disintegration,” as Terence Butler contentiously puts it in a retrospective essay on his work entitled 'The Flight from Identity'. “For all the elemental force of its preoccupation with violence and pain” begins Butler, “Arthur Penn's cinema has been predominantly characterised by a mood of stasis, of energy dissipated rather than liberated, of characters existing disorientedly rather than [as] positively defined identities.” Butler finds that “while few American directors have explored the personalities of individual characters or rivalled the intricacy of character interaction in his later movies, Penn has always worked at a kind of dead end because of an obsession with stunted psychology; none of his characters has ever reached a state of self-knowledge” (43).

Four Friends

In the decade following the retrospective re-sighting, in Four Friends (1981), of the 50s and 60s through the experiences of a Yugoslav immigrant, it seemed that Penn may himself have felt the impasse he had allegedly reached and the intellectual and emotional energy used up - he had more than once in interviews referred to several years of personal crisis following the completion of Little Big Man.  Otherwise he still also 'felt aroused'  to make films, hence the episodic, multi-themed Four Friends which left ideologically committed Robin Wood somewhat puzzled, and Target (1985) which long-time Penn convert Geoff Andrew, in 'Time Out', found to be “far more ambitious and intelligent than most spy thrillers.” 


Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls Bloomsbury pb. 1999 Ch 1                          

Jean-Pierre Coursodon, “Arthur Penn” essay in American Directors  Vol 2  McGraw-Hill pb.1983                                                                                                               

Pauline Kael, “Bonnie and Clyde” October 1967  reprinted in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang  Bantam pb ed.1969.                                                             

Richard Lippe & Robin Wood, “An Interview with Arthur Penn”  cineAction 5  Spring 1986                                                                    

Terence Butler “Arthur Penn: The Flight from Identity” Movie 26 Winter 1978/9          

Robin Wood,  Arthur Penn  Movie Paperbacks Studio Vista 1967                                

Adam Bingham, Great Directors: Arthur Penn Senses of Cinema December 2002  


Previous entries in this series can be found at the following links

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema: 1960-2020 - Tables and Directors Lists to Accompany Bruce Hodsdon's Series

Notes on canons, methods, national cinemas and more

Part One - Introduction

Part Two - Defining Art Cinema

Part Three - From Classicism to Modernism

Part Four - Authorship and Narrative

Part Five - International Film Guide Directors of the Year, The Sight and Sound World Poll, Art-Horror

Part Six (1) - The Sixties, the United States and Orson Welles

Part Six (2) - Hitchcock, Romero and Art Horror

Part Six (3) - New York Film-makers - Elia Kazan & Shirley Clarke  

Part Six (4) - New York Film-makers - Stanley Kubrick Creator of Forms

Sunday 20 November 2022

Streaming on Netflix - THE MURMURING (Jennifer Kent, USA, 2022) - An episode in Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities

Guillermo del Toro

Thanks to David Hare who drew my attention to this little movie.

You go where the wind blows and for Jennifer Kent, who has made two highly regarded features The Babadook (2014)  and The Nightingale (2018)  but nothing else on the record since then, fate  has blown her into the arms of Guillermo del Toro for whom she has written and directed a one hour “teleplay” for the eight part series Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities now screening on Netflix. Del Toro's appearance introducing the show is the last of him though it did hit a memory trace that took me all the way back to his remarkable debut feature Cronos (1993)


The Murmuring  stars Essie Davis and Andrew Lincoln. Del Toro himself wrote the story which Kent has adapted into a near two hander.

Essie Davis, Andrew Lincoln, The Murmuring

It’s set on an island of Nova Scotia in 1951 and two ethnographers (?) Nancy and Edgar arrive to study the local population of a bird called a dunlin. These are famous for their ability  ("is it mental telepathy?") to form enormous swarms all flying in elaborate patterns. Things are a little tense between them and Nancy has lost interest in sex, indeed in just about any kind of emotional warmth. From a hint at the start we know there’s a deep dark secret that is going to come out. 


While you expect it to happen, the mechanics of it  don’t come out until we go through a series of incidents which suggest that the couple, otherwise alone on the island, are living in a haunted house. But only Nancy hears and sees the signs and…go no further. Not being an aficionado of this sort of material I cant say whether others might find this all too predictable. But for mine, as medium length modest movies go, this is very good indeed and helped immeasurably by the performances of Davis and Lincoln.


The series has eight stories, only one other of which is based on Del Toro’s story material. Sources are as varied as stories by H P Lovecraft, an original script and a web comic. Five ‘young’ male directors and three female directors do the hard yakka. Netflix has given the film (or maybe the series) its own “R” rating but that is way beyond the gentle and very clever storyline.

Thursday 17 November 2022

At Brisbane's CONTAINER FILM SOCIETY - Ben Cho reviews the latest documentary from Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel - DE HUMANI CORPORIS FABRICA (France/Switzerland, 2022)

Still from De Humani Corporis Fabrica

With the release of Terrifier 2 in Australia, there’s been a bit of online chatter (wait, is offline chatter around films still a thing?) about that film’s jaw-dropping gore. Even the 
Classification Board was helpful enough to point out on their website, “In some scenes, the clown eats pieces of flesh and internal organs of his victims … the film features a series of murders that include copious amounts of blood and graphic injury detail such as mutilation, decapitation and dismemberment.” If you’re working in the Terrifier 2 distributor’s PR department you probably couldn’t ask for a better write-up than that to tease gorehounds around the nation. 

But there’s another R-rated film listed on the Classification Board’s website that will probably not be revving up the Fangoria crowd but is as gory and stomach-churning as anything dreamed up by horror filmmakers: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica

If you’ve been reading Sight and SoundCinema Scope or Film Comment since the late 2000s, the duo’s names should be familiar. Castaing-Taylor, together with Ilisa Barbash, made headlines with Sweetgrass, a fascinating and minimalist documentary on sheepherding in Montana; later with Paravel, the duo made a big splash at the Locarno Film Festival with Leviathan, a Go-Pro equipped odyssey into the fishing industry featuring spectacular footage strapped onto the people, fish and equipment of the open seas; and then more recently Castaing-Taylor and Paravel examined the life of Japanese cannibal killer Issei Sagawa in the murky Caniba. Sagawa somehow managed to navigate the French and Japanese legal systems to serve a few years in a French clinic and then return to Japan as a free man and turn his notoriety into minor celebrity, writing books, restaurant reviews (a particularly sick irony given his crime) and even appear in an exploitation film as a voyeur. 

In Caniba there was no getting around the icky realities of human flesh and the body’s fragility given the nature of the subject matter, but in De Humani Corporis Fabrica, the filmmakers go for a (sometimes literal) deep dive into what’s really going on beneath the surface of our bodies and the delicate fragility inside us that threatens to break down from any manner of illness or injury. The “gore” of the human body cut open and probed that one could only imagine in Caniba, is now all on display in De Humani Corporis Fabrica but the end result is a piece of anthropological art far superior to Caniba, in terms of visual and editing style and, crucially, in terms of the morality of its enterprise. 

You can argue Caniba had an amorality to it; its fixation on killer and his crimes, and not victim, the implications of focusing on the celebrity of Sagawa and what that might do to further raise his profile with a disturbed fanbase. You might even question the directorial choice of Caniba to limit contextual information from others around the case. But De Humani Corporis Fabrica’s universe is one that finely balances the macro and micro of its concerns with an expanded ‘cast’ of healthcare experts, patients of all ills and those on the periphery of the healthcare industry such as morgue workers and security guards. Once the end credits roll you feel you’ve been fully immersed in the world of hospitals and surgical theaters (and the bodies within) in a manner to properly consider the weighty issues of our health, the healthcare industry and how art transmits imagery of the human body. In Caniba, with its limited focus and aesthetic strategies, you never really felt confident to grapple with the detail of Sagawa’s case or life, but rather you were being steered to consider the academic questions around Sagawa’s lust for flesh and the societal implications of killers likehim, not necessarily the specifics of him and what he did to Renee Hartevelt in 1981. 

Like its write up on Terrifier 2, the Classification Board helpfully informs/warns potential viewers that Castaing-Taylor and Paravel’s doco contains, “graphic and prolonged depictions of actual surgical procedures including, but not limited to, a Caesarian, the draining of fluid from an engorged penis and the removal of a tumour near a man’s enlarged prostate”. 

When you’re watching a horror movie, depending on your familiarity with the genre and your cynicism, some part of you is probably going to be focused on how the filmmakers achieved the gory effect and how close to reality the magic approximates reality. Iconic makeup and FX guru Tom Savini (aka the Sultan of Splatter) often discusses how his experience around real dead bodies in the Vietnam war helped inform his understanding of the human body and how it bleeds and decays when he had to do gore effects on horror films like Friday the 13thDawn of the DeadManiac and The Prowler

It may seem a little stupid to be referencing the horror genre when discussing a serious, Quinzaine-screening documentary about French hospitals and the business of patient care, but it’s hard to not think about what you’re seeing here for real and what has been the meat-and-bones of horror setpieces for decades: drilling into the head brings back memories of Abel Ferrara’s scuzzy Driller Killer, the cutting open of the pregnant woman recalls the French shocker Inside, we’ve certainly seen breasts cut off in roughies, the close ups of wounds links to Cronenberg, the sequence on the eye will make you think back to many a Fulci picture, there’s stuff that wouldn’t look out of place in Miike’s Ichi the Killer or Audition… 

But you don’t get any kind of luxury to consider the artifice of what’s on screen in De Humani Corporis Fabrica the way you do in those horror films, it’s all terrifyingly real here, captured with stunning precision by microscopic cameras, endoscopic imagery and ultrasound technology. Excepting what you may have been privy to in the context of a private healthcare consult where professionals may share such footage with you as patient, the sort of stunning visuals on offer haven’t been seen before with such clarity and there’s a good chance won’t be again quite like this. 

Now, there’s a question about whether you really want to see such things and I can imagine if you’ve been through some medical trauma giving birth, surviving cancer or had invasive surgery on your body, this won’t be ranking high on your to-watch list. 

Frankly the scenes involving the bagging of the prostate, the fluid-spurting penis, the drilling into the brain - these are very difficult to watch without wincing a little. But it’s a sobering reminder of that entire biological circus buzzing away inside you and a good reminder you can’t ignore warning signs of cancers or other serious illnesses. 

The other sobering reality captured is the documentary makes clear throughout that when you step into a hospital as a patient, while you have to have faith that the doctors, specialists and nurses are like infallible Gods who will guide you to safety for your procedure, these are in fact very human, normal people whose workplace just happens to be your body and they’re just as likely to experience the ups and downs of their workplace like anyone else. We see workers griping about their colleagues’ “slices” of cancerous body parts, they drop a suction tube on the floor and swear at each other for a clean one during invasive surgery, they complain about long stretches of sleepless nights on the job where the only credit is a badge or a pen as thanks. Like Australia and the current crises gripping hospital systems around the nation, it appears France isn’t immune from similar challenges in the sector. 

The film’s extraordinary finale ends on these workers blowing off some steam at a staff party, with a thumping soundtrack of New Order’s “Blue Monday” blasting on the stereo. We’ve been subjected to numerous shots of the human body but now the reproductive organs are reconceptualised in a crude, sexualised manner - the camera lingers over a mural depicting a cartoonish orgy of excess; copulation, ejaculation, skeletons, rats. The film eventually settles on a mock Last Supper tableau as a staffer sits in front of it, “Blue Monday” still playing … 

An interesting detour about New Order’s “Blue Monday”: the story behind the title of “Blue Monday” goes that one of the band members got the idea for the title from a book he was reading, Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions or Goodbye Blue Monday. In that book’s preface Vonnegut says he tends to think of humans as “huge, rubbery test tubes with chemical reactions seething inside”. It’s a brilliant way to describe the human body and it completely jives with what we see of bodies in De Humani Corporis Fabrica

You may not want to be confronted by such disturbing visions of yourself as a huge, rubbery test tube with chemical reactions seething inside but if you can stomach it, this is a documentary of significant technical prowess and intellectual rigor. A century ago it would have been unthinkable we could see ourselves like this on the big screen but we’re living in an era of wild possibilities and progress even if the shadow of nuclear war and climate change threatens to render all of it obsolete. I’m not sure what Castaing-Taylor and Paravel have next to turn their attentions to but be excited there’s people like them to go places where few filmmakers dare to tread as new camera technology aids expeditions into the little-seen places of our world and ourselves. 

Oh, and a few words about the terrific programming work Container, a Brisbane Film Society, is doing in the city. With Container’s screening of this documentary, recent screenings of films like Il Buco and Artavazd Peleshyan’s Nature and future screenings of Albert Serra’s Pacifiction lined up, it’s clear Brisbane has a great organisation dedicated to important world cinema, curated by minds that seriously know their stuff. This year’s rather lackluster programming at the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) further demonstrated why something like Container is so important as a credible alternative to the major festivals for Brisbane cinephiles. No longer do cinephiles have to wait for BIFF to roll around to maybe get a glimpse of some exciting title that has been getting critical praise at Cannes or Locarno, they can pay a modest annual membership for a full year of great cinema. With BIFF charging $150 for ten tickets during the festival versus Container charging $100 for 12 months of screenings (and with superior programming), you can work out for yourself who is giving the best bang for your cinephile buck.  Membership enquiries via THE CONTAINER WEBSITE