Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Kurt Weller on Film

Death Wish 2

Paul Kearsy
seems to be losing control as the action of this film plays out. After trying to make a fresh start in Los Angeles, his housekeeper and daughter are raped and murdered by a gang of hoodlums, mirroring the events that first transformed the low key architect into a vigilante in the first film. This time, however, he is able to track down the actual perpetrators of the crime and he hunts them down, one at a time, using an economy of action and dialogue in doing so. My father was always a huge fan of Charles Bronson, and I am beginning to understand why. Bronson is a man of action, he doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about what he is going to do, he simply does it without fanfare. He keeps his post-kill quipping to a minimum and seems to respect the gravity of his actions, not killing so much to make himself feel better as much as to simply clean the streets.

Zero Woman – Dangerous Game

This film excels when we are allowed to inhabit Agent Zero’s apartment with her. It is minimally furnished with a couch a bed and a fish tank and is always washed in the dark blue of closed blinds with city darkness behind them. The fish tank gives off the sole light in the apartment, the television is never on and the monotonic delivery of the vapid dialogue creates an ultra-realistic mood. When Agent Zero brings the witness she is assigned to protect to her apartment to hide out, the young girl tries to get the stoic agent out of her shell by rambling on and on at her. Agent Zero seems unaffected in the beginning but seems to slowly warm to the girl’s overtures of friendship. When we step out of the apartment we are on a rooftop overlooking the city. The sky is white and serves as a nice backdrop for the concrete gray skyscrapers that pierce it from the fog covered streets below.

The Outer Limits – The Man with the Power

Donald Pleasance creates such a mesmerizing aura around himself that the viewer begins to believe that he is indeed the man with the power. Pleasance appears, quite a bit younger than I am used to seeing him, to be in his early forties. Quite thin and purposeful, his usual low key manner replaced by a hypnotically believable intensity, as if he were actually channeling all of his real-life emotions. I found myself chilled by Pleasance in this episode. His eyes so intent and purposeful while maintaining his soft-spoken manner even as his forehead was dripping with sweat. His pupil’s seeming as though they must be off white or yellow in the stark black, white and gray tones of the early sixties television cameras. The environments portrayed in a minimalist manner, the space center is not pictured as a large expansive concrete construction but rather a non-descript office front that could belong to any commercial undertaking, echoing Pleasance’s performance as not some sort of omnipotent god but rather an insecure man imbued with power that he can neither understand nor control.

Megazone 23 – Part 1

In a story that reminded me quite a bit of Philip K. Dick’s novel Time Out of Joint, Shogo finds out that he does not live in Tokyo and the year is not 1985. Bahamut, a supercomputer, has recreated the Tokyo of 1985 down to the last detail on board a giant space ship and has fooled all of the passengers on board with Coca Cola, Mc Donald’s and the Hard Rock CafĂ©. Watching this film was interesting on many different levels, and as I traced my thoughts as the minutes clocked by, I found that this piece had successfully recreated that same time period for my melancholic mind. 1985 was my first year of high school and I fondly remember fevered conversations at the lunch table concerning Robotech and the controversial influence of Carl Macek over its North American packaging. I must admit that I didn’t understand all of the arguments, I was after all, only a freshman and the young men who usually did all of the arguing were themselves juniors, but they did serve as my first taste of how truly one could commit himself to fandom. Carl Macek came to mind as I viewed this piece, because during the late eighties he had attempted to create Robotech: the Movie out of Megazone 23, an idea that would have been an interesting feat, had he been able to complete the task, of demonstrating his genius when it came to the art of the remix. He had, after all, created Robotech from three disparate shows and had fooled American audiences into thinking the 105 episode story arc had actually come from the minds of Japanese animators. In that way, Mr. Macek was himself somewhat like a small scale Bahamut putting together a false reality within the already false reality of the anime television program. Yui, a hopeful young actress, states early on in the film, ‘I just feel like right now is the best time to be alive’, words that, looking back upon 1985, would have been just as fitting for the false reality of my freshman year of high school as they were for the false reality of an animated Tokyo.

Megazone 23 – Part Two ‘Please Give Me Your Secret’

I always seem to forget how violent the animation of Yasuomi Umetsu ends up being because I seem to be more taken by his singular character and environmental designs. Sort of a combination reimagining-follow up, this segment of the Megazone trilogy focuses more on a gritty realism than the melodrama of the first episode. However, the dense plotline and meticulous attention to detail continue to dominate the presentation, especially within the character designs. Umetsu has always had an uncanny ability to transform, through use of everyday objects, the familiar into the mysterious. It is not so much as though he is holding up our reality to a fun house mirror but a multifaceted one that captures bits and pieces and rearranges them into new compositions never before seen. His character designs, when animated, are some of the most detailed hand-drawn images ever created. His characters often undergo many costume changes with no loss of model-identification for the viewer, a very risky action in the craft of animation. The clothes have wrinkles and multi-colored logos, the hair cuts and colors change. In this episode of the series one of the main characters, Yui, cuts her hair off and the face we see is the same as the one before. For it is a real face, not a face defined by the costume beneath it or the hair above. It is as if Umetsu has created actors, not characters, actors that come alive within the animation, play their parts, and still exist long after the film has ended.

The Outer Limits – 100 Days of the Dragon

In this masterpiece of Cold War storytelling, we are introduced to such a novel idea for espionage that it could only seem as though it had come from an acutely paranoid mind. An unnamed Asian country has developed a means of making the flesh pliable for two-minute periods, during witch time they have created an agent who is the perfect double of the next president of the United States. The agent takes his place the night before the election and wins; he then begins to change foreign policy to make it easier for the Asian superpower to take control of the world through business and policy rather than bullets and bombs. Only the razor sharp instincts of the vice president save the country from total takeover as he uncovers and unmasks the conspirators. As in The Man with the Power, this episode seems another exercise in minimalism, though it was most likely not an artistic choice so much as a budgetary one. The image, however, is all that remains, and this image does such an excellent job seamlessly blending insulated locales with stock footage that the story shines through quite convincingly. The viewer is completely immersed within the story and the mood of the piece creates a tension that is still plausible today. The portrayal of the vice president as a man of action that relies upon his own wits and strength to solve this most dangerous problem on his own is a convention that strikes an emotional cord and serves as a reminder of what heroism can truly be.

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind

I have seen this film in different incarnations numerous times since first being exposed to it in the summer of my junior year of high school. One of the aforementioned upperclassman [see Megazone 23 Part One] had given me a copy of the original Roger Corman dub entitled ‘Warriors of the Wind’. This was a truncated and heavily rewritten version of the film, missing some twenty minutes of footage and making several changes in character names. However, for all of its shortcomings, the warriors of the wind dub had always had a place in my heart. The voice of princess Nausicaa [Princess Sandra in this version] had always held a particular resonance. There was something quite guttural about it, something quite real. Ten years later I finally came across an original subtitled version of Nausicaa, this version, with all of the footage restored, came closer to the feeling I had gotten when I had read the original Hayao Miyazaki manga in the early nineties. The viewing copy I had procured, however, was quite poor and as is the case with most subtitled films, too much of my attention was pulled from the images to the captions just below them. I was afraid, when Disney had procured the rights to the Miyazaki library, that I would not care for their dub of his works, especially Nausicaa, due to the fact that I had become so fond of the warriors version several years earlier. It is no exaggeration to say that the new dub is quite excellent and that watching this newer, cleaner version of the film as it had originally meant to be seen was quite satisfying. Nausicaa’s voice was quite excellent, as was that of Lord Yupa. The dub had an innate sense of eeriness to it as well. I think this was achieved by the distortion the voices went through when the characters were outfitted in their gas masks and by the overall understated way in which the lines were performed.