This is number three of a trio of essays inspired by the work of César Velasco Broca.
Avant Pétalos Grillados / 2006
Avant Pétalos Grillados opens up to shots of a man’s oversized thighs, veined like leaves being measured. A quick cut to an old castle – is this the place where Jesus holed up in L’age d’or? Cut back cleaved back and pinioned arms, puffed up to near bursting being measured. The measurements are dutifully recorded into a notebook. A close-up of a sewing machine shows hands beginning the process of making a garment for this strangely perverted example of the male anatomy.
The body in question belongs to Silvio Samuel Saviour, a record-breaking Nigerian/Spanish bodybuilder. He’s in jail now. Has been since 2011. For beating up his girlfriend. Whether through steroid rage or because of anger management issues has not been determined. However, this part of his story is just the tip of the iceberg. It seems that about a year before he began shacking up with his girlfriend, he had split with his wife. Again, whatever issues they had between them will probably always remain murky, but one thing is known. He claimed he was being poisoned by her. With strychnine in his food.
I can’t help but think of my favorite ode to the drug by the Pacific Northwest garage band, The Sonics.
Some folks like water
Some folks like wine
But I like the taste
Of straight strychnine
You may think it’s funny
That I like this stuff
But once you’ve tried it
You can’t get enough
Wine is red
Poison is blue
Strychnine is good
For what’s ailin’ you
If you listen to what I say
You’ll try strychnine some day
Make you jump, it’ll make you shout
It’ll even knock you out
Knock you out indeed. Apparently what Silvio did to his girlfriend. And then he beat her some more. And the monster has been put away for 5 years.
The Sonics (who may have invented the rock and roll trope of letting out a scream before the guitar solo), however, are on a roll, late in their career, with a new album and feted shows. Apart from playing great tunes that inspired the likes of Iggy Pop and punk rock in general, their name alone brought a vision of a noisy future. Postmodern, tribalist, coming from the stinky, dirty, shithole that was Tacoma. They brought home something more real and visceral than the traditional image of some modernist utopia. They infiltrated the airwaves and came pounding out of cheap transistor radios while the windows rattled from the booms of supersonic airplanes from local biz, Boeing. Two ways of breaking the sound barrier.
When thinking of whatever a modernist utopia may be, there’s the Miesian box. The image of a future designed by technocrats and architects. That’s where Avant Pétalos Grillados moves next. After a shortcut to a phone booth. A small Miesian communications box. It will soon be covered with alien slop – negating the man, the caller and the clean frame and glass architecture, now pretty much absent from our hand-held device colonized environment.
But soon we’re in a clean modern building. An old-fashioned phone rings. Remember that sound? Hands are busy at work, typing on a braille typewriter. An attractive woman (Bárbara Ming O’Costalls) reads out loud. We can’t hear her. Is this what she’s saying? One of her own poems?
Tengo frío en el pecho y me dolía
mucho el corazón esta mañana.
He pedido que cierren la ventana
para que no me vean los pájaros
But nobody’s listening. There’s a clean-lined modernist roomful of blind people, all with headphones. I like to imagine they’re listening to the Sonics. But they aren’t even reacting. A bell tolls. A radio broadcasts an un-understandable announcement. Perhaps a warning of the insect-headed, crustacean-clawed alien that’s been sighted skulking by, carrying a baby. Bárbara, seeing it from the window, freaks out. The blind workers take no notice in their safe confines. Modernism means blindness and deafness to the world outside. The alien, dressed in a lumberjack grunge plaid shirt tosses the baby from the building. Modernism equals death.
Later, back at the phone booth, it’s night time. It’s time when aliens roam the streets. An unsuspecting body builder calls. The molten alien slop engulfs the booth.
Cut to a suited Silvo, carrying a bucket of paint through a modernist plaza. It’s all concrete and serial architecture. He’s on his way to an ambush, where a shotgun-toting redneck alien will take him down, spilling the bucket, turning him white-faced. Red necks and white faces. White slop versus the black slop. Predators and prey?
He’s dumped into the trunk of a Seat, where he delivered to the aliens’ lair via a stop at some factory ruins. What will become of these works, ye mighty! This is where utopia leads. Ruins. They go deeper into a blasted landscape to a tower. This is where the spiral leads. A laundry room. Full of dead naked men. A lab-coated bug-monster dips out some slop to drip onto muscled flesh. Others press and iron garments. The ones made for these obsolete bodies? One of them uses a mangle. My mom had one of those, which she used to press sheets. Does anyone press sheets anymore? The monsters are just more cogs in the machine, workin’ for the man, whoever that man may be.
The film ends with an artist – you can tell because he has a white smock with pencils in the pocket – staring at a white plaster bust of a bearded man. The alien slop pours down like a waterfall on him. He takes a breath when his ordeal is over.
As do we, when our ten minutes of Avant Pétalos Grillados is over. The long dystopia of the modern dream – cool, clean-lined spaces, industry and technology as what will save the world. Yes, let’s throw the baby off the roof. Let’s let the aliens take over. Let’s inhabit the ready-made ruins. Let’s listen to the Sonics. And take a deep breath. It still ain’t over.
This is number two of a trio of essays inspired by the work of César Velasco Broca.
Kinky Hoodoo Voodoo (Saturno Al Final Del Verano) / 2004
If you were to reduce César Velasco Broca’s Kinki Hoodoo Voodoo to its essence, it’s basically – if you get caught looking, not even doing, the aliens are going to get you. In a short 7 or so minutes, Velasco Broca manages to conflate alien malefaction with prepubescent sexual angst at the archetypical locus of where a lot of this stuff happens – summer camp.
Los niños envuelven con esmero cajas de cerillas en verano.
The children carefully wrapped boxes of matches in summer.
I myself never made it to summer camp. It was out of the realm of my class and my parents’ experience. Mom, a somewhat refined, savvy and misplaced Russian émigré, spent much of her displaced youth in the hinterlands of Manchuria. Dad, with his brood of 8 other siblings, grew up poor, himself displaced by the dustbowl to the hinterlands of the Willamette valley. Though he himself was an outdoorsman, the idea of a hoity-toity camp full of pampered rich kids was no place for his own son. Roughing it was the only way to camp.
Camp or no camp, the image of being with a bunch of boys, carefully, and dare I say rather ineptly, wrapping boxes of matches gets to the simple confused heart of boy sexuality. Don’t get yourself burned! This absurd and obscene job drives the sad victim of our story to a simple and shameful act of foot fetishism. It may not make any sense, but what does when things get a little too hot.
My experience of those years of what-the-fuck-is-going-on-sexually is relegated to darker recesses of my memory and the boys’ shower room at North Mercer Jr. High.
The first time I remember stripping naked in from of a bunch of other boys and there was Grant, a little man of 12 years with a handlebar mustache, mutton chop sideburns and mass of dark pubic hair framing his member and me, pink pudgster, not even close to being a man, wondering what the hell I was doing there and if I should really be in BOYS PE, while the relatively hairless PE coach, Mr. Averill wandered around in only his sky-blue gym shorts, a pair of cartoonish bluebirds tattooed on his chest, one above each nipple, carrying a sawed-off plastic baseball bat, which he used to mete out punishments – “grab your ankles” and whoosh of air turned into stinging red welt on tender boy buttock – strutted around the showers, checking us out.
El chico corre hacia el campamento como llamado por un rayo magnético.
The boy runs to the camp as if called by a magnetic ray.
In the movie, the boy runs away, mysteriously pulled by a “magnetic ray.” Right. Call it the call of the wild, call it hormones, call it nasty and dirty, but it drives him straight to his bunk, where his eyes flutter in some un-understandable (derstandable?) ecstasy. He gets drawn again, this time literally lifted from his mattress (through the wonders of trick photography) to a tarped-off shower stall, where he is compelled to take a peak. And what a peak it is! A beautiful, sexy woman, scrubbing away. Back when sex was still clean! All the other boys push past him as he continues to look on. Man! He doesn’t even get any. He goes into epileptic ecstasy eye-flutter once again.
Me, I never had much of inkling, little inkling that I was, how truly strange, mysterious and terrifying sex could be until my brother snuck me into a double-bill of Bergman’s Persona and The Passion of Anna, when I was 13. Before then the highlights of my filmic sexual experience had been the Fantastic Voyage, Journey to the Center of the Earth, the Flubber films and Jerry Lewis comedies – all of them certainly coloring my interpretation of what exactly Liv Ullmann was doing up there on the big screen and doing to my pre-adolescent nucleus accumbens.
Acaso es mía esta comunión?
Perhaps this communion is mine?
Your communion? No it’s not, you little twerp. You missed out on the act and now all you get is the guilt. So, here come the aliens. They’ve come to take you away. Somewhere along the way, one of these aliens of your desire dies, with white cum coming out of his chest, his penis head cracking. That’s what’s gonna happen to you! You come, you die. Didn’t anybody tell you?
Yeah sex and death is a bit too easy. There’s been a whole lot of too much written about it. It’s sex and fear. Fear of death. Fear of messing up. Fear of adulthood. Fear of aliens. Remember what Bunuel said. “Sex without sin is like an egg without salt.”
In those years, I was into Marvel comic books and sci-fi. I had put my childhood fascination with Famous Monsters of Filmland into the stuff that kids do. I remember a bunch of us kids took a bicycle trip one summer around the Olympic Peninsula with Fran Call, the very butch girls’ PE teacher at North Mercer. It was the first of long-distance bicycle trips that she organized for students under the rubric of “the cyclemates.” It culminated with a cross-country trip a few years after our inaugural run, which ended in a photo opportunity with Richard Nixon in the oval office for those lucky kids.
On this trip, there I was, a pink-flabbed pimply-faced fatty and there was Jody! Me, stupid, inept, ugly and full of fear and wonder. She, beautiful and still is. There were other beautiful girls on the trip, too.
On our first rest stop we hit a general store in Humptulips where I found slightly used copies of Carlos Casaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan and Philip Jose Farmer’s Flesh. Flesh chronicles the adventures of astronaut Peter Stagg, who gets antlers grafted to his head and becomes a super-hunk and sexual slave for a civilization of Amazon women. Pretty good stuff for getting a kid pretty mixed up as to what this sex stuff is all about.
And there I was with a mess of beautiful Amazons, led by a queen-dyke. I was over the moon.
On the final leg of our trip, we stopped at a motel somewhere near the Docewallips River – I think it was called the Hamahama Lodge – where we watched Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon. July 20, 1969.
Haz como yo: piensa en algo blanco.
Do like me: think of something white.
The punishment for thinking bad thoughts is being put into a cocoon, suspended from a tree with all the other bad boys. To get through this metamorphic ordeal you’re cautioned to think of something white. Fact is, you probably will get through it, turn into something fairly functional, and if you’re really good, maybe you’ll be able to make movies about the whole ordeal.
Snow, bunny rabbits, paper, milk, cum, doves, potatoes, daisies, polar bears, the moon.
Mientras tanto, cincuenta años antes.
Meanwhile, fifty years earlier.
Meanwhile, fifty years earlier I was 10 years old. The aliens didn’t first appear then, but perhaps that’s when I became cognizant of them. César, did you make this film just for me? Or did you hit that nerve, that monkey gland, that limbic cortex wherein lies that morass of images, connections, history, memory, pleasures, fears of us all? The interface of a particular onscreen world with one’s unscreened life is where the best of films exist. Those films caught in ecstasy through fluttering eyes and etched indelibly on the back of one’s mind.
Click this link for some great storyboards for Kinky Hoodoo Voodoo by Mariano Espinosa.
This is number one of a trio of essays inspired by the work of César Velasco Broca.
La costra láctea / 2003
It’s a transmission from somewhere very far away. Death comes with the sound of snails and the cleaning of fish. The waves caress the hands of an old fisherman as he guts away. It’s an old art, an old technique done without a thought. Somewhere, someone’s looking as the old fisherman makes his way across the rocks to the shore. I’ve seen this ethnographic footage before. It’s long and far away. A corpse is retrieved. A corpse that has no features. A black corpse. The snails of what will come, a being of some future past, the grating of steel, the abstract sound that you hear in the halls of old danchi. Strange symbols, cities, metallic domes from some other civilization, and caged and barking dogs. It’s all part of the news. The drowned corpse reveals itself to be nothing (or something?) but a female form (a pod!) stuffed with offal and seaweed. An object of some sort of deathly desire meant to be cut and penetrated by a knife – just like a dead fish. The old sailor hears – his ears – the silence of the dogs, the alien marching along the shore, the rhythmic pounding. The alien pulls blackened offal from the faux corpse. Something to feed the snails. The dog comes sniffing by. Something to lick. Maybe to eat. The barking of desire makes the corpse real flesh. The flesh of a real woman’s body. Through a telescope that becomes a spiral of a building where the simplest of tractor-driven robots reign. The robot’s purpose? To follow the spiral down. This robot, we’ve seen before. It’s useless appendages made of kitchen gloves. It’s head, pea-brained to a Zippy point. The downward spiral reverses itself. Life (is this life?) goes forward and backward in cinematic space. Women’s legs walk down cement stairs to a lagoon. They line up before a retaining wall, the sea before them, the work of man behind Bikini-ed, desirable, far away. They ritually walk/fall into the water. Desire dies quickly. A man watches from some seaside lookout. He watches women, peasants in their classic peasant dresses, making their way across an ethnographic space. A space where men have always looked at women with a pretense of scientific anthropologic inquiry, but really with just plain old desire. The sound of the concertina creates a distant soundtrack of well, soundtrack. The soundtracks that one uses to wall and hide desire. The voices of an old song make this man – let’s call him Marcello – move. He walks by a blonde, who gazes into space. He descends the stairs of a demeaned Piranesi place. The peasant women continue on their trajectory. The walk they do every day, the routines of their very peasant lives. This is how they’ve always done this. We’ve seen this in documentaries over and over. Bare feet, long dresses, something seen from long ago. We know this. This is how it was in Viejo Castile. We’ve seen the Bunuel version. Treading up steps, walking the seaway paths. The rhythms of life how it once was. How it should be. The old songs. They ascend. The man, however, descends. His slip-on shoed feet go down toward the water. The peasant women toward the sky. Down by the quay he continues down through the concrete, tamed waterside, down, down, down. The peasant women continue upward through some rough-hewn trail amidst rock and shrubs, white-bloused and darkly dressed. Their destination? A spacecraft. The domed thing seen before. Pulsing with the signifier of the force field, the electricity of jagged lines. The women throw rocks at it. It has appeared and will forever change their routines and lives. Whatever is inside looks on passively, mutely, voyeuristically as the women pose for a group snapshot. Something burns. The spiral, something out of Man Ray or Marcel Duchamp, turns. L’aspirant habite Javel et moi j’avais l’habite en spirale. The spiral building. The tractor robot has made it to the floor. There is no pattern anymore. No more spiral to follow. There is only the random space of the flat bottom of the space. A circular place where order, where pattern has no guidance. Roomba-bot. Until it freezes, confused, overheats and blows up. God takes a long look from above at this infernal building, maybe satisfied with the results of his/her grand design. The black corpse, now a bikini-clad woman gets the god’s eye voyeuristic view as she strips, walking away, not aware of being watched. Marcello walks down to the place where the women threw themselves into the water. The rising tide making the floating bodies gently bob (oh the Shame!) as he wades by. The transmission ends.
Women standing up to the aliens. Women, like the people of Masada, giving it up, sacrificing. Under the eyes of a male god, always watching. The continuing view from above and from somewhere else, framed in irises and mattes. The seashore, somehow like it was when the early pioneers of cinema went with their girlfriends and their buddies down to the beach to have some fun and make a movie. Desire, death, spirals, going up, going down, aliens. There’s an emotional logic and a strange sense of having been through all this but somehow it’s all new and there’s no irony and there’s something that’s digging deep into some sort of well of time, space, history, burrowing in your brain like some sort of parasitic larva and what looks like a gauntlet thrown into the face of contemporary cinema and coming up with what the future of cinema should be – at least in the visionary eyes of César Velasco Broca.
Based on the book by Kazuo Tahara describing ostensibly real events, Soman kokkyou 15 sai no natsu, as directed by Tetsuya Matsushima, is a particularly ham-fisted and unintentionally hilarious revisionist history about he waning days of WWII. In this bit of obscure history (?) a group of junior high school-age soldiers march across Soviet-occupied Manchuria, not yet giving up even though the Japanese have surrendered. In this version, a Yak fighter appears from nowhere, strafing the boys, yet not hitting a single one. Soot-smudged faces represent the long days without eating food or bathing. And somehow, through all their trials, they managed to find a nice, friendly Chinese family here in this war-torn country where there’s a justifiable hatred of its former occupiers. Of course, the family has lots of food and a love interest. They naturally take the boys in and take care of them. All of this is framed around some contemporary students discovering the details of this ridiculously overwrought story, learning about the bravery and romance of life during wartime.
Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2015.
Shinya Tsukamoto has apparently long dreamed of filming Shohei Ooka’s 1951 novel, Nobi (Fires on the Plain). Kon Ichikawa’s 1959 version is justifiably regarded as a masterpiece, bringing the chaos, tragedy and horror of the last days of the WWII in the Philippines, where Japanese soldiers were left to their own devices as command structures broke down. Their world became a living hell, a brutal struggle for survival devolving into cannibalism. Tsukamoto’s ignores the more considered approach of Ichikawa and uses his trademark style of violently shaky camera work, whip pans, shock cuts and a soundtrack punctuated by overwhelming loudness to create a more visceral and in-your-face approach to the proceedings. Any feeling, empathy or even, disgust and revulsion (they come off as laughable) gets lost in his stylistic flourishes and lack of directoral focus. It seems that Tsukamoto-san swings (his camera a lot) and misses the main, pacifistic message of the original novel and Ichikawa’s movie – that war reduces all men to savagery. Tsukamoto’s version, like most of his oeuvre, offers heat, but little light.
Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2015.
Left to right: Luis Lopez Carrasco, Miguel Llansó, Cesar Velasco Broca, Chema Garcia Ibarra, Ion de Sosa. Photo by Leonor Díaz
The first question is what do we call them? These 5 guys who are turning the Spanish film world on its head, who are all buddies and exchange roles on each other’s films – producer one time, screenwriter the next, then cameraman, then director – pushing and inspiring each other to make better and better films. And they’re all – each and every one of them – making great films.
So what do we call them?
The Spanish Underground. Some folks call them that. I don’t know how underground you are when you’re being feted at lesser and greater film festivals all over the world. They may have been underground once, but they’ve crawled out of their holes and their films are seeing the light of day in darkened screening rooms, festival halls and over the Internet.
The Spanish New Wave. Nope. Been there, done that with a mess of other national cinemas. These guys are more of a tsunami – terrifying and unstoppable – anyway.
Cinco Jinetes del Post-Apocalipsis. The 5 horsemen of the post-apocalypse. A friend of theirs brought up the idea of jinetes on one of their facebook pages. A bit grandiose, but it gets closer. Closer to the themes, the ideas, the inspirations that have been made manifest in their films. And a bit closer to the end of the world, which is where many of their films begin.
So, who are they? Cesar Velasco Broca, Ion de Sosa, Chema Garcia Ibarra, Luis Lopez Carrasco and Miguel Llansó. That’s who they are. And you will be hearing their names a lot more.
First there’s Velasco Broca, he of Ming the Merciless pate and carriage. His short films fly somewhere between Maddinesque appropriations of some sort of lost cinema history and a logical (if that’s not to oxymoronic) leap from/in/of the lineage of surrealism. From Bunuel to Val de Omar – to whom he made a filmic homage (lensed by Ion de Sosa) – to Velasco Broca. It makes sense – in a surrealist sort of way.
His major work is a trilogy of films know collectively as Echos der Buchrücken (Echos of the Spine) They include Der Milchshorf / La Costra Lactea (Cradle Cap) – imagine Las Hurdes as a sci-fi mystery directed by Fellini; Kinky Hoodoo Voodoo – strange psychosexual goings on at a boy’s summer camp, oh and there are aliens involved; and Avant Petallos Grillados – bodily obsolescence at the hands of crab-clawed aliens in a pretty hostile world. These brief descriptions merely hint at the wonder and perversity of Velasco Broca’s oeuvre.
And then there’s Chema Garcia Ibarra. After exploring a number of ideas through a series of short films, some a bit derivative of Velasco Broca, he finally came into his own with pair of brilliant films, Mysterio (Mystery) and Uranes. These films both feature a heady mix of sci-fi maguffins and a heartfelt exploration of myths, mysteries and that thing that people call faith. Mysterio follows a very average woman who finally figures it out. How to get out of world. Uranes is a hilarious and ultimately heartbreaking story, brilliantly constructed, that mixes Hitchcock, not just in technique, but the sense of profound disquiet at any ostensible morality of the universe and the countervailing tendencies of objective minimalism and subjective individualism. It all comes together beautifully.
Ion de Sosa hit the scene with True Love, a personal documentary about a year he spent in Germany breaking up with his girlfriend. De Sosa’s omnivorous diaristic eye marks the seasons, obsessively noting the mundane and the relevant in his rundown neighborhood, capturing distressed exteriors and the interior of the squat he and his buddies inhabit. The film gets so personal we see him getting new tats, fucking his girlfriend and getting a stomach biopsy. We literally see his insides! How close can you get?
His follow up film, Sueñan los Androides – Androiden Träumen (Androids Dream), is a brilliant take on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The inspiration for Blade Runner. In de Sosa’s version, the dystopic blasted modernism of the 80s-developed resort town of Benidorm serves as the backdrop for a psychopathic blade runner to gun down much more human-than-him replicants. De Sosa’s cold take critiques not only the future, but also the present of life in Spain.
And speaking of The Future – it’s the name of Luis Lopez Carrasco’s solo feature debut, El Futuro. It’s an all night long party set in the 1980s, where a soundtrack of obscure Spanish new wave songs obscure and drown out the conversations. The restless, claustrophobic, tight camerawork (shot by de Sosa) captures a generation whose legacy of experimentation with sex, drug and democracy left Spain with the massive hangover it’s suffering from now. Carrasco wants you to remember that.
He started off in a film collective, Los Hijos. Their work exists as a series of short fundamental formalist experiments and investigations into the essence of film to longer works, including El sol en el sol de membrillo, a lovely, funny and abstract deconstruction of Victor Erice’s El sol de membrillo (The Quince Tree Sun).
Miguel Llansó, though based in Madrid, spends much of his time in Ethiopia, where he makes most of his films. He’s made many faux and real documents of Ethiopian life. He quickly found his own voice and vision with Chigger Ale, a celebration of Ethiopian culture, but this time with a wickedly funny story built around the childish and absurd megalomania of a Hitler wannabe (played deliciously by Daniel Tadesse, a kyphotic little guy). He constantly gets his comeuppance from his petty power plays and finally is launched into space with a dominatrix. So long. Have fun.
Llansó’s first feature, Crumbs, continues in the mode of Afrofuturism, but this time in a post apocalyptic landscape, where the dormant spaceship hovering above the Earth suddenly begins to show signs of life, beckoning our hero, Candy (played by Tadesse) to “return” to his Close-Encounterish destiny. With its send-up of Joseph Campbelisms, Llanso attacks consumer society and its detritus littering our future with a fuck-it-all surrealist streak mixed with graceful humanism.
Surrealism, sci-fi, retro-futurism and big metaphorical fables are just the tip of the iceberg of the themes that this quintet of auteurs are brewing up and melting down in our current rerun of end times. Their works are a welcome psychic antidote to the dull and mind-numbing product being pumped out from the entertainment factories of the world. They take some of the tropes. Hell, they were born and raised with and colonized by these tropes! Just like the rest of us. But they turn them on their heads, shake ‘em up and make them into compelling and absorbing low budget spectacles. Their future is now.
Naomi Kawase has moved out of her tired and trite new-ageism into a more nuanced and substantial phase of her career with last year’s moving coming-of-age story, Still the Water, and now with An. The story’s pretty simple. Sentarou (Masatoshi Nagase – finally given a decent role in a worthwhile film to show his talent) is a beaten-down middle-aged ex-con, going through the motions of maintaining a tiny dorayaki shop. The place is frequented by a small coterie of high school girls, including Wakana (Kyara Uchida), in search of a father figure. Dingy old lady Tokue (the inimitable Kirin Kiki) arrives to save the day. She makes the best sweet red bean paste in Nihon. The initially reluctant Sentarou hires her and the business takes off. There are ups… and downs – and eventually Tokue ends up in nursing home. Kawase’s gentle take on this intergenerational trio travels a bit in a clichéd fetishism of Japanese food and exhibits some heavy-handed symbolism, but the great acting and smart direction give the story tons of emotional heft.
Originally published in EL Magazine, June 2015.