The Western is violence. The Western is death. “Death is the predominant element of the westerner’s world view, death of a certain kind, that is, death understood in a certain way,” states Peter A. French. What kind of death does the westerner seek? Which Homeric end could claim his life? The heroic showdown, the bloody last stand, or the ignominy of being gunned down like a dog in the street?
Have you ever imagined just how powerful your name is? Both with and without it you are everything and nothing. It can mask and reveal as much about your parents as it can about your own soul. Changed by friends, marriage or deed poll you have a symbiotic relationship with the letters that form the DNA of your existence. Only a parent truly relinquishes their given name, most do willingly, some do reluctantly but when a child no longer recognises you as mum or dad, when they revert to using the name of your own childhood, then you are submerged deep inside your own existential crisis.
Masquerading as a “Vice” magazine documentary, Ti West’s latest film, “The Sacrament” makes chilling use of immersionist journalism to reimagine the “Jonestown Massacre” as a contemporary event. “Vice” reporter Sam and his cameraman Jake tag along with fashion-photographer Patrick after he is suddenly contacted by his troubled sister Caroline from a Christian commune called Eden Parish. Sam wants to film an expose of this hidden community whilst experiencing the situation for himself first hand. The set-up is laced with 80s synths that threaten to take your head off before the haunting sounds of “Heartbeats” by “The Knife” gradually transport the threesome further and further away from their comfort zone.
Anna lives the simple life of a novitiate in a Polish convent. Her meals are plain; her days are silent like the snow that frames her tranquil existence. Orphaned in World War 2 Anna knows only god and her fellow nuns. Out of the past emerges Anna’s wayward aunt, “Red Wanda” soaked in booze and cheap men. She was once a judge of some notoriety, exacting revenge on war criminals and collaborators alike. Having annihilated the enemies of the state, she is a broken cynic crushed by the weight of history, crushed by the guilt of surviving when so many of her family were massacred. Wanda reveals she is Jewish; reveals to Anna that her real name is Ida Lebenstein.
“The Sarnos–A Life In Dirty Movies” isn’t really about dirty movies at all. The filmmakers have obviously learned a trick or two from their subject Joe Sarno on how to sell a film. As the prolific writer/director of 75 sexploitation movies, Sarno felt that the most important element of his features was their titles: “Warm Nights and Hot Pleasures,” “Vibrations,” and “The Wall of Flesh” promised salacious delights but were actually more character driven pieces about female emotions. True to form this documentary is really a touching tribute to Sarno’s marriage to his remarkable wife Peggy as the ageing auteur tries one last time to direct another movie.
Daniel Lugo deserves better. He wants a big fat slice of the American Dream yesterday. Daniel’s ripped and pumped, a personal trainer to the body beautiful and the ugly rich of Miami. He may look like his clients and his clients may want to look like him but they wouldn’t touch him with one of Don Johnson’s old espadrilles. Money talks but he doesn’t speak the language. Daniel hates people who waste their talents so he’s decided that it’s his time to push himself harder and learn the lingo.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to “Drive,” “Only God Forgives” is a grotty, nasty, stylish revenge flick set in Bangkok, Thailand. Refn once again reunites with “Drive’s” leading man, Ryan Gosling who plays Julian, a drug dealer fronting out of a boxing gym with his older brother Billy. Julian’s the strong, silent type (catatonic in places), Billy’s the seething psychopath who rapes and slaughters a sixteen year old prostitute and is then himself murdered on the orders of Lt. Chang, a Bangkok policeman.
A Field In England
Self proclaimed coward and alchemist’s assistant Whitehead cowers in a field. A battle rages just over the hedgerows, the God of War churns up dirt and sound. The English Civil War in “A Field In England” is captured in startling black and white, sometimes Neorealist massacre, at others Nouvelle Vague period drama, and often a psychedelic Theatre of Cruelty
The field grows vast, as the fog of war is lost over the horizon. Serene and unsettling this slice of green and pleasant land seems unsullied by the English assault on God, the challenge to the divine right of kings. Still the earth seems sentient, brooding, and ready to spew forth, righteous damnation on the blasphemous heretics or hell borne fury on the weak of soul. Either way Ben Wheatley’s fourth directorial effort infects his audience with a terrible sense of unease.
“Whilst we live fear of hell we have it” recounts Whitehead. Is he about to reject his faith and place his trust in the pseudo-science of his unseen master? Two ruffians Cutler and Jacob join him obsessed with ale and women. Friend a softer soul, fleshy and malleable takes an interest in the educated Whitehead, “You think about a thing before you touch it.” “Is that unusual?” questions Whitehead. “It is in Essex” deadpans friend.
Whitehead’s prissy curiosity just outweighs his fears and he is in fact on a mission to find the enigmatic O’Neil. Here the camera is lucid refusing to film reality but instead revealing a narrative purgatory, one that never illuminates-but rather suggests the dark arts, the lens replaced by the obsidian orb of a scrying mirror. Cutler puts the motley crew to work pulling a rope that has seemingly been displaced from a galley. Hauled into existence through the dirt is O’Neil.
In the film’s most horrific moment Whitehead is lured into a tent by O’Neil and kissed by darkness. His screams are worse than Quint’s fingernails clawing that blackboard in “Jaws.” Wheatley cloaks his torment, we can only guess at what would break a man so completely. What emerges from the tent is truly disturbing; Whitehead’s twisted countenance leers in slow motion utterly base and depraved as he shambles for eternity, whispers of Aguirre Wrath of God” echo from the screen.
“A Field In England’s” crowning glory is the wild hallucinogenic sequence; Polanski, Roeg, Cammell, Hardy and old computer generated rave videos are all referenced as the film literally collapses in on itself, the audience struggling to remain focused on the mirror images racing right before their eyes. Sound becomes detached, random, something to be caught or plucked out of the air.
Alongside his own “Kill List” Ben Wheatley has created something remarkable, intangible. His ability to deliver the uncanny is frightening. Is he the successor to David Lynch who can also make the most mundane inanimate objects seem the most terrifying things in the world? Art house “Solomon Kane” or acidic “Witchfinder General” “A Field In England” could even be a Chris Morris film about Glastonbury. Now there’s a thought.
He watches the winking green light. He is blissfully unaware that it is a bilious green, the green of envy, an old money Cyclops that never sleeps. This light will never be extinguished, never be defeated, invulnerable to challenge and change. Behind the light, curled in their shallow magnificence lurk those, “careless people who smash up thing and creatures” ready to be unleashed once again upon exam text youth.
London 1999. In the shadow of the Millennium Dome, men with faces as rough as Bethnal Green tube station laugh and leer at the camera. These monsters in bow ties are grotesque; their mirth rains like rancid nails, their stories are tired and worn like old 78s. Smoke rises, expelled from their black lungs filling the boxing hall with violent nostalgia, sinister nonsense.