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Archive for July, 2009

Scanners ; 1981

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Posted by Maddy

Director: David Cronenberg
Actors: Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Michael Ironside
Country: Canada

What to say about Scanners.
I would be hard pressed to say that it’s an overlooked masterpiece. That it’s a horrific crime that critics have not looked upon this film with the admiration it deserves. It is certainly not, but most standards, an outstanding piece of cinema.
But my god, do I ever love it.

David Cronenberg began his career within the depths of what has now been termed as “body horror.” The grotesque images that filled his filmed reflected the fear of disease (for the AIDS crisis was rampant when his career began) and mortality within society. Grotesque images of human bodies became a staple of this film maker’s repertoire and themes of corruption among big business and drug companies echo throughout his work. Initially reviled for Canadian tax payers were horrified that they tax dollars were going to his graphically violent and sexual earlier films such as Shivers and Rabid, Scanners does not fall far from the tree.
Less of a horror film and more on a science fiction bent the film Scanners is about, well, scanners – people who have telekinetic powers. They can find each other in any situation, though doing so may drive them mad, control other and even inflict physical harm upon others. The most infamous scene of Scanners is one of a man’s head exploding – occurring within the first ten minutes of the film setting the tone for the rest of it.
Various scanners, as they are referred to, have been contacted and ideally commissioned by ConSec, a company hoping to use them as a weapon. After a disastrous introduction with the public, the company falls apart leaving only Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), a psychopharmacist to clean up the remains.

The public introduction was disturbed by the villainous Darryl Revok (played by the villainous Michael Ironside) who single-handedly sabotages the efforts of ConSec and scars the audience both in the film and the ones watching them. Revok is building his own army of scanners and will kill any scanner who refuses to join. Dr. Rusk quickly commissions his most recently found scanner Cameron Vale and uses him to find Revok and shut down the organization. Revok’s army of scanners is powerful, but they are no match to Vale’s powers, or his dead pan acting. Vale teams up with the beautiful Kim Obrist, another scanner, and the two of them track down Revok and find out the source of all this mayhem.
It appears that the cause of all of this is a drug Ephemerol which at the beginning of the film is used to mute the powers of a scanner but is later to be revealed to have been given to pregnant women – drawing a direct parallel to the horror stories of thalidomide. Vale throughout the film discovers the secret history of scanners, his own past and his ‘shocking’ connection with Revok and Ruth.
It’s easy to say this film isn’t good – the acting is not realistic (whatever that means), the special effects are over the top. But I don’t think the film would work any other way. If Vale, played by Stephen Lack wasn’t wooden, if Dr. Ruth wasn’t ridiculous, if the telekinetic battle scenes did not involve spontaneous combustion and melting eyes, if the plot twists were over the top than it would not be what it is. The film works because of its flaws and adds to the artifice of the film. There are always attempts to mask the film making within the film in mainstream cinema.

More revolutionary cinema flagrantly disregards that rule specifically drawing attention to the film making process. I would not call Scanners an art film or claim that it’s intentionally drawing attention to the artifice of filmmaking, but it does not attempt to mask it. Obviously this film is not based upon a true story, nor does it have the funding to even appear ‘realistic.’ So it doesn’t try to. But it works, for the better in my opinion, because of it. This film would no where be as good as it is if it took itself seriously. It is a science fiction film made with a modest budget. And it works within it’s limits to create something awesome with exploding heads in it. There is always something to be said for a sincere film that revels in its artifice and fictionality. Scanners is one of those films, and a real Canadian gem.

IMDb Link: Scanners
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Marathon: G.W. Pabst

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Geheimnisse einer Seele (Secrets of a Soul) – 1926
Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (The Love of Jeanne Ney) – 1927
Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box) – 1929
Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (Diary of a Lost Girl) – 1929
Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) – 1931

I thought that I should make a more official close for the Pabst marathon I did so I’m making an extra post just for him. Also, I would like to keep track of the mini-marathons I do as well so I shall start with my first marathon: G.W. Pabst.

The reason I am fascinated by Pabst is because of his career. Although it’s his films from the Weimar Republic that are the most well-known, Pabst has made films during the Third Reich and in West Germany. His career never reach the height that it did during the Weimar Republic but one has got to wonder about this man who made films during the most fascinating eras of German history. The most interesting quote about Pabst in my opinion is what Louise Brooks said about him

“None of us who knew Pabst well felt that we ever knew him at all. He was all things to all men, and nothing consistently. He would argue any side of the question with apparent complete conviction and sincerity, but to see this happen over and over was to suspect that he had no convictions at all.”

This makes him more intriguing in my eyes than Leni Riefenstahl because while Riefenstahl is someone who is obviously controversial, Pabst is in the shadows yet his film career really makes me wonder why he isn’t seen as an equivalent of Riefenstahl. It can be argued that Pabst’s films from the Third Reich were Nazi propaganda but when one looks at his earlier films, one has got to wonder just what side Pabst is on. I remember reading something that Lotte Eisner wrote about Pabst when she criticized him for making films during the Third Reich; he said something to the effect of making films simply bhttp://films.raison-detre.org/wp-admin/post-new.phpecause he wanted to and that politics didn’t matter. It’s as if he lives his life with a “cold-blooded detachment” (Brooks) and goes with whatever interests him and with whatever happens around him. Thus this makes me wonder just how genuine his films are. Even if Pabst directed films for pure entertainment, every film has the right to be analyzed and critiqued. Pabst is considered one of the most important directors with the Neue Sachlichkeit movement yet I also read that Die freudlose Gasse was made because one of Pabst’s acquaintances knew that he would be attracted by the story. Was Pabst for the message or did he have a romanticized view of what was going on during the hyper-inflation period of the Weimar Republic. Is this why some of his films have a leaning towards the melodramatic? Someone who is so detached and aloof to the political happenings seems to be more dangerous than Riefenstahl with her ramblings and denials.

This is why I love Pabst and find him to be one of the most fascinating directors. There are already so many ways to interpret films but with Pabst, I think that it would be even more stimulating to see him as an auteur and give him a certain amount of importance while interpreting his films. Who needs “death of the author” when the author’s life and thoughts can probably add even more insight to the films?

Although I only posted about Pabst’s Weimar Republic films, I would definitely like to do another marathon of post-Weimar Republic Pabst films.

Book recommendation:
The Films of G.W. Pabst: An Extraterritorial Cinema edited by Eric Rentschler