Ferretnibbles 4 - Raymond's Scattered Summer Cinema

by Raymond H

Raymond may have missed his deadline, but he keeps his promise of an article on all the movies he watched this summer.
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Today's song basically sums up my mental state for the past few months as I've faced crippling unemployment and possible deportation (and continue to face the latter). Also, CONTENT WARNING, the last film in this article discusses sex and violence to such a degree that I've spoiler-whited it out. If you want to read it, proceed at your own caution.

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So here are all the films I watched this summer vacation, with a neat little, one-word summary of their themes to help. These are less proper reviews, and more scattered thoughts and analyses, so for that I apologize.

So! Without further ado, here is my summer movie list!


The Sheik

Okay, if I had to sum up the themes and gist of this movie in a single word, I think it would be “legacy”. There admittedly isn’t a lot to this movie. It’s basically just a documentary on the Iron Sheik, which I started watching because of my desire to get into wrestling, and the soft spot Iran has in my heart. I was quite young when 9/11 happened, so the main image of the Middle East that was spoon-fed to me as a child was of this violent, oppressive hellhole where everyone made bombs and shouted “Death to the Great, White Satan!”. I didn’t really question that image though until I read Persepolis in Middle School, and that really got the ball rolling and got me interested in reading and learning more about the "Near Orient". So yeah, Iran was the first country to really break out of the giant blob known as Jihadistan in my head, and because of that, it will always have a special place in my heart.

What better reason then to watch the greatest Iranian wrestler of all time? Whoo! Camel Clutch! Okay, so granted I still don’t know jack about wrestling, but I know a little bit more after watching this movie, and I gotta hand it to Mr. Iron Sheik, he’s really been through a lot, but he’s still alive and still fighting, and I guess that’s really all anyone can do in life.

One thing that did stand out for me were the interviews with other Iranian-Americans, who absolutely adored and idolized the Sheik when they were kids despite the fact that his image was deliberately designed to play up to American fears and prejudices towards Iranians, because sure, he may have been a villain, but he was an awesome villain, and I think that’s an important lesson that can be learned when it comes to the question of media representation. I think, in our attempts to be more open-minded and three-dimensional in our portrayal of foreign characters, we can sometimes forget the sheer joy of watching an over-the-top, hammy, camp villain, the kind of villain the Iron Sheik exemplifies. Granted, as much as I love seeing the Yellow Claw being EEEVIL all the time, I still love the character of Jimmy Woo, All-American Boy way more, and I’ll never say no to more positive portrayals of POC’s. But I can’t help but get hyped when I see a marvelous display of unrestrained villainy, and I adore the Iron Sheik for that.

As Vaziri, the Sheik himself, says, in order for a hero like Hulk Hogan to work, you need a good villain to play against him. For Hogan, that villain was the Sheik. And what would King Arthur be without Mordred, or Superman without Lex Luthor, or Fereydun without Zahhak? Of all the heels of wrestling fame, the Iron Sheik remains one of, if not the, greatest of all. And weirdly, that legacy of villainy has birthed a legion of fans, and people who idolize and adore the villain that is the Sheik.

I’m still really new to all this wrestling business, and I’m sure there are many more amazing and interesting stories waiting for me to find. But just like Persepolis, the Iron Sheik will retain a special place in my heart as I continue this journey of discovery.


The Gorgon

In this movie, a small, sleepy town in the hills of Überwald (seriously, not since Pimpernel Smith have there been so many Germans with British accents) is plagued by a mythical Gorgon, who is said to haunt the ruins of an ancient castle. The locals all decry the Gorgon as just a myth, and try to write off the mysterious deaths as mere accidents. But when an outsider falls victim to this mythical killer, and his family comes looking for answers, the townspeople may have to confront the dark secret that lies within the castle grounds.

If I had to boil this movie down into a single word, I guess it would be “fun”. I mean, let’s be honest. Despite Terence Fisher making some really enjoyable and entertaining movies, they tend to lack much in the way of deep themes or existential questions. And scares? Please. After Audition, the cheesy gore of this movie can only get a chuckle out of me.

That isn’t to say The Gorgon is mindless fluff though. This is a solid film whose simplicity is of the deceptive variety. Not only do you have Christopher Lee playing a hero this time around, but you’ve also got Peter Cushing playing a villain, and Patrick Troughton thrown in the mix just for the hell of it! The central mystery of the plot, while not terribly difficult to figure out, is at least compelling enough to keep our attention throughout. I guess the best way to put it is that Terence Fisher knows how to make something interesting and compelling even if we already know exactly what we’re going to get. And instead of trying to be clever or throw us for a loop, Fisher gives us exactly what we came for and leaves it at that. It’s cinematic comfort food, and while I couldn’t sustain myself on it solely, it’s always nice to see one of his horror movies every now and then.


My Beautiful Laundrette

The story of a young man trying to find his sexuality in the uncaring Thatcher years. Warning: contains scenes of graphic homoeroticism.

Wait...

Okay, seriously though. My Beautiful Laundrette is the story of Omar, a young British lad of Pakistani descent who like most second generations feels a disconnect between his first-generation parents who regard Pakistan as home and the xenophobic island he himself regards as home. Omar wants to make something of his life, and so when his uncle Nasser gives him the chance to turn his broken-down laundrette into a thriving business, Omar leaps at the opportunity. And not only that, but Omar soon becomes reacquainted with his childhood friend and ex-lover Johnny, a young skinhead who had a falling out with Omar and his family some years ago (I can't imagine why). Hijinks ensue, though surprisingly not ones of the wacky kind. They're really more absurd and cynical than wacky, though they're hijinks nonetheless. And don't worry, things turn out alright in the end, albeit with some scrapes and bruises along the way.

If I had to pick one word to summarize this film, it would be “belonging”. Pretty much everybody in this story is motivated by a desire to belong, even if that motivation takes different forms. Alongside the previously-mentioned second-generation blues, Omar puts everything into his uncle’s run-down laundrette because he wants to build something by himself for himself, instead of wasting away taking care of his ailing father or running errands for his uncle. Johnny is willing to consort with neo-nazis because his closeted homosexuality makes him desperate for anyone to accept him, even if they're... y'know, neo-nazis. Tania rebels against her parents because she’s tired of being shuffled around when she wants to be her own person. Omar’s father Hussein spends his days lamenting his old country and longing to return as he feels incomplete anywhere else. Omar’s uncle Nasser, alongside his other male relatives, are motivated by the same desire for bragging rights that most men their generation are. Even Rachel, Nasser’s mistress, loves Nasser expressly because he accepts her for who she is.

The dialogue in this movie is a delight, with animated actors eager to bring the characters and their lines to life. While I’m not very receptive to the nuances of cinematography, even I could appreciate the creative use of colors and camera angles to convey mood (one shot with Omar and Johnny looking at each other through a one-way mirror stands out in particular). Something I found interesting though was how despite this movie dealing with a lot of then-contemporary politics, it doesn’t really feel like a political movie. Rather, it simply feels like a movie where politics influences everyone’s daily lives. Everyone has their own dreams and motivations, but the Thatcher-era policies and movements that I’d expect to exist at the forefront only set the field for a more intimate, personal drama to play out on.

I have to say, out of all the films I watched, this was probably my favorite, unless you include…


Hiroshima mon amour

Hiroshima mon amour is the story of a French woman (Her) and Japanese man (Him), and their 36-hour love affair as the shadow of August 6, 1945 hangs over them and the country. During this affair, the woman, who is in Japan to shoot an anti-war film, remembers her first love, a German foot-soldier sent to keep her small, Vichy town in check, and she must confront these newly-found memories in all their good and bad.

If Laundrette is about belonging, then Hiroshima mon amour is about “forgetting”; more specifically, its inevitability. Whether it’s a first love or an atomic bomb, everybody forgets, sooner or later. I’ll admit, this film has taken on a special prescience in light of Japan’s current push towards rearmament (fun fact, I was actually in Nagasaki when Shinzo Abe successfully passed his reinterpretation of Article 9 back in 2015). However, despite being very much a product of the post-WWII world, I think the themes mon amour tries to reach for can apply to any major conflict, or any passionate love affair. It’s simply human nature to forget the gravity of a situation once it’s ended and it no longer has the same hold over us as it once did. And while these events certainly may have been tragic and horrifying, to simply move on and forget may only lead to us repeating the same mistakes.

I did like how in the cases of both the man and the woman that they were on the losing side of the war. It makes the message of war’s tragedy all the more poignant. She was one of the many women who fell in love with a German soldier, while He was one of the many conscripts in the Imperial Japanese Army. She had hoped to run away with Her lover to be married in Bavaria, while He had hoped that, even if He should die in combat, it would allow His family in Hiroshima to continue living. But in the end, both their hopes were dashed, and now as they have new families and new lives, it’s all too easy to forget what things were like before. They will forget though. Someday they will forget completely.


Love’s Whirlpool

A young NEET and college student both come to a special sex club, where anonymous participants are allowed from midnight to 5 am to have as much sex as they want with each other. Each participant has their own motivations and reasons for being there, and as the night goes on, they slowly come to light.

The word for this movie is “honesty”. With its plot, you’d sort of expect the moral of the story to be something like the trite and testing “Halt now with thine fetishy fornication for as thou can seest such bedroom shenanigans are tawdry and cheap without the presence of twu wuv!” So I was pleasantly surprised to find the moral of the story to actually be “Naw man, wild, crazy, sex parties are fine. Just be honest with yourself.”

Despite the owner of the sex establishment stating clearly at the beginning of the film how these sex parties are all designed for honest-minded individuals, most of the characters in Love’s Whirlpool are dishonest in some capacity or another. Despite them being open and honest about the fact that they want sex, instead of going to a bar or club and dancing the dance of the socially-accepted chasing/playing-hard-to-get duplicity, they still fail to confront the duplicitous manner in which they engage with other aspects of their lives.

The salaryman is criticized by the narrative not for his cheating on his wife, but for doing it behind her back and pretending to be a faithful husband. The part-timer is criticized not for his braggadocios machismo, but for using his supposed sexual prowess to justify and mask his sense of entitlement. The teacher is criticized not for having little faith in her appearance, but for concealing her own vanity and contempt for others with a self-criticizing veneer. Meanwhile, the OL, the virgin, and the regular escape the narrative unscathed and unchanged, as they remain honest with themselves and what they want. The OL is perhaps the least important character, as she doesn’t have any major issues to work out and is mostly just there to enjoy herself, which she does, despite the conflict over the course of the night. The virgin meanwhile does not lie to himself, but rather has internalized lies told to him by others about his undesirability and what sex actually entails. And the regular understands that one does not need to reveal everything to necessarily be honest, and with what few hints we get of her life outside the establishment, we can tell she has said life well in order.

As for the two leads, the NEET and the student, they seem at first glance to be your standard male and female leads in a tragic romance, and indeed, despite their insistences to the contrary, they both firmly buy into that lie. It’s only when they meet the morning after, when the student decides to flee back to her “normal” life and continue living the façade of being a “good girl” that the NEET is confronted with his own patheticness, and while we don’t see what he does with his realization, we do see that the pain of confronting his lies is worth the ability to live honestly, in contrast to the student, who must continue living as dishonestly as her classmates whom she despises.


Felidae

This movie’s word is "cat-sex". This is because cats have sex in this movie. Uh... yeah. I don’t really know what else to say beyond that.

Alright, alright. Felidae is a film noir... with cats. Really. A cat named Francis moves to a new house with his owner, and soon becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving an unknown cat serial killer, of whom Francis determines to find the identity. Along the way, typical film noir tropes and clichés occur, just... with cats. Yeah, Felidae is kind of a weird film. Not bad... just kind of weird.

I guess also, something of slightly more interest than cats being gruesomely murdered and graphically screwed is how I never quite got the Holocaust Survivor aspect of Magento’s characterization until after I watched Felidae. I simply thought that, if a guy was gonna go so far as to call his merry band of ne’er-do-wells “The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants”, and if several of his plans involved outright genocide, he’d at least have enough self-awareness to see the parallels between himself and the likes of Adolf Hitler. Hell, the Red Skull even calls him out on his hypocrisy on occasion, and Magneto has never been able to come up with a good rebuttal to this.

Felidae then impressed me by managing to make a perfect Magneto expy in the form of Claudandus, and by making it work. Not to get too spoilery or anything, but Claudandus’ backstory is a pretty good reflection of Magneto’s own, and his own plan in the movie could easily be retrofitted into becoming one of Magneto’s own evil schemes. What makes Claudandus work though are two things.

Firstly, is his charisma. The acting and animation for Claudandus really sell you on the cat’s passion and belief in his own righteousness, and because he believes it, we believe it for a moment ourselves. He’s still the villain, and we see from several instances of madman rambling that he’s not to be fully believed or trusted, but he’s more than simple “Now I, the miraculous Magneto, claim this entire installation… in the name of Homo Superior!”

Secondly though, is his vulnerability, and I think that’s the key element that is missing in a lot of Magneto portrayals. At the end of the day, Claudandus is deeply scarred and afraid. His plan, though clearly evil, is motivated just as much out of fear than anything else, and at the end, he admits that he has been too deeply hurt by humans to ever see them as anything but monsters. Also, just as the scale of his plan is slowly uncovered over the course of the mystery-solving, so too is its fragility. It’s actually quite easy to take apart the system Claudandus has put together once it finally comes out into the open.

That’s something I just don’t see happen very often with Magneto. Even as many writers pay lip-service to Magneto’s being scarred by the Holocaust, Magneto is, for the most part, the Grand Manipulator, on par with Doctor Doom or the Red Skull in terms of his Machiavellian manipulations. It’s kind of hard to show a guy like that as vulnerable when he constantly runs laps around the world’s mightiest heroes, and yet, if a portrayal of Magneto wants to utilize his background as a Holocaust Survivor as motivation for his villainy, I think they need to show that vulnerability.

I’ve stumbled into comic book fan territory, and I can easily predict several swift and succinct rebuttals to everything I’ve just said in the comments section, and besides this was supposed to be about a movie about cat-sex. So let me just nip this tangent in the bud and say that Felidae is an enjoyable and engaging film, but I’d advise you stay away from it if cat-sex and violent cat-murder are not your cups of tea. If you do watch it though, I recommend watching it in the original German with subtitles of your choice, as it makes the Nazi subtext much more apparent.
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Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 13:35 on 2018-09-05
Hm, I wonder if the character of Johnny in My Beautiful Laundrette was inspired by Nicky Crane? He hadn't publicly come out in 1985 but he was apparently a pretty regular fixture of the London gay scene so it's possible that he came onto the filmmakers' radar when they were doing background research.
Raymond H at 02:10 on 2018-09-09
It's certainly possible. The only things I know about the role of Johnny though are the casting shenanigans (The writer thought Daniel Day-Lewis was too posh to play Johnny, but the director was convinced to cast him after Lewis sent a very passionate letter threatening to break both his legs with a hammer).
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