Sunday, 25 December 2016

High on Sex and Witchcraft: A Review of Eiichii Yamamoto's 'Belladonna of Sadness' (1973 Anime)

[Content Warning: This review discusses rape; also, spoilers for the entire piece.]

Spoiler warnings are pointless. If you knew every plot point before watching, Belladonna of Sadness would still gobsmack you. More than plot, this film lives through images, images more decadent and luxurious than even the plot description suggests. From equal parts Klimt, Victorian fairy-tale illustration, and Yellow Submarine, Eiichii Yamamoto concocted a delirious feminist fable. A fable, albeit, unable to fully articulate its vision.

Newly-wed peasants, Jean and Jeanne, cannot satisfy the local lord’s taxes. In lieu of gold and cows, the court kicks Jean to the drawbridge, and rape Jeanne. After Jeanne stumbles home, her husband, in a mad rage, almost strangles her to death. Sleeping alone, Jeanne spies a phallic pixie calling himself Satan. In exchange for her submission, Satan will grant her power. She refuses his offer, and his next. Both times Satan rapes her, but grants her worldly power, first financial and sexual. The villagers cohere around her new-found power, which displeases the Lady, wife of the rapist Lord. The Lady bristles that a commoner should have more authority than her. She locks Jeanne a dungeon, under suspicion of witchcraft.  

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Analysis: What's a Few Murders?: The Glass Cell, by Patricia Highsmith (1964)

[Contains spoilers for the entirety of the novel, right to the end.]

Sparing their bleakness, Patricia Highsmith’s novels have an almost playful amorality. Evil goes unpunished, yet the text treats this as neither bad nor good. It treats it as a fact, almost banal. She foreshadows no Damoclean Sword beyond the book’s end hanging over as yet unpunished criminals, criminals like The Glass Cell’s Phillip Carter.  

The plot, in full (spoilers, of course):

Someone framed Phillip Carter for skimming funds off a school building project. It doesn’t who framed him; he’ll suffer six years in jail regardless. As if incarceration isn’t enough, the guards string Carter up by his thumbs, leaving them permanently deformed and throbbing. At least the doctor gives him ample morphine. Carter suspects his lawyer, David Sullivan, has had more success courting Carter’s wife, than securing a retrial or pardon. 

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Letting Die: An Analysis of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's Black Smoke (1969 manga)

[Content Warning: contains discussion of attempted rape; contains illustrated breasts.]

As with most short-stories writers, reading the stories in Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s The Push Man and Other Stories one after another reveals the cloth they all were cut from. If none reflect his life (as he stresses in the afterword-cum-interview), they reflect his concerns circa the late sixties. These early stories focus mainly on disempowered working-class men and, often, the shrewish women in their lives. A few stories diverge from this thematic base (“Projectionist,” “Make-Up,” and “Bedridden” do so in diverse ways). Taken in aggregate, however, Push Man builds a world of dirty neighbourhoods, speechless men, and selfish women, where aspirations, if not crushed, never exist to begin with.

The brevity of these stories (only two exceed eight pages), owes to the stinginess of the magazine Tatsumi wrote for, but such brevity makes his stories fertile and non-laborious to analyse. ‘Fertile’ because Tatsumi’s page-limit forced him to respect Hemingway’s iceberg theory. ‘Easy’ because, unlike with a novel, or a thirty page short-story, a reader can keep all eight pages in mind at once.

Essay: The Prig; or, A Letter to that Prick on the Tram

At five-thirty on a Friday our tram stopped, and one man deemed this an excuse to abandon civility. Tram officers told us the tram would trundle on unburdened, while we were to board the tram behind. I assume all those disembarking were irritated; some gave their irritation words, irritation at this three minute delay. Mere grumbles, of course, as harmless as scratching an insect bite.

One man (whom we shall call Dick) would not restrict himself to scoffs. Under the near thirty-degrees sun, he made his petty pain known. Speaking on behalf of all us passengers, all us ‘good people’, he shrieked at a tram officer. Hunched over the officer, Dick demanded explanation as to why, oh, why he must switch trams. The officer stated he’d no power over the tram lines, and should call the service’s phone number. Ah, but this was insufficient for Dick. How thankful heroes are never dissuaded by common sense and common decency. He jabbed the officer’s shoulder insignia. ‘Authorised Officer,’ Dick spat. ‘Authorised Officer. I’ve tried your phoneline. No one answers. You are here, and you are a representative!’ 

Sunday, 4 December 2016

A Queer Take on a Old Play: A Review of Derek Jarman's Edward II (1991 film)

Praise be to the whoever greenlit the pitch ‘Elizabethan tragedy as gay parable.’ Whatever gay subtext was in Marlowe’s original, Derek Jarman makes text. Jarman is no purist, and has no intention of pandering to them. He does not attempt to produce Edward II, per se. He fashions an anti-bigotry parable from the material of Edward II.  

Something’s rotten in the state of England. To the court, it’s buggery; to the audience, it’s bigotry. King Edward II has a favourite, Gaveston, who is more than a favourite. He showers honours, titles, and privileges upon his boyfriend, to the court’s chagrin. The court aims to exile Gaveston, or, failing that, murder him. Will Edward crush this bigotry, or will it crush him?