28 June, 2009

Innocence is Terrifying

I recently stumbled upon a film titled Innocence, based on a rather old story (written in the 19th century, I believe). The film is directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, who I understand is the wife of Gaspar Noé, known for his cinematic masterpiece Irréversible. Both of the above-mentioned films share cinematographer Benoît Debie, which is a significant point to mention. But where Irréversible impressed me, Innocence spoke to me. Deeply.

I'll resist overdoing the praise, as I don't want to overhype the film, since it surely won't affect everyone the way it affected me, but the truth is I have very rarely been moved by a film (or anything, really) to this extent, and never in quite exactly this way. The last time I remember being so moved by a film was the first time I saw Lost & Delirious. After viewing the tragic love story, I fell into a depression, but the thing that perplexed me was the idea that something so utterly depressing, could also be so incredibly beautiful - and vice versa.

If you want to experience Innocence, go and experience it, but don't read the rest of this review, since foreknowledge is the very antithesis of the subject involved, and once lost, innocence cannot easily be regained, if at all. Otherwise, read on.

Innocence opens with the arrival of a young girl, in a coffin, with no possessions, at what appears to be a boarding school. We then explore the school through the girl's eyes (figuratively speaking), with the wonder and mystery of a child's innocence. This fact is what makes the film such a powerful experience. I didn't realize what it was exactly until after the fact, but watching this movie put me into a state of childlike innocence that allowed me to experience the story as the characters must.

Questions go unanswered as we gradually learn the rules, and throughout the entire film a foreboding sense of dread and uneasiness, executed perfectly by the cinematography, haunts our thoughts and expectations as we query the scenes laid before us. Make no mistake, this was one of the most terrifying films I have ever seen - and nothing really happens. It's not a horror film. It's the anticipation, and the not knowing, and the formulation in our less than innocent minds of dark possibilities that fuels the fear that is then stirred on by the juxtaposition of sounds and images on the screen.

But the ultimate realization is that everything is more or less normal, safe, okay. This is life. And this is growing up. The uncertainty of the wider world encroaching on one's familiar surroundings as they grow and are forced to come to terms with the cycles of life. The film appears to be rife with symbolism, but more important than the specifics, is the overarching theme, which we have been discussing. It really is a fascinating experience, and this film stands alone in its unique execution.

And above all of that, there is one quality that stands out for me. It is the dread that I mentioned earlier. The feeling of anxiety and fear about what will eventually, if we allow ourselves to advance that far, become known as ordinary and unthreatening. I suspect that I am unique in this aspect, in my perception of the world, my individual perspective. When you watch most films, at least the type that are meant mostly for entertainment and not much else, the atmosphere is usually casual and nonthreatening. Like the construct of the world is taken for granted, it's just there, doing its thing, and okay, now let's get to the more important things going on.

I feel like this is more or less the way most people view the world, with their own exceptions, of course. And that is a perspective I've never really been privy to. For you see, my perspective of the world, the way I interpret the things and places and people and situations placed before me, mirrors that of this film, Innocence. I see the world with dread. What's perfectly normal appears to me as threatening, and uncertain. Every little detail may hide unknown, and unthinkable, terrors. And so, the film speaks to me, deeply and personally.

To others, this film might be a frightening alternate perspective on reality, where little is known for certain and all is threatening with the potential for danger. To me, this is my reality.

24 June, 2009

Controversy at the Cinema

Being a fan of controversy, and of watching movies, I took a look at this list of the Most Controversial Films of All-Time. Of the 83 films on the list, I have seen only (or as much as, depending on your perspective) 20 of the titles, with just as many finding their way onto my "Must Watch" list as a result of reading through this list. I thought it would be interesting to go through and analyze just what it is that tends to ruffle people's feathers. As a disclaimer, I'll only be making broad generalizations, especially considering that I haven't actually seen the majority of these films, and thus I had to judge their content based on the descriptions provided. In other words, this is just for fun.

Unsurprisingly, the most controversial subject matters are violence and sexuality - though it is worth noting that sexuality is considerably more pervasive among the titles in this list than violence alone. Depictions of perverse sexuality, as well as explicit depictions of even "normal" sexuality tend to be controversial, as well as gratuitous violence - especially when the actions of a film are "glorified", regardless of the film's stated aims (for example, an exploitation flick passed off as a documentary is likely to still raise controversy), seemingly as much a result of moral turpitude as the likelihood (at least perceived) of inciting similar behavior in the real - non-cinematic - world.

Speaking of exploitation, it's a difficult term for me to clearly define, but it tends to be controversial, as you might expect. On the one side, graphic depictions of real life obscenities (wartime torture, scientific experiments, etc.) tends to raise controversy, as does fictional material that is passed off as real - for example, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Snuff, and Cannibal Holocaust, the latter of which's director was allegedly charged for murder until the actors showed up and proved they were still alive.

Next on the list of controversial topics is blasphemy. It's no surprise that religious groups would be sensitive about depictions of their beliefs, and their gods, in the cinema. Above all, the sexualization of religious idols is particularly scandalous, such as with The Last Temptation of Christ, and Hail, Mary, which updates the immaculate conception for modern times. Satirization of religion is ripe for controversy (Dogma, anyone?), but even films that take their message seriously, such as The Passion of the Christ, and Mohammed: Messenger of God, are not invulnerable to criticism.

Additionally, stereotypes and general un-PCness are not uncommon targets, as a number of films show up on the list as a result of racism and misogyny. Although a couple titles described as propaganda make it onto the list, political themes do not seem to be quite as widespread, perhaps suggesting a general tolerance for political dissension in the free world, I would hope. Finally, drug use shows up a lot less than I expected it to, with only two specific citations that I noticed (including Requiem For A Dream) - though that might frequently be accompanied (and overshadowed) by even more explicit depictions of sexuality and violence.

Going back to take a closer look at sexuality, since it's the number one offender, let's split it up into smaller categories. I already mentioned the dangers of depicting perverse sexuality. Underage sexuality is obviously a hot topic, although it only showed up a handful of times. Violent sexuality is obviously marked, but harder to track because it melds the two quite popular themes of violence and sexuality. Homosexuality has a history of being controversial - interestingly, both for depictions that glorify as well as demonize the lifestyle. Finally, what I describe as "grotesque" sexuality is almost a surefire way to raise controversy - by "grotesque", I generally either mean incredibly perverse sexuality, as in, really creepy and wacked out fetishes, or else really graphic depictions of (even normal) sexuality, which involves imagery that reaches or even exceeds the level normally relegated to hardcore pornography.

One other thing I'd like to mention is a note about nudity. Although nudity turns up in quite a few (if not the majority) of these films, it's almost never the primary source of controversy, as it's most often paired with explicit and perverse sexuality, where the sexuality itself is more controversial than the nudity. That's not to say that graphic nudity can't also be controversial, but I think this shows an interesting trend that nudity alone is not really all that devastating. Surely, everybody complains when they see a penis in a mainstream action flick, but it doesn't seem enough to actually get the film banned anywhere, at least not in today's cinematic climate.

And that makes me wonder, how would people react to a nudist-type film, mainstream enough that people would know about it and have a chance to see it, that depicted people of all ages and body types nude, more than just as happenstance, in passing scenes, but as a primary aspect of the story? Would such a film be controversial enough to really raise some heat? Or would people accept it, realizing that there's not really anything so bad about it? Or would they just give it a snicker or two and move on to the next thing? Whatever the case, I would be curious to see more films of that sort.

But, of course, making a mainstream nudist film is difficult, because nudism is not mainstream. I do believe it's possible, however - you just have to find a way to make the film appeal to non-nudists. Of course, that's tricky, because your first instinct to attract non-nudists to a film filled with naked people is to sexualize the nudity. And while that's one approach, it really destroys the whole nudist approach, and it's no longer really a nudist film, but a simple skinflick. And besides, the goal would be to depict the nudity without gumming it up with other controversial topics, including sexuality. So the question remains, how to make a nudist film appeal to non-nudists, without sexualizing the nudity? Is that doable? I wonder.

23 June, 2009


I got my hands on some HQ scans of the luscious artwork in the Chobits artbook, Your Eyes Only, that I've been lusting after for awhile. And despite that, I still want a hard copy of the book, because it's just so beautiful. But, looking through the art, I came across one image that, upon laying my eyes on it, I thought only one clear thought: "this is heaven". And, I wanted to share that image with you, just to let you know a little bit about who I am.

Although it begs the question why you would bother using a condom with a persocom, the point, nevertheless, is made.

Activity Clutter

You know, despite being a NEET, I actually have a very busy schedule. My life's really not all that different from the working life, except that my time is spent at home, alone, and the things I "work" on are actually play. Which is a lot better than work - no argument, there - but I'm actually at a point right now where I actually feel overwhelmed. (Goodness, I really need to stop using the word "actually"). I hardly even have time to type up this blog entry, but I'm making the time anyway.

As I browse the internet, and find things worthy of my attention, I tend to leave a tab open to remind me of those things until I have a chance to take care of them. For example, I'll think of a movie I really want to see, or I'll come across an image gallery (hundreds of pages long) that I want to look through when I get a chance (or in multiple installments). Well, right now is one of those times where the tabs are growing faster than I can cut them down.

Books to read, movies to watch, anime series to check out, songs to learn from guitar tabs, manga to read, images to view...and I just can't keep up with it. To make matters worse, since I only have a limited amount of space on my hard drive, I tend to have to shuffle the larger files (movies and anime, for the most part) just to make room for stuff, and when I find something I want to dig into, but don't have the space for until I work through some of the stuff I already have, I tend to get anxious, because I don't want to miss that opportunity where I'm in the right mood for the media currently on my attention. But I guess it's a lost battle, because my mind sifts through titles and topics faster than my body can keep up with.

And amidst all this stuff, most of which is online (did I mention I'm getting pains in my clicking wrist again?), I'm also trying to keep up with practicing guitar daily, and playing with my camera no less often than every other day or so, and while I'm doing a pretty good job considering, it's already a battle just to keep up.

It doesn't help that I need to contextualize every piece of information and entertainment that I absorb. I know there are people that can just go from one title to the next without so much as taking a breath, and they can breeze through things much faster than I can, but that's just not the way my system works.

You know, I forgot to mention the various forums (and a few blogs) I like to keep up with. I've been neglecting most of them except 3kon, since it's been the focus of my moods and attentions lately, but you have to run at a feverish pace just to keep up with its bullet-speed daily entries, and if you want to stay on top of the discussions in the forum.

Argh. This NEET life will surely be the death of me...

14 June, 2009

Pretty Little Ana

Much can be said about the aesthetics of beauty, but it seems that there are two main camps when it comes to the issue of the ideal female form (at least as far as sexual attraction is concerned): it's either thin, or curvy. Not to say that you can't appreciate both, or even that the two are mutually exclusive, but it seems natural to have a preference for one over the other. It seems to be the popular understanding, at least through the lens of classical art, that the more full-figured, voluptuous woman was revered in days long past; whereas today, with the whole glamour industry as it is, the thin look seems to be in vogue. That is, if we ignore the recent backlash I've been witnessing.

I suppose one could argue that the fuller look is generally healthier and more natural (when not overdone), but it would be rather foolish to presume that thinness itself is inherently unhealthy or unnatural. Of course, it's true that there's a lot of pressure on women in this age to conform to society's image of beauty - unfortunately epitomized by the impossible perfection of magazine models (at times photoshopped even beyond recognition) - to the point of creating something of an epidemic of poor body image, and resulting in some women turning to extreme methods to pursue beauty at the cost of ruining their bodies (e.g., eating disorders).

But the thing that bugs me is when people take this anti-thin stance too far. The fact is, excessive curviness leads toward obesity, which is not healthy, just as excessive thinness leads toward malnutrition, also not healthy. Assuming that all thin people are malnourished is no better than calling anyone that has a few curves obese. So when I hear somebody tell an attractive model to eat a sandwich (or, often times, a cheeseburger - or three), it bugs me. When somebody says, "girl, you are skinny, I hope you're eating," to me it sounds rude. On the one hand, the comment seems to vaguely come from a place of concern, but it gives off the impression that being skinny is a bad thing, something that needs to be fixed. If body acceptance is the victory towards which we are fighting, we need to accept that being thin is okay, too.

Honestly, from what I've seen, I get the impression that some people are deathly afraid of human ribs. What doesn't make sense to me is why being able to see a person's ribs means that that person is underfed. Most people's ribs - who aren't obese - become visible simply by arching one's back and sucking in the stomach. Doesn't mean they aren't eating. The effect is just a bit more prominent on thinner people. I think the "skeletal" look is disgusting just as much as anyone else, and yet, personally, I think seeing ribs on a healthy person can be incredibly sexy:

So I tend to push the pro-thin stance a little hard at times. It's not that I actually support, for example, a damaging disorder like anorexia, but I've gotta make my point - that thin is beautiful.

You know, beauty is a complicated thing. We all want to believe that we're beautiful, but everybody's standards are different, and while we all (thinking optimistically) have our beautiful points, physical or otherwise, we can't all be beautiful to all people at all times. I think that's part of what body acceptance, and self-acceptance in general, is about. Not just acknowledging our good qualities, but accepting our limits as well.