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The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.) #13 by Leonidas Michael


The Horror, the horror…*

(*We pick up where we stopped last time and go deeper into the country of horror – for adults only.)

The “other film” mentioned at the end of our last column was of course Apocalypse Now. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and released four years after Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, it also deals with horror, lots of horror. And it prompted us to ask why one should voluntarily expose one’s senses to depictions of horror, even when they happen to be presented in the form of art.

“It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.”

The lines belong to Colonel Kurz. How this renegade U.S. officer in the Vietnam War is tracked down and killed constitutes the story of Apocalypse Now. It is noteworthy that despite his being the main character he only appears in the last act. The greater part of the film focuses on Captain Willard, the young officer who receives the order to find Kurz and remove from his command, as his superiors put it, “with extreme prejudice.” He leaves army head-quarters – a barricaded vestige of civilisation where premeditated murder is spoken of as “extreme prejudice” – and enters the inferno of war, watches civilisation gradually disintegrate as he follows the course of an unnamed river in search of his objective, and simultaneously sheds his own civilised attributes. When Kurz, who hovers over the events like an evil spirit, finally materialises it is deep in the jungle, in a camp where there are severed heads on pointed sticks at every turn. He asks Willard if he considers his methods to be unsound. The response: “I see no method.” But Willard is mistaken.

Apocalypse Now TCOB

An observer can easily make the same error of judgment when confronted with the scenes from Salò, dismissing them as depictions of gratuitous violence, senseless depravity and the irrational behaviour of people who have way too much time on their hands. This overlooks the simple fact everything that happens in Salò, regardless of how abhorrent it may be, is ritualised and regulated by ceremony – bizarre ceremony, to be sure, but regulatory nonetheless. There’s musical accompaniment by a virtuoso classical pianist and timely interludes for philosophical reflection. It is worlds away from the primeval setting of Apocalypse Now. But this discrepancy only emphasises the constant in both films: horror is created by humans.

“Here is a jungle. Now let there be shrapnel hail, fire storm and napalm cloud… Here is a palace in the middle of the country of the Renaissance, beautifully proportioned, exquisitely decorated. Let it echo with screams of pain and fear… So it was. So it shall be…”

Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom could just as well have been called Apocalypse Now. Horror has indeed a face. Since the dawn of civilisation that face has been human.

In pointing out Captain Willard’s mistake we also answer the question that started the present discussion. We watch films like Apocalypse Now and Salò because we need to know what horror looks like in order to overcome it. One must know, or be reminded, that horror neither occurs by chance nor is caused by third forces and sundry evil spirits. Only then does one understand “what is necessary.” Willard looks at the face of horror and corrects his initial observation. In this way he is able to overcome his awe of Kurz and subsequently to kill him. Just as importantly, he understands that Kurz’s killing is all that is necessary. Once that is done, he drops his weapon, thereby avoiding being cut to pieces by Kurz’s followers or the equally horrifying prospect of being adopted by them as their fallen leader’s heir.

We hope we’re not being misunderstood. Looking at horror does not always necessitate a killing. Captain Willard is a soldier at war. It is to be expected that at some point he will have to kill. But each to his own. We, as citizens of country at peace (though not exempt of horror by any stretch of the imagination), might try to be better citizens or make a concerted effort to force our leaders to govern better. Or, as individuals, we might try to excel at whatever activity helps us lead fuller lives, the corollary of which is showing solidarity with others who excel in their particular field of human activity, for example, with film-makers who take on the theme of horror…

We think it could even be as simple as revelling occasionally in the necessity of gathering for drinks and pleasant discussion with one’s friends, in other words, with people who may well have a capacity for horror in some dark recess of their heart, but who are, after all, people like oneself.

Long Beach Brewery was forged by two guys with a passion to create crisp, refreshing handmade craft beers with the finest ingredients. The brewery is named after the famous Cape Town surf and horse-riding destination and situated in Cape Town's beautiful, Noordhoek valley. Their craft beer selection includes: Bomb Shell, a Belgium style Blonde ale, Green Room, an Indian pale ale or Deep Water, their dark ale and stout Porter. They say only a surfer knows the feeling... Long Beach Brewery's aim is to make it possible for everyone to "know the feeling". Buy Now

 
The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.) #12 by Leonidas Michael


A Visit to the Republic of Salò*

(*A paraphrastic way of saying that we are going to look at Pasolini’s 1975 film Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom – for adults only.)

Those familiar with T.C.O.B. have probably understood the method it uses to rate films by now. It’s very simple. The more times we watch a film – of our own free will – the higher we rate it.

To put it in finite numbers, a film watched three times or more is considered great. If we’re pleased to watch a film from beginning to end a second time, it’s good. Most films get one viewing: entertaining but not memorable or mediocre without being egregious, they are worth a couple of hours of one’s time and the price of a cinema ticket or a rental, but definitely not more. And there’s a not insignificant number of films that we’re reluctant even to discuss – the kind we stop watching even before they end.

We think it’s a pretty useful system. Though we’re far from claiming it’s perfect. We made a point of saying we watch films of our own free will. This is all important. In the absence of free will, a T.C.O.B. rating would suffer severe distortion. In certain geo-political contexts, for example, in the People’s Republic of Korea, it would be completely unworkable.

There’s another limitation to our method that, paradoxically, arises from the exercise of free will itself. As we’ve just mentioned, there are films which one does not watch to the end. Implied is that one has the freedom to stop the affliction to one’s senses caused by bad cinema. But what if there’s affliction and the film is not bad for as much? What if the story is riveting, the acting compelling, the dialogue poetic, the underlying themes thought-provoking and the filming masterful yet, nonetheless, the overall effect on the senses is revulsion. This is the case with Pasolini’s Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom. Here at T.C.O.B. we would like to proclaim it a great film. But then we would not be true to our rating system, for we have only managed to watch the film twice.

Truth be told, Salò is a revolting film. Examined separately, its facets shine with a rare brilliance. Seen as a whole, it exudes filth. The viewer who tolerates it ends up witnessing a graphic two-hour description of four sadists’ fantasies made real by means of eighteen young people. The use of the last prepositional phrase is not fortuitous. The young people – nine male, nine female – are stripped of every vestige of their free will. They are objects whose quality consists solely of their ability to express physical and psychological agony. As we said already, the acting is brilliant. The screams, contortions, pleas for mercy that arise from scenes of rape, battery, torture and other degradations are convincing.

The absence of morality adds another dimension to the horror. Humanity is seen in terms of a relationship of power: what happens when the powerful seek to extract gratification from the powerless. Normally, one would imagine that human instinct sets a limit to what a human being is capable of doing to his fellow. Salò shows it is otherwise. The four sadists’ desire to inflict suffering is limited only by the death of their victims. Brilliant acting, brilliant dialogue, brilliant filming leaves us in no doubt that the sadists are having lots of fun. Of course there is no retribution for their crimes. Why should there be? They are powerful, their victims powerless.

The victims are not even allowed the solace of being victims. Sentenced to die, they ask, “Why? What have we done? The reply: “We cannot tell you. But you can be certain that it is for something very serious.” So it’s the victims who are guilty. And they cannot hope for pardon – neither in this life nor in the one hereafter, it seems. Just before the orgy of torture which climaxes in the executions, begins, one of the victims cries, “God, why have you forsaken us?” The delivery is brilliant. The shot is brilliant. The feeling of despair it provokes is absolute – in Salò there is no resurrection.

We hope we shall be pardoned for not giving a conclusive rating for Salò. Our feeling is that it is a great film, but we haven’t notched up enough viewings to confirm it. We just haven’t been able to do it. It’s really a problem inherent to film ratings and other attempts to quantify the value of a film: feeling disrupts calculation. Perhaps it should become standard practice to remind people of this by attaching a question mark (?) directly after every rating.

But why in fact do we feel the need to afflict our senses by watching Salò again and again? It has something to do with a passage from another film: “It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.”

In Salò we are shown the face of horror… But let’s speak more about it and the other film in next month’s instalment of T.C.O.B. Right now we need a drink.

Long Beach Brewery was forged by two guys with a passion to create crisp, refreshing handmade craft beers with the finest ingredients. The brewery is named after the famous Cape Town surf and horse-riding destination and situated in Cape Town's beautiful, Noordhoek valley. Their craft beer selection includes: Bomb Shell, a Belgium style Blonde ale, Green Room, an Indian pale ale or Deep Water, their dark ale and stout Porter. They say only a surfer knows the feeling... Long Beach Brewery's aim is to make it possible for everyone to "know the feeling". Buy Now

 
The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.) #11 by Leonidas Michael


EVERYONE’S GOT THEIR CHINATOWN*

(*A proverb which T.C.O.B. explains by reviewing a classic film.)

The drama in Chinatown, Polanski’s classic 1974 mystery drama with Nicholson and Dunaway in the lead roles, is set in motion by a woman who comes to the office of a private investigator. She wants to find out whether her husband is having an affair. The setting is Los Angeles – 1930’s if the fashions and the framed photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the sideboard are anything to judge by. The private investigator, Jake Gittes (two syllables in the surname), follows the husband and eventually observes him in the company of a young woman. He photographs them and duly delivers the incriminating evidence to the wife.

But it turns out that the woman who hired Gittes was not the cheater’s wife. One even wonders whether the man, a very serious, thoughtful type, who happens to be the director of the Los Angeles water utility, is really having an affair. At any rate, he turns up dead soon after. Gittes, who practices a somewhat sordid but otherwise mundane métier, suddenly finds himself immersed in a vast and sinister conspiracy.

One thing leads to another: this is the key mechanism of the drama. It is mirrored by a succession of pictures that provide the background to Gittes’ movements: Palos Verdes, Echo Park, Oak Pass, the hall of records, orange groves in the North West Valley, Canyon Drive, East Kensington, San Pedro… a beautiful documentary of the geography, architecture and character of Los Angeles. And Chinatown? The peculiar thing is that only one scene, the very last, is set there. A few times in the film, the name is mentioned in passing. Two characters – minor ones – are Chinese. Is Chinatown important to the drama at all?

Chinatown Movie

At the very least, Chinatown is an example of a device that characterises Polanski’s art, that of recurrence. His films abound with déjà-vu – and déjà-entendu, that is, acoustic recurrence. Echo Park, the setting of an early scene in Chinatown, is probably an inside tip to keep one’s ears pricked. As for Chinatown itself, Gittes reveals later on that he was once posted there while he was on the police force. It was also where he had some bad luck. “You can’t always tell what’s going on,” he says. “I tried to help someone and ended up making sure they were hurt.” One thing leads to another and the drama ends, as mentioned already, in Chinatown. Moreover, it ends badly.

Spotting such artistic devices, taking conscience of the details that make great films almost indistinguishable from life itself, is immensely satisfying. But it doesn’t necessarily help one to understand, at least not in Chinatown’s case. For example, it’s not clear why Gittes doesn’t try to extricate himself from the conspiracy he unwittingly fell into but rather dives deeper into it even at the risk of losing his life. Perhaps it makes some sense if one takes what he says to the enigmatic wife of the late director of the water utility at face value: “I had no reason for asking, Mrs Mulwray. I’m a snoop.” However, his look of despair when yet again someone he tried to help comes to a bad end in Chinatown suggests that there’s more to it than that. Just what exactly is impossible to tell because that’s where the film ends.

T.C.O.B. sincerely apologises to those who were hoping to get closure on a film so enigmatic that it is hard to distinguish it from reality. As consolation it offers this explanation of the proverb Everyone’s got their Chinatown. It means that, like Gittes, everyone has something they’re fatally drawn to. It needn’t necessarily be a place. It could be a social convention, a political system, a belief, a woman. One persists in wanting to learn more about it, draw nearer to it – for good or ill. But the understanding of it, the closure always eludes one. And then one repeats, each in one’s own peculiar way, the last words in Polanski’s 1974 classic mystery drama, “It’s Chinatown.”

Long Beach Brewery was forged by two guys with a passion to create crisp, refreshing handmade craft beers with the finest ingredients. The brewery is named after the famous Cape Town surf and horse-riding destination and situated in Cape Town's beautiful, Noordhoek valley. Their craft beer selection includes: Bomb Shell, a Belgium style Blonde ale, Green Room, an Indian pale ale or Deep Water, their dark ale and stout Porter. They say only a surfer knows the feeling... Long Beach Brewery's aim is to make it possible for everyone to "know the feeling". Buy Now

 
The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.) #10 by Leonidas Michael


Joking aside…

2016 in South Africa began with a slew of racist commentary on social media. Apart from the fact that many of the authors neglected to take advantage of the numerous means provided by the internet to ensure anonymity, it was not particularly unusual. When one takes into account the general lowering of inhibition around the time of New Year, there was perhaps nothing unusual about it at all. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to trivialise it, especially in light of the slew of racially motivated assault, robbery, arson and murder which marked the low-point of real-world social activity in 2015. Racism in South Africa remains virulent.

To be fair, the majority of South Africans take the matter seriously. The seriousness of the debate that ensues, however, is restricted by two factors. Firstly, there is a perception that speaking about racism is the right of a specific group. It is an old South African habit. Racism is justified or condemned. But the objective is the same: legitimisation of a specific group’s political power. Secondly, it is taboo to perceive racism as a symptom of human conflict. In South Africa the tendency, rather, has always been to treat the symptom as if it were the ubiquitous cause. And this has often led to theorising which is irrelevant to human experience. Tragically, it seems that racism will be a significant part of the human experience in South Africa for years to come. If we intend to overcome it then the aim of our debate on it ought to be the strengthening of civil society, rather than of cliques and obscurantism.

Culture could make a significant contribution to revitalising the debate on racism in South Africa. It has the power to exalt human experience, even in tragedy. The strengthening of civil society does not follow automatically. Nonetheless, people become more aware of what is, was and always will be human in us, regardless of race. Unfortunately, the tendency in South Africa, for the reasons mentioned previously, is toward a culture of pseudo-scientific abstractions and party rhetoric. Alternatives are censured and marginalised.

If you’ve read until here you might have asked yourself more than once if you are in fact reading The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.)… Where is the reference to yet another refinement of hedonism? Where is the aside dedicated to the palatable pleasures contained in a bottle of Long Beach Craft Beer.? Well, the craft opinion for this month is premised on the old wisdom that a change now and then is good.

And, anyway, we have not strayed all that far from our original recipe. In the last nine articles T.C.O.B. has discussed the enjoyment of films and proposed ways in which people might develop their own tastes. We think this is useful in a time when the public is constantly being told what it should consume by advertisers, pundits, professors of Banting and various other experts.

In this article T.C.O.B. has identified another group of experts who have a vested interest in telling others what’s good and what isn’t. And, hopefully, it has given at least one reason why the enjoyment of culture (films included) is much too important to be exposed to their unrestricted influence.

Carpe diem!

Long Beach Brewery was forged by two guys with a passion to create crisp, refreshing handmade craft beers with the finest ingredients. The brewery is named after the famous Cape Town surf and horse-riding destination and situated in Cape Town's beautiful, Noordhoek valley. Their craft beer selection includes: Bomb Shell, a Belgium style Blonde ale, Green Room, an Indian pale ale or Deep Water, their dark ale and stout Porter. They say only a surfer knows the feeling... Long Beach Brewery's aim is to make it possible for everyone to "know the feeling". Buy Now

 
The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.) #9 by Leonidas Michael


DEAD OR ALIVE: T.C.O.B. delves into the eschatology of hedonism*

(*But, for those who make a habit of driving under the influence of alcohol, let it be noted in advance that hedonism is possible, for better or for worse, only while you’re alive.)

I’m not entirely sure why I went to watch The Hateful Eight. I’m not into Westerns as a genre, and the only Tarantino film I can say unambiguously that I liked was Reservoir Dogs. Perhaps I’m experiencing an adolescent resurgence. A hormonal imbalance may have triggered a craving for the comic-book violence that I’ve come to associate with his films. But if it was gratification I was expecting from The Hateful Eight, what I got instead was terminal dialogue. Great God, was there talking in this film! Not even the perennially comical Samuel L. Jackass could keep me from making an early exit.

I’d wasted my money. Nonetheless, that was not to be the final judgment on my mid-week evening out. My frustration in the cinema and subsequent remedy (see T.C.O.B.#2 for more on leaving films early) resulted in two positive events. Firstly, I was able to get to a liquor shop just before closing time and purchase myself a pack of Long Beach Ales. Secondly, I found myself, since I now had nothing to occupy my mind, trying to recall which Westerns I’d seen and liked. My recollection of three in particular was so pleasurable as to ramify into more pleasure. For I resolved to watch those three films again.

So it was that I watched Dead Man for the fourth time. The first was in Tromso, Norway, about ten degrees north of the Arctic Circle. The season when darkness shrouds the land for weeks on end – what the locals call the “murky time” – was approaching. In such conditions, watching a film about a man who makes his last mortal quest through a twilight zone of violence and mystery is bound to leave a deep impression. But even in sunny, optimistic Cape Town, Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film was a taste of what I expect to experience when I stand on the edge of my mortality. The picture has the quality of 19th century daguerreotypes. It’s an apt visual interpretation of the murky (in the sense of lawlessness) world on and beyond the frontier. The cast is of the highest order, starting with Jonny Depp as the Dead Man, formerly Bill Blake, accountant from the city of Cleveland. He’s accompanied by a gallery of fantastic characters: an Indian guide called Nobody, a cannibalistic bounty hunter, a missionary preaching genocide, a stoker who looks like a minor minion of Hell, Sally Jenko aka Iggy Pop, to name some. The dialogue is steeped with the grim poetry of a funeral mass. The music – Neil Young, mostly on solo electric guitar – conjures images of clouds gathering, visions taking shape in flames, spirits convening… Like I said: the edge of mortality.

One-Eyed Jacks

One-Eyed Jacks was released in 1961. I must have seen it for the first time when I was six or seven, possibly on the old SABC on a Saturday night when my parents were out. I remember it thrilled me, though I can’t say why. It’s the one film directed by Marlon Brando, who was also in the lead role, playing an outlaw determined to avenge the treachery of a former partner. On this my second viewing I was not thrilled. It seemed to me that Brando wanted to reinterpret A Streetcar Named Desire using rearing horses and gunplay. The result is an overcomplicated plot and ponderous dialogues embedded in epic Western scenery (sierra, cactus, saloon). But, despite the handicap, the cast performs strongly, giving you a real sense of what it is to gamble your very life for revenge, wealth, respectability or happiness. In several shots, the actors are even reminiscent of the pictures on playing cards. To sum up, there was enough in One-Eyed Jacks to keep me interested for the two and a half hours of its duration. I only doubt I’ll watch it a third time.

In contrast to the others, the final opus in my Western resurgence is a straightforward tale of a good guy looking to make little money in a village dominated by two barbarous gangs. Released in 1964, it was directed by Sergio Leone, an Italian, as you might have guessed by the name. Most of the cast in this definitive film in the Western genre is not even American, the exception being Clint Eastwood, who was playing his first leading role in a feature film. Therefore, it was expedient for the English dialogues to be dubbed. There are inconsistencies in the lip-syncing. There’s none of the poetry you have in Dead Man, though there are occasional gems, for example, in a scene where Eastwood asks four thugs to apologise to his mule. The power of A Fistful of Dollars, however, lies in the pictures: the intense blue of the sky (purportedly over Mexica, actually over Spain), the sun-bleached walls of cottages, the worn iron of firearms, the dusty leather of boots and chaps. A well-timed close-up reveals the sweat on the face of a man constantly exposed to the blazing sun and the threat of a violent death, the smirk on the lips of a sadist, or the knitted brows of a hero determined to overcome evil: pictures worth a thousand words. Ennio Morricone’s elegiac music, now almost universally associated with gun duels at high noon, is the final touch to a sublime work of art disguised as great action film.

Which of the four films mentioned here did I take the greatest pleasure in? If the answer could be reached by simple arithmetic I’d say Dead Man for I’ve watched it more times than the others (I watched A Fistful of Dollars three times). But this is probably not my final judgment. I’m sure that more viewings of both Dead Man and A Fistful of Dollars will delight my senses by the time the bell tolls.

Carpe diem!

Long Beach Brewery was forged by two guys with a passion to create crisp, refreshing handmade craft beers with the finest ingredients. The brewery is named after the famous Cape Town surf and horse-riding destination and situated in Cape Town's beautiful, Noordhoek valley. Their craft beer selection includes: Bomb Shell, a Belgium style Blonde ale, Green Room, an Indian pale ale or Deep Water, their dark ale and stout Porter. They say only a surfer knows the feeling... Long Beach Brewery's aim is to make it possible for everyone to "know the feeling". Buy Now

 
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