Archive for the ‘Interviews and Articles’ Category

As an extra bonus for Graphic Content’s screening of Tank Girl, our friends at the Boozy Boob Tube spoke to Rachel Talalay, director of the film, for an interview. Read on for a sneak peek into how this month’s movie came into being.

Rachel Talalay

Boozy Boob Tube: Why was it important for you to make Tank Girl? In other words, what was it about the Tank Girl comics that really resonated with you?

Rachel Talalay: Look at her. Words are pointless.

BBT: What was the adaptation process like for Tank Girl, especially given the comic book is often more hijinks-driven than narrative focused?

RT: We ended up with three options for places to make the film. I consulted with the creators (Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin) and the publisher (Tom Astor) about whether we should go with the Indie offers of less money but more independence or with the higher profile/more money offer to be able to afford the tank, jet, etc. They all felt we should do the studio/moneyed version in the hopes we could get both attitude and hardware, so we went with United Artists. None of the places were going to let Alan Martin write the script; we were clear on that. The comic did not have enough narrative line. I never cared about that part of it — the story. I wanted the visuals and the outrageous attitude.

We put in a story just to get it green lit. Alan Martin always said that if we took out all the words, the visuals are successful. He was understandably not as happy with the US dialogue. Any time anyone asks me “what is her back story?” or “what turned her into Tank Girl?” I puke a little in my mouth. Not that long ago, some studio exec asked me that. I answered, “questions like that.” It was not a good political answer, but if you are so caught up in narrative structure, you can’t see the essence of the translation of sequential visuals to filmic vision, you shouldn’t be making Tank Girl.

We started out well supported by United Artists. But then, as often happens, the head of the studio changed and the directives were different. This led to a challenging change of direction and numerous arguments about what film I had set out to make. This is really hard when you have a vision and they are trying to mold it to their own tastes at the last minute.

We might have made a different decision than to be with United Artists if we had known. There are scenes cut out just because they offended varying people, even when they tested well among the audience. The whole process was fractious at best.

We were ahead of our time. The “R” rating would probably be a PG-13 now. But then, they were afraid of it. I knew it would be a 1 or a 9 with people — you get it or you don’t. If you ask how and why she changes hairstyles when there is no water, you shouldn’t be watching the movie.

BBT: Aside from Lexi Alexander’s highly underrated ‘Punisher War Zone’, ‘Tank Girl’ is the only North American comic book adaptation directed by a woman. Can you describe your experience as a female director in Hollywood? 

RT: I really deluded myself into thinking Tank Girl was going to break the glass ceiling and allow there to be female action heroes. Instead it halted my feature career. With fewer than 5% of studio features being made by women now, it’s hardly a time to talk about being a female director in Hollywood. I know more about special effects and visual effects than many of my male counterparts and I’m still treated like I might not know what a pixel is.

BBT: Why do you think that the ‘Tank Girl’ franchise and your film has become a cult classic that continues to resonate with audiences?

RT: The exact reason I had to make it. Women and girls want to be seen as independent, free-thinking, fearless heroes. They want to be accepted for their own attitudes and style and on their own terms. Tank Girl doesn’t have to care what others think. Sexism seems to be on the rise. Tank Girl is one of the few movies where the female lead doesn’t take it. I am so happy that it is a movie recommended in Queen Bees and Wannabes (the source material for the brilliant Mean Girls).

One of the most depressing things about the Oscars this year was the “Heroes” section which included maybe 8 images of women to over 100 men. That kind of sums it up. What are we telling girls about their futures?

BBT: Tank Girl is undoubtedly a badass lady. Do you have any other favourite badass ladies from television or film that you’re a big fan of?

RT: James Cameron is the king of feminist characters. He’s done more for women in film than I ever did. When Ripley says, “Did IQ’s just drop sharply while I was away?”, I want to cheer.

I’m very interested in the new breed of teen girls who are tortured and insecure (Bella, Katniss) but have two or more men completely devoted to them. The men see them for their inner worth, and the girls can be more real. I love Jennifer Lawrence and Kristen Stewart in these roles. They are offshoots of Scarlet O’Hara, but she was really too selfish and messed up. And the metaphors of Twilight don’t resonate with me. But Hunger Games is really strong — self-sacrifice, rage against tyranny, etc.

I love Ricki Lake in Hairspray. The outcast who gets the hunk (a bit like a twisted Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were). Women don’t want to have to be some ideal that a Photoshop-guru fantasized. The problem is that real life is complicated. Very few of us will ever be physically strong enough to win by force.

I love the old Hollywood icons, in particular Katharine Hepburn.

BBT: You have done a lot of work both in film and in television. Do you have a preference or do you gravitate to one medium over the other and why?

RT: TV is so hard. It’s mostly about how quickly you can work — and can you get along with the mostly male crew? Women are judged on totally different standards than men are. Male directors are given much more slack. I really miss the old days of independent movies when you didn’t have to make them on your own credit card, but there was a business model for making auteur movies. Now there are about 5 filmmakers who can make movies like that — and two of them are the Coen Brothers. I love independent movies and voices. I always wanted to be an auteur but didn’t have the integrity to starve.

BBT: You have worked on many television shows and there are plenty of fantastic shows being made right now, are there any particular shows that you would love to direct or produce?

RT: I want to do a series of Tank Girl and one of Hairspray. I want to do a horror series on Girl Demons called “Plagued”. If you’re asking me what I want to work on right now: Doctor Who.

BBS: You’re now teaching at the University of British Columbia for the Department of Theatre and Film. What was it that interested you about moving into teaching about film production?

RT: The students are amazing. Teaching makes me think about filmmaking in a more global sense: Why it’s so complicated, what I learned and how. I’m a bit like Tank Girl as a teacher. I’m always encouraging the students not to be hung up by the ‘rules’ of filmmaking. However I do insist they understand these purported rules (fulcrum, structure, screen direction, etc) so they can break them smartly. (I do not encourage them to break laws, be dangerous or go rogue). I want to help them be original thinkers, leaders and fighters, not entitled prats.

I’m still working a lot. I haven’t been put out to pasture in my advanced age. I just did a horror film called The Dorm for MTV and Sony. It’s feminist horror — (that sounds so ridiculous) — but it’s subtext is about the pressure on young girls to have perfect body image.

All my upcoming projects are female-oriented — a series for CBC about women in the west in 1869. Very Hell on Wheels (which is a great series).

A biographical feature based on the stories of a young teenage girl called “An Introverts Guide to High School.” A story about the women killed by Canada’s most prolific serial killer, Willy Pickton.

BBT: Speaking of horror films, you both produced and directed installments in the ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ film series. Are you particularly fond of horror films and is there a certain type or sub-genre of horror that you enjoy? What would you consider the scariest horror film?

RT: You probably can’t name a horror film that didn’t scare me. I am a chicken, which is what made me so full of ideas for Nightmare. The Exorcist and The Shining are two favorites. The original Nightmare on Elm Street is ridiculously scary. The script gave me nightmares.

When I was a kid, the one that terrified me was an awful obscure TV movie called How Awful About Allan. The lead had hysterical blindness and would hear whispers “Aaallen” which my brother and sister did to me all through our childhood. I can still remember the plot and cheezy special effects — but don’t go looking for it, it’s not worth resurrecting. I was scared by the original Star Trek when I was 6.

I love the creativity, but I’m not interested in revenge movies or torture porn. Women can’t just be victims in horror films. That’s way too easy.

I love directing effects and scares, it’s liberating, never-ending creativity.

BBT: And since we’re a blog that incorporates a bit of drinking… if you had to describe yourself as an alcoholic beverage, which drink would you be and why?

RT: A black jello shot. Or two. Or three…interpret that as you wish.

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The ladies of the Boozy Boob Tube were kind enough to share a few words about what this month’s Graphic Content film, Tank Girl, means to them, almost twenty years after its release. Check it out!

Tank Girl poster 1995

When Tank Girl was first unleashed in 1995 all three of us were just kids. So when we were asked to participate in Graphic Content’s presentation of the film we eagerly jumped on board, not because we even remembered the film especially well, but because of the feelings it left embedded in our burgeoning adolescence way back in the mid ’90s. And those feelings across the board were explicitly those of badass ladyness.

Upon its release, Tank Girl was considered a commercial and critical flop, which is largely how it’s been remembered. But the way a film is seen can change with time. The cultural importance of a film or the readiness of the audience can shift.  We suspected that nearly 20 years later, the world might be a little more prepared for the zany, futuristic feminist superhero nearly bursting through the screen in Tank Girl. So we sat down and watched it again, for the first time as adults.

Tank Girl Classic

What we discovered was a complex cocktail of elements. Tank Girl opens with a sequence of images taken directly from the comics it’s based on by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, set to “Girl U Want” by Devo. This sets the mood perfectly. The snippets of comics show us Tank Girl exactly as we should see her – a sassy sparkplug amidst plenty of “booms” and “vrooms.” When the opening credits wrap up, we immediately meet our hero, Rebecca Buck (aka Tank Girl), played by Lori Petty. And just as immediately she gives us a breakdown of her world: sure, she’s living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where water is running out fast and a massive, evil corporation is doing its darndest to take out the good guys, but she’s cracking wise and loving life. At times the film will give you whiplash – between the high-energy soundtrack, the ass-kicking and Tank Girl’s hairstyle/costume changes, you can’t look away for fear of missing something. And the inclusion of more animation between scenes to advance the narrative? Well, that’s just sweet, sweet comic book gravy, and adds a real sense that this movie is more than just the movie itself. It has a history in the comic book world.

What director Rachel Talalay and the cast, specifically Petty, have been most successful in is capturing the spirit of the Tank Girl universe and bringing it to life on screen. Of course, translating a comic book series to film is a tricky business and pleasing everyone is impossible. When fans really, really love a universe one of two things will happen when something new, like a film, is introduced: Their high expectations aren’t met and the result is heartbreak and/or outrage; or they love the world so much they’re happy to indulge in as much of it as possible – so they’re willing to overlook discrepancies. Tank Girl isn’t perfect, but with its wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am energy, it is wonderfully ambitious in delivering its story to its audience. Plus – there are more unmissable marvels than you can shake a stick at, such as count ‘em two dance sequences, Ice-T as a humanoid mutated kangaroo and cameos from the likes of Iggy Pop.

Tank Girl costume

Nostalgia is particularly powerful in the generation who saw Tank Girl and the film captures and embraces that generation whole-heartedly. It also hits the right notes for people who welcome a bit of punk, a bit of camp and hunger for the B-movie aspect of filmmaking. So what we’re saying is that like us, the audience is all grown up and timing couldn’t be better for bringing this film back. Tank Girl is, perhaps, the most ’90s film of ’90s films; it’s easily right up there with Reality Bites and Empire Records in its uber-’90s-ness. The soundtrack is an alternative rock/trip-hop behemoth and is absolutely one of the best soundtracks of the decade, featuring Bjork, Hole, Bush, Portishead and more. We dare say it was a fundamental album that awakened many young minds to a whole new world of music. And the super-cool punk costume design by Arianne Phillips (The Crow, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) is one of the most entertaining, and most ’90s, parts of the film that serves to strengthen Tank Girl’s origins in the very visual comic book medium.

The mid-’90s saw the rise of “girl power,” but that was basically just a slogan for the Spice Girls. Mainstream audiences at the time were clearly not savvy to the genuinely powerful, confident hero found in Rebecca Buck. But after careful consideration, we the ladies of Boozy Boob Tube declare that finally, audiences everywhere have wised-up enough to embrace Tank Girl and the ass-kicking female hero who comes along with it.

Tank Girl

Thanks so much to Boozy Boob Tube, and we’ll see you at Graphic Content’s screening of the film, Tuesday, March 18th.

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Our friend and yours Devin Bruce, host of the excellent podcast Scotch and Comics, was kind enough to tell us about his history with this month’s film, Mystery Men, and what true heroism means:

Mr. Furious

The first (and, until next week, the only) time I watched Mystery Men was in the fall of 1999. I was in my third year of university, and I was on a “dinner and a movie in” date with a girl I was seeing at the time. I don’t remember liking it very much, but I have a feeling that had more to do with the evening in general than the film itself: the dinner part of the date apparently gave my girlfriend some pretty bad food poisoning. I spent the first part of the movie being concerned for her health and the last part of the movie concerned for mine.

When I was asked to be a part of Graphic Content (for the second time, no less; apparently working with me once wasn’t enough to send Erin & Matt screaming for the hills), I immediately gravitated to Mystery Men. Mostly because I really appreciate Bob Burden, the creator of the Mystery Men, and I wanted an excuse to pull my Flaming Carrot Comics trade off the shelf and read it again before the screening. If you’re wondering why there are no Flaming Carrot Comics on the suggested reading list, it’s because they’re out of print. I happen to know that Bob Burden is putting out more comics — I have Kickstarted one of his projects already and will likely support more of this kind of work in the future — but you can’t order them to sell in your local comic book store. Which is a shame because Flaming Carrot Comics, where the Mystery Men characters come from, are wonderfully bizarre.

Flaming Carrot

It’s strange to try and write this essay, because while I own a rare and coveted volume of Flaming Carrot Comics, it doesn’t have any stories that feature the Mystery Men. But if they’re like the other issues I’ve read, then they’re bizarre and nonsensical and hilarious. Bob Burden’s got an indie comics vibe that’s scratchy but dynamic in black and white, with a thin and light inking touch that looks simplistic on the surface but his technique really moves his crazy stories forward. So I have to extrapolate from what I know about the comics they came from.

But let’s put Burden’s bizarre storytelling antics aside for a moment and focus on the characters. Much like the Flaming Carrot himself, the Mystery Men are different from most of the superheroes you see in today’s films and comics because they have no super powers. That’s what sets the real mystery men and women apart from their more familiar cousins in adventure fiction: they have the flashy outfits and the desire to do good by punching criminals, but they have no super speed, no healing factors, no flight or x-ray vision. They just have an extra dose of heart.

Wildcat

There’s something very selfless about that conceit, if the word “selfless” can be given to someone who delivers flowery monologues while wearing a purple cape and kicking a burglar in the face. As much as I like characters like Martian Manhunter and The Thing, they’re generally not in a lot of real danger (unless the Martian Manhunter is confronted with a lit match). But there’s something to be said about the World Heavyweight boxing champion who looks up at the example set by the heroic Golden Age Green Lantern and says to himself, “I might not have a magic ring that grants me wishes, but I got two fists and I know a seamstress. I’m going to do what I can to make things right for people.” Ted Grant, Wildcat, is just a boxer in a cat costume. And yet he’s on the Justice Society along with his powered friends like the Green Lantern and The Flash and (depending on which continuity you read) Wonder Woman, and when the entire DC pantheon of superheroes goes to fight someone who could snap your neck with a flick of his wrists, Wildcat doesn’t stand in the back of the crowd. He’s in the front row. Because Ted Grant knows that he could be killed at any second by an alien or mutant or robot, but he also knows that he is the best in the world at one thing: fighting. And when there’s a fight that could end the world as we know it, Ted Grant is the man you want in your corner.

The Shoveler

That’s why I like The Shoveler. Played so earnestly and honestly in Mystery Men by William H. Macy, he’s a guy who wants to do good in the world, and like Ted Grant, he has one thing he’s really good at. Shoveling. So he puts on a costume and he goes to make the world a better place. Through shoveling. Mystery Men has a lot of tremendous quirky character actors and comedians: Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Reubens, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Waits, Wes Studi, and Eddie Izzard, to name just a handful. But it’s William H. Macy who steals the whole damn show. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what scene I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then you have something to look forward to.

It’s also difficult to write this essay because, as you might be able to tell by my use of very broad strokes in this essay, I haven’t actually re-watched Mystery Men before writing about it. And that’s because the other reason I was drawn to Mystery Men was because I wanted to give it the best possible second chance, and the best way to do that is to watch it in a theater with other people. I can’t even give a full count of the number of supposedly funny films that I’ve watched by myself on VHS or DVD or Blu-Ray, and not laughed once. And I’m sure you have too. How many times have you watched a comedy and thought “It was okay, but it would have been funnier in the theater?” Laughter is infectious, and even a mediocre comedy can be elevated by having at least one other person watching it beside you, sharing the experience, each of you building off the other’s enjoyment. So that’s why I’m going to wait until Tuesday the 18th to watch it again, hopefully with a glass of Scotch in my hand and you in the theater with me. Let’s go on this adventure together.

Thanks, Devin for writing this great piece. Mystery Men will be at Metro Cinema at the Garneau on Tuesday the 18th of February. We hope to see you there!

Follow Devin on twitter: @Doctor_Teeth

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The objective of my film series Crime Watch is to showcase the quality and diversity within the genre of crime films. So I was pleased when Erin and Matt, curators of the Graphic Content series, approached me to co-present Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition, which I found to be a fascinating study of how organized crime impacts families, particularly fathers and sons.

road-to-perdition-tom-hanks-tyler-hoechlin

The vibrant cinematography, inspired by the illustrations of Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner’s graphic novel of the same name, is in keeping with the modern day perception of a Depression-era gangster as the strong silent type. The relationships between fathers and sons are established cleverly with strong visuals and minimal dialogue. The simple gesture of Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) emptying rosary beads, car keys and gun out of his pockets after a day’s work and then how he conceals the gun when he realizes his son is watching hints at his occupation and what type of father he is. Michael tries to shelter his family from the reality of what he does for a living.

Road to Perdition is a… film about fathers and sons, children and men, and the trait-passing from generation to generation that some men, some cruel men, fear most of all.” Jeremy Kirk (Film School Rejects).

Michael worries that despite his efforts his eldest son, Michael Junior, is following in his footsteps.

road-to-perdition-tom-hanks-paul-newman-piano

In contrast to Michael is his boss and surrogate father John Rooney (Paul Newman). Relishing the status that being a gangster affords, John raises his real son Connor as well as Michael within the organized crime world. The dynamic between these three men is established early in the film at a wake. John sits down at a piano quietly tinkering, Michael joins in and together they play a lovely melody, while Connor stands witness to their conviviality with a forced smile that tightens into a grimace. Both raised by the same man, Michael is dutiful where Connor is reckless and selfish. Later that same evening John humiliates Connor in front of their associates by pushing him to apologize the ‘correct’ way. It appears that despite John’s best efforts, Connor isn’t following in his footsteps well enough.

Craig

During a conversation about their children, John tells Michael that “Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers.” Connor’s dubious hit on one of his father’s associates brings the both the Sullivan and Rooney families together for the aforementioned wake. When the hit is publicly called into question John sends Michael and Connor to smooth things over with the deceased’s brother. Michael Junior takes this opportunity to satisfy his curiosity, stows away in his father’s car and witnesses a murder. Even though John trusts that Michael’s son can keep a secret and guarantees his safety. Connor commits an act of unauthorized violence against the Sullivan family. Which leads Michael and his son on a journey of revenge. The plot in Road to Perdition advances with how each father chooses to manage the fallout of his son’s actions.

Road to Perdition is a fascinating exploration of father-son relationships against the backdrop of organized crime. The film is strengthened by its emphases of shrewd visuals over lengthy dialogue as its storytelling method. Ultimately its success rests on Tom Hanks and Paul fantastic performances as two fathers pushed to the limits of their loyalties while trying to protect their sons.

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Here’s something fun: as a special holiday gift before next week’s screening of Ghost in the Shell, frequent Graphic Content collaborator and poster designer Brendan Brown wrote a few words about the film’s place in director Mamoru Oshii’s oeuvre, as well as in his own moviegoing canon.

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell is the most well-known of Mamoru Oshii’s films and, to me, is inextricably linked to its historical context. In those heady end-of-the-century days, pop culture observers had a real sense that globalism was the final frontier, that a whole host of truly multicultural sources of entertainment would be pushing product through to the masses. Seeming to fulfill that expectation, Ghost in the Shell became the first anime film to hit number one in the video sales charts in the United States. At the age of fifteen, I watched the pre-feature trailers on the VHS tape (nervously rented from my local Blockbuster): a montage of ropey humanity engaging in ultra-violence atop fantasy spectacle set to an Industrial track by KMFDM. It felt like the future. Our future.

Mixed feelings on that first date; having grown up in the school of the three-act Hollywood screenplay structure I was not yet acquainted with some of the particular joys of auteurist cinema—where said auteur lays out all their obsessions one-by-one onscreen and then stops the film when they’ve run out of things that interest them.

Further complicating this, Ghost in the Shell has a dual authorship between two storytellers who couldn’t be more different. Director Mamoru Oshii, the son of a private investigator who spent his early adulthood participating in leftist student protests and once considered enrolling in seminary school, has created a body of work that has almost never felt anonymous. His films are often paced meditatively and with recurring motifs including the authenticity of dreams, dogs, religion and myth, explorations of control and surveillance, and military hardware.

Batou

Of these, the last two interests seem to be solidly shared by Ghost in the Shell’s original manga creator Masamune Shirow. Shirow (a pseudonym) was a high school art teacher whose work in amateur publications in the 1980s opened the door to bigger publishers and larger audiences. Shirow’s works are almost exclusively in the domain of technological science fiction and are sometimes loaded with Crichton-esque asides on scientific topics strewn throughout his plots. But of interest to me is Shirow’s deep attraction to two themes in particular. One: unironic fascist power narratives, often showing hypernationalist states under the control and protection of elites infused with heroic values and engaged in perpetual warfare against social decadence and insurgency. Two: the eroticisation of women and the romantic de-contextualization of men (Or, as Jason Thompson once dryly noted. about the rabbit-eared, five-eyed bipedal cyborg love interest in Appleseed, “Like Batou in Ghost in the Shell, he’s proof that Shirow would rather draw anything other than handsome men.”) Shirow seems to have embraced his latter fascination wholeheartedly and has mostly left the world of manga for the much more lucrative full-time career of illustrating pornographic pin-up posters of buxom adolescents, glistening with lubricant and straddled upon tanks, robots, or high powered assault rifles invested with obsessively specific illustrative detail.

It probably comes as no surprise that neither of these artists had any initial conception of working with one another and that the whole pairing was at the suggestion of Bandai who felt that Oshii would be a good fit for the project. To Shirow’s credit, he explicitly gave the production carte blanche to change the tone and story as they saw fit.

Of course, when I first viewed this film back in 1998, I would have had no idea of this unusual collaboration between two artists. I wouldn’t have known that protagonist Motoko Kusanagi’s curious no-nonsense masculinity in the film was a radical deviation from the doe-eyed, curvaceous, lusty protagonist of Shirow’s original manga. Back in 1998, as I watched Kusanagi disrobe on a building rooftop, I hadn’t even heard the term ‘male gaze’ but I scooted to the front of my couch cushions to take in the apparent casual throwaway nudity of Oshii’s heroine. She had to be naked to use her therm-optic camouflage abilities, apparently. In Oshii’s previous series Patlabor, he made a splash depicting giant robots—a romanticised staple of Japanese pop culture—as mundane heavy construction equipment whose operators and society in general treat accordingly. In Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, Kusanagi has the same sense of privacy and neurosis about her body as I would about my office chair—a piece of equipment designed for work.

city picture

This pragmatism extends to the very setting of the film. Instead of showcasing a city of gleaming Japanese futurism—as in the original manga—or Rick Deckard’s hollowed-out gothic rain-barrel dystopia, Ghost in the Shell on film depicts a thinly veiled Hong Kong as it would exist contemporaneously with the production. Its rusted signs and slapdash alleyways are neither utopic nor distopic—they are the practical result of building the new within the old. In one scene Kusanagi explains several practical benefits of including an old-fashioned, completely biological person in her unit; she too believes in the innate benefits of diversity.

Jin-Roh

Ultimately, Ghost in the Shell is not Oshii’s best film. The sour politics of Patlabor 2 or even his belated and circumlocutory sequel Innocence: Ghost in the Shell 2, I think, have more to offer to the interested viewer. Ghost in the Shell marks a transitional point in his career. It heralded a nine year break from directing animated films as he focused on producing and screen-writing various projects as well as directing the live-action, Polish-language film Avalon. For my money, one of the best films Oshii’s been involved with is one that he wrote but did not direct: 1999’s Jin-Roh which is set in an alternate-history Japan recently emerged from German occupation. Like many of Shirow’s stories, it concerns itself with the topic of fascism, but it’s a fascism not unlike the run-down mid-century German economy cars that dot the background scenery of the film: unromantic, decaying, and prone to sudden betrayal.

Ghost in the Shell’s early and prominent place in North American anime canon is a blessing and a curse. In those aforementioned Blockbuster VHS days I think a lot of millennials expecting the operatic flourishes or cackling spectacles of the Akiras and Ninja Scrolls now made available to them were left nonplussed. The gore is there but it lacks the exclamation point. The film is also considered a quintessential pop culture ornament of its country of origin yet it was not a domestic success; a common irony in international cinema. To the sort of people who concern themselves with whether the Dutch care for Heineken, this tarnishes the film’s hypothetical cultural authenticity. Coincidentally, the character of the Puppet Master within the film is characterized as having to struggle against notions of authenticity in the face of existential rent-seeking from biological entities. Furthermore, its offer to merge with Kusanagi is, again, thematically apt; the film is the wholly unique blend of two different voices. The work onscreen, like all intriguing creations, is not Genesis but Synthesis.


Invaluable inspiration and information for this essay comes from Dr. Brian Ruh’s book Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii—soon to be re-released in its second edition.

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As a special treat for Graphic Content fans, local film writer Allan Mott, who is presenting this month’s film Barbarella with us, has written a special piece to go along with the screening. Allan’s work can be found at his website Vanity Fear. Check it out!

Barbarella poster

Set in a far away distant future, Barbarella – Queen of the Galaxy is a piece of pop-art Euro-psychedelia from the not-so-distant past that is so transcendently dated it will forever feel like something exciting and new. So specifically attuned to the brief period in which it was created, it has become something timeless and irreplaceable—a fantastic document of an era of glorious artificiality.

It is a classic example of a kind of film that the auteurist ’70s tried desperately to make extinct—a spiritual heir to such oft-lamented classics like Casino Royale, What’s New Pussycat?, The President’s Analyst and Dean Martin’s Matt Helm films, where broad comedy and satire gracelessly intertwined in brazenly colourful settings that were more inspired by the period’s fashion magazines than actually based on what anyone was really wearing. Garish, bold and frequently tasteless, these films represented comic book interpretations of the zeitgeist taken to ridiculous extremes, resulting in the creation of whole new worlds unlike any seen onscreen before or since.

Based on a serialized French comic book by Jean-Claude Forest, Barbarella was clearly conceived by director Roger Vadim (if not producer Dino Di Laurentiis) as the perfect vehicle for his third wife. By this time, Jane Fonda had been following her famous father’s movie star footsteps for seven years in a career that had her alternating between enticing virgins, frigid harridans and the occasional whore. Having tasted recent success with Cat Ballou and Barefoot in the Park, but also the stinging defeat of two high profile flops with The Chase and Hurry SundownBarbarella not only represented an opportunity to once again collaborate with her husband (they’d previously worked together on La ronde in 1964, La curée in 1966 and his segment in the anthology film Spirits of the Dead the same year Barbarella was made), but her second chance in a title role that would allow her to take centre stage and explore unseen depths of her abundant onscreen sexuality.

Barbarella - black

Though the script would eventually be worked on by as many as eight writers, the most significant of its scenarists would be the only one who received an onscreen credit with Vadim. Terry Southern had earned his reputation as a master satirist of ’60s absurdity via his work on the screenplay for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (and would eventually help usher in the ’70s revolution with his work on Easy Rider) and there’s no doubt that Barbarella’s most memorable lines (“A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming….”) had to have sprang from his pen.

Interestingly, the plot of Barbarella seems inspired as much by Voltaire’s Candide as it does the original comic. Both concern innocent naïfs sheltered by their lives in paradise who are confronted with a series of strange adventures featuring the bizarre inhabitants they come across during their journeys. But if this connection seems a bit too general and tenuous, it’s made slightly more obvious when you consider that a decade earlier Southern had co-written (with Mason Hoffenberg) a parody of Candide called Candy, which was adapted into an infamously terrible film the same year Barbarella was made. The fact that The Graduate’s Buck Henry wrote that adaptation, instead of Southern, suggests that this self-plagiarism might have been as much a matter of spite as a lack of originality. (Or, as is often the case in these matters, it’s all just a weird coincidence.)

Adding greatly to the film’s retro-mystique is its unforgettable soundtrack, which was composed by Charles Fox and supervised/performed by Bob Crewe with vocals credited only to “The Glitterhouse”. It’s a dreamy lounge-era concoction that feels hilariously out of place in a genre where we’ve come to expect the classical music of 2001, the melodramatic Mickey Mousing of Star Wars or the synthetic moodiness of Blade Runner. The film’s songs could just as easily fit on the soundtracks of those mentioned above in the second paragraph, despite their earthbound settings. It’s a wonderfully strange and delightful juxtaposition that has the feeling of inadvertent deliberateness and is the clearest hint to unwary viewers that they should not be taking a moment of the film even the slightest bit seriously.

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The film was shot in Rome on the soundstages of producer De Laurentiis’ Cinematografica Studios. Its colourful set design was created by Mario Garbuglia who had previously worked on Visconti’s The Leopard, as well as such less-prestigious productions as the Mike Conners’ 1966 Bond spoof/rip-off Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die, and was filmed by Claude Renoir—Jean’s nephew—who would go on to lens French Connection II and The Spy Who Loved Me.

02 The set of Barbarella, 1968

But as distinctive as the visuals Garbuglia and Renoir created may be, the person most responsible for Barbarella’s iconic status has to be costume designer Jacques Fonteray. When you close your eyes and think of the film, the first thing you see is the title character in your favourite of her multiple outfits—which she manages to change into with startling rapidity.

But, of course, the clothes wouldn’t work without the right cast to wear them. To surround Fonda, Vadim assembled an eccentric crew of actors to flesh out his film. As the blind angel, Pygar, he cast John Phillip Law, a gorgeous hunk of beefcake who that same year would star in an even better European comic book adaptation when he played the title role in Mario Bava’s pop masterpiece, Danger: Diabolik.

For the role of the evil, but gorgeous “Great Tyrant” he cast famed Rolling Stones muse Anita Pallenberg (who also appeared in Candy), whose voice was eventually dubbed by Kind Hearts and Coronets’ sublime Joan Greenwood. The role of Professor Ping was played by the world’s most famous mime, Marcel Marceau—even though the part never calls for him to demonstrate his skills in that area (unlike his starring role in the bizarre 1974 William Castle horror/fairy tale Shanks).

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Still fresh off of the international success of Blow-Up, David Hemmings is clearly in on the joke as Dildano, the leader of the planet’s small band of revolutionaries. And Irish theater actor Milo O’Shea took on the eyebrows necessary for the part of Durand-Durand, the earthling inventor whose disappearance sets Barbarella’s mission in motion.

As a protagonist, Barbarella isn’t quite the strong female ass-kicker we might prefer to see today. She is, instead, closer to a perpetual victim who escapes her predicaments more often by direct male intervention than her own ingenuity. Still, she does have a handful of moments of empowerment, such as when she threateningly bluffs to melt the face of the Great Tyrant to protect Pygar, and—most notably—when Durand-Durand’s attempt to orgasm her into a state of mindless oblivion is undone by her insatiability, which proves more than his machine can handle.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a small piece of feminist enlightenment to be found in the film, especially when you consider the time when it was made. The fact that the film actively celebrates Barbarella’s open sexuality as a virtue even feels slightly groundbreaking today. This is most notable in the scene between her and Ugo Tognazzi’s hairy ice barbarian.

Having just rescued her from a gang of feral children armed with carnivorous dolls, he gives her a lift on his ice craft and she asks if there is a way for her to repay him. He suggests that they make love, which to Barbarella means taking pills and sharing a moment of psychic connection. When he tells her he prefers the old-fashioned way, she’s shocked (on Earth that’s strictly for poor people), but relents.

The punchline, of course, is that she ends up vastly preferring the old-fashioned way to the new. When we return to them after their tryst has ended we see her humming/singing to herself as she lays naked in his bed. It’s a joke we see again just a few minutes later, when she meets up with Pygar, who insists he’s lost the ability to fly. This lasts until he takes her to the nest he calls home, which we then cut to her lounging and singing in as she did before, while he soars in the sky above her—renewed with fresh confidence. When it comes time for her to make love to Dildano, she enthusiastically consents, but is disappointed to learn he wants to do it the Earth way.

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While in different hands this could easily feel sexist and exploitative, Fonda’s performance and the script elevates it to something far more charming and enlightened. Barbarella doesn’t fear sex or see it as anything particularly virtuous. If anything it’s just an enjoyable way to pass the time. This might seem to make her character a clear male fantasy of the gorgeous willing submissive, but once she learns just how much she likes sex, she becomes an enthusiastic participant—to the point that her level of desire is such that it overcomes Durand-Durand’s nefarious machine, which is designed to turn pleasure into torture.

A character who loves sex and seeks out multiple partners without any drama or guilt is still pretty rare in today’s pop culture—unless they’re a dude named Bond—and though a present-day interpretation of the character would likely demand that she show a much greater sense of self-sufficiency and urgency, I think there’s a good reason that the famously politically-minded Fonda has never expressed a second’s worth of regret over playing her.

Like many cult films, Barbarella wasn’t particularly successful after its initial release. Instead, Fonda’s true breakout roles came next in the bleak depression-era drama They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and her Oscar-winning turn as an endangered prostitute in the thriller, Klute. She divorced Vadim in 1973, after he directed another classic of the era, Pretty Maids All In a Row—a film written by Star Trek’s Gene Roddenberry about a serial killer/guidance counselor that is so brazen in its depiction of teacher/student sexual relations that it could never get made today.

It would actually take the success of another film for Barbarella to reach the cult status it has earned today. In 1977, Star Wars was breaking so many box office records that every studio started raiding their vaults for any space tales they might have at hand. Re-released that year with a great new poster featuring what was now one of the most famous and celebrated movie stars in the world, it was only then that audiences clued in on just how special the film is. Despite only nine years having passed, it was a true document of the past—one that had dated itself into something both accidentally and deliberately hilarious, a perfect mixture of the campy and the canny.

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When Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi was charged with the task of ripping off Star Wars ASAP, it’s no surprise that the film that resulted—1978s Starcrash­­—owed much more to Vadim’s film than Lucas’. Caroline Munro’s Stella Starr being a slightly more confident and ass-kicky version of Barbarella with just as memorable costumes (which probably explains why I actually like it more than the film it was intended to capitalize from).

A sequel with Fonda was planned, but it fell through when she moved on to larger and more prestigious projects. Vadim once suggested he’d be willing to make a second film with Twin Peaks’ Sherilyn Fenn in the title role and for a time Drew Barrymore planned to remake it via her Flower Films production company, before deciding to make Charlie’s Angels instead.

More recently a $70 million remake starring Rose McGowan to be directed by Robert Rodriguez was halted when he decided he couldn’t spend the time away from his children the production would require (see also Red Sonja, which would have also paired the actress and director together).

Currently the latest attempt to bring Barbarella back to life is reportedly coming from Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn, who is said to be working on a TV adaption based on the character.

Whether we ever see another version of Barbarella ever again is beside the point, though, since we have every reason to be happy with the one we got. It’s a film whose flaws have been turned into attributes through time—one that you can laugh at and with in equal measure, as you delight in sights that are so of that one particular moment that they could never be truly recreated in a way that doesn’t immediately reek of imitation.

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Barbarella – Queen of the Galaxy has all of the pleasures you could want in a “bad” film, while also featuring all of the hints of an actually great one. It may not be the future we’re getting, but it definitely seems like the one we would be lucky to have.

Thanks again to Allan for the wonderful piece, and we hope to see you all come out to the Metro Cinema on Tuesday, November 19th for the screening!

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Here at Graphic Content we love collaborating with other geeks in the city, people who have the same love for film, comics, and sharing those loves with the Edmonton and the world, that inspired us to start Graphic Content in the first place. We were thrilled when Devin Bruce of Scotch and Comics agreed to guest curate a show with us, because not only does he also love film and comics, but he’s added a healthy appreciation of scotch to the mix. We asked Devin to write us a short explanation on his film choice, Point Blank, and how it fits in to the overall Graphic Content dialogue:

It took a little bit of convincing to get Point Blank and Darwyn Cooke’s Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter on the queue for Graphic Content this month. There were many emails, discussions, and debates: is it really in line with what the film series is supposed to be about? After all, it’s not a movie based on a comic book, and there’s no comic book adaptation of the movie. They’re two works adapted from one main source: The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake, writing as Richard Stark. Because of that, Point Blank doesn’t fit neatly into the same group as Josie and The PussycatsTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Scott Pilgrim.

And sure, selfishly I really wanted Point Blank as my pick, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I can’t really think of a better genre to enjoy with a glass of Scotch than crime. Secondly, I love the Parker books, both Stark’s prose and Cooke’s comics adaptation, and think they make for great reading. And thirdly, Point Blank is just a great movie.

The story is fairly straightforward: Lee Marvin plays Parker as “Walker,” a man who is betrayed by his wife Lynn (Sharon Acker) and his partner Val (John Vernon) during a heist and left for dead. Except he’s not dead, of course, because he’s played by Lee Marvin, and he comes back to get his share of the money. And since Val used the money to buy his way back into The Organization, Walker’s got a lot more work ahead of him than he bargained for. As simple as the story is, though, the film twists it and makes it something very distinct.

“Scotch?” “Scotch is fine.”

From the beginning, Point Blank is confusing and intense. The opening credits are stark white letters on a blood-red background, and then what follows is a jumble of scenes, out of chronological order, coming at you with no explanation. So you’re feeling like Walker from the beginning: thrown off, confused, on your heels.

Even though it eventually becomes a little more straightforward, the film remains slightly disjointed, and it’s strange for an audience used to Hollywood storytelling to navigate, let alone what it would have been like back in the sixties. I mean, take the beginning, with the juxtapositions of still shots. Lee Marvin is old, a weathered and rusted out iron bar. He’s a bird on a wire. He’s a captive in a broken prison. To use a cliche: the movie’s showing you, not telling you, that this isn’t a man you should be entirely comfortable with, because he’s not comfortable with himself. But he’s still the man you need to get behind.

What really strikes me about Point Blank is the soundtrack. I absolutely love how sound is used in this film, not just to accompany the story, but to tell the story. Walker’s shoes clapping on the floor as the camera cuts between him stalking Lynn and her going around with her day. Incidental music setting you firmly in the present while dialogue flashbacks pull you away. The absolute silence while Angie Dickinson is in the elevator going up to Mal’s penthouse, giving you nothing to distract you from thinking about what is about to happen. Not every filmmaker has that kind of attention to detail.

The cinematography is beautiful, too. It’s not often that a film feels like it has texture, but Point Blank has texture in spades. The use of curtains in a number of important scenes strikes me, accurately or not, as an update of the film noir obsession with venetian blinds: shadows rising from the cloth in a bedroom or a man trapped by the bars of the vertical blinds in his office. The wood paneling in Brewster’s home, too, rich and brown and earthy. Point Blank uses these things to ground you in the scenes even while you’re unsettled by the storytelling.

“You’re a very bad man, Walker, a very destructive man!”

But as great as the style is, it’s not what brought people to the theater. The draw is the star: Lee Marvin. He’s made a lot of movies in his career, with some standout roles, but Walker is his quintessential performance. He’s electrifyingly intense; his physicality and his silence speaking for him, but it’s his gaze that’s really powerful. Watch his eyes during the flashback where he’s first courting Lynne: he’s using his body to keep her there, but his gaze is what keeps her distracted.

Walker in Point Blank is almost more of an animal than a human being. He grabs a hold of his goal in a vice grip and refuses to let go even when anyone else would realize that it’s impossible. The look on his face when he’s told that “nobody” has his money, it’s like a dog that’s just been shown a card trick. But to look at him like he’s just a brute is to underestimate him just like every member Organization does. The fact that he listens to people more than he talks to them shows you that there’s more going on beneath the surface. If Walker is any kind of animal, he’s a shark: quiet, calculating, always moving. A really smart shark or a really nasty dolphin.

And if you’re going to put him in a semi-romantic relationship, which you have to because this is a Hollywood movie after all, Angie Dickinson’s Chris is a great foil. Tired of the life and angry at the same people as Walker, she’s little more than a tool in Walker’s arsenal but she still has some small degree of agency and self-respect. She’s a more powerful and interesting character than any handful of random “fallen women” characters in crime movies. When she beats Walker when they’re hiding out waiting for Brewster, it shows just how powerful each character is. Walker takes every ounce of anger and strength that Chris has, then goes to sit and watch T.V. Because what’s the point of doing anything else? That is a tough mother. But then Angie Dickinson keeps trying to push his buttons, because she didn’t get a rise out of him and she wants to know she’s hurt him even a little bit. That’s the kind of woman for Walker. For a while, anyhow.

John Vernon plays a Mal who’s not quite as badass as the book Mal, but he’s still a guy that rose above his competency level and he’s too dumb to know it until it’s too late. I like John Vernon, I think he’s underrated as a character actor, so it’s a pleasure to see some early work from him here. And speaking of awesome character actors: Carrol O’Connor is stellar as Brewster. He’s in it for maybe 15 minutes and he absolutely lights up the screen. He’s loud and brash and manic, a really great counterpart to Walker.

“Did it happen? A dream. A dream.”

Some people have suggested that Walker in Point Blank died in Alcatraz and this is his dream as he’s fading away. I don’t like that, but I can’t rule it out entirely. I think it’s a little too complex for a dream, on the whole, but it doesn’t feel entirely real either. He’s definitely a haunted character, and the audience feels haunted too by all the visual and the audio flashbacks. While Angie Dickinson talks to him over the intercom as he stalks her around the house, is she his internal monologue, or is she a higher power? A case could be made either way, but I’m still going to stick behind with the non-dream scenario.

Point Blank isn’t without a few flaws. Firstly: is it a little sexist? Sure it is. But everyone is a little messed up in this movie, and things get a little twisted around, so I can look past it. What irks me a little more is the way it ends. I find the twist unnecessary, and Walker’s quest doesn’t really end, or at least it doesn’t end to my satisfaction. But despite my minor issues, it’s still a good movie.

“Somebody’s got to pay.”

But even with all that said, Point Blank is still not a “comic book movie.” So why pick Point Blank? Well, the rationale is right in the mission statement: “Graphic Content has as its aim to promote and explore the relationship between film and sequential art.”

I find it really interesting to compare the film adaptation to the comic adaptation. There are definitely differences between Parker and Walker: they’re more like brothers than straight-up clones. Walker’s softer than Parker, and Parker’s more jaded than Walker, but other than that they’re very similar. Quiet. Intense. Methodical and businesslike. Where it becomes more interesting is when you compare the two works as exercise in story. Each work uses the strengths of its medium to tell the story, but the story changes based on the motivation of the storyteller. Where The Hunter is straightforward and linear,Point Blank is a surreal labyrinth. The Hunter is supposed to be a retelling of the novel; for Point Blank the novel is a road map. The comic is an exercise in storytelling; the film is an exercise in style.

Setting aside my obsessions with storytelling and cross-media analysis, though, what I really wanted to do was to try to bring together a wide variety of people to mingle together: Donald Westlake fans, Lee Marvin fans, comics fans, film fans, and more. I wanted an opportunity to gather them all together and have them see just exactly what they have in common. I think that geek culture gets too insular sometimes, and it would be nice to see that there are more similarities than differences. Getting a Lee Marvin fan to pick up a copy of The Last Days of American Crime, or getting someone who only reads superhero comics to put The Man With The Getaway Face on hold at the library: that’s what I’m hoping to do. Even with just one person.

And if not, hell, I get to drink whisky in a movie theater and watch one of my favourite movies. So that’s pretty okay too.

Big thanks to Devin again for lending his point of view to Graphic Content, Point Blank is one of our favourite films and we are thrilled to be presenting it with him. Come down on Tuesday, February 19th at 7:00 for the feature presentation, and you can hear / read more from Devin at his blog Scotch and Comics and over at his Tumblr Scotch & Comics & Other Stuff.

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