120 years of sf cinema, part six: 1975-1984

2015 marks the 120th anniversary of sf cinema. This is the sixth part of a year-by-year list of films I’d recommend (not always for the same reasons).

Part one (1895-1914), part two (1915-34), part three (1935-54), part four (1955-1964), part five (1965-74)

1975
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman)
Shivers (David Cronenberg)

1976mrblack
Dr Black Mr Hyde (William Crain)
God Told Me To (Larry Cohen)
The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg)
Queen Kong (Frank Agrama)
Rabid (David Cronenberg)

1977
Le couple témoin/The Model Couple (William Klein)
Eraserhead (David Lynch)
Izbavitelji/The Rat Saviour (Krsto Papic)
The Last Wave (Peter Weir)
Star Wars (George Lucas)

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Coma (Michael Crichton)
Dawn of the Dead (George Romero)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufmann)
It Lives Again (Larry Cohen)
Jubilee (Derek Jarman)
The Long Weekend (Colin Eggleston)
Piranha (Joe Dante)
Test Pilota Pirx/Pilot Prix’s Inquest (Marek Piestrak)

1979
Alien (Ridley Scott)
The Brood (David Cronenberg)
‘Hukkunud Alpinisti’ hotel/Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (Grigori Kromanov)
Mad Max (George Miller)
Sengoku Jietai/G.I. Samurai (Kôsei Saitô)
Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky)

1980flash_gordon_ornella_muti_mike_hodges_022_jpg_biqb
Altered States (Ken Russell)
The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner)
Flash Gordon (Mike Hodges)
Scanners (David Cronenberg)

1981
Alligator (Lewis Teague)
Escape from New York (John Carpenter)
Gosti iz Galaksije/Visitors from the Galaxy (Dušan Vukotić)
Mad Max 2 (George Miller)

1982Liquid-Sky-Large
Blade Runner (Ridley Scott)
Chronopolis (Piotr Kamler)
Liquid Sky (Slava Tsukerman)
Les maîtres du temps/Time Masters (René Laloux)
The Thing (John Carpenter)

1983
Born in Flames (Lizzie Borden)
Videodrome (David Cronenberg)

1984
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (W.D. Richter)
The Brother from Another Planet (John Sayles)
Dune (David Lynch)
Forbrydelsens Element/Element of Crime (Lars von Trier)
Repo Man (Alex Cox)
The Terminator (James Cameron)
Threads (Mick Jackson)

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part seven, 1985-94

120 years of sf cinema, part five: 1965-74

2015 marks the 120th anniversary of sf cinema. This is the fifth part of a year-by-year list of films I’d recommend (not always for the same reasons).

Part one (1895-1914), part two (1915-34), part three (1935-54), part four (1955-1964)

1965tumblr_ltx4g62J531qjfr7so1_r1_1280
Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (Jean-Luc Godard)
Giperboloid Ingenera Garina/Engineer Garin’s Death Ray (Alexander Gintsburg)
It Happened Here (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo)
Sins of the Fleshapoids (Mike Kuchar)
Terrore nello Spazio/Planet of the Vampires (Mario Bava)
The War Game (Peter Watkins)

1966
Daikaiju Gamera/Gamera (Noriaka Yurasa)
Fahrenheit 451 (François Truffaut)
Gamera Tai Barugon/Gamera versus Baragon (Shigeo Tanaka)
Konex Sprna v Hotelu Ozon/The End of August at the Hotel Ozone (Jan Schmidt)
Seconds (John Frankenheimer)
Sedmi Kontinent/The Seventh Continent (Dušan Vukotić)
Tanin no kao/The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara)
Ukradena Vzducholod/The Stolen Dirigible (Karel Zeman)

1967danger_diabolik
The Craven Sluck
(Mike Kuchar)
Diabolik (Mario Bava)
Je t’aime, je t’aime (Alain Resnais)
King Kong No Gyakushu/King Kong Escapes (Ishirô Honda)
Privilege (Peter Watkins)
Quatermass and the Pit (Roy Ward Baker)
Week End (Jean-Luc Godard)

1968
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
Brasil Anno 2000 (Walter Lima, Jr)
Mister Freedom (William Klein)
Night of the Living Dead (George Romero)
Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner)
Wild in the Streets (Barry Shear)

1969
Change of Mind (Robert Stevens)
Gladiatorerne/The Peace Game (Peter Watkins)
Scream and Scream Again (Gordon Hessler)
Stereo (David Cronenberg)
Yakeen (Brij)
Zeta One (Michael Cort)

1970
The Andromeda Strain (Robert Wise)
Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg)
Na Komete/On the Comet (Karel Zeman)
THX 1138 (George Lucas)

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A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)
Glen and Randa (Jim McBride)
The Hellstrom Chronicle (Walon Green and Ed Spiegel))
Ice (Robert Kramer)
Punishment Park (Peter Watkins)

1972
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (J. Lee Thompson)
Death Line (Gary Sherman)
Solyaris/Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky)

1973nuits rouges 3
The Asphyx (Peter Newbrook)
The Crazies (George Romero)
Flesh for Frankenstein (Paul Morrisey)
Una gota de sangre para morir amando/Murder in a Blue World (Eloy de la Iglesia)
It’s Alive (Larry Cohen)
Kala Dhandha/Black Mail (Vijay Anand)
Nippon Chinbotsu/Japan Sinks (Shirô Moritani)
Nuits rouges (Georges Franju)
Phase IV (Saul Bass)
La planète sauvage/Fantastic Planet (René Laloux)
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (Ivan Dixon)
Yilmayan seytan/The Deathless Devil (Yilmaz Atadeniz)

1974
The Cars that Ate Paris (Peter Weir)
Dark Star (John Carpenter)
The Parallax View (Alan J Pakula)
Space is the Place (John Coney)
The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes)
Terminal Man (Mike Hodges)

2013-03-22-1aterm

Hard to Be a God (German 2013)

its-hard-to-be-a-god-trudno-byt-bogom.28440Hard to Be a God takes the bare armature of Boris and Arkady Strugatsky’s 1964 novel of the same name – human observers embedded among the population of an alien world, which resembles the terrestrial middle ages and in which the first traces of a Renaissance are being brutally expunged – and does something remarkable with it.

At times it reminded me of Andrei Rublev, of Aguirre, Wrath of God, of Seven Samurai, of Come and See,  of The Seventh Seal or The Virgin Spring, of Tetsuo, of Erasherhead, of Jodorowsky, of A Field in England, of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And yet it is not remotely like them, or like anything else.

As early as the 1960s, Aleksei German was the Strugatskys’ director of choice, and it only took him half a century to make the film. His earliest attempt was halted when Soviet forces invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, since a film about a fledgling Renaissance being crushed by an invading totalitarian power was deemed untimely. (German was also briefly involved in Peter Fleischmann’s disastrous 1989 adaptation.) In 2000, he finally began what would become a six-year-long shoot (partly in the Czech Republic), but he died in 2013, leaving his filmmaker son, Aleksei German, Jr., to finalise the edit and the soundtrack.

hardtobe6The Strugatskys’ often comic tale poses a series of ethical questions around the (im)possibility of humanitarian intervention akin to those with which Star Trek’s prime directive narratives feebly wrestle. Are there circumstances in which violence can be used to cut short the violence of others? Is it more cruel passively to observe than it is to step in with an overwhelming force that will turn a society on its head? What is the ethical cost to the observer/intervener? The Strugatsky’s novel can also be understood as an expression of anxiety about the re-emergence of Stalinism as the Khruschev-era Thaw drew to a close.

German transforms this material into something marvellously different.

A black-and-white world of rain and mud and shit and piss and snot and blood. Of raw sewage and rotting carcasses. Of grotesquery and deformity. Of violence and death. Of the idiocy, as Marx might say, of feudal life.

istoriya-arkanarskoy-rezni-aleksei-german-ultimo-film-01The frame is frequently crowded. Depth of field is constantly destabilised. Fog and smoke and pouring rain obscure the distinction between earth and sky, clouding out the horizon and disrupting perspective. Objects repeatedly cross the frame inches from the camera, blocking our view of what we might otherwise assume to be the subjects of the film. Characters repeatedly look straight at the camera, not to break the fourth wall but as if it is not there. Or as if the camera cannot be permitted to be in the world without being part of the world; and in this the camera is like the terrestrial observers. They are not permitted to stay, like a Federation away team, separate from the world they visit. They are immersed in it. Mired. And so are we.

It is like reading Rabelais, or reading Bakhtin’s reading of him; and in its relentlessness, Hard to Be a God is really funny.

The few Anglophone reviews of the film I’ve seen complain about the absence of a clear plot. But narrative obliquity is the point. Life doesn’t have a plot or narrative arcs. We are just in the middle of all this stuff going on all the time. And it is comical and absurd and messy and always in our faces.

If I’d been watching it alone, I’d have turned off the not-that-helpful subtitles.

maxresdefaultHard to be a God is obsessed with the odours of the world it can only disclose  indirectly, and with the textures of the world. It continually uses the limitations of the medium – the gulf between the tactile and the visual – to undercut the fiction of the neutral, uninvolved observer. Despite the often troubling content of the image, the pristine cinematography is often too beautiful to bear. Don Remata’s spotless white clothes and handkerchieves function in a similar manner – in their absurdity, they are reminders of the full and unavoidable intersubjectivity of being in the world.

Hard to Be a God might not be your cup of tea. That is your loss.