Twelve in Twenty-Twelve
This is not a list of films released in 2012, but more of a scrapbook of my experiences as a viewer during the course of the last twelve months. It's an idea that I've wanted to try out for every year of the blog's existence, but for whatever reason, never committed to put pen to paper.
In all honesty, 2012 has been a truly terrible year for me and I'll be glad to see the back of it. For related reasons, it's also been the year that I watched more films than any other. 30 to 40 films a month was the average, including re-watches of old favourites or just films that I hadn't seen for several years. As a result, a full breakdown of everything seen would be impossible, so instead, I'd like to use this space to recommend to you the twelve films that made life during the last twelve months just a little bit more bearable.
The twelve films will be broken down into three categories. The bulk of this post will focus on 'Ten Masterpieces of the Supreme Kind', in which I list the ten films first watched in 2012 that should stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, with the likes of Battleship Potemkin (1925), L'Atalante (1934), Ordet (1955), The Mother and the Whore (1973) and Notre Musique (2004) ; in other words, the greatest films ever made! In the second category, 'Faraway, So Close', I write a short note on just one film I saw in 2012 that came close to the absolute genius of the previous ten, but for some reason known only to myself, fell slightly short of such greatness. Finally, 'The Resurrected', in which I talk about a film that has most benefited from a recent re-watch and subsequent re-appraisal.
Really, I would have liked to have extended this list to a full top-twenty. However, since the writing of the text eventually needed a full week to compose, I've decided to leave it as it is. I may return to the other eight titles in a future post, possibly titled: more from the year that was. But for now, and without further ado...
Ten Masterpieces of the Supreme Kind
As Bodas de Deus [João César Monteiro, 1999]:
I watched this film on the 28th of November, 2012. I first discovered the work of João César Monteiro while browsing YouTube videos, circa 2010. There I found full-length versions of his films Veredas (1978) and Silvestre (1982). The two films were unlike anything else I'd ever seen, though one could perhaps perceive the influence of Rohmer's atypical (for him) historical features, The Marquise of O... (1976) and Perceval le Gallois (1978), with just a touch of the artifice and folklore of the fellow Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira. I was immediately hooked on Monteiro's approach, his imagination and his character, but it was only in the last year or so that I was finally able to experience the full magnitude of his work.
Monteiro is, without question, one of the great unsung masters of twentieth century cinema. His films, especially the later ones, in which he adopts the provocative on-screen persona João de Deus (John of God) - a mixture of Woody Allen's intellectual self-deprecation, Godard's wounded poet and the tortured sexuality of Nabokov's Humbert Humbert - remain among the most powerful and singular works in contemporary cinema. The best example of this is As Bodas de Deus - also known as God's Wedding or The Spousals of God - which brings to a close a loose trilogy of films that began with Recollections of the Yellow House (1989) and continued with the controversial God's Comedy (1995).
Arguably one of the last great masterworks of the twentieth century, the hysterically funny and ultimately quite poignant As Bodas de Deus, is another contender for the title of 'the greatest film ever made.' A sly, graceful, sardonic burlesque, a witty satire and a moving lament, full of anger and frustration, As Bodas de Deus, as ever with Monteiro, combines the poetic with the provocative, the profound with the profane, the reverent with the irreverent and again, those ever conflicting influences of tragedy and farce. It's also perhaps the ultimate demonstration of the pure artistry and integrity of Monteiro, one of the finest filmmakers who ever lived.
Bad Day at Black Rock [John Sturges, 1955]:
I watched this film on the 27th of July, 2012. It's a film that I've heard referred to as "a classic" for as long as I can remember. Described as a contemporary-set western, or a film-noir in western clothing, Bad Day at Black Rock is not only a fine piece of narrative cinema, but a film that delves headfirst into the dark-heart of the American psyche, finding the unspoken pain and insecurities that had festered there since the country's first involvement in the Second World War. The war, as a shared event, brought out the best in people, but also the worst, as the desire for conservation and self-preservation gave in to chauvinism and genuine persecution.
The character played by Spencer Tracy represents the country's lost morality. Initially meek and humble in nature, he becomes the target of the town's bullying influence as he attempts to get to the truth of the situation that led, directly or indirectly, to the disappearance of his friend, Komoko. As the plot unravels and the seemingly docile nature of the central character begins to erode when faced with the violence and the bigotry of the town en masse, it becomes clear that the script by Don McGuire and Millard Kaufman is suggestive of the actual mistreatment of real Japanese-American citizens following the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent initiation of mandatory internment.
As the town begins to go into retreat, the tension that Sturges creates becomes almost suffocating. The glare of the hot sun, ever-present, is blinding (both literally and metaphorically), but at the same time leaves these characters exposed to their own atrocity. In the harsh light of day, these thugs and bullies are unmasked to the moral outrage of Tracy's one-armed crusader, unable to retreat. The use of the cinemascope frame creates a palpable feeling of isolation, with Sturges using the aspect ratio to illustrate the segregation of the central character from the rest of the town, while also allowing the director to group his antagonists together in a single shot, to draw attention to the solidarity of the lynch-mob, but also to further emphasise their eventual disintegration as the true facts of the disappearance begin to emerge.
However, it's the emotional weight of the film that most impresses, as the conviction of Tracy's protagonist, and his sense of indignation in the face of the arrogance and the injustice of the town, allows these people to finally connect with their own sense of shame and the ethical sacrifices that the war had compelled.
The Curse of the Cat People [Gunther Von Fritsch & Robert Wise, 1944]:
I watched this film on the 27th of February, 2012. Originally recorded during the Val Lewton season that played on BBC2 at the end of 2011, The Curse of the Cat People is a film that I'd initially put-off watching for close to two months because I'd heard, from various online "sources", that it was a largely abortive sequel to the Jacques Tourneur directed original. Well, as usual, the 'sources' were wrong! The Curse of the Cat People is only a sequel to Tourneur's film in the loosest possible sense, in that it continues the story of Oliver Reed and Alice Moore - the now-married protagonists of the 1942 original - who are forced to confront the ghosts of the past when their own six year old daughter Amy begins communicating with the unearthly and still potentially dangerous spectre of Irena, the antagonist of Tourneur's film.
The stage is set for a kind of supernatural retribution, but the tone of the film throughout is ethereal and poetic; more like a fairy tale. Instead of focusing on the spirit of Irena picking up where she left off, terrorising Oliver and Alice for whatever perceived indiscretion they may have committed, the script (by original Cat People writer DeWitt Bodeen) focuses almost exclusively on the loneliness of Amy and her perspective as an outsider. Though Amy is of no relation to Irena, the two share a bond in their sense of familial isolation from Oliver; the once unsupportive husband, now an equally unsupportive father.
In Tourneur's film, there was the vague suggestion that Irena's problems were the result of mental illness; that her affliction was psychological and not supernatural. In The Curse of the Cat People, it is once again suggested that Irena's presence in the film is simply an emotional trigger, as she is literally "imagined" by this child as an acknowledgement of their shared isolation and of the apparent influence that Irena, as a memory, still has over her otherwise oblivious dad. In this sense, the film becomes a precursor to the likes of The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), Paperhouse (1988) and I'm Not Scared (2003), where a childhood adventure, rich in poetic-realism, becomes a metaphor for the separation of the child from the family, and the child's own inability to transition into the world, with its rules and responsibilities.
Freedom [Sharunas Bartas, 2000]:
I watched this film on the 19th of August, 2012. This was the second Bartas film I saw and I loved it even more than the first; the suffocating near-masterpiece Seven Invisible Men (2005). As with that subsequent film, Freedom is a work defined by its rigorous observation of characters struggling against a harsh and callous landscape. A film with barely any dialogue or even interaction between its characters beyond the most base and animalistic urges, the allure of Freedom, as an experience, can be found, not in its plot or characterisation, but in the integrity of its performances, the clarity of its images and the studied, precise intensity of the director's exacting approach.
With Bartas, I always come back to that word: "desolate." Throughout the film, his camera lingers on these barren plains, the jagged rocks, the sagging dunes and the ruined buildings, and places them, in contrast, against the ragged and bitter faces of his life-scarred central characters. The physiognomy, as always, becoming a reflection of where these people are, emotionally as well as physically. The despair of a situation marked as an expression on the countenance of characters; their eyes wide open, optimistic, but without hope. These are characters in search of place, or in search of direction. Three strangers, attempting to cross the border into a more prosperous and welcoming country, but instead, finding themselves stranded on an endless beach that becomes, through the course of the film, an onscreen depiction of their own sense of displaced seclusion.
And yet, within this work of austere observation, there remains one moment of true, overwhelming beauty. A scene that stands above the anguish of the rest, giving context to those scenes of despair and alienation, and to the title itself. As the young female protagonist wakes by the side of her loveless companion, Bartas cuts to an image of cranes moving slowly into frame. The shot is held for what feels like an eternity. The music swells as a low, ambient murmur. One by one the cranes take flight. As they leave the frame, Bartas cuts back to the girl, her eyes now moist with feeling, her spirit momentarily lifted. The scene, as a representation of the film as a whole, becomes an expression of the perseverance of this character, and a reflection of the human condition at its most fragile and remote.
Hands Up! [Jerzy Skolimowski, 1981]:
I watched this film on the 3rd of October, 2012. Skolimowski is, in my opinion, one of the great filmmakers to emerge from the Polish film industry of the 1960s, and like his fellow countrymen, Roman Polanski and Andrzej Żuławski, is a director with a unique and uncompromising voice. While Polanski is of course acclaimed as one of the greatest filmmakers in the world, and Żuławski continues to develop a passionate and knowing cult, the legacy of Skolimowski seems less certain, perhaps because so many of his greatest films remain unseen. His films from the 1960s are equal to any of the great masterworks of the period, including the peerless Barrier (1966) and the equally mesmeric Identification Marks: None (1964), as well as his amusing and highly imaginative riposte to the French New Wave, Le départ (1967).
Hands Up!, one of Skolimowski's strangest and most mysterious films, is a relic of this period, though one not actually completed until 1981. Like Żuławski's similarly harrowing On the Silver Globe (1988), Hands Up! exists as an attempt to salvage elements of an earlier film, censored by the Polish authorities, while also creating a more relevant political commentary on the period depicted in the film and the ramifications of certain events subsequent to its removal from circulation, for instance, Skolimowski's professional exile. As such, the film is really four fragments of a movie in one, where the assemblage of ideas, thought and recollections eventually creates an impression of the director's own perspective as an artist unable to return to his country, and in a sense, disconnected from the past.
The four fragments of the film include a science-fiction drama dealing with an intended Orwellian conspiracy against a backdrop of a potential civil war, a documentary on worker's rights for Polish immigrants in late 1970s Britain, and an on-set diary of Skolimowski's own experience as an actor in the Volker Schlöndorff directed Circle of Deceit (1981). However, the bulk of Hands Up! is dedicated to the remnants of Skolimowski's censored film; a figurative, allegorical satire, shot in a sepia-tinted monochrome in Poland in 1966, and featuring several disquieting references to the occupation of Poland and the terror of the Holocaust. The four fragments create a single whole; a film about suppression, censorship and the role of the artist. Even in its fragmented form, the film is a pure, 'sensory' experience, haunting and hypnotic, and another masterpiece by the ineffable Skolimowski.
Landscape in the Mist [Theodoros Angelopoulos, 1988]:
I watched this film on the 21st of February, 2012. By this point I was already two months into the year and I was yet to see a film that really moved me beyond the level of just pure entertainment. Without wishing to sound too pretentious, I was looking for something unforgettable; something profound. I'd already watched several really good films - even some great films! - but I was still looking for that 'total' experience. Landscape in the Mist would be my third Angelopoulos and the first to really evoke the same personal sensation felt in the great works of Antonioni, Dreyer, Tarkovsky, Godard, Ozu, etc. It's hard to put this feeling into words, but let's just say it's the sensation of having seen something that enriches, both emotionally as well as intellectually; that makes the world feel somehow smaller, or larger, depending on the type of film.
After my first viewing of Antonioni's L'eclisse (1962) in 2008, I went outside for some fresh air and suddenly felt as if all other human life had passed without a whimper. The silence of the garden was deafening. The spaces between the trees had become vast and immeasurable. The experience of the film had been so personal and so intense that time itself (or the notion of it) had slowed to a crawl. I had a similar feeling when watching the film in question. The feeling of my own natural rhythms - the beat of my heart, the inhalation of breath - slowing to meet the pace of the film. Perhaps it's significant that both L'eclisse and Landscape in the Mist were co-written by Tonino Guerra, but I think more than ever it's the mood of these films - the sombre, suspended feeling of scenes drifting into scenes, like in a dream - that drew me in; that captivated me with every slow movement of the camera and every impeccably composed frame.
What I loved about Landscape in the Mist was the journey of the central characters; these two kids, brother and sister, trying to make their way to Germany, to find their absent father. As ever with Angelopoulos, I didn't understand every nuances of this allegory, which surely has some political basis, but I understood the motivation and the idea of the pursuit of this mythical setting that exists, as a goal, or as something to reach for. That this ideal place is captured on an old strip of film carried by the central character seems significant (because for me, everything is cinema). It's impossible not to read elements of the film as a comment on the role of the fictional character, having been made real by the reflections of an audience, now trying to make their way back, or alternatively, these characters trying to pass into the world of fiction, as an escape, or as an acknowledgement of their own end.
I can't quite do justice to the film in such a short space. I'm too terrible a writer! My words lack depth and intelligence, and the experience of the film is beyond my grasp. However, the sensation of seeing how the narrative transforms, how these protagonists engage with the various characters they meet (including a nod to the most famous figures from Angelopoulos's work, The Travelling Players) and how the sequences are developed through those long, beautifully choreographed shots, will stay with me for the rest of my days.
Millennium Actress [Satoshi Kon, 2001]:
I watched this film on the 25th of October, 2012. The first film I ever saw by the late Satoshi Kon was Paprika (2006); a bold and imaginative work that came close to actual genius, but lost it for me in its repetitive third-act conflict and in the largely unnecessary scene of sexual violence, which pushed the overall tone of the film towards genuine misogyny. Even so, the thing I liked best about Paprika was not the action, but the emphasis on meta-fiction; the way 'cinephilia' was directly woven into the narrative, defining its character and as such, defining his dreams. This presentation created a pertinent metaphor for the cinema itself; where the space between consciousness and unconsciousness became the amphitheatre of dreams.
Satoshi's earlier film, Millennium Actress, follows a similar thread, where the role between fiction and actuality is explored in relation to memory. The film tells the story of a television reporter researching the closure of a famous film studio and the legend of one of its most prominent stars. Using a vague facsimile of the real-life actress Setsuko Hara, Satoshi crafts an endlessly complex and sophisticated film about the nature of memory and the capability of film, as a recording, to draw a shadow around moments; to capture recollections of places and people forever, in time. Throughout the film, the continual interaction between the various elements of actuality and fiction, memories of the past and the tangibility of the present, creates a drifting narrative, where the protagonist Chiyoko Fujiwara - this actress in seclusion - becomes the storyteller, and where the reporter and his cameraman sidekick, become a surrogate for the viewing audience.
What is most staggering about the film is the way Satoshi incorporates this "audience" into the story. They're not just passive observers there to hear the words of a fading star, but travelling companions, with the reporter, Genya, physically interacting with the memories of Chiyoko (which play like a montage of scenes from her films), while the cameraman, Kyoji Ida, continues to document these recollections with his handheld video camera. As a presentation of the line between reality and fiction, memories and dreams, the film is as complicated as anything directed by Angelopoulos or Tarkovsky, with that movement between layers and the central idea of characters becoming active observers to their own past, reminding me of a lighter, more romantic take on the presentation of a film like The Hunters (1977) or Nostalghia (1983).
Noroît (une vengeance) [Jacques Rivette, 1976]:
I watched this film on the 22nd of October, 2012, as a double-bill with the loosely-related Duelle (une quarantaine) (1976). For five years, Gang of Four (1988) has been my favourite film by Rivette, and one of my favourite films of all time. Noroît has finally replaced it. The most magical and mysterious of Rivette's work, Noroît blends elements of Treasure Island, The Tempest and The Revenger's Tragedy into a baroque chamber film, where the usual performances, rites and rituals that we expect from Rivette play out against a backdrop of mythical mountains, crashing waves and a large medieval castle, where the bulk of the story takes place.
Noroît is a film full of symbols, mysteries and conspiracies, some leading towards a great epiphany, but some just there for the fun of it, for the sense of adventure. It is a film that builds on the same air of alchemic fascination that drifted through Rivette's previous film, Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974), only with the lightness of that particular film and its more playful commentary on the relationship between the audience and the work replaced by a dark despair and an escalating intensity suggested by the character's restless pursuit of revenge. To me, it recalls some elements of the pure 'fantastique' of the work of Jean Rollin, with the atmosphere of the film, the colours and the coastal setting, reminding me perhaps of the more abstract sequences of the enigmatic La Vampire Nue (1969) or even Rollin's masterpiece La Rose de Fer (1972).
Rivette's film might lack the exploitation trappings of Rollin's work, but it's no less powerful in its strange visions, lingering ambience and captivating images. The feeling of the film is claustrophobic and nocturnal, as these characters move through the castle, like somnambulists, or entranced assassins, engaging in an elaborate performance (within a performance) rich in mystery and suspense. However, the dreamlike nature of the film is anchored throughout by the powerful lead performances of Geraldine Chaplin and Bernadette Lafont, who carry this wandering narrative towards a sort of elemental battle, much like that of Bulle Ogier and Juliet Berto in the equally hypnotic but for me slightly less captivating Duelle.
Trust [Hal Hartley, 1990]:
I watched this film on the 12th of November, 2012. Hartley's most accessible work is also the best example of his brave and often idiosyncratic approach. I've liked every Hartley film I've seen, to some extent, but in Trust he manages to secure his sometimes distancing formalist tendencies to characters that engage their audience on a personal and emotional level, becoming more than just mouthpieces that speak in clever aphorisms, or wander with an ironic detachment, engaging in sarcasm or succumbing to that familiar expression of nihilism as a response to some unfulfilled sense of hopeful longing. The existentialism of The Unbelievable Truth (1989) no longer feels shop-bought or second-hand, but is a genuine expression of the character's dreams and desires, or a result of their own acknowledgement of their collective failures and disappointments.
The film is an excellent showcase for Hartley's two greatest actors, Martin Donovan and Adrienne Shelly, who take characters that are full of fears and insecurities, but somehow manage to present them as likeable, even loveable, in their role as joint perpetual outsiders. Their inability to make sense of the world is never presented as the failure of these characters, but is simply the failure of the world to provide adequate space for those unable or unwilling to fall in line with the status-quo. Instead, they find a kind of acceptance in the arms of each other, where this man without a mother and this woman without a father can find a place of their own, until real-life inevitably intervenes. Shelly's presence in particular gives the film much of its appeal. She finds a sympathy for this character; a sadness, not just for herself - as she progresses from materialistic teen floozy into a sensible but no less uncertain young woman - but also a kind-hearted compassion for those in situations more desperate than her own.
The image of Shelly is of course greatly missed. On a personal level, she looks so much like a girl I once loved (no, still do) that seeing her on-screen, hearing her voice and observing her mannerisms, is beyond heartbreaking for me, because to see one is to see the other, and to be moved by the endless possibilities and the things that could've been. The film now exists as both a masterpiece of American cinema and as a testament to Shelly's underrated ability as a performer, working against the constraints of Hartley's form, but still managing to express the thoughts and feelings of a character that exists as more than just a representation of a particular idea. If the image of Anna Karina in Godard's Vivre Sa Vie (1962) endures as the unofficial symbol of the French New Wave, then the image of Shelly, beautiful and bespectacled in Trust, must, in some small way, represent the confidence, intelligence and naiveté that once typified the American independent cinema, at its peak.
The Wishing Tree [Tengiz Abuladze, 1976]:
I watched this film on the 10th of September, 2012. I went into it "blind", knowing almost nothing about it. The only frame of reference I had was the title and the vague allusion to it in Neil Jordan's directorial debut, Angel (1982). There, the on-screen quotation of the title is used to suggest the loss of innocence, or the destruction of it; the main themes of Abuladze's film. In approaching, little did I suspect I was about to see one of the greatest works in the history of all cinema, but The Wishing Tree really is a film to place alongside L'Atalante (1934), Ordet (1955), L'eclisse (1962), The Mirror (1975), etc, etc, as one of those staggering works of art; powerful enough to alter the perspective of those who see it; rich enough to transform the soul (whatever that means) of the individual, if only for the duration of the film.
The images of Abuladze's work are nothing less than striking and will remain with me, in the heart and mind, for as long as I can believe. Certain moments, like the dying horse in the poppy field - the film's first acknowledgement of the ruthless cruelty of nature and a prelude to the horrors of the final act - resound like echoes in my subconscious, or like scenes from an all-too vivid dream. The characters, larger-than-life and yet possessing a spirit and integrity that is recognisably human, are captivating, even when presented at their most fierce. The beautiful princess; the lusty priest and his buxom mistress; the painted grotesque, in mourning for the greatest of lost loves; the anarchist with his pronouncements, listening with an ear to the ground for a story in the soil... These characters are endlessly fascinating; full of personality, but also expressive of a genuine feeling, of life, tragedy, uncertainty. They create a depth, a texture, so that the cruel movement of the final act is not one-sided, but a reflection of the restlessness of nature when faced with the inevitability of change.
Here, the accumulative weight of the film, the beauty of it - and the rich tapestry of stories that suggest a spirit of grand adventure, or a compassion for all of life's creatures, the hum of nature and the beauty of the landscape - transforms what could have been a fairly bleak and bludgeoning attack - similar to von Trier's Breaking the Waves (1996) - into a profoundly moving, profoundly inspirational moral parable. Though the film is about the destruction of beauty, the loss of tradition and in many ways the loss of innocence, the sensitivity of the film and the compassion the filmmakers have for these characters, no matter how flawed or misguided they might be, means that the simple fact that the film exists - as a work, or as an object - becomes, in its own way, an affirmation of the true beauty of existence.
Faraway, So Close
Mister Lonely [Harmony Korine, 2007]:
I watched this film on the 11th of November, 2012. As a filmmaker, Korine strikes me as a genius, but a tricky genius. A genius willing to go to the extremes; to tap into the same madness and intensity of a Jarman, Carax or Herzog, but then throw it all away at the last minute with a stoner's smile and a scornful snigger. There are ideas in this film that are far beyond anything I've ever seen. Images that are pure and unaffected. If only the presentation of these ideas and images didn't feel like a series of "wouldn't it be funny if..." set-pieces, then the heart and soul of the thing might have really shone through. This could have been a film to rank alongside the warped poetry of The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), Jubilee (1977) or Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991), but the end result, for some strange reason, doesn't quite connect.
What holds the film back for me is the occasional feeling that everything we've seen is an elaborate stunt; a put-on, intended to "troll" the sensitivity of the audience. Throughout the film, Korine asks the viewer to make a leap of faith, to invest our own hopes and dreams in the film and in the lives of his strange and exotic characters, but he himself never really embraces them as anything more than a sideshow distraction. Too often it seems as if he's smirking at the struggle of these characters or finding humour at their expense. As a result, even the most seemingly moving or sincere of scenes has the feel of a practical joke. In some sense, I would compare the experience to Shyamalan's Lady in the Water (2006); another unconventional work of genius that asks the audience to make a leap of faith, to buy into its strange, fantastical, possibly even ridiculous concept, in the hope of being rewarded with an expression of pure cinema and an emotional epiphany that plays on the idea of faith as a means of engaging with narrative fiction.
With Lady in the Water, Shyamalan "meant it", and while his belief in the material may have destroyed his reputation, our leap of faith was respected and embraced. With Mister Lonely, there's a cruel cynicism to the latter half of the film (which is brilliant, in its own way) that detracts from the purity of the images and the weight of genuine feeling that his characters create. As such, I can admit that the film floored me with its imagination. I can also say that it thrilled me with its spectacle (by the end, I felt as if I'd witnessed a miraculous occurrence; something that was genuinely profound). Even so, I can't shake the feeling that Korine, for all his genius, is laughing at me. Laughing at any one of us who takes his work and its message as anything more than a stunt or a skit or an empty provocation. As ever, we embrace the film at our peril...
Gremlins 2: The New Batch [Joe Dante, 1990]:
I re-watched this film on the 11th of March, 2012. In the early '90s, I was a sickly child and susceptible to illness. As a result, I missed a lot of school. On occasion, my mother would take me to the cinema, as a treat, to cheer me up. Our local cinema was very small and the young people who worked the box-office (usually students trying to earn extra money for fees) were fairly liberal about the films they would recommend. I think the film in question had a '15' certificate (at the time), but because the 'mogwai' was cute, the film was deemed acceptable for a small child. I was five years old! Nonetheless, my mother and I enjoyed the film; the 'mogwai' was indeed cute, and the movie itself had a cartoon-like quality - very madcap and anarchic - which made the gremlins themselves seem less terrifying and more like loveable scamps.
Over the years the film had faded from memory. In my mind, I perhaps considered it no more than a fun but forgettable relic. A decent sequel and nothing else. Re-watching the film for the first time in over two decades proved something of a minor revelation. The film is rich in a way that my five-year-old self would never have appreciated. The 'mogwai' is still cute, and the film still has that feel of a comic-strip brought to life, but what really surprised me about the film, twenty years later, was the sophistication of the humour, the play of references and the effortless corporate satire that Dante and his screenwriter Charlie Haas weave into the narrative.
Here, the deconstruction of the genre is as sophisticated as Tarantino's in a film like Inglourious Basterds (2009), where every element of the plot, the casting, the music, the look and the thematic approach, is measured with a specific intent. Not just as "homage", but actually using these references (in a self-aware, self-deprecating acknowledgement of the film's limitations) as an attempt to satirise certain elements of the plot. Employing a barrage of quotations (from Chuck Jones and Frank Tashlin, to Roger Corman and Richard Lester), Dante and his collaborators create a pin-sharp lampoon of Hollywood "razzle-dazzle", merchandising, big business and cable television, as well as ripping into the conventional role of the sequel and even the more overt "Spielbergian" influences of Dante's original film.
As a director, Dante is perhaps one of the forgotten mavericks of 80s American cinema and his approach, a subversive take on Spielberg's the wonder of childhood/suburbia, filtered through a shameless love of B-movie innocence, Hammer Horror excess and pure exploitation, is perfectly suited to this, his most audacious and experimental film. Visually, Gremlins 2 is a dazzling tour-de-force of fourth-wall breaking sight-gags, genre references and pure Looney Tunes insanity, all captured with a comic-book style onslaught of canted angles, expressionist shadows and bold, almost psychedelic, 'Bava' like colours.