Friday, March 9, 2007

Bachelor Nights

The other night I went to a lecture and book signing at the Cooper Union. Ken Alder discussed his The Lie Detectors: The History of An American Obsession. The US is the only country that uses this device, even although our courts don’t accept it. Alder isn’t so much interested in whether the thing works (a debatable proposition) as to why we put so much faith into it; he rightly calls it a placebo, and situates it in our “poker society,” where everything, including justice, is a negotiation, a bluff.

I’ll be spending some time at BAM this month. They are showing Shohei Imamura’s films. He tore a hole in the staid, beautiful, formal world of Ozu, Mizoguchi, and their like (films which I love, btw), with his violent, messy, bizarre, erotic, cynical, and damning view. Makes sense, of course, since he came on after World War II and all its dislocations and horrors. Yesterday I saw Vengeance is Mine. This broke my “no serial killer movies” rule (my other movie rule: “no foreign films with pre-adolescents”; there hasn’t been an unsentimental one since The Bicycle Thief). Glad I did, since I wouldn’t call VIM a serial killer movie (the BAM calendar described it so). True, it’s about someone who kills five people, but it’s completely unlike the Hollywood variations.

There’s an amazing scene where the killer starts to ascend a stairwell, following the last of his victims. As he rises, someone comes through the ground floor doorframe. It’s a woman, first just a silhouette, who turns out to be the killer’s mother. She looks into the empty room the killer just left, and sees her husband, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren gathered around the dinner table. They live in a completely different city. Then it cuts to the family’s POV, seeing the mother looking through the screen. They usher her in; she’s come home from the hospital to die. It’s very a striking and uncanny, playing with the confinement and sliding screens of Japanese domestic architecture, “cutting” within the scene itself, in camera.

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