Movie Review: Incarnation
Incarnation is the second DVD compilation put out by Montreal’s avant-garde screening series Cinema Abattoir, which is run by Pierre-Luc Vaillancourt. The first compilation was L’erotisme and, while both DVDs share many of the same filmmakers, I don’t want to spend too much time comparing the two discs to each other and rather just write about Incarnation as it stands on its own. All I’ll say is that the new disc is an extremely worthy follow-up to the mind-blowing L’erotisme and cements Abattoir’s reputation as the modern premiere purveyor of transgressive cinema.
Cinema Abattoir defines the theme of Incarnation as “transcendental meditative and contemplative short films.” Now, meditation is normally a method of concentration to put oneself into a relaxed and focused frame of mind. And it’s true many of the films here have a certain repetitive and droning quality to them that resemble a trance-like state, but replace the peaceful Buddhist chant of “Om” performed during traditional meditation with the image of a woman blowing blood out of her ass and you’ll realize this DVD is taking us somewhere opposite our inner nirvana.
Of course, not all of the films are as extreme as that, but most of them do explore different levels of discomfort and/or extreme behavior and emotions. The individual film reviews below are in the order they appear on the disc:
Les Souffrances d’un Oeuf Meurtri, dir. Roland Lethem. Most of the films on Incarnation were produced within the past eight years, with the exception of Lethem’s film, which was made in 1967. It is a film in the classic “underground” sense combining a bunch of different styles of the time as its broken up into four very disparate, but thematically similar, segments. The first segment is in the popular “trance” style of avant-garde film that had fallen out of popularity by ’67, so I would guess the story of a man having an erotic oral encounter with a starfish is either an homage to “trance” or was actually filmed years earlier. The other three segments have a more modern (for the period) edge, utilizing superimposition effects, color manipulation, gratuitous nudity and gross-out shocks, such as a naked woman having her vagina covered in maggots or a man bleeding out his eyes onto a raw egg that he eats. It’s very much a film of the ’60s, but the combination of classic techniques and progressive visuals make it a very nice unearthed find from a Belgian filmmaker who is still working today, but whom i can find very little info about on the web.
Catharsis, dirs. Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Cattet and Forzani are two of the filmmakers who had a film (La Fin de Notre Amour) on L’erotisme and this new one is in the same style: most of the action unfolds through a series of dramatically-lighted, intensely-colored still pictures. The film is also quite gory as a man enjoys several different methods of eviscerating a naked version of himself, including a traditional multiple stabbing and a drill to the head. Catharsis could also be classified under the classic “trance” style of underground filmmaking since the main character — the naked version — wanders with a somnambulist’s gait in repetitive shots to meet his tragic fate. He is unable to escape his violent self and avoid being churned up in a meat grinder.
Pandrogeny Manifesto, dirs. Aldo Lee and Dionysos Andronis. This film is basically just dueling images of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and his wife Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge as they recite their manifesto on the subject of the melding of the sexes. The P-Orridges had been undergoing surgical procedures to look alike so that they could be considered one being. Sadly, however, Lady Jaye passed away last year, but at least there’s this document recording what they were attempting to achieve. The manifesto reading is fine and Genesis and Lady Jaye are a joy to listen to, but my mind ended up wondering about what the details of their surgeries might actually be while watching the images flip flop back and forth between them rather than focusing on the philosophical underpinnings of the process. But I tend to lean toward the technical aspect of things.
Theocordis, dir. Serge de Cotret. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what Theocordis is due to its highly abstract images. Most of it is religious iconography — you can make out some paintings of Jesus and one of those burning hearts with the crown of thorns around it — but to liven things up, de Cotret throws in some pictures of a naked chick. But it’s hard to see anything due to the level of static superimposed over the entire film. And, also honestly, the film seems like a good representation of what going to mass is like. There’s some religious stuff, but you don’t really remember the sermon or the readings afterwards, and sometimes your mind wanders and you think about naked women for some reason when you know you really, really shouldn’t be doing it exactly then, but you can’t stop yourself — Or, is that just me?
Pantelia, dir. Micki Pellerano. This film is subtitled “Meditations on the Number Ten” and we get some scientific and philosophical mumbo jumbo that equates multiples of ten with approaching godlike significance. We are told “Pantelia” is the highest pinnacle of tens that can be reached, which I can’t figure out if this is something Pellerano has invented for the film or if he dug it up from somewhere. However, the British chick reading the textbook style narration is quite convincing, so I’ll just believe it is true. Meanwhile, all of this is told to us over old faded yellow religious and scientific images and educational films. It’s all presented quite sincerely and is quite fascinating.
Pinhole Flames, dir. Amy Schwartz. Now, I’m assuming Schwartz’s film is exactly what the title says it is: images of flames made via a pinhole camera. The colors are bold and flickering while what sounds like a gas leak booms on the soundtrack. This is probably the film on Incarnation that is most likely useful for assisting in productive meditation.
Burn, dirs. Reynold Reynolds and Patrick Jolley. This is an excellent companion piece to Reynolds and Jolley’s previous film The Drowning Room, which I fell in love with at the 2000 New York Underground Film Festival. While the first film took place in an underwater room, all of Burn takes place in a slowly smoldering house. This new work was shot — or at least projected — entirely in slow motion, which I guess shows off the flames on film better, but it also heightens the tension of the overall film. Really not much happens. While fire burns on the floor, the walls and the furniture, a couple go about their regular business in the living room, but having to take the time out to swat the flames out with a newspaper. The best effect happens, though, when a man lights a bed on fire while a pretty girl sleeps peacefully under the covers. When her comforter becomes a sheet of white hot death, I really started to wonder how Reynolds and Jolley shot this particular scene. The girl just sleeps and we don’t see her burn up, but it’s still quite horrifying to watch. I found the tension created by wondering if these people were actually all going to burn to death quite unbearable. Makes me wish I could watch The Drowning Room again.
Western Sunburn, dir. Karl Lemieux. Fire rears its ugly head for a third time in Lemieux’s film, but only in a minimal way. The filmmaker has taken some old movie footage from some Western film, most of which is washed out and scratched, but some of it bubbles and burns as if segments of it have hit the projection bulb. However, the real effect is that since the film scenes look like they were shot in the desert, it feels as if the searing, unforgiving sun that these cowboys, indians, cows and horses had to work under was so intensely hot it caused the film stock to melt.
Convulsion Expulsion, dir. Usama Alshaibi. As I said, I’ve tried not to compare Incarnation to L’erotisme too much, but I have to point out that once again Alshaibi provides the most outrageous, over-the-top film to this collection as he did to the first one. Also again, what we get is a filmed performance piece starring Alshaibi’s wife, Kristie Alshaibi, who goes by the name Echoplasm here. This alter ego is a naked, white painted, bandage-wrapped nightmare vision who convulses until blood spews from her every orifice. It starts with a thick syrupy-paste drooling out of her mouth to a geyser erupting out of her butt, in a scary special effect that I think is the only one I’m not sure I want to know how they did it. But, it’s hypnotically spooky and, in some ways, oddly pretty to watch.