The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears - Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani
The Fake - Yeon Sang-Ho
Herblock: The Black & The White - Michael Stevens
The Unknown Known - Errol Morris
Moebius - Kim Ki-Duk
R100 - Hitoshi Matsumoto
My Dog Killer - Mira Fornay
The Green Inferno - Eli Roth
Nothing Bad Can Happen - Katrin Gebbe
Harmony Lessons - Emir Baigazin
If you'll recall, the first Thor film stirred up controversy by casting Idris Elba, a black man, as the character of Heimdall, the door man to Asgard -- not because the first black Asgardian is a door man, but only because Norse Gods are Aryan and thus presumed to be white. (I doubt it would've been the white power advocates objecting had Jarvis been made a black man, rather than A.I., in The Avengers and Iron Man.) The sequel, The Dark World, defiantly expands his role, having a lot more people, gods and various mythical beings enter Asgard, thereby keeping Helmdall busier than if he worked for a hotel in a 30s screwball comedy. The filmmakers also give the racist complainers even more whatfor by casting a lot of the Asgardian warriors as black (and one Japanese). See all those black dudes punching something or other in the background, or kneeling to the greatest of all Asgardians, Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth, a white man), after he proves his mettle in battle? I can imagine the decision made at the meeting: "this will really fuck with those white power assholes!" This is post-racial Hollywood, so I guess it doesn't matter that the servant is still black, just like Rochester, and the master who, like Mr. Benny, makes all the major decisions, is still blue-eyed and white. Perhaps simply applying black faces onto white mythology isn't the best approach to solving problems in representation.
The Dark World does actually bring up an interesting problem about representation in fantasy on film (sigh, DCP). One of the main evil dark elves, Akrim (the second in command), is played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, a black man. Keeping with the film's racial sensitivity, he's the first major character to sacrifice himself for the cause. He doesn't exactly die, but instead transforms into a giant mutant elf, Kurse, with the actor subsequently completely covered in prosthetics and, I suspect, often rendered digitally (at least, in the battles). My question is does he still count as black representation? Too bad for the actual actor, but the answer seems to be 'yes,' since (1) in the fictional narrative of a novel, simply assigning a character as black (like Rue in Hunger Games) is enough to make them black, (2) a black character in a cartoon is an example of black representation (Green Lantern in Justice League), so why not this digital creation who clearly starts off as a black man? and, relatedly, (3) if the digital creation Gollum continues to be white, because of who he was as Sméagol, a white hobbit, the same rationale applies to the black elf becoming a mutant. (Not that any of this was probably thought about during the production of this movie.)
It should no longer be necessary to defend Richard Fleischer's Mandingo, not after the eloquent and thorough defenses proffered by Andrew Britton and Robin Wood. Anyone who dismisses the film as exploitative trash hasn't read their essays. I say read them if in doubt about its substance. What's interesting to me about the film here is the great amount of narrative overlap it shares with the current slavery epic, Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave: the brutal whippings, the race-horse inspection of prospective slaves, a castrated slave uprising, the decimation of black families by separating children from their parents across plantations, enforced illiteracy, hangings, the demeaning and ambivalent status of the house negro, the rape of a young slave girl by her master and the subsequent jealousy and violent reprisal from his wife, who is herself much abused. The latter film even suggests a Mandingo-type vengeful desire on the part of the plantation mistress, Epps, towards a slave, Solomon Northrup, through a couple of closeups (one occurs as Solomon hangs from a tree). This desire is much more than mere suggestion in Mandingo, of couse (cf. poster below), but it's the master-slave sexual attraction that's always served as the locus classicus for the dismissive reading of the film as mere exploitation.
Despite these many commonalities, 12 Years a Slave is being celebrated as a primary Oscar contender and demanding of serious respect by the majority of critics writing about it. It's a decent film, but doesn't say anything more than Mandingo did. Indeed, it says (or attempts to say) a good deal less, since Mandingo was much more concerned with exploring the structural relations of slavery to other features of American life, particularly sexual politics (as both Britton and Wood detail, the purpose of women and children are linked with that of the slave, devices by which the system ensured the spread of capital through space and time, i.e., the plantation and its generations of familial owners). Ownership of others is endemic to the country's development, not an evil otherness that can be put to the side as something we now reject. And that structural concern has a lot to do with why Mandingo has been largely rejected as exploitation, but the psychological analysis of 12 Years a Slave is celebrated. The latter mostly puts the model viewer into the place of the slave, Solomon, which is a morally comfortable place to be: owning others as property is something someone else would do, I (the model viewer) am on the side of the oppressed. Slavery is almost entirely subjective in the film. Mandingo, as "exploitation" tends to do, has the viewer principally identify with the morally compromised position, that of the slaver Ham, who both partakes in and guiltily rejects the advantages of his position. There is no Schindler's List sort of redemption awaiting audience identification with him. His position in the peculiar institution, although inherited, implicates all of his choices, even when he's attempting some bit of kindness as he sees it. By aligning the film with his point of view, the institution isn't pure otherness and we aren't allowed to run away from it. All actions are read through the evil of slavery.
Just watched this on blu-ray. As Martin Scorsese says in his introduction, Pursued is known as the first Western Noir. That's because it features cinematography by James Wong Howe, one of the best at conveying the menace of the big city through its shadows (cf. Sweet Smell of Success), and here he treats the alleys (or, maybe, just alley) of the small town in New Mexico as if it were every bit as dangerous as New York's hidden arteries. He even gets claustrophobic configurations off of barns in the middle of the day. Contemporary Westerners could learn a thing or two from him, too, about how to shoot a man on a horse: counter the heroic three-quarter shots with ones of his reduced significance against an infinite landscape. Another noirish characteristic is Robert Mitchum, as Jeb Rand, narrating the movie through a diddly-diddly flashback as if everything's preordained (cf. Out of the Past) with his present situation the only possible world. Along with the flashback comes a lot of Freudian-inspired psychosexual plot twists that were really popular among scenarists of the time. 'Solid' is as good a word as any to describe director Raoul Walsh, so it's the sexual suggestions that make the film into something a bit more special (which I'm guessing came from Nevin Busch's script). His matter-of-fact style adds to the perversity, whereby all the questionable emotional entanglements seem commonplace.
After losing his family to a blood feud with the Callums, Jeb is taken in at a very early age by Mrs. Callum, who raises the boy as a son. She has two children around the same age as Jeb, daughter Thor (short for Thorley) and son Adam. Jeb's only memory of life as a Rand is that he keeps his name and has a recurring nightmare of a spurred boot heel grinding into the ground. Everything else is repressed, but that doesn't matter to the one-armed stranger, Grant Callum, whose only goal in life is to erase the name Rand from existence. Along with occasionally taking a shot himself, Grant acts as a slick talking demiurge, convincing others to help him kill Jeb -- one of whom is Adam. Not that this was particularly difficult, since the selfish prick has held a long simmering animosity against Jeb whom he sees as an intruder. What his adopted brother intruded on was the two-way relation with Thor. These three kids are raised in a ranch version of Flowers in the Attic with few contacts but each other and Mrs. Callum. Leaving Adam a third wheel, Thor and Jeb eventually fall in love and decide to get hitched -- as if one can freely choose to no longer see one's sibling as a sibling. To reinforce this incestuous theme, it's revealed that the reason Grant hates Jeb so much is that the boy's father stole Mrs. Callum away from Grant's brother (Adam and Thor's father) ... that's right, just like Jeb stole Thor away from her brother. Furthermore, the narrative never makes it clear who the boy's biological mother is or when Mrs. Callum's affair took place and how long it lasted. All we know is that Grant sure wants to get rid of the Rand boy. Maybe he would've been doing Thor's future children a favor, but we'll never know for sure due to the sibling union being treated with the Production Code's mandated happy ever after.