Movies with ladies in them (but that does not make them feminist).

While I am editing my numerous trip photos let’s talk about some movies I have seen recently, one movie in particular.  First of all, I finally saw the Oscar-nominated films Get Out and Call Me By Your Name, both of which were engrossing and I would recommend that you see them. No news there, everyone and their cat has been talking about how good those films are. Those are not the ones we’re going to discuss. No, my friend S. and I went to go see a double-feature at the Alamo Drafthouse as part of a series called “Witches, Sluts and Feminists.” Mainly movies with female leads where the females do not follow the assigned tropes of lady-dom. I heartily disagree with the curator’s definition of what a feminist movie is (more on that later) but the films definitely featured some XX chromosomes, that is true.

The first film was The Lure and it was… fine. I guess. It could have been great, it had the potential for greatness, but it was not. It’s a Polish drama / horror (but not really) film taking place in the 1980s where two mermaids come out of a lake and become songstresses in a nighclub and one falls in love with a human but the other one wants to eat him. See? There’s tension, there’s a plot in there somewhere… but it just isn’t anything. I felt nothing for any of the characters. The musical numbers need a thorough going-over by Lin-Manuel Miranda STAT because they were rough. The practical effects were lovely and the actors did their best but no. Just no.  Here’s the American poster and the original Polish poster. Do not be fooled by the dope graphic design. It’s a no from me, dawg.

The film that I want to delve into, the reason I went to the theater in the first place, is Belladonna of Sadness. Okay. Steel yourself. I knew nothing about this film until I read this description on the Alamo site (I highlighted the important bits in case you just want to skim):

One of the great lost masterpieces of Japanese animation, never before officially released in the U.S., Belladonna of Sadness is a mad, swirling, psychedelic light-show of medieval tarot-card imagery with horned demons, haunted forests and La Belle Dame Sans Merci, equal parts J.R.R. Tolkien and gorgeous, explicit Gustav Klimt-influenced eroticism. The last film in the adult-themed Animerama trilogy produced by the godfather of Japanese anime & manga, Osamu Tezuka and directed by his long time collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto (“Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion”), Belladonna unfolds as a series of spectacular still watercolor paintings that bleed and twist together. An innocent young woman, Jeanne is violently raped by the local lord on her wedding night. To take revenge, she makes a pact with the Devil himself who appears as an erotic sprite and transforms her into a black-robed vision of madness and desire.

Extremely transgressive and not for the easily offended, Belladonna is fueled by a mindblowing Japanese psych rock soundtrack by noted avant-garde jazz composer Masahiko Satoh. The film has been newly restored by Cinelicious Pics using the original 35mm camera negative and sound elements – and including over 8 minutes of surreal and explicit footage cut from the negative. On par with Rene Laloux’s Fantastic Planet and Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards as an LSD-stoked 1970s head trip, Belladonna marks a major rediscovery for animation fans. If Led Zeppelin had a favorite film, this would be it. In other words, Stairway to Hell. (In Japanese with English subtitles.)

I could not buy tickets fast enough. That sounds straight-up bananacakes and I didn’t care if it was good or bad or anything, I need to see whatever the hell is being described here. And now I have a bunch of thoughts. I don’t think I can spoil the movie or even do it justice but I will be describing certain aspects in detail so if you want to see it unspoiled don’t read the rest of this entry.

  • The illustrations of this film are beautiful. You can see very clearly where one artist did one scene and a different artist took on another. Each one incorporated their distinct style while still moving the story along. I wish more animated films were made this way. I loved that.

    I also enjoy that even though the story takes place in medieval Europe and is drawn by Japanese people the style is totally 1973. So many shots look like a sewing pattern from that time.
  • The music in Belladonna of Sadness, also really good. There’s a variety of different musical themes: sad folksy songs, creepy organ music, psychedelic saxophones, all manner. The soundtrack is great.
  • Even though the lead of the film, Jeanne, is female, this is in no way a feminist film. Not even close. It is glaringly apparent that this is taken from a heterosexual male perspective, my God. The strongest example: Jeanne, regardless of what horrors are being inflicted on her, is smokin’ hot all the time. And unnecessarily naked. Oh, the whole village is chasing her into the forest and calling her a witch? Have her clothes conveniently fall off. Make sure her exposed boobs are visible even in scenes where she’s having a genuine emotional moment. The film is so obviously written with a miasma of boner-mist over the whole thing, it’s non-stop and exhausting.
  • The amount of time Jeanne spends laying on the ground or being flung to the ground like a victim is ridiculous. I didn’t get all the screengrabs but here is a partial collection. There’s a ton more.
  • Another male viewpoint: The main way Jeanne feels sexual pleasure is being impaled on phallii. She craves it, she seeks it out, it’s her jam. I know this film came out in 1973 when female pleasure hadn’t been fully explored but armed with the knowledge we have now fifty years later, this seems very dated. At one point she is surrounded by butterflies made of dicks because why the hell not.
  • Maybe one of my favorite moments: Jeanne has sex with the devil and when she climaxes a flurry of Peter Max clipart explodes on the screen, including a file cabinet (?). I couldn’t stop thinking about the “1,2,3,4,5” animation from Sesame Street.
  • Warning: There’s an orgy. It’s a weird Hieronymus Bosch-esque orgy. Aside from the standard couplings there’s a snail and a clam, and I think there’s a goat, and someone’s male parts turn into a giraffe, and someone else’s hindquarters open up and bunnies hop out… it’s a lot. At one point I turned to S. and said, “I think I’ve been doing it wrong all this time because none of this happens to me.” She agreed.

Sooo, see this film? Or maybe don’t? I would see it again but I 100% understand if you don’t want to. Again, it’s a lot. Belladonna of Sadness is an excellent snapshot of an artistic period in both design and music for the early 1970s. That’s a plus. But there’s an upsetting rape scene. That’s a minus. It’s really up to you.

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