avant-garde

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Shudder Exclusive: Kuso-The Anti La-La Land

Published July 25, 2017 by rmpixie

Kuso (2017, 1 hr, 45 mins.)

 

A forest sparkling with fairy dust, it’s woodland floor peppered with what can only be called anus mounds; psychedelic collages of body parts flashing before your eye to an electronic beat; poxy-faced characters in absurd and disturbing circumstances as they struggle through the literal muck of life. That muck, which at first looks like your garden variety sludge, is actually made up of the complexity and randomness of everyday drudgery. All of this can be found wrapped in a psychedelic, comedy/horror package of interconnected segments in the Shudder Exclusive of Kuso, directed by DJ and artistic virtuoso, Flying Lotus aka Steve Ellison.

Kuso opens with a spoken word chorus, or “news pirate” (Regan Farquhar aka Busdriver) hijacking a news report of an earthquake that has hit Los Angeles, and carries on to various TV spots showing the aftereffects of this seismic event on a motley crew of characters. In Royal, a young man partakes in erotic asphyxiation administered by his loving sister who has a secret. Then we have Smear, with a bullied boy whose mother forces him to eat horrific meals. He is ridiculed in school because of his intestinal discomfort and when he runs away, comes across a magical forest with a feces hungry anus-like creature. There is a woman in a subterranean hell as she searches for her baby in Sock, and finally Mr. Quiggle takes us on a journey of another woman who deals with her dating dilemma and her “trans-dimensional” monster roommates, and a man who seeks radical treatment for his fear of breasts.

What we have here is, to me, a nightmarish commentary on the current social and political climate. The reviews have not been overly receptive to the film, citing the over-the-top gross-out scenarios as too obvious or beyond the reach of comprehension. They have also compared the film to the works of David Lynch and David Cronenberg, which makes sense with the bizarre subject matter and body horror. I beg to differ with these reviews for the most part however, because as a person of colour, I see it as a psychedelic, avant-garde and horrific approach to life as a marginalized person.

Avant-garde film, music and comedy is often seen as a white endeavour, but one only has to remember the epitome of avant-garde art, Jean-Michel Basquiat; the afro-futurist movement with Parliament-Funkadelic’s George Clinton (who plays “Dr. Clinton” with his bowel motivated treatments); the cyber-punk gore fests of Japanese horror; the musical DNA from Flying Lotus’s grand-uncle legendary saxophonist John Coltrane; and the decades of spoken word poetry based in the bebop/hip-hop arena to realize this is untrue. Snobbery would consider the latter to be merely a symptom of the “urban” experience with popular music and art of today, but dig deeper and you’ll find modern observations on life as a marginalized or Black person in continually trying times, like the thought-provoking news pirate chorus at the start and end of the film. This is why the Black director and cast composed of mostly people of colour is so important. It shows that we too have a sensibility for the avant-garde, perhaps even more so since some of our real-life experiences can be surreal and literal representations in modern film can often be too painful to watch.

Each sore-riddled character in the vignettes lives on the fringe of society in their filthy abodes. They are the antithesis of the meet-cute, rom-com story, the absent father tearjerker or the mild-mannered guy overcoming his fears. Dialogue in the film mimics formulaic scripts like the intimate, after-sex talk between lovers or the awkward comedy between strangers that just may become friends, and characters sport grotesque skin eruptions instead of picture perfect skin, making the film an abomination of the squeaky-clean Hollywood crank that the masses are addicted to or sick of. That this earthquake takes place in L.A. isn’t unusual, in fact, it is most telling as this is the very place that ideals of how we should live are created even though many a civil unrest has taken place there. In the current climate where racial tensions and turmoil are coming to a head, the earthquake has pushed the build-up of all the white-washing and cover-ups to the surface, spewing forth the discontent, anxieties, fears and truths of the ignored and gagged masses, much like the pus, semen and feces that bubbles from Kuso’s characters.

Although we are now in the internet age, the use of television is so important in this film. One story leads to another from endless screens of all-seeing eyes in each household, illustrating how TV has become a part of everyday life, an extension of ourselves; guiding us in what we should be doing or consuming and feeding us edited and suspect news stories. It is still one of the most powerful electronic mediums in society today as Marshal McLuhan once prolifically predicted, and Hollywood has always been the defining force in what we consume, being the makers of the messages sent through these electronic mediums. When that message is continually manipulated, distorted and upended in no uncertain terms, we must reprocess what is shown to us, which is what Kuso attempts to do.

Incest and general foulness aside, I have only two issues with Kuso. One is with the Mr. Quiggle segment involving the woman “B” (rapper The Buttress) who realizes she’s pregnant and is treated like trash by her two furry TV screen faced roommates played by Hannibal Buress and Donnell Rawlings. These fantastical creatures whip excrement at her and belittle her every chance they get. While her exchanges with them are meant to be comedic, there is an underlying misogyny that can’t be missed as well as the suggestion that she has been date raped by her stalker Phil, played by comedian Tim Hiedecker. His usual Adult Swim-Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! blank-faced delivery gave this story a more disturbing turn even though “B” brushes the incident off. She is also questioned about her decision to get an abortion at the Coathanger Clinic by Manuel (Zack Fox), even thought she says that it’s her body and her right. While she is tough and holds her own with her male counterparts and her stalker does get his comeuppance, it’s a hard reminder of the struggles women endure in the real and surreal comic book world.

The other is a sign spotted in the Coathanger Clinic “B” and Manuel visit, advertising a vaccine for “N*ggapox” with a smiling white face. I will go on record to say that I will never, ever get used to hearing the “N” word, even if it’s used between Blacks and in almost every hip-hop song and Tarantino film out there, but this sign in the clinic made me stop for a moment. It seemed to be a joke, but I wondered if a deeper meaning could imply removing Blackness from society; inoculating us from the Black struggle so we can all live in oblivion and denial, or even removing it from whites who have, perhaps according to their peers, become too ingrained and involved with Black culture. I could be over thinking it, but the few gasps I heard from the mostly white audience at the screening when the camera focused on that sign gave me pause.

There is also a strong pornography element throughout the film, from flashing imagery and TV commercials to full on ejaculate, and even a cameo from porn actor Lexington Steele. Flying Lotus was interviewed by the Guardian, and he mentioned growing up in the San Fernando Valley, where he says “all the porn comes from”, making it a sort of background din for him. He manages to create this feeling of overconsumption with clips of body part collages made of magazines cut-outs undulating to catchy electronic beats that is seamlessly erotic, surreal and absurd at the same time. It desensitizes the viewer at some point, much like the constant battery of airbrushed and perfected bodies plastered before us on a daily basis.

One of the “trans-dimensional” tv monsters in Mr. Quiggle critiques a bizarre porn movie he watches stating that it was “exploitive and sexist though artful”. This along with other statements from the cast like, “I fucking hate this movie!”, is almost a foreshadowing or a mocking of what critics would think once the film was released, and Flying Lotus wasn’t wrong. While some may focus on and denounce the obvious gross-out splatter of Kuso (which is apparently a Japanese word for “shit”) that made people walk out of the 2017 Sundance screening, I challenge viewers to go a little deeper with the insanity. There might be arguments for or against this film as art, and it’s certainly not perfect and will definitely offend with themes of rape, incest and over-the-top sexual content, but it will show you life’s uglier side through fresh eyes, eyes that tire of the La-La Land universe of denial and white-wash.  I caught Kuso at a limited screening recently in Toronto, but you can now see the real dirt streaming (sorry!) exclusively on Shudder.

 

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Face Off Season 8 Episode 8: Stylish and Deadly in the World of Clive Barker

Published March 4, 2015 by rmpixie

This episode had me champing at the bit when I heard about the inspiration.  The artists headed to the historic Sunset Strip club, the Whisky-a-Go-Go, where bands like The Doors, The Sex Pistols, and The Ramones have played.  It was there that McKenzie revealed their next challenge, inspired by the legendary Clive Barker!!!  She told them that he redefined the silent and destructive iconic horror villain like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers by making a stylish, eloquent and elegant one in Pinhead. He sent them a video message where he told them that he went to punk clubs for inspiration to create demons and wanted to see something different from the artists; to marry cutting edge fashion and images that are startling and terrifying.

I remember reading Clive Barker novels as a teenager, and marvelling at the richness of his worlds.  Hellraiser remains one of my top five horror movies, and Pinhead is so iconic he is known around the world.  I actually have my own Lemarchand’s Box (it sits next to my golden Dalek).  I couldn’t wait to see what the contestants came up with!

The artists were to choose from several models wearing avant-garde outfits to create a stylish and intelligent horror villain.  The models stayed with them as they designed their concepts, and the guest judge on the reveal stage would be the V.P. of Seraphim Films, Clive Barker’s production company, Mark Alan Miller.

Emily chose the model with a feather vest and gold chain mail skirt.  She created a fallen angel cursed with a cage on his head.  She was inspired by old school string art to create a really cool cage effect on the character’s large triangular head.  That string cage, or webbing as she called it, started to fall apart when she applied it to the model, so in a split second decision, she added feathers instead.   Her villain was really cool with a great iridescent paint job.  The judges liked the paint too, and Ve loved the silhouette.  Neville thought it was iconic and memorable, and even though it didn’t fit the Clive Barker world to Mark Alan, he thought it was extraordinary.  She was in top looks.

Stephanie hit a major road block this episode.  The purple cape, gold dress and golden dangling accessories could not inspire a concept, and Coach Laura tried to help her hash it out.  Mr. Westmore even gave her some suggestions, like adding hooks in the character’s skin and encouraged her to “go for it”.  She was really embarrassed that she had nothing to show him, and frustrated to tears, deciding to just work out the concept the first day and sculpt on the next.  She came up with a seer that had peeling skin and a partially destroyed face, but had to sculpt and mold in one day.  She was really behind and painted with different techniques furiously to hide some lifting around the eyes.  She could only hope to be safe.  The judges thought her sculpt was non-specific and not conducive to the model’s face because she didn’t incorporate her nose and jaw line.  Because her concept was compromised by indecision, she was in the bottom.

Ben’s model wore a silver tutu, a black leather corset and stark white jacket.  He decided to create a demonic fetish model with a black leather corset skull-cap.  He took a lot of time sculpting his cowl, and he ended up being behind with his painting.  He would have to do a beauty makeup in last looks.  His character was really unique.  She had a truly avant-garde, minimalistic look.  The judges loved that the shapes tied into the wardrobe, especially the leather skull, which I thought was super clean-looking.  You could tell he really perfected that detail.  Mark Alan liked the story and the corrupted porcelain doll look, and Glenn loved the head detail and felt it was a brilliant and daring combo.  He was in top looks.

Darla took on a demon.  I really like her, and she has obvious talent, but I think she is losing her stride.  Her character wore a motorcycle inspired leather jacket and pants, so she went with a post-apocalyptic look.  She had a stretched out skin concept that didn’t work, so Coach Laura helped her with that.  The judges thought the character looked like an alien, and I thought the paint was a little flat but she was safe.  I’m glad because I know she can do something amazing-she just needs a boost.

Jamie had a model in a leather and mesh outfit with a whip and created a scorned, black widow type character who lured and killed men.  Coach Anthony helped her with the sculpt to make it more in tune with the Clive Barker universe, and hash out some spider details.  He was worried about the skin texture looking too realistic, and her painting went south when she had trouble matching tones.  The end result was a flat paint job, and the judges noticed it too.  Ve thought it didn’t look like skin, and that it was more alien and less Clive Barker.  Neville thought it looked like a Klingon or Borg character, and the mouth and chin looked like it was melted wax.  She was in the bottom.

Julian’s model wore a gold studded tuxedo-like jacket, an intricate amulet and carried a scythe.  His character would be a demon that killed those who wore the cursed amulet.  Mr. Westmore suggested he sculpt something into the head so that it read more horror than human, so he paid attention to the critique and created a second mouth running along the top of the demon’s head.  He took his time with his sculpt as well, ready to risk time for perfection.  Julian put in black mesh in the eye area of his face piece to hide the model’s eyes, and his character impressed the judges.  Glenn thought it worked within the Barker world and Ve gave it a 15 1/2 out of 10 for creepiness.  Mark Alan liked the jaw line, and Neville thought it was good, but not next generation Clive Barker (I agreed).  Because his character was terrifying up close, sophisticated and intelligent, Julian was in top looks.

Adam created a resurrected South American goddess who killed by gilding her victims.  her outfit was gold, orange and very regal looking.  He had a large cowl in 2 pieces so he took his time molding it, only to have it crack.  He used plumber’s epoxy to fix it, and thankfully, it came out well.  With Coach Rayce’s help, his goddess looked great on the reveal stage.  The judges thought it was original, and would have liked to have seen more gold highlights, but he was safe.

Kelly worked on a vivid green mermaid dress with her model.  Her concept was a woman obsessed with plastic surgery who cut herself, and had a mask to cover the damage.  Mr. Westmore suggested blood dripping from the mouth, and she also created a futuristic surgical fetish mask from vaccuform.  She ran into a problem when her face prosthetic had a bad second skin, making it look shredded, but Coach Anthony told her to go with it as it could work with the character’s mutilation.  It turned out really well, with a bloody, creepy mess of a woman.  The judges thought she was disgusting and sexy.  Mark Alan thought it was sex and violence, and could see the character in an upcoming Clive Barker comic anthology.  The mask was avant-garde, and Ve liked that it was disturbing and the contrasting colours of her red hair and green dress.  She was in the top looks for the story of her perfectly suited character to the challenge.

Working with a quilted vest that looked like a cobra’s hood, Logan created a snake charmer who was a killer immune to snake venom.  He put grids on the character’s arms to catalogue the venoms.  He used a wax based clay to create the sculpt for the arms, and started with the arm application because it was very delicate.  He wanted a sickly look for the “charmer”, and he succeeded.  It was a cool character, and the judges liked how he handled the cheekbones.  He was safe.

The winner was Ben.  His character incorporated pleasure and pain, grace and the grotesque and used a high concept with high fashion.  She was what the challenge asked for:  a glimpse into a future world of Clive Barker.  The person going home was Jamie.  She couldn’t pull her ideas together this week.  I was so bummed because I liked her and hoped she would come up and slay with her talents.  I know she will go on to do well in the industry especially because of her great talent and calm attitude.

Team Tally:

Team Laura:  Darla, Julian, Emily and Stephanie

Team Rayce:  Adam and Logan

Team Anthony:  Kelly and Ben

 

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