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Words by James Zarucky

At a 2011 Cannes International Film Festival press conference, organisers had to evict Melancholia director Lars von Trier after he admitted to sympathising with Hitler. It was not long after this scandal that von Trier began to tease the media with details of his next project.

Given the prankster persona that von Trier has cultivated over the years, many were unsure of how to greet the news that he intended to embark on a film titled Nymphomaniac, which would chart the epic sexual history of a single female character.

Fast-forward to 2014, and it’s now evident that von Trier was nothing less than sincere about his ambitious project. Nymphomaniac premiered at the Berlin Film Festival this year as a five-and-a-half hour uncut version. For its theatrical release, the film has been edited down to a somewhat less daunting pair of volumes, each two hours long.

The film opens as self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg; her younger self is portrayed by Stacy Martin) is found—beaten and abandoned in an alleyway—by a genial older man named Seligman (Stellen Staarsgard). After taking her back to his home, Seligman patiently listens to Joe as she outlines, over eight chapters, her many erotic adventures. While these adventures involve a parade of male conquests, one of the few recurring male figures in Joe’s life story is Jerome (Shia Le Bouf), with whom she has her first sexual encounter as a teenager.

The present day dialogue between Joe and Seligman acts as a bridging device between the film’s chapters, which range in tone from the brutal to the humorous. Common to all chapters, however, is a refusal to concede an inch in the unflinching depiction of Joe’s carnal escapades. This isn’t the first time that von Trier has shown unsimulated sex on screen, but the director takes things one step further in Nymphomaniac. Computer-generated imagery places films of the stars from the waist up onto films of body doubles, who were shot actually carrying out the act itself.

In spite of its sprawling nature, Nymphomaniac proves to be an engaging experience for its full four hours. Providing a much-needed counterpoint to the often gruelling nature of Joe’s stories are the humorous punctuations offered by Seligman’s pseudo-intellectual ramblings. And despite the explicit nature of the film, the breadth of thematic and narrative territory covered makes it clear that von Trier is aiming for something beyond mere provocation.

But exactly what that something might be is left wide open for endless speculation. Moreover, many would be forgiven for wanting to avoid an over-earnest academic analysis of the film—a phenomenon that Von Trier clearly mocks in the form of Staarsgard’s bookish interlocutor.

Nymphomaniac will undoubtedly go down as one of 2014’s most fiercely debated and critiqued cinema releases. This fact alone is justification enough to take a chance on von Trier’s latest incendiary contribution to the cultural conversation.

Nymphomaniac Official Trailer from Zentropa on Vimeo.

Words by James Zarucky

Comedians Geoff Wallis and Janet A. McLeod are the trash-movie buffs behind Cinema Fiasco, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival show presenting the absolute worst that film history has to offer.

For six years, the duo has been hosting screenings around Melbourne, providing live commentary to accompany the artless guilty pleasures on the big screen. As part of this year’s Comedy Festival, Wallis and McLeod are presenting a season of their show featuring screenings of legendary travesties including Beyond The Door and Houseboat Horror.

The premise behind Cinema Fiasco may be nothing short of a nightmare for some: handing a microphone to a pair of comedians as they riff their way through the entirety of a film. However, last week’s showing of Troll 2 proved to be an enjoyable experience, with the long-time friends providing a steady stream of amusingly camp and flippant observations on the film in question. It’s not as though you’re missing much anyway, given the atrociously poor quality of the titles selected. In fact, hosts Wallis and McLeod are of great assistance, pointing out some of the more ridiculous absurdities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed by the audience.

Cinema Fiasco already has an established cult following. Here’s hoping the Comedy Festival can help them grow that audience.

Cinema Fiasco is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at Cinema Nova on the first three Fridays in April.

Words by James Zarucky
Illustrations by Cameron Baker

Cinematic history is littered with fascinating tales of films that never saw the light of day, and  projects that started as one thing and morphed into something different by the time they were released. Many of these films suffered from a combination of poor financial judgement, the clashing of sizeable egos, and filmmakers stubbornly pursuing their vision at all costs. Here are just a few of the notable examples of films that experienced an interrupted gestation.

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Dune

In 1985, David Lynch succeeded in getting Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi text to cinemas. But fellow genius/madman Alejandro Jodorowsky had attempted to adapt Dune almost a decade earlier, a novel many considered unfilmable. The extensive pre-production and planning that Jodorowsky and his team of collaborators undertook is now the stuff of legends. Jodorowsky’s film would have been no less than a fourteen-hour feature, with a cast that included Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali, backed by Pink Floyd. Dali demanded to be paid $100,000 per hour for his role, a request that Jodorowsky intended to accommodate. He planned to film as much as he could of Dali within an hour, and commissioned designs for a robotic doppelgänger which would have replaced the artist in his other scenes.

Although producers panicked and pulled the plug when they realised that close to a third of their initial investment had already been spent in pre-production, the detailed concept designs and storyboards would go on to have an influence on later science fiction films such as Blade Runner, the Star Wars franchise, and Alien.

 

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Napoleon

British director Stanley Kubrick has been tied to a number of unrealised projects, but Napoleon stands as the most ambitious of his abandoned endeavours. It is well documented that he had something of an obsession with Napoleon Bonaparte. Kubrick claimed in a number of interviews to have read close to 500 books on the man’s life, and his research resulted in the compilation of 15,000 location photos and 17,000 slides of Napoleonic imagery.

When planning for the film, he reportedly managed to get the Romanian army on board to provide 50,000 soldiers to take part in the reconstruction of epic battles from the era. The intended cast would have consisted of David Hemming and Audrey Hepburn in the lead roles, with Alec Guinness and Laurence Olivier as support. In 1970 another Napoleon film, Waterloo, was released and studios decided that Kubrick’s vision was too much of a financial risk.

Kubrick continued to talk about making the film as late as the early 1980s, and since his death, directors including Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg have been attached to projects based around Kubrick’s screenplay.

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Ghostbusters 3

The recent passing of American comedy legend Harold Ramis has drawn attention to the long-promised second Ghostbusters sequel that has been in development since the 1990s.

Numerous theories have been floated as to what approach this film would take. The most credible indication was given by Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, who suggeste the focus would shift to a younger group of characters. Undoubtedly this would have been driven by Bill Murray’s continued refusal to take part, having previously expressed his general dislike of sequels.

At the time of writing, Ghostbusters 3 is yet to have moved beyond the script development stage, with reports appearing that rewrites are in the works following Ramis’ death. Actors Emma Stone and Jonah Hill have been linked to the film at various times, but at this stage no definitive casting decisions have been announced.

 

 

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The Day The Clown Died

Comedian Jerry Lewis decided in the 1970s that he wanted to be taken seriously as an auteur. Naturally, he thought the best way to achieve this was to make a drama about a Jewish clown forced to lead children into the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Lewis opted to finance the film out of his own pocket after other sources of funding dried up. A number of disputes between the principal creative and producer teams led to the completed film never being released to the public, with Lewis reportedly personally keeping a finished cut under lock and key. This hasn’t prevented the film becoming something of an intense source of interest for cinema historians and fans alike, with much attention surrounding the drip feed of excerpts, images and details about its production. Lewis himself has generally refused to comment when asked about it in interviews and public appearances.

 

 

 

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Batman: Year One

It’s easy to forget that there was an eight-year gap between Christopher Nolan’s revival of the caped crusader and the debacle that was Batman and Robin. Director Joel Schumacher’s second Batman film was initially a hit at the box office, but triggered a vicious critical backlash that saw Warner Bros place a prosperous franchise on hiatus.

Although Batman may have been absent from cinema screens, studio executives considered a number of potential opportunities to reboot the series in the intervening period. Perhaps the most interesting project of note was Batman: Year One. This would have been an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, directed by none other than Darren Aronofsky, known for his work on The Wrestler, Black Swan and the upcoming Noah. If finished this might have been the darkest adaptation of the Batman mythology to ever reach the big screen. Bruce Wayne was to be depicted as a disturbed youth who became a costumed vigilante as a way of coping with the murder of his parents. Alfred was not a butler, but an African-American mechanic who took Wayne in as a young street urchin. Unsurprisingly, Warner Bros baulked at the bleak direction the project was heading in, and opted to consider other alternatives.

 

 

 

Words by James Zarucky

Upon its release, The Wind Rises was initially marketed as legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s final feature, the swan song to a remarkable career overseeing some of the most iconic animations of all time. As many would be aware, this wasn’t the first retirement announcement by Miyazaki, the founder of the venerable Studio Ghibli. However, at the time of writing it is looking increasingly unlikely that he won’t be stepping back from an active involvement with the animation company any time soon.

Should it indeed turn out to be his last directorial effort, The Wind Rises serves as a graceful coda to Miyazaki’s formidable body of work. The film is a fictionalised biography of Jiro Horikoshi, an engineer responsible for designing aircrafts that were used by Japan during World War II. Though Horikoshi didn’t possess the nationalistic zeal of his colleagues, his desire for technological innovation meant that his designs were of great interest to military commanders. The protagonist’s ambivalence towards the deployment of his inventions reflects broader tensions which emerged within Japanese society during WWII and in its aftermath.

As a nation which has always been at the cutting edge of technological development, Japan has often had to grapple with the moral dichotomy brought about by its ability to produce machines capable of inflicting great devastation against its tendency towards strategic pacifism in the post-war period. While just as stylistically breezy and light in tone as many of Miyazaki’s previous Studio Ghibli features, the film has been received somewhat controversially in Japan due to its subject matter, as the nation is in the midst of revising long held policies which place limitations on the size and scope of its defence capabilities.

Many will be tempted to view this film as a companion piece to Grave of The Fireflies, Isao Takahata’s 1988  exploration of Japan’s involvement in WWII (also produced by Studio Ghibli). Such an attitude, however, would overlook the fact that this film doesn’t quite reach the same level of emotional gravitas. Its approach is arguably a bit too much on the reflective side, but there is still much pleasure to be found in the beauty of the animation and accompanying musical score. Though it probably won’t be placed in the upper echelons of the Studio Ghibli canon, The Wind Rises should nevertheless be a welcome treat for anime fans.