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Town and Country (and some links)

June 1, 2009

VideoVista have my review of Daihachi Yoshida’s Funuke : Show Some Love, You Losers!.

They also have my review of Compton Bennett’s The Seventh Veil.

Funuke is by no means a perfect film but it does shed quite an interesting cultural light on one of my favourite social dichotomies.  A dichotomy I have also been discussing over at THE DRIFT.

It was particularly interesting to watch Funuke so soon after I saw Tetsuya Nakashima’s Kamikaze Girls as both films deal with a schism in Japanese Culture between the cool and the uncool and the urban and the rural.  In Kamikaze Girls, the protagonist dresses in the Lolita fashion, much to the incomprehension of her neighbours.  In Funuke, the oldest sister runs off to Tokyo to learn to be one of those actress/model/singer hybrids that the Japanese call idols.

What I find fascinating about both films is that neither of them displays even a hint of doubt when depicting the rural poor as a bunch of in-bred, moronic pig-fuckers whose complete lack of knowledge or understanding of popular culture rightly makes them outsiders and maginals fit only to be laughed at.  These people are have-nots both in an economic sense and a cultural sense.  They are ‘Provincial’.

The term ‘provincial is an interesting one.  Its origins lie in the concept of Roman provinces which were areas of the Roman Empire governed by Magistrates on behalf of the central Government.  This suggests a very top-down vision not only of political power but also of culture.  The English word ‘provincial’ comes from the French and the French still use the word ‘province’ to designate parts of France that are outside of Paris.  So to use the word ‘provincial’ is to accept the existence of a more central and superior culture to the one being described.

Film Poster

Film Poster

This attitude is one of the central concepts of the Horror genre.  One literary critic once described the genre as being primarily about journeying from the City to the Countryside.  Once you leave the City, you are in danger as you are surrounded by primitive locals whose greater proximity to the Earth not only makes them different to City-dwellers, it also makes them more prone to violence.  For example, consider films such as Deliverance (1972), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964),   Wolf Creek (2005) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Indeed, this belief also informs one of the major trends in recent French Horror with both Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) (2007) and Kim Chapiron’s Sheitan (2006) featuring hip banlieusards being hunted by yokels.  All of these feature City-dwellers venturing into places where they are unwelcome and hated.

Of course, there are alternatives to this view-point.  For example, neither the Americans nor the British speak of ‘provinces’.  While their City-dwellers may occasionally look down upon their rural cousins, they do accept the idea that they are equals as opposed to cultural vassals.

Some films take the ‘provincial’ view of Horror on board and react against it.  For example, Koldo Serra’s The Backwoods (2007), Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and James Watkins’ Eden Lake (2008) have City-dwellers being murdered by rural types, but both also pose the question as to who the real monsters are; the locals or the arrogant interlopers who assume that the space is rightfully theirs? I touch upon these issues in my review of the film.

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Film Poster

However, try as I might, I could not come up with a Horror film that demonises city-dwellers.  Oh sure, the protagonists of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) wind up finding refuge in the country, as in John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951) but in both of these cases, it is a countryside that is safe precisely because it has been emptied of its inhabitants.  This is rather a strange state of affairs given how alienating and stressful living in a city can be.  Indeed, works touching upon the horrors of the city tend to be safely entrenched within the fantasy genre whether it is the grotesques of Bree in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), the fleshpots and evil temples of John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian (1982) or the decaying honeypot of Goro Miyazaki’s Tales From Earthsea (2006) (or indeed any of the Studiio Ghibli films).

Film Poster

Film Poster

14 Comments
  1. June 2, 2009 12:13 pm

    Interestingly, one of the scenes in Fine, Totally Fine features a pair of out of town hicks and their reaction when the female lead accidentally drops their camera.

    I initially thought the subtitles were faulty, then realised that they were reflecting a hicksiness in the characters’ speech – “me camera!” rather than “my camera!”. Again, the out-of-towners (hm, perhaps a film could be made with that title) are figures of ridicule.

    That said, in Britain one does speak of provincialism or people being provincial, so while we may not use the word provinces I think the concept you write about is alive and well here too.

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  2. June 2, 2009 2:11 pm

    Great piece on a topic I find continually fascinating.

    > However, try as I might, I could not come up with a Horror film that demonises city-dwellers.

    Surely the theme of the Big City being a place of corruption that eats (usually rural) outsiders alive is well worn in various genres though?

    Few examples that spring to mind.

    The Out Of Towners (1972 / 1999)
    Midnight Cowboy (1969)
    Klute (1971)
    Final Jeopardy (1985)

    …whilst the City as a corrupt Hell has endless manifestations (Taxi Driver, Escape From NY, Se7en for example)?

    What I actually like about Eden Lake, say, is that it does actually reflect the reality of the UK’s so-called ‘green and plesant land’, that its been undermined by a mixture of poor urban planning and a very real decline of agriculture, so that vast areas are increasingly charcaterised by nasty chain pubs and corrupting boredom, a place where Sky TV is the only real source of entertainment. The Darling Buds Of May mythology (heritage Britain) is decidely abandoned for, in my experience, a truer depiction of where things are at.

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  3. June 2, 2009 2:27 pm

    The difference though Richard, is that though the city may be criticised, it’s on its own terms. The province by contrast is criticised in comparison to the centre. The Out of Towners may be an exception, for all I mentioned it it’s been centuries since I’ve watched it.

    I can think of one film where the country is held up in direct comparison as better than the city, Patrice Leconte’s rather wonderful film Ridicule.

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  4. June 2, 2009 10:53 pm

    I haven’t seen The Out-Of-Towners. But Se7en and Escape from NY depict shitty cities. They’re not shitty compared to the countryside (which is the same thing as Max said, only less eloquent).

    Midnight Cowboy is an interesting example and I think Richard might well be right about it. I had always seen it as a case of people yearning to be anywhere except where they are but I guess the implication is that the protagonist would have been better off staying at home.

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  5. Patrick H permalink
    June 3, 2009 11:10 am

    I think that actual, physical isolation (as opposed to the psychological isolation of the city) is a useful device for the horror film maker. A lot of classic horror film set ups would come undone in a densely populated place with good transport links. It’s also part of the standard gothic kit: ancient horrors enduring away from the light of Reason.

    P

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  6. June 3, 2009 2:43 pm

    Isolation is I think one of the key tools in horror, it can be done in a crowded city (see after all Invasion of the Body Snatchers, first nobody believes you, then they’re all in on it) but you have to go for psychological isolation which is harder to pull off than physical.

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  7. Patrick H permalink
    June 4, 2009 9:55 am

    I think Body Snatchers is set in a small town where everybody knows each other. It’s been a while, but isn’t that right?

    P

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  8. June 4, 2009 4:59 pm

    For the original, yes, the isolation comes from the dawning knowledge of what is happening which others ignore or appear to be sinisterly already aware of, plus the brilliant ending which is a masterpiece in isolation.

    The 1970s version, which is also very good IMO, is set in a major US city, I forget which one.

    The most recent version, Invasion, is fatally flawed by combining horror and action to no great effect, apparently it changed directors to the Wachowski brothers part way through which may be why we go from a thoughtful study of whether we’re that great to begin with and whether our duplicates might not actually be better, to what are effectively zombie hordes in a chase scene and helicopter rescue. Not recommended, unlike the first two versions.

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  9. Patrick H permalink
    June 5, 2009 10:31 am

    There’s also an Abel Ferrara version on a military camp, also an isolated location.

    P

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  10. June 6, 2009 6:21 pm

    Any good?

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  11. Patrick H permalink
    June 9, 2009 9:28 am

    It’s been a while. I’d say “competent”, if memory serves. Maybe worth catching on the tube, but not worth seeking out.

    P

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  12. June 9, 2009 10:03 am

    Ferrara’s usually good value though.

    The Addiction’s one of the best vampire films ever made (I think only Let The Right One In and Nosferatu come close to it) and obviously Bad Lieutenant.

    I might have to seek that one out.

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  13. June 9, 2009 11:48 am

    I’m not personally a fan of Bad Lieutenant, a film for which the word overblown seems almost to have been invented.

    As for Catholic guilt, Mean Streets covers the topic I think more successfully and with less bombast.

    I still wouldn’t have wished the remake on Ferrara, but it won’t take the original off the shelves so I struggle to get too excited.

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  14. June 9, 2009 11:55 am

    I’m actually looking forward to the remake. It’s very much Herzog territory. I suspect it will be a weird blend of utter nihilism and whimsical comedy.

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