Chew… Stripp’d

Gestalt Mash have my latest column on John Layman and Rob Guillory’s Chew.

The comic uses two different devices to pursue its themes.  The first is that, following an outbreak of avian flu, the US government has made it illegal to raise and eat chickens.  However, because people still crave the flesh of the bird, an underworld of poultry-based speakeasies has emerged forcing the government to crack down on civil liberties.  The second device the comic uses is that its primary protagonist has a rare psychic power that allows him to learn about things by eating them.  The comic uses these two genre elements to investigate our increasingly problematic relationship with food and how we simply do not want to know how stuff arrive on our plates:

The uneasiness we feel about food is such that many of us have turned to superstition as a means of making sense of it.  Our money flows into the pockets of charlatans and quacks who claim that all of our problems arise from spurious allergies and a failure to eat like a caveman, a pharaoh or a 17th Century Italian peasant. Many of us even go so far as to define ourselves in terms of our dietary problems, broadcasting them to the world as though they were sources of empowerment. Nascent ethnicities birthed in diarrhoea and unsightly rashes. Tomorrow’s politicians will take pride in the words “Ich habe ein lactose intolerance”.

Chew is still appearing in monthly form and has, thus far, been collected in three trade paperbacks with a fourth due out soon.  Weird, grotesque, smart and occasionally very very funny, Chew provides a fascinating insight into our love-hate relationship with food.

En la Ciudad de Sylvia (2007) – Distant Glimpses of Humanity

In “Big Red Son”, his essay on the porn equivalent of the Oscars, David Foster Wallace writes about a morally up-standing police detective who is drawn to pornography’s capacity for capturing moments of pure humanity.  This is an intriguing idea and it is certainly one that I agree with.  Most performances are based upon a degree of artifice : Someone pretending to be someone they or not or behaving in a way that they would not normally behave.  The people who appear in adult films usually buy into this notion of performance.  The men adopt a worldly misogyny while the women appear to revel in their transgressions of good taste and traditional gender roles.  What Foster Wallace refers to as the “Fuck me, I’m a nasty girl” persona.  However, because pornography is quite cheaply made and ultimately reliant upon the inviolability of certain basic biological rhythms, the performers sometimes forget the persona they are supposed to be inhabiting.  Sometimes these slippages reveal genuine attraction and sexual excitement, but other times there are flashes of irritation, disgust, boredom, amusement or fear.  These outpourings of human emotion are made al the more real by the grotesque theatricality of pornography and all the more pleasurable because of their illicit nature.  They are supposed to be having passionate sex, we are supposed to be getting off on watching them, and yet we see the actress’s irritation at her male colleague.  Score.

I remember when, after a number of years of failing eye-sight, I first got glasses and a world of detailed facial expression suddenly opened up to me.  I remember standing in Liverpool Street station and marvelling at the way in which emotions played across people’s faces.  How a friendly smile would die on someone’s lips the second the other person looked away or how a momentary flash of irritation would prompt a hard glare at a fried, a glare that would instantly disappear the second the friend turned to ask a question or make a remark.  Humans are creatures with rich emotional lives.  Lives they try to keep hidden from those around them, and yet those lives are betrayed broadcast to al who care to look by the infinite expressiveness of the human face.

José Luis Guerín’s In The City of Sylvia (2007) is a film that is all about those fleeting moments of humanity.  It even invites us to place these little moments in a wider context, but by doing so it raises the difficulties inherent in trying to work out what other people are thinking.

Continue reading →

Kairo (2001) – Hedgehogs meet the Internet

There is something faintly Proustian about sitting down at a keyboard in order to write about Japanese Horror.  As though biting into a madeleine, I am suddenly transported back to the horrible ICA seating I put up with in order to see Hideo Nakata’s Ring (1998).  I am swamped by memories of girlfriends past, trips to out of the way cinemas, sequels rented on VHS tape and vindictive reviews of terrible American remakes.  It all seems like so long ago and yet it was only the early 00s.  Tempus Fugit.  Sic Transit Gloria Mundi…

Though historically accurate, mentioning Ringu seems somehow inappropriate as,  despite having been a product of the J-Horror bubble (it even earned itself a terrible 2005 American remake), Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo is no mere genre copy-cat.  Clearly influenced by Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979), the film uses genre formulae as a spring-board for exploring philosophical ideas with an almost poetical elegance and softness of touch.  Kairo is, in every way, a remarkable film.

Continue reading →