Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mitsu Dan: Obscure Object of Desire

“Its better to be looked over than overlooked.”
Mae West

It was my wife who enlightened me: “Here’s a woman I would like to see in one of your films,” she said. On her computer screen a sultry Mitsu Dan lounged in her lingerie, radiating an intoxicating sensuality.

Mitsu Dan is a woman who openly and confidently embraces her role as a sex object, yet it is the dark inner world that churns behind those doe eyes that I find particularly alluring. She has become a cultural phenomenon in Japan, where her sharp tongue and brazen exhibitionism has raised more than a few eyebrows, even in the Empire of Kink. Her blog is ranked number three in the nation. At the age of 29, she determined to shed her humdrum oh eru (office lady) existence and reinvent herself as a gravure idol (models who pose semi-nude or nude, but do not engage in sex) - a profession traditionally dominated by girls in their late teens or early twenties. She promised her mother that if she didn’t appear in any magazines after three years, she would quit. Three years later, she has risen to be one of Japan’s top guradoru, and played the starring role in an erotic feature entitled Watashi no Dorei ni Narinasai, or “Be My Slave,” released in Japan in November. Dan, a professed masochist, plays the slave.

“The ‘M’ in ‘S&M’,” she purrs, “also stands for ‘manzoku’ (satisfaction), and the ‘S’ for ‘service’.”

S&M is perhaps the supreme expression of eroticism; for it abstracts the brute impulses that drive us to the sex act and refines them into a formal liturgy. Its aim, like religion, is union with the infinite, a transcendence of the worldly, a glimpse of the sacred through the ritual transgression of taboo. Thus, it is not surprising that Dan would find a connection between Eros and Death. At one time she trained to be an undertaker - so fascinated was she with the subject of death - and told an interviewer, “Both death and eroticism are things that are hidden. It seems I have a fondness for things that are taboo.” I wonder if Mitsu Dan has read Eroticism: Death and Sensuality by the French intellectual and occasional surrealist Georges Bataille, affectionately known as the “metaphysician of evil.” Perhaps she would be impressed by this meditation on the  mystical aspects of eroticism and its associations with death. I’m quite certain Bataille, were he alive today, would be impressed by Mitsu Dan.

Most of the information in this post was found in this interview.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In Praise of Holy Motors

“By the quickness of God’s hand, and the slowness of our eye, we believe in the world.”
-The Mahabharata

Much has been written describing Holy Motors as a sumptuous love poem to cinema, or an eloquent sayonara to celluloid.  But Leos Carax is not merely eulogizing cinema, nor mourning its death. Cinema is a multifaceted metaphor through which he questions the nature of existence: identity, destiny versus free will, authenticity, death. There is a rich metaphysical dimension to this film whose truths are perhaps better intuited than analyzed.

We join our protean antihero at dawn, a successful banker leaving his luxurious home to board the white limo that will serve as his portal to a series of disparate dreamscapes. But is this the real Monsieur Oscar? In a frenzy of rage he will later lunge from the limo and assassinate this doppelganger banker on a crowded sidewalk. And at the end of his day, the wife and daughter waving him goodbye from the terrace have been replaced by a tenement apartment and a family of chimpanzees. There is no beginning and no end, nothing intrinsically real about these colliding worlds, no evolution or narrative linking these episodic incarnations. The real is indistinguishable from the artificial. He regards the nocturnal Paris in real time on his video screen rather than through the window, his body is transformed through effects graphics into an animated reptilian porn star, he politely excuses himself from his own deathbed to an actor playing his niece who continues to mourn his absent body. Yet the pathos we feel through this masterful collaboration is real, the savage beauty is real, and the dark laughter, echoing through Carax’s strange universe, is real and eternal. Everything else is illusion, just as in cinema. As soon as we are hooked into believing, the veil is ruptured, and we seem to glimpse through the  gloom the cogs that move the cosmos. Monsieur Oscar complains that the cameras used to be heavier than we are, and now we can barely see them. Cinema, as we know it, is dead. Yet we have become our own movie. We watch ourselves on Youtube and on Facebook; but is it the real us? Holy Motors teaches us that the real does not lie in the materiality that defines our banal existence, but rather in the forces that move and attract and repel us. Even the fleet of limousines, having been parked snuggly in their garage after a long day’s work, vocally lament their imminent obsolescence. “People these days don’t want machines they can see.” The truth is not shaped by the wasted forms that are decaying all around us, but in the energy that brought them into being in the first place. Holy Motors is a work that resonates with that primordial energy.

Check out the official site here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Garden of Carnivorous Plants: On Location

Cast and crew, taken by Andrew Callaway in moonlight.

Many years ago, during a family trip to Joshua Tree National Park, I felt an impulse to veer from the trail and hike up a colossal heap of rocks. Upon reaching the top, I descended into a valley of pink and ochre stone, scrub oak, dwarf pines, mesquite, dead twisted trees, cacti, and washes of white sand, all artfully arranged as if by the hand of a divine gardener. Since then I visited the valley many times, often alone, to escape the ugliness and banality of everyday life. The austerity and formal harmony of the place never failed to act as a balm, and put my petty woes into perspective.

After digging a hole to lower the tripod for the next day's shoot, taken by Andrew Callaway in moonlight.

Self-portrait by Director of Photography Andrew Callaway, taken in moonlight.

Shortly after switching media from dance to filmmaking, I decided I wanted to make a film here, one as simple and essential as the place itself. I wanted to glimpse what would happen if a man and woman were to meet outside the politics, mores, trends, and constructs of society. What atavistic instincts would manifest themselves? What dark desires would wend their way from the primordial muck to the light of day, if only we could be spared for a time the smirking, judgmental leers of our neighbors?
Female lead and 2nd Assistant Director Diana Oliphant, taken by Andrew Callaway in starlight.

The original premise, in which an older man initiates a young girl, was abandoned during a visit to the valley in the Fall of last year. Having eaten a small dose of mushrooms that a friend had procured, I wandered around at sunset, trying to visualize my story taking place in this surreal landscape of sensuously curved stone and prickly flora. I couldn’t, much to my disappointment. I went to sleep believing that my dreams of realizing a film in this magical place were in vain. At sunrise I set out again, and I began to see a different story: one in which a strong yet feminine woman character would embody the essence of this valley. The initiation would be undergone by the man. Perhaps he was a young man, disillusioned by the hollow promises of an empire gone to seed, seeking a higher truth in the brute austerity of the desert. He would find more than he bargained for. The woman would guide him on a sexual odyssey that would lead to self-discovery, and the absolution of that obscure feeling of guilt that has been gnawing at the entrails of our civilization for two thousand years.
Male lead Andreas Blair, taken by Andrew Callaway in moonlight.

Likewise, the cast and crew were gradually revealed to me, as though the Place itself were working behind the scenes, creating the circumstances in which the right people for this unique labor would come together. After a long and fruitless endeavor to cast the leading lady through the usual channels, I was invited out of the blue to screen one of my films at a festival in Seattle. I decided to run an ad on Craigslist and met Diana over an espresso on a rainy Seattle afternoon. On the flight up, I chanced to be seated next to a very pretty and friendly young girl. I asked if she lived in Seattle or San Francisco. She told me she was from Joshua Tree. Phoebe became our production assistant, an extra in the film, and introduced me to her friend Sarah, an aspiring stylist who would become our Art Director. These girls, together with a few local friends of theirs, were instrumental in keeping us alive, sane, and relatively comfortable for ten consecutive days in this stunningly beautiful yet inhospitable environment.
Sound recordist and designer Mike Harrison, taken by Andrew Callaway in starlight.

Last week we returned for four more days of shooting. I had thought at least some in our group would have had their fill of arduous work beneath the blazing sun, and plucking cactus needles from their behinds; but no one could wait to get back.
First Assistant Director and 2nd Sound Recordist Nina Perlroth, taken in starlight by Andrew Callaway.

Writer, Director and Editor Joshua Bewig, taken in starlight by Andrew Callaway.
Even if there were no film at all, the experience of living communally in this place, isolated from the banalities of the work-a-day world, chasing the sun and moon which - aside from LED headlamps - were our only sources of lighting, straining the outer limits of our resources, both material and internal, was unforgettable. May our little film manifest the magic and devotion that went into its making.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Garden of Carnivorous Plants: Casting Call

That is the title of my first feature which, incha’ Alla, will be shot during the last two weeks of September, in a remote valley of Joshua Tree Park, with a skeletal yet versatile crew. How to describe it? Perhaps it will vaguely resemble Last Tango in Paris, but it takes place in the desert, and the woman is older than the man, and there are no guns – I always thought that was one of the more disappointing endings in cinema. Its mood and rhythm will be closer to Woman in the Dunes. It is an erotic film, with a touch of horror, but it also contains elements of western and noir.  And hopefully it will conjure, albeit fleetingly, the ghosts of Tarkovsky, Bresson, Antonioni, and Oshima.

The story is simple: a young man hikes into a desert valley and encounters a mysterious woman who happens to be camped there. In this sensual yet austere landscape, isolated from the repressive sexual mores of civilization, the woman guides her delicate prey through the darker realms of his own sexuality, leading to self-discoveries that are both shocking and transformative.

The crew is shaping up nicely, the young man has been cast, script and shot list are being honed, but I have yet to find my female lead. She is mid 20's to mid 30's, intelligent, beautiful, sensual, graceful, confident, and uninhibited. She is comfortable being filmed partially nude, willing to camp in the desert, and is not afraid of spiders, or willing to conquer that fear. She need not have experience acting, though some dance training would be a plus. Compensation is $150 per diem plus expenses. Any information as to the whereabouts of this person will be highly appreciated. She can contact me at

“To translate the invisible wind by the water it sculpts in passing.”
 -Robert Bresson, on the art of filmmaking.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Absinthe, Opium, and Bejeweled Tortoises

Félicien Rops, La tentation de Saint Antoine

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom; for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.
~ William Blake

The culture I admire most, after the Japanese of course, is the French. Both share a tradition of refined hedonism, a propensity for sensual extremes, and an appreciation for the dark, dirty and just plain weird. Both perceive that aesthetics are a worthy enterprise in their own right, that they need not be subordinated to politics, religion (excluding the noble polytheists), architectonic function, or other banal pursuits whose sole aim is the suppression of desire and the exaltation of boredom.

Félicien Rops, Pornocrates
One country owes its relative resilience against the cancer of prudishness to its prolonged isolation, the other to its rebellious spirit. It was in rebellion to the banal notion of “progress” and to the naiveté and hypocrisy of the Romantics that, in France and later in England, a new literary and art movement arose. This group of writers and artists, which included among others the likes of Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, Félicien Rops, and Franz von Bayros, espoused aestheticism – art for art’s sake – independent of moral or social concerns, and reveled in a life of sensualistic excess: erotic adventures, flamboyant fashion, opium, absinthe, poetry and painting. According to Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde’s professor/mentor, "To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life . . .”

Franz von Bayros
Decried as “decadent” by critics, these fin-de-siècle writers and artists came to embrace the term. As the writer Theophile Gautier wrote: “The style of decadence is nothing else than art at that extreme point of maturity produced by those civilizations which are growing old, their suns low in the sky – a style that is ingenious, complicated, learned, full of shades of meaning and research, always pushing further… taking colors from all palates, notes from all keyboards… obscure fantasies at which the daylight would be amazed.”

Franz von Bayros

If our civilization was decaying at the end of the nineteenth century, in what condition is it now? And yet so many artists continue to produce benign, sterile, mediocre art, pathetically attempting to straddle the fence that barely separates commercialism from the hypocrisy of political correctness, in the name of social change and human evolution. Let us not waste any more of our precious time gazing out over the bleak horizon, waiting for Jesus to come swooping down in his UFO and save us from ourselves, and begin rejoicing in the death of a civilization whose time has finally come. For without death, there can be no rebirth.

Aubrey Beardsley. Notice the influence of Japanese Shunga
 A good source for further reading on the decadent and symbolist movements may be found here:The Decadent Handbook.