Hard Time in Sweden and Hong Kong

Posted: March 19, 2010 in Article

Cinephiles have a thing they do with each other, they size each other up. In a way, its like a friendly version of gang members meeting in the streets and comparing street cred. Only most people who are movie fans have no cred, at all. Anytime someone who spands most of their lives in a dark room watching flickering images tries to pretend they’ve got “cred” to you, you are allowed to punch them in the stomach and take their lunch money. So instead of talking about all the sucka’s they’ve punked (or whatever it is you kids, with your parachute pants and backwards hats, talk about) they talk about the movies they’ve seen.

The thing is though, even a cinéaste has some pride. We talk about places and things in about the same manner that gangsters and soldiers of fortune might discuss the places they’ve either had battles or were incarcerated. You’ll hear about serving hard time in places not normally thought of for their prisons, or having survived the horrors of places that are supposed to be quite idyllic.

Sweden, there was a hard place to have to serve time. You’re locked in with an unmoving camera, and the warden is an ardent atheist, which isn’t as much fun as it sounds like. Colorless, actionless, nothing to do but sit around and wonder about the meaninglessness of existence. Sure, there’s the symbolism, but even that just becomes part of the endless buzz. Every once in a while there will be some bit of action, but mostly your waiting for a point that never comes. Sweden can break you, it’ll make you want to be there forever. It’s hard doing time in Sweden, but once you have, you know you have seen something and you have endured. If you don’t let it get you, you can do anything. After Sweden, nothing is too slow. Even the most narratively deprived independent film still flies past like a whirlwind.

Italy now, that’s more exciting, but harrowing. Sure, there’s art in Italy, but that’s not why we went there. In Italy, all you need to define a genre is a bit of costuming and a weapon or possibly a bit of food added to a genre name. Once you’re deep into the mire of Italy, anything with an ounce of style starts to look really, really cool. Sure, there are a few good places to be in Italy, but there are a lot of lousy places to end up.

England can be alright, except it’s either a lot of people standing around talking while still in black & white or if in color it’s a movie that ranks it’s horror by how many gallons of red paint they could get a hold of. Always a sense of being on a smaller scale, a different set of expectations, and a lot of strange accents. Then there are all the jokes you’ll never get and all the places you’ll never recognize. Things are different now, and you can recognize more things the longer you hang around, but there is still a different scale going on.

Hong Kong is exciting, but again you’ve got a lot of pain to wade through. Oh sure, for the casual viewer it seems like a lot of fun gun fights and kung fu, but the reality is a lot of rip-offs and bad dramas mixed in. The great fights are a minor part, and have been more minor over the last few years. You’ve got to either remind yourself not to get involved, not to go deep, or be prepared to sift through more crap than you ever thought could be committed by the human race. Once you get in deep, you’re trapped without hope. You get stuck, you find yourself in a prison of your own making, surrounded by past glories and the knowledge that it will never be that good again.

Japan is a crapshoot. Some days you’re sitting on the side of a road staring at people whose only reaction is to blankly stare back, some days you’re wading through a small lake of blood stepping over the limbs of the fallen. You never know what you’re going to get when you go to Japan. The inclusion of samurai doesn’t help much, as half of those are long, slow starefests where people stand around and talk about characters. Doesn’t make it bad, some it is very good, but fortunately I did hard time in Sweden so I can do the slow moments on my head.

Of course, working the low rent district of Hollywood can be one of the trickiest bits of urban landscape to negotiate. Sure, the bright lights of the mainstream seems attractive, but it’s when you get down to street level that things get interesting. Unfortunately, that’s when things start to get really ugly. Yeah, I’m talking the sort of places where B-Films and film noir are considered too high priced. I’m talking about the sort of movies that were only good enough for the drive-thru and third-run theaters. These are the places where movies get nasty, resentful, and downright mean.

Then you have places like India, but I don’t. I’ve managed to avoid India thus far. Too many musicals. I’ve only dipped my toe into the Russian waters, focusing on the fairytale movies of the 50’s. I’ve been through some Korean and Thai films, as well as a few Australian hits here and there. I’ve even been known to watch a new movie that mainstream Hollywood has produced now and then. I’ve been around, I’ve seen some things.

It used to be a rare thing for a person to have been around as much as I have. There used to be a line between the people who were locked away in Sweden with only the German Impressionists to keep them company and those who were fighting through the mean streets of Hong Kong with Yakuza and Slashers on their tails. Those who enjoyed movies on a spiritual level could never mingle with those who enjoyed the visceral experience. These days though, it’s more acceptable for a person to bounce back and forth between one and the other. We can go from here to there and from there to here, but we will always carry the memories of each place and what it did to us.

These are some of the reasons I feel qualified and compelled to comment on the moving media. I’ve watched everything that came across the plate with equal attention. I’ve studied each of them with the same set of tools, dissecting each one with equal care. I’ve been through the cinemas and styles of several lands and decades, and given them all equal weight. I’ve been with the Silent Germans, the talkative English, the stylish French and the stylized Chinese. Be it high-grade art, or low-grade pulp, I’ve consumed them all with the same appetite. As I said, I’ve been on both sides of this fence a few times and I’ve examined both for their merits. I’ve done hard time in both Sweden and Hong Kong.

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