Tokyo Unmasked

By Marc Francis

About a third of the way into Funeral Parade of Roses, Eddie and her friends decide to take a break from shopping to use the lavatory. Cut to the three transgender youth at urinals in a public restroom, their backs to the camera. As soon as the audience has had enough time to register the juxtaposition of the women’s attire against their chosen spot of relief, a man walks in, does a double take, and flees the scene. At this moment, a censor flashes on the screen, suggesting that the EIRIN—the Japanese version of the MPAA—has intervened and deemed this content obscene. If it wasn’t for the comedic timing, the audience might be led to believe that a chunk of film was actually banned.

Despite its humor, watched today, this scene seems to eerily foreshadow a paranoia that has run rampant through today’s United States. This Cinelicious restoration arrives in a time in which one cannot help but think of recent measures that have been taken to oppress transgender individuals, in issues as far reaching as their bathroom selection to their right to serve in the military. It is highly unlikely that the director Toshio Matsumoto intended for this scene, nor the film as a whole, to bear such direct political weight vis-à-vis queer bodies. So why did Matsumoto, a heterosexual director, gravitate towards drag, androgyny, and homosexuality in adapting the story of Oedipus Rex to Tokyo’s queer underground art scene? What politics was he seeking to activate?

On the one hand, Funeral Parade of Roses is a quite linear adaptation of Sophocles’ Ancient Greek play Oedipus Rex. Eddie is a transgender hustler who works at Club Genet, a meeting place for drag queens, queers, artists, and “straights” of many persuasions. Eddie is entangled in a love triangle with one of the club’s patrons, Gonda, and the club’s madame, Leda, who also vies for Gonda’s affections. We later learn that Gonda is Eddie’s absent father, in turn driving the main characters to self-inflicted violence or suicide. On the other hand, this linear story is continually disrupted. Matsumoto incorporates interviews with the film’s queer leads as well as anonymous subjects seemingly found on the street. “Why did you become a gay boy (gei-boi)?” a voice behind the camera asks one anonymous subject, who replies with a smile and simply states, “because I like it.” Footage from protests and “happenings” or guerilla performances on the streets of Shinjuku, the Tokyo district where gay bars and art spaces clustered, also find their way into the film. These help form a collage of Tokyo’s sociopolitical moment alongside and woven into the fictional narrative.

The fact that Matsumoto decided to adapt the story of Oedipus is perhaps one of the most baffling and ambiguous aspects of Funeral Parade of Roses. What is most curious is that the film does not try to rigidly transplant the ancient tragedy to 1969 Tokyo but instead mobilizes it as as an experiment in queer kinship. The film explores whether or not Sophocles’ tale and Freud’s conceptualization of the Oedipus complex do in fact hold water when the entire notion of family has been radically reconfigured, especially within the queer community. This is perhaps why the film’s final scenes of violence highly reference other sources than just the original Oedipus Rex. Leda, after committing suicide, lays in a bed surrounded by roses in a fashion that recalls John Everett Millais’ Ophelia. Eddie’s father, Gonda, stabs himself in a fashion that may for some invoke the ritual practice of seppuku, one year before the infamous queer masculinist-nationalist author Yukio Mishima would commit honorable suicide after a failed coup d’état attempt. Given these references, questions of intertextuality, national identity, and familial redefinition trouble any straightforward telling of the Oedipal narrative, here repurposing it as fodder for multiple yet elusive interpretations.

Funeral Parade of Roses, like many of its avant-garde counterparts of the time, runs the risk of using queerness to solely allegorical ends. It was common at this moment for critics and programmers to position homosexuality and other queer variants as part of a work’s larger provocation and oddity rather than as subjectivities necessitating representation in their own right. Alternatively, Funeral Parade of Roses uses interview and documentary footage with actual Tokyo-based queer non-professional actors. This approach pulls the film back from a cooptive impulse that might relegate queerness a mere thematic device. Here I will describe how Matsumoto’s hybrid modernist experiment can be retrofitted to the queer canon of experimental work by the likes of Kenneth Anger and Jack Smith. And perhaps most striking is that the film anticipates a moment in queer filmmaking to come.

Strangely, Funeral Parade of Roses was criticized in Japan for not being political enough. Granted, there was cause for alarm in 1969 Japan. The US-Japan security treaty that had allowed the US to virtually occupy Japan for over a decade was up for renewal. The students took to the streets in protest against Japan’s acquiescence. To exacerbate matters, Tokyo’s urban space was undergoing a massive transformation that would set the stage for the 1970s corporate takeover. For many critics in Matsumoto’s art-house circles, Funeral Parade of Roses failed to meet the urgency of the times.

For U.S. cinephiles, Toshio Matsumoto may have seemed to bust onto the scene out of nowhere when Funeral Parade of Roses first screened at the 1970 San Francisco International Film Festival. In reality, however, the director, artist, and writer had been a core member of the Tokyo underground or angura art community for well over a decade. Shape shifting throughout the years following his graduation from Tokyo University in 1955, Matsumoto worked as a director at Iwanami Films (a company full of left-wing filmmakers who, ironically enough, produced public relations films), film programmer at the Sogetsu Art Center (a crucial site for the exhibition of experimental films at the time), and editor for the journals Film Arts (Eiga Geijutsu) and Film Quarterly (Kikan Firumu) (the latter of which was co-edited by prominent director Nagisa Oshima), all the while producing his own experimental short films.

Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, Matsumoto published several articles that outlined a radical filmmaking practice that would merge documentary ethos with formal experimentation. According to Matsumoto, avant-garde practice had for too long focused on the interior workings of the unconscious or served as apolitical stylistic exercises. On the other end, the Griersonian documentary tradition had tried to rigidly represent a supposed objective world. The “neo-documentary,” as Mastumoto called it, aimed to resolve this by putting the two in fruitful collision. His two short films Nishijin (1961) and The Song of Stone (Ishi no uta) (1963), both of which depict the exploitation of factory laborers, epitomize this dyadic aspiration through its reverberations of Dziga Vertov’s work. But it is Funeral Parade of Roses that serves as the apex of his theoretical ambitions. As Matsumoto describes the film, echoing his notion of “neo-documentary,” “my creative intent was to disturb the perceptual schema of a dualistic world dividing fact from fiction, men from women, objective from subjective, mental from physical, candidness from masquerade, and tragedy from comedy.”

Funeral Parade of Roses embraces an oscillatory interplay of styles, thus producing a dizzying impression of a historical time and place that brims with uncertainty. Undoubtedly, this Cinelicious restoration thrives on this incendiary aesthetic convergence. Now we are able to see and feel the vibrancy of the Tokyo streets and markets in the guerrilla-shot documentary footage. (Few will be surprised to hear Matsumoto could not acquire a permit to shoot on the streets and, as a result, did it surreptitiously.) In the film’s more expressionistic moments, the viewer can even discern the strands of hair on Eddie’s head in close-up shots. In one sequence, where the film had been solarized, the outlines of the bodies are now near tactile in their delineation.

The restored crispness of the image and sound in this version also endow the interview sequences with a necessary vitality. From one perspective, the interviews might seem just another New-Wave technique that draws spectators’ attention to the film’s means of production. But viewed another way, the interviews allow the film’s actors to break from their roles, thus enabling a dialogue with the fictionalized presentation to form. For instance, one interview subject is asked about her aspirations and whether or not he wants to get married and have a family. The subject replies that in lieu of pursuing a normative family life, he would like to open a bar one day. In several of the interviews, the interviewer asks the subjects if they are happy. Many viewers will be reminded here of Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s existential premise in the influential cinema verité classic Chronicles of a Summer (1961), where the makers indeed begin by asking participants, “Are you happy?” In Funeral Parade of Roses, the interviews reach beyond a fictional narrative containment to show that queers of all kinds have real-world dimension and are here indeed thriving within the bounds of the Shinjuku district.

The interview insertions also rescue the film from having an ethnographic gaze. Black feminist cultural critic bell hooks once accused the drag-ball classic Paris is Burning of such an infliction, given that white director Jennie Livingson rendered herself invisible behind the camera. In Funeral Parade of Roses, not only do we hear Matsumoto’s voice as he asks the subjects personal questions, but there is even one attempt to reveal the camera apparatus and entire crew setup during a sex scene between Eddie and one of her johns. Matsumoto therefore positions himself an interlocutor rather than a truth-teller of the trans or queer experience.

By giving glimpses into its process, Funeral Parade of Roses becomes a document of the avant-garde itself—not only of its stylistic and ideological aims, but also of its ability to capture an array of countercultural phenomena at the time: the student movement, expanded drug use, free love, performance art or “happenings,” and the emergence of more public homosexual and transgender identities. Several scenes, including one where Eddie dresses the wounds of an injured protestor she finds in her apartment building staircase, allude to these colliding worlds.

One of the queerest moments in the film, funny enough, is when a group of filmmakers and the Club Genet youth get stoned in a basement and dance and play games that lead them to disrobing down to their underwear. The male, female, and trans bodies that converge in this space resist, through their anarchic pleasure seeking, the hegemonic codes of propriety that have been impressed upon them. It is for this reason that the venue is called “Club Genet” rather than, say, “Club Wilde.” Like writer Jean Genet’s corpus, the space symbolizes an effort to push perversions and politics to their limits.

Funeral Parade of Roses’ investment in these deviant bodies’ vulnerabilities is clear from the very first shot. The film begins in the same way as Alain Renais’s classic Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959). Two nude bodies caress one another in bed, their faces largely obscured. The two figures appear to be heterosexual before it is revealed that both are in fact men, at least based on an anatomical notion of gender. Matsumoto, who was greatly influenced by Renais, redeploys Hiroshima Mon Amour’s iconic opener to make the viewers aware of their gendered preconceptions. In this sequence, among many others, Matsumoto makes a case for the malleable performance of gender itself, and cinema’s participation in this performance by sheer virtue of the medium’s formal qualities of editing, composition, lighting, etc.

For Matsumoto, gender is a mask that one wears. In one scene, Eddie finds herself dizzy and overwhelmed by triggered childhood flashbacks, and stumbles from an alleyway into a gallery space. (Note that the alleyway wall on which Eddie leans is plastered with posters for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex [1967].) On the walls of the exhibit hang drawings of mangled faces, accompanied by an audio recording of an essay on masks. Upon first seeing and hearing this, it is easy for a viewer to assume that the film frames Eddie’s cross-dressing as merely imitative, as a masquerade that hides the true self. Masquerade has long been part of theories on gender, from Joan Riviere to Mary Ann Doane to Judith Butler. In this writing, the mask is inherently a question of utility; it is a deception through which a person can wield power. On the contrary, Matsumoto regards masks as not just veils that hide a person’s identity but as tools of expression that enable different facets or layers of an identity to shine through. The interplay between gender concealment and revelation throughout the entire film can be seen as involving this mask work. It is a means through which to explore one’s multiple and protean understandings of the self in relation to one’s surroundings.

Unsurprisingly, Funeral Parade of Roses was shown alongside two other queer classics that are often cited for their subversive play with gender norms at an early screening in the U.S.: Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963) and Jean Genet’s Un chant d’amour (1950). Additionally, Matsumoto has cited Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963) as an influence, which he considers to have, like Funeral Parade of Roses, merged experimental and documentary aesthetics to give a unique record of a time, place, and subculture.

The film’s programming history alone indicates it has been of interest to queer viewers, especially in the U.S., in the decades that followed its initial release. The film was programmed at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1970 by queer program director Albert Johnson. Three years later, it was brought to New York City, where Brazilian and also queer programmer extraordinaire Fabiano Canosa exhibited it at the First Avenue Screening Room. In 1982, the film was revived at the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (later renamed “Frameline”). The film’s programming lineage here makes apparent that the film spoke directly to queers, and was able to position queerness as more than just an object of curiosity or provocation but as something of substance worthy of further reflection.

Funeral Parade of Roses also fits within a later trajectory of queer film history. Avoiding the thorny assertion that the film serves as a precursor, one could argue nevertheless that it anticipates the aesthetics of the moment known as New Queer Cinema. New Queer Cinema, as a subset of the early 1990s indie film movement, was in part a response to the devastation brought on by HIV/AIDS. As many have pointed out, these films depict queer time that is out of joint, a symbol of crippling illness and premature death. Many of these films reflected on the queer time by appropriating and “queering” historically significant plays and stories (the Leopold and Loeb murders in Tom Kalin’s Swoon (1992), Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II in Derek Jarman’s film of the same name (1991), Langston Hughes’s poetry in Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston (1989), among many more), just as Funeral Parade of Roses queers the Oedipal narrative. Eddie’s flashbacks to her childhood, brimming with psychoanalytic undertones, also resonate with Todd Haynes’s meditations on queer boyhood in Dottie Gets Spanked (1993) and Poison (1991).

Matsumoto’s commitment to a modernist style that can combine an index of lived experience is what sets his work apart both within the Japanese film canon as well as the larger paradigm of 1960s New Wave currents that coursed through South America, Europe, the U.S., and East Asia. It is rare, if not impossible, to find a queer representation within the New Wave as bold and unflinching as the one here. In many ways, Funeral Parade of Roses is a product of its time as well as ahead of it. It manages to animate many of the tenets of queer theory, including gender as a social construction, even before the discourse formed by the 1990s. Perhaps with this restoration, Funeral Parade of Roses can earn its rightful place in the queer canon, where deviance of all sorts find their rightful home.

Marc Francis is a PhD candidate in the Department of Film and Digital Media at University of California, Santa Cruz. His work focuses on queer film and media. His essays have appeared in Camera Obscura, Jump Cut, and Film Quarterly. In addition to his text-based scholarship, he curates an LA-based film series called Wayward Cinema. He also serves as Editorial Assistant for Film Quarterly.

FANDOR: Great Restorations, Revelations, and Debuts of 2016

By Sean Axmaker
Dec 13, 2016

Private Property (Cinelicious, theatrical and Blu-ray+DVD)

Long considered lost until it was restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and rereleased in 2016, Private Property isn’t a lost masterpiece, but it is a terrific little independently-produced thriller—both a handsome production and a visually evocative world, taut with palpable tension. The directorial debut by Leslie Stevens, a playwright, screenwriter, and protégé of Orson Welles, this 1960 American indie is a neat little sexually-charged psychological thriller starring Corey Allen and Warren Oates as drifters with a sociopathic streak crashing the sunny California culture of affluence and trophy wives. The simmering resentments of class and money, and the confusion of sex, desire, and power point this film forward to the socio-political concerns of late-sixties and early-seventies cinema.
Our coverage of the best of the year can’t overlook the “new old” movies—the ones that are finally enjoying a much needed push or have just become available to the wider public. These are eight of the essential items that saw restoration or re-release this year.

BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (Cinelicious, theatrical and Blu-ray)

This lost 1973 classic of Japanese animation is indeed an erotic drama, but perhaps not what you might think. Set in an unnamed kingdom in an abstracted medieval Europe, it’s part subversive folk tale, part rock-ballad musical, and part experimental filmmaking. Whatever you want to call it, it’s nothing like the manga serials or sexually explicit anime horrors that come to mind in the intersection of Japan, animation, and erotica. This has more in common with animated outliers like Fantastic Planet (France, 1973) and the Czech New Wave masterpiece Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970). From abstract sexual imagery to strobing Peter Max pop-art designs to delicate watercolors and Euro-style sketches, Belladonna of Sadness—restored to its full length and to its visual vibrancy and intensity by Cinelicious—is a unique artifact from a time when animated features could aspire to fine art and experimentation for adult audiences.

A.V. CLUB: From martial arts to mumbling cowboys – The best re-released and restored films of 2016


By Ignatiy Vishnevetsky
Dec 5, 2016

Movie culture has always been sustained by rediscovery and revaluation—that infinite process of expanding and redefining canons. There are two important factors at play here. The first is that film spread and developed faster than any creative medium that preceded it, meaning that the bulk of what survives of film history is still unexplored. The second is that film has always been a business, and that its commercialization can make release patterns and availability into tricky processes. Every year, some set of rights is finally negotiated or some negative is found after decades in a closet.

Our coverage of the best of the year can’t overlook the “new old” movies—the ones that are finally enjoying a much needed push or have just become available to the wider public. These are eight of the essential items that saw restoration or re-release this year.

Belladonna Of Sadness (1973)

A psychosexual freak-out of fairy-tale subtexts and obscene imagery, Belladonna Of Sadness stands as one of the most unusual and challenging animated features of its time—no small feat, given that its contemporaries include René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet and the early films of Ralph Bakshi. Directed by Eiichi Yamamoto, a close collaborator of the Japanese comics and animation legend Osamu Tezuka, in an array of limited animation styles that draw on art nouveau and expressionism, the film draws on the French historian Jules Michelet’s theories of witchcraft as a form of rebellion to create an anti-authoritarian parable of sex magic and sexual violence in medieval France. A commercial failure in its time, the film had never played American theaters before this year’s 4K restoration; it has since been released on Blu-ray and DVD.

DANGEROUS MINDS: ‘Private Property’ – Kinky, sexually tense—and long lost—film noir thriller gets rediscovered


By Bart Bealmear
June 30, 2016

The 1960 independent feature, Private Property, is a rarely seen, sexually tense thriller. Anyone who digs film noir, crime dramas, or vintage indie flicks is going to want to see this movie. Believed to have been lost for the ages, a 35mm print has been found and restored, so, lucky you, now you’ll have a chance to see it, as it’ll be released this week on home video for the first time.

Private Property is the work of writer/director, Leslie Stevens (he’d later create the sci-fi horror series, The Outer Limits). Shot in just ten days on a minuscule budget, the movie is a critique of classism and bourgeois suburban life. It’s also a beautifully photographed exploitation film. Stevens’ cast his own spouse, Kate Manx, as the doting ‘50s housewife Ann, and the majority of the picture was filmed on location at or near their Beverly Hills home. Much of the story takes place while the sun is blaring, but when the night comes, those same areas are transformed into creepy, shadowy settings.

Corey Allen and Warren Oates play criminal drifters, Duke and Boots. Allen worked primarily in TV, but will be familiar to many as Buzz, the lead delinquent in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Oates is now remembered as one of Hollywood’s great character actors, having appeared in such revered pictures as The Wild Bunch (1969), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974).

Though we know next to nothing about the backgrounds of Duke and Boots—factors that contribute to the ubiquitous tension in Private Property—it is clear from the get-go that Duke calls the shots. During a conversation early in the film, Boots admits to being a virgin, and Duke promises to find him a “twitch”. The first woman they spot is Ann, and they begin following, tailing her to the home in the hills she inhabits with her square husband, Roger. From there, Duke and Boots begin spying on her from a nearby vacant house, with the movie’s audience complicit in their voyeurism.

Duke then hatches a long game strategy to seduce Ann and pass her off to Boots. Duke, in his relentless, yet cool pursuit of Ann, exhibits such sociopathy that Donald Trump would praise him for his powers of skillful manipulation. Brilliantly portrayed by Allen, such a character is often seen as a heartless, one dimensional creature, but as Duke’s wicked plan to ensnare Ann progresses, there are hints that he is falling for her.

Kate Manx gives a nuanced performance as the lonely lady of the house. Ann is generally a cheerful person, but there is a discernible sadness that is just below the surface. Her husband, Roger, is frequently absent, and when he is around he callously disregards her frequent overtures for sex (“wife noises,” he calls them). She is faithful to her spouse, yet has been so deprived of tenderness and physical intimacy that she is seduced by the smarmy Duke, which challenges her morality. Knowing that Manx would commit suicide (in 1964, shortly after her divorce from Stevens), one can’t help but feel a heightened compassion and anxiety for the vulnerable Ann. The actress would star in just one other film—another written and directed by Stevens, in which Oates also appears—Hero’s Island (1962).

Warren Oates isn’t on screen as much as Allen and Manx, but he too shines here. Like Ann and Duke, Boots is a complex individual. He’s dopey, but not dumb; vicious, yet sensitive. He says he wants to be with a woman, but he may be a homosexual. Boots is actually the loneliest soul in the picture. For much of Private Property, he’s on the outside looking in.

Late in the film, Boots gazes lovingly at Duke (in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment), revealing he thinks of his partner in crime as more than just a buddy. As is the case with Ann, Boots needs Duke in a way that society will not accept, his confusion over who he thinks he’s supposed to want made clear in the riveting finale.

In many ways, Private Property was ahead of its time, especially in regards to the Ann character. Her descent into moral ambiguity, as well as her obvious—and at times kinky—sexual desires (in one scene, she drapes Duke’s belt around her neck and tightens it), were progressive components in Hollywood movies at that time. Not too mention the sexual tension between Duke and Ann that is so intense it threatens to boil over into your popcorn. The Motion Pictures Association deemed Private Property “unacceptable” due to, among other things, its overt depictions of “lust,” and was subsequently denied the MPA’s Production Code seal. In a few years, cutting edge films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf (1966) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967) would lead to the creation of a more modern ratings system, but it was too soon for Private Property. Even Manx’s “overly suggestive postures” rattled the conservative censors.

Without the all-important seal, Private Property was effectively doomed to obscurity. Passed over by major distributors, it was released by the independent Kano Productions in the spring of 1960, before quietly vanishing. Though lost for decades, a 35mm print was recently discovered by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and restored by Cinelicious.

The restored Private Property will be released in a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack by Cinelicious Pics on October 25th. Order it via the Cinelicious Pics website, or get it on Amazon.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Two ’70s Movies on Video Enter the Valley of the Cult Heroines

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By J. Hoberman
October 21, 2016
In late 1970, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s druggy, mystical western “El Topo” opened at the Elgin Theater in New York with no more fanfare than a small notice in The Village Voice. The film was to be screened only at midnight, according to the ad, because it was “too heavy to be shown any other way.”

A new outré cinema was born: The violent “El Topo” established the template for subsequent midnight blockbusters, like John Waters’s shockingly crude “Pink Flamingos” (1972) and David Lynch’s fantastically weird “Eraserhead” (1977). Had the Japanese animator Eiichi Yamamoto’s psychedelic, sexually explicit “Belladonna of Sadness” (1973) opened at midnight, it, too, might have entered the cult pantheon.

As it was, Mr. Yamamoto’s film was a commercial failure in Japan and, despite a screening at the 1973 Berlin International Film Festival, took more than 40 years to arrive in the United States; last spring, newly restored, it enjoyed brief theatrical runs in New York and Los Angeles and is now out on Blu-ray from Cineliciouspics. It’s also available for streaming from Amazon Video.

A product of countercultural magical thinking, “Belladonna” was inspired by “La Sorcière,” the 19th-century French historian Jules Michelet’s examination of the medieval witch mania as a rebellion, led mainly by women, against the feudal order and the Catholic Church. The movie is also something of a revolt — against constraints of good taste as well as conventional animation.

Mr. Yamamoto, an associate of Osamu Tezuka, the founding father of contemporary manga and anime, employs a variety of styles. Much of “Belladonna” unfurls like a scroll, with Mr. Yamamoto using forms of conventional cel animation and the “limited animation” associated with his television series like “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion,” panning across or zooming in on static drawings.

With its flat patterns, sinuous lines and entwining forms, “Belladonna” refracts traditional Japanese graphic art through the prism of the Art Nouveau or Vienna Secession, two movements that were in some ways inspired by Japanese woodcuts. It also echoes the candy-colored psychedelia of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” (1968), the prurient French science-fiction comic book Barbarella and the late-1960s poster art associated with the San Francisco rock scene. “Belladonna” is eye-popping and ear-catching. The score, by the jazz pianist Masahiko Sato, might be characterized as “acid twang” in its evocation of Pink Floyd and Ennio Morricone.

The movie’s look is as flowery as its title. Still, the delicate lines and pastel splashes of color are frequently at odds with a sexual violence at once explicit and powerfully abstract. Reviewing “Belladonna” in The New York Times last May, Glenn Kenny called the movie “compulsively watchable, even at its most disturbing.”

The protagonist, Jeanne, an initially shy, sad-eyed damsel who might have been the subject of a song by a hippie troubadour, is raped on her wedding day by the demonic local lord — and then again, repeatedly, by Satan himself. (The Devil speaks with the deep, seductive voice of Tatsuya Nakadai, an actor best known in the West for his samurai roles, and appears in various guises, including that of a disembodied penis.)

Part abused victim, part avenging riot grrrl, Jeanne takes up witchcraft, ultimately becoming so powerful that the feudal lord who first violated her tries to enlist her as his ally. She refuses — or rather, she makes a demand he cannot satisfy — and is thus arrested and martyred at the stake. A brief coda added for an expurgated but still unsuccessful Japanese release flashes forward to the French Revolution, identifying Jeanne with Eugène Delacroix’s 1830 painting “Liberty Leading the People.”

“Belladonna of Sadness” — described in a Japanese trailer included as a Blu-ray extra as “a typical Romanesque anime of intense eroticism and lyrical sorrow” — is organically outré.

INDIEWIRE: Cinelicious Pics Acquires Tim Sutton’s Critically Acclaimed Sundance Premiere ‘Dark Night’



By Kate Erbland
September 28, 2016

Cinelicious Pics has acquired all North American rights to Tim Sutton’s critically acclaimed “Dark Night.” Billed as “an artfully understated critique of American gun culture,” the film is “loosely based around the 2012 massacre that took place during a multiplex screening of ‘The Dark Knight’ in Aurora, Colorado.” Sutton’s feature uses pseudo-documentary technique and a cast of non-professional actors to chart the course of six strangers — including the eventual shooter — over one fateful day. The film was shot in Sarasota, Florida, and lensed by veteran French DP Helene Louvart and boasts an original score by Montreal-based Maica Armata.

The film debuted at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and was later selected as Closing Night Film at BAM CinemaFest. In recent weeks, the film played out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, where it took home the Lanterna Magica Award.

Our own Eric Kohn wrote of the film, “at every turn, the movie casts a haunting spell…’Dark Night’ plays more like a plea for scrutinizing people rather than the reductive tales of their fates…Despite its real world inspiration, ‘Dark Night’ creates the impression that exclusively focusing on the horrific events — and not the people impacted by them — buries the lede.”

“I am so proud of how this film was made and equally proud of the people who made it,” commented Sutton. “Now I get to take pride in how it will meet American audiences because Cinelicious Pics — a tasteful, intelligent and thoughtful team — will lead Dark Night into theaters with as much passion as we put into making it.”

“We’re incredibly proud and excited to be working alongside Tim,” added Cinelicious Pics’s Vice-President of Acquisitions and Distribution, David Marriott. “His is a singular and much-needed voice in American Independent cinema. DARK NIGHT is not only an important addition to the conversation surrounding gun culture in this country, but a visionary work of art in its own right.”

Cinelicious Pics is planning an early 2017 theatrical and VOD release for the film.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Once Lost, ‘Private Property’ Is a Genuine Rediscovery


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By Glenn Kenny
June 30, 2016

This 1960 picture, long considered lost, and newly restored courtesy of the bold indie distributor Cinelicious Pics, is a sex-crime thriller that teeters on the edge of morbidity before its galvanic climax. Seen today, it’s also a fascinating mélange of cinematic semiotics.

Written and directed by Leslie Stevens (best known for his contributions to the TV series “The Outer Limits”), “Private Property” features the sleazoid dirtbags Duke and Boots hijacking their way into an upscale section of Los Angeles, the better to secure a rape victim Duke can give to the sexually inexperienced Boots. The duo break into an unoccupied house next door to the home of an attractive, neglected housewife, Ann. How neglected? When Ann tells her insurance-salesman husband, “I’m ready for bed,” he says, “Wife noises” to the colleague with whom he’s on the phone.

Duke is played by Corey Allen, a few years after he hassled James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”; Boots is Warren Oates, a few years before establishing himself as one of the greatest character actors of the “new Hollywood.” Kate Manx, Mr. Stevens’s wife at the time, plays the porcelain beauty Ann; her expertise at portraying vulnerability is made more poignant by the knowledge that she took her own life in 1964. Mr. Oates underplays what could have been a schematic “Of Mice and Men”-derived dynamic, while Mr. Allen’s work as an overconfident sociopath is consistently insightful enough to make you regret that he didn’t get more roles this meaty during his career.

This tense and upsetting film has more psychological depth and empathy than the comparable sensationalist fare of its time, and shudder-inducing cinematic style to spare. “Private Property” qualifies as a genuine rediscovery.