They Killed My Cat [2009]

They Killed My Cat
I know you’re all jet-setters with frantic lifestyles that demand you keep a strict accounting of your time, but if you find yourself wanting something to entertain you on your next layover between Ibiza and Bali, I highly recommend that you take a moment to Google random combinations of words. The results can be downright magical.
I don’t remember exactly what I was looking for when I came across the Canadian micro-budget martial arts revenge film “They Killed My Cat,” but I know that I wound up watching this trailer (I’ll wait while you watch, and don’t worry–no animals are injured, although a cat was inconvenienced and one guy looks like he might’ve gotten a nasty burn from fireworks):
The last time I saw that kind of majestic ineptitude and sincerity of spirit was in Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” (which I love with a soulfulness that I don’t even usually have for living things). I watched the trailer for “They Killed My Cat” three or four times in absolute delight before vowing to get my hands on the movie. Let it be underscored that the cartoon image above is actual promotional art for this film. If you’re not moved by that, then I can safely assume that you are made of stone. Lo, into my hands did come a copy of this movie, and it was just what I thought it would be: an absolutely earnest hot mess (my favorite kind of hot mess, for those who haven’t been paying attention).
Let’s rewind for a second before I go into platitudes over a movie that will likely leave most folks dozing off or aggravated, waiting for the good bits to pop up on screen. When I was a young teen, I dreamed of being involved in the filmmaking process, but I exhibited absolutely no talent for the kind of teamwork, technical skill, patience, fundraising, scriptwriting or editorial know-how it takes to put together a movie. After an attempt at filming a supernatural thriller in the graveyard behind a friend’s house nearly ended with police involvement and a trip to the hospital for one of the lead actors, I decided that I belonged nowhere in the vicinity of a film production. I let the absence of innate, magical, sprung-fully-formed-from-the-forehead-of-a-deity talent stop me from making movies because I was a self-conscious kid. Self-consciousness kills souls, but I only learned that much later in life.
They Killed My Cat
“I did NOT sign a release for this. And I am being VERY inconvenienced right now. Also: meow.”
Fortunately for all of us, not everyone falls prey to the same sort of spirit-stifling self-consciousness, and there are creative people out there who will slog through making a film on the meagrest of budgets and offer up the off-beat fruits of their labors for public consumption. These films might not always be good, but the honesty one finds in them is a much-needed palate cleanser after the cynical cash-ins currently flickering onto most multiplex screens.
All of which brings me back to “They Killed My Cat.”

They Killed My Cat
This is the face of a man on important Burger King business.
Produced by, directed by, written by and starring Canadian martial artist Elliott Scott, “They Killed My Cat” tells the story of a man who is left for dead by thugs who’ve killed his girlfriend and his cat. Upon awakening, he must regain his memories and learn martial arts from a mysterious Asian woman. Once he has gathered his strength, he takes on the Black Dragons, who may very well be entirely plausible as the most dangerous gang in Moncton, New Brunswick.
They Killed My Cat
“They Killed My Cat” is in no way a traditionally good film. It’s not an undiscovered gem of mini-budget filmmaking with a vision that only slightly outpaces its abilities. The pacing is not good, the dialogue is frequently garbled due to a non-existent sound mix, and yet I found this movie to be incredibly endearing. For starters, this is one of the least marketing-motivated movies I have ever seen. Elliott Scott seems to be having an amazing time making his movie, and what he lacks in skill he more than makes up for in heart. After a slow initial fifteen minutes, the remaining forty-five minutes are full of goofy good-natured weirdness. I love absurdity, and this movie is full of insane scenes that don’t seem to realize that they’re insane–or maybe they realize exactly how insane they are and just roll with that. Certain moments distill the movie’s wonderfulness:
  • The frolicking sequence between the lead character and his girlfriend (shown in the trailer) in which they skip down an alleyway while holding tight to the beloved feline.
They Killed My Cat
  • The feats of agility during the training montage are adorably achievable and include “almost falling off of things” and “doing push-ups.” It kind of reminds me of what my little brother probably thought kung fu training looked like when he was seven.

They Killed My Cat
  • The fist-bumping gang members who half-heartedly chant “Black Dragons forever” while drinking domestic pilsner in a bar called “THE HIDEOUT.”
  • The use of fireworks to substitute for dynamite used to blow up a bridge at a local park.
There’s a joy present in the DNA of this film that I found to be really infectious. It’s silly and it’s not particularly well made, but if you open your brain to its oddball delights, “They Killed My Cat” is a wonderful example of cinematic art brut.
They Killed My Cat
DVD copies of “They Killed My Cat” can be purchased through the Bad Acting Good Kung Fu webstore.

My Latest Painting (WHAT IS IT?), Blog Call-Outs, & a Bucket of Fuck Yeah

Crispin Glover Watercolor Portrait

The new year found me feeling a bit restless and sort of *stagnant*, but any one of you out there who has any sort of creative impulse (read: pretty much ALL of you) knows it can be a daunting prospect to *actually do art*. So I’ve dipped my wee toes into the watercolor pool again and I’m reasonably pleased with the result. I’ve been on a Crispin Glover kick recently (having exhausted the Helmut Berger kick and taken a break from the Udo Kier kick), and I liked his Richard III look from “What Is It?” Of course my art sk00l professors would be aghast, but I hope some of you dig this piece.

But enough about me–other people are busy sharing excellent info, art and music elsewhere in the web. Let’s discuss!

Confession: Pretty much all I listen to when I write or paint is vintage soundtrack music. I find that these weird musical bits & bobs are highly inspirational without being distracting. Trouble is, it can be difficult (and expensive) to amass a good collection. This makes it a yet more beautiful thing when fellow collectors share the love! Check out El Diabolik’s World of Psychotronic Soundtracks, a blog and podcast that offers some truly delicious nuggets of groovy sonic goodness.
Relatively New Stuff That Is Also Good
Probably my fave Tumblr of the moment is Greggory’s Shock Theatre. It’s run by a person who is my shock/horror/exploitation sensei–this gent introduced me to the joys of lucha libre, encouraged me to seek out horror comix, and helped expand my horizons in terms of foreign genre cinema. [Extra bonus points for attribution & context on the majority of his posts!]

The latest addition to the League of Tana Tea Drinkers is the thoroughly entertaining and edifying Too Much Horror Fiction, Will Errickson’s tribute to horror paperbacks. There’s something here that will please every fan of spookiness, from amazingly lurid paperback cover art to in-depth reviews of off-beat titles. Highly recommended stuff!

Fuck Yeah, Fuck Yeah Blogs!

I’m pretty much endlessly entertained by the idea of Fuck Yeah! blogs, mainly because it seems everything has a Fuck Yeah! blog. There seems to be at least one outrageously enthusiastic fan for every tiny sliver of our culture. Slate covered the topic back in 2009, and these blogs continue to pop up, carefully curated by a legion of obsessive types. Dear obsessive types, fuck yeah to all of you.

Here are a few Fuck Yeah! blogs of special interest to folks who like the sort of thing I write about:

Fuck Yeah Udo Kier

Fuck Yeah Crispin Glover Part the Second [I really hope this doesn’t escalate to the point where it needs to be settled with pistols at dawn]
Fuck Yeah Helmut Berger [yeah, it’s a second round of self-promotion on this blog, but fresh blood has been updating this with stuff I’ve never seen, so re-check it out]
And finally, Fuck Yeah “Street Fighter” with JCVD (cos–damn! I love that movie):

La Santa Muerte [2007]

In Mexico, there is an offshoot of the Catholic faith that pays homage to a saint that is the manifestation of the ancient Aztec death goddess. The cult of Santa Muerte (Saint Death) is a fascinating phenomenon that speaks to the fluidity of faith, the spirituality of the disenfranchised, and the strength of regional culture. Santa Muerte is portrayed as a grim reaper, bearing scales of judgement and her ready scythe, and accompanied by an owl, traditional symbol of occult knowledge. Her role as the inevitable figure at the end of life makes her a comforting figure for people who feel hopeless and rejected by mainstream religion–if Death comes for everyone, then she will not ignore the pleas of even the most destitute, alienated and powerless. In addition to being an unsanctioned saint, a large portion the controversy surrounding Santa Muerte’s stems from the fact that her devotees are frequently found among Mexico’s underclass: poor people, homosexuals, substance abusers, and criminals.

La Santa Muerte
La Santa Muerte
In her documentary “La Santa Muerte,” director Eva Aridjis visits the Mexico City neighborhood of Tepito, a crime- and poverty-stricken barrio where one of the most active Santa Muerte shrines is located. Through interviews with Santa Meurte’s worshippers, Aridjis crafts a fuller picture of the reasons why a cult with such deep roots has blossomed over the span of a relatively short span of time and why its adherents believe what they do. Aridjis deftly avoids the kind of simplistic crime/occult narrative that might emerge in a more sensationalistic portrayal of the topic and instead allows her subjects to speak for themselves. The world these people describe is violent, frightening and dangerous–it’s easy to see why an alternative to the passivity encouraged by the Catholic church would be appealing.
La Santa Muerte
Depictions of Santa Muerte range from foreboding to frilly. While many images are repurposed drawings and statues of the grim reaper, other effigies are dressed in elaborate gowns reflecting traditional styles (wedding dresses, capes and crowns, cowgirl get-ups, and event Apache dance costumes). In addition to providing spiritual fulfillment to the faithful, the Santa Muerte cult has spawned a thriving cottage business. Statues, candles, paintings, and accessories are demanded by those who seek special boons from the saint. Altars to Santa Muerte are prevalent in Mexican jails, with some estimates indicating that forty percent of inmates participate in worship of the saint.
La Santa Muerte
At the center of the Tepito shrine is the charismatic figure of Enriqueta Romero Romero. She is a no-nonsense woman whose son gave her the Santa Muerte effigy that is the located in a glass case outside her home. Enriqueta welcomes thousands of worshippers a month who pay homage to the saint with gifts of candies, apples, cigarettes, tequila and marijuana. These devotions are similar to those of Hatian Vodou, and while Enriqueta makes no claims as a spiritual figure, her role in bringing the worship of Santa Muerte into the public eye is undeniable. Prior to her establishing the shrine in 2004, worship of Santa Muerte existed in private, and her shrine has served as a locus for the faith.

La Santa Muerte
It’s no secret that much of the success of Christianity is that faith’s ability to appropriate symbols of indigenous religions. It’s interesting to watch these same indigenous cultures repurpose elements of Christianity to better fit the realities of their lives. As the cult grows, so does condemnation of its practices, with no sign of official sanction from the Catholic church on the horizon. In providing a non-judgmental look at a divisive cultural phenomenon, Eva Aridjis’ “La Santa Muerte” is a fascinating documentary that raises as many questions as it answers.
La Santa Muerte
UPDATE: “La Santa Muerte” is screening at Observatory in Brooklyn on February 24, 2011 with the director present. Click here for more information.

Funeral Parade of Roses [1969]

“Funeral Parade of Roses” is one of the more haunting films I watched in 2010, and I’m still thinking about it months after my first viewing. Beautiful, poignant, perverse, and stylish, this exploration of gay culture and identity in late-1960s Japan has a shocking intensity that has lost none of its impact in the forty-plus years since its release. There’s a richness of symbolism, a complex artistic intent, and a disorienting structure here that makes the task of discussing the film a daunting one indeed.

The first feature film by director Toshio Matsumoto, “Funeral Parade of Roses” tells the story of Eddie, a startlingly beautiful drag queen who works as a hostess in a Tokyo bar. Eddie and his rival Leda vie for the affections of Gonda, a shady underworld figure who deals drugs and manages the bar where they both work. It’s clear that Eddie is struggling with a dark secret that’s alluded to in flashbacks throughout the film, and this secret eventually overwhelms him in the crushing final scenes of the film.
Funeral Parade of Roses
This quick plot summary does no justice to the movie, including as it does rollercoaster tonal shifts, Brechtian fourth-wall busting, moments of cheeky humor and digressions into full-on psychedelia. Now might be the right moment to mention that Stanley Kubrick cited “Funeral Parade of Roses” as an influence on his adaptation of “A Clockwork Orange,” and while the latter film concentrates much more on satire, the stylistic similarities are undeniable. Matsumoto’s film contains several juxtapositions of quirky music and sped-up film and has an overall Pop Art sensibility that encompasses the street fashions sported by the characters, the frequent appearance of poster art in the backgrounds of scenes, and even cartoon word balloons that emerge from the mouths of Eddie and Leda during a particularly nasty spat.
Funeral Parade of Roses

While the film focuses on the gay counterculture in Tokyo, there is a depiction of the city’s youth scene that touches on anti-war protests, hippie drug culture, juvenile delinquency, and racial tension. Surgical-masked protesters hold a mock funeral, stalling traffic on the street. One of Eddie’s suitors is an African-American soldier stationed in Japan. Eddie and his cross-dressing friends get into a brawl with a tattooed girl gang.
Funeral Parade of Roses
The movie consists of layers upon layers of context that war for the viewer’s attention. The aggressively modern production design complements the experimental structure, which includes films-within-the-film. Characters are interviewed about their lifestyles and there are erotic encounters that turn out to be nothing more than performances for a camera crew which is revealed mid-action. This cutting-edge modernity is in contrast with other themes in the movie that are drawn from Greek mythology. Leda is a familiar name to Classicists for her unnatural dalliances with Zeus in swan-form, and the name Eddie is derived from that of the tragic king Oedipus. This tension between modern and classical, East and West, underground and mainstream culture informs every frame of “Funeral Parade of Roses.”
Funeral Parade of Roses
The depiction of gay culture is remarkably nuanced and sensitive–characters are shown who exist along the continuum of gender and sexual identity. While the central characters dress and behave like women, they identify as gay men and specifically express the fact that they are not transsexuals. Several of the gay men in the film are what might be called “straight-acting,” with the behavior and attire traditionally reserved for “macho,” heterosexual men.
Funeral Parade of Roses
In the role of Eddie, actor Peter conveys a sensuality and beauty that are hypnotically androgynous. His elegant physicality and nuanced facial expressions infuse the film with a humanity that might be lost among all the flashy artistry. The inevitability of his fate is made all the more tragic because he is a fully-formed person feeling very real pain beneath all the makeup and artifice.
Funeral Parade of Roses
It’s difficult to distill a movie like “Funeral Parade of Roses” because it so perfectly utilizes the cinematic medium. There’s something really energizing about seeing a movie that embraces the potential of film. Sound, time, and visuals combine to create an artifact that should be watched and appreciated for its extreme film-ness. Like the best pieces of art, “Funeral Parade of Roses” will leave you thinking long after you’ve finished watching.
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