Sunday, January 28, 2007

Movie: Awakening of the Beast (1969)

Last Zé do Caixão post, I swear. (The earlier ones are here and here.) There aren’t any more José Mojica Marins movies readily available.

By the time of Awakening of the Beast, as my friend Tony Kay points out in a comment below, Marins’ character Coffin Joe had become a huge figure in Brazilian pop culture. So we don’t get a typical Coffin Joe movie, with Marins, the grindhouse Cecil B. DeMille, offering up one shocking and prurient image after another and then justifying them with some bogus religious message.

Oh, no. We’re in for something darker and much more disturbing.

What we get is half meta-movie, with Marins appearing on camera as himself and defending his work, and half docudrama about the perils of drug abuse. Which, in Marins’ hands, plays like an episode of Dragnet directed by the Marquis de Sade. Every conceivable sexual fetish is on display. Orgies end in tragedy. Donkeys are abused. Chamber pots are filled.

The action wraps up when a psychiatrist inflicts Coffin Joe on four subjects in an LSD experiment that clearly has not been vetted by any institutional review board. The acid trip scenes, of course, are in lurid color. That’s when things start to get really weird.

I kept tuning in to IFC’s mini-Marins festival because unlike most of the underground cinema I read about when I was a budding film buff, his movies are genuinely unsettling. I’m not sure to what end, though. His talent certainly improves with each film. He shares David Lynch’s facility for crafting the imagery of dreams but not his interest in recreating their logic. Awakening’s reflexive nature calls to mind Orson Welles’ F for Fake with none of that movie’s playfulness. And his films aren’t conventional horror flicks with plots and characters. I don’t know what the hell they are, other than primitive, powerful and unforgettable. I just wish I, you know, liked them.

Marins, at 78, has recently wrapped a new Coffin Joe movie. I’m sure it will prove to be difficult to see. That won’t stop me from trying.