Friday, May 7, 2010

Ebert Refuses to Rate Human Centipede

I subject myself to a lot of awful in the name of cinematic curiosity and masochism; Salo, Sweet Movie, Antichrist, The Notebook, Bratz... it's something that has to be done.  Tell me I don't want to watch it and suddenly I do.  I really do.  When it comes to bad taste on screen, I'm fairly jaded.  My shock, schlock, and gore meters operate on a scale that's maybe a little too high and traditionally, I go into the traumatizing excited and leave fairly nonplussed.  Don't ask me why this is.  Some people like roller coasters, I like weird movies.  Yet, in recent months it seems like some filmmakers might be getting the jump on me.  Pushing things too far outside of art and into the realm of real bad taste, Videodrome bad taste (not the actual Cronenberg film, which I love, but the scrambled channel within the film) and I find myself, for the first time, more worried than intrigued.  What has me feeling this new, unfamiliar feeling of dread?  Two things: Serbian Film (Srpski Film), primarilyand Human Centipede, a different type of messed up.  I'll say more on the first, if you haven't already heard, in a minute, but now the latter...

Let's talk it out.

Human Centipede is the latest underground horror film building up buzz via word of mouth.  Supposedly flat -out revolting, the titular 'creature' is the product of mad German science.  This is a centipede not in a creature-feature way, not in a monstrous 'blob' manner, not campy, not fun.  Think more along the lines of Mengele.  The film's doctor traps tourists and surgically connects them to one another, mouth to anus, to form his human centipede.  The food comes out one leaves the other, the victims in pain and torment, forced to function as one.  Yes, that means everything you think it means in between.  Feel free to gag.  Rumor has it that Dutch director Tom Six takes the nightmarish truth of this and gives it to you without any humor, and instead with a seriousness reserved for the most sincere of dramas.  All I can say is, thanks, but I'd really rather not.

If I did, though (and I won't kid that there may come a time when I will on both counts...judge), I'm sure I'd have to write up a long treatise on this.  Roger Ebert has seen the film.  His stance on it is one that's pretty extreme, a first for him: he's refused, outright, to grant The Human Centipede a star rating.  Ebert has made a glorious career out of being a fair and partial film critic open to conceits of genres and rating according to how well that film operated within its niche instead of merely on notions of importance or straight quality.  He's the guy you look to for an assessment of that dumb blockbuster action film that'll rank it honestly, right next to the Oscar winners, according to its sheer entertainment value.  He's seen a lot, and for him to stand up and shake his head is kind of a huge statement.  He has this to say:
"I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine." [SOURCE
In a way, it seems easy to take objection to the lack of a star rating, it's a cop out, almost.  The easy way to avoid affixing a label to something unpleasant.  But I honestly don't think I can blame him.  There are some films that defy our own personal logic, or exist outside of that which we feel we can assess impartially or measure for what merits they have.  Ebert's written assessment is enough.  He finds the positives of Six's film and points them out.  Yet, Ebert's always been honest about the existence of individual bias in criticism at the end of the day, and sometimes, that's just fine.

Now, we return to Serbian Film. Google it.  Look that up and find all the reviews from the blog critics who witnessed its horrorshow at SXSW.  Read and find that almost every review skirts around listing the vile events that the viewer has beheld.  See how many rephrase the "well, i can't un-watch it" sentiment.  Serbian Film is a cousin, albeit a product of a different generation, to the political torturous pseudo porn of films like Pasolini's aforementioned Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom and Finnish Sweet Movie, there's a legitimate political undercurrent to its madness.  Serbian Film's fearless director, Srdjan Spasojevic, created the film as a direct response to the repression and real instances of human rights violation at work in the titular country. The goal, as I understand it, is to force the world to experience the horrors that they have experienced in real life.  The Wall Street Journal has this blurb from the film's midnight showing Q&A:
“This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government,” he said. “We’re giving this back to you.” He pointed out that the movie, which has yet to play in its native country, reflects a hidden anti-government sentiment. “In the past 10 to 15 years, the only films made in Serbia have no connection to Serbian reality,” [Source
There's something about that that makes sense, but, just like a Peta anti-cruelty shock doc, Serbian Film isn't something you watch for sheer entertainment.  If it is, from the sounds of it you might be a damn sick puppy.  This is the movie that horror freaks and film nerds will dare each other to see...and if you're as curious as I was now, I have the spoilers for you right here. I'll admit it, part of me just wants to talk about the crazy shit going on this film with no other motive.  I mean, I'm certainly not one for any sort of censorship and if I'm not calling for judgment, I'm not quite sure why I'm telling you all of this.  Anyhow, the premise is that Milos, an ex-porn star tight on cash is offered one final job for major monetary compensation. A mysterious figure wants to have Milos star in a film without a script, to simply react to whatever situation he's placed in.  Milos accepts, but what he accepts is a dark and depraved world far from what he anticipated. The worst of it?  *Spoiler/quite possibly ruin your day disturbing alert* There's supposedly (again, I haven't seen the film) a scene in which a pregnant woman gives birth, and the newborn is subsequently raped to death.  GAH!  Puke.  Is it shown or implied? I don't know. I'm not sure I need to know.  We'll see.  All I know is that that's the sort of thing that Fox news starts tea parties about, right?  I have to say, though, this sort of transgressive symbolism is nothing new to literature.  Authors have been committing these crimes on paper or centuries and, in spite of the occasional banned book, not much has come of it.  There's something about the translation, the visual, that really hits a moral outrage trigger, even when we know it's not real.  There's power in that is something to be respected. There's something almost impressive about a film that pulls no punches, that makes no allowances in what it dares to put before you.  And that's vaguely terrifying. I think that's part of why I find myself watching shock cinema.  Why I go through phases where I seek it out.  It's actually scary, not an escape but a horrible reminder.  For me, it's almost academic, there's something that can be gleaned from seeing that which you are otherwise never shown.  It's jarring in a way that shakes you.  Serbian Film is the product of rage, a rage that cannot be ignored.  So is there a difference between the sick and wrong of Human Centipede and the sick and wrong of Serbian Film?  I think there is, yes, and without having seen either film, I think there's something to be said about the difference in purpose and inventiveness between the shock of The Human Centipede (almost just because he can) versus the cold shocks to A Serbian Film (which, to the filmmakers, seem to feel urgent and necessary).  Is that shallow?  Is that the old "it isn't porn, it's a tasteful foreign film" excuse?  Maybe.  Do you feel like you need a shower now?  You should go.


  1. How can you review 2 films you've never seen?

  2. AnonymousJune 25, 2012

    Whatch the movies first then review.. Jackass!!



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