Friday 2 November 2007

Awakening of the Beast (1970) José Mojica Marins

A scream and José Mojica Marins rises from his coffin, in full top hat, medallion and cape. Its now 1970, six years after At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul but he looks the same: long (and real) fingernails, a unibrow that looks like bat wings, piercing eyes and an arrogant presence to him. The introductory soundtrack is awesome and would be surreal to actually listen to without the visuals, very much a Halloween mix of screams, explosions and other sound effects. The credits themselves look like a fanzine pasted over comics and other graphic art.

When the film itself starts we find that it's just as strange as always. A young buxom girl sits n a room surrounded by nude photographs injects herself with some sort of drug, then strips, while a group of much older men watch and then present her with a chamber pot. Then a schoolgirl is brought to a room full of what seems to be some sort of asylum residents, some musical or artistic, some just out there. Either that, or it's just a college town and we're in the dorms of some dedicated perverts. Marijuana and thirty second bouts underneath a schoolgirl's skirt sound just like something a frat house would get up to.

This is all completely bizarre and surreal and ends with the girl dying after being impaled on a religious nut's staff, but where's Coffin Joe? Well, it seems that this is but a single example of degeneration as recounted by a psychiatrist and the interviewer could only believe such of Coffin Joe, who isn't involved in the slightest. We're then treated to more such orgies of outrageous perversion, all involving drugs or prostitution or both, and a growing number of scenes of the vice squad throwing the degenerates into the back of their wagon.

The message here is really unclear, especially given that it comes from the mind of José Mojica Marins, the man behind At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse. It plays like a sort of Brazilian Reefer Madness, with the emphasis on the perverse and with so much more being actally shown than could ever have been possible back in the Hollywood of 1936. However it's not really clear what the psychiatrist is trying to warn us against: is it drugs, oral sex or female undergarments? All three seem to be fixated on to equal degrees, along with a large dose of Catholic guilt.

Eventually we're let in on the fact that Marins himself is in the room with the psychiatrist and we soon discover the reason for his presence. The psychiatrist has run an experiment that involved collecting four drug addicts from different social backgrounds, taking them to some sort of art house stage performance, then a wild nightclub and finally a showing of This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse, all to see their reactions. Then he injects all four of them with LSD and lets them focus on the image of Coffin Joe.

Reality and fantasy blend as this film progresses and it's unclear as to what the real aim of it is, beyond Marins poking fun at himself, his character of Coffin Joe, the very popularity of and critical opposition to what he does, and the themes that he works with. Most of the film looks like it was made for next to nothing, and indeed it was apparently made on donated film stock, but the final scenes as the four experiment participants work through their acid trips are every bit as striking as the previous two films of his that I've seen. I'm still thinking through the last few minutes and what it all means. Maybe the point is that drugs themselves aren't bad but anyone who chooses to use them is already lost. I dunno. Maybe its just that José Mojica Marins is a pixie who revels in playing with our minds and perhaps that's the point.

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