Monday, February 16, 2009

oh gutter, why have you forsaken me...

On the one hand, I want to give the movie GUTTERBALLS some credit because it genuinely bothered me. On the other hand, I want to give it absolutely no credit at all for anything, ever, because it's a truly awful film, not just technically, but ideologically, it's really troubling, but not in a troubling, make you think kind of way, it's just, y'know, wrong. I'm generally not that quick to cry misogyny, although I think that's something that's very prevalent in our culture, I think it's also a term that gets tossed around a bit to casually, and often in the wrong direction, but GUTTERBALLS in misogynistic in the worst way. Over the course of the movie, the audience is asked to take pleasure, or at least amusement, and possibly arousal, in a brutal, violent rape, then later is expected to feel some kind of chatharsis when the tables are turned, not on the rapist, but on the rape victim. Seriously, that's fucked up.

Academically, there's a lot of material to be mined here. For all intensive purposes, GUTTERBALLS is a rape revenge film, but it doesn't seem to be aware of the mechanics and devices that make films like MS. 45 or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE work. In those films, the audience is encouraged to side with the victim-turned-aggressor, even if the female characters in these films are somewhat detatched and ambiguous, there is at least something in them that viewers can identify with. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is a remarkably brutal film, but it remains consistently brutal throughout, it plays like a series of gut punches, it leaves you kind of dizzy and nauseous and unhappy, but you genuinely feel for the protagonist and experience some kind of relief when she gets her revenge. GUTTERBALLS is punctuated with lame attempts at humor and sexual imagery that's designed to titillate, while the victim of the early rape scene is treated more or less as an afterthought, it's really not about experiencing her revenge, it's all about putting as much offensive shit up the screen as possible, without any regard for the ideological consequences.

The movie's final moments, in which the rape victim is fairly casually gunned down, with the camera then lingering on her blown-open stomach, spilling intestines and bared breasts, is more or less emblematic of the whole GUTTERBALLS experience. We've been watching the film for 90 minutes now, and it hasn't been good, but the finale is the one chance to pull it all together, to give the film a reason for being, to make some kind of amends to the viewer for being so shitty, for wasting their time, but then comes this killing, like a slap in the face, it totally undermines everything we've seen up until this point, not only the rape itself, but the series of killings that have supposedly been in the name of vengeance. We've ultimately been given no protagonist, not one character who is meant inspire even the most basic identification. The film's "final girl" has been, up until these last few moments, a marginal character, we've built no alliegence with her, and there's really no victory in her survival. When we see her stumbling and traumatized into the sunlight from the darkened bowling alley where most of the movie has taken place, there's no real sense of what she's been through, really only a few minutes of intense experience, during which she's all too quickly taken up the gun and shot down her former friends. We are made all too aware that we are watching a shitty movie in which poorly drawn movie characters are having unrealistic movie reactions to contrived movie situations.

The film's general sense of sexuality is also suspect. Is it significant that some of the sexual material borders on hardcore, that we're seeing exposed labia and penises, breasts and oral sex? I want to say yes, as this is, despite its' content, essentially a "mainstream" film, in that it's not a porno film and not an underground or experimental film, and the presence of hardcore in mainstream films is always of at least some interest. Except, it's not. All the sex scenes are staged with the tenor of porn, the language of porn, the aesthetic of porn. It brings the narrative to a grinding halt, and we are painfully aware that we are watching a movie which is going out of it's way to shove some genitals in our face. In a better film, where these scenes were integrated with the rest of the material, this would be challenging and interesting, but here the acts and body parts and supposed challenges exist solely for the purpose of their own existence, there might as well have been animated arrows up on the screen pointing at the actors' genetalia, and captions reading," Hey, look at this, can you believe we're doing this? We're really doing this! Is your mind blown yet?" It's kind of depressing.

Aggressively violent, sexual and offensive filmmaking can be effective when there's some kind of thought behind the action. Look at THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET, that's a film that makes you want to take a shower after you've watched it. Hell, it makes you want to stop it halfway through and take a shower just so you can get through the rest of the movie, but it's also a film with a worldview, it knows what it's doing and why it's doing it, and the point isn't just the be disturbing or offensive, there some artistic intent going on behind the scenes, however grimy it might be, it's a truly effective and affecting movie. Look at something like NEVER BELONGS TO ME or TOKYO GORE POLICE, two Asian films seeped in sexualized violence and gential obsession, but they're kind of loveable because their characters are so well established, because their pervesity is so unique. GUTTERBALLS, meanwhile, plays like little more than a frat boy's rape and torture jerk off. Never mind morals, it's emotionally bankrupt, it's total bullshit. Fuck it. I wasn't necessarily depressed after watching it, it didn't inspire enough feeling to muster that, but in retrospect, I'm depressed that it exists. Like, becuase I know it's out there in the cultural consciousness, this is how segment of the culture thinks and feels, this aggressive, thoughtless segment of people, these are like my enemies. GUTTERBALLS is my enemy.

Meanwhile, this is the first time I've made my own screen captures for Negative Pleasure. Hope they came out all right. Feel free to snatch them and use them however you like, anytime, any image. Share and share alike, right?

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