I saw two Christian-themed movies this week. One made with the intent to blaspheme, the other with an evangelical purpose. Neither of them is going to further the reputation of Jesus Christ or his teachings...
The School of the Holy Beast (1974, directed by Norifumi Suzuki) is the more palatable of the two, in spite of the film's clear intention to ridicule and debase organized Christianity, especially Catholicism. It's a nunspoitation movie, sure, but a more artful nunsploitation movie than what usually oozes out of Catholic countries. Like many Japanese exploitation films, this one is defensible only on the grounds of its form. Director Suzuki aestheticizes his film for all it's worth. Unlike similar films from Europe, one is never discomforted with the squishier nastiness of the genre. The scene where our heroine is bound with rose briers and whipped with longstem roses is typical of the film's approach: What is happening on screen is base titilation, but it's beautiful to watch if you can divorce the content from the form. Yumi Takagawa is the perfect actress for this--gorgeous, but with a hint of steel in her demeanor, at home as a good-time girl out on the town before her confinement at the convent or as the severe avenging nun/angel at the end. That all said, the movie is an uneasy conflation of nunsploitation tropes, Hammer horror, and Japanese roman-porno that doesn't quite work, though it is artful (as opposed to "arty") enough to command some interest.
Art has no accquaintance with director Ron Ormond, or his hysterical Christian scare film, If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971). Ormond is perhaps best known for his wretched Mesa of Lost Women, a constant occupant of "worst films ever made" lists. In the 1970s, Ormond turned his...um...unique talents to Christ, and in partnership with Mississippi evangelist Estus W. Pirkle (a name on which I can hardly improve) created this...thing. God is going to turn away from America, the movie tells us, unless a revival happens in the next 24 months. The "or else" part of the equation is the instantaneous Communist take-over of the United States. What's to blame for the declining morals of America? Poverty? War? Drugs? Not at all...it's Saturday morning cartoons, dancing, and "the liberal media." To what kind of life can we look forward under our coming Communist masters? 16 hour work days all year round, the taking of our Christian women to satify the lusts of Communist officers, and endless stacks of bloodstained bodies in the streets. Our children will have sharpened bamboo sticks shoved into their ears in order to prevent them from hearing the word of God. Children will be decaptitated if they honor their mother and father. Children will be encouraged to pray to Fidel Castro for candy as part of the diabolical Communist brainwashing.
No, really. I'm not making this up. For that matter, the good Reverend Pirkle claims that HE isn't making it up, either. Clearly, he's deluded. The whole production is deluded. This artifact (I can't really call it a film) fills me with a black misanthropy towards my fellow Americans. Surely evangelical Christians aren't so blindly naive. Surely they aren't so pigheadedly stupid? When I'm in a blacker mood, this film rather explains some things to me about the current politics of the United States, which tempers the pleasures so outrageously bad a film occasionally offers.
Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy (2004) took me by surprise. I didn't like Otomo's Akira. I don't much care for Japanese animation in general. But I liked this. As pure kinetic art, this is amazing. Every minor detail the film puts in motion is a drug to the eyes. I like the alternate history of steam technology this film posits. I like the ethical questions the film asks, and I like the fact that it doesn't come down with a heavy hand on either side of its ethical dilemma. I LOVE the fact that the film works as a coherent narrative. In my experience, this is a rare occurrence in Japanese cartoons. And despite the fact that most of the film is an excuse to stage a steampunk apocalypse, there's an appealing optimism at the end of the movie that hit the right nerve. Mostly, though, I like the fun of the movie. This is a fun movie, which is a rarity in the world these days.