Sunday, October 04, 2015

Long Russian films with lots of mud and other fluids in them

Hard to See the Point is the final film by the legendary Russian auteur Boris Germanuniform. Based on the novel by the Stroganoff Brothers, and first circulated in samizdat form in 1963 in the outskirts of Leningrad and then translated into Finno-Ugric by a dissident taxi driver, the film tells the story of a planet that has revered to medieval savagery while scientists from Earth join in and pretend to be gods. The locals revere the earthmen, despite the fact that the lead character, Fukaski, breaks noses every three and a half minutes for the whole of the film’s three hour running time. The film follows Fukaski as he fails to respond to the prayers of the locals, as the city is overrun first by the troops of a local bloodthirsty warlord - said to be based on every Russian premier since 1917, and several BBC celebrities - and then by fanatical monks, who show even less mercy than the out-and-out bastards. Most of the characters die horribly, but as most of them are covered in mud and snot for most of their onscreen time, it is difficult to make out precisely who dies and in what order.
  It rains, at first a lot, and then torrentially for the remaining four and half hours. This was apparently due to the rain machine becoming stuck in the “on” position during the film’s legendary nine-year production schedule. The film’s other many troubles included the death of the scriptwriter - the script can be seen burning in the second mass-carnage scene in the first ten minutes of the film’s opening tracking shot -  and the banning of Germanuniform from the filmmakers’ union bar in Moscow. Filming was further halted as communism collapsed and Germanuniform was trapped inside the filmmakers’ union bar, holed up for months with nine hundred bottles of vodka and a case of Kalashnikovs. The advent of perestroika saw the legendary director released from the bar, and he was able to resume work on the opening tracking shot, featuring a van load of Hungarian extras who had been waiting in a skip outside Budapest for eight months without pay, food or shelter.
  But the opening shot is where the film’s troubles really start. An obese monk - played by a former Soviet shot-putter and television host - is given a rectal prolapse in slow motion and his body then rotates very slowly on a torture wheel for fifteen minutes while a herd of cows is burned alive by nuns with five o’clock shadows on the church battlements. Fukaski embarks on a tour-de-force of nose-breaking, and we see several extremely obese village matrons have sex with the monastery’s battering ram. This subtle scene was largely thought to have been a satirical reference to Politburo scandals of the late 1970s, and led to Germanuniform being stripped of his Russian citizenship when Vladimir Putin came to power.
  By that time, the opening half hour had been completed, with more Hungarian extras being flown in from a submerged quarry near Cardiff. The extraordinary spitting scene - where everyone, waist-deep in human excrement, spits at everyone else in a communal cess-pit while bellowing a tune said to be based on the Bulgarian national anthem - was shot in Reading, Home of ING InsuranceTM, but the sheer horror of Middle England led to the suicide of several of the extras, as well as the cameraman. Those actors who survived this appalling banal scene - complete with Meal DealsTM, Phone a Friend and a by-election - were made Equity honorary life members and promptly flown to a ploughed up airfield near Bratislava, where Germanuniform had already begun work on the next tracking shot with a new director of photography. This remarkable sequence, involving a huge wooden dildo attached to a trebuchet, sees the monks finally giving the village ladyboys the seeing-to they’ve been after since the opening tracking shot ended with a close up of a severed penis in a puddle of rabid wolf vomit and All State Union Ball-bearing Factory cafeteria semolina (shot in difficult circumstances outside Vladivostok). Honorary mention must go to the Bodily Fluids department in the next scene, for the extraordinary realism they bring to the mass expulsion of fluids as rival bishops experience competing grand-mals during the final peasant burning marathon of this lengthy and complex crane shot.
  Meanwhile, the satire becomes less subtle as Fukaski decides to kill the remaining characters for no apparent reason. This remarkable scene, involving a 45 minute tracking shot through the dungeons of the castle, was in fact made up of several different takes shot years apart for reasons that no one has been able to ascertain. Starting on a decomposing cow - said to be a reference to something - the camera then tracks Fukaski as he’s mistaken for a British spy, flogged by the inquisition, given an enema in the sewers by his nemesis (the Stroganoff brothers’ original translator, here making his final cameo before returning to taxi driving in Belgium), before finally being skinned alive and roasted on a spit in a cave outside Kiev. The final orgy of destruction takes place when Fukaski is restored to life by a shaman - although it’s difficult to tell, as he’s as covered in shit as everyone else - and sits in a puddle farting while the hugely overweight bishop is disembowelled as he’s being buggered by the insane little boy from the Russian All Union Institute for Insane Little Boys Traumatised by War. This last, extraordinary slow-motion garotting, which lasts a full half-hour, brings the film to a conclusion, a mere nine hours after the second half began.
  Germanuniform spent eleven years then editing the film in a shed with no roof at the bottom of a coal mine in the Urals. Sadly, the director died during postproduction, of, it is said, exposure and malnutrition - a feature of all Germanuniform’s editing schedules. The final four-hour tracking shot was completed by his son, with the aid of the remaining Hungarian extras and a UN disaster relief team. The film plays for one night only in a bus shelter just north of Washington services on at A1. It will be introduced by Germanuniform’s son, who will then urinate on a dead tramp in homage to his father. More satire, it is thought, but as I’m writing this from inside a car crusher outside Murmansk, I’m not sure what any of it means any more. And now, back to the studio.

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