Screenings #52

Capping a period of experiments as Martin Scorsese’s house screenwriter and as director of several films with one foot in the work of influences Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson and another in the visual lexicon of fashion, Paul Schrader turned to the work of a Japanese writer whose polymathic sensibilities included a taste for sadomasochistic humiliation and homosexual jingoism. Mishima doesn’t aspire to realism; in the most Godardian film of his career, Schrader assembles a series of lushly photographed tableau which cohere into an essay on Mishima’s themes. Had Schrader released it during the Raging Bull-American Gigolo era it might’ve gotten a warmer reception; as AIDS diagnoses exploded, Mishima looked like a missive from another time. Biography and passages from Mishima texts like Confessions of a Mask and Temple of the Golden Pavilion appear as, alternatively, spectral black and white compositions and colors as lurid as any found in a Russell Mulcahy video.

Turns out the form suits this childhood member of the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church, who in 1985 was still figuring out how to depict his erotic fantasies without turning them, as Pauline Kael said about his 1982 remake of Cat People, into album covers of records you don’t want to play. Aspiring to high art, Mishima, like its subject, is most comfortable in the sensationalistic; plenty of MTV stars toyed with eroto-fascist at the time but without the kink. As Brian Eggert notes in a splendid appraisal, set designer Kazuo Takenakaw was distinctive enough to get noticed by Francis Ford Coppola, whose Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) shows Mishima’s influence.

After his script for Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, Schrader returned to the smaller angrier pictures of the late ’70s: desperate people on the make, selling drugs (1992’s Light Sleeper), unsuccessfully avoiding family entanglements (1998’s Affliction), or selling themselves (2007’s the too little seen The Walker). First Reformed (2018) was a return. Or retread?

About Endlessness (Andersson, 2021) 7/10
Malignant (Wan, 2021) 4/10
Cry Macho (Eastwood, 2021) 4/10
In the Heights (Chu, 2021) 5/10
Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror (Knappenberger, 2021) 8/10
Worth (Colangelo, 2021) 5/10*
Mishima (Schrader, 1985) 7/10
* My Beautiful Laundrette (Frears, 1985) 8/10
* Cabaret (Fosse, 1972) 7/10

* Denotes repeat viewing.

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