Monday, 30 April 2012

Awakening of the Beast

1970, Brazil, Directed by José Mojica Marins
B&W/Colour, Running Time: 93 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R2, Anchor Bay; Video: Letteboxed 1.55:1, Audio: DD Mono

Two scientists discuss the effects of drug use on the mind, body, and life of the consuming individual, considering multiple stories as they argue about the various factors involved. Later one of the scientists puts his ideas to test by setting up an experiment to simulate the effect of drugs on the mind.

Awakening of the Beast utilises the 'Coffin Joe' character (actually, 'Zé do Caixão' in the native tongue) primarily in the sequence depicting the scientist's prolonged experiment that makes up most of the final third of the film; here though his being is acknowledged within the film to be fictitious, a recreation of the fears of society. This results in the odd criss-crossing of film worlds as the sub-reality of this film recognises the previous Coffin Joe films to be the actual sub-reality, thereby rendering itself as reality itself, even though it's not (if you see what I mean). The synopsis above is meagre because there is little plot to speak of, and there are no characters to particularly like - even Marins' presence is mere illusion in effect. Drug use is analysed though I'm unsure if there is supposed to be a moral message in there, though making itself known is Marins' usual dwelling on ideas of instinctive man opposed to spiritual ideal - drugs here reduce people to horny twits with no room for any divine essence. After an hour or so the lack of real narrative begins to wear at the patience, however, the film saves itself quite significantly with the arrival of the experiment. As with This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse the film switches from black and white to colour at a key moment, lending potency at the most relevant point. The experiment is pretty much a drug trip on screen (think 2001 x 10), well executed, acutely edited in many respects, and swamped with vibrantly insane sound design. People are beaten, they teleport from place to place, colours flash vividly, there are screams and wails, faces made from bums, uncanny creatures crawling along, etc. Going on for in excess of twenty minutes there is not much like it elsewhere in cinema - this is pretty much fine art film-making on a feature length level. As with the preceding movies by José Mojica Marins the storyteller/director demonstrates towering levels of imagination (evident from the nature of the opening credits onwards) that are frequently out of control. This factor is one of the things that makes his work so distinctive and occasionally fascinating, even if it's not consistently enjoyable.
Presented in non-anamorphic widescreen the image of Awakening... in Anchor Bay's Coffin Joe Collection is quite soft with plenty of print damage. Burned-in English subtitles contain occasional errors (probably originally translated by someone whose English was their second language) whilst revealing digital compression artefacts (visible around the lettering). Mondo Macabro have previously released this film in the UK (plus I remember a screening on terrestrial TV around 11 years ago) with superior results both visually and with regard to the subtitles (the disc also included a documentary about Coffin Joe/Marins). Fantoma released the film across the ocean in a wonderful coffin shaped box (kind of like the fantastic Blind Dead set from Blue Underground), again with better results in A/V departments, plus the disc contained a short interview with the director. As part of the Anchor Bay set the film does admittedly come very cheap so complaints can be put aside.

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