Love Exposure

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

22 November

Premiere of Ravel’s Bolero, 1928

On this day in 1928, Ravel’s Bolero made its debut at the Paris Opera. Ravel was originally going to call the work Fandango but changed his mind to Bolero, keeping his original intention – which he almost apologetically in later years would describe as “orchestral tissue without music… there are no contrasts and practically no invention except the plan and the manner of execution.” Bolero is a long rhythmic crescendo, starting out with a simple rat-tatta-ta-tat-tatta-ta-tattata-tattata-tat snare drum, a sinuous melody over the top, at first with just a few members of the orchestra playing but as it goes on more and more sections are brought in – some following the drum, others the tune – playing increasingly loudly. It continues like this for anything between 14 and 17 minutes (Ravel preferred it not to speed up, most conductors have disagreed), until, right before the end the whole thing briefly but gloriously changes key, crescendoing quasi-orgasmically with blaring brass, before changing back again, blaring again and then collapsing into a heap. It was received ecstatically in Paris and again in New York when the conductor Arturo Toscanini debuted it there. However, when Toscanini played it in Paris, Ravel was there, and was not happy with the speed Toscanini preferred. It remains Ravel’s most famous work, so instantly recognisable using it often teeters on the edge of the comic (as happened when Blake Edwards used it in his movie 10), and popping up all over the place as an inspiration (Roy Orbison’s Running Scared, Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, the Doctor Who theme tune).

Love Exposure (2008, dir: Shion Sono)

You get bang for your buck with Love Exposure. Nearly four hours long (and that’s the cut version), it’s a sinus-clearing mad stew of stuff from Sion Sono (spelling of his name varies) who here goes large on fandom, fanaticism, religious belief, fetish, love and lust, all of which he seems to see as belonging on the same continuum. Ravel’s Bolero is all over the first hour, which could be a movie in itself. It tells the story of Yu, the introverted boy who becomes a master of the upskirt shot, the orchestra heaving away as Yu performs ballet-like contortions and lunges to get his shots of girls’ panties. The soap opera style coupled with an anime simplicity of line and clear skin of the characters makes it a strangely chaste affair in some ways. Though as part two kicks off (abused girl cuts off father’s penis, becomes coke dealer), then part three (pretty schoolgirl delights in smashing up houses), we seem to slide into the more provocative, amphetamine world of Quentin Tarantino as reinterpreted by Austin Powers. There aren’t many films that set out to suggest that porn and religion are in some ways comparable, that even love is blind and mad, and that none of us really has any idea what we’re doing, that we’re just blundering about like robots, some better programmed than others but all signed up to some set of notions that drives us. But, in spite or perhaps because of this, Sono’s pretty boys and hot girls struggle on through their melodramas. And because Sono has delighted and entertained us, made us laugh both at and with his weird but delicate characters, we’re fascinated to see just what sort of a fist they’re going to make of it all.

Why Watch?

  • Too unruly for the big awards, but a big hit at film festivals worldwide
  • Does it make sense? Does it have to?
  • There’s a serious discussion of the role of religion
  • And of the role of love in a world saturated in pornographic imagery

Love Exposure – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2013

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