Between Beyond the Valley and Dutch Wife in the Desert, Chicago is in the "pink" this weekend



Dutch Wife in the Desert screens at the U of C Film Studies Center on Saturday.
  • Dutch Wife in the Desert screens at the U. of C. Film Studies Center on Saturday.
The "pink film" is a Japanese cinematic genre almost without analogue in American movies. English-language critics usually describe it as soft-core pornography; and while pink films trade in sexual content (and often in a sensational manner), they don't exist solely to gratify spectators' sexual fantasies. Historically the genre has afforded filmmakers a good deal of creative freedom. So long as he or she incorporates the necessary salacious elements, a pink-film director can take the film in any direction he or she pleases. The handful I've seen have been surprisingly varied, ranging from political satire to old-fashioned melodrama to formally daring art films. In fact one of Japan's leading art filmmakers of the past few decades, the recently deceased Koji Wakamatsu, got his start in pink films.

One of Wakamatsu's first movies outside the pink genre, Ecstasy of the Angels (1972), screened earlier this season in Doc Films's fascinating Japanese underground series. On Saturday the series will present a full-blown pink film, Dutch Wife in the Desert (1967); it screens at the U. of C. Film Studies Center at 7 PM as part of a weekend-long event. Directed by Yamatoya Atsushi (best known in the States as the screenwriter of Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill), Dutch Wife is reportedly a surreal crime movie in which a detective investigating a rape-and-murder case gradually loses all connection to reality. It should be interesting to watch just a few hours after Pandemonium (screening at 3 PM), a 1971 feature by trailblazing experimentalist Matsumoto Toshio, whose Funeral Parade of Roses also played in the series. Given the overlap between pink films and Japanese art cinema, I wouldn't be surprised if these movies had much in common.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
  • Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
I write that pink films are almost without analogue in American cinema because there was a brief period, from the mid-60s to the late 70s, when a similar overlap existed here. The films Stephanie Rothman directed for Roger Corman's New World Pictures (e.g., The Student Nurses, The Working Girls) successfully subverted the T & A movie to advance a progressive feminist agenda. And then there is the singular career of Russ Meyer, a great satirist and one of the most ingenious editors in American movies. Meyer's films dismantle hetero-male sex fantasies so effectively (and hilariously) that you can't really call them erotic, yet it's hard to imagine him thriving anywhere other than in sexploitation, which depended on the sort of imagery he skewered.

By coincidence Meyer's most famous film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1968), is also screening in town this weekend. The Music Box Theatre will show it on Friday and Saturday at midnight in a belated tribute to Roger Ebert, who wrote the screenplay. When pink-film director Mitsuru Meike introduced his film The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai at the Chicago International in 2005, I asked him if there were any American films or filmmakers with which he identified. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was the only one he could think of.

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