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ONLY GOD FORGIVES: RE/Search recommends!

Friday night (July 26, 2013) the idea of driving to Oakland, even to see our old friend Jello Biafra‘s GSM band, much less to see the revival of Factrix (who once lived at RE/Search headquarters around 1980) seemed daunting, so we happily stayed home and read books (real books, on paper pages). Our friend Ethan told us that the Factrix revival featured SIX people (not three, as originally) and that they sounded more like a rock band than an industrial group.
Saturday night we decided to take the 30 Stockton bus from North Beach to the Marina Theater on Chestnut St (near Steiner) for the 9:35pm showing of ONLY GOD FORGIVES, which Dave & Dione (Dave did the CRASS logo long ago) had highly recommended. At the bus stop, the electronic sign told us that, contrary to what our computer had told us earlier, the 30 bus wasn’t coming for 38 minutes, so we took the 45 bus and walked 5 blocks more to the theater—at least we made it on time. (moral: Leave a little early; have time to buy popcorn!)
We had never been to this theater before. We bought popcorn (they even offered caramel popcorn, made separately), walked up to the 2nd floor, found Theater #1 (super-clean bathrooms, by the way) and counted eleven people, including us. And this is on a Saturday night in San Francisco! We got center-view seats, taking care not to block people behind us previously seated, and just before the projector started, another four people rushed in.
We sat through some pretty high-grade commercials (ironically, one promoting YouTube), watched four trailers (they now say something like “approved for showing with this feature”) and definitely two of the coming movies looked interesting, especially the futuristic film starring Jodie Foster made by the director of “District Nine”): ELYSIUM. The sets looked AMAZING!
Finally, the feature by Nicholas Winding Refn began (a Danish-French production). We had definitely liked the director’s earlier film with star Ryan Gosling: DRIVE, which seemed kind of Ballardian to us, fraught with moral ambiguities (and we do like vicarious speedy car chase footage rather than “the real thing.”). This film was very slowly paced, which we liked, and every scene seemed like a beautiful (if not stunning) composition (thanks to cinematographer Larry Smith? in cahoots with lighting, set design and costume wizardry). Indeed, this film at its best is a work of lighting art (and sometimes the interiors were knockouts, brimful of detail and enigmatic complexity).
Near the beginning, we watched a Thai boxing match in which the loser seemed to be genuinely knocked unconscious, we saw gorgeous street scenes and were swept along by raucous overcrowded traffic… We thought, “So this is Bangkok!” and slightly regretted not visiting there when we had had the opportunity a few years ago.
This film is extremely involving, and during the entire 90+ minutes we heard not one single laugh from the audience—or for that matter, “normal” rustling and audience noise. There were gorgeous female actresses, some riveting scenes with Kristin Scott Thomas (she was in The English Patient, which I saw so long ago I can’t remember her or the film at all), and the real “hero” of the film is the Thai Head of Police who seems almost supernaturally Zen Masterful. The much-maligned (by other film critics, that is) “violence” seems to us mostly quite original and “fresh.” To us, the film is a series of lessons on improvised weaponry (using whatever can be found at hand) as well as assassination by firearms, both semi-automatic and full-auto. The necessity of always having your senses alert for something “wrong” happening might save your life…
After the Thai boxing match, all of the interior scenes are drenched in intense theatricality—actually, the film can be divided into “interiors” and “exteriors”—twin films with complementary “realities.” The interior scenes are reminiscent of Joseph von Sternberg but in rich COLOR, with artful lighting and sometimes languid pacing. Generally, eroticism is slow and violence is sudden and quick. The karaoke scenes call to mind David Lynch at his best, but are somehow different, as these are set in definitively “Asian” settings. The musical accompaniments by Cliff Martinez (shouldn’t he have a more “regal” name?), which some critics have labeled “intrusive” are, au contraire, some of the richest contributions to what can cumulatively be called “a work of art.” (We like magnificent Bach-like cathedral organ music, and there are some marvelous polyphonic Thai musical accompaniments, plus some atmospheric beautiful orchestral chords slowly morphing into other chords).
There was excellent martial arts fight choreography (sometimes filmed from above) and some memorable amputations and other bodily traumas… all done in the name of a higher kind of “justice.” To wit: if somebody tries to assassinate YOU, then you have every right to assassinate THEM (at least in Thailand). Ryan Gosling (thoughtful as usual) finds himself trapped in a complicated moral quagmire: should he do what his (very scary) mother wishes, or should he follow his own conscience?
We were glad the film had been made, and wish we owned it so we could view it again and again (and in some torture scenes, turn off all sound). Definitely all the music fell into the repeatable-listening department. There are a number of “experimental film” touches which please those of us appreciative of non-conventional film art. The film ended with yet another somewhat endearing karaoke song (with closing titles), and we couldn’t understand why certain audience members left without hearing it to the end.
It’s worth it to go out to the theater for THIS ONE; there are so many visual details you can never, ever see on your home TV set or laptop/iPad screen. Support your local neighborhood theaters!
Chestnut Street has changed. Even though there are no music clubs there that we know of, at 11:15pm the street was full of small groups of young people, mostly girls in mini-skirts and very high heels, or young men more casually dressed. A flotilla of taxis cruised both directions. Finally, after waiting 30 minutes, two 30 Stockton buses came in a row. Oh well; we still love the San Francisco bus/trolley system—it certainly beats most other U.S. cities. A lot of people were on the bus, too, so, it’s definitely filling a need. Support your local bus system as well!

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