A Memorable Scene Over Breakfast

Still from Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

 
 

Iris (Jodie Foster) is here seen with the Graal of orange juice (previously discussed). Butterflies are symbolic of the soul, both being the Greek word psyche–and not “mind control,” as conspiracy theorists would have it. Sugar, spice, and everything nice are at the capstone of the Food Pyramid.

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) succinctly labels Iris’ state in analogous terms, “You can’t live like this. It’s hell.” … The infernal nature of Iris’ situation becomes still more evident in a five-scene sequence documenting her world. First, Sport (Harvey Keitel) describes to Travis all of the perverse sexual acts a customer can perform with Iris…. After a scene between Travis and Iris in a coffee shop, we return to Iris’ room. Sport has metamorphosed into the demon who seduces pubescent girls for his sexual gratification and for financial gain. Lest we doubt the hellish subtext, Martin Scorsese shoots the scene with a conspicuous red lighting, as Sport entrances this child with his embrace and swaying dance.

The hero figuratively descends into an infernal realm in order to save a wayward feminine character (who is not even aware of the diabolic threat facing her), and the hero exposes evil and attempts to rescue the woman. The harrowing of hell, salvation offered to a prostitute, and a vengeful wrath directed against immorality suggest a hagiographic tone … Scorsese explicitly labels him “a would-be saint, a Saint Paul” … (Andrew J Swensen, The anguish of God’s Lonely Men).

In this brilliant, memorable scene over breakfast, Travis takes Iris to a coffee shop where she has toast with jelly and sugar on top. [This conversational scene parallels his coffee shop “date” with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) , but this time it follows an ‘aborted’ sexual encounter.] He becomes obsessed with saving the fresh-faced girl from her circumstances and restoring her to her family and school:

Iris: Why do you want me to go back to my parents? I mean they hate me. Why do you think I split in the first place? There ain’t nothin’ there.
Travis: Yeah, but you can’t live like this. It’s hell. Girls should live at home.
Iris: (playfully) Didn’t you ever hear of women’s lib?
Travis: What do you mean ‘women’s lib’? You sure are a young girl. You should be at home now. You should be dressed up. You should be goin’ out with boys. You should be goin’ to school. You know, that kind of stuff.
Iris: Oh god, are you square.
Travis: Hey I’m not square. You’re the one that’s square. You’re full of s–t, man. What are you talkin’ about? You walk out with those f–kin’ creeps and lowlifes and degenerates out on the street and you sell your, sell your little p—y for nothin’ man. For some lowlife pimp – stands in a hall. I’m, I’m square? You’re the one that’s square, man. I don’t go screw and f–k with a bunch of killers and junkies the way you do. You call that bein’ hip? What world are you from?
Iris: Who’s a ‘killer’?
Travis: That guy Sport’s a killer. That’s who’s a killer.
Iris: Sport never killed nobody.
Travis: He killed someone.
Iris: He’s a Libra.
Travis: He’s a what?
Iris: I’m a Libra too. That’s why we get along so well.
Travis: Looks like a killer to me.
Iris: I think that, that Cancers make the best lovers, but god, my whole family are air signs.
Travis: He’s also a dope shooter.

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Various Forms of Temptations

Theatrical release poster

 
 

The Last Temptation of Christ is a 1988 fictional drama film directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a film adaptation of the controversial 1953 novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. It stars Willem Dafoe as Jesus Christ, Harvey Keitel as Judas Iscariot, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, and Harry Dean Stanton as Paul. The film was shot entirely in Morocco.

Martin Scorsese had wanted to make a film version of Jesus’ life since childhood. Scorsese optioned the novel The Last Temptation in the late 1970s, and he gave it to Paul Schrader to adapt. The Last Temptation was originally to be Scorsese’s follow-up to The King of Comedy; production was slated to begin in 1983 for Paramount, with a budget of about $14 million and shot on location in Israel. The original cast included Aidan Quinn as Jesus, Sting as Pontius Pilate, Ray Davies as Judas Iscariot, and Vanity as Mary Magdalene. Management at Paramount and its parent company, Gulf+Western grew uneasy due to the ballooning budget for the picture and protest letters received from religious groups. The project went into turnaround and was finally canceled in December 1983. Scorsese went on to make After Hours instead.

In 1986, Universal Studios became interested in the project. Scorsese offered to shoot the film in 58 days for $7 million, and Universal greenlighted the production. Critic and screenwriter Jay Cocks worked with Scorsese to revise Schrader’s script. Aidan Quinn passed on the role of Jesus, and Scorsese recast Willem Dafoe in the part. Sting also passed on the role of Pilate, with the role being recast with David Bowie. Principal photography began in October 1987. The location shoot in Morocco (a first for Scorsese) was difficult, and the difficulties were compounded by the hurried schedule. “We worked in a state of emergency,” Scorsese recalled. Scenes had to be improvised and worked out on the set with little deliberation, leading Scorsese to develop a minimalist aesthetic for the film. Shooting wrapped by December 25, 1987.

Like the novel, the film depicts the life of Jesus Christ and his struggle with various forms of temptation including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust. This results in the book and film depicting Christ being tempted by imagining himself engaged in sexual activities, a notion that has caused outrage from some Christians. The movie includes a disclaimer explaining that it departs from the commonly accepted Biblical portrayal of Jesus’ life, and is not based on the Gospels.

Scorsese received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, and Hershey’s performance as Mary Magdalene earned her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress nomination, while Keitel’s performance as Judas Iscariot earned him a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor nomination.

 
 

Peter Gabriel’s Passion – Sources CD cover

 
 

The film’s musical soundtrack, composed by Peter Gabriel, received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Score – Motion Picture in 1988 and was released on CD with the title Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ, which won a Grammy in 1990 for Best New Age Album. The film’s score itself helped to popularize world music. Gabriel subsequently compiled an album called Passion – Sources, including additional material by various musicians that inspired him in composing the soundtrack, or which he sampled for the soundtrack.

 
 

Not So Unexpected References

The tagline is “Be unexpected.” The fragrance created by perfumer Jacques Polge debuted on fall 2010 preceded by a media campaign which include the short advertisement “Bleu de Chanel” by Martin Scorsese featuring French actor Gaspard Ulliel. Prior to Scorsese, Baz Luhrmann had worked on Chanel No. 5.

The Rolling StonesShe Said Yeah, from band’s 1965 album December’s Children (And Everybody’s),  propels the script of the short film, in which rising international star Gaspard Ulliel plays the role of a young actor whose artistic talent, rebelliousness and good fortune have thrown him into the public eye. However, he refuses to conform to the lifestyle and expectations his newly found fame has placed upon him. As he struggles with new pressures and expectations, he runs into his first love, who for years, supplied him with the passion and turmoil that fueled his work. Faced with a decision, he pushes aside convention to embody the bold energy and elegance of Bleu De Chanel by daring to be unpredictable and refusing to bow down to convention. Scorsese had directed the 2008 Rolling Stones concert film Shine A Light. 

The song She Said Yeah was recorded by the group in September of 1965 at RCA Studios in Hollywood, the very same place where the band’s anthem (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction had been recorded a few months earlier. She Said Yeah was written by the late Sonny Bono and West Coast rockabilly performer Roddy Jackson, and had been a single for Larry Williams in the late 1950s. Williams became known with such early rock ‘n’ roll hits as Bony Maronie, Dizzy Miss Lizzy and Slow Down, the last two of which were covered by The Beatles.

 
 


Still from Mishima, a Life in Four Chapters (Paul Schrader, 1984)

 
 

Still from short advertisement “Bleu de Chanel” (Martin Scorsese, 2010). The exploding screen wall seems to be inspired by Ishioka’s set design for Mishima. “We knew the old Hollywood system was gone, so we thought we could get in the cracks somehow. Francis was already at it — he was the big brother…”, Scorsese said about starting out with his friends George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. Rolling Stone Magazine 40th Anniversary (2007)

 
 

Gaspar Ulliel taking pictures to the woman he was chasing. This scene reminds the famous photo-shoot played by David Hemmings and  sixties model Veruschka in Blown-Up. In a piece called, The Man Who Set Film Free, Scorsese wrote about the sensation of seeing the Italian director’s L’Avventura for the first time, almost 50 years ago.

 
 

Movie Poster from Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)

 
 

The Color Schemes of a Biopic

Eiko Ishioka and Paul Schrader

 
 

By the spring of 1984 Eiko Ishioka was one of the most sought after art director/designers in Japan. She hardly needed to throw herself into what was widely expected to be a controversial film project. Moreover, she would be working with a traditional film art director, Kazuo Takenaka, whose feature credits as designer went back to 1960. Mr. Takenaka was to design the biographical parts of the film and Eiko was to design sets and costumes from the three Yukio Mishima novels chosen by Paul Schrader, in scenes that parallel key events from Mishima’s life. What could easily have been both a generational and aesthetic chasm between Eiko’s and Kazuo’s visions became, in fact, a close collaborative bridge across the film’s several styles.

The color scheme of the first novel presented itself easily enough. Eiko explained that the Golden Pavilion of the title was a legendary, but fragile wooden edifice in Kyoto, often rebuilt after periodic fires. The temple was a spiritual idea as much as a physical edifice. The gold leaf that Eiko chose to cover the set walls and floor, stretching around three curved walls and over the floor, created a limbo environment broken up by green walkways and a bamboo garden. The robes of Mizoguchi and fellow acolytes were in black.

 
 

The story begins with chapter 1, “Beauty,” where the awkward young boy grows into a man, looking to change his position as a misfit in this world and embrace love and the goodness that life has to offer, the things that are beauty personified. For this section, Schrader chooses to adapt the 1953 novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, the story of a Buddhist acolyte (Yasosuke Bando) with a severe stuttering problem whose “deformity” prevents him from finding love, forcing him to always remain separate. He fixates on the golden temple where he is studying and eventually becomes intent on its destruction. Turning it to rubble blots out the false promise he can never fulfill. This action actually teaches him something about beauty, about how it’s best to halt it at its apex rather than let age diminish its luster.

 
 

Kyoko’s House takes place in the 1950s, a period still very much under the cultural influence of the American Occupation. Eiko offered us a palette of 50s pastels that also featured pink and black. Think of the trope of fuzzy dice that hung from the dashboard rear view mirrors of Detroit cars, and of the stripped down aesthetic of Scandinavian interior design. John Bailey thought also of the color palette that designer Nando Scarfiotti had shown John Schlesinger for Honky-Tonk Freeway (a splayed roll of Necco wafer candies). Eiko promoted the idea of these pastel colors; she knew also the high regard that Paul had for Nando. (Bailey had by then done three films with Nando, two of them directed by Schrader.)

 
 

From there, Schrader moves to chapter 2, “Art,” where Mishima, tasting his first blush of success, begins to ponder how to resolve the false and finite nature of beauty and realize the artist’s purpose of preserving said beauty. In his novel Kyoko’s House a young actor turned body builder (Kenji Sawada) realizes that despite his personal perfection, bodies decay. Art is nice, but it requires no sacrifice. He enters into an abusive relationship with a female gangster (Setsuko Karasuma) who begins to use his body as a living sculpture. Real blood is a greater expression of true beauty and art than the false blood spilled on a theatrical stage.

 
 

Searching for a way to separate these fictional scenes of the novels from the events of the last day (since both were to be done in color) Paul, Eiko, Tom Luddy and John Bailey met with engineers from Sony who had recently developed an analog HD video system. Photographing the scenes from the novels in HD video seemed a natural way to establish a “look” different from the 35mm. color scenes of the last day. It was quickly obvious that the intense chromatic density and subtlety of Eiko’s sets and costumes would be poorly served by the limitations of this cutting edge but still embryonic  video medium. They resolved to shoot the novels on film as well—but with mostly undiffused and harder edged light to preserve the rich blacks that only film could capture, a lighting style Paul and John had chosen for American Gigolo; it was by then a retrograde style in an age of  increasing soft light. Eiko presented the physical design of the sets to them  in near schematic sketches that defined the lines and bones of the sets. The final sets proved to be every bit as reductive, even elemental, with geometric forms and saturated colors creating a stage-like theatricality as the set pieces and walls shift, even collapse.

In one scene, the light on a large Eugene Delacroix wall painting dims to reveal a Beckett-like woods outside: an unlikely mash-up, but pure Eiko. The final scene of Runaway Horses unfolds on an actual beach in pre-sunrise light. Eiko transposed blood red painted rocks from the stage set to the location in order to introduce theatrical artifice into the real world. Here, at a cliff edge, facing the rising sun, the cadet Isao commits seppuku.

 
 

Chapter 3, “Action,” where Mishima begins to question his role in the world. Words can express ideas, but like how beauty without art fades, so too do ideas go nowhere without action to back them up. The novel for this section is Runaway Horses, a later work about a young soldier (Toshiyuki Nagashima) who forms a cabal of like-minded youths to stage a revolution and restore Japan’s honor. As his plan falls apart, he tries one last action before turning his sword on himself. Here the fiction dovetails nicely with the reality, as we go into chapter 4, “Harmony of Pen and Sword,” which concerns itself entirely with Mishima’s last day on Earth, along with commentary taken from his last book of personal writing, Sun and Steel. (Again, fiction gives way to reality–though reality as seen by Yukio Mishima.)

A Concept Built from Three Novels

Eiko at work on stage floor for set of the Golden Pavillion

 
 

Never before Eiko Ishioka had worked as a film production designer, but at Cannes she received a best artistic contribution prize, along with the film’s cinematographer, John Bailey, and its composer, Philip Glass. Ishioka, whose late father was a noted pioneering graphic designer, combined a free, ever-questing imagination with traditional Japanese diligence. “He (Paul Schrader) gave me the second-draft scenario to read, and basically the structure of the movie seemed fresh for me,” said Ishioka.

 
 

Ishioka and George Lucas, executive producer of the movie

 
 

“I asked him two questions before I decided to do the film. I asked him, ‘Why do you need me as an artist for your movie?’ Then I said that I wasn’t a fanatic fan for Mishima, that I was like an ordinary Japanese audience for Mishima: ‘Is this OK?–It means I’m not an expert on Mishima.’

“He said that this movie was to be made in a very innovative style. He had tried to find a production designer in America but decided he wanted to choose someone outside the film field. He wanted a fresh concept. I told him that I didn’t have enough knowledge of technology for the job. He said it was not so difficult to find technical people–‘We can find find someone to help you as a partner.’

Ishioka gave her final decision only after Schrader selected veteran art director Kazuo Takenaka as her partner. “It was like an arranged marriage,” she said. “If one of us doesn’t want to work with the other, then we have an out. Takenaka wanted to work on the realistic and documentary parts of the film, and I wanted to work on the novels. But he has his pride; he’s an older man and wanted to be more than just a partner. I understood that.” (Takenaka’s credit reads executive art director.

At first, after intensive discussions with Schrader, Ishioka was intent on carrying out his ideas, but Takenaka told her that she must have her own concept. ” ‘Don’t worry about describing Schrader’s images,’ he told me. It was very strong, very important advice. I was so shocked, but it opened my eyes, my mind–my spirit. Paul said, ‘OK, try it.’

 
 

Eiko at her desk reviewing classic woodblock prints for Mishima

 
 

“My concept was built from the three novels, not from the scenario,” said Ishioka, who was soon turning out scores of sketches. “I wanted to do a big presentation. I told Paul, ‘If you don’t like it, there is no meaning for me to continue.’ I built a model for ‘The Temple of the Golden Pavilion’ at 1/50th scale. Then there were many, many discussions with Schrader and Bailey–talk, talk; talk many, many times.”

Into this project Ishioka said she poured her “body and spirit. Almost 20 years as a graphic designer and art director, a designer in the theater, publishing, advertising and designing corporate identities.

“I built my own philosophy as an artist. I care about the relationship between the artist and the audience. Eiko is on the stage, but she’s also in the audience. I want to judge my work from the audience. Eiko is my best audience. I’m like a commercial artist, not a fine artist who cares about patrons. I’m relating to the whole media. It comes from my training”

Although Takenaka did much of the rest of the picture, Ishioka had the overall responsibility as production designer and was deeply involved in re-creating Mishima’s Western-style home, which was cluttered with European and American reproduction kitsch.

A Life in Four Chapters and Many Colors

“Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act”
Truman Capote

 
 

 
 

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is an American/Japanese film co-written and directed by Paul Schrader in 1985. Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas served as executive producers. As the title indicates, Mishima is divided into four chapters, each encapsulating a different aspect of the man’s spirit, three of which include condensed adaptations of his most famous novels. The film is based on the life and work of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, interweaving episodes from his life with dramatizations of segments from his books The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko’s House, and Runaway Horses.

 
 

 
 

Although Mishima only visualizes three of the writer’s novels by name, the film also uses segments from his autobiographical novel Confessions of a Mask. At least two scenes, showing the young Mishima being aroused by a painting of the Christian martyr Sebastian, and his secret love for a fellow pupil at school, also appear in this book. The use of one further Mishima novel, Forbidden Colors, which describes the marriage of a homosexual man to a woman, was denied by Mishima’s widow.

 
 

The film sets in on November 25, 1970, the last day in Mishima’s life. He is shown finishing a manuscript. Then, he puts on a uniform he designed for himself and meets with four of his most loyal followers from his private army.

 
 

 
 

As Schrader wanted to visualize a book illustrating Mishima’s narcissism and sexual ambiguity, he chose the novel Kyoko’s House (which Mishima had translated for him exclusively) instead. Kyoko’s House contains four equally ranking storylines, featuring four different protagonists, but Schrader picked out only the one which he considered convenient.

Mishima uses different colour palettes to differentiate between frame story, flashbacks and scenes from Mishima’s novels: The (1970) contemporary scenes are shot in subdued colours, the flashbacks in black-and-white, the The Temple of the Golden Pavilion-episode is dominated by golden and green, Kyoko’s House by pink and grey, and Runaway Horses by orange and black.

Schrader considers Mishima the best film he has directed. “It’s the one I’d stand by – as a screenwriter it’s Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976), but as a director it’s Mishima.”

Mishima earned Eiko Ishioka the Best Artistic Contribution award the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.