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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Opening Shots: 'Cat People' (1982)

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From Andrew Wright, The Stranger:

Cinematic brimstone manna for pubescent Cinemax viewers, Paul Schrader's unjustly neglected 1982 remake of "Cat People" leaves the watcher uneasily poised somewhere between needing a wet-nap and a steel-wool shower. Working again with "American Gigolo"'s visual consultant Ferndinando Scarfiotti, the director's interpretation of the wittily Freudian source material is chock full with the promise of tantalizing sex and violence, which is ultimately delivered so nastily that it's difficult not to feel guilty for enjoying it. Schraeder, a dude who knows a thing or three about temptation himself, here delivers one lulu of a cautionary tale: What you want to see may not really be what you want to see, no matter how much you think you want to see it.

Nowhere is this poisoned voyeurism more evident than in the opening shot, which quite literally unearths the film's joint fascination with turn-ons and snuff-outs. Beginning with a patch of hallucinatory, nuclear-Antonioni colored desert, a wind slowly, sensually, blows across the surface of the sand to reveal a polished human skull, and then another, and another, and yet another, until an entire boneyard is uncovered. All this, while David Bowie and Georgio Moroder are moaning orgiastically on the soundtrack. Just writing about it, I want a cigarette. And a hairshirt, possibly.

JE: Muchas gracias, Andy. That ultra-lapsed Calvinist Schrader does indeed know something about putting out a fire with gasoline. I haven't seen his "Cat People" in, let's see, 24 years, and all I remember about it is the Bowie song and the way somebody jumps, catlike, onto a table or something. That image you sent sure is purrty, though...

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