Review: The Cool World

The 2011 Kanazawa Horror Film Festival (Filmageddon), was on in September for its fourth year running.  Unfortunately it was overshadowed by the Jazz Festival that was on the same weekend (post on the way), but I managed to catch one of the films.

I`ve seen very few horror films as I`m not a big fan of gore, although I do enjoy a good thriller or `70s horror flick á la Dario Argento where the special effects are in no way believable but they add to the horror of the film or just make it completely ridiculous.

The festival showed a range of films from Japan, France, Italy, Russia, the U.S. and Mexico between the years 1955 to 2011.  There were a lot of pretty grusome films on show like the mondo film Addio Ultimo Uomo, Pasolini`s infamous Salo, o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, and what could probably be the most horrific film ever made – Alain Resnais`s Nuit et Brouillard, a documentary about the Nazi concentration camps using real footage.  There were some well-known horrors there as well like Jacob`s Ladder, Judge Dredd, and the original The Hills Have Eyes.

I haven`t seen any of those films; instead I opted to go see The Cool World.  I don`t quite know why it was included in the festival as it really was not a horror film.  It had some violence, but not a lot.

The film is what Gil Scott Heron sang about – life in the Harlem ghetto in the sixties.  There’s also a real Catcher in the Rye vibe going on as well, with its disaffected youth.  ‘Duke’ Custis roams the streets looking for a way to get a ‘piece’ (gun) so he can get the respect that the gang leaders and crooks in his community get.  With the gun he wants to rejuvenate his gang, the Pythons, as tension builds throughout the film between rival gangs.  As we see when the Pythons get a hideout, which they use mainly for drinking beer and having their way with girls, a gang is the only way they can have some sort of independence.

There’s a lot of inner monologue within the film; the protagonist’s stream of consciousness allows us to sympathize with him as he tries to make life a bit better for himself.  There are some good exchanges between the characters as well, all of whom are stuck in their lives with no alternative.  The film opens with a close up shot of a black supremacist preacher, and all through the film, shots of the squalor, poverty and boredom really reinforce the image of life at a dead end in the ghetto.  It has the feel of a documentary, as it seems that the situation is more important than the action.  After watching it you come away with a sense of everyone in the ghetto’s daily grind, rather than just what one boy did over a few days.

The soundtrack is perfect, composed by Mal Waldron and recorded by Dizzy Gillespie, and the film has a lovely harsh, grainy texture.  When they screened it at the festival they used film reel and the Japanese subtitles (which were part of the film edition) were unobtrusively written vertically at the side, although it must have been difficult to read them.

It’s a film I’d watch again several times.

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