Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Drafthouse Films - MS. 45 on Blu-ray ""

Friday, March 21, 2014

Drafthouse Films - MS. 45 on Blu-ray

MS. 45 (1981; Abel Ferrara)
MS. 45 (also known as ANGEL OF VENGEANCE) is what I like to think of as a "Danny Peary film". By that I only mean to say that it's popularity owes something to Danny's film books, specifically Cult Movies 2, which is the book that featured his treatise on the film. "Cult" movies are what they are because they stand out in some way and have developed a passionate following of fans who spread the word on the film throughout the years. These cults grow often through word of mouth - one person vigorously recommending the movie to another and so on and so on. Peary's books were a wonderful platform for getting the word out about various under-the-radar gems that had been quietly gathering steam over the years. He put pen to paper and the result was several magical and influential texts. I for one count myself as a "Peary-ite" and owe a great debt to him for turning me onto so many amazing movies via his writings. When I first came across his review of MS. 45 in Cult Movies 2, I was a college student just starting my study of films. I was immediately taken with the idea of cult movies and as I began to seek them out, I was blown away by how great many of them were. It was like I'd been given a secret guide-map to all of these little cinematic treasures. MS. 45 is one of those treasures that I discovered this way and I really do believe that many others found the film for the first time via Danny as well.
It's a bit reductive to call the movie "A female version of TAXI DRIVER", but I guess I can see how one might pitch it that way (at least to grab the interest of a person who'd never seen it before). While both films are ugly portraits of a scuzzy, dangerous New York City, the difference between Travis Bickle and Thana (Lund's character here) is quite vast. Both characters have a measure of insanity to them certainly. Travis is driven there by the his wartime experiences and the city he now lives in. Thana is driven there by the shock of a double rape. There are two different creatures psychologically though one could blanket them both together under the broad umbrella of insanity.
Zoe Lund is remarkable in this film. Her character Thana is a mute seamstress, so she does not speak of course. She utters not a word throughout the entire film. This makes Zoe's job as actor more difficult and she carries it off quite well. Her face and body movements carry much heft with them. She would have made a wonderful silent film star, were she of that era.
There are a lot of things that make this movie stand out in addition to Ms. Lund. New York City in this period as a backdrop is remarkably memorable. It is the New York of DEATH WISH and THE WARRIORS. It is a scary place and one that I feared deeply because of its portrayal in the films of the 1970s. As night descended upon the city, it seemed to be teeming with evil-doers of one sort or another. There was something vampiric about it. This movie uses it quite effectively as a predatory landscape filled with scumbags. Abel Ferrara himself was born in the Bronx and began shooting super 8 films in his teens. He definitely is a man of New York City. He clearly knows it well and knows how to film it. How to make it menacing and claustrophobic. He also has flashes of stylishness here that I know were notable to me the first time I saw the film. Another distinctive element is Joe Delia's score. It's this eerie, ethereal saxophone that rages into almost violent territory at times. Delia uses a sax like Bernard Hermann used strings. It's a very jagged, trippy score that adds to the sense of dread and paranoia about the movie. It gives a feeling of disorientation as well that works to keep the viewer off balance. It reminds me in a sense of the headphones that smarter people are forced to wear in the world of Vonnegut's HARRISON BERGERON that blast deafening radio signals to inhibit those folks being able to form complete thoughts. This score isn't that grating, but it does blare and blast from time to time. Modern audiences might find it a bit humorous at first as the saxophone was certainly more in vogue in the films scores of the 1980s, but it should be more or less effective for anyone based on the way Delia uses the instrument.

The transfer here looks nice and the disc and also has some extra goodies.
First up are  new interviews with director Abel Ferrara (8 mins), Composer Joe Delia (10 mins) and Creative Consultant Jack McIntyre (11 mins). Each one discusses their origins with the project.
Also included are two short films on actress Zoe Lund, ZOE XO and ZOE RISING by director Paul Rachman (who also did AMERICAN HARDCORE). ZOE XO is basically a conversational reminiscence from Bob ? of his marriage and relationship with the late Zoe Lund. It is interspersed with lots of old photographs of Zoe and runs about 7 mins. ZOE RISING is a similar short, (6 mins) which includes old photos and some archival footage and recollections from her mother Barbara Lekberg. It is also underscored by a piano composition from Zoe at age 12.
As an added bonus, they've included a 32-page booklet with essays from Kier-La Janisse (author HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN), Brad Stevens (Lund's Biographer) and Zoe Lund herself. I liked all these essays, but particularly Lund's as it gives an insider look at her experiences with the film and her take on it. It is a powerful, graphic and politically-charged essay and I encourage everyone to check it out.


Ned Merrill said...

Look forward to digging into this disc...thanks for the in-depth preview!

The alternate or international title is ANGEL OF VENGEANCE.

David Pascoe said...

I haven't seen the film but I agree with you about Peary and his review of Ms. 45 is one of the most memorable in Cult Movies 2. When the day comes that I do see it, I'll picture him sitting in whichever scuzzy 42nd Street cinema he was in surrounding by the local low-life who were hollering at the screen , encouraging the rapists, only for them to be shocked into silence when Thana fights back.