I went last night with Abby Child to the wonderfully rough space at Light Industry* in Sunset Park to see Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, a film by Kazuo Hara, and hear a Q and A with him on the occasion of the publication of his new book, Camera Obtrusa (how much do you love that title?). The Village Voice summarizes the film thusly:
the filmmaker’s stalker-cam tendencies go back at least as far as his second film, Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 (1974), which centers on his ex-girlfriend Miyuki Takeda, not long after their breakup. By following her around with his 16mm rig, Hara explains in voiceover, he’ll be able to continue the relationship. At first portending a sadistic macho trip, Extreme Private Eros proves to be an unexpectedly humanist, even feminist film as it chronicles Takeda’s later relationships with other women and black American GIs in the low-rent, gutter-tough world of Okinawa go-go bars. Hara himself never appears in frame, but remains present as a self-deprecating voyeur to his former lover’s ongoing life. He depicts not one but two births in real time; by film’s end, the screen is stuffed with the toddling babies of Takeda’s communal residence.
In fact, Hara does appear in the frame once, weeping, suddenly overwhelmed by jealousy around Takeda’s three-week affair with a black GI (he addressed this difficult moment in the Q and A). Her affair resulted in the pregnancy that resulted in one of the real-time births we see onscreen, and is surely one of the most memorable film sequences I have ever witnessed. She delivers the baby (her second: the first was Hara’s) entirely unaided, although surrounded by Hara and his camera, Sachiko Kobayashi (Hara’s girlfriend and co-producer) and the microphone, and Rei, the child of Hara and Takeda, still a toddler.
She squats in effort, dripping a trail of fluid, and later leans back to deliver the baby. It happens very quickly. It’s not icky, really, as it is (to me) in the Brakhage film. No one catches the baby; she just comes out. No one cuts the cord or puts her on her mother. They just sit there filming, taking sound. When the baby starts to cry, the toddler does, too. It’s excruciating. They wait for the placenta. The baby wriggles. After a while it is a relief to see the cord cut, the drops put in the baby’s eyes, the baby bathed… but I could only admire Takeda’s tough animal resourcefulness. I’ve never seen anything like it, except of course by animals.
Other extraordinary visual moments include the black power poses and amazing 70s outfits of the black GIs in Okinawa, a tough-talking bar girl from Kyushu with a face and voice like a frog, the 14-year-old prostitute in a giant ‘fro wig and Mary Quant lashes with her lover, the butoh-like strippers, and the street scenes of the red light district in Okinawa, where Takeda set up a solo protest, complete with pamphlets, against the exploitation of the women who worked there.
I bought the book and Hara signed it for me, although I clearly wrote NA DA (in katakana!) for him, NA TA RI. He thinks I am Natalie. That, I guess, is the dilemma of the “documentarian”: how one’s own subjectivity always interpolates (c.f. the fit of jealous weeping).
*Note to Light Industry: the fumes (paint? other construction?) in the place are terrible. I’m congested and achy from them today still. Please ventilate!