Seattle International Film Festival, 2

  Death haunts the streets of Seattle. Though in a good way. After all, this is the place where Kurt Cobain killed himself. It’s where the local NBA franchise, the Supersonics, died and went to Oklahoma City. The manifestation of mortality currently in the news is the Corpse Flower, the giant Sumatran plant that looks like Audrey from “Little Shop of Horrors.” It blooms two or three times in its existence to unfurl a blossom with an enormous stamen-like projection that smells like death.

Thousands flocked to witness it, as did we. Not before going first to the wrong place, however. Which proved a fortunate  detour, for  not only did the Volunteer’s Park Conservancy offer its own rich selection of beautiful and creepy flora, but it was adjacent to the cemetery in which both Bruce and Brandon Lee were buried, marked by a pair of modest but serene headstones in red and black marble.


But on to the Corpse Flower, holding court down at the University of Washington greenhouse, as it turned out. It had reached its peak a couple of days before and was on its way out, not to bloom again for another two or three years, if ever. Death, you too shall die, or so the poet says. Meanwhile, there was still a lot to look at.

We were somewhat prepared for the sight by a demonstration about the carnivorous pitcher plant by a helpful docent. Let’s just say if you happen to fall into one of these, you should hope that the crab spider gets you before the enzymes do. The appearance, though was especially striking; it looks like a tree of condoms. AS for the Corpse Flower, it didn’t get its Latin name amorphophalos titanum for nothing. Thanatos and eros in one big, vegetable, as Freud might have noted.

With all these mementi mori, it came as no suprise that one of the venues for festival screenings was the vintage Harvard Exit Theatre, a former meeting house for suffragettes in the 20s who now haunt the place, playfully moving objects about or appearing in empty seats in the balcony of the third floor auditorium. And if they don’t  scare you, the macabre Polish posters from the theatre’s museum quality collection might.Certainly the film screened that evening was terrifying. Despite its seemingly comic title, Danielle Anastasion and Eric Strauss’s  “The Redemption of General Butt Naked”  is one of the most disturbing documentaries  in a time of disturbing documentaries. The title refers to Joshua Milton Blahyl, a rebel leader in the 14 year long Liberian civil war who distinguished himself in that gruesome conflict for his brutality and sadism. He and his soldiers would strip naked and run amok, killing men, women, and children, the General at their head wielding a saber, seemingly impervious to bullets. By his own reckoning, the General was responsible for the murder of 20,000 people. In short, he was the embodiment of death.


The war now over, the General is back in Liberia, this time as an evangelist preacher. He has seen Jesus and been saved, he says, and preaches the word to others, many of them his former soldiers, his sermons reaching paroxysms of ecstasy. “I have seen him during the war,” says one of the survivors of the General’s  previous career about his latest, frenzied  performances. “It is the same.”


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