Wednesday, February 24, 2010

This man is your last stop as you leave hell

WARNING: Even for the material normally discussed and contained on this blog, the following pictures and video may be objectionable and disturbing. The following contains images of real death and embalming, so proceed with caution.

Orozco The Embalmer (2001)
D. Tsurisaki Kiyotaka Cinema Obscura S.O.V.

Widely considered to be one of the must brutal and in your face of the mondo-documentaries that has floated around the underground in recent years, OROZCO THE EMBALMER has gathered a reputation that's proceeded it. Mostly by gorehound death fetishists that don't understand, nor care enough to look beyond the guts being spilled on screen to see the spiritual, political or just plain human context they may be watching. All they want to see is bodies being ripped open and blood splashed all over the place. This movie delivers that in a matter of fact manner that puts films like FACES OF DEATH or even the turgid and offensive FACES OF GORE series to shame. But at the same time there is an exploration of a real person here, who does a very real job, in a very real place, that very much resembles hell on Earth.

Orozco is an embalmer in one of the poorest, most crime ridden grottoes in Columbia. It is not uncommon here to see someone gunned down in the street, or for cars to run someone over and reduce them to paste in some sort of drug fueled vendetta. A life of crime is basically the only way to survive in this place and people die all the time.

Even the stray dogs have to take time to get plastered up to heal after street warfare in Columbia.

Hell, even the stray dog's are not safe. Orozco's business is booming due to this. But at the same time, he understands that the people he serves are poor and suffering, so he charges less than the city hospitals for an embalming and he makes his services affordable to the people he lives and works among. He also hires as assistants people from the neighborhood, including a local mentally handicapped man and that man's son who he has basically almost adopted as his own and is training.

Orozco finishes dressing a dead child for a funeral, while the parent waits patiently in the wings.

But don't let all this selflessness fool you - Orozco is one grumpy son of a bitch. The daily grind of cutting people open for little pay obviously gets to him. He is an old man now, the lines of a life that has battered the shit out of him are etched on his face. He barely seems to blink, and his mouth is always down turned in a frown. He applies his trade in a swift and aggressive manner, cutting into the bodies he is working on as someone would expect a butcher to attack a side of beef. Chunking his knives into the flesh hard and fast, tearing into abdominal cavities to release bloated gases, pockets of settled blood, and sack after sack of gorged internal organs that are simply in his way. He is not performing an autopsy, his job is to relieve the body of the artifacts that are going to start decaying soon that will prevent the body from being in a funeral service. He might even go as far as to apply make up if he deems it necessary for that particular person, though he has pretty strong opinions on that matter, expressing about one corpse "why paint this person up like a clown now, when that never looked like that when they were alive?" The brain is always removed and replaced with newspaper because that rots away the quickest and will smell immediately. It is all a daily grind for him: body after body, old men, women, and occasionally little babies or children. Sometimes he will notice things the hospitals or morgues have missed, such as an elderly corpse on his table he clearly notices had been abused while alive, but the cause of death does not indicate such. But he steps away from saying anything, claiming that to do so would only start trouble. Orozco was in the military when he was much younger but refuses to talk about it, as well as his time in the police. He clearly saw things that were quite awful, illegal things, murderous things. Things in which to spend his days among the dead is not terribly different.

A typical way someone ends the day in Columbia now and again.

The documentary crew visit one of the local hospital morgues to watch how they do their embalming, which is no more high tech than Orozco. In fact, in some ways it is just as savage. They take more time in the clean up, with more make up and prep for the funeral, but the actual cutting up and discarding of parts it is no different. Still, the embalmer has no problem talking shit about Orozco and his team. In a weird and out of place bit, the documentary director begins to talk off camera to the embalmer about the corpse and how it has a "really pretty hairy pussy" which kinda comes out of nowhere. Once that is said, though, it does sort of make you notice that a lot of the camera work has included crotch shots of the corpses which seemed a bit unnecessary. And very, very weird.

Which leads me to the movie's biggest detriment, the direction. The movie has a truly fascinating subject with Orozco, and the actual town in Columbia, but the direction itself is beyond sloppy, with many long, useless montages of life in the street (all set to the same droning, repetitive music) that just pad out the movie. There is one long aside of a drug addict allowing the camera to follow him to a corner in an alley to smoke crack, that has nothing to do with the movie at all. Then there is that weird sort of leering sexual asides the movie takes form time to time, the worse being the bit at the hospital morgue, where the camera seems to linger on a corpses genitals or breasts just a bit too long, which seems really fucked up.

The brain is removed to prevent stink of decay during any services the family may ask upon.

When I mentioned this on a message board someone mentioned that this film started life as an episode of the DEATH FILES series in Japan which is just a Mondo Death footage series (and one of the most brutal and outrageous). That series is just footage of dead people, usually at accidents in third world countries (of which there is plenty of here) or murder sites (once again plenty of that here). One of the most famous of that series was an off shoot called DEATH WOMEN which is just that, random footage of the corpses of women at accidents, murder scenes, morgues etc. Seems this director cut his teeth working on those series, and then make some short "art" films called JUNK FILMS which were basically more of the same. Orozco was originally intended to be more of this until he got a hold of such a fascinating subject and it become something entirely new. And that saves it. The focus on Orozco himself gives it all context and form, as well a lot of social dynamic as he explains how these people live and die.

Certainly well worth watching if you can stomach it. But be warned it IS as rough as you've heard.

Review © Andrew Copp

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