Tuesday, October 20, 2020

last week in letterboxd

The Stormy Man, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

The Shaw version KING DRUMMER is great, and this is even better, thanks mostly to a perfect cast: Ishihara takes control of every scene he's in and he clearly was born for that seduction by drumming scene. Later on he finds his match in Mie Kitahara's playful eroticism when she slowly descends the staircase, luring him upwards.

Inoue's direction has the same forward drive as in his Shaw films; the melodramatic angle, though, is (if I remember correctly) much more pronounced than in the later version - here, the irony of the concert scene in the end hits like something out of a Sirk film.

Abwärts, Carl Schenkel, 1984

Downward mobility in the early Kohl era. Even after watching this to the end I'm not sure whether I'd seen it before or just had encountered every single dramatic beat elsewhere. Doesn't mean this feels derivative, though, it's just a very efficient and exhaustive, if not terribly imaginative (all in all very swiss, maybe) take on the premise. No screw left untwisted, no angle unfilmed and that circular framing device through the hole in the elevator ceiling might be the extra edge that brings everything alive.

Götz George is a magnificent asshole and maybe dominates the film a bit too much.

Tango durch Deutschland, Lutz Mommartz, 1981

Eddie the mummy leaves the shelves of film history, to roam the world of the living one last time. A haunted presence, he cannot escape his embodied memories; a haunting presence, once he registers he is always already somewhere else, crossing the next intersection, checking out of the next hotel room, leaving behind a slight disturbance in the fabrics of Germany.

You never exactly get what you bargained for. A seemingly innocuous sightseeing tour turns into a head-on, cubist confrontation with German inner-city architecture, a chance-encounter triggers the old swagger for a short burst of car chase action, a last fling is pursued without real conviction but the hands want what the hands want...

Mommartz himself calls TANGO DURCH DEUTSCHLAND a failed film, although he also cannot let go of it and has reworked it twice since. Indeed a very strange project, not at all the cinephile road movie one might expect. This is not about melancholia and the death of cinema, but a very conscious, playful while also unusually committed, even straightforward stocktaking of a life touched by cinema. I might from now on think of it as my personal antidote to WINGS OF DESIRE.

The special thing about Eddie Constantine might be, that with him, there really is no authenticity behind the deconstruction; in a way, Mommartz suggests, there is no real difference between his star turns of the 50s and 60s and his second career with Godard, Fassbinder et al. It's always the same attitude, he's the material ghost of pop cinema and TANGO DURCH DEUTSCHLAND might be the only film that really gets him (while also making me want to watch more of Constantine's early work, if only to better justify this obnoxious claim).

The Champion, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

Tatsuya Mihashi standing over Yujiro Ishikawa, after knocking him down: Don't get up, stay down there on the street, so that you can realize what losing feels like. The swelling score makes it clear that this is not really about Ishikawa, but about Mihashi the manipulator who likes to put everyone into his or her place in order to turn the world into a private fantasy - which is, in turns, based on the repression of his own true desires.

Only my third Japanese Inoue film, but I'm already convinced that he is the rea deal. At the very least, he seems to have worked on a completely different level than everyone else at Nikkatsu in the late 1950s (at least when it comes to the younger generation). This is not as well-rounded as MAN WHO CAUSES A STORM - some nice training montages, foreshadowing ROCKY, aside, the boxing stuff isn't all that interesting and Inoue clearly would've preferred to but the ballet stuff center stage. At the same time, though, this is more ambitious in terms of both style and narrative. More Sirkian, too, with an experimental, and sometimes geometric approach to psychology. Fighting for the right to speak the name of one's lover.

Then there's an elaborate musical number clearly influenced by the Freed unit style in its ornamental, excessive prime, but translated into a delicate, slightly detached Japanese sensibility.

The Eagle and the Hawk, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

Muscles, sweat, two pair of tight pants and lots of unbound masculinity confined to a ship and precise widescreen framing. At one point it looks like the whole thing might turn into a Traven style doomsday machine, but most of the times the pressure isn't all that high, with the various male destructive tendencies cancelling each other out and the two female stowaways providing some relief, too. The nights are for romance, even on the high seas. Yumeji Tsukioka's crazy in love performance is especially wonderful.

Not on the same level than the other two 1957 Inoue / Ishihara collaborations currently available, but breezy enough for what it is.

Girlfriends, Claudia Weill, 1978

Like mentioned on here several times this isn't necessarily fundamentally different from dozens of mumblecore-style dramedies of recent years. Not only the feel is similar, but also its strengths (acting) and weaknesses (claustrophobic feel, milieu as prison). The main difference might just be that back then filmmakers weren't supposed to make films like this and now they totally are, resulting in a self-confidence that mostly destroys the sense of fragility the charm of GIRLFRIENDS is based on.

Four Hours of Terror, Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1959

Only half the hours of terror as in the Suzuki film from two years earlier, and it shows. The film can't help getting more involving once the action starts, but the decidedly old-fashioned trappings and an unfortunate anticlimax make sure that it never quite shakes off the feel of pleasant but unessential and slightly dull sunday morning entertainment.

Reise nach Lyon, Claudia von Alemann, 1981

A bit like Schanelec's MARSEILLE but trying way too hard, thereby completely suffocating its concept: like historiography, getting lost in a city simply requires a suspension, not an exaltation of self. Still, there's a certain stubbornness both to Pauly's performance and von Alemann's gaze at Lyon that keeps me engaged.

Freelance Samurai, Kenji Misumi, 1957

Twin-themed samurai film, well-made and plot-heavy. Rather mechanical most of the time, only Michiyo Kogure lends it some real distinction (at least for someone not all that familiar with routine 50s jidaigeki). Her death in the fire towards the end is a very strong scene that seems to come out of nowhere a bit.

Zwanzig Mädchen und die Pauker: Heute steht die Penne kopf, Werner Jacobs, 1971

Pauker-film specialist Werner Jacobs for once giving (almost) free reign to the girl students, with mostly decent results. Despite the presence of the usual authoritative safeguard mechanisms, this feels quite a bit more anarchic than pretty much everything else I remember from the series - especially one scene that pits Ralf Wolter against an ever-changing multitude of female hair almost perfectly hits the sweet spot between slapstick mayhem, satirical caricature and fetishism. Even the mandatory taming of the shrew scene is surprisingly kinky: Gerhard Lippert leaning over Mascha Gonska as if for a kiss - and then jamming a "spiked" wurstbrot down her throat.

Quite a bit of dead air, to be sure, especially in the second half. Jacobs seems to realize this and randomly introduces a whole barn full of animals into the plot at one time.

The "Heimatfilme" version blots out the two Manuela songs, which pretty clearly is a feature, not a bug.

Herzblatt oder wie sag ich's meiner Tochter?, Alfred Vohrer, 1969

The black and white interview footage in the beginning seems to point towards the sex report film wave blowing up one year later, but the film that follows is almost the complete opposite: a gentle, beautifully decorated take on the way we (think about) love now, dreamy and ironic where the report films are positivist and paranoid. The initial question - how to talk to your offspring about sex, especially when the offspring is female and you are not - is just a starting point anyway for a much broader and less pedagogically minded intervention.

The whole thing feels rather un-German and often closer to the Italian commedia sexy of the time. Indeed, the film's best scenes - Georg Thomalla's cello-themed erotic daydreams - anticipate IL MERLO MASCHIO... so much so that I'm almost sure that Campanile must have seen the Vohrer film. (And as much as I love IL MERLO MASCHIO, at least the cello stuff is much funnier in HERZBLATT.)

I was a bit afraid of this because of Vohrer's borderline unwatchable DAS GELBE HAUS AM PINNASBERG, but here he puts his inventiveness to good use throughout. What really makes this special is Thomalla's performance, though, the way he gets increasingly nervous without ever truly finding out what it is he's nervous about. After all, at the time bathing with naked Mascha Gonska didn't feel strange at all. Only now, when looking at himself through someone else's eyes, everything feels strange and wrong. Only now he's always on the lookout for an "alius". (I'm not all that much into psychoanalysis, but it sure makes for good cinema.)

The stuff with the family friend and his threefold impotence by proxy is also very funny, while the scenes at the school do not always ring true. In theory, I'm all for making fun not only of petit bourgeoise inhibitions but also of strained licentiousness, and I clearly side with Mascha in preferring romantic Hemingway sex over the depressingly pragmatist, almost bureaucratic approach to fornication of her fellow students... still, the invocation of "innocence" feels rather off. I mean going directly from prancing around naked without a lurid thought in your head to earth-shattering bullfighter orgasms? This really is quite a stretch, even if Mascha almost manages to pull it off.

The Big Sweat, Ulli Lommel, 1991

"I don't like sex and drugs, but I am also constantly high. That's why I am a lucky man". This is a rather random quote from the film's dialogue, which is dominated almost completely by Robert Z'Dar's freewheeling rambling. He's playing "a new kind of cop", the kind that "fucks with your head". It's basically one non sequitur after the after, not quite bizarre enough to pass off as a surrealist performance piece, but close enough.

Half if not more of the not exactly non-painful 86 minutes is taken up by H.B. Halicki stock footage, intercut with / sabotaged by shots of Z'Dar and others looking grim towards the camera while pretending to drive. Lommel's Godfrey Ho phase is an aquired taste, and this one might be a little bit too shoddy even for me. Still worth it for Z'Dar and a few moments of dimestore noir bleakness.

Killers on Parade, Masahiro Shinoda, 1961

Colorful and wacky and featuring a goat called "End", although strangely enough I often enjoyed the youthful romance scenes more than the killer slapstick. I want to live in the orange light of that last sunrise scene.

Cream - Schwabing Report, Leon Capitanos, 1971

A sad little tale from the last days of swinging Munich, directed by an American who probably was just passing through (and later went on to write, among other things, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS). While around them the city prepares for the approaching Olympics by cleaning up its act, with everyone getting busy and making money, Sabi Dorr the narcissist and Rolf Zacher the cynicist continue living the slacker live. In their minds they still are the kings of the street when in fact the only ones who are willing to even talk to them anymore are the junkies and the freaks. A few women too, admittedly, but only the ones that are just as lost as Dorr and Zacher. In the end it doesn't matter much anymore if one wastes away in the bedroom alone of with company. A dazed, defeated sensuality, guided by the downbeat Can soundtrack and a pitiless camera that likes to hover close to the skin.

The slacker life as cultural sex work: Zacher shoots a Warholesque porn comedy, and at least he's thinking big: he dreams about opening a "Disneyland for sex". Sabi Dorr is already writing his memoirs and has long since resigned to the fact that his own body is his only capital.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Phantombilder

Wenn ich müde bin und einen langsamen Film anschaue, dann bilde ich mir manchmal ein, Bilder oder auch ganze Szenen zu sehen, die tatsächlich nicht auf dem Bildschirm (im Kino ist mir das, glaube ich, noch nie passiert) erschienen sind. Ich bin mir nicht sicher, wie das phänomenologisch abläuft; die Müdigkeit ruft das Phänomen hervor und verhindert gleichzeitig seine analytische Durchdringung. Sind das schlichtweg Traumbilder, die ich hinterher dem Film zurechne? Habe ich, während ich sie "sehe", die Augen geschlossen? (Ich glaube nicht.)


Oder ist es so, dass sich im müden Zustand die gedanklichen Abschweifungen, die mich auch im wachen Zustand beim Filmschauen gelegentlich überkommen, verfestigen und als geistiges Bild sich manifestieren? Das dann ebenfalls mit dem Filmbild amalgamiert. Einen Schritt weiter: Hieße das nicht, dass der Film in solchen Momenten zu meinem Welthorizont wird, dass er also nicht mehr nur ein "als ob", bzw "was wäre, wenn" ist, sondern die jeweils nächstliegende Referenz für alle Gedanken, die mir durch den Kopf gehen? Dürfte ich daraus schließen, dass ich in den Film tiefer eintauche, wenn ich ihn nicht allzu exakt wahrnehme? Einschränkend allerdings: Wenn ich meine halbbewußten Gedankenspiele auf den Film projiziere, bedeutet das sicherlich nicht, dass ich den Film mit der Wirklichkeit verwechsele. Eher ist es so, dass ich plötzlich nicht mehr zwischen zwei unterschiedlichen Formen von Fiktion unterscheiden kann.


Eine andere Hypothese: Habe ich diese Bilder in auch nur irgendeinem Sinne gesehen? Ist es nicht eher so, dass ich plötzlich denke, ich hätte gerade etwas gesehen? ("War da nicht gerade eine Szene, in der...?") Entstehen diese Phantombilder vielleicht immer nur retrospektiv, als gefälschte Erinnerungen? Was aber wäre dann ihr Auslöser? Etwas im Film oder etwas in mir oder die Verbindung von beidem? Überhaupt stellt sich die Frage, was der Film für die Bilder, die in ihm nicht enthalten sind, für eine Funktion hat. Ist er ihr Nährboden oder lediglich eine neutrale Projektionsfläche? Zeigen die Bilder einen Mangel an oder einen Reichtum / ein generatives Potential?


Wie auch immer diese Bilder entstehen: Manchmal sind sie so plastisch, dass ich tatsächlich im Film zurückspringe, um zu überprüfen, ob ich die Szene nun gesehen oder mit nur eingebildet habe. Es stellt sich dann jedesmal heraus, dass die Szene nicht im Film ist, das heißt schon die Unsicherheit darüber, ob ein Bild Teil des Films war, ist ein Indiz dafür, dass das nicht der Fall ist. Wie müsste ein Film beschaffen sein, dass er wiederum diesen Effekt simuliert?


Es wäre schön, wenn es mir gelänge, eine Sammlung anzulegen, einerseits der Phantombilder und andererseits der Bilder, die von den Phantombildern zugedeckt oder zumindest überlagert werden.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Wie Werde ich Filmstar?, Theo Lingen, 1955

Silly and extremely regressive - the humor is not even juvenile, but strictly pre-puberty, childish games in a fantasy showbiz-setup, like an (at least) doubly-neutered HELLZAPOPPIN'. The worst thing about it might be that it is not only proudly immature, but aggressively opposed to the very idea of maturity.

I still enjoyed parts of it, to be sure. The songs are above average, and at least this is a film clearly in love with the textures of modernity. Tiller and Johns are much more stylish than your average German 50s leading ladies, too, Mona Baptiste, one of the few black actresses active in German 50s cinema, has a decent role and Theo Lingen's direction is surprisingly lively; under (very) different circumstances, he might just have turned into a German Frank Tashlin.

Zombi Child, Bertrand Bonello, 2019

The vastly superior first half plays like the world's most pretentious PRETTY LITTLE LIARS episode - meaning this isn't completely worthless, and if Bonello had embraced the ridiculousness of the premise, especially when it comes to Fanny and her wish to either get rid of or be possessed by her boyfriend (Labeque is a great actress, too), this might've actually turned out to be fun.

But come the fuck on, as a political Zombie film this is a joke, and not a good one, there's not much more here than a (probably well-researched, but who gives a shit) Vice-expose on the post-colonial implications of voodoo. Go watch Fulci's ZOMBI 2 instead.

Endless Desire, Shohei Imamura, 1958

Not quite the film I expected given its title: a heist movie about a bunch of extraordinary sleazy hustlers trying to dig their way into a fortune left over from the war while constantly being in danger of getting crushed by multiple forces surrounding them. A very effective setup, especially in its use of crammed space and vertical organization / pressure systems. The all-embracing cynicism might be a bit much at times, but Imamura constantly manages to find new buttons to push and bolts to tighten, often opting for black comedy instead of genre thrills.

The only thing I could've done without is a random love story featuring the boy and the girl next door, which also might be the reason why this is about 10 minutes too long.

Antebellum, Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz, 2020

If this was a bit better made under its glossy one perfect shot surface one might be tempted to defend it against all that depressing "but does it really speak to our cultural moment?" criticism. I certainly appreciate Bush and Renz opting for having fun with a so stupid it's almost smart again high-concept premise instead of delivering self-serving allegorical hot takes. But in the end there's not a single truly effective scene in the whole thing while the performances are all over the place, and seldom in a good way.

On the other hand, having read nothing about it beforehand (I did see the trailer at some point, but had completely forgotten about it), I fell for the twist, hook, line and sinker. This happens most of the time with films like this, though. I'm just extremely gullible, I guess.

The Blue Sky Maiden, Yasuzo Masumura, 1957

I'm not even all that fond of parts of this, the script feels a bit too tight and mechanical (often a problem with Masumura, but more pronounced with a quotidian setting like here), never quite leaning enough in a number of potentially interesting characters like the teacher and especially the stepmother (her breakdown in the end isn't really earned), while investing too much in the bland love interest... but the combination of a young Ayako Wakao and color photography is so electrifying that everything else melts into the background anyway. Great table tennis scene, and excellent telephones.

Männer, Doris Dörrie, 1985

Mostly decent German screwball comedy, that doesn't really depend all that much on gender stereotypes; it's more about games of identity and difference: two men trying to escape their selves by turning each other into their own doubles.

A surprisingly modest film, too, and one that might actually benefit from its television roots; a bigger production might've been tempted to open up its very effective chamber-piece setting in order to introduce any number of stupid side plots. The few outdoor scenes still make it clear that Munich is the most cinematic of all German cities; and Heiner Lauterbach might just be the most cinematic of all German actors, at least when it comes to the ones still around. Uwe Ochsenknecht, on the other hand, always rubs me the wrong way and while I might be pressured into acknowledging that Dörrie puts his obnoxiousness rather effectively to use, he still is a burden she can't quite shake off.

Also, the unpleasant cinematic tradition of characters in arthouse films (almost always men) putting on an animal mask in order to, haha, mask their insecurities / fragile masculinity, really should've stopped with this film.

Flesh Pier, Teruo Ishii, 1958

Feels a bit undercooked, trying out different approaches (exploitation, procedural, melodrama) without committing to a single one. Worth checking out for a few astonishing nightclub scenes. A girl and trumpet.

Kalt wie Eis, Carl Schenkel, 1981

Fully committed to style but also to genre (the latter much more so than, for example, Eckhart Schmidt), which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. The anger, the desperation, the graffiti and even all that gushing blood are first and foremost art school attitude, so how to deal with the fact that pain does, indeed, hurt?

Brigitte Wöllner's hair and the textures of Berlin. Sex and the city.

Sex Crimes, Ulli Lommel, 1992

"I fucked your husband and he wrapped me in cellophane." He indeed did the latter, in the film's first scene, an awkward kink miniature set in a non-descript hotel room. Afterwards Samantha Phillips, the woman in cellophane, harriedly removes the plastic and tediously puts on her bra. The scene is filmed in real time and it's hard to describe just how weird it is in its mixture of naturalism (Phillips's frustrated groaning when she doesn't manage to connect the bra straps is as real as acting can get), a completely phony neo-noir setup and the Bressonian no-budget Mise-en-Scene.

The rest of the film is just as strange (although I really had hoped for more awkward sex), especially once its main attraction is introduced: a private detective from the heartland hell bent on taking on big city crime. Played by Joe Lambie who comes across as a mixture of Clint Eastwood and a minor league soccer coach. He's also wearing a hat with a "k" on it, and at some point you will find out what this is about!

Lambie clearly is Lommel's version of Mister America and one of the most affecting movie characters imaginable. Samantha Philipps is great, too (she's also wonderful in Jag Mundhra's Sexual Malice), and then there's Cindy Manella who has exactly two imdb credits to her name: Sex Crimes (1992) and Sex Crimes (1992).

I've only seen two Lommel films from the 90s yet, but I'm already convinced that this must be his most radioactive decade. In this case he isn't even listed as director in the credits... Luckily imdb assures me that some Gregory Alosio didn't really call any shots, here. The Lommel touch is unfakeable.

Age of Nudity, Seijun Suzuki, 1959

Basically a kids film footnote to the sun tribe cycle, with lots of biking scenes. Would probably have worked better if Suzuki had turned it into a Japanese Our Gang feature by completely focusing on the pre-teens, instead of inserting a random "older brother" storyline. Still, pleasant enough with some experimental toppings.

Red Pier, Toshio Masuda, 1959

Feels much more organic and of one piece than the early Suzuki and Kurahara films treading similar juvenile noir grounds. Great sense of place and very musical, too. Yujiro Ishihara sings between clotheslines about love on the pier and in the end a harmonica announces his fate.

Hubie Halloween, Steven Brill, 2020

Happy Madison is the only safe space in american cinema right now.

Underworld Beauty, Seijun Suzuki, 1958

A bunch of diamonds emerge from the sewers, make their way through live bodies, dead bodies and artificial bodies, only to end up being reduced to the carbon compound they were from the beginning.

Suzuki obviously enjoys working with one of his stronger scripts, and while Mizushima indeed isn't a particularly energetic lead (evincing a kind of gloomy coolness Suzuki isn't interested in), cheeky Mari Shiraki and Hiroshi Kondo, a man more and more hollowed out by pure greed, until there's nothing left but a bundle of reflexes, easily make up for it.

In a particularly wonderful early scene, Shiraki models for Kondo. And while he paints her into a conventional nude, Suzuki's Mise en scene transforms her into a cubist assemblage.

Orphea, Khavn, Kluge, 2020

A film of two minds, one body, and, luckily, lots of music, most of it great. Lilith Stangenberg tells a story about a snake.

Stolen Desire, Shohei Imamura, 1958

Might work better on 35, but the very dark digital transfer often looks rather undistinguished, and while some of the more freewheeling scenes about popular theater and / as voyeurism work very well, I couldn't bring myself to care about the plight of the whiny young intellectual thrown into the middle of it (the tacked on love story is even less exciting). Maybe just not my kind of movie, Mike D'Angelo calls it Fellini-esque on here, and unfortunately this might be true. I'd recommend Suzuki's WIND-OF-YOUTH GROUP instead, which has almost the same plot but approaches the material from the exact opposite angle.

Heritage of the Desert, Lesley Selander, 1939

I recently read the Zane Grey novel this is based on and was surprised, given that Grey was a household name at the time and is even featured on the poster, just how little of it - neither the plot nor the feel - ends up on screen. Seems like they were just mining his work for a few colorful characters and dramatic incidents, while both the epic scope and especially the spiritual dimension, very pronounced in the novel, fell by the wayside. The adaptation is mostly about flattening of world and affect. The way the main protagonist is introduced is especially revealing: a man out of nowhere trying to escape his past, if not human society in general in the novel, a dull and arrogant rich kid claiming his fortune in the film (that his love interest is changed from half Native American to very white is, unfortunately, less surprising).

Anyway, some of the heavies are fun, otherwise there's not much to see, here.

Heritage of the Desert, Henry Hathaway, 1932

Rewatched this version, too. Not necessarily closer to Grey, but so much more charming and inventive. Feels at times like a first draft for one of Hathaway's finest, THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS, especially in those wonderful scenes with Scott and Blane (her lying in her treehouse, dripping water onto his face, while he rests below). Needs a better transfer, asap.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

last 2 weeks on letterboxd

Teenage Yakuza, Seijun Suzuki, 1962

Clearly not one of the more interesting early Suzukis. The script is by the numbers and the protagonist slightly annoying. Still, the Nikkatsu apparatus alone makes almost any film look great while Suzuki adds a phony mustache here and there and also provides lots of quirky, at times poetic details of provincial life. I'm very fond of that one very energetic, overeager girl in Jiro's clique. She brings a special spark to every scene she's in.

Emanuelle in America, Joe D'Amato, 1977

I just had to. There's still that almost ecstatic forward drive that makes it the primus inter pares of the Black Emanuelle films, but of course it can't hit you just as hard when you know what's coming.

Bad Girl, Kirio Urayama, 1963

A strange film speaking of a despair that might be tied rather strongly to a specific time and place and not easily translatable into the present / a non-japanese context. It seems to relate to the continuing defeat of the Japanese left throughout the fifties. Instead of a revolutionary subject there's only a single, obstinate girl, Wakae, stuck between a real world of violence crystallized in crammed shot compositions and an imaginary one hidden beneath the sand and accessible through imagery approaching the abstract. What would it mean to save, reform, love her?

All scenes centering on Wakae are extremely intense, while everything that isn't directly tied to her subjectivity feels heavy-handed, trenched in sociological shorthand. In a way this might not even harm the film: to strip away the false securities provided by (in this case: left-liberal) ideology you really have to let your guard down and this only works face to face, in an encounter with a single individual.

CrimeBroker, Ian Barry, 1994

From the golden days of DTV and Cable TV: a Japanese-Australian coproduction featuring Jacqueline Bisset as a no-nonsense judge who likes to dress up in ridiculous outfits in her spare time and Masaya Kato as an expert seducer and master criminal who nevertheless is easily fooled by the world's worst tailing job.

Ian Barry trenches his film in cut-rate neo-noir aesthetics but has no idea how to maintain suspence or at least keep things lively. At least there are some nice nineties artifacts: the life of crime is mostly dependent on a clunky camcorder and a very hip multi-purpose wrist-watch and there's even a hand-held image scanner that looks like something out of an especially bold teleshopping scam. The hacking scenes are decidedly pre-cyberpunk, though.

The Boy Who Came Back, Seijun Suzuki, 1958

For Sachiko Hidari, romance means encountering another world, a world more dangerous and exciting, more masculine. Love means enthusiastically sipping beer in the nightclub. Love means treasuring bodily memories, even and especially the violent ones. Love means worshipping a face, Akira Kobayashi's face, that starts out clownish, almost childish, but slowly transforms itself into a canvas of pure, existential despair. Love means being constantly transformed by this face, when encountering it, even when remembering it - while knowing from the start that she herself won't ever leave an impression on it. Because for him, love can only mean something when it is part of a manichaen struggle - in this case of purity against filth. Sachiko is innocent, but not pure.

The one he loves, Ruriko Asaoka, doesn't even have to look at his face. For her, love is something internal, a secure place. In the most beautiful scene of the film, she walks across a bridge, singing: "So far, very far away"

Always Be With You, Herman Yau, 2017

Crying in the kitchen because I forgot to cook the rice. This hits harder than it has any right to.

The Sleeping Beast Within, Seijun Suzuki, 1960

Just another one of the eleven 1960/1961 Suzuki films. Once again it's painfully obvious that an environment like this where young directors can try their hand, without career-threatening risk, at many projects in a short time, is one of the main prerequisites for a lively and rich film culture (and probably an indispensable one). Those Nikkatsu programmers might all look similar on the surface, but in fact they aren't at all. For example, Hiroyuki Nagato's reporter is much more bland in this than in SMASHING THE O-LINE, a film that shares many narrative beats with THE SLEEPING BEAST WITHIN, but ends up feeling much more paranoid and modernist. THE SLEEPING BEAST, on the other hand, is rather grave and earnest, not least because of an unusually thick, heavy soundtrack.

Sometimes, especially in the fire inferno finale, the tone approaches Greek tragedy, but Suzuki still manages to insert playful stuff like those two flashbacks to the same scene accompanied by a miniature narrator inside the frame; and in the end the gravity might be a ruse to begin with, because what it comes down to is a rather caustic tale of just another bunch of petty upper middle class assholes dabbling in heroin instead of ship supply.

The Spiders: The Noisy Parade, Ko Nakahira, 1968

Might feel different about this once a decent version shows up, but on first sight this only comes alive once in a while. Not so much a Japanese HELP! than a Japanese approximation of a dull eurospy effort. Slow and unimaginative especially in comparison with Nakahira's BLACK GAMBLER films. One problem might be that there are just too many Spiders.

The Frozen Ghost, Harold Young, 1945

A rather messy entry in the very interesting Inner Sanctum series. The writers didn't seem to want to commit to a single, clear-cut mystery this time around, instead they throw in Martin Kosleck as a multi-purpose creepy guy and let him come up with a new ill-conceived scheme every few minutes while everyone around him remains rather unperturbed. So he's throwing knives now, interesting... Still a lot of fun, thanks to effective Lon Chaney close-ups, a very stylish Evelyn Ankers and a well-sustained level of low-key craziness.

Woman From the Sea, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1959

She may be a mermaid, or maybe she's just wet and soft from head to toe all the time, especially when in bed, ready for your kisses. She may be a magic shark, or maybe she's just hungry all the time and has to bite straight away into every fish that swims along. She comes and goes through the window into your room high up there on the cliff over the sea. Her appearances are always private, never public. She can't be won over, she can only be accepted.

Not quite the Japanese UNDINE I was hoping for, a bit too sketchy, and the focus unfortunately is mostly on plot mechanics rather than on the pull of the deep (the short underwater sequences are beautiful, though). Not sure if Kurahara was the right director, here, this feels rather restrained compared to his more famous urban slacker films. Still a fascinating, offbeat piece of termite art. When it works, it works mostly because of sultry Hisako Tsukuba, a very unusual presence in Japanese cinema of the time. Later on, as I just learned, she changed her name to Chako van Leeuwen and went on to produce, fittingly, PIRANHA, PIRANHA 3D and PIRANHA 3DD.

Una donna libera, Vittorio Cottafavi, 1954

Tracking shots are like music: they can bring us together, but they can also tear us apart. One of the great melodramas of the 50s.

(There's a new rip out there, much better quality than the old one, but it contains a stupid, jarring cut in the most important scene of the film.)

Goku II: Midnight Eye, Koshiaki Kawajiri, 1989

I'm still all in on Kawajiri's very basic muscles, babes and neon lights concept of coolness, but here he's mostly treading water.

Johnny Flash, Werner Nekes, 1986

Is JOHNNY FLASH (1986) the best film made in the Federal Republic of Germany? Obviously yes, but that's still an understatement. You have to turn things around: JOHNNY FLASH (1986) is the film the Federal Republic of Germany was invented for.

A soft experimental film about the cubism inherent in everyday life, about the interchangeability of family relations, business transactions and entertainment industry, about the beautiful ugliness of inner city post-war architecture, about the death of language and the power of music.

Eight Hours of Terror, Seijun Suzuki, 1957

Compared to so many (very) different movies on here, but clearly a beast of its own first and foremost. Suzuki's centrifugal cinema easily blows up all the constrictions films like this are supposed to be based on, time and space are already nonsense this early in the game, most obviously probably when a pedestrian manages to outpace a bus without even trying all that hard (a single road sign does the trick). He has also lots of fun with little things like repeatedly putting a baby and a gun in the same frame.

Undine 74, Rolf Thiele, 1974


Thiele had a one-track mind and by 1974 he also seems to have lost just about any connection to the time he lived in, but he also had an ultra-baroque visual imagination setting him apart from pretty much everyone this side of Wenzel Storch. Here, he and Wolf Wirth are really running wild, shooting for something like Sternberg meets Jess Franco. The rear projection motorbike sex scene is something only the creme de la creme of cine-sickos would even try pulling of.

The Incorrigible, Seijun Suzuki, 1963

"I hate Strindberg, but at least he brought us together."

Like in Urayama's DELINQUENT GIRL, Masako Izumi close-ups are a force of nature and go a long way in selling a love story that otherwise not always feels fully fleshed out. There are some very effective long shots, too (and a wonderful, highly artificial flashback sequence), but generally Suzuki feels more at home with the caustic aspects of the script: Tôgo's big city arrogance vs goofy provincial morality. Sometimes the film, flaunting its own literary aspirations, seems to aligne itself a bit too firmly with the former.

The Witch Who Came from the Sea, Matt Cimber, 1976

Sidesteps pretty much completely the iconography and dramatic beats one would expect in a film like this, instead it's mostly a series of encounters filmed as if in real time pitting Millie Perkins against different people who try to read her, one way or another. The men (including, depressingly, her sons) project all kind of bullshit on her, while the women mostly see through her.

...I seldom like flashback scenes in trauma films. Most of the times there are simply too many of them, I guess, they soon lose their unsettling force and become mechanistic shorthand in order to drive forward the plot. Here they try much harder than usually to let them reverberate in original ways, but the drive towards revelation is still present. The (great) tattooing scene, for example, would've had a much stronger and more lasting impact without the reveal that, yes, father did this, too.

I tartassati, Steno, 1959

One never watches enough Italian comedies. This has an annoying sideplot starring Luciano Marin, but otherwise it's just one exhibit of Toto greatness after the other. The tax avoidance setup is tailor-made for his trying to weasel out of his own schemes persona (as well as a somewhat harsh showcsae for a fatalistic view of society), while Aldo Fabrizi and de Funes are, naturally, excellent co-stars - although it's always clear who runs the show, here.

Steno mostly just lets the camera run, knowing fully well that Toto always comes with his own Mise en Scene.

The Blood Sword of the 99th Virgin, Morihei Magatani, 1959

The ugly flipside of Kinoshita's THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA and similar fairy-tale-style takes on pre-modern Japan, substituting the subtle allure of aesthetizised otherness with crass exploitation. Pretty grizzly (not only the human sacrifice stuff, but also the corresponding images of state violence, like that shot of a sniper aiming at a lone woman in the woods) and not exactly thinking man's cinema, but extremely effective and, for better or worse, far ahead of its time.

The Man With the Golden Arm, Otto Preminger, 1955

Zosh Machine: the name alone is punishment and destiny. She's the true center of the film, the entrapped entrapper, locked in up there in her small, miserable apartment, a life clearly defined and restricted while everyone else has at least some options. The cruelest of camera movements: the camera moving off of her, giving her space, but only so that she can stand up and, betraying her betrayal, walk up towards Otto's unflinching gaze. From this moment on she is lost, living on borrowed time.

Yes, of course: Woman as metaphor, a sacrificial lamb at the mercy of a ruthless script. Still, what makes her role so powerful is the very absence of (sane) agency. All she can do is learn how to whistle. Zosh's whistle: In theory a medium of expression, and at the same time useless, because it cannot represent nuances and interiority, but only produces a single, garish note.

The Man With the Shotgun, Seijun Suzuki 1961

Suzuki mostly having fun with rather than making fun of western tropes makes for breezy, colorful pulp entertainment. Would love to watch this one on film one day.

Born Under Crossed Stars, Seijun Suzuki, 1965

Very funny and very free-form provincial farce / sex comedy filled with speckled cows, kisses charged with meaning, steamy revelations in the bathhouse, expressive tattoos, Yumeka Nogawa's toothy smile and assertive flirting technique (clenching Ken Yamauchi's knee between her thighs), and quite a few blows on the forehead. Sprawling with chaotic widescreen energy, great stuff.

Lust, Caution, Ang Lee, 2007

Ang Lee's afterword to the english translation of Eileen Chang's short novella the film is based on is smart, perceptive, and precise. His film, unfortunately, is none of that. Bloated, very on the nose (I knew I'd have some problems with this film as soon as the rapid-fire montage sequence during the Mahjong game right at the start), and rather academic, especially once the fucking starts. In theory I appreciate the idea of sex scenes that are meant to proof something, as part of an argument, but here they carry way too much weight, resulting in a pornographic approach to subjectivity that defeats sensuality. Not completely, though, the actors are still great and Ang Lee is a good enough technician to successfully pull off some of his tricks. Still, one of his weaker films.

Under the Flag of the Rising Sun, Kinji Fukasaku, 1972

Plunging into the abyss that is history. Once the gates are open there is no stopping it. Fukasaku's supreme showmanship and Shindo's unwavering and not exactly nuanced leftist sensibilities are a very good match for a project like this.

Five Golden Dragons, Jeremy Summers, 1967

So while Chang Cheh revolutionized the wuxia with ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, somewhere else on the Shaw Studios soundstages Jeremy Summers was busy directing some of the dullest chase scenes imaginable. A low-energy eurospy dud featuring Robert Cummings on autopilot, desperately trying to get some mileage out of its Hong Kong setting and a long list of cameos. The absurdist five dragons finale is mildly amusing.

Was die Schwalbe sang, Geza von Bolvary, 1956

Stilted but at times weirdly affecting adaptation of Theodor Storm's "Immensee". I haven't seen the Harlan version, which probably goes all in on the melodrama; Bolvary takes his time to get there and goes through some rather stale Heimatfilm motions. While his direction clearly has lost the spark of his early 30s films, he still has an affinity for music, though. Especially the scenes about Margit Saad discovering her sense of harmony are quite nice. She's so enthusiastic, at one time she even jumps onto the sofa! Those daring big city girls... Uber-blonde Maj-Britt Nilsson would never, she always catches the 0:30 train home. Claus Biederstaedt grew on me, too: eyebrows of defiance, eyebrows of regret.

In the end the film is like Paul Hörbiger's Philipp Meyen: mostly immobilized, hopelessly stuck in the past, clinging to half-processed memories, closed-off to new experiences... but always ready to be flushed with a sentiment that doesn't know itself.

Die Landärztin, Paul May, 1958

Probably as progressive as a 1958 Heimatfilm can get: Marianne Koch defeats provincial closed-mindedness and is allowed to have a career, but she still has to marry Rudolf Prack.

Paul May struggles terribly when it comes to the more dramatic scenes (the Maria Perschy pregnancy plot is especially awkward); as long as he focusses on Koch and the shenanigans of the great supporting cast, everything flows along pleasantly, though: Willy Millowitsch introduces a bit of Rhinelandish absurdism, Beppo Brem hugs a bottle after battling rabies, and the always great Rudolf Vogel stands on his head to defeat the foehn wind!

Raped by an Angel, Andrew Lau, 1993

Over the top and then some. Prime Wong Jing nastiness built around a number of elaborate rape scenes; or rather rape set pieces, as they basically serve the same function as a 20 minutes car chase mayhem extravaganza in a Michael Bay film. Topped off by Andrew Lau's glossy expert execution that somehow manages to eliminate most cognitive distancing devices. Those two really make D'Amato look like a choirboy.

Sensation in San Remo, Georg Jacoby, 1951

Somehow manages to feel both shop-soiled and frozen in time: Marika Rökk and company (Peter Pasetti is especially unbearable in the alpha male role) stomping through a number of entertainment mainstays like it's 1944, hell-bent on ignoring that something, anything might have changed in the meantime; everyone is a bit too old for his or her role, though, and this lends the stale proceedings an unspecific air of sadness.

The revue finale isn't all bad and especially Rökk's crossdressing scene might've some camp appeal, I guess. Too little too late, but at least it makes me a bit curious about her late work; maybe at one point she stopped being the ever-competent entertainment automaton to be transformed into a glorious, aging showbiz warhorse. This photography, at least, is rather promising:
de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marika_R%C3%B6kk#/media/Datei:S%C3%A4ngerin_Marik

Century of the Dragon, Clarence Fok, 1999

Another interesting film from Hong Kong cinema's transformative late 90s period. Clarence Fok's direction is stylish as always but rather restrained when compared to his prime, while the script feels like Wong Jing's attempt at tight plotting - at one point he almost deliberately wastes a perfect opportunity for extra-disgusting toilet humor. On first sight this might look like a proto INFERNAL AFFAIRS; on a scene by scene basis it still plays out completely differently, though: at its heart, things are driven not by structure but by performance, and when the great ensemble cast (MVP, rather surprisingly: Patrick Tam) is let loose, the bigger picture always quickly fades into the background.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

inhalt / last days of berlin (and zürich)

spätzle express: vip-card: 10%, diese karte ist nicht übertragbar, www. spätzleexpress.de

tilsiter lichtspiele: stempelkarte die dritte vorstellung geschenkt, www.tilsiter-lichtspiele.de (x2)

yorck-kinos: yorck-karte, sammeln sie kinos!, www.york.de

videodrom: kundenkarte, montag bis samstag 15-24 uhr

filmmuseum berlin - deutsche kinemathek, bibliothek: benutzerausweis, www.filmmuseum-berlin.de

xenix bar: getränkepass

kino xenix: mitarbeiter/in

filmpodium: persönliches abonnement, www.filmpodium.ch

Saturday, September 26, 2020

last week in letterboxd

The Balloon, Yuzo Kawashima, 1956

An expansive family melodrama, but structured around a woman for whom family life is closed off forever. Michiyo Aratama as the sad mistress, clinging to a cruel, unworthy man, is the center of the film, her oval face not quite fitting in with the modern, western-oriented middle-class sensibilities surrounding her. The only one who understands her is a round-faced girl everyone else talks down to. From her first scene, emerging out of bed and throwing herself at cold Tatsuya Mihashi, Michiyo's desperation is palpable. Like everything else, sex is a serious thing for her. She's haunted by the past, too, by the war that took her husband, and she is not the only one. Everybody feels boxed in one way or another, everyone's presence is a betrayal either of the past of the future, everyone's looking for escapes big or small. Some will even make it, but not Michiyo.

---

It's mostly set in entertainment spaces and homes that aspire towards entertainment spaces, but there are also quiet side-streets and a traditional matriarch trying (in vain) to hold things together in the old way. Kawashima is always curious, never judgmental. Rodin's "Thinker" makes an appearance in one of the most beautiful scenes. In a bar, German tourists sing a Franconian drinking song:

Trink mer noch eTröpfsche,
trink mer noch e Tröpfsche,
aus dem kleinen Henkeltöpfsche
Oh Susanna...

Emanuelle Around the World, Joe D'Amato, 1977

The real deal. In EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK the animal-snuff- and rape-scenes almost felt out of place, with the camera lingering on, as if without consciousness, an automaton gaze just killing time before moving on to more pleasant things again. Here however, you just have to take everything in, and when you think you've managed to escape, D'Amato manages to squeeze in another gang rape in the last few minutes.

A true exploitation rollercoaster ride from start to finish, the highest highs, the lowest lows, the India scene in the beginning is very funny, and everything is served with maximum conviction. This is the Emanuelle way, and her libertarian philosophy is on full display, too. Fittingly, this is also the film in which D'Amato discovers that any sex scene can be enhanced by a well-placed low-angle shot. Essential gutter filmmaking.

Probably the best soundtrack of the series so far. That groovy theme that always hits when things are going to be really dark is so damn effective, and I'm especially glad they ditched that stupid "Black Emanuelle" title song.

Still not sure if I want to see EMANUELLE IN AMERICA again just now, though. (Well...)

Wild Geese, Shiro Toyoda, 1953

Another tale of people hustling each other and their desperate dreams of escape. It looks absolutely astonishing and maybe it is first and foremost a showcase of the amazing level of technical skill in the Japanese film industry of the 50s. I don't know if there ever was anything comparable anywhere else in the world at any time.

Still, not quite my kind of film. Toyoda certainly knows how to push its buttons, but it is a bit too much in love with its plot mechanics for my taste and it lacks the sense of lived-in social reality of the best Japanese films of the era. Here, everything feels a bit closed-off, world as function of story instead of story function of world. Takamine is marvelous, of course, but her performance too is much more showy than in her films for Naruse and Kinoshita.

Toyoda obviously is an expert Metteur en scene, though, ingeniously combining quotidian realism (the use of space in Otama's house is pretty much perfect) with poetic, almost abstract flights of fancy. Like when she sees the student for the first time: Otama's face trapped between the bars of her window, but suddenly surrounded by pure black and therefore freed. Also the stuff with the umbrellas and bittersweet the last few minutes. Somewhere hidden between all of those stage-tricks is a great melodrama of defeat closer to John M. Stahl than Mizoguchi.

Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Joe D'Amato, 1977

Compared to the all-you-can-eat mondo approach of AMERICA and AROUND THE WORLD, this almost feels like classical cinema again, maybe because this time there's a rather clear delineation between the softcore scenes and the cannibal stuff. Especially since the sex is surprisingly sensuous. The scenes of Gemser and Tinti especially are the warmest, most intimate in the series so far. There's also the ultimative fuck in front of the NY skyline scene that they just had to include sooner or later.

Once they reach the jungle, things pretty much switches into action-adventure mode, which also means that Emanuelle herself loses a bit of control. She's no longer mistress of ceremonies, but just another piece of prey (that drony cannibal pov shots are extremely unnerving; D'Amato might not have been the best storyteller in the world, but his suspense/horror technique is always first-rate). Luckily, that wonderful water goddess scene as well as her woke closing monologue spoken directly into the camera (how shameless can you get) more than make up for it.

Of course, there's still enough relevant imagery in there to either satisfy or disgust pretty much anyone. As for myself, I can stand stuff like this only once in a while, but right now I'm completely in love with European exploitation cinema again.

A shame Emanuelle ditches her wonderful doll-camera after the first scene, though.

The Rainbow Man, Kiyohiko Ushihara, 1949

Killed by color! Inventive mystery set almost exclusively in a very gothic mansion populated by an upper-class family that cultivates a nice, space-specific set of neuroses. The rainbow stuff is pure gimmickry, to be sure, but effective enough at that and while the film clearly is modeled after Western patterns, there are some rather extreme mood changes that would feel very much out of place in American b-movies of the time. (In fact, the frenetic eccentricities of the Vohrer Wallace films might be a better comparison.)

Velluto nero, Brunello Rondi, 1976

A spiritual experience laying bare the dead souls of capitalist modernity or just a particularly annoying new-age-retreat? Hard to say, and the most terrifying thought might be that maybe both are one and the same thing anyway. You have to take in the stupid with the visionary here. All three men, for example, are caricatures of the worst kind, but that doesn't mean that Al Cliver as the world's phoniest guru won't hypnotize us too in the end.

Anyway, a very offbeat Emanuelle film, and I was mostly on board with it, thanks to the decidedly musical take on sex and a delightful sense of desert absurdity. As for Gemser, she doesn't necessarily have the most screentime, but she still dominates: no psychological entity like everyone else, but the beginning and the end of the gaze, when she gets hypnotized she melts into ritual, into cosmic space-time. As far as the plot is concerned, this time around she's not a reporter but a model who gets forced by Tinti into bizarre tableau non-vivant constellations. The best shot of the film, though, is just her bending backwards, with the camera shooting through the arch of her body. Made me think what ALIEN would've looked like with her as the alien (and, maybe, Annie Belle as Sigourney Weaver).

La spiaggia del desiderio, Enzo D’Ambrosio / Humberto Morales, 1976

Faux Emanuelle on faux Debussy island. As an exploitation film a complete bust (Kennedy especially is completely wasted), and even as a third-rate take on BLUE LAGOON at best barely tolerable. The sex scenes are very long and very soft. Still, Gemser seems relaxed throughout, maybe the lower energy level on display here was a welcome change of pace.

The Call of Blood, Seijun Suzuki, 1964

A wacky delight not only because of the more openly experimental imagery but also because of stuff like the sliding door stuck between Ryota's girlfriend and his mother. Generally the domestic scenes display a lot of care for detail, as if to balance out the anything goes approach once the boys step out of the house. The ending feels a bit like a war film with most of the war removed. Just two shell-shocked guys in a wasteland.

Papaya dei Caraibi, Joe D'Amato, 1978

D'Amato teases with cannibalism and cock fights, just to let you drown in the quicksands of a tropical slow-burn soft sex / uneasy hangout / moody postcolonial horror movie. Compared to the EMANUELLE-films, the plot feels rather well-rounded, but still doesn't really go anywhere. (Mostly because the cyclical time of myth is at odds with the linear time of politics; Papaya herself is positioned as a political actor by the script, but D'Amato's camera films her like an ancient goddess sent to earth in order to punish men by fucking them to death). Anyway, the journey is the reward.

Blade Violent - I violenti, Bruno Mattei, 1983

"I represent the captive audience watching this shit."

Belle of the Nineties, Leo McCarey, 1934

Between Mae West delivering (mostly; a few good ones slipped through) bland, desexed lines as if they really were witty and risque and a plot that's supposed to be a nostalgic celebration of classic Burlesque, but really just comes down to a number of petty people hustling each other this is a rather weird and not completely unengaging misfire. The only thing that really makes it memorable is the spiritual scene, though, not only because of the layered musical arrangement, but also in terms of Mise en scene. The whole sequence feels like a throwback to early cinema: The rules, hierarchies and control mechanisms of analytical montage fade away and the whole screen succumbs to the immediacy of spectacle.

The Wind-of-Youth Group crosses the Mountain Pass, Seijun Suzuki, 1961

A sentimental, colorful and musical showbiz film about transforming a traditional circus routine into a revue performance in line with the media age: it's no longer about exhibition of craft, but about flow of entertainment. Might even be interesting to watch this as a reaction to the introduction of color television in Japan one year earlier, with Suzuki crafting his film as a superior form of revue entertainment, too.

At the same time, of course, films like this, combining youth culture textures with older dramatic forms no longer really valid, where everywhere in the early 60s. I was reminded at times of the German Music House Schlagerfilme, and while Suzuki certainly is a better director than Ernst Hofbauer and even the sometimes very good Hans Billian, aside from a few beautiful color explosions he plays it rather safe here, especially when it comes to sex.

Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade, Joe D'Amato, 1978

This time it didn't take me long to confirm that I had seen this before: The scene with the mechanic servicing Ely Galleani was still burned into my brain. Later on everything flows along smooth as silk, even when things finally get a bit nasty in the last reel. Basically a rehash of AROUND THE WORLD, but the stakes are much lower and it's not exactly clear why. Anyway, let's follow Emanuelle one last time around the globe, witness her running with the animals and parading in front of skyscrapers, enjoy some of the series' most beautiful sex scenes (one of them doubled by way of a mirror image)... and marvel at her stylish cigarette lighter-camera, just another proof that in a better, or at least more exciting world D'Amato and Gemser would've taken over the Bond series at some point.

Smashing the O-Line, Seijun Suzuki, 1960

Nikkatsu Action film with a strong script and an excellent cast (Hiroyuki Nagao especially shines as the gloomy sleazeball reporter). Suzuki has great eye for downbeat location and plays things mostly straight, although the film takes some interesting turns after Nishina goes undercover.

Violenza in un carcere femminile, Bruno Mattei, 1982

I guess I understand why many exploitation fans are fond of or at least sympathetic towards Mattei. He has an honest, naive, uncunning approach to his material - it's clearly a case of filming what one loves with him. Still, in the end I'm in it for the visual pleasure and his films just provide so damn little of it. Strangely enough, once in while he does manage to achieve a striking shot, or even a somewhat effective sequence - the beginning of WOMEN'S PRISON MASSACRE, or here, I guess, some of the moody nighttime terror scenes in the first half; but he is never able to sustain any tension and sooner or later the literality of his image-making goes on my nerves. There's really no filter. here. Every impulse has to be put on the screen immediately in the blandest way possible.

Compared to Mattei, the other Black Emanuelle directors (yes, even Albertini) are bona fide aesthetes. He's the ultimative "wouldn't it be awesome, if" kind of filmmaker. I mean, how can you make something like the Laura Gemser throwing a bucket of shit scene so damn dull?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Adorno: Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft, S. 97-122, "Aldous Huxley und die Utopie"

Huxleys Dystopie einer gescheiterten gesellschaftlichen Befreiung bringt Adorno dazu, viel deutlicher und ausführlicher als er das sonst zumeist tut, seine eigene Vorstellung einer dieser entgegen gesetzten gelungenen Befreiung zu formulieren. Ausgangspunkt ist ein längeres Horkheimer-Zitat über die Befriedigung der materiellen Bedürfnisse als Voraussetzung einer befreiten Gesellschaft (111f). Daran anschließend führt Adorno aus, wie sich mit dem Schritt in die befreite, nicht mehr kapitalistische Gesellschaft auch die Bedürfnisse selbst verändern könnten. So ganz werde ich nicht schlau aus der Passage. Es geht wohl darum, Bedürfnisse nicht mehr zwingend aus der Perspektive ihrer eventuellen Befriedigung denken zu müssen. Wenn man seinen Bedürfnissen nicht mehr ausgeliefert ist, wenn der praktische Geist, der sich an die Bedürfnisse heftet und sie fesselt, verschwindet, dann sind diese Bedürfnisse nicht mehr statisch, sondern... was genau? Es tauchen Formulierungen auf wie ein plötzlich "völlig anders" aussehendes Bedürfnis (112), ein "lustvoller (...) Verzicht" auf Lametta (113), am Ende der Passage redet er gar dem "eigentlichen, nicht entstellten Sinn" der Bedürfnisse (114) das Wort. Die Flucht in die Eigentlichkeit - das ist doch eine kleine Enttäuschung. aber vielleicht verweist es auch nur auf den notwendig anti-utopischen Charakter der kritischen Theorie.

Außerdem wendet Adorno, und das ist vielleicht ergiebiger, einige Passagen des Romans direkt ins Utopische; insbesondere betrifft das solche, die sich mit Sexualität befassen. Die "Verfügung aller über alle" in den Orgien (107) wie auch den "überaus verlockenden" Effekt der "künstliche[n] Anmut und zellophanhafte[n] Schönheit" Leninas (107f) sind für ihn inkompatibel mit der dystopischen Ausrichtung. Denn: "Durch die totale gesellschaftliche Vermittlung [von Sexualität] stellte gleichsam von außen nach innen zweite Unmittelbarkeit, Humanität sich her." (108) Hier ist die Utopie nicht mehr auf Verzicht und Eigentlichkeit angewiesen.

Ansonsten kritisiert Adorno unnachgiebig und luzide die idealistische Schlagseite des Romans, wobei ich mich manchmal gefragt habe, ob die Kritik nicht im Kern auf die Romanform selbst zielen müsste, auf den Akt des Dramatisierens und Fabulierens, etwa wenn er moniert, Huxleys Roman übertrage "die Schuld der Gegenwart gleichsam auf die Ungeborenen" (121). Das lässt sich nun einmal nur schwer vermeiden im Science-Fiction-Genre. Adornos Kritik bleibt durchweg auf der Ebene der Ideologie, der Ideenroman wird reduziert auf die Ideen.

last 2 weeks in letterboxd

Tokyo no koibito, Yasuki Chiba, 1952

There's Setsuko Hara hanging out with a bunch of benevolent street urchins; Mifune being eye candy, winning a drunken street brawl filmed in jidaigeki style and spotting an apron at one point; pachinko balls flip-flopping through the streets of Tokyo; jewelry both fake and real frequently changing hands and causing havoc; people turning into caricatures and caricatures turning into people; and, to cap things off, an underwater ballet at the bottom of Tokyo Bay.

Unfortunately there's also quite a bit of dead air and in the end the whole might be a bit less than the sum of its parts. Still, nice to get a glimpse of a part of Japanese 50s cinema normally completely invisible from Western eyes.

Stranger, Shunichi Nagasaki, 1991

V-cinema take on DUEL that somehow manages to be both economical and open-ended. Nagasaki also makes great use of the blank canvas that is Yuko Natori's face. Switching back and forth between tense genre scenes, moody roadtrips through nighttime Tokyo powered by an awesome, minimalist synth score, and deadpan scenes of female loneliness in a world of men. Pretty awesome stuff.

Trauma, Dario Argento, 1993

Not always clear if it's the chaotic Mise en scene or the obviously botched Bluray transfer that renders many scenes downright unintelligible. Of course, Argento always profits more than most from 35mm (someday, hopefully...), and he also more often than not strives on chaos. Here, too: A full-blown operatic, anorexia-themed wide-angle horror film about Asia-Aura, the child-woman ghost from old europe invading (mostly) suburban Minnesota. While the daughter never quite comes into view, the father loses himself in a swamp of gimmickry and trolling: A murder weapon from the more obscure sections of the DIY store, the nerdy boy next door in cahoots with the insect world, both a Donaggio score and several Hitchcock homages that seem to be primarily designed to piss off De Palma, while Laura Johnson obviously is only in the film for that one shot of her tits bathed in golden light. Gothic dreams of junk-food culture. Anyway, I'll take messy, unhinged stuff like this over late 70s art school Argento any day.

Orchids Under the Moon, Takashi Ishii, 1991

What is it with Japanese cinema and dismal loneliness? There's a certain kind of urban despair I only find in post 1970s Japanese films: people holed up in run-down apartments, at the same time too close to and totally disconnected from city life; paranoid when alone and irritable when with company (but often still clinging to each other, despite themselves, sex without seduction); stationary heating and instant ramen; exterior staircases and unstable safety chains; ugly carpets and thin walls.

It's a pretty specific look / feel, a strand of modernity that has run its course and now everything is stuck and outdated, it hurts but you can't get away from it. ORCHIDS UNDER THE MOON is a prime example, extra dreary because shot on video, doughy faces in close-up, people bleeding on each other, fruits turning into metal. Kimiko Yo introduces a sense of faux excitement for a while but it's obvious from the start she isn't built to last, either.

Jetzt und alles, Dieter Meier, 1981

Richy Müller: another cruelly underused asset, especially in his early years. How the hell could he not follow this up with a string of increasingly baroque gangster films?

Kekko Kamen, Hikari Hayakawa, 1991

Aggressively styleless Japanese shot in video camp that, I guess, delivers what it sets out to deliver, but overstays its welcome even with a 54 minutes running time.

The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio, Takashi Miike, 2016

Like in the predecessor, there's pretty straight-forward, routine genre storytelling under the no holds barred surface, to the point of this sometimes coming off as faux anarchism (unlike in films that really let go, like YAKUZA APOCALYPSE or LIKE A DRAGON). Thanks to Ikuta's committed performance (basically: dick and brain constantly short-circuiting with the result being projected onto his extremely malleable face) I enjoyed the sex comedy parts much more than the Yakuza parts that feel like Miike just treading water. The Hong Kong setting is mostly wasted, too. Anyway, the tiger finale sure is worth the wait.

Lo spettro, Riccardo Freda, 1963

That scene of Barbara Steele looking out of the window: there is, indeed, a world out there, gleaming with light. When she steps outside a little bit later, for the only time in the film, she is completely lost, though. The rest of the time, this is about four people locked in a castle and their own obsessions.

More rounded and not quite as lurid as other Freda horror films, but just as dark. Gothic horror as a claustrophobic doomsday machine, a slow-burn of madness that no one will escape from. The imagery is very primal, a direct inscription of evil: the camera tracing shadows alongside walls, the lens flooded with blood.

The Thick-Walled Room, Masaki Kobayashi, 1956

On the one hand, this is the kind of film people sometimes wrongly accuse Kurosawa of making: self-serious, tortured humanism assisted by overblown, sometimes pompous imagery. On the other hand, the commitment is clearly real and the whole thing is interestingly messy. Not a well-ordered text, but a series of distinct outcries, some of them touching, some a bit obnoxious. Also a good eye for faces. In the end I guess I'm just not in the right mood for Kobayashi right now.

Death Laid an Egg, Giulio Questi, 1968

Reminds me a lot of Petri's A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY: Another arty sort-of-giallo enthusiastically replacing the more modest, but also more open-ended genre thrills with the director's ramblings on the state of modernity. In this case something about how the commodification of the body goes goes along with its compartmentalisation, until there's nothing left but the part-objects of fantasy play on the one side and pure, unfeeling biomass on the other.

Like with the Petri, this often looks fantastic (if not quite as spectacular; but a 35mm print might change that), but almost from the start it feels like a zero-sum game: freewheeling aesthetics in service of a closed-off intellectual system. The white room sequence for example is a great idea in theory, and reminded me a bit of THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL; but without any investment in the characters, it mostly falls flat.

In the end I still enjoyed this a bit more than A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY, because it really is funny at times, and also sexy.

Invisible Target, Benny Chan, 2007

Early in the film Nicholas Tse turns into his own ghost to bemoan his fiancee who was killed in the first of many perfectly executed action setpieces. With that out of the way, the rest is just male bodies at the edge, physically as well as emotionally. Violence as a bond, connecting friends, but also enemies. I killed your brother so that you'll always think of me. In the end we'll all be smeared with tears and blood and it will rain splintered glass, ashes, and money.

So sad there won't be many more (if any) films like this in the future now that one of the last masters is gone, but I guess every form has its time and place; INVISIBLE TARGET has to pay its dues to the new millennium, too, here and there, especially when it comes to the color grading, the only reason this isn't a five star film.

Don't skip the stunt reel in the end, they really earn it, especially Nicholas Tse.

Meow, Benny Chan, 2017

Actually quite sweet once it starts using Xi Xili as a melodramatic rather than comedic device: a spectator witnessing and sometimes healing the deformations of a Chinese middle class family. Unfortunately Chan takes quite a bit of time to get there, and the first half hour is pretty much unbearable, just one botched attempt at all-out silliness after the other.

Running on Empty, Sidney Lumet, 1988

Simply one of the all-time greats and a good example for why films sometimes are better off with scripts that aren't all that smart or nuanced. This hits so hard precisely because everything is rather clear-cut and idealized. No moral reckoning, no painful introspection, just bodies lost in affect.

In the end this is a special film because it finds the essence of not one, but two actors so perfectly that you just know that, whatever else will happen, they'll always have this, they were caught in their prime, unaware, and nothing can make this vanish. Every single scene with Plimpton and Phoenix... I actually think she's even greater than he is (maybe just because she has the easier role: all attitude in the beginning, and then gradually letting lose; he, on the other hand, has to work overtime to be an angel throughout). While he sometimes reverts to stage tricks, her performance is completely rounded. Her voice, the clarity of her pronunciation, the way she says words like "certifiable"...

The Possessed, Fraco Rossellini & Luigi Bazzoni, 1965

Trying to recreate the pureness of the voyeuristic gaze, but finding yourself trapped in a maze of sleazy rumors and unruly desires. The images used to be at your disposal, but now the tables have turned and you are at their mercy, haunted day and night by faces that read you more than you read them. The hotel, too, isn't a space of abstract desire anymore, but suddenly too close to home, a private ghost behind each corner.

Arty sixties thrillers (in this case very much Antonioni adjacent, Resnais is in there, too) often go on my nerves, and this one does too, sometimes, but more often than not it stays close enough to the pulpy energy at its core to keep the interest up.

Burden of Love, Yuzo Kawashima, 1955

Can one get impregnated by a drum solo over the phone? Kawashima's film makes a pretty good case for it. An extremely fertile comedy, editing as displacement activity, pheromones are everywhere, though seldom exactly where one wants them to be.

"Whenever you say something, the conversation gets derailed."

T-Wo-Men, Werner Nekes, 1972

Textile erotica for the tactile gaze, sex no longer a game of hide and reveal, but a constellation of different surfaces. Skin is just another texture and the body just another contingency, sometimes establishing itself, always like out of nowhere, in the realm of the eye.

Invisible Man Appears, Nobuo Adachi, 1949

Nothing new under the sun but very charming, an enthusiastic entry in a rather lovely tradition. Not quite as quirky / pulpy as Oda's 1954 version, a bit more basic, focusing strictly on the premise itself, meaning the invisible man gets a lot of invisible screen time, and also several pov shots. Some of those lingering, voyeuristic long takes, when it's no longer completely clear whether we are still seeing through invisible eyes or whether we are just a bit too curious, are quite interesting, though we're of course not yet in Verhoeven territory here. Also, once again, at some point perfectly visible people start dressing up as invisible men, an absurdist concept that might have never been quite properly exploited by cinema.

In the Folds of the Flesh, Sergio Bergonzelli, 1970

A gratuitous shower scene - set in Auschwitz! Say what you will, no one does exploitation quite like the Italians. Only my second Bergonzelli, and he really is something else, there's certainly a method to his madness, even if it's not always clear what method exactly. Here, the plot makes close to zero sense, especially the piled-up twists towards the end. Turns out that someone is or isn't someone else's mother and this changes either everything or nothing.

Before that, in a castle over the sea filled with lots of stylish stuff, people are killed here and there, with the bodies either dissolved into yellow (!) liquid or buried so shallow the vultures get (very) nervous. The mood is frenetic, unstrung and horny, but the film isn't really in a hurry - when Fernando Sancho reenters the scene, things virtually grind to halt, and gets what feels like a full half hour to sully and molest everything in his reach, climaxing in a bathtub scene for the ages.

Die Sieger, Dominik Graf, 1994

The wounds that heal and the ones that don't. Of its time (hard-edged Katja Flint erotica), some missed opportunities (soft-edged Meret Becker erotica), and sometimes not much more than a first draft for more concise small-screen work. But the highs are very high.

Hot Saturday, William A. Seiter, 1932

Could be interesting to chart some kind of "road to screwball" throughout the precode era. This one certainly would be on there, somewhere. At times it plays just like a remarriage comedy with a not yet fully-formed Cary Grant, Nancy Carroll as a more mischievous Carole Lombard and Randolph Scott in the Ralph Bellamy role. But the focus is still on questions of public morality (here with a surprisingly licentious twist) instead of self-image. Almost as if the change from precode to screwball isn't about disowning, but about internalizing sex.

Anyway, the dialogue isn't always good enough to make this really fly; that scene with Scott looking at Carroll waking up naked under a blanket makes up for a lot, though.

Crime Hinter, Soshimichi Ohkawa, 1989

Big Trouble in Little Tokyo! Supposedly the film that made V-cinema blow up, a delightful absurdity completely sealed off from any kind of social reality, and just 58 minutes long, which certainly is a big plus. Cannon/Orion style american 80s action is obviously the biggest influence (both male leads seem to have watched FIRST BLOOD a few times too often...), but this also evokes heroic bloodshed, Spaghetti western, Blaxploitation (!), Sonny Chiba films etc. All of this (plus an extra dose of sexism) bundled in a neat pulpy package of artificial lightning and creative gunplay. Like most pre 2000 japanese genre films, it is much more stylish than similar films made almost anywhere else.

Sixty Six, Lewis Klahr, 2015


Another great last film of the 20th century. Maybe the greatest, or at least the very last. An overwhelming sense of loss and finality, calendar sheets soaked with tears and injections that can't be undone.

Like Al Green sings, ain't it funny how time just slips away.

Going Wild, William A. Seiter, 1930

Rather basic even for a Joe E. Brown film, much less charming than the similar TOP SPEED. Easily out-mugging Brown, Laura Lee is pretty out there as the love interest, not necessarily always in a good way, but she kind of beats you down, and fits in with the general tone of heightened silliness of the last 20 minutes.

Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji, Tomu Uchida, 1955

Gentle comedy about fake spears, true lies and diarrhea, fueled more by philosophical despair (and sake and exquisite acting) than by a coherent plot. The dark turn in the end is astonishing. On the one hand it completely comes out of nowhere, on the other hand it completely makes sense because once your inner connection to a system of absolute loyalty you built your whole life around is gone, there probably really is nothing left to do but to fight some random bullies to the death.

Black Emanuelle, Bitto Albertini, 1975

Strangely enough I didn't realize I had seen this before until a random garden shot towards the end. Goes to show that this isn't exactly chock-full of highlights, although a naked Karin Schubert being turned into a zoopraxiscope study by an also naked Gemser certainly counts as one. The mood is colonial boredom and Albertini's direction is mostly dull, save for a few energy boosts like that piston-enforced gangbang train ride late in the film, that almost feels like a coda, coming along after Emanuelle already has decided to call it quits this time.

L'ultima neve di primavera, Raimondo Del Balzo, 1972

The art of dying young, cute, and blond.

100% cultural-industrial fluff, of course, but mostly holds up on second viewing. Just so maliciously wholesome, the way the touristic imagery is mobilized, again and again, to raise the stakes, to make the final downfall all the harder. Nature knew all along!

Also, that scene when the boy touches the image of his mother is touched, a bit later, by her image (and the image of her successor), through the light thrown by the film projector...

Sister Emanuelle, Giuseppe Vari, 1977

Well-made and funny, a nice surprise. Gemser was born to wear a white nun's habit, and she was even more born to take it off, elegantly and methodically, as she does several times over the course of the film.

Resolute blue-eyed Swiss girl Mónica Zanchi is wonderful, too. Gemser witnessed every atrocity d'Amato threw at her in his own 1977 Black Emanuelle films without batting an eye, but Zanchi, the brat, really got to her!

Till We Meet Again, Tadashi Imai, 1950

Like in THE BLUE MOUNTAIN, Imai's political fervor rather naturally translates into sensual intensity. The love story heightens the stakes of the anti-fascism (with class-difference lurking very much in the foreground as secondary theme) just as much as vice versa. In the end, what stays is the romantic stuff, though: Hand touching hand in an air-raid bunker (once again the WATERLOO BRIDGE influence), the first date of the lovers on the park bench, with Yoshiko Kuga giggling for joy, the first kiss through the glass plane and the second kiss (camera closing in) without the glass plane, later on a make-believe marriage like in a Borzage film shortly before he has to go off towards war...

The scenes with Okada and his buddies are interesting, too: remnants of a boheme lifestyle during wartime. For them, death on the battlefield is a very real prospect, but at the same time it still can be repurposed as an object of dilettante musings.

Emanuelle in Bangkok, Joe D'Amato, 1976

Emanuelle enters a hotel room. Let's see what happens next!

Breezy and often rather sweet compared to the later ones. D'Amato's unconditional love for style makes all the difference.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Goddess of Mercy, Ann Hui, 2003

Zhao Wei carrying a baby in her arms while high kicking the bad guys hired by the infant's father is a nice female reappropriation of the male heroic bloodshed tropes of HARD BOILED et al, I guess. Her first encounter with Nicholas Tse also is wonderful and the back and forth between character study and pulp melodrama makes for some surprising twists.

In the end, the script might be a bit too preposterous for Hui to really make it work, and the mainland setting also doesn't feel completely natural, this time (what about those huge, military-style anti-drug maneuvers in what looks like a sleepy provincial town? Might very well be an interesting setting, but it isn't fleshed out enough). Still, always enough energy in here, even if some might be misplaced.

Raigyo, Takahisa Zeze, 1997

The textures are so drab and unwelcoming I thought for a while this might be shot on video. It's probably just a case of particularly aggressive, and quite inventive (photo-chemical) color grading transforming Japan into a zombie-industrial wasteland, though. A whole country turning into a dead zone, like a sea devoid of oxygen. There is a rather cohesive storyline but it feels random - the kind of film that could last 10 minutes just as easily as it could last 10 hours. Rather surprisingly, the sex isn't cold but desperate, bodies clinging to each other, and it leads towards death quite naturally.

Our Time Will Come, Ann Hui, 2017

Well-made historical drama, eschewing the modernist touches of THE GOLDEN ERA in favor of a more straightforward approach. Almost a bit too plot-heavy at times, although Hui manages to include a broad range of responses to history: there's Eddie Peng elegantly killing a whole patrol of Japanese soldiers, but there's also two women and a child huddling together in an abandoned building listening to the howl of the wind.

Takes a while until it finds its emotional center, though: Zhou Xun blaming herself, in a long shot, for involving her mother in her own political struggle and thereby realizing that she never really understood her / used to take her for granted; while slowly turning away from Eddie Peng and towards the camera. History doesn't mean anything if there isn't a private reckoning, too.

In allen Stellungen, Frits Fronz, 1971

The second-to-last Fronz film and maybe the most beautiful of them all ("lifeless in a horny way" - Silvia Szymanski). In color but only barely so, with flaccid, gentle light flooding the ever-same rooms of the hotel almost the whole film is set in. A self-contained world but also a world that contains everything, and a protagonist, a girl, who is ready to take in everything. She takes her time dressing up in front of the mirror and then it begins: Gigolos and lesbians, bank-robbers and bdsm, flamboyant gays and drunk hookers, acid trips and suicide.

All of it presented in long shots and driven by straight-faced deadpan delivery of highly artificial scripted dialogue. In a way IN ALLEN STELLUNGEN enfolds like a series of miniature morality plays. No impressionistic shortcuts, everybody gets to have his or her say. The scene with the bank-robber (cultivating the phoniest but also most beautiful Berlin accent possible) and his moll might just be the missing link between Fassbinder and Jürgen Enz.

Unlike in his earlier work, Fronz isn't content with stripping and voyeurism, but approaches actual intercourse, without actually getting there, though: we get, again and again, bodies rubbing against each other, with the camera placed close to the skin, transfixed by what still doesn't really happen. At least all the relevant parts are there, and in the right place, too, we know that now. Art brut made in Austria.

Love in a Fallen City, Ann Hui, 1984

I remembered this being my favorite Ann Hui film while watching some of her films a few years back and I guess it still is. Incredibly precise melodramatic staging, like Wong Kar-Wai without the fetishistic overreach. A perfect trajectory from the enclosed spaces of tradition and patriarchy to the phony wonderland of colonial libertinage to the primal images of war: splintering glass raining down on Cora Miao, squatting at the bottom of the staircase.

Love's embrace might separate us, but history will tear us together.

Tiger, Löwe, Panther, Dominik Graf, 1989

Natja Brunckhorst is a force of nature, stubbornly asserting herself in the frame, enforcing her own temporality and energy level on every scene she's in. Everyone else is just a vessel, overeager to succumb to one of the worst scripts Graf has worked with (Sherry Hormann going for an overstuffed Sex in the City style romp). Graf himself seems to take his cues from french rather than italian and american cinema at this point in his career; in SPIELER this works quite well, here the whole thing just doesn't feel right, a clumsy attempt at mundane flippancy, like namedropping Proust, but then translating "madeleine" as "bread with sugar". Mostly, this is a one woman show, although some of Brunckhorst's scenes with the not-quite-Jean-Pierre-Leaud-but-nevertheless-charming Thomas Winkler work quite well, too.

It's still eminently watchable - even while most of the clutter really is clutter this time, Graf always finds ways to enrich his worlds, and given that this might be my least favorite among the 30+ Graf films I've seen, I guess I'm still very much in love with his work.

The Secret, Ann Hui, 1979

Watching this in the restored version is such a joy: this is indeed one of the great 70s thrillers, a slow-burn investigation grounded in social detail, while at the same time unfolding as a self-contained system of pure cinema. Sylvia Chang is frail and brave and rules the film.

Someone on here talks about the restoration being a hack job, but to my mind the new version looks wonderful (aside from the vhs-sourced title sequence). Sure, some detail is lost, as is completely normal when changing from one medium to another. The restoration has an excellent feel for the original material. So much better than all those glossy 4k restorations hell-bent on banishing history from film history.

Also watched: Bridge, Ann Hui, 1978

One of her contributions to BELOW THE LION ROCK. Very much in journalistic mode, with a good eye for the different social stata in Hong Kong, but also for quiet moments not strictly relevant for the narrative.

Sei donne per l'assassiono, Mario Bava, 1964

Beauty eating itself, turning style into style. Perfect film.

The Story of Woo Viet, Ann Hui, 1981

Emerging from a place of unspeakable violence, Chow Yun Fat navigates the world with a youthful innocence that only manages to sustain itself because in some ways he's already cut off from the world. The few anchors he's throwing out belong mostly to the realm of the imaginary: a future in America, Cora Miao as a platonic pen pal. A positively glowing Cherie Chung might be more tangible, but in the end she realizes that she, too, can't be his anchor (throwing herself on him, desperately kissing and clinging to him), and so she has to die.

This is, I believe, the paradox the film is founded on: The very fact that he is totally, irredeemably displaced grants him absolute agency - but only in a world that is already lost. So we're left with a melancholic travelogue through the spaces and textures of 70s exploitation films, punctured by short, rabid bursts of Ching Siu-Tung action.

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Also watched: Road, Ann Hui, 1978

A sad, female-centered tale of poverty and opium addiction. Probably the most accomplished among her three BELOW THE LION ROCK episodes I have seen so far.

The Blue Mountain, Tadashi Imai, 1948/49

Let Setsuko Hara teach sex ed and you never know what'll happen!

First film I've seen of Imai, Japan's leading leftist director of the post-war era. Not quite sold yet, but there's lots going on here, to be sure, ideologically as well as stylistically. Like most of the reeducation films of the time this is far from subtle but at least this time the democratic furor feels absolutely genuine, to the point of conceptual overreach: why not tear it all down and return to a state of nature? Some surprisingly poetic moments in there, too.

Part 2:

Not much plot in part 2, it's mostly about working through, both emotionally and discursively, the events of part one. More often than not, this brings out the film's strengths. For starters, Imai makes better use of Hara, her face is so radiant at times, he just has to cut directly to fireworks, afterwards. There's also an extremely sensual beach scene, like something out of a sun tribe film.

Somewhere in the middle the film grinds to a complete halt while everyone is summoned in school to discuss the state of juvenile morality. Almost half an hour of excessive, mugging social theater, and clearly the best part of BLUE MOUNTAINS.

Boat People, Ann Hui, 1982

In an interview after the film's release Hui talks about how in her view the communist horrors of BOAT PEOPLE and the capitalist horrors of THE STORY OF WOO VIET cancel each other out. I'm not sure if this is quite true; even if both films end with all options lost and an escape over water, BOAT PEOPLE is clearly the much darker film, a tale of arrested development ("she still has the body of a 14 year old") and annihilation and not much more. In the end the difference might have to do less with politics than with the bustling Philippine location shooting of WOO VIET vs the emptied out Chinese sets used as stand-in for Vietnam in BOAT PEOPLE; and also with a driven, manic Chow Yun-Fat vs an apathetic, emptied out George Lam, who really must be one of the flimsiest reporter heroes in film history. I almost suspect that Hui gave him two scenes with a "real" Japanese actor (or at least someone who actually speaks the language) just to make clear for everyone that even his Japaneseness is phony, without substance.

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Also watched: Where Are You Going, Ann Hui, 1992

A BELOW THE LION ROCK episode featuring Huo Dejian as himself restaging his treatment by Chinese authorities. Dense and clearheaded and a good supplement to the more paranoid takes on the imminent handover produced in Hong Kong.The Iron Rose, Jean Rollin, 1973


Love means disturbing the dead. Just wonderful how all those toppled crosses and gravestones feel completely natural after a while. This has nothing to do with blasphemy, either. It's a way of honoring the way of the world. The field of desire graves disorder. Again and again men with burning eyes in red and women without bras in yellow will enter, roam around a bit and finally get lost in it.

Sette note in nero, Lucio Fulci, 1977

The beauty of it is that at its heart, this really is a closed-off system: O'Neill isn't haunted, but cursed by images. They will come back, they will come for her, and it will be her own doing. She won't rest until they do. She's the beginning and the end of the image, their only audience, but also the camera and the darkroom (the tunnels right at the start, also somehow announcing the strange sexlessness of the film; this is a film about a face, not about a woman).

In a way it's like Hitchcock in psychotic overdrive, like Vertigo, only that not only Judy and Madeleine, but also Scottie turn out to always have been the same person. Suspense unhinged, cut off from logic and the outside world. When she steps into the murder room for the first time, she's already lost, because she has entered her brain. The rest is a game between optical nerve and cortex. The images keep coming back, every time triggering the same zoom in on her eyes, the same bonkers Frizzi music.

Sure, there's still another, more traditional film running in the background, a procedural filled with cues and policemen and telephone conversations. A backup, a leftover from Fulci's early 70s work, but it's rather obvious he doesn't care about stuff like that anymore. I mean, most of it comes down to returning again and again to the same random magazine cover, turning it into an endless readable and rereadable urtext. If one looks close enough, the World Formula is probably in there somewhere, too.

(I'm reading on here somewhere that this plays like a PROFONDO ROSSO rehash, only more conventional; I don't think so. To me, this feels much more radical and pure, much more primal than the Argento, a film I admire but don't love.)

Thursday, August 27, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Starry Is the Night, Ann Hui, 1988

Ambitious enough: Two unequal love affairs set about 20 years apart, both mirroring each other and mutually entangled... and also pitted against Hong Kong's pro democracy movement, ie the struggle against another kind of unequal relationship. The past is clear-cut and depressing (Brigitte Lin alone in the hay), the present messy and intense (Brigitte Lin getting tomboy hair and drinking from sneakers).

In the end Hui shies away from the final oedipal conclusion the romantic entanglements clearly imply - does this mean that all hope is not lost yet for an independent democratic Hong Kong? We have until 2047, someone says at one time. Felt like a long time, back then.

Same year as Varda's KUNG-FU MASTER. Strange coincidence.

Song of the Exile, Ann Hui, 1990

Ann Hui recreating her family's history, or at least a variation thereof, and especially her own relationship with her socially and culturally displaced mother. Good eye for affection clouded by pettiness. The curses and the blessings of time spent together and of time spent apart. Are we lonelier when we don't understand each other or when we do? Meaning nothing is simple, but when you get Maggie Cheung to play yourself in your own biopic you must have done something right in your life.

The true standout here is Lu Hsiao-Fen, though, the actress playing the mother: the way she lights up when returning to Japan, a child again when with her family, the prettiest (and, coincidentally, richest) girl of the village again when with her former peers.

Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Clifford Choi, 1983

A rather strange project, feels like Shaw Brothers trying for an arty Ann Hui / Allen Fong-style social drama but then deciding to both sexing it up and inserting a ROCKY rip-off-storyline. (In other words: turning it into a Hong Kong film.) Someone on here mentioned Lino Brocka and indeed those early scenes of Cherie Chung drifting through the gutter feel like INSIANG channeled through soft-core porn, although the result is both more artificial and even sleazier than that sounds. The later parts suffer from a miscast Alex Man and rather underdeveloped fighting scenes. In fact, nothing really fits, but Cherie Chung is very good, and there's always enough going on to keep the interest up.

The Way We Are, Ann Hui, 2008

How to condense the experience of the mundane? How many / few shots do you need to evoke the experience of a single day in which nothing of importance happens? How to represent everyday routine without taking recourse to cliché-ridden tropes like repetition, montage sequeces etc?

Ann Hui has good answers to all of these questions, but I'm still not completely sold on the film. This really is very low key, and probably either a bit too low key or not quite low key enough for my taste. I guess it might have helped to either boil things further down (maybe make all of it about the mother-son relationship: what does coming of age feel like when there's no conflict at all?), or to open things up a bit. The scenes with Cheung Ka-on's friends are mostly left hanging in the air, for example.

As it is, this seems to be a bit too much concerned with finding the right timing for all of those piano cues signaling all of those small epiphanies of lower middle-class urban life.

The Falcon Out West, William Clemens, 1944

I was looking forward to this since normally I'm very fond of Old Hollywood comedy western. There's really not much going on with this, though. A slow and convoluted story, no stand-out performances, and a serious lack of, well, horseplay. Seriously, that joke isn't much worse than most of the ones that made the cut, here.

Spieler, Dominik Graf, 1990

Strangely enough, while almost all of Graf's films display an offbeat sense of humor rare in German cinema, his comedies rather consistently turn out to be the least funny of all of his films. TREFFER is the exception that proves the rule, I guess, but it certainly holds true for DREI GEGEN DREI, for DOKTOR KNOCK, and, although not quite to the same degree, for SPIELER.

It's not that the jokes are bad in themselves (SPIELER, especially, is a well-written film), but rather that the films do not seem to be interested in letting them register. They're not ends in themselves, but part of the environment. "Comedy" is more related to a certain kind of deformation of the world than to the response this deformation might trigger in the viewer. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. (The idea that comedies should be judged, first and foremost, for their "funniness" is extremely dubious anyway.)

Like in DREI GEGEN DREI and DOKTOR KNOCK, there's a certain mismatch, though, between anarchistic plotting and the insistence on total directorial control. In this case we basically get a slacker-comedy with an almost Klaus-Lemke-style hook, but broken up into a series of intricately derailing set-pieces, and accompanied by scripted dialogue. Extremely scripted, in fact, and it almost never stops, too.

We also get: Pans along wallpapers with faces draped in front of them, several beautiful iris shots, the crumbling, colorful textures of old Munich, posts and beams breaking up the frame at odd angels, a trip to France with Checkhovian hand grenades in the trunk. A foot chase across a busy highway that might be one of Graf's best action scenes. Several retreats into the bedroom where sex is only one of many possible (and not necessarily the most invigorating) outcomes.

My American Grandson, Ann Hui, 1991

Another low-key Ann Hui film, and certainly not one of her best. The plot about a bratty American teenager visiting his grandfather in a traditional Shanghai neighborhood isn't all that exciting and largely develops along the usual lines (it also has nothing to add to Mabel Cheung's pitch-perfect EIGHT TAELS OF GOLD). A benign Wu Ma is wonderful as the grandfather, though, and somewhere hidden in here is a thoughtful and quietly ironic film about growing old alone in a society that defines itself through dense social connectivity. So, a first draft for Hui's far superior THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT, maybe.

München - Geheimnisse einer Stadt, Dominik Graf, Michael Althen, 2000

Touched by a city. Call it psychogeography, but not as a Patrick Keiller style academic exercise, more like a Chris Marker take on a boulevard expose titled "Hot Nights in Munich".

The limitations of its (dual) perspective are obvious, but I always think it's much more interesting to fully embrace them than to make phony amends by way of inserting distancing devises. This is, pure and simple, Graf at his most inventive, and Althen at his most poetic. A rare stroke of luck.

Notre-Dame du Nil, Atiq Rahimi, 2019

Personal memory and historical allegory sometimes working hand in hand, sometimes not. Maybe the film is more interesting when they don't: how can nostalgic longing for a community of girls and for a rural landscape filled with enticing mysteries coexist with murderous ethnic violence? In theory, and especially after the fact, the violence itself might be perfectly explainable, but every single act of violence still comes out of nowhere.

Beautiful, painterly visuals, like in Rahimi's THE PATIENCE STONE. Those not all that slow slow-motion shots are a bit irritating, though, don't quite know what to make of them yet.

The Spooky Bunch, Ann Hui, 1980

A shame this still isn't available in a decent version, especially since there's a newly restored version out there (paid for by Josephine Siao herself, apparently). Also makes one wish Ann Hui would've indulged in her obvious love and knack for quirky b-movies a bit more often throughout her career.

Ordinary Heroes, Ann Hui, 1999

A messy and wonderful take on Hong Kong's leftist legacy that doesn't feel like a period film at all. The stocktaking of all of those ideological tribulations, factorial in-fights and very important names is outsourced to the performance of a manic street preacher who shows up a few times, mainly to announce a new chapter in the story. The bulk of the film is very immediate, just a bunch of people trying to connect to the world surrounding them while also fighting their inner loneliness. Then there's the cast: One of the best Anthony Wong performances, showing once again why he is so unique in HK cinema, Loletta Lee's quirky sadness and the sense of displacement surrounding Lee Kang-Sheng who'll probably always seem lost when not inside a Tsai frame.

Night and Fog, Ann Hui, 2009

The dark twin of THE WAY WE ARE, set in the same high rise settlement at the outskirts of Hong Kong. Only that this time, nothing is all right behind closed doors. Driven by a deep sense of despair, harrowing and surprisingly high-pitched, especially compared to the predecessor, but also to most other Hui films. Simon Yam's manic performance seems to take over the whole film, splintering the narrative, stretching it out over several povs and time frames. In the end nothing helps, there really is nowhere to hide.

Heartbreaking stuff, especially because of details like the sign language of the two sisters. Abuse encroaching on every single human interaction, even the benign ones.

Female Teacher Hunting, Junichi Suzuki, 1982

Gets over the rape-obsession often enough to arrive at some interesting moments, but all in all it's very plain, barely stylized. By this time a lot of these films long to be hardcore and no longer have many ideas about what to do with the restrictions. Yuki Kazamatsuri, who apparently was in the KILL BILL films, makes for a glamorous lead, though.