Thursday, January 21, 2021

letterboxd big data dump

The Big Boss, Kihachi Okamoto, 1960 

 Routine and not all that exciting gangland picture. Okamoto's knack for stylish pulp framings (the colors are often very good, too) and the cute youth culture setting can't quite overcome a clumsy script and co-lead Takarada's blandness. Really, it's all Takarada's fault: he plays a failing gangster trying to become the Japanese Elvis but feels lost in both roles without Godzilla around.

Flowers of Shanghai, Hou Hsiao Hsien, 1998

Rewatch after reading Han Bangqing's "The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai", the (magnificent) 19th century novel this is based on. Indeed a completely different experience because only now I realize just how dense and conflicted every single scene is beneath the surface level of dead opium time. A film not organized as but all the more trenched in narrative. In the end this probably is the key to Hou's success here, too: staying away from Han's panoramic approach (the "natural" but also inevitably weaker mode of adaptation would've been a "sprawling" tv epic, HBO style), skipping, safe for the failed double suicide in the end, most of the more dramatic episodes and evoking the depth of experience and history through gesture and camera movement instead. 

Tausend Augen, Hans-Christoph Blumenberg, 1984

Armin Müller-Stahl: the name is program, like we say in Germany.

You really got a problem when Wim Wenders snatching VHS tapes "to free them" isn't the low-point of your film.

Don't want to make too much fun of this because I like Blumenberg's writing a lot, but this really almost feels like a parody of a film critic's debut feature. The nice nighttime colors and a good, if over-eager soundtrack only get you so far, and aside from that it's just one half-assed smartassery after the other. Plus even Karin Baal is bad in this.

Straub's lecture on marine biology contains the word "Trübungszone".

Der Prinz von Arkadien, Karl Hart, 1932

Willi Forst at the piano jingling away, Liane Haid sprawled out on the bed, pining: what else does a film need? Nothing, like we know already from DAS LIED IST AUS. This time around there´s a twist, though: turns out the piano can do fine by itself, freeing Forst for other endeavours. No need for musical self-denial, this time.

Not quite as smooth and inventive a production as the von Bolvary films made two years earlier by almost the same team, but still: A wonderful Reisch script, some of the best, most free-wheeling Robert Stolz songs, Forst at his smoothest, Haid at her most glamourous, a general air of romantic extravaganza... A film I feel at home in.

Kirschen in Nachbars Garten, Erich Engels, 1956

Deadly dull, hopelessly repressed, painfully unfunny, with both the actors and the direction constantly finding new ways of completely fucking up even the easiest setups ... really bottom of the barrel material, but you can't deny that Engels has at least some feel for small-town pettiness. A film that sees completely eye to eye with its asshole characters, an uncanny if also thoroughly unpleasant fit of form and content. And Oskar Sima, I hate so admit it, sometimes actually IS rather funny.

Deliria, Michele Soavi, 1987

Like a streamlined and cynical knock-off of OPERA that somehow managed to get released a few months before the Argento. I agree with blahr that it often feels kind of empty, a purely mechanical genre exercise, but to me the fact that a lot of it is just dressed up hack work somehow only adds to the charm. Or rather: The fact that 80 percent of this plays like a dumb but effective slasher - with all the more esoteric concerns of earlier gialli stripped away, this really is all about entrapping and then penetrating a number of helpless bodies and nothing else - makes the remaining 20 percent shine all the brighter. Those 20 percent (basically the final girl act) mostly play like a dumb slasher, too, but with an added dose of shrill craziness that makes all the difference.

A very 80s film and also very much a film from an industry in rapid decline. By now everyone's faking it, and what's worse, everyone knows that everyone's faking it, but there might still be enough energy left to willfully forget just that once in a while.

North Sea Dragon, Kinji Fukasaku, 1966

The showdown, a multi-person, multi-weapon action scene with a magnificent forward drive and a pitch-perfect seaside backdrop is just about as good as liquid montage movement images get. Aside from that this feels a bit like a LA TERRA TREMA trapped inside a yakuza programmer body, with some John Ford imagery thrown in, too (like the shots of the women when the men leave for the final fight). The biggest drawback is probably some less than perfect casting, especially when it comes to some of the bad guys, but there's always enough going on to keep the interest up.

Lots of wet tattooed male skin.

Un gatto nel cervello, Lucio Fulci, 1990

I guess I love the fact that this exist a bit more than the thing itself, but on the other hand I'd gladly watch a whole slow-burn tv show just about Fulci sullenly shuffling around through the junkyard of his obsessions. He never should've taken off that checkered cap, though.

Final Justice, Parkman Wong, 1988

If I get this right, the plan of the bad guys mainly hinges on or even consists of them having lots of big weapons, although sometimes they hang out in whorehouses, too. Danny Lee drives a motorbike (Yamaha) wears sunglasses (Ray Ban) and smokes cigarettes dispensed by a plastic figure of a naked guy in a barrel with a boner (Marlboro). Stephen Chow is very emotional and wears a shirt with a glittery Hong Kong skyline stitched onto it. At one time he takes it off to show off his bruises.

Paradise Hills, Alice Waddington, 1999

Lost me rather early, although on first sight it does feel much less pre-packaged than most Young Adult, if only because it's, for once, based on an original screenplay. Waddington invests a lot in world building, but constantly gets lost between a rather stupid high concept plot and the also only occasionally thrilling girl power mechanics (Awkwafina and Roberts do their best to sell it). Doesn't help that the big twist is by far the clumsiest part.

Tatort: Schussfahrt, Wolfgang Staudte, 1980

Great late Staudte film. A murder hidden behind several layers of performative masculinity, Doris Kunstmann as a frustrated housewife trying to figure out with just how many levels of bullshit she's dealing with, true lowlifes have better sex but not much of a future. Essen looks quiet in its eternal green-brown (assisted by a faded tv print) - only in the very end a few factories and smokestacks show up. Inspector Haferkamp is quiet, precise and determined in a detached way, just like Staudte's direction. Willy Semmelrogge is the only element that really feels tatorty here. He has almost nothing to do but remains a constant source of irritation.

The Beachcomber, Muriel Box, 1954

Well made for what it is, especially the animal scenes - almost as if the protagonists are pushed by the beasts onto their path and into narrative. Somehow Box's careful direction only reinforces the paternalistic colonial attitude everything in here is built on, though. The film looks as if he should be smart enough to see through at least some of its own preconditions. However, it clearly isn't. White Man's Burden really is the beginning and the end, here.

Kitty und die große Welt, Alfred Weidenmann, 1956

Making fun of the theatrical dimension of politics in 1956 meant something completely different than doing the same in 1939, when Käutner shot the first film version of the play. In 39 the plot was completely in line with Führerprinzip state ideology, and Käutner's was mainly concerned with sidestepping the anti-diplomacy polemics at least a little bit in favor of screwball fun. By 1956, the kind of backroom diplomacy the play ridicules already felt ancient so Weidenmann actually would've needed to move in the opposite direction and reintroduce at least some notions of politics for the film to feel relevant. Not really surprisingly he doesn't, with the result that the stakes of the conference everyone talks about constantly are never even remotely made clear.

Instead this seems to be modelled after ROMAN HOLIDAY and exclusively hinges on Schneider's charm - which is, of course, completely sufficient for just about any film. There's a shot of her lying stretched out over the grass while two men light their cigarettes over her face. In the end, this is the moment the film was made for.

This Ain't No Heartland, Andreas Horvath, 2004

Third film I've seen from Horvath, and he really seems to to rub me the wrong way. I guess it might be the combination of polemics and pathos evident in all of his work. This one at least isn't so damn arty. Some of the low-fi-techniques, probably meant to emulate American trash culture, are actually quite funny, and both his empathy and his sense of humor clearly reach beyond the confines of his ideology. For the most part, to be sure, this really is antiamericanism 101: lots of cheap shots at the heartland state of mind, one ill-informed country hick at the time. Compared to this, the new BORAT is a nuanced piece of dialectical criticism. But in between, we see an old man telling the story of his brother who fell in love with cigarettes during World War 2, and another man remembering the one time in his life women all over the world wanted to marry him because of a newspaper ad. It's kind of interesting, in fact, how Horvath seems to drift naturally towards these two and a few more rather opaque, complicated people; they indeed get more screentime than anyone else... but still, have to cut back to that boring GOP asshole belittling the death of Iraqi civilians once in a while to remind everyone why we're all here.

Rebecca, Ben Wheatley, 2020

Been way too long since I've seen the Hitchcock, but this kind of dull competence can stand on its own perfectly well. Ben Wheatley is a nice enough window dresser and this actually goes quite a long way with a project like this. Also, although he has no feel for the darker aspects of the source(s) at all, he can't quite get rid of all the perversity inherent in this tale of two women, one who can trap men, horses and probably also women between her thighs; and one who can't. Still, the decision to basically turn Mrs. de Winter into a "proactive" action-adventure-heroine is very disappointing; and both leads are terribly bland, James even more so than Hammer.

Aus einem nahen Land, Manfred Neuwirth, 2015

24 sequence shots of rural textures (plants, animals, humans, machinery) taken in a village close to but seemingly worlds apart from Vienna. All of them dynamized by a slight, almost imperceptible lateral tracking movement, that seems to delineate a small part of a (very) wide circle (but what might be its center? Most of the time, this isn't clear at all, and the circling might be just in my mind, anyway). After a while, the direction of the movement is reversed and the camera returns to its point of origin. 

Might not quite hit, at least on first sight, the Benning sweet spot of structural intelligence and zen-like immersion... but then again it's probably a beast all of its own anyway and I'll probably have to think about it some more.

Tatort: Schönes Wochenende, Wolfgang Staudte, 1980

Not as tight and precise as SCHUSSFAHRT and way too much cringy Felmy / Semmelrogge banter (getting rid of all the annoying sidekicks generally would make TATORT much more bearable). Still, once things move away from the not all that interesting kitchen sink gangsters, this finds its own, much more meandering flow, thanks mostly to Birke Bruck as the owner of a provincial hotel, a woman looking for love in all the wrong places. There's a magnificent party scene (starting with a pretty harsh carnival speech: "... and we also beat our wives, but otherwise we're good folk") in which Felmy and Bruck almost lose themselves in each other. Of course, sooner or later duty calls, and the price everyone has to pay for this is condensed in a pitch-perfect final scene.

Stoff der Heimat, Othmar Schmiderer, 2011

Starts with a series of scenes depicting, matter-of-fact-like, processions and festivals celebrating traditional culture in Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, and I guess the film would've been stronger if it had stayed on this course. The main paradox inherent in the notion of "Traditionspflege" (maintenance of tradition) comes across quite clearly: if tradition indeed is a root anchoring us, why the need for all that elaborate maintenance? The more discursive parts later in the film touch on this, too, as well as on many other, often quite interesting topics, but the film loses its shape in the process.

Es geschah am hellichten Tag, Ladislao Vajda, 1958

Rühmann / Fröbe: one of the most terrifying double binds in German (ok, Swiss, technically, but still) film history.

Vents de sable, femmes de roc, Nathalie Borgers, 2009

Not sure about the strong biographical focus. i guess it works well to counter certain kinds of prejudices, but in the end we just don't know enough about the life of the women aside from their annual trip through the desert. Still, as a record of material conditions this is impressive enough.

Die Ehe des Herrn Mississippi, Kurt Hoffmann, 1961

Kurt Hoffmann trying to find a worthwile perspective on a rather strained Dürrenmatt script, and mostly failing. The more playful parts work a bit better (always a bad sign when the "funny voice-over" actually IS the funniest part of a film), once the genre mechanics take over, boredom reigns. Camera by Nykvist, and indeed this looks at times like Bergman light.

Farben einer langen Nacht, Judith Zdesar, 2011

Light only becomes truly visible when viewed from the vantage point of its absence. Modest and beautiful, a film about polar bears, ghosts and maybe ghosts of polar bears. Would've loved to see this in a theater.

Der Richter und sein Henker, Maximilian Schell, 1975

A decent Morricone score in search of a better film. In fact it's often very bad, Jon Voight is almost bizarrely miscast and Schell has no idea what to do with the highly cynical but also very interesting source material. He actually manages to wreck even the surface suspense effects. What's left is a very 70s slow burn that doesn't make much sense and doesn't go anywhere. For a while I was actually rather fond of it anyway. Forget about the literary meta crime ambitions and you get a quite genuine film about a couple of lost souls fucking each other up.

Good News: Von Kolporteuren, toten Hunden und anderen Wienern, Ulrich Seidl, 1990

Seidl cinema before it calcified into its own trademark. Form as an act of poetic self-defense against an unshriven world: it's just not possible to film exploited migrant newspaper sellers in the same way as the people they sell their newspapers to. So the fluid, open-ended scenes with the migrants must be confronted with both the control dispositiv it is in fact subjected to, and the unreachable, closed-off world of petit bourgeoise respectability.

The authoritarian gaze is already there, to be sure, but it's still clearly distinct from Seidl's own, especially since this often is about the tension between a fixed frame and a not yet quite fixed object inside the frame, especially during the long, painful scene filmed from the perspective of an inspection car.

Das indische Tuch, Alfred Vohrer, 1963

A very tongue in cheek entry that knows that even time-worn jokes can be funny again with the right kind of reaction shot attached to them. The closed-off setting doesn't allow for quite as many stylistic flights of fancy as usually and I guess in 1963 Vohrer still had to contain himself when it comes to the more perverse elements of the plot. So we get some nice voyeuristic setups but not much to look at. Flickenschildt and Clarin are pretty impressive, everyone else is just doing his or her thing.

Safari, Ulrich Seidl, 2016

More interesting as I thought it would be to the degree that it deviates from the expected world as dollhouse style. The observational handheld scenes during the actual hunt are the true center of the film, because only here it transcends those tropes of universalized Seidl misanthropy that I just don't care much about. It's not so much about the objective obscenity of hunting tourism than about the processes of internalization it presupposes in its subjects, the rituals, the deflated mimicry of older social values like sportsmanship, the awkward comradeship; and also about the way this process is being assisted by the safari guides (=hunter-whisperers) who are not so much there in order to help with the kill, but to produce a seamless sense of hyperreality, to make sure that you feel what you think you are supposed to be feeling.

Least interesting when viewed as ideological critique. Politically, there's nothing in here that Kubelka's UNSERE AFRIKAREISE (I haven't seen AFRICA ADDIO but I don't doubt for a moment it's a more interesting film, too) doesn't accomplish with much more imagination.

Workingman's Death, Michael Glawogger, 2005

Work only looks like work, Glawogger proposes, when the image, the act of looking, is affected by it, sharing, if only symbolically, its hardships and restrictions. So the camera really needs to be crammed into those tight, airless Ukrainian mine shafts, it needs to breath sulfur fumes in Indonesia, it needs to almost drown in gushing animal blood in Nigeria, it needs to risk getting crushed by metal planks in Pakistan. There must be an initial act of identification, a conscious (if only aesthetic) act of doing away with distancing devises, in order to gain at least some sort of access to the world, the colors, the rhythm, the rituals, the stories these people live in.

This kind of experiental, subjective epistomology, Glawogger also proposes, is possible only at the margins of what today's global economy considers as work. Mining after the mines have closed, gutting of rusty ships that no longer have any use in the system of intercontinental commerce, raw material extraction done by hand instead of machine (like a parody of agriculture: harvesting poisonous chemicals instead of crops), a preindustrial open-air slaughterhouse that basically feels like a battleground.

On the margins of his own film, Glawogger shows us what happens when depictions of work are no longer tainted by experience and direct involvement. For the party crowd ad the closed mine in Duisburg, but also the tourists strolling around next to the workers in Indonesia, work is transformed into ornament, while the state propaganda both in present day China and in Stalinist Russia forces it to vanish into ideology.

The Man Who Knew Too Much, Alfred Hitchcock, 1956

Might not be one of Hitchcock's most exciting films, but I remain very much intrigued by it. There's a constant tension (evident in many of his films, probably, but seldom as clearly defined as here) between the extremely precise, mechanical, almost academic techniques of suspense and the mundane, kind of messy, almost soapy family drama. Hitchcock makes it clear that, while the mechanisms of the thriller plot always need to be airtight, with every part of the machine working perfectly in synch (like the instruments in an orchestra performance), the depiction of private life must allow for some areas of looseness and ambivalence. In the end we only get hints of the reality of Stewart's and Day's marriage - people will fill in the blanks anyway, and always according to their own experience and ideological predisposition.

Today almost no one seems to allow for the possibility of them leading basically a happy, if a bit boring life, or at least one that is very much worth saving. And the film's problem, for today's audiences, might be that the ending only really works when one is able to buy into this anyway. Because, of course, both strands, the public adventure and the private drama, only come together in the final "Que sera sera" scene, and they only do so because Day consciously chooses to transform a public performance into a private one. To sing for her son in order to never having to sing for any other audience ever again.

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Letterboxd reviewers, even the ones very dear to me, never cease to amaze me. Hating on "Que sera sera"? On Doris Day? Is there nothing sacred anymore? 

Witness, Peter Weir, 1985

A rather basic high-concept script turned into also rather basic quality cinema, but elevated by attention to detail, lack of self-serving irony and a magnificent central performance by the perhaps most underrated actor of his generation.

Always tempting to say: they don't make 'em like that anymore... in this case it might be possible to date it much more precisely. Maybe this kind of film only was possible (at least in the absence of a major auteur like Eastwood) in the mid 80s, in the short period between New Hollywood exaltations and Tarantino postmodernism. I would put it next to films like TENDER MERCIES, STARMAN, RUNNNING ON EMPTY, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, MIDNIGHT RUN, THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS, AT CLOSE RANGE, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, MASK and CROSSROADS. Not necessarily the most interesting cluster of American 80s cinema (although I love all of them, especially the first three), but maybe the last time that films for the "general public", were made without any kind of condescension (=target group optimization).

Palast Hotel, Leonard Steckel and Emil Berna, 1952 (originally an Ophüls project, alas...)

The owner of the hotel is away so his wife takes over, meaning power becomes soft, maternal, and all the more effective, because its subjects start internalizing it in order to please madam. In the end this is a story about a workforce policing itself, in order to make sure that not only business, but the whole of society will go on as usual.

On the surface this might look like one of those fluffy, episodic hotel comedies that were basically everywhere in the 50s, but it turns out to be an extremely swiss turn on the genre: claustrophobic rather than expansive and breezy, tightly controlled rather than anarchic, and with an eye for petit bourgeoise pettiness, like when the foppish, handsome male lead repeatedly checks the fit of his clothes.

Tatort: Freiwild, Wolfgang Staudte, 1984

I guess I need to make amends to Müller-Stahl. I often can't stand him, but he really is magnificent in Staudte's swan song, a multi-layered Brechtian parable camouflaging as a slow-moving Berlin Tatort, pitting a dysfunctional upper-class family unit against the in the end much more dynamic community of the desitute. It also harks back to the beginning of Staudte's career, his involvement with, and then taking account of nazi ideology, with Müller-Stahl and the also very good Hallswach basically acting out a very German variation of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fantasy (with the clear implication that Dr. Jekyll / Dr. Mengele is the true villain of the pair). Meanwhile the cops are reduced to mere catalysts, and once again there's a killer ending.

Arab Attraction, Andreas Horvath, 2010

I don't know, Horvath's cinema just remains very much not my thing... This one mostly is a filmic portrait of Barbara Wally, a former Austrian curator / part of the international art scene jet set who married a Yemenite man and now lives a part of her life according to the rules of (very) orthodox Islam. And as far as Horvath confines himself to exploring both Wally's daily life and her almost constant reflections on it, this is actually quite engaging: while she clearly doesn't think of her new existence as a piece of conceptual art, there's always a level of performance and experiment present - as there probably is in everyone's daily life, it's just a bit more obvious from her point of view.

Unfortunately, Horvath once again seems to be unable to resist his polemical impulses. In this case, this manifests itself in long-winding theological justifications of polygamy / institutionalized sexism (not uninteresting in themselves, but completely out of place here), and especially in the almost constant cross-cutting: inside vs ouside, Europe vs Yemen, men vs women etc, ad nauseam. These cuts are not at all interested in contrasting, and thereby making sense of the lived-in conditions of a variety of people; it's about pointing put, again and again, difference as such, not even to make a political point (Horvath remains sympathetic to both Wally and her husband throughout), but just because this is the only way the film seems to be able to make aesthetic sense of the material.

Maximum Risk, Ringo Lam, 1996

Van Damme is once again not quite identical with himself. This time he is retracing the steps of his former / other self: No matter where he goes he already has been there, his body has left a mark, and also a gap, but one it cannot quite fill when it returns. World and body aren't in tune, so we must go forward and do something about it. The pop psychology might be on the nose, but Van Damme is a guy who only looks into a broken mirror after beating up a bad guy with it. In the end he accepts the fact of his secondness, his lack of identity, without too much trouble. Maybe he knows that melancholy makes him look even more handsome, plus there's Natasha Henstridge who's a downright goddess in this. If this woman chooses to kiss you, she already has made all the important decisions for you.

There's a certain tension in the film between the more quirky, almost phantasmagorical parts (that Julius Ceasar bathhouse fight scene) and the rather prosaic procedural elements. Unfortunately the more poetic stuff often gets the short end of the stick, like when the taxi driver / novelist, after being introduced as Van Damme's main side-kick, is killed rather abruptly.

At the same time this is about a director finding his groove on foreign soil. Except for some weird, but also charming casting choices (Frank Senger might be Wong Jing's but certainly not Hollywood's idea of a corrupt cop) Lam seems to be well-adjusted to American mid 90s studio filmmaking. The first car chase in Nizza (a much better location for Hong Kong style action than anything in North America) plays it safe and rather clean, but when the film returns to France in the end, all hell breaks loose in classic, chaotic Ringo Lam fashion. The short bursts of mayhem in between are handled very well, too, especially the train scene, there's smoke and painterly big city lighting everywhere and there also are some nice physical bits like Van Damme getting thrown off his feet by a rather tame car crash. In the end, though, it's all about preparing for the chainsaw slaughterhouse finale. Capped off by a perfect, metaphorical one-two punch: shoot a pig to shoot a pig, become a pig to shoot another pig.

Kiru, Kenji Misumi, 1962

A 70 minute epic, spanning decades and generations, structured like an episodic adventure tale but shot through with an almost surreal sense of predestination. It's basically an interrogation of a worldview, a way of placing oneself in history by way of style; the framing is incredibly inventive throughout, and there's a tournament scene rather early in the film that seems to invent a new language of cinema on the spot, shot by shot, camera movement by camera movement, resulting in the rather radical discovery of the motionless fight scene.

A perfectly stylized piece of genre art and still not easy to pin down. At times it plays out like a minimalist fascist fever-dream (if there ever could be such a thing; fascism always goes for pomp, of course) of beauty and death, but then again there's the lively, almost exuberant presence of Mayumi Nagisa as the hero's sister. She has to die too, yes, but as long as she's alive she's completely untouched by the game of self-annihilation everyone else is busy playing.

Zaho Zay, Georg Tiller, Maéva Ranaïvojaona, 2020

Don't know, bored the hell out of me. Two stars only because it might very well profit quite a bit from a bigger screen. Still doesn't even begin to free itself from its overbearing docu-fiction hybrid concept. All those sub Pedro Costa inserts of enigmatic black bodies doing enigmatic things only rob the documentary footage of its specifity. It also features the exact kind of voice-over I am allergic too (detached elocution + a script that combines faux-personal musings with adacemic-adjacent jargon, but in the end commits to neither theory nor autobiography/fiction), so maybe I'm just the wrong audience here.

The Skin of the South, Ishiro Honda, 1952

Early Honda before his turn towards the fantastic, although even here he manages to sneak in some lovely, if still rather basic miniature work. Generally the whole will the mountain come down and bury us storyline works quite well - it starts like a nation building narrative, kind of a Japanese New Deal film, but takes some surprisingly downbeat, pessimistic turns later on. Unfortunately there's quite a bit of dead air, too, especially when the romance subplot takes over in the second half. There's a scene with a man encountering a woman bathing nude in the forest that plays out incredibly clumsy - as if those two, and Honda, too, discover the scandal of human sexuality at this very moment, and don't know at all how to deal with it.

Yasuko Fujita is an interesting actress but doesn't seem to have been in much. 

Himmel und Erde, Michael Pilz, 1982

It is possible to put something small into something big. But it also might get lost there. A film of sad, at times devastating beauty, a film about historical change and its relationship to imagemaking, or, more precisely, about a point of no return: modernity as the precise moment when a return to the world means a return to images and nothing else.

The Madness of Youth, Seijun Suzuki, 1960

Running in madness, dying in love. Or the other way around. One of Suzuki's most memorable early films, thanks mostly to a number of electrifying performances (Tamio Kawaji might be the most unstable of all Japanese New Wave heroes) and Suzuki's total commitment to them. Really amazing how close this comes to being a Japanese A BOUT DE SOUFFLE while at the same time never really leaving behind the constrictions of a formulaic script based on the kind of melodramatic entanglements that only work because of the stupidity of everyone involved. It's a game of push and pull throughout: Suzuki's free-form image-making lures the characters out into a world of utopian, anarchic self-expression, and the script lassoes them back into society.

Babooska, Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, 2005

I remember really despising this back in 2006 (one among many victims of Berlinale overkill, I guess; I really enjoy not going to film festivals anymore). Which is weird because not only did I like it quite a bit this time around, I also found out that i had surprisingly clear memories of it (ie: that there's a part of my brain I didn't really know existed); above all memories of Babooska herself, especially her posture, a defiant casualness, meeting the world head-on, but at the same time holding something back. A tall lanky woman perfectly in control of herself but declining to be statuesque (I remember girls like her standing at the edge of the schoolyard, always smoking). You're just a bit more flexible if you don't stand completely upright. Her sister and her mother have a similar disposition, it's probably a family trait, but in her it finds the purest expression and maybe this is why the film centers around her. There's no other obvious reason (for its whole existence, in fact), and I guess it took me two viewings to realize that this is exactly what makes it interesting.

A Lustful Man, Yasuzo Masumura, 1961

A relentlessly dark panorama of Japanese feudal society, transformed into a breezy sex comedy about a guy, Yonosuke, who lives to adore women without actually paying the tiniest bit of attention to them. Ignoring everything but the sensual immediacy of female flesh, he at one point doesn't even realize that one of his goddesses is already dead.

In no way is Yonosuke a stand-in for all masculinity, though. In fact, he's the only one in the film, male or female, who completely opposes the Samurai approach to sexuality, which comes down to men pressing women into servitude and women hustling men for at least some reparations. In the end, Yonosuke's one-track-mind is first and foremost a narrative device: Structurally, the film is completely in tune with Raizo Ichikawa's giddy all you can eat libido, forgetting each episode just as easily as the hero does, ecstatically jumping back and forth on a map of a Japan ruled by excess erotic desire. This way, Masumura manages to sidestep moralism in favor of a series of shocks that are always both political and sensual.

Heidenlöcher, Wolfram Paulus, 1986

Seems to insist that there is some potential for resistance against tyranny inherent in the fabrics of everyday life, in the habituality of rural life especially, in embodied routines that manage to deceive city bred nazis, in structures of repetition dictated by nature and thereby seemingly innocuous, in the spatial organization of mountain villages which don't lend themselves to surveillance tactics. This kind of organic resistance, however, is threatened at every turn by all those petty grievances that also develop quite naturally in the very same surroundings.

In the end, both movements cancel each other out and what is left is a formalist surplus, a yearning for the transcendental that always only manifests itself in isolated images, images out of nowhere, neither integrated in everday life nor in the Nazi apparatus.

If I get this right, most of the cast are amateurs - except for the Nazis, among them, a rather brilliant move, Rolf Zacher.

Die Ministranten, Wolfram Paulus, 1990

"We don't have a gang yet, but we already have a leader." A film that knows about the categorical seriousness and also fundamental awkwardness of child's play. The rather inhibited line-delivery of the boys actually adds to this, because in a way they know that they are speaking someone else's (be it the bigger guys a few years older or Karl May) script. Often, we see groups of them in long shots, with the dialogue running alongside the image almost like a separate, somewhat detached layer.

Kaiba, Masaaki Yuasa, 2008

Can't say I was able to make this completely my own, especially after the travelogue episodes ended (maybe I'll have to go through the latter half with an episode guide at some point); still uses limited animation in ways I've never seen before.

Nachsaison, Wolfram Paulus, 1988

Fascinating film, more ambitious than Paulus' previous ones, basically a dystopian-modernist take on the Grand Hotel films of the 1950s. The social significance of the hotels and their bourgeoise patronage has vanished, what's left is profit motive without much substance. Just a few lonely individuals trying to keep the hotel imaginary afloat. The loneliest of them all is Albert Paulus, an awesome, soft-faced actor who should've been big, just like Mercedes Echerer (with a beauty spot above her eyebrow). She grants him intimacy for a while, but that turns out to be just another kind of hustle.

Fahrt in die Hauptstadt, Wolfram Paulus, 1991

Not quite the beware of the big city (Salzburg, in this case, that alone might give one pause) tale it appears to be at the start, when three people with leave their village to pursue very different ambitions there. Especially one of the three tales takes some unexpected turns: a woman who starts working at a travel agency indeed makes good on her promise to never return to the countryside, "no matter what". She finds a way of inserting herself, as a female, desired body, in the dense mise en scene of mirrors and gazes Paulus at times transforms Salzburg into. Most of the time this stays in its lane, though, as a well-made but unadventurous tv movie that grants us a glimpse of mainstream sensibilities regarding sex and gender, city and country, art and eros (the latter clearly is the worst of the three plotlines) in early 90s Austria; but not much more.

Blutsbrüder teilen alles, Wolfram Paulus, 2012

Pretty ridiculous. Paulus trying to reintroduce the communicative density of his tv work into cinematic terms and ending up with a slapdash, flashy dimestore JULES ET JIM. To be sure, the latter is my least favorite Truffaut film to begin with and I might hate its bloated self-seriousness even more like this naive, at times disarmingly vitalistic piece of ahistoric-adolescent wish fulfillment. Still, how is it even possible to go from HEIDENLÖCHER to this?

Die Verzauberung, Wolfram Paulus, 2007

Tv romcom that gets a bit of unearned attention because of Christoph Waltz, when in fact it's Katharina Abt, playing his unfaithful wife, who is the only standout. She plays an enthusiastic, middle-aged blonde who knows a bit more about the people around her and also about her own desires than everyone else here: the warm, open-minded, reflexive and slightly vulgar center of a film that otherwise is perfectly content with the empty rattling of bourgeois family dynamics and the touristic gaze that goes along with it.

Der Schatz, der vom Himmel fiel, Wolfram Paulus, 2012

Always nice to see Rolf Zacher, and here he gets to wear extremely garish clothes almost constantly, too. There's also an energetic, stylish turkish female rock singer who probably hoped that the film would help her career (didn't look like it worked out). Aside from that not much going on.

Zug um Zug, Wolfram Paulus, 1993

Teil 1

The two-part ZUG UM ZUG turns out to be one of the strongest Paulus films. It's the first one he didn't write himself, and still it plays almost like a catalogue of everything he had done so far (while nothing at all points towards the stuff he has done since): a community centered around lumbering and catholicism, the threat of history and what can (not) be done about it, the lonely individual despising all gestures of solidarity, an undercurrent of sexual frustration, precise imagery and an excellent ambient-style soundtrack.

Teil 2

While the first part focused mostly on an individual struggling against (and thereby destroying) community, the second part is more about group dynamics; or rather, different ways of being a fellow traveller during the Nazi era. Even if the film mostly omits direct representation of violence (with a single and very important exception), this is pretty dark, uncompromising stuff.

Du bringst mich noch um, Wolfram Paulus, 1994

First one of Paulus's relationship dramedies and from the start I just can't stand the world all of them are set in: the world of bourgeoise modernity, no longer ruled by the terror of the patriarchy, ok, patchwork families are not even a scandal anymore but rather the new normal... and still, everything is so damn dense, those people leave and breathe work and family and nothing else, every ounce of energy bound up by social connectivity of one kind or other.

Quite correctly, Paulus identifies unfaithfulness and sexual jealousy as a potential breaking point of neo-bourgeoise living arrangements - but then his films are only concerned with the question of how this scandal might be reframed in terms of family dynamics.

I might be a bit harsh... This isn't a worthless film, and I guess I have to think about the hidden insecurities of Katja Flint some day. The ending, too, is surprisingly ambitious, an unexpected turn toward a very dark place - a place a film like this clearly isn't prepared to map out, though.

Jeder Mensch braucht ein Geheimnis, Wolfram Paulus, 2010

This is the one that almost broke me. Grandpa exchanging benevolent matriarchy for a manufactum version of a boheme lifestyle. A film to make one wish for a planet without any kind of blood relationships, without Italy (!) and especially without single-family homes. Also, not quite as big of a loss, without the Green Party. In fact, every local chapter of it should be required to screen this film, and to organize a discussion afterwards on the topic: how the fuck did we become this?

Regentage, Wolfram Paulus, 2002

Might be the best, or rather most bearable among the Paulus adultery / patchwork family romcoms. There's still a conformist streak present that has nothing to do with the plot and everything with the way the film looks at his world, but at least this one is a bit more anarchic (might be the Glawogger influence; he's listed as co-author): pissing children, teens with bad hair, ridiculous yoga teachers. Plus Udo Wachtveitl is the rare Tatort inspector I truly like.

Heldenzeitreise, Wolfram Paulus, 2017

Such a strange and wonderful film. A low budget metahistorical epic shot in mixed woodland and decidedly modest sets about, I guess, the eternal struggle between ambition and horniness throughout the ages??? Featuring, among other things, incestuous desire among the Gauls, "the Eminem of the 13th century", anti European Union agitprop and a female alien invasion???

Somehow Paulus, after more than two decades of distancing himself from the timely, cutting-edge aesthetics of his early work, comes full circle and turns into an accidental avant-gardist. There's really nothing quite like it and while I tentatively content myself to 3 1/2 stars for now, this could move up much higher in the future. 

Mathilde liebt, Wolfram Paulus, 2005

Can't say that it provides much pleasure, but it's still interesting to make it through not only one, but a couple of those mainstream tv films from the 2000s. These films certainly get hold of and wrestle with sensibilities the festival films (and also the blockbusters) of the time have no idea of. Anyway, enough for me for now. I like Christiane Hörbiger. Good for her that she finds not one but two lovers after her boring in bed husband dies. But why those two of all people?

Rennlauf, Wolfram Paulus, 1998

One of Paulus's better tv films. While "Cinematic" skiing usually borders on the ridiculous, real, professional Alpine skiing just isn't very cinematic. It's all about "interpreting" the movements of the athletes in order to find out if they "make good speed" or not - but a few seconds later, the timekeeping will tell you anyway, so what's the use. Therefore, it makes sense to concetrate not on what meager external spectacle there is, but rather on a dramaturgy of gazes - longing, jealous, disappointed, eager. Then there's a lesbian encounter with Franka Potente and a rather bitchy blonde, too. The whole thing plays out like a modest but also charming and lowkey sexy fantasy triggered by lazy winter sport watching on a Sunday afternoon.

Augenleuchten, Wolfram Paulus, 2005

Nothing all too suprising going on here, but what a difference a bit of youthful negativity makes. Someone doesn't give a fuck and suddenly we see the world in a new light. Also: What a different an actress makes. Nadja Vogel is a force of nature here, and I have no idea why her career - so far - doesn't seem to have held what this debut promised. She's playing a teenage sexpot and Paulus isn't afraid to shoot through her legs when framing the men lusting after her. She isn't really a man eater, though; while pretty much all the men want the same thing from her, she wants different things from different men, and usually, because she wants things more forcefully and precisely than everyone else in the film, she gets them, too.

Next to her everything pales, but Dominik Leeb as the star-eyed boy is very good, too, and also important for the film. His quiet, forceful performance is the only thing not controlled by Vogel, and this provides enough tension to let a rather basic script come alive.

Half Human, Ishiro Honda, 1955

Solid people walking through snow film with the occasional monster appearance. Phantasmagoric imagery shining through a sub-par digital transfer has its charms, to be sure, but I'd like to see this in a better version some day.

Die Wirtin zur goldenen Krone, Theo Lingen, 1955

Lingen tries hard to enliven a terrible script with the occasional sight gag and some metafilmic shenanigans, but in the end there just isn't much he can do. Paula Wessely's double role is enough to sink the film: As a resolute innkeeper she is somewhat believable, but her princess turned scientist character is as cringy as it gets. Also, the fictional princedom is a strange compromise between Austria's eternal and eternally outdated nostalgia for the k.u.k. monarchy and a particularly dull vision of post-war European mass culture. As far as political fantasies go, this one is particularly unappealing.  
Lingen, as a director, probably never made his Tashlin film, but I still like to think he could've.

The H-Man, Ishiro Honda, 1958

Humanity liquified, the world cleansed by flames. Paranoia fighting paranoia until there's nothing left. 

Is' was, Kanzler?, Gerhard Schmidt, 1984

I notice that the STUC is already on the case, and rightly so, although one has to concede that a film willing to explore the erotic potential of model railroads can't be all bad. And even aside from that, on the more basic levels of filmmaking this isn't half as terrible (or maybe: pretty much exactly half as terrible; two stars instead of one) as I expected. The acting especially is comparatively unobtrusive, far from the political cabaret hell I was afraid of - although we have to make it through a few minutes of Didi mugging. And while Tommi Piper certainly is an acquired taste, especially when playing an alleged womanizer, his scenes with Constanze Engelbrecht are quite sweet.

All of this doesn't mean that the film in any way manages to justify its own existence. Its "critique" boils down to parliament is a corrupt pigsty and, don't forget, CDU sucks even worse and the Americans control everything. If I want something like that, I can just scroll through the lesser parts of my twitter timeline. Most of the runtime, though, is, for whatever reason, filled with an extremely bland espionage plot completely removed from any sense of real-life politics.

The directed on autopilot genre mechanics lead to an extremely non-thrilling finale on top of the CDU headquarters that may or may not be stolen from the fireworks scene from BLOW OUT - and well, this might just be the depressing truth: while the American Reagan Eighties were ushered in by De Palma's cynical extravaganza, the German Kohl Eighties were introduced by.... this.

Original Gangstas, Larry Cohen, 1996

A good deal of fun in the getting the old gang back together stage: an exploration of community driven by energetic acting and very effective musical cues. That synth bounce when Williamson deals out the goods for the first time... The more this turns into an action movie, the more tedious it gets, though. 

Cohen's edge only really shines through in some of the scenes with the mayor and the reverend. 

Captive's Island, Masahiro Shinoda, 1966

A closed-off system, like I guess most Shinoda films are in some ways, but here it is especially obvious: two islands, a bigger and a smaller one, on the bigger one the smaller is used as backdrop, and on the smaller the bigger. Past actions determine the present and present actions open up the past. The streaks on Akira Nitta's back from past punishments are the clear, perfectly defined bodily link that holds everything together.

On the outside, on the lush and very green islands, space is dynamic and fragmented. The interiors, though, often crystallize in static long shots centered around iconic imagery: a portrait of Lincoln, a picture of a suffering woman, the Japanese flag. Markers of historical conflict doubling as interchangeable graphical elements.

Battle in Outer Space, Ishiro Honda, 1959

Hardly possible to overstate just how beautiful this is, every single frame, the close-up of the woman helplessly waiting in the control room for news from the astronauts just at much as the ultraromantic moon vistas and the picture-book two-dimensionality of the interstellar battle scenes. A reminder that film sometimes indeed is a visual medium.

De De Pyaar De, Akiv Ali, 2019

A hard film to love, if only because both leads constantly behave like assholes (he on the macro level of being an opportunistic, lying prick in general, she on the micro level of demanding macho violence as proof of commitment). Also, almost every scene leads towards an "awkward moment", which is almost played out way too long and also, every single time, accompanied by overeager sound cues that seem to be designed to drown the whole world in noisy obviousness.

On the other hand, like most romance films, this is mostly about faces; in this case, Devgn's burning eyes behind a laid-back façade and Singh's transformative smile taking over her detached face are almost enough to make one forget everything else.

Deliha 2, Gupse Ozay, 2018

The direction might be a bit more uneven than in the first one, but the heart-warming community feel is once again very pronounced. Great supporting cast, too.

Our Brand Is Crisis, David Gordon Green, 2015

I guess on some level this could be defended as Green taking on a work for hire and enriching it with at least some level of warmth and detail. At times, he almost manages to make it his own, especially in the pretty excellent partying with the disenfranchised scene, which also serves as the centerpiece for Bullock's committed performance.

I can't get over the rote bullshit script, however. It almost plays out like a Ross Thomas setup, but stripped of all intelligence by introducing another, "authentic" layer of grassroot activism (as something you can just choose to tap into, no matter your background) beneath the outer layer of politics as power play, enacting structural pressure on all agents. To go back to the party scene: while Green's direction treats it as the necessary, but also necessarily inconsequential escape that it is (or at least should be), the film retroactively transforms it into a "moment of truth", that singlehandedly changes not only political but also psychological reality.

Abortion, Masao Adachi, 1966

Separating sex from reproduction... supposedly to free the former, yes, but then again Adachi's film is almost exclusively interested in the latter, to the point of this hardly being a pinku at all. It's all about controlling the inner, biological workings of women, and to go there means negating not only the body as an erotic object, but the outward, visible world in toto; so we get lots of paranoid interiors, a detached voice over, close-ups of indifferent, unreadable faces looming large and white on the screen, and - maybe most importantly - quite a few diagrams which are treated like mystical treasure maps: scientific discourse collapsing into full-scale fantasmagoria.

Shinsengumi Chronicles, Kenji Misumi, 1963

The will to fight, violence anchored not in the society, but in the individual. A reddish-brownish world of honor cut off from history and family. Not tight and action-centered enough to really involve me, but supremely stylish on a scene by scene basis.

Hummingbird, Steven Knight, 2013

Well... mostly annoying, I guess. Statham is often very good at implying a rich, repressed inner life behind his smooth exterior, here he is supposed to "really open up" and the result is just another trite redemption tale, drowning in piano triads and sub-Michael-Mann digital nighttime crispness. Not one surprising beat in the whole thing, of course Agata Buzek has do wear the red dress and of course she looks hot in it. What's missing most in this kind of gentrified genre cinema is a notion of vulgar insolence or anything else that would register as a genuine reaction to the fuckedupness of the world the film is set in. Made me want to watch AVENGEMENT again.

Mr. Deeds, Steven Brill, 2003

There seems to be some kind of short circuit at the basis of this: Adam Sandler has been Mr. Deeds all along, so when finally really playing Mr. Deeds it is enough for him to just continue being Adam Sandler. Meaning that this film's version of Mr. Deeds does not need to be explained, constructed, questioned, vindicated - he's just doing his stuff, like he always has. One rather surprising outcome of this is that Mr. Deeds's propensity for violence is much more pronounced in the remake. While Cooper-Deeds's aggressiveness was part of a complex, fetish-like psychological structure, Sandler-Deeds is just a moderately benign bully.

So is this about Sandler beating up hipsters? Unfortunately no. One thing that doesn't work at all is the city-country discourse. The film's idea of "big city life" stems directly from Capra who himself seems to have not been all that up to date back in 1936. So what we get is a quasi-feudalistic power structure coupled with what basically look like updated renaissance streetscapes. All of this doesn't matter much because in the end this is set first and foremost in Happy Madison County, land of moveable kneecap.

The Human Vapor, Ishiro Honda, 1960

Burning down the world for love, for one big show, one final act of becoming-visible. I love this one so much, it starts out as a standard mystery, and by way of introducing "scientific discourse" is turned into a deeply romantic approach to image-making and the fantastic.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 1: The Chinese Jade, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1963

Raizo Ichikawa is really growing on me, those brattish charms always ready to be transformed into pure nihilism. Also always nice to have actors with truly distinctive hair. The Nemuri Kyoshiro films seem to explore the lighter, breezier side of his persona, but coupled with more than a dash of a very sixties kind of machismo.

While this sure looks good throughout, Tanaka seems to be a bit unsure about what to do with the material, mostly downplaying the action scenes while trying for a more poetic approach, like the archaic beach scenery that pops up out of nowhere several times throughout the film. 

Herbstromanze, Jürgen Enz, 1980

Imitation of life.

(This really was a surprising and rather sudden discovery: that HERBSTROMANZE, much more than the krypto-Fassbinder exercise I thought it to be, really is a Sirkian film through and through, with all meaning bound up and controlled within Mise en scene.)

Sleepy Eyes of Death 2: Sword of Adventure, Kenji Misumi, 1964

Just about perfect for what it is. A dynamic comic-book-type visual style, a versatile script, perfect eye for physiognomy (every single close-up of Yoshi Kato's face provides joy), perfect deployment of style for style's sake, for example when it comes to Shiho Fujimura's wardrobe... One of the many clever things Misumi does here is shifting the burden of characterisation: This time, Nemuri Kyoshiro is much more defined by the way people look at him rather than by his own words and actions.

Still hard to argue that misogyny isn't an important part of the recipe here ("And now princess pig wants to grope this purer-than-snow body of mine..."); but Misumi at least manages to include interesting female characters anyway.

Der Formel Eins Film, Wolfgang Büld, 1985

Unlike Büld's superior GIB GAS - ICH WILL SPASS, this one isn't set in the real world but in the immanence of Germany's music industry. Therefore, the love story, which once again is very much its center, doesn't have much room to breathe. There really is no place to go. No matter if you're trying to run away and start a new life together or if you're just looking for a place to fuck: sooner or later grinning Ingolf Lück shows up and the party is over. Plus the male lead is dull as dishwater and the music selection is even worse than one would imagine - a decidedly third-rate Meat Loaf song is the closest thing available to a showstopper, here. 

Still a lot of fun because it's all so unfiltered: the clothes, the cluttered Mise en scene, all those non- and barely-jokes cancelling each other out. A film of the world.

(Another discovery: Take away Campino and the Hosen might just be a rather fun collection of dudes.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Große Lüge

Hannah Arendts "The Origins of Totalitarianism", das ich in den letzten Tagen der Trump-Präsidentschaft ohne konkreten Anlass (ich wollte schreiben: zufällig; aber was liest man schon zufällig?) gelesen habe, ist vielleicht tatsächlich geeignet, etwas von dem greifbar zu machen, was am Trumpismus eben doch neu ist, oder zumindest nicht ganz in der Pragmatik zynischer konservativer Machtpolitik aufgeht. Es handelt sich dabei, glaube ich, nicht bloß, wie gerade Timothy Snyder schreibt, um den bloßen Hang zur Kontrafaktik, um die vielen kleinen Lügen, die nun in der einen großen sich zuspitzen; die Wahlbetrugsvorwürfe, so lächerlich sie auch sind, negieren das System letztlich doch nicht komplett. Die Behauptung, die Wahl sei unfair verlaufen, kann sich nicht ganz vom Ideal der fairen Wahl emanzipieren. Dass das zugrundeliegende Fantasma etwas mit Rassismus zu tun hat, ist sicher richtig; aber eben deshalb verbleibt es noch in einer historischen Kontinuität, von der sich der Trumpismus insgesamt tendenziell löst. Die tatsächliche große Lüge, das exakte Äquivalent der "Protokolle der Weisen von Zion" und der stalinistischen Verschwörungstheorien, ist nicht der Wahlbetrug, sondern Qanon. Die taktische, strategische Lüge verweist als einfache Negation auf die Welt, das auf Fiktion gegründete, aber in sich schlüssigen Lügengebäudes hingegen kapselt sich von ihr ab. Gefählich ist gerade das Krude und Unverhältnismäßige, fast schon Clowneske an Qanon; weil es darauf verweist, dass da eine neue Sprache entstanden (oder vielleicht erst im entstehen begriffen) ist. Der Putsch sei, liest man nun, an Trumps erratischem Stil gescheitert. Der nächste Trump, ob nun in den USA oder sonstwo, würde sicher überlegter vorgehen. Vielleicht ist das Gegenteil der Fall. Vielleicht ist uns das Schlimmste nur deshalb erspart geblieben, weil der Trumpismus nicht weit genug gegangen ist in seinem Wahnsinn, weil Trump und Qanon nie komplett zusammen gefunden haben. (Eine sonderbare Lektüre ansonsten, im Ganzen und in vielen Passagen brilliant, aber es gibt immer wieder diese ziemlich quälenden, komisch aufdringlich repetitiven Passagen, die sich von der Rekonstruktion politischer Geschichte lösen und ins Anthropologische überwechseln, stets verbunden mit einem Dringlichkeitsgestus, der dem Gedankenfluss äußerlich bleibt.)

Friday, January 15, 2021

Jürgen Enz (1941-2021)

Auf den Deutschen Herbst folgt die Herbstromanze. Während der Neue Deutsche Film sich, an den Wirren der Gegenwart scheiternd, langsam in seine Bestandteile auflöst und noch bevor sich die "geistig-moralische Wende" politisch durchsetzt (was filmästhetisch vor allem der Amalgamisierung von Kino und Fernsehen Vorschub leistet), flüchtet sich ein Gebrauchsfilmer namens Jürgen Enz in das verlorene Paradies des Heimatfilms, durch das nun allerdings der fiebrige Wind eines ungreifbaren Wahnsinns weht. Die alten Formen, die alten Postkartenbilder und die alten Figuren sind noch da, selbst Rudolf Lenz ist noch da, und doch stimmt plötzlich gar nichts mehr. Viel radikaler als jeder "kritische Heimatfilm" zeigt uns die ehrliche Hommage Herbstromanze das Nahverhältnis von Idylle und Lüge. Auf so etwas wollte sich seinerzeit niemand einlassen, das Publikum nicht und die Kritik schon gleich gar nicht. Darüber retrospektiv zu schimpfen führt nicht weit. Das Scheitern gehört bei Enz dazu, ist nicht zu trennen von der Schönheit seiner Filme. Passenderweise wurde Herbstromanze, sein erster und einziger ernsthafter Versuch, aus dem Sexfilmghetto auszubrechen, zu seiner größten Niederlage. Um diesem Film doch noch auf Augenhöhe begegnen zu können, bedurfte es eines neuen, distanzierten und gleichzeitig etwas wahnwitzigen Blickes. Oder andersherum: Herbstromanze allein wäre Grund genug gewesen, die Hofbauerkongresse zu erfinden.

Selbst im Hk-Kosmos blieb Enz freilich ein Sonderfall. Anders als Olsen, Billian oder auch Hofbauer selbst kann man ihn kaum als einen vulgar auteur feiern, der fernab der respektablen Filmkultur selbstbewußt seine eigene Handschrift kultiviert. Die eigene Handschrift gibt es schon, klar (einen Enz-Film erkennt man teils schneller als einen Hitchcock-Film), aber sie lässt sich eher negativ denn positiv bestimmen; als eine Dimmung der Grundenergie, als Verzicht auf Oberflächenlebendigkeit, wordurch freilich die Sonderbarkeiten des trotzdem gelebten Lebens umso deutlicher in den Blick kommen, als Verlust aller Selbstverständlichkeiten in der Art, wie wir uns bewegen, miteinander reden, uns berühren. Dabei gilt: je intimer die Situation desto sonderbarer, ungelenker, verworrener das Körperverhalten. Wer möchte da widersprechen.


Monday, December 07, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Satan's Sword III: The Final Chapter, Kazuo Mori, 1961

Not as elegant as the first two parts, with Mori often settling for showy camera movements instead of Misumi's precision framing (another telling sign: unlike in the first one, this time Ryunosuke's demons do materialize as phantom images, instead of haunting the dead space that is his face). The rousing, elemental showdown is worth the wait, though.

Toi... le venin, Robert Hossein, 1959

Hitchcock might be the more obvious influence, but the spirit is Bunuelian, with a relaxed psychosexual hangout vibe.

A Woman's Testament, Masumura / Ichikawa / Yoshimura, 1960

An omnibus film not so much "about women" as about the interrelationship of desire and money. The rating is only for the first part, by Masumura, by far the best of the three, a laconic, emotionally complex miniature about a female and a male hustler falling short of each other because they just can't quite manage to step out of their routine and out of their language. Punctured by a repeated shot of a Tokyo nightlife it might even benefit from the short running time because it allows Masumura to land his punches with less effort than in some of his other films.

For me, the other two really paled by comparison. The Ichikawa one is an exercise in style first and foremost, but too sketchy to go anywhere; and the Yoshimura one is sentimental fluff, somewhat elevated by a great Machiko Kyo performance.

Ball im Savoy, Steve Sekely, 1936

My very own comfort food. Stutters in the beginning, but after a while everyone finds his or her own groove. The Berkeley-style dance choreography (must've been one of the first German language musicals to try something like this for real) starts out almost touchingly inept, too, only to come into its own once Rosy Borsody takes center stage. Jaray mostly sleepwalks through his scenes; doesn't matter much, he'll always be Schubert to me, anyway.

The Ghosts of Kagami Pond, Masaki Mori, 1959

Another wonderfully lurid and atmospheric Shintoho horror film. Really need to check out more of these, there's an aggressive, confrontational quality that sets them apart from other Japanese films of the time, even a project as safely rooted in tradition as this one. Here, it's all about amping up the depravity - by introducing not just one, but multiple bad guys, by an abundancy of mugging and sneering, by an unwaivering commitment to a general air of sleaziness.

The very basic special effects and the low budget set design play right into this. Again and again the characters return to the same tiny stretch of Ghost Pond, trying to dump their dark secrets, only to get themselves sucked into it. A closed-off system, musty and perverse and strangely alluring.

Dumbo, both versions

Trunk on trunk we feel safe / Second time around and both the bad script and Burton's diligence register even stronger. All in all, not a good film, but a pleasant aesthetic object.

Wir machen Musik, Helmut Käutner, 1942

(Should I bump this up to 5 stars? Maybe next time.) One of the great musicals, one of the great romance films, and also, maybe first and foremost, one of the great domestic comedies. The constant transformation and (dramatic, emotional, sensual, erotic) mobilization of de Kowa's apartment is the true center of the film, everything evolves around the domestic space. Only here are de Kowa and Werner able to discover and transform each other, and even the (great) revue finale is all about closing in on the apartment's most important element - the piano, the instrument that embodies both their togetherness and their separateness, their (mostly her) orgasms and their (mostly his) delusions.

Ironfinger, Jun Fukuda, 1965

Very pleasant faux internationalist spy film (with even a single line of German thrown in). The Bond influence is everywhere of course, but still, this is not only much more fun than the bloated originals, the direction and overall production design is also much more solid than in most Eurospy cheapos. Fukuda keeps up the pace, and instead of going all in on the zaniness, he makes every gimmick count, even if some of the potentially more frivolous scenes (the one with the plastic explosive making its way from Hama's bra into Takahada's mouth, for example) remain underdeveloped. The "jumping barrels" finale has a nice, understated surrealist feel.

The Demon of Mount Oe, Okuzo Tanaka, 1960

Japanese cinema is always richer than one thinks and this special brand of fantasy period piece special effects extravaganza was completely new to me. In the beginning, the heaven opens up, pure color invades the world, a sky-oxen stomps on a cloud ... an all-out attack of screen-busting artifice that would've felt at home in Tsui Hark's GREEN SNAKE / THE LOVERS phase. All in all, though, Tanaka is much more of a pragmatist than Tsui: SFX as the art of the possible. A modern day Melies, maybe. Later on it's often just simple stop tricks, pyrotechnics, even suit-motion - whatever works to spectacularly animate what basically is an (extremely well-acted) morality tale with political implications: how to fight evil, at what costs, with what kind of allies etc.

Million Dollar Mermaid, Mervyn LeRoy, 1952

Am Strand von Boston da ging sie spazieren...

(Rote biopic tropes? Yes sir, en masse. I don't care at all, though. What is cinema if not the promise of a new, exciting body shining through the tedium?)

The Embryo Hunts in Secret, Koji Wakamatsu, 1966

A masterpiece of low-budget production design, starting with the "rain" thrown at the camera at the beginning. Later, what defines the film is the aquatic shadow play on the apartment's wall: a marinade, or a lotion, capturing and transforming the body, divorcing it from spirit until we're left with nothing but bottled-up paranoia in liquid interiors. Or rather: the world itself is the bottle, but the liquid is on the outside, filmed as if from an impossible place of blind and numb firstness. From the inside looking in.

Strange Days, Kathryn Bigelow, 1995

Had either forgotten or never realized that Juliette Lewis wears a de facto confetti dress in the end.

Mank, David Fincher, 2020

Many people on here, at least in my timeline, seem to be unwilling to take on MANK on its own terms. Which is, of course, perfectly legitimate sometimes, there clearly are quite a few films that make me react that way, too. What I don't really get, though, is the complaint about it not having a theme or center - often, and here too, a clear indication that something interesting is going on. The CITIZEN KANE revisionism indeed is a mere afterthought, but to me it's truly fascinating that for most of the runtime what we get are political maneuverings adjacent rather than directly related to moviemaking, maneuverings that could result just as easily in a hack work, a masterpiece, or no film at all.

One consequence of this indifference towards the product is that the implicit (and often explicit) pro-corporate bias evident in most Hollywood self-portrayals, including quite a few I love much more than MANK, is completely absent. The higher-ups are the assholes, just like in every other big company (Mayer's first big scene, the passage through the studio space, is shot like a malicious parody of a Sorkin style walk and talk), this is a given and the question of what it means artistically is not even explored. There's no sense of film history moving forward at all, and the strange, inconsistent stylistic choices might even play into this. Of course the film knows we know about KANE, and I guess it's one of the more poignant ironies of the script that its absent center is a larger than life closing in on the psychic structure of the very toxic entertainment/politics sociotope Fincher covers from an entirely different angle. (One thing that both films do have in common, though, is a sense of humor, and this is worth a lot; the first half of MANK is the funniest new film I've seen in quite a while.) (The only other film that gets more than a passing mention is WIZARD OF OZ - which is used mostly as a setup for a joke about Mervyn LeRoy's name.)

Also, I mostly like Oldman. His (and the film's) only truly bad moment is the dinner table showdown that not only makes him look like a whiny asshole but also tarnishes CITIZEN KANE much more than the tongue in cheek Welles stuff, because the film Mank makes up on the spot really sounds like self-righteous bullshit of the highest order. Of course Oldman is showy throughout, but for most of the runtime his mannerisms come across either as desperate (in the flashbacks, as long as he's still trying to fit in) or as helpless (while writing CK, bound to his bed and cushioned by a thoroughly feminized wide-angle space). Because of this it makes a lot of sense, I think, to put Mankiewicz against Thalberg more than against Hearst and Mayer; the latter especially is all caricature, so much so that some of his scenes have a borderline antisemitic feel. Mank and Thalberg, on the other hand, recognize themselves in each other: two different modes of compromise, two geniuses swallowed up by the system in vastly different ways. Both of them know that it wouldn't have taken much for both of them to switch sides.

Oldman's and the film's most beautiful moments arrive when he sidesteps office politics for platonic flirts with (the very good) Seyfried - the walk through the zoo at Hearst Castle, especially: this is indeed pretty much exactly the kind of scene Classical Hollywood excelled in and Post-Classical Hollywood is virtually incapable of putting together. That it comes out of nowhere just adds to the charm.

Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, 1941

Great film imo.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Wolves, Pigs & Men, Kinji Fukasaku, 1964

The youngest brother is all energy, an organic part of the chaotic world he's living in, hanging out with his equals in the rubble (always surprising just how fucked-up parts of Tokyo still looked in the 1960s), most of the time just kicking and screaming, but sometimes they slide down the concrete ramp next to the river and start singing a song.

The eldest brother is all control, bound by Yakuza hierarchy and interpersonal obligations; he's just as much rooted in the world around him, but with him, the connection doesn't come natural anymore, everything is codified and translates as pressure weighing down on his tired face.

The middle brother, though, is different: a free agent inserted in shifting alliances, a lover who dreams of far-away places, while the world in front of him is just an image behind the sunglasses, something to mold after his own desires.

Waterloo Bridge, Mervyn LeRoy, 1940

Doesn't lose one bit the second time around. Once again absolutely enchanted by what LeRoy does with Leigh's eyes. Prostitution is all about the gaze and only the gaze ... not about an exchange of gazes, though, about gaze as communication, but about a series of lonely gazes, through which a woman learns to see (and unsee) the world anew, with us as her sole witness. If this isn't proof of the power of movies, I don't know what is.

Varan, Ishiro Honda, 1958

Varan is distracted by light, he gazes enraptured towards light, he even eats light, and of course he also dies by light! How can I not love him.

Barbara - Wild wie das Meer, Frank Wisbar, 1961

Looping back to Barbara, always a good idea, and she's always right there, on her island, waiting.

(Would love to see a D'Amato remake of this, but maybe I already have, several times.)

Black Line, Teruo Ishii, 1960

Absolutely wonderful playful gutter sleaze centered on a journalist who one day wakes up in bed next to a dead woman - with his hands still clutching the tie that killed her!

The following complications include wacky street scenes, a dollmaker cum drug dealing cum prostitution hub, an excellent action showdown on top of a moving train, and especially lots of spectacular body vistas: an extremely curvaceous nightclub performance, limbs extended towards the camera, an appreciative tilt over four female stomachs ("Women don't feel the cold, they have an extra layer of fat") and especially lots of women's legs, often doubling as framing devices.

Pretty pervy stuff, yes, but with a joyous, anarchic, licentious tilt. Amachi's journalist is both player and a plaything himself, he never truly commits to the male gaze the film seems to invite, there's something slippery about him and about the camera, too, and maybe that's why all those women constantly come up with new ways of pinning him, it, us down.

Applause, Rouben Mamoulian, 1929

Still wondering why this isn't universally admired, as, say, the missing link between Sternberg's late silents and the precode Warner backstage masterpieces from the early 30s. Or just as one of the great New York films.

Und damit tanzen sie noch immer, Marijana Stoisits, Michael Rabe, 1987

In this one, a pair of leather boots is made. Again something I could never not want to watch, and these boots also made me think of the worth and nature of ornaments. Technically, the ornamental stitches the shoemaker adds to an otherwise functional design even hurt the shoe, piercing its surface, endangering its structural integrity, but they are also the shoe's prime connection to their maker. He makes them his own by wounding them. Also, this was the last pair of boots made by this particular shoemaker. I don't think any fictional film can possibly approach a similar sense of finality.

The Flame of Devotion, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1964

The bodies of two lovers pressed against each other while a train is rushing by just inches past them: Intimacy on borrowed time, with every gesture, every gaze intensified but also undercut by anxiety. The war is far away, elsewhere, and still it curses and enchants every single aspect of the world.

One of Kurahara's best. The rather old-fashioned literary sensibility suits him surprisingly well, maybe also because by 1964 he already has the freedom (and the right actress) to fully explore the sensual aspects of desperate love. The glow of Ruriko Asaoka's body, emerging from the dark waters, two bodies losing themselves in the moist grass: Here, he finally manages to come up with the images THE WOMAN FROM THE SEA only hinted at. Sometimes I even thought of Borzage's THE RIVER: The closed-off world of romance and the bottomless mysteries of nature, the liminal railroad bridge as the only point of entry and departure.

One of the most elaborate Nikkatsu productions I've seen so far, too. Intricate sets and lots of spectacular location footage, dynamic widescreen framing, several helicopter shots ... and all of this feels much more of one piece, less confrontational than in other Kurahara films.

Without Reservations, Mervyn LeRoy, 1946

Still a wonderfully bonkers script, still not all that well rounded, especially on the dialogue level, still very pleasant nonetheless because Colbert (especially) and Wayne make it work. They just look so comfortable snuggling up in the front seat of a car. They might very well have bonded over their mutual conservative politics which are clearly present in the script, but not necessarily in a very clear-cut manner. The film works both as a mockery of New Deal idealism and as a cautious shot at restoring it, on slightly different terms.

Am Stein, Othmar Schmiderer, 1997

A beautiful documentary, switching back and forth between observational, discursive and impressionistic approaches, about one of the more remote parts of the Austrian Alps and the last few traditional farmers trying to make a living there. Tourism is encroaching anyway, of course, and the film leaves no doubt as to where its sympathies lie, but in the end this isn't about an endangered or already lost paradise and not even (like the magnificent HIMMEL UND ERDE, an obvious precursor) about an endangered or already lost way of life. It's more about leaving behind anthropocentrism, about pitting men (and rather few women), animals and nature against each other in new, surprising way. Not quite sensory ethnography yet, but maybe born from a similar feeling of inadequacy.

My Buddy, Steve Sekely, 1944

Might be interesting to dive a bit deeper into wartime + war-themed b-movies. The few I've seen here and there are often pretty strange and this still is one of the strangest. Didn't know it was written by the later blacklisted Arnold Manoff ... at the very least it's a film that has lots to say even if none of it may be all that clearly articulated.

Satan's Sword, Kenji Misumi, 1960

A crowded plot coming alive thanks to stylish widescreen framing and Ichikawa's supremely psychotic presence. A face that acts as a portal to negative space.

Ein Lied, ein Kuss, ein Mädel, Geza von Bolvary, 1932

Like blahr writes: Those 10-15 minutes in the record store before Fröhlich enters and spoils everything indeed might be thought of as the perfect Weimar era multicamera workplace sitcom pilot that never was.

Satan's Sword: The Dragon God, Kenji Misumi, 1960

The nihilistic psycho-horror feel that gave the first one a special edge is mostly absent here, but as complex, varied and extremely stylish swordfighting / adventure filmmaking it works well enough.

The Silence of Green, Andreas Horvath, 2002

Made me long for the grassy hills of the British countryside, but I don't know, aside from that this feels completely misguided. Or rather, I just don't know what to make of it. Clearly Horvath doesn't really believe in the conspiracy theories he gives voice to, here? And if he doesn't, why make the film at all, let alone at a time when the Foot-and-mouth disease outbreak is still under way? I'm sure that lots of valid criticism could be (and in fact has been) levelled against both the government response to the outbreak and the economic system that gave rise to the problem in the first place. So, again, why single out the non-valid criticism while turning up, at the same time, the pastoral pathos of both sounds and images to eleven?

Maybe it's just because I saw this in the midst of another epidemic, with conspiracy theories multiplying faster than ever ... I really can't stand this kind of opaque, smug, sub-Straubian radicalism right now.

Friday, November 27, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Crows Zero II, Takashi Miike, 2009

Grungier than the first, at times almost infused with a Late Western vibe. The rage and energy doesn't quite come naturally anymore, so the guys start questioning oneself, some of them retreating into private games and overly exclusive in-groups. To pit these world-weary, prematurely aged young men against a new enemy that basically feels and looks like a fascist cult is a quite effective move, even though the Housen Academy stuff feels a bit underdeveloped.

In the end the Crows world is rich enough for me to not regret spending two more hours in it, but at the same time this one is too much of a touching all the bases kind of sequel to arrive at something truly memorable.

Ein Mann gehört ins Haus, Hbert Marischka, 1948

Released in 1948, but made in 1944/45, so it's still all about defending the surplus value of alpine beauty against the threat of the "international" marriage impostor / tourism complex. Keep the cattle, ditch your dreams of a "swiss style" luxury hotel (and the sophisticated romance that goes along with it) and succumb to the natural authority of the alpha guy who just happens to represent the interests of state, capital and police. Ugly and mostly boring stuff only once in a while enlivened by some beautiful location work. I truly hate that Magda Schneider is in this, and I hate even more that she's, of course, very good in this.

October, Shoojit Sircar, 2018

What this speaks of, I think, is the unknowability at the heart of romance. Love is always intimate and personal, a private language for which there never can be an outside reference. Therefore what is needed is an act of faith and in the end we always are left reading each other's eyes. OCTOBER just takes this to its logical and emotional extreme.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Takashi Miike, 2011

Life as an unequal game of death, played out straight and with an eye for melodrama. Stereoscopic classicism. Blood-read leaves covering the screen like a blanket.

Sukiyaki Western Django, Takashi Miike, 2007

On the one hand a rather strange artifact of a historical mode of transcontinental cult cinephilia that never quite managed to transcend the Tanrantino worship of signifiers stage (and has since largely vanished from view). On the other hand one of Miike's most rounded and (especially) visually beautiful productions.

At the end of the day, the Tarantino flavor (to which I'm not necessarily opposed to anyway) fades away and pure beauty remains. The colors and the smooth, silken light, of course, but the excellent, varied action scenes, too, especially the gun fights - the pronounced interval between shot fired and impact, for example, works very well. Miike also knows that the western is always (maybe first and foremost) a physiognomic genre and makes excellent use of faces.

Last but not least one of his sexiest films, with lots of fetishistic imagery and a wonderfully unhinged Yoshino Kimura performance.

Rendezvous in Wien, Helmut Weiss, 1959

Helmut Weiss tries to insert the Schlagerfilm with a modicum of relevance by pitting the romcom fluff against cold-war politics; and expectedly only manages to suck out all off the little pleasures the genre normally provides not despite but because of its modest ambitions.

I also hate all the men here and with the exception of Susi Nicoletti all the women, too. Aside from the somewhat pleasant production design this is as stale as it gets, anti-cinema, run for your lives kind of stuff.

I really think there aren't many things out there as reliably shitty as German / Austrian made political satire.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Jason Woliner, 2020

I probably even like this a bit more than I thought I would after reading that this time most of it is conventionally staged. The main storyline mostly works and Maria Bakalova has enough energy to carry the film over some of the more random stretches - although I indeed think that scenes like the one in the bakery with the "jews will not replace us" cake lose all meaning once it's obvious they're scripted (and I also don't understand why they use multiple camera setups to begin with; if you want to fake it, at least make an effort).

Also, some rather obvious problems remain. The attempts at the end to kind of apologize for the first film by way of turning Borat woke feel especially misguided. Cohen's punkish edge might've never been quite as effective as people thought, but without it, there's not much more left than an overeager fool trying to please his public at all cost.

And, of course, who needs the Giuliani hotel room embarrassment when there's Four Seasons Total Landscaping? (A cheap shot, I know, but then again this is a Borat film.)

Bodyguard Kiba, Takashi Miike, 1993

Would've needed a slightly more coherent script and a better male lead to truly fly, but generally gets a lot out of a (very) limited budget. Rather kinky at times, too, with a vintage exploitation feel quite different from later Miike mayhem.

Die Privatsekretärin, Wilhelm Thiele, 1931

A tavern performance of a male choral society performance leading to extensive social drinking rituals leading to Felix Bressart's slurred hymn to his aunt leading to (dreams of) erotic fulfillment: a prime example of the freewheeling, hedonistic approach to filmmaking German cinema lost access to, for the most part forever, after 1933. In this case, the secret ingredient might be Renate Müller's infectious giggling.

Müller's chemistry with Thimig, on the other hand, isn't nearly on the same level as two years later in VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA; in fact, he's pretty dull, and the film, while pleasant enough, never quite approaches the heights of, say, the Joe May comedies of the same period. Nevertheless, Müller and an extremely cheerful Felix Bressart alone make this more than worth the watch.

Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, Nagisa Oshima, 1967

Some of the shots and even whole sequences are to die for, but to me, this kind of retreat into claustrophobic ultra-leftist paranoia just feels depressing more than anything else. Also, I guess pulpy minimalism just isn't a good style for Oshima.

The Hangman of the Fiji Island, Said Manafi, 1980

"I am not a happy man". The fingers remember piano melodies, but the head is filled with darker kinds of memories. The protagonist - Bill Reeves, a British loner who, after giving up a life in England and a job as piano tuner, served as a hangman in Fiji for more than 30 years, all the while privately negotiating a strange mixture of racism, misanthropy, melancholia and, above all, loneliness - is so fascinating that the film has trouble living up to him. I guess I would've preferred a straight-up 60 minutes interview with Reeves, but in the absent of that, this remains an important document.

L'osceno desiderio, Giulio Petroni, 1978

Drifting through the night, or rather the greenish fog of a mushy vhs rip that lends this fever-dream of an unspecific erotic haunting another layer of horny inertia.

A Trap, Yoji Yamada, 1965

A decent potboiler script executed with style and all the studio trappings. Still, a bit dull, way too slow and far removed from Yamada's strengths.

Der Traum des Sandino, Margareta Heinrich, Rudi Palla, 1981

Austrian produced de facto image film for the Sandinista movement. Hardly possible to not side with them in general (without necessarily having to buy wholesale into their ideological framework), and the images can't help being richer than the paternalistic voice-over rhetoric suggests, especially when it comes to group dynamics... but still, why travel halfway around the world if you always already exactly know what you'll find there anyway?

Pigs and Battleships, Shohei Imamura, 1961

Imamura's late work was extremely important to me when I started getting into Japanese cinema about 20 years ago, but since then I have mostly sidestepped him, without exactly knowing why myself and while I certainly admire PIGS AND BATTLESHIPS, it indeed still keeps me at a distance. I guess I just might not be fully comfortable / compatible with the sprawling maximalist, vitalist force of his style, with the blunt, positivist approach to bodies and biology that always seems to carry with it at least some ideological baggage: It's not just about diving into the world head-on, celebrating the unruly nature of desire (although it certainly is about that, too), but always also about the insistence that biology is, indeed, destiny. The pig-feeders will become pig feed.

Still, in the end the objection has less to do with ideology than with aesthetics. What bugs me most is the acting, especially Nagato's constant twitching and turning. It's not so much acting than a constant acting up, an absorption of energy followed by a series of convulsive releases (the machine gun in the end) - with the result that the body ends up being transformed into a mere vessel for Imamura's worldview. A selfsame energy flow innervating every scene, every frame, a total vision beating everything into submission...

What makes all of this so conflicting is that Imamura gets his best effects by focusing on the very stuff that irritates me. The very seamlessness of the constant back and forth between the panoramic, carnivalesque approach of the street mayhem and the intimate scenes with Kinta and Haruko; the way the quivering of Yoshimura's lips in close-up and the fluid tracking shots of the pig stampede mirror and innervate each other...

La casa dalle finestre che ridono, Pupi Avati, 1976

Just fucking terrifying, one of the most effective pure horror films I've seen in a while. The giallo goes to the countryside and while the sex stays under the blanket this time, fantasy production is running all the wilder. Both reality and perception are splintered beyond repair, with no safe haven of spatio-temporal firstness in sight, so unlike in DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING it's not about unearthing an evil lurking under the tranquil rural surface, but about navigating a fundamentally unstable space, about making the derangements that are already there from the start a little bit more palpable, while falling prey to them.

Mit meinen Händen, mit meinem Kopf, Nikolaus Leytner, 1982

Watching an artisan building an arm-chair, matter being formed by embodied memory: this is something I'll never grow tired of. In the end, though, I admire his patience with wool, springs and fabric less than his family's patience with him, Heideggerian hobgoblin that he is. Technically pre-Heideggerian, I guess, but the Seyn, the Sein and the Seiendes are probably just lurking around the corner.

Monday, November 16, 2020

last two weeks in letterboxd

Chinatown Kid, Chang Cheh, 1977

The hand should've be content with squeezing oranges, but is lured by the golden sparkle of a digital watch. Or rather: lots of digital watches. No matter how many you destroy there is always another one. In the end it's the promise of the watch that leads you from Hong Kong to San Francisco. Over there, the playing field is bigger, but not much bigger. The location footage is few and far between, and you can almost hear Chang Cheh's gasps of relief every time the film cuts back to the safety of the studio lot. Here, the ceilings are low and the hot dog stand looks like something out of a vintage 50s fantasy. Still, sometimes you get kissed by strange girls, and your friend almost falls prey to the needle. You convince him to get back on track, though, onto the path of the watch.

---

Celestial Cut, mostly before I generally prefer 87 minute films to 115 minutes films and wasn't really in the mood for yet another dose of vhs chinatown murkiness. As toned down as this sometimes feels, the last shot of schoolchildren crossing a street is so gentle and uplifting I'm not sure I really want to check out the original vision.

Inn of the Floating Weeds, Seijun Suzuki, 1957

The tension between a great haunted love noir storyline (including a Lewtonesque, oft-repeated song the film seems to be based on) and a pretty standard gangster plot is never really resolved, but Suzuki constnatly finds ways to let single scenes sparkle, especially the ones set at the harbour, a lonely place, vast space, dark buildings, the open sea, past and presents colliding into helpless affect.

Avengement, Jesse V. Johnson, 2019

I haven't seen all that much Adkins and only one of his earlier collaborations with Jesse V. Johnson, THE DEBT COLLECTOR, which I liked quite a bit, but AVENGEMENT is so much more on point. It's obvious that both star and director feel much more at home in the British working class setting than drifting through Los Angeles. It's a sedentary film, dominated by a feeling of confinement and narrow perspectives, on life and everything else. You are born into your class, and this already tells most of the story, afterwards you can make, at best, one or two choices until your boxed in, once and for all. The only thing that separates Cain from his surroundings is that he gets / takes the chance to walk back on one (and only on one) of his choices. Here, this changes everything.

So it makes completely sense that the film is told from the vantage point of a pub. Almost everyone born into a life like Cain's ends up either here or in prison, this is the end of the road and therefore the perfect setting for a final judgement. You will leave this place only dead (everyone else) or in a state of grace (Cain). The best scene of the film might not be one of the fights, but the back and forth between Cain and the guys after he enters the pub. It starts out as just another in a long line of colloquial macho posturings, as if all of them just pick up where they left off years ago, before Cain went to jail. A Guy Richie setup almost, but then it changes shape, slowly but surely, and it becomes clear that Cain isn't interested in bridging the gap between him and the others.

Violence breaks out and escalates because people are too close together and too far apart at the same time, as is especially evident, once again, in the pub brawl that constantly switches back and forth between hand to hand combat and shootout. Only here, in the homosocial working-class space of the pub where on a fundamental level everyone is equal, violence acquires an analytical dimension, speaks of psychological conditions and self-images. The prison, on the other hand, is a hierarchical system of control, therefore it's just body against body, especially from the perspective of the higher-ups, like the judge.

One key scene, I think, is the one at the house of Lincoln's accountant. This is where things start falling into place: For the first time, he doesn't just rip the person he has tracked down to shreds, thereby making clear that his rage isn't blind after all. Still, why doesn't he kill him after the money is transferred? Because he doesn't recognize the upper-middle class world the accountant is living in, and therefore he doesn't recognize the accountant. He kills only those in which he recognizes himself. Even the female barkeeper, despite her working overtime to make clear she's one of the boys, isn't similar enough to justify killing.

This also means that Cain's class consciousness isn't political, but spiritual in nature. He's no revolutionary, not even in the Robin Hood tradition. He doesn't transcend his origins, he intensifies them. While the others around him are only metaphorically scarred by life, his scars become a manifest reality, if not destiny. The religious overtones are, of course, quite on the nose, but they're incredible effective, because they communicate with the setting, and I almost wish, Johnson would've ramped them up even more. Just as I probably would had preferred a stronger sense of melodrama (but that might just the Heroic Bloodshed fan in me speaking). Like the deadly brotherly hug in the end: a perfect image, but Johnson cuts away very fast, almost as if afraid to really let it register. He wants Cain out, by himself, cut off from society and therefore both redeemed and condemned and of course this is pretty much a perfect ending, too.

The Proud Challenge, Kinji Fukasaku, 1962

A political thriller from a time (long, long ago, it seems) when it still made sense to make political thrillers, shot with exuberant, almost proto-punkish energy. Fukasaku sometimes gets a bit overboard with the canted angles and for a while the film runs the risk to lose shape, but in the great last 20 minutes everything boils down to two outsiders detached (in very different ways) from Japanese mainstream society chasing each other. Also quite extraordinary how Fukasaku makes it clear that Kuroki's righteousness isn't really separable from his racism.

Triple Threat, Jesse V. Johnson, 2019

Not much left from the coherent vision of AVENGEMENT, but as an election night watch (just when things looked especially bleak, actually) this was the right film at the right time. The action is loud and varied, and mostly very good, especially in the middle stretch during the city scenes. The horror feel during the very darkly lit long final brawl threw me off at first, but I guess it helps getting a bit more out of the characters.

A bit too much of an Adkins show, probably. Tony Jaa and Tiger Chen would've needed a bit more room, and Uwais probably isn't the best choice for a trickster role. But at the end of the day, this delivers.

Neubau, Johannes Maria Schmit, 2020

Queer life in the provinces, dreaming of Berlin. Nothing here that hasn't been done before, but I guess the decision to mostly concentrate on internal mechanisms like silent frustration and fantasy production instead of external pressure lends it some force.

A Story Written With Water, Yoshishide Yoshida, 1965

The inner abyss of desire in cinemascope. Images threatened by the lure of abstraction. The polarity of monochromatic film, when confronted with the blunt force of incest: faces drowning in black, the world vanishing into white. Feels often a bit forced, but in a way this fits, too: there's no physical or social cohesion anymore, no traditional reality effect, so of course you constantly see the seams.

Der Fluch, Ralph Huettner, 1988

One of those nice little genre exercises that show up in German cinema now and then, most of the time without leaving much of a trace behind. Here, too: Ralph Huettner transitioned to middle-of-the road comedy rather soon (of course, helping Helge Schneider with TEXAS probably is his most important contribution to film history by far), while main actor Dominic Raacke found a secure place in television later. I never cared much for him, but here he is truly phenomenal, a terrific family dad turned evil jock turned nervous wreck performance that can never quite be pinned down. A monster that doesn't know itself, a shapeshifter at the center of a film that often seems to be stuck in a loop, sometimes productively so, sometimes not.

Anyway, this made me miss the Alps. No SUKKUBUS, but then again, what is?

Violence at Noon, Nagisa Oshima, 1966

Two women and all that is between them. I don't think I've ever seen the irrational power of desire depicted in quite this way, as a material force destroying space-time, but still grounded in (or maybe rather intertwined with) a social reality that is conflicted enough in itself. The warmth of the school scenes is just as genuine as the cynicism of the election storyline, and therefore, desire can be both of these things, too: the one reason to keep you going and a cruel joke.

Classical Period, Ted Fendt, 2018

Worked beautiful this time around, too. It's just a very funny film, at times it feels like one of the great comedies of repression, but maybe this is a ruse. I keep asking myself while watching this: Is Cal comfortable in his own body? And I suspect most of the time he probably is, it's just that he doesn't want to admit it to himself, let alone to others. Sometimes he gives it away, though, especially in the first few moments after he's finished with one of his anectodes, those smirks which aren't allowed to bloom but take possession of his whole self nonetheless.

My favorite moment is, for the same reason, the "Dick Che(y)ney" line, folowed by a grin that acknowledges that stuff like this - meaning: not the big, profound insights buried somewhere in the Divine Comedy, but the surface flurry of amusing factoids surrounding it - is what he lives for. The scene in the end with Evelyn might be read as her calling him out for just that; but at the same time it's obvious that she mostly enjoys his company, too.

Europa und der zweite Apfel, Hans Neuenfels, 2988

Nothing is as depressing as the graveyard of forgotten avantgardes. Some of the longest 104 minutes of my life.

With Beauty and Sorrow, Masahiro Shinoda, 1965

Controlled transgressions often are the most effective ones, like all the small acts of emotional and sexual terrorism Keiko Sakami commits here, without ever losing composure.

An extremely beautiful film, but to watch all of those twisted Japanese mid sixties sexual psychodramas back to back is a bit much.

Verlierer, Bernd Schadewald, 1987

Some of the more "written" scenes don't work very well, and the approach to acting seems to be taken from Marx: from each according to his ability. Still, so much to love here, the rusty, dusty, brown-grey Ruhr setting, the raucous, clumsy metal and punk soundtrack (music as will, not as technique... that mosh pit scene!), and also some surprisingly poignant moments like that tracking shot through the Unemployment Agency that tells you, without a single word, everything you need to know about the prospects of these guys.

The best thing about it might be the lack of plot. In the beginning two gangs arrange a date for a fight, and in the end, they do, indeed, fight. In between it's mostly about guys moving around the city, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, sometimes with a goal, more often without. Here and there tensions flourish, but in the end this is about a mode of existence more than anything else.

Unlike in NACHT DER WÖLFE, the other, not quite as strong German take on WARRIORS, the girls are almost completely absent, which might be an unwelcome side-effect of the lack of plot; when they do appear every once in a while, they often trigger strange, almost phobic reactions. They point, through their mere presence, towards a lack the guys have no ability to acknowledge.

The Strangers Upstairs, Yoji Yamada, 1961

First Yamada film and already a joy, proudly traditionalist and yet in its own way just as sensitive to the breakdown of the patriarchic social structure as Oshima or Masumura.

A post-shomingeki miniature about a young couple renting out a room in their house. There are two subsequent tenants, and they are couples, too, resulting in a series of misunderstandings, which are funny enough in itself; but Yamada always manages to mirror them back onto the main couple and their insecurities about the kind of life they want or are about to live. Then, there's the older generation and the family of the husband's philandering boss, introducing not only additional opportunities for mirrorings, but also different, broader modes of comedy. All of this in under an hour.

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy, Yuen Woo Ping, 2018

Finally an Ip Man film that realizes that the true hero of the series isn't Donnie Yen, but Mu ren zhuang, the wooden dummy.

This often feels more like an older type of Hong Kong action melodrama that just happens to be set in the Ip Man universe, though. Meaning while the particular mixture of nostalgia, anti-colonialism and paternalism is once again very much present, everything moves a bit faster and with less ideological conviction this time.

Some of the best fight scenes of the series, especially the one up and down the neon signs. (This is something that makes _me_ nostalgic: people complaining about Wire fu).

Der verkaufte Großvater, Hans Albin, 1962

A typical example of what one might like call a Rumpelfilm: on the one hand the incompetence when it comes to the basics of filmmaking is truly staggering at times (sometimes you get the feeling that the whole world is crumbling down just outside of the screen), on the other hand, once Hans Moser and, to a lesser degree, Hubert von Meyerinck and Beppo Brehm have free reign, everything else is forgiven anyway. Moser, in one of his last films (not a coincidence probably that he spends large parts of the film in bed), singing, in his by now almost completely broken down voice, "Wenn der Herrgott nicht will" ("If god, our lord, does not want it") is one of the most touching things I've seen lately.

Some of the non-Moser songs are pretty strange, and there's an extremely weird Schwabing scene, a blooming pop art interlude completely detached from the rest of the film.

Voice Without a Shadow, Seijun Suzuki, 1958

The beginning with Yoko Minamida haunted by Jo Shishido's voice is great, but after he's dead this really doesn't go anywhere interesting.

Winners & Sinners, Sammo Hung, 1983

I'm in love with that beautiful car crash ballet scene. Generally very nice how explosive the action interludes are, often downright shattering the not always all that inspired comedy routines.

Day-Dream, Tetsuji Takechi, 1963

That the first high profile pink film turns out to be dentist-themed tells you all you need to know about this gloriously perverse genre.

Mio caro assassino, Tonino Valerii, 1972

Yes, of course, one of the great opening scenes, but otherwise this left me a bit bored. A dull inspector, an unnecessarily complicated storyline (feels like parts of the plot are only there to justify stuffing even more uninteresting minor characters in the final whodunit revelation scene) and Valerii seems to have forgotten he isn't on a western set when adjusting the color scheme.

Erzherzog Johanns große Liebe, Hans Schott-Schöbinger, 1950

Finally a Heimatfilm that really commits to its melodramatic underpinnings - and also knows that cinematic melodrama is first and foremost a question of style. In other words: finally a Heimatfilm that knows how to frame a shot.

A simple tale and not necessarily the most sparkling romantic couple to ever grace the screen, but all those low angles and claustrophobic deep focus compositions inserted into prime pastoral beauty, those dissolves into the nothingness of desire... I need more of this.

The Sunshine Girl, Yoji Yamada, 1963

Love in the industrial district. The sky is grey and still we keep on living and singing. The salaryman promises a secure future and cleaner air, but office politics are dirty and his grin not always trustworthy. The blue-collar guys hitting on you on the train to work, on the other hand, might not be all that scary after all. In fact, you also work the assembly line while waiting for marriage, and the film you're in knows very well about the photogenic qualities of blast furnaces.

Bingo Bongo, Pasquale Festa Campanile, 1982

Judging from this I doubt that there ever was a star as thoroughly in control of his audience as Celentano. Otherwise how to explain BINGO BONGO, a ridiculous premise transformed into an almost aggressively unformed film that unfolds as a pedestrian assemblage of ancient comedy routines (the mirror scene, the walking directly behind you scene etc), random Carole Bouquet eye-candy and bonkers animal welfare messaging (the scene with the animals flooding the university auditorium is a small masterpiece, admittedly). Every single scene is way too long and obviously filmed with the assumption in mind that the mere presence of Celentano will be enough justification for the dire proceedings. And in a way, it probably is, as he really doesn't give a damn about the shoddiness of the setup he's inserted in, always having a good time with whatever new bullshit comes along.

Still strange that the film doesn't even try to hide the fact that it mostly consists of pure filler material. There's a scene in which Celentano tries to enter the city from the sewers, but keeps reverting back underground after taking a peek at the world outside through several manhole covers. I haven't the faintest idea why this is supposed to be funny, and still the whole thing goes on for what feels like 15 minutes and leads into a musical number.

Sunset Motel, Eckhart Schmidt, 2003

Chronicle of a death foretold. Watch this, and never even think about watching a mumblecore film ever again.

Samurai Spy, Masahiro Shinoda, 1965

Navigating the history of violence, one intricate, confusing light-and-shadowscape at a time. Impressive and a bit exhausting, might need to check this out again some day.

Cosa avete fatto a Solange?, Massimo Dallamano, 1972

Not as unhinged as LA POLIZIA CHIEDE AIUTO, but in the end built on a similar sense of cultural paranoia: the deep dive into London's sexually permissive counterculture just can't be separated from the film's insistence on Cristina Galbo's virginity. Conflicted exploitation: When a lingering tracking shot through a girl's locker room ends with the close-up of the local pervert's eye behind a peephole in the wall, the voyeuristic impulse is just as forceful as its condemnation.

Still, the film isn't quite as sleazy as one might think. For all the lurid proceedings, the surface respectability of the procedural plot mostly stays intact. The murderer's extremely gruesome mode of operation for example remains a source of constant irritation, resulting, again and again, in an arrested gaze that cannot quite be retranslated into coherent action.

In the end I can't really say why the whole thing felt strangely comforting to me. Maybe it's just the cast: Fuchsberger has grown quite old and is surprisingly gentle, and teutonic ice queen Karin Baal melts away in the end, too. Testi, meanwhile, cultivates an almost touching air of whiny narcissism, like when the cops take his hair sample and he only worries about the fit of his haircut.

Bloodsport, Newt Arnold, 1988

Really funny that the Bloodsport Arena is supposed to be situated in the same narrow streets of Kowloon Walled City as the gangster hideout in LONG ARM OF THE LAW, given how completely different both films position themselves in Hong Kong. Aside from that fun enough, though I guess in the end I'll enjoy the various Pyun ripoffs of this much more than the real thing.

Ace Attorney, Takashi Miike, 2012

Either a bit too messy (in terms of style) or not quite chaotic enough (in terms of raw energy) to be prime Miike, but like others have mentioned, he manages quite well to convey the darker implications of Ace Attorney style criminal justice, while at the same time milking it for maximum fun. Favorite moment: When the unjust guilty verdict is prevented by the blue badger blocking the gavel with his hand. A furry intervention that is pure Miike, insisting on the unconditional moral dimension of his cinema.

Nude per l'assassino, Andrea Bianchi, 1975

Like BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, but tainted by the knowledge of the visual language of pornography that has since taken over the world. So it's no longer beauty we're selling but sex, resulting in a flattening and draining of the image, and also in a shift from fantasy production to pure power mechanics. Even the props have become tacky, like that stupid motorbike.

In its own harsh (that last "joke") and a bit mechanical way it is a beautiful film too, though, and quite accomplished technically, especially those long take murder scenes of naked bodies drifting through fearscapes.

Tenet, Christopher Nolan, 2020

Worst Nolan in quite a while, and I really think that without Covid this would've registered as a disappointment more broadly. If there's anything of interest here it's the idea that the fate of the whole world, if not the whole space/time-(dis)continuum hinges on desperate trophy wife Elizabeth Debicki, a fascinating creature, tall, slender and frail, getting her act together one last time; one last phony game of love, one last act of counterfeit desire...

This really is a quite powerful idea and when Nolan finally circles in on it (and on Debicki's almost translucid face) towards the end, one might almost be willing to forget that the bulk of the film is just one scene of loud and bland nothingness after the other. But are we really supposed to care about "Protagonist" (I like Washington's smooth arrogance well enough, he deserves better roles) making sure that Debicki picks up her son from private school, for all eternity, presumably? And why is Pattinson even in the film?

Also, the fact that parts of the stuff is played backwards doesn't turn Nolan into a good action director.

Crows Zero, Takashi Miike, 2007

No matter what, Miike always goes all in. No one makes one note films with that much conviction, which in this case means transforming a series of schoolyard brawls into larger than life blood and testosterone canvases modelled after classic samurai films. Those rich, dark, dense images unfortunately also make clear that his cinema really did lose some of its punch with the switch to digital.

The Ghost Goes West, Rene Clair, 1935

Friendly ghosts trying to steal immaterial kisses and a blood-trenched Scottish castle transplanted to papier-mache America. I love this so much.

Polzeiruf 110: Cassandras Warnung, Dominik Graf, 2011

Watching this means rooting for obsession: the only way forward is to return, time and time again, to the images and sounds already at your disposal. Repeat them, work your way through them, drown in them, intoxicate yourself with them. In the end you might even succeed.

Young Thugs: Innocent Blood, Takashi Miike, 1997

None of the over the top scenes from the title sequence return in the following film. The life of crime is a promise not kept. Being a thug means getting beaten up a lot, and nothing more. Loving a thug means sometimes being confronted with the stench of burned flesh and vomit at the same time. No chance for a quite dinner, but at least in this world girls can misbehave too, sometimes. Blood, piss, shit, sweat, drink till you throw up and maybe have a meal at your mother's place once in a while. A film of modest proportions, a life without a vantage point. Try to get away even for a moment and you might just get spectacularly killed.

Komm mit zur blauen Adria, Lothar Gündisch, 1966

A body painter painting himself, three guys sulking next to each other in bed, a man completely transformed by the loss of his mustache, an unruly wig, from mother to whore by way of strip-tease, telephones in primary colors, sunshade ornaments next to the swimming pool, Dietmar Schönherr alone on the beach, singing "Don Juan, it is over" ... much to love, here, and all done in pleasant, relaxed Music House style. Still feels a bit like a collection of leftovers, though. Except for "Don Juan", there's not a single memorable song and every time Gündisch tries to up the pace, his limitations as a director become painfully obvious.

Lo squartatore di New York, Lucio Fulci, 1982

Had heard so much about this I was first and foremost shocked how well-made it is. Might need to look out for a battered 35mm print to take in the whole experience some day.

Young Thugs: Nostalgia, Takashi Miike, 1998

The dense, compact, dark coming-of-age world from the first YOUNG THUGS blown up into a series of bouncy childhood vignettes, flooded in light, bathed in pop tunes, giddy and gruesome. Still, you know where all of this will lead to, so on the one hand, this is very much about childhood as a world of infinite possibilities, but on the other hand, all roads lead to violence nonetheless.

Supposedly Miike's favorite among his own films, and there's indeed enough odd detail to make it feel a very personal, almost private text. Stealing strawberries while cowering under a blanket, the flute that oozes liquid, the endless trip to the harbor, the chewing gum stuck around the mouth...

I'm not quite sure if this kind of carnevalesque, quotidian storytelling really is a good fit for Miike's cinema, though. Most of his films, even the quieter ones, are structured around the (pathologic) agency of their protagonists, or rather the film's overidentification with this pathologic agency (two kinds of craziness reinforcing each other). Here, on the other hand, Riichi is a mere vessel, a rather random point of culmination for a diverse array of memories, obsessions, anecdotes. So to lend the film some coherence, Miike sometimes falls back on not all that exciting arthouse / quality cinema techniques like the insertion of iconic tv footage or those allegorical dirt holes near Riichi's home.

Still, good that this exists, and at least the masturbation scene has to be one of the most inventive things Miike ever put on film.

Freaks - You're One of Us, Felix Binder, 2020

Something recent German films really excel in: Conveying, in mere seconds, that a relationship is hell on earth. Even or maybe especially when those relationships are supposed to be healthy and stable, "a source of strength". Still, the awkward working-class family scenes in the beginning (bozo husband sitting at the breakfast table in his rent-a-cop uniform) and also some of the stuff at the diner are the best part, here. For a while, the modest approach to worldbuilding almost pays off. Every single step away from the townhouse kitchen-sink setup is a major embarrassment, though.

Not much more to say: terrible in a bland way, no imagination whatsoever and basically every single actor (with the possible exception of Nina Kunzendorf) is miscast.