Tuesday, August 11, 2020

last week in letterboxd

The Fencing Master, Shunkai Mizuho, 1962

"Danpei and realism. He doesn't understand what realism is, but is trying to capture what it is..." "With all of his life."

A sword fighting film in which the only cause worth fighting for is the correct depiction of sword fighting. The question of "graphical realism" in swordplay performances leads to a breakdown of self, and then to a sentimental confessional scene, and then to a street brawl.

Either the most macmahonist film ever or the best film about macmahonism (I don't think it can be both at the same time, because macmahonism is built on the rejection of modernist reflexivity): Here's someone who's really willing to die for mise-en-scene.

Actress, Kon Ichikawa, 1987

On becoming Oharu. The whole second half is devoted to Tanaka's relationship with Mizoguchi. Before that, we get a panoramic and multi-faceted, if not terribly original introduction not only into Tanaka's life, but also into the state of Japanese filmmaking in the late 20s and early 30s (with a fair amount of Shimizu-bashing); but once she meets Mizo, basically everything else doesn't matter anymore. Even the war hardly gets a mention, let alone Tanaka's roles in propaganda films. The script is co-written by Shindo Kaneto, who pressed Tanaka pretty hard on the same topic in his Mizoguchi documentary. So I guess it's not quite clear whether we're dealing with Mizo's fixation on Tanaka or with Kaneto's fixation on Mizo and Tanaka.

All in all not a complete success but interesting enough. A lot of it is set in rather mundane interiors, unobtrusively evoking Nicely classic Shochiku family films without ever turning into full-blown pastiche. The ending is effective on its own terms, but to not even mention Tanaka's own directorial work (a quite important aspect of life after Oharu) is just rude.

Männer in den besten Jahren erzählen Sexgeschichte, Frits Fronz, 1968

The most tender and in a way also the most optimistic Fronz film I've seen so far. Maybe this is because of the rather strict gender separation. A group of men and a group of women in the countryside, but the two groups never meet and while the men can see the women, the women somehow (movie magic!) can't see the men.

The genders only come together in the men's sex stories, and even then they treat each other like members of a friendly, but strange and ultimately unknowable alien race. Like in SEXKARUSSELL, it's important that the stories contain punchlines (if they don't, the audience will revolt). One of those punchlines leads to a girl stepping in front of a car and dancing topless, slow and trance-like, in the headlights. A moment of pure poetic bliss that seems to come out of nowhere, completely detached from both the film and the world around me.

The Scent of Incense, Keisuke Kinoshita, 1964

Shows again why Kinoshita is so underrated: he might be the only one of the Japanese classic masters interested in form first and in humanism if at all second, and therefore his films sometimes feel crass and heavy-handed, but he also gets to ask questions neither Mizoguchi nor Naruse (two obvious comparisons here) would even consider.

This one is a magnificent, dark epic at the tail end of his best period, the sprawling scope offset by the intimate framings: At its core, it's just a long series of mother-daughter conversations. More precisely, it's about a mother unilaterally rescinding the social contract, leading to the question of what's worse: corruption of family or corruption by family? What if both might mean one and the same thing?

A Song to Remember, Charles Vidor, 1945

Still not a particularly well-rounded movie, but I still like it. The Marischka script continually negotiates between Hollywood prestige picture impulses and the more sentimental sensitivities of German-style musician films (like the Schubert series). Strangely enough, Paul Muni is the most teutonic element with his Weimar era mugging. Once George Sand shows up, everything changes. She's the bearer of light, mise en scene personified, she opens up the image but breaks down the movie. Basically nothing makes sense from this point on. Both Wilde and Marischka are completely helpless when confronted with ice-cold female rationality.

The Falcon in Danger, William Clemens, 1943

Rather wacky, convoluted entry, a fever-dreamish plot that might technically make sense but plays out like a series of non sequiturs. Every single scene with the fiance is irritating.

11 x 14, James Benning, 1977

Those two Dylan shots alone would bring me through some of my darker days.

Sandakan No. 8, Kei Kumai, 1974

Undeniably powerful stuff, though for me, only the scenes with Tanaka and Kurihara really worked. The flow of energy between the two women, a smile for food and shelter, memories answered by tears. The old woman (beating things into shape with her feet) and her shack invigorated, the young woman reduced to stasis and affect.

The flashback, by contrast, are crass and blunt, shot through with expressionistic furor, all men are pigs, the sailors are coming, marching in step into the brothel. Fair enough, given the subject, and still, those are automatic images, closed-off from the start, ready-made for the ever-growing, open-ended archive of 20th century cruelties.

Le Franc, Djibril Diop Mambety, 1994

The promise of happiness becoming a burden and turning you into a clown: just another day in capitalism.

Laissons Lucie faire, Emmanuel Mouret, 2000

Giggling in your sleep until you wake up. Drop the uniform and "enjoy life", but that might be just a code word.

Female systematics and male flights of fancy. When both come together, a "sensual affair" might easily turn into slapstick. After nine years, every relationship's formula of love probably needs some refreshing, though. If nothing else helps, maybe drinking ourselves into a stupor will.

Mouret's first long film, still a bit clumsy at times, not every idea works, but that only emphasizes his marvelous eye for acting and especially for the small stage plays people constantly invent and perform for each other.

Plus, casting Chaplin's granddaughter in your feature debut is, of course, a king move.

Lullaby of the Earth, Yasuzo Masumura, 1976


The world used to be the outside while she was secure in the dark, womb-like inside, something remote like a glimpse she caught once in a while through the hatch of Grandmother's shack. Now Grandmother is gone, the world comes rushing in and she cannot help but take everything personally. Every desire, every insult aims for her body and she reciprocates in full, lashing out against both herself and everyone around her. She has no access to the safeguarding and distancing mechanisms all the others around her use almost constantly. She's only happy while rowing, turning herself into a machine, but this won't make the people go away. There's no other solution but to face them, to expose herself and to beat, claw and fuck her way into nirvana.

That soundtrack!

Army, Keinosuke Kinoshita, 1944

That long, silent close-up of Tanaka's silent breakdown really is amazing: basically every single scene preceding it is built on the absolute primacy of sacrifice for the emperor, and then, without a single word of dialogue, just through the power of one single face, everything is turned around and we are left registering the cost of this very sacrifice.

Of course, this doesn't turn ARMY into a full-blown anti-war movie, but it still feels like a deliberate intervention - purely on the level of form (I don't know much about the mechanisms of censorship in fascist Japan; was it mostly script-based?). Not only Tanaka's expressivity, but also the shift of focus from a family tale centered around Chishū Ryū to the plight of an isolated, helpless woman, while all the men around her keep drifting away...

Four Riders, Chang Cheh, 1972

Prime 70s pulp nihilism. Starts with leaves rustling in the wind, ends in the eternal snow. In between, men affirm each other's right to cry, and also some people die. Chang Cheh going for slow-burn acid rock instead of high-octane thrash-metal. Compared with his period films, there's hardly any plot at all, just a bunch of men who used to have a proper outlet for violence and now they don't. Dispensable bodies, drifting. It takes a full hour until the Four Riders finally meet, and afterwards there's nothing left to do but to prepare and execute a showdown so great I just had to watch it twice.

Woman of Tokyo, Yasujiro Ozu, 1933


Sad little film centered around a tea kettle. Beautiful tracking shots and kind of mysterious ending.

ABBA: The Movie, Lasse Hallström, 1978

I don't think I care for a single ABBA song (and I like lots of sing-along pop), but I can easily forget that for 95 strange, naive and obscene minutes. I am the tiger!

Woods Are Wet, Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1973

Entering through dark corridors, guided by candlelight, hell is promised and hell is gained. Sex is flesh on flesh slavery and everyone is slave to the ritual. Impressive in its commitment to the source, in its clear-cut, unrelenting A-B structure, and also in its matter-of-fact depiction of the husband who in the end is just a random fool (it's about doing evil, not about being evil), though I'm not sure whether Kumashiro's aestheticism really fits this project.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Love Under the Cruzifix, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1962

Not Tanaka's best film (the period picture parts feel once again a bit forced), but her most thorough and most controlled treatise on love as a spiritual, de facto antisocial force. A film that believes in the absolute and places it in a woman's heart. Looks astonishing throughout, too.

The Falcon's Brother, Stanley Logan, 1942

In theory an interesting wartime mystery. The script has a few nice ideas (the best one: secret messages delivered by silly fashion magazine covers) and the anti-fascist rhetorics introduce an urgency strangely at odds with the well-worn plot mechanics. The direction is dull, though, and the "double falcon" concept is completely wasted.

Burden of Life, Heinosuke Gosho, 1935

About looking at oneself as if from the outside: you always come up short that way. A surprisingly complex film, because it's not just about "coming to terms with fatherhood", but about family dynamics: a single, unjust and a bit arbitrary impulse ripples through different subjectivities until no one feels at home anymore. The resolution in the end is too abrupt and too complete.

Always marvelous how rich the worlds of these films are, even with a running time of just over an hour. Kinuyo Tanaka especially is extremely charming as the modern girl with the painter husband. Those two easily could've had their own film.

The Week of, Robert Smigel, 2018

Cramming it all in. Neorealismo rosa all'americana and sometimes no style at all is the best style.

Buscemi and Happy Madison are a match made in heaven.

The King of Staten Island, Judd Apatow, 2020

"What's that, a 'life event'?"

The boring cool kids won't like it, but this is Apatow's best film since FUNNY PEOPLE. By now, he's so relaxed, he might just join Happy Madison soon.

The New Road: Akermi, Heinosuke Gosho, 1936

Marriage shenanigans featuring wayward painters, obstinate modern girls (Kinuyo Tanaka!), grumpy fathers, dull safe-choice suitors etc. Plots like this seem to have been a dime a dozen in 30s Japan, though this seems to be willing to test the limits when it comes to licentiousness. The production design also looks marvelous at times, but in the current transfer it's mostly wasted. Gosho's direction is once again sensitive, focussing on gestures and gazes.

The magnificent last five minutes mainly consist of Tanaka running, for life and love.

The New Road: Ryota, Heinosuke Gosho, 1936

Almost exclusively deals with the fallout from the first part: love is lost, but there's a baby on the way! Youthful exuberance replaced by quite and introspective domesticity. The scenes with Tanaka and Uehara are beautiful.

The Tree of Love, Hiromasa Nomura, 1938

Abridged rerelease of a multi-hour blockbuster, supposed to be a founding work in the genre of romantic extremism (=romantic love unbound by space, time and sanity). The surviving version doesn't really point towards an epic of the scale of Oba's KIMI NO NA WA, though, everything is rather small-scale and also a bit clumsy. Uehara especially is extremely wooden. The community of nurses Tanaka is a part of is the only interesting element here.

The Reluctant Dragon, Alfred L. Werker, 1941


Finding prime STUC-material in (ok, not really all that) unexpected places. Benchley wouldn't be out of place in a particularly stale german 70s sex farce.

Chikamatsu's Love in Osaka, Tomu Uchida, 1959

The red-light district is all movement, the fluid camera tracing flows of energy, a constant exchange between inside and outside, lack and fulfillment. Our hero Chunmei, though, is the only static part. Totally reluctant, he's being bullied into a brothel by his pal and then pressured into sex by a prostitute. Afterwards he cannot, like everyone around him, reenter normalcy. He has been activated, set on a track towards theatrical self destruction. No one can stop him now - not even, as it turns out, the author of the story. He, Chikamatsu, is cursed, too: All he can do is provide aesthtic relief.

Actress, Kon Ichikawa, 1987

On becoming Oharu. The whole second half is devoted to Tanaka's relationship with Mizoguchi. Before that, we get a panoramic and multi-faceted, if not terribly original introduction not only into Tanaka's life, but also into the state of Japanese filmmaking in the late 20s and early 30s (with a fair amount of Shimizu-bashing); but once she meets Mizo, basically everything else doesn't matter anymore. Even the war hardly gets a mention, let alone Tanaka's roles in propaganda films. The script is co-written by Shindo Kaneto, who pressed Tanaka pretty hard on the same topic in his Mizoguchi documentary. So I guess it's not quite clear whether we're dealing with Mizo's fixation on Tanaka or with Kaneto's fixation on Mizo and Tanaka.

All in all not a complete success but interesting enough. A lot of it is set in rather mundane interiors, unobtrusively evoking Nicely classic Shochiku family films without ever turning into full-blown pastiche. The ending is effective on its own terms, but to not even mention Tanaka's own directorial work (a quite important aspect of life after Oharu) is just rude.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians, diverse, 1961

Queen Cruella, making every frame she walks in her own, the most glamourous of all Disney villains dwarfing the plainest of all Disney heroes. Why smoke at all if you can't smoke like Cruella smokes, enchanting the world with green veneer. The puppies must live, of course, if only to stumble over the frozen stream in one of the most beautiful scenes of animation history, but let's be honest: if anyone deserves a coat like that it's Cruella de Vil.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

last week in letterboxd

The Shiinomi School, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1955

Cinema can, in fact, ease the pain.

Stranger By Night, Gregory Dark, 1994

Gregory Dark simulating a 80s/90s hollywood run-of-the-mill programmer on a budget and doing a pretty good job at it. Normally he isn't a very smooth storyteller, but here, everything flows along nicely, at least before the somewhat rushed third act. Funny that this could very well be another of his softcore efforts, all the setups are right there, it's just that everyone decides to keep the clothes on for a change (at least most of the time). Good eye for location and at times almost Argento'esque use of music.

Pokkuveyil, Govindan Aravindan, 1982

The hypnotic score keeps rippling through my mind like the waves over the surface of the sea. Landscape is in cahoots with music and I'm not sure they always mean well. Anyway, resistance is completely impossible. A song, or a basketball game, or a woman's sobbing might break the spell for a few precious minutes, but soon after, we are back with the slow descent into insanity. The political furor leads nowhere, the father dies, the girl vanishes, nature takes back the basketball court. If anything remains, after the music stops it may be a mother's face.

Little Fish, Strange Pond, Gregory Dark, 2009


Starts with two not exactly sympathetic guys drifting through LA, reminiscing about the changing mediascape of their days (oh, the golden, silver and bronze ages of porn!) while barely registering the social decay around them. Their banter is not half as witty as Dark unfortunately seems to thinks it is. With a better cast - Modine is adequate, but Bloom is a non-entity throughout - the hangout movie part might still somehow have worked out. The completely unsurprising "dark turn" later on is an utter trainwreck, though - nothing to safe here.

All in all it's a terrible film, but terrible in a rather unique way, and if this really turns out to be G.D.'s swan song, he leaves on an unpleasant, jarring note not completely unfitting his strange career: his first shot at something similar to auteur filmmaking, he completely blew it and well, goodbye.

A Visage to Remember, Heinosuke Gosho, 1948


Open windows, open hearts. A house on the cliff, not at all a secure hiding place, but a stage for a theater of desire, doubled in a theater of light, wind and water constantly illuminating the the walls and floors. Exposed not really to the elements but rather to the forces of cinema itself. The walls between exterior and interior keep crumbling down, with unruly, ecstatic superimposition almost like in a Ferrara film, the screen taken over, again and again, by waves and close-ups of faces lost in affect. A constant longing for the sea, a piano triggering memories and memories triggering piano music, a staircase of pure expressivity...

I always liked Gosho, but this is something else, a post-war sturm und drang eruption equal only to Kinoshita's ONNA, but at the same time all gentle and forgiving. Hearts are beating, clocks are ticking, feelings get crushed, this is the way of the world, and still, some of us might love again.

Sylvie, Klaus Lemke, 1973

Still Lemke's finest hour. The Youtube transfer makes Sylvie's eyes shoot out green rays and turns her into the alien queen she always deserved to be.

In Search of… the Perfect ‘10’, Gregory Dark, 1986

After two masterpieces back to back an almost welcome reminder that sometimes films are just the worst.

The Moon Has Risen, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1953

Kinuyo Tanaka filming an Ozu script, even borrowing Chishu Ryu and staying rather close to most of his formal and emotional parameters throughout. Still, it's her film through and through - somehow the familiar surface makes her slight, tender interventions register all the stronger, especially the focus on Mie Kitahara, her gestures, her unruly gaze. The shomingeki equilibrium slightly decentered by a young woman's subjectivity.

Also, like in LOVE LETTERS, there's again a beautiful scene set in a public park. The green space inside of the city strips away the outer barriers between us, thereby rendering visible the inner ones.

Night of the Living Babes, Gregory Dark, 1987

Not quite as depressing as PERFECT 10, thanks mainly to somewhat committed performances by Bauer and Louie Bonanno. The combination of Dark's anti-humor and vhs-flatness nevertheless makes me want to move to a galaxy I don't have to share with films like this.

Girl Crazy, William A. Seiter, 1932

Another unassuming, laid back Seiter comedy. More a constellation of gags than a fully formed feature, and (mostly) all the better for it, as the screen is constantly filled with characters called Jimmy, Patsy, Danny, Tessie, Molly and Mary and everyone's clearly heaving a good time. Highlights include a musical number (Berkeley, I guess) illuminated by swirling spotlights rapidly escalating into full-blown surrealism; Mitzi Green's needy imitation scene that seems to go on forever until she's fobbed of with a helpless "You're sweet"; a scene with Wheeler and Woolsey as mock indians that makes fun of Wheeler and Woolsey instead of indians; Lita Chevret's dress; and a wonderful Mack-Sennett-style finale involving hypnotism. The romance side plot is just as annoying and tacked-on as in some of the MGM Marx Brothers films, but here it takes up less of the running time. My first Wheeler and Woolsey and certainly not my last.

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig, 2017

Can't distance myself from this, just as the film can't, or won't differentiate between its confessional impulses and the pressures of narrative structure.

The Eternal Breasts, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1955


A life derailed, and thereby gradually becoming pure expression... a wonderful shapeshifter of a film, it takes only a single line in a newspaper article to turn a full-blown family melodrama into an intimate love story, that almost plays out like a particularly dark screwball comedy.

The Wandering Princess, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1960

It feels a bit strange that a film from 1960 about events which happened just 15-20 years earlier feels like a stuffy costume drama, but this might just be the price Tanaka had to pay in order to tackle a quite opelny revisionist project like this at all.

Starts promising, when the Manchurian prince Ryuko is supposed to marry turns out to be a sensitive, bespectacled dreamer instead of the rough barbarian her family expected. The scenes of the both of them making house in colonized China are quite nice. There's also a welcome touch of studio surrealism: Ryuko painting a picture of a particularly kitschy sunset - doubled in the background by the "original", an equally kitschy matte painting.

The rest (ie everything after "history happens") is well-meant and competent, but dull.

Lovers Are Wet, Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1973

Sex as a theater of love, hate and death.

A strip of celluloid film dragged over several meters of concrete: you might be able to superficially clean it, but something will stick.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Adorno: Kulturkritik der Gesellschaft, S. 72-96, "Veblens Angriff auf die Kultur"

Dass Veblen als Ökonom über das Feld des Kulturellen schreibt und zwar ohne dass er Kultur als ein eigenes, distinktes Feld markiert, irritiert Adorno. Anders als später Bourdieu fasst Veblen beide Sphären nicht zu einem Mischbegriff wie "kulturelles Kapital" zusammen. Er untersucht die ökonomischen Determinanten des Alltagslebens und sagt gleichzeitig: Es gibt noch andere Determinanten, zum Beispiel ästhetische, aber die interessieren mich nicht. Adorno kritisiert das, sicher zurecht, als ein "atheoretisches, pluralistisches Denkschema" (83), das sich den empirischen Kategorien des Wissenschaftsbetriebs andient, anstatt sich der wechselseitigen Durchdringung von Ökonomie und Ästhetik zu stellen.

Mir fällt an Veblens Buch zunächst ein Mißverhältnis im Begriff des Ökonomischen selbst auf. Veblen entfaltet sehr kleinteilig ein System von Inhibitoren, das die Anpassung der Gesellschaft an die ökonomischen Gegebenheiten verhindert, beziehungsweise verlangsamt. Von den antiquierten Geschlechterverhältnissen über den Sport bis hin zu den Haustieren scheint sich die Kultur der Moderne gegen den Fortschritt, der sie erst hervorgebracht hat, verschworen zu haben. Auf die Frage, wie eine solche Anpassung stattdessen zu leisten sei, fällt ihm hingegen lediglich der "ethos of workmanship" ein, eine explizit ahistorisch gedachte Gegenkraft, deren behauptete Erstheit in einem sonderbaren Mißverhältnis steht zu ihrer peripheren Stellung im Text. In der Tat ist Kultur in Veblens Modell die Negation der Ökonomie (das scheint der Kern von Adornos Kritik zu sein); das hat freilich zur Folge, dass das ganze Unternehmen auf eine negative Theorie der Ökonomie hinausläuft.

Dass Adorno diese Paradoxie (Veblen predigt Effizienz, verwendet jedoch seine gesamte rhetorische Energie, wie als Parodie auf seine eigenen Thesen, aufs Ineffiziente) nicht voll auffaltet, ist mir insbesondere in einer Passage bewusst geworden, in der er sich ausgerechnet über jene ziemlich wahnwitzige Passage in A Theory of the Leisure Class echauffiert (92f), die das Prinzip der "conspicuous consumption" ins Übersinnliche erweitert, indem den Engeln und Fabelwesen der religiösen Lehre ihre Prunk- und Verschwendungssucht vorgeworfen wird. Adorno scheint mir solche argumentative Volten etwas vorschnell unter den - freilich ihrerseits dialektisch gewendeten - Begriffen "spleen" (91) und "debunking" (92) zu subsumieren. Geht es in der Passage tatsächlich noch darum, religiöse Ideologie zu debunken? Es ließe sich ja auch fragen, ob sich so etwas wie ein im ökonomischen Sinne produktiver Engel überhaupt konzeptualisieren lässt. Mir scheint, dass sich Veblen gerade in solchen Passagen vom selbstgesetzten engen ökonomiekritischen Rahmen löst und fast schon zum strukturalistischen Ethnologen wird.

Freilich mag da auch nur meine eigene Vorliebe für den spleen mit mir durchgehen. Erst einmal bin ich eh begeistert von"Veblens Angriff auf die Kultur", einem der schönsten Texte in Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft. Adorno Lektüre ist angetrieben gleichzeitig von einem Widerstand gegen und einer Faszination für Veblens Text. Punkt für Punkt setzt er ihm seine eigenen Denkmuster entgegen, die ihrerseits wieder und wieder von Veblens Text irritiert werden. Sichtbar wird gleichzeitig etwas am Denken Veblens (eine untergründige, als Pragmatismus sich verkleidende Apokalyptik) und an dem Adornos (eine Spannung zwischen Pragmatismus und Apokalyptik, die nicht immer automatisch zugunsten Letzterer aufgelöst wird).

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Ein Grund dafür, dass ich mich etwas eingehender mit Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft beschäftigen möchte, ist mein seinerseits oft eher begriffsloses Ungenügen an einigen Kategorien, die den jüngeren Diskurs bestimmen. Dazu zählt auch der "Neoliberalismus", der, in seiner gebräuchlicheren, erweiterten Bedeutung ebenfalls als eine Bestimmung der Ökonomie auf dem Feld der Kultur beschrieben werden kann. Freilich nicht als eine negative, sondern als eine positive. Im Zeichen des Neoliberalismus ist die Anpassung immer schon gelungen, die Kultur inhibiert nicht, sondern wird zum Durchlauferhitzer der Verdinglichung. Soweit so adornitisch, nur dass "Neoliberalismus" die Tendenz hat, sich zu einem passe-partout-Begriff zu entgrenzen, der alle Phänomene mit Gleichheit schlägt, und der als sein Anderes nur noch abstrakte Utopien, oder, schlimmer und häufiger, begriffslose, regressive Sehnsüchte und damit letztlich Barbarei gelten lässt. In Veblens The Theory of the Leisure Class stößt Adorno dagegen auf ein Denken, für das "Bewußtseinsformen und die Anforderungen der konkreten Situation für ewig unversöhnbar" (93f) sind. Gegen die Evidenzen herrschender Ideologien nach Perspektiven zu suchen, aus denen es eine "Identität von Denken und Sein" (93) nicht gibt, im Falschen ebensowenig wie im Richtigen: Hier erst beginnt doch, denke ich mir, sicher naiv, Ideologiekritik.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Impuls

Die Anspannung und die unbedingte Aufmerksamkeit, die mich erfasst, wenn ich eine Stechmücke entdecke, mit den Augen und machmal dem ganzen Körper verfolge und zwischen meinen bloßen Händen zu zerquetschen versuche - woher kommen die? Ich habe das Gefühl, dass ich nie in meinen Leben konzentrierter, aber auch nie mehr einem nicht ganz in mit selbst wohnenden Impuls ausgeliefert bin als in diesen Momenten (denn es sind immer nur Momente, die Anspannung ist viel zu hoch, als dass ich sie lange aufrecht erhalten könnte).

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Sayon's Bell, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1943

Starts out as a silent ethnographic expose. Even later on, when the sound sets in, there's hardly any plot, mostly it's about taking account of an environment filled with songs, animals, children, a girl and a sea monster. A film firmly rooted in an animistic connection with the world, and also in a particularly vile propaganda effort - there are moments of supreme beauty here (that last shot!), but I just can't get over stuff like Taiwanese indigenous children pledging their life to the emperor.

Dead Man Walking, Gregory Dark, 1988

Gregory Dark trying to enter mainstream filmmaking with dull postapocalyptic low budget sci-fi that manages to waste both Hauer and James. Painfully slow and everything feels underdefined, just a vague outline instead of a fully formed movie. The satirical, ROBOCOP-like interludes keep hanging in the air and never move beyond the obvious "the world is a trash heap" axiom this is built on. A few effective close-ups, including a very uneasy bloody kiss that points towards Dark's real cinematic interests.

Children of the Beehive, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1947

Orphans and repatriated soldiers drifting through a Japan in ruins, two kinds of superfluous bodies who find themselves on the outside looking in wherever they go. It's not necessarily all dark, though, as it also can be viewed as a summoning of all the children (like the summoning of the carps in FOUR SEASONS OF CHILDREN), a constant re-population of the frame.

If I understand the subtitles correctly, Shimizu sets this up as a quasi-sequel to INTROSPECTION TOWER, which makes quite a bit of sense: The centralizing authority of the fascist ideology is gone, so the children spread out, to the sea, into the fields, and now it's cinema's job to provide the means for another, better form of community.

Secret Games 2: The Escort, Gregory Dark, 1993

Minimalist, borderline abstract, a series of fetishistically deformed sex acts at the tail end of a broken marriage. Love is finished or probably wasn't there from the start, and now most of the furniture is gone, too, as almost the entire film is set in a soon to be vacated mansion.

Even more sex-centered than usually and the sex itself is even more spooning-centered than usually. Simulated spooning in Dark films looks kind of strange, very artificial, with the act turning into a stage for the woman's self-expression. The focus is on her face and tits, while everything else kind of shrinks away. Though in this case there are also interesting close-ups of Hewitt's face while he fucks, his mask-like mimic shot through with visceral impulses that don't quite register emotionally anymore.

This doesn't mean that the film itself is cold, though, even if the not very good script introduces a misplaced dose of cynicism here and there. It might be even Dark's most psychological take on sex, at least when it comes to a male pov. Hewitt longs for feelings, but in the end he knows that he can just repurpose any wounds he sustains or inflicts as conceptual art.

Mr. Shosuke Ohara, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1948

The privileges of the past, handed down from the feudal era, have become a burden. Everything has changed but the booze, so all that's left to is liquifying the assets, one drink at a time.

A lyrical, episodic take on downward mobility, and once again, like with CHILDREN OF THE BEEHIVE, not an altogether dark film. There's something of the holy fool in Ohara, a gentle, relaxed disposition shining through even in his darkest moments, and when all is said and done he just may go on off roaming the countryside, together with the children and the donkey.

Object of Obsession, Gregory Dark, 1994

I fully realize that almost no one will like these films as much as I do, but I can't help it: This one is marvelous, too! A surprising change of pace, focused on terror and confinement, while the usual glossy softcore stuff is almost completely absent. Erika Anderson is an unusual protagonist, too, a very private presence, like Whirry often is in Dark's films, but unlike her she's not oozing repressed sex with every step she takes. She just could go on like that, having a career while delegating her fantasies to "dirty" video tapes (she watches SECRET GAMES 2). The film stays closely with her and her quietly repressed life for a surprisingly long time. When the sex starts, it's mostly missionary, all about control and counter-control.

A Lietzensee, Renate Sami, 2013

A small marvel, on panning shots and the persistence of the world.

American Graffiti, George Lucas, 1973

A few darker moments and the mostly very good cast can't hide it: In 1973, Lucas already is in the habit of making streamlined popcultural artifacts rather than movies. I guess I still could fall in love with the textures, didn't quite work the first time around, though.

Street Asylum, Gregory Dark, 1990

So much better than DEAD MAN WALKING, a bonkers gutter epic, filled with manic energy and powered by excellent performances. Hauser is great, but the real standout is Sy Richardson who delivers the completely unhinged giggling Forest Whitaker performance Whitaker himself never dared / was allowed to. At times Dark struggles to transform all of his unruly impulses into a coherent narrative, but this still is a fascinating minor addition to the VICE SQUAD / C.H.U.D. / STREET TRASH etc tradition of inner city exploitation mayhem.

A Mother's Love, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1950

A sad film about a mother and a son who always has to take a leak. A magnificent central performance by Nijiko Kiyokawa. She plays a former prostitute walking along street after street while life keeps drifting away from her. She tries to farm out her kids, and to do so, she stubbornly installs herself in the living rooms of one relative after another until her obstinate presence wears them down. Only the one with the weak bladder is hard to get rid of. A sympathetic but ultimately uninvolved painter (Shimizu portraying himself?) develops an obsession with her, but nothing comes of it. When the woman finally gives in and becomes the loving, sacrificing mother everybody except maybe the painter wants her to be, nothing is solved, and the film (quietly) knows it. The son, once again, urinates. The End.

Animal Instincts III, Gregory Dark, 1996

The last of Dark's series of erotic thrillers and it's rather obvious that he had lost interest in the form. It plays less like a coherent narrative than like a watered down version of his hardcore stuff: a series of bizarre, slightly kinky skits barely held together by two equally obnoxious voice-overs (one female, one male) and manic over-acting (except for G. Larry Butler, almost all men in this have just one single imdb credit). After the first ten minutes I thought I'd absolutely hate it, but Keith's enthusiastic performance kind of grew on me.

Tokyo Profile, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1953

Almost a shock to suddenly find Shimizu's cinema engaging with a modern setting not that far removed from today's inner city life. All the more admirable how he manages to treat the bustling streets of Ginza basically in the same way as he used to treat a remote mountain road.

The fluid tracking shots acknowledge the main difference, too: here, contingency and anonymity reign, life on the street is no longer representable as a parade of distinct, easily recognizable types, as a linearly unfolding theater of life. So the main function of the camera is to pick up on those small markers of continuity and familiarity that let individuals stand out from the crowd (in fact, this is the whole point of the plot, too), and Shimizu again and again manages to do this in an elegant, unobtrusive manner.

It's all about accumulation of detail and towards the end it almost feels like as if the threat of contingency has been stripped away and we are once again in the presence of a world that is totally intelligible. But just when we're about to arrive at that point, Shimizu pulls out the rug from under us and confronts us with a highly personal, private pain not at all compatible with the meandering gaze and the skipping gait we have been accustomed to.

Secret Games 3, Gregory Dark, 1994

Mostly a copy of the first one, everything looks a bit cheaper but not necessarily worse. Rochelle Swanson might be the bitchiest, most passiv-aggressive of all Dark heroines ("What has gotten into you lately?" - "Nothing, that's the problem"), and Woody Brown from ANIMAL INSTINCTS II is once again a very effective klemmi psychopath.

No matter what happens, it always helps to reflect on it in the bathtub afterwards.

The Tale of Jiro, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1955

A son and two mothers. Another heartbreaking Shimizu film that makes every gesture count (and is in desperate need of a better transfer).

Undercover, Gregory Dark, 1995

I finally made it through Gregory Dark's softcore films; I miss them already. This plays like an entry in his SECRET GAMES series, but it's somehow a bit more soapy and down to earth than most of his stuff. The relaxed feel probably has a lot to do with Athena Massey who is just wonderful, the girl next door who just got a boob job and now wants to show them off. Rena Riffel is in there, too, and she's also very good, already a bit Lynchian.

The workplace dynamics at the police station are extremely weird and creepy - the brothel seems like a pleasant hangout spot, by comparison.

Monday, July 13, 2020

last 2 weeks in letterboxd

The World of Geisha, Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1973

"Destination: Erotic Hell", although this is, all things considered, a rather gentle film about making one's life with one's body (training all the muscles). Extremely beautiful, too.

A Date with the Falcon, Irving Reis, 1942

Well-made, and that shot of Allen Jenkins tiptoeing is worth an extra half star.

The Falcon Takes Over, Irving Reis, 1942

Routine mystery with a Chandler mean streak. Sanders and Jenkins strictly do their thing, but stuff like the opening with Ward Bond's blank-faces menace, Anne Revere's world-weary cynicism or Helen Gilbert's blonde poison normally doesn't make the cut in these films.

The Masseurs and a Woman, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1938

So modest, so beautiful. Just a few people passing each other on the street, a few lives slightly disturbing each other in passing. Some of those people might follow up on some of those disturbances, but sooner or later everyone will hit the road again. Blindness might sharpen one's sense of morality, but it's also a good setup for jokes. A film that consist of nothing but small movements, and still arrives at one of the most heartbreaking moments of rainy loneliness I can think of.

One thing that really hits me in all those Shimizu films is the omnipresence of prostitution, not as full-blown melodrama like in Mizoguchi, but as a mostly implicit threat, like an invisible sword of fate hanging over the head of every single woman on screen.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, RWF, 1980

I'm not always completely on board with late (ca post 1975) Fassbinder, and now I know why that might be: He just poured everything there is into this one. And then he made the epilogue.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, Phil Jutzi, 1931

Lively enough on its own terms, but it's just not possible to not be disappointed by the streamlining not just of the prose, but also of the main storyline, especially given that the author of the novel was involved in the production. Most of all it feels completely impersonal, less like sanitized Döblin than like a depoliticized version of Weimar working class cinema.

Jutzi makes surprisingly little use of the fact that his film is still contemporary to the Berlin Döblin wrote about. Even some of the location footage has a cardboard feel.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, Burhan Qurbani, 2020

Still mostly easy on the eyes, though it really doesn't hold up well against Fassbinder. Of course: what would? But still, some of the more obvious changes work against the film, especially when it comes to the women. Without the surrogate pregnancy plot Eva's role is completely pointless (Schygulla's complex presence reduced to a generic good fairy), and while Qurbani at least tries to invest in Mieze, her scenes mostly fall flat. In the end this is all about Francis, Reinhold and Pumm and by now I think it would've worked much better as the lurid, paranoid underworld epic it lucky also sometimes is.

Berlin Alexanderplatz - Beobachtungen bei Dreharbeiten, Hans-Dieter Hartl, 1980

Fassbinder and the machine. At one point he catches a cold.

Love Letter, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1953

After an ill-fated reunion with his lost love, Masayuki Mori stands in the park looking towards Yoshiko Kuga vanishing in the background. Or rather: she keeps on vanishing, but refuses to go away completely, the slender, black figure insists on its own presence, won't let itself be swallowed up by the white light.

The Kinoshita script strikes a few notes similar to some of his postwar films: nation building, moral extremism, self-denial... Tanaka's direction is lively and inventive, especially in the scenes not directly concerned with Mori and Kuga. Sometimes I got the feeling she would've preferred to make a film about the love letters to America themselves.

Esthappan, Govindan Aravindan, 1980

He makes images of the community, and then the community, guided and supported by a Melies-like notion of cinema as vernacular magic, makes images of him.

Kummatty, Govindan Aravindan, 1979

A simple stop trick and you're no longer part of a tight-knit community, but a dog roaming the fields. Like in ESTHAPPAN, we´re almost magnetically drawn towards the unruly outsider figure. Cinema always already is both magical and revolutionary, insisting on the possibility of difference.

Ornamental Hairpin, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1941

Another Shimizu miracle. A heartbreaking melodrama about wasted lives folded into an anecdotal account of "my funniest holiday experiences": The petty grievances of the professor next door and the various attempts of everyone else to accomodate him. And then there was the soldier who stepped on a hairpin while bathing. Of course, for a Japanese soldier in 1941, learning to walk again could easily mean learning to walk towards death. Kinuyo Tanaka, on the other hand, stays behind, forever retracing the steps that didn't lead Chishu Ryu to her.

Who else could get that much out of a (perceived) five minute long scene of people crossing a bridge? Who else would even try a scene like that?

Family Diary, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1938

One of those often rather convoluted melodramas Shimizu seems to have directed throughout the 30s in between his more free-wheeling, playful films. This time, the plot is just a bit too preposterous, although there are some very good scenes (especially interactions of several women trying to sort out their feelings). Also, Shimizu never misses a chance for a beautiful lateral tracking shot.

Now You See Me, Louis Leterrier, 2014

Completely unimaginative, ugly, stupid... but at least it's unimaginative, ugly and stupid in a cheerful, open-hearted way, so much so that at times this almost feels like a look into the souls of Harrelson, Franco et al at their most vulnerable and naive. Eisenberg was never klemmier. That's just how he is.

On the other hand, just the thought of what something like this would've looked like if made in Hong Kong 20 years earlier...

Four Seasons of Children, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1939

Or: Children, Running. A collective mode of being in the world, inhabitating nature, making sense of the not always all that sensible affairs of the grown-ups.

Like in CHILDREN IN THE WIND, the adult storyline is in itself rather basic, and this time there's also too much of it, so that at some point, things start to feel a bit mechanical: yet another cruel twist of fate solely introduced to keep the children running back and forth for a few minutes more. Luckily, Shimizu keeps things tongue in cheek with a villain who, as another character points out at some point, really looks like a villain, because he is literally blinded by greed.

On the other hand, the somewhat repetitive structure is an asset, too, because this way we really get to now every bridge, every alleyway, every house entrance in the village, and when, towards the end, Kinta is carried home piggyback by Sampei and his peers, Shimizu can easily make every step count. That repeated close-up of Sampei's scrawny legs is as pure an affect image as anything.

Cesare Pavese. Turin – Santo Stefano Belbo, Renate Sami, 1985

The return to the countryside and its implications: melancholy, death, taking account of one's dreams and their unsatisfying fulfillment. But also: the acknowledgement of another life, of the fundamental unknowability of every single person we think we know, no matter how well.

Nobuko, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1940

Rather straightforward, especially after Nobuko moves out of the geisha house and loses her accent. Still, the shift towards Eiko is interesting, I don't think there are many films that handle a bully's fall from grace with that much compassion. Her utter helplessnes when she loses control over the image, the increasingly erratic escape attempts until she finally breaks down, trapped behind her bed's headboard.

Animal Instincts II, Gregory Dark, 1994

It makes a lot of sense that the plots of many of those early 90s erotic thrillers involve home security video systems: gadgets meant to protect the suburban home against attacks from the outside being repurposed for exploring and heightening the inner, private turmoil of its inhabitants.

This might be my favorite so far. A perfect cast, every sex scene an answer to to a precise emotional need (that isn't quite filled afterwards, so we have to move on to the next), and a clever script constantly both exploring and exploiting the connection between seclusion and exhibitionism. "I felt so filthy" - cut to shower scene.

Introspection Tower, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1941

Once again one should insist that a film that registers the emotional toll of education under a fascist regime (and heartbreakingly so) nevertheless can very well be a fascist film itself. When Tamiko desperately runs after her father, who drives away without even laying eyes on her, the whole point is that her pain will be for her own good in the end. Same with the ending: when the free-form structure - most of the preceding film is just a bunch of girls and boys roaming a hillside area, trying to escape authority - gives way to forced labor, a rhythmic synchronizing of bodily effort, the mourning over the lost freedom of unruly childhood doesn't undercut, but enforce the authoritarian framework: this will all have to be worth it.

Mirror Images II, Gregory Dark, 1993

Gregory Dark softcore cinema entering the epistemological quicksands here: If two identical twin sisters not only look but also fuck exactly the same, how could one possibly keep them apart? Can they themselves? Definitively one of the crazier ones. Special flavor: Luca Bercovici growling before sex.

Notes of an Itinerant Performer, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1941

How to enter the world. At the beginning she is lost in the woods, on the move, in the dark. Exposed to nature, just as she is, later on, exposed on the stage. Unprotected, just a random body in space.

Then she finds a shelter. Here, she's part of a sensible social system, but she's the spare part but, continually shut out and ignored. How it feels to be the superfluous element in every shot you're in, the eternal leftover: "Why are you still here?" Where to sit if you don't want to sit in the way?

In order to not wither away she has to assert herself, and she does, she's conquering the space by obstinately staying put, and at some point, she's always dead center, the vanishing point of every cartesian framing, again and again summoning the world of men in the hope of at least receiving some kind of response.

In the long run, this won't work either. She doesn't want to rule, but to belong. To achieve this, she has to run away, to expose herself again, for the last and final time.

A heartbreaking film, close to Mizoguchi's prewar work on the surface, but Shimizu's genius is not revolutionary, like Mizoguchi's, but essentially conservative: The world doesn't have to change for her tragedy to end, all that's needed are some minor adjustment. A special kind of hell: to suffer and not to wish for the world to be different.

Body of Influence, Gregory Dark, 1993


"Sex is a very dark force".

Shannon Whirry is pretty much unhinged here. And she has any right to be, because her character's sexuality "has been so much repressed, it acquired a personality of its own." In other words: Whirry gets to embody her own sex drive! A role she's obviously very much comfortable with.

Whirry and a few nice props aside the film isn't all that pleasant. The script is a mess, like a rushed mash-up of two completely different projects, with a serial killer plot unfolding completely offscreen and derailing the actually quite promising psychoanalyst gone wild premise ("This is called transference, it is a good thing. And this is called countertransference, it is also a good thing."). Also it's sleazy and rapey in ways these films normally aren't.

The Circus Tent, Govindan Aravindan, 1978

A monkey is made-up to look like a man, so that he can enter, temporarily, the human systems of meaning, while an old man paints his own face in order to become animal-like, pure attraction, something to look at. The circus tent is the place where animals and humans are no longer / not yet strictly different, and this is why the circus is always an anachronism, but a necessary one. THAMPU may very well be one of the best circus films ever though I'll have to see it in a better version someday to find out.

Night Rhythms, Gregory Dark, 1992

Glowing faces, a microphone, cigarette smoke and orgasms delivered by broadcasting: The first twenty minutes or so are pure gold, especially for those of us who consider THE FOG to be the best Carpenter film.

After the Night Whisperer loses his job because of horniness, this mostly consists of a series of busty strippers throwing themselves at and riding Martin Hewitt. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and the decidedly seedy setting is a nice change of pace from the middle-to-upper-class erotica of SECRET GAMES, MIRROR IMAGES et al.

One nice moment in this one: When Deborah Driggs, who starts out as Hewitt's buddy, decides that yes, she wants to sleep with him, too. It's not at all a seduction scene, but rather a conscious, solitary choice on her part, a sudden air of determination taking over her face and body.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Auf dem IKEA-Parkplatz

Beim Reingehen: Unter vielen Autos bilden sich kleine Pfützen. Kondenswasser aus der Klimaanlage zumeist, ich wünsche mir fast, es wäre Öl, würde besser passen zu diesem Ort. Beziehungsweise nein: Öl würde aus dem Ort hier einen anderen Ort machen, einen, der besser zu meiner Haltung zu ihm passen würde (IKEA-Parkplatzhässlichkeit ist die Hässlichkeit von Ölfilm auf regennasser Straße). Dieses schrille Tschirpen immer wieder, sind das Vögel? Oder Autos, die von einer Remotesteuerung in ihrem Schlüssel, der kein Schlüssel mehr ist, aktiviert werden? Am blauen, flachen Gebäude des Möbelhauses sind Lautstprecher angebracht, sie spielen Musik, irgendwelche. Sie könnten wenigstens, denke ich mir, stattdessen Vogelgezwischer, oder halt, weil, unter IKEA-Vorzeichen, alles automatisch Lärm ist, Vogellärm spielen.

Beim Rausgehen: Der Einkaufswagen auf einen anderen schieben, auf dass sie sich ineinander falten, ein kurzer Moment der mechanisch-erotischen Erfüllung. Klappt aber nicht. Die beiden Wagen knallen nur kurz gegeneinander, dann driften sie unentschlossen und geistlos auseinander.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Forget Love for Now, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1937

Eternal fog, eternal bullies. Suffering becoming form. I won´t forget that one long scene with mother and son silently coming to terms with their mutual knowledge of the hopelesness of their situation, the mutual dependency of their pain: she suffers for his sake, but this very suffering becomes the reason for his suffering.

Dampfnudelblues, Ed Herzog, 2013

Drifting through damaged provincial biographies with Ed Herzog, a German Jody Hill from Calw. The rhythm of smalltown life and hidden dreams of an outlaw Bavaria shining through. Everyone faces the camera, everyone is lonely and the school principal is the loneliest. An eye for architecture. Curious neighbors behind hedges. Two drunk soccer players crash a car. Who was the driver? Nobody! The upturned ping-pong table hiding a sex cellar.

Goku: Midnight Eye, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, 1989


Without the all-out sleaziness of of WICKED CITY, Kawachiri´s noir tropes feel a bit mechanical. Still knows how to push the buttons.

Winterkartoffelknödel, Ed Herzog, 2014

Getting wackier, especially the musical interludes. A borderline splatter comedy with a minimalist jazzy groove. Everyone wants to have Sexualverkehr once in a while, that´s where the trouble starts. Who is the Moonboots voyeur? A plot fueled by slips and misplaced desire moving towards the tourist imaginary of Teneriffa and an italo-western showdown. Simon Schwarz and Daniel Christensen stealing the show.

A Star Athlete, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1937

People are sometimes a bit too eager to defend films by name auteurs made during fascism against accusations of complicity with authoritarianism, often by playing off form against content, a differentiation that itself becomes increasingly irrelevant once the content of a pluralist society starts being streamlined into the form of centralized power. In 1937 Japan, this process probably wasn´t all that advanced, but still it probably makes sense to think of A STAR ATHLETE as both a propaganda piece, a first call for the mobilization of all the forces (men, women and children) and a particularly freewheeling Shimizu comedy.

Parts of it feel like a free-jazz improvisation on the techniques developed in MR. THANK YOU: Instead of a bus, there are soldiers marching, while the camera aligns itself with the road, constantly switching back and forth in 180° cuts. Pure cartesian energy, unhinged from what normally is thought to be its precondition: the security of a fixed perspective. The scene when first the soldiers, then the children, then the women, and finally (but only after the street is completely emtied out) the camera, too, break away from the straight line and start roaming the fields is incredibly powerful - but of course, it also is the one scene that most perfectly realizes the mobilization of all the forces, precisely as form.

Schweinskopf al dente, Ed Herzog, 2016

The first one that feels slightly stale. The case of the day never really matters in these films, but this time around the procedural parts wear a bit too thin, because the hunt for some random escaped lunatic just doesn´t lead to many interesting situations to play off from. Still, we can share a cigarette break with the sexy nurse and enjoy her unnerving, defiant stare, there´s a funny hardware store scene, Flötzinger has fun in Italy and if nothing helps, there´s always the healing geometry of boozing in the village pub.

Sins of the Night, Gregory Dark, 1993

Stands out from the others because of the male pov: a magnificently sleazy nick cassavetes slowly drowning in the quicksands of toxic femininity. The vhs sex is very tactile, bodies pushing down onto each other, Deobrah Shelton´s breasts squeezed against Cassavetes´s torso, hands grabbing flesh and leaving an impression behind.

The Golden Demon, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1937

That final travelling, leaving behind a maze of pettiness, self-hate masquerading as devotion (or is it the other way around) and emotional corruption together with "the stupidest of Japanese. No, of the entire world."

Griessnockerlaffäre, Ed Herzog, 2017

Lilith Stangenberg, effortless ruling over the film like a slightly bored queen, standing in the nursery of a failed life: Why does a man marry a prostitute? Later on, she wears a white angora sweater over leggings, but this time, Eberhofer sticks with Susi and her pink jeans. Accidents are on the rise, alcohol levels are, too. The past is creeping up on us, so we got to stick together. Cheek to cheek, head in the lap. An introspective, tender Eberhofer film, and one of the best.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, Burhan Qurbani, 2020

Quite good as a Berlin gutter epic about a few lost souls fucking each other up in often rather surprising ways. Everyone is way slippier than one might think. Not all that good but still somewhat interesting as a postmodern actualisation of a modernist novel (and Fassbinder´s krypto-classicist film version which I´m finally watching right now). Not good at all in its attempts to turn all of this into an inventory of contemporary sociopolitical discourse.

Still remains fascinating throughout as an aesthetic object, deranged and gleaming, soft power instead of hard knocks, looking best in night-time colors, and Albert Schuch is indeed fabulous. Also, no one else in Germany even tries something of this scope right now, that alone must be worth something.

Sauerkrautkoma, Ed Herzog, 2018

The Eberhofer series entering the flatulence joke phase. Franz and Rudi are slumming in Munich, while the rest of the crew heads for the Swinger-Oase. The case of the week is extremely stupid this time, and Herzog gets it out of the way rather quickly to make room for a non-wedding with cinephile overtones. Why bring back Nora von Waldstätten for _this_ role, though? Ferdinand Hofer, on the other hand, proves an asset.

Leberkäsjunkie, Ed Herzog, 2019

The best one yet. "Feelings are always shit." Franz is out of shape, sloppily working a case like a referee who never even leaves the sideline. It´s not just him, though: Everyone is hungry. The chocolate box is cleaned out in mere seconds. Letting yourself go, stuffing yourself, turning yourself inside out: The soul is glowing, the heart is tattooed onto the decollete. The star soccer player vanishes into smoke, Franz vanishes into a sea of spheres. Sometimes even the camera looses balance and Franz´s baroque bachelor recluse is flooded with painterly light. A welcome deformation: embracing the grotesque while keeping the threat of bourgeoise respectability in check.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Eternal Heart, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1929

Happiness is like another world. It takes only a small misunderstanding for it to be closed-off forever and later on, it cannot even be spoken of anymore. But it still lingers there, behind the images, and sometimes it almost becomes palpable, in a gaze hold too long, or an aborted gesture.

Vaters Garten - Die Liebe meiner Eltern, Peter Liechti, 2013

Hit me hard. So very Swiss, all that modest prosperity, the plain, bare flat, the garden bearing crops, not flowers. Patriarchy as an unequal prison: the jailor jails himself, too, though he at least has his garden to escape to. (I thought of UNA PRIMAVERA quite often; in the Swiss version, patriarchy is much less violent and probably not quite as miserable, but freedom is even further out of reach.)

The camera is always an intruder, the distance between parents and child, born from overfamiliarity, cannot be bridged, it only can be translated into different, more playful setups: by turning the parents into bunny dolls it might be easier to deal with their continued togetherness - their love, for better or worse. Liechti´s most effective idea might be the constant switching, sometimes mid sentence, between Swiss vernacular and standard German, between lived-in speech pointing towards biographical depth and language as an detached, analytical tool.

Seven Seas, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1931/32

Part 1: Convoluted, but when he stays on track, Shimizu finds some striking moments.

Part 2: That palm tree shadow shot is indeed marvellous and some of the domestic dynamics are quite interesting, but all those soapy digressions threw me off even worse than in the first one. More of Hiroko Kawasaki´s face and less of everything else, please!

To be sure, finding out that Momoyo is played by an eight year old Hideko Takamine was incredibly touching.

Sudden Death, Peter Hyams, 1995

Under the dome. The totality of action: all time is (play time is) action time, all space is action space. The bombs are right there, the bad guys too. Every kind of external motivation is dubious at best, there´s no melodrama, no pathos, not even that much body as spectacle, nothing but movement + environment + texture + one-liners.

Timecop, Peter Hyams, 1994

Runs along beautifully and there´s always exactly the right amount of Van Dammes on screen at any given moment, so in my book there are no logical mishaps here. The action is readable like the sole of Van Damme´s shoe and the locations are wonderful: The lost paradise of the present is a posh mall with a vintage feel, while the future scenes are almost exclusively set in gloomy militarist spaces. Once the Timecop has fixed time, though, it turns out that his clunky, toy-like car is the only marker of futureness and he has just miraculously grown into the bourgeois lifestyle he didn´t quite feel comfortable with in the beginning. His home turns out to always have been a castle.

Also, for mid 90s studio fare, this is surprisingly horny. Muscles and nipples. That time machine knew exactly what it was doing when it threw Gloria Reuben into a lake of all places.

The Boss´s Son at College, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1933

"We are punishing you in the name of friendship!"

Starts as a pleasant, freewheeling college comedy and ends with several characters getting violently beaten into shape. The change in tone is effective, because we experience everything alongside Fuji: At first, we just can´t help but root for his irreverence, his energy, his smile, so his fall from grace is ours, too. He had been a phony all along, leaving victims left and right, and his repentance will lead to even more misery.

To end the film with almost 10 minutes of very well filmed rugby feels almost unnecesarily cruel and sardonical: everything´s broken, so lets get out and beat them. But then after the match, in the shower, the tears start to flow.

Heatseeker, Albert Pyun, 1995

Once again I´m in love with Pyun´s artificial light. Here, once we step out of the location footage into pure Pyun land, everything is flat and toxic and soupy, just like the ever-bubbling score. A technocratic delirium. The fighters not only contain technology, they represent it, and because the technology is branded, the fighters also directly represent capital. Or maybe they even become capital - in Pyun´s minimalist mise en scene, the kickboxing tournaments isn´t a mere representation or an extension of capitalist competition, but the thing itself: abstract and mostly self-same market forces beating each other to pulp. It fits that most fight scenes have no dramatic tension whatsoever. Just one execution of dominance after the other.

Chance, the sole blue collar, non technology fighter might technically defeat the totalizing order of capital, but this is no more than an accident. The real danger is the pure sensual energy of Tina Cote, her kisses, her affection, her claim on the image.

A Different Image, Alile Sharon Larkin, 1982

Two wonderful main actors, present to us in unobtrusive closeness, a perceptive eye for environment, evoking a whole world with deceptively simple means. As fiction it feels heavy-handed (especially the scenes with the guy´s best friend), but maybe that´s the only way to make things stick on such a small scale.

Children in the Wind, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1937

The way we define ourselves through the reactions of our surroundings. The feeling of absolute loss once this no longer works. Suddenly the mob of boys providing feedback is gone, we´re alone, cut off from the world, alone high up there in the tree, out there in the current, at the mercy of the river monsters.

Mirror Images, Gregory Dark, 1992

Delia Sheppard in red looks old-hollywoodish, Delia Sheppard in blonde looks like something out of a 80s fantasy film. Steamy lingerie sex easily bridges the gap.

These Gregory Dark softcore films make much more sense when one thinks of them as sexual melodramas rather than as erotic thrillers. The suspense plots are mere afterthoughts, it´s all about the need for and danger of fantasies. Again and again, they start from a place not of erotic abundancy, but of of impotence and lack. This one takes some surprising, oneiric, almost de-Sade-like turns - it´s all about fighting a cardboard wizard and the idea that sex is a drug-fueled music box.

Delia Sheppard in her car, driving towards another life, her face reflected in the rear-view mirror, pitted against the colors of the night...

Namibia Crossing, Peter Liechti, 2004

What it means to feel uneasy. The awkwardness of the whole setup - a band made up of musicians from different backgrounds coming together in free-form musical interaction while being filmed by a director trying to account for his own fascination with the "primordial" - actually might be a good antidote to glib slogans like "intercultural exchange". At the very least, Liechti, like always, fully commits to his program and finds some strong images, especially while exploring the different environments defined by each performance.

However, in the end the main argument should be a musical one and I don´t think the film managed to make it.

Japanese Girls at the Harbor, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1933

The space between us and a million different ways not to bridge it.

Selbé et tant d'autres, Safi Faye, 1983

"It´s lucky that you let me work in your film." (Need to follow up on that someday...)

Mr. Thank You, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1936

The bus gives us a world, makes it visible, but it also intervenes in it. On the one hand, the gaze is completely egalitarian. Those wonderful approach / retreat 180° two-shots approach everyone with the same curiosity and tolerance, the same arigato. The farmer returning from the field, the mountain girls who listen and dance to a single record for months, the poetic drunk.

On the other hand, the bus is not just a neutral vessel. Not everyone can pay the fare, and like the street it travels on, it has a direction: from the country to the city. In the end, this is the tension that structures the film: Cyclical time (the crazy guy forever wandering the street looking for his lost love) vs irreversibility. "Most of the girls who cross the mountains never come back."

In the end it turns out that the true moral center of the film isn´t Mr. Thank You himself, who just wants to "make a living on the road" and doesn´t act up when he sees a silent tragedy unfolding in his rear-view mirror, but the loud-mouthed woman who spends most of the running time making fun of a fellow traveler´s moustache.

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

Early German sound cinema defending its prankish tenderness against the onslaught of Fröhlich-ness.

Secret Games, Gregory Dark, 1992

The very private leading lady, the vulgar best friend, the desire for another life, sex as image, the menace of abstract space... the formula is obvious, but Dark manages to give it a new turn in every film. This isn´t one of the better ones, the psychosexual stuff in the beginning doesn´t lead anywhere and the deep end in the end isn´t all that deep. What´s left is a dime-store Bunues doubling down on commodification and some interesting performances. Bill Drago casting is an almost Brechtian move.