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.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

last two weeks in letterboxd

September Song, Ulli Lommel, 2001

Some people spray swastikas on Matisse paintings, some hook up with hot Palestinians for antisemitic reasons, some hate blacks because they think their feet are dirty and some dress up as geishas at night. A document of benign, almost soothing post 9/11 confusion. Proof that you can be completely off your rockers when it comes to politics without turning into a conspiracy nut. (Which isn't to say that Lommel might not have gone down that particular road, too, at some point in his unfathomable life.)

Our Marriage, Masahiro Shinoda, 1962

Extremely beautiful, at times downright hypnotic romantic miniature, set mostly to variations of the melody of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore". The back and forth between two men and two women swings with the back and forth between atmospheric widescreen location shooting and slightly claustrophobic interiors. In the end it's not about a woman between two men, but about another woman trying to love by proxy.

Treasure Island, Guillaume Brac, 2018

Systems of control and how to temporarily escape them. Favorite shot: the giggling, positively ecstatic girl during the dodgeball game, unobtrusively isolated by Martin Rit's great camera. How it feels to be a target - but also the center of the world.

Everlasting Regret, Stanley Kwan, 2005

A portrait of a city in interiors. Bodies framed by mirrors, windows, furniture, decoration, bodies lost in their beauty, closed off, confined to claustrophobic games of desire and power while history happens offscreen, sometimes encroaching onto the soundtrack but never really registering as affect. The cultural revolution isn't much more than a rather abrupt change of scenery and one laconic intertitle later everyone has returned to the city, the world definitively has become tackier, but the paddings of the prison haven't vanished completely. The game goes on, and it still might be worth it for a few precious moments of tender intimacy, like a long wet kiss or when your lover notices a hair on your skin. You'll never see death coming anyway.

---

Quite different from the novel. In the book, time is relentless, a destroyer of people, youth, dreams, with almost everyone wasting away or vanishing. In the film it's much more about arrested development, the inability to break away, to enter time, to realize that at some point the youthful glow of Sammi Cheng's face has turned into an illusion. A very cinematic one, to be sure.

A Flame At the Pier, Masahiro Shinoda, 1962

Takashi Fujiki's unruly counterrevolutionary body - acting out very different impulses while always also being style-conscious - is fascinating enough, but besides that and a few effective musical choices I didn't find much here. Compared to the less jarring, but more playful and also much more genre adjacent 1960/61 Shinoda films this is much closer to the dominant ideas and rhetorics of Japanese New Wave cinema, especially early Oshima. Here, all that angry polit-posturing feels rather forced, though, and the Terayama script is extremely heavy-handed, at times bordering on self-parody.

Killing Blue, Peter Patzak, 1988

Another neon-lit big city Patzak noir, one year after DER JOKER, only this time it's Berlin instead of Hamburg, Armin Mueller-Stahl instead of Peter Maffay and mostly terrible instead of extremely awesome. A 35mm print might change my mind, who knows, this is literally bathed in artificial light and an operatic synth score, so by all means I should be in heaven ... but unfortunately Mueller-Stahl seems to bring out the worst in Patzak: his proclivity for sub-sub-sub-sub-ZAZ genre spoofs. Unlike Maffay, Mueller-Stahl is a "good actor", so he can't be bothered with playing it straight and has to winkingly acknowledge the ridiculousness of the going-ons almost constantly, thereby spoiling all the real fun (that he, like everyone else, talks english instead of german in the ov is another bummer; the dialogue has no flair at all, so I guess, if you really need to see this, better look out for a dubbed version). See also the later Kottan episodes, and, for a rather extreme example, the special corner of hell that is TIGER - FRÜHLING IN WIEN: Whenever Patzak threatens with self-reflexive wittiness, you better take cover, and fast!

Bitter End of a Sweet Night, Yoshishige Yoshida, 1961

Not quite sure why this didn't work for me. Looks great throughout, Tsugawa the smooth operator is a fascinating lead and Teruyo Yamagami's rough, refreshing presence (in what seems to be her only film appearance) adds an extra spark ... that somehow still isn't enough to overcome the mechanical, calculating feel of the whole thing. Maybe I just miss the sprawling, anarchic side of the Nikkatsu films. This is still commercially minded studio filmmaking, but nevertheless every move has to be accounted for in terms of the grand design. The scenes of Tsugawa speeding round and round on an empty racetrack for example: the first time around it's stylish and distinctive, but when he returns again and again it turns into the kind of allegorical bullshit that made me (mostly) give up on festival cinema.

Mr. Wong in Chinatown, William Nigh, 1939

The script is weak but there's a low-key edge of weirdness running through it that makes up for it. Third William Nigh film I've seen (all starring Karloff), he seems to have been one of the more inspired poverty row go to guys.

Torchy Blane in Chinatown, William Beaudine, 1939

Not enough Torchy this time around. A nice one nevertheless. The plot sidesteps the usual entanglements for an absurdist miniature that cancels itself out in the end (in theory, the ending should also cancel out the casual racism, but I guess that's not quite how these things work) and while Beaudine usually gets a bad rep, here his perfunctory mise en scene works perfectly well. He manages to wrap things up in under an hour, and there's still enough time for not one, but two scenes of Tom Kennedy making up quite beautiful poems on the spot!

Night and Fog in Japan, Nagisa Oshima, 1960

Not at all strange that Oshima left Shochiku after this - but really, really strange that a film like this was produced at all, left alone at the most conservative japanese studio, as in 1960 Godard still made nerdy b movies and radical leftist filmmaking was largely confined to peripheral figures like Rene Vaultier.

As a self-portrait of the radical left this is, of course, extremely dark, at times already foreshadowing Wakamatsu's UNITED RED ARMY. Basically you have to choose between paranoid authoritarianism and authoritarian paranoia: You either subscribe to a party-line reducing all complexities to anti-imperialist sound bites ... or you go down the road of "relentless self-criticism" to the bitter end, always guided by a few select macho assholes (and I suppose Oshima more or less realizes he's one of those himself). I.e. you either fight a fight not worth winning or one that is lost from the start.

One thing worth noting is that this is also an aesthetic choice. In the end, what Oshima really fights off here is the specter of socialist realism, all that wholesome singing, an orderly, ritualistic mise en scene modeled after classic japanese cinema, the affirmation of the good, productive, fertile life waiting for us somewhere beyond the present misery. His own counter-strategies might be a bit too overtly Brechtian at times to arrive at places that are not already mapped out at the start, but I guess as long as people still watch Ken Loach films, this one is a fight worth fighing.

Wolf Warrior, Wu Jing, 2015

Has a pretty good forest action dynamic going for a while, completely over the top but still enough structure, with the combat constantly emerging from and vanishing back into the trees, with the lines of sight slowly getting clearer because in the end this of course has to boil down to a Wu Jing vs Adkins hand to hand fight. Unfortunately, as straightforward as this is, there's still way too much exposition and all of it is extremely ugly, even when completely discarding politics. All those ADHD military montages, the not only mind-numbingly dumb but also dramaturgically inept cutaways to the control room, the inability to derive even the cheapest form of pathos from the male bonding scenes ... I don't know, go watch a few of your own Hong Kong films, Wu Jing!

The Catch, Nagisa Oshima, 1961

I guess in the end this is less about the somewhat one-note allegory itself, and more about letting it unfold in meandering, multi-layered long shots rather than in a series of clear-cut punches, resulting in inextricable entanglements that defy both moral judgement and idealistic political rhetorics (no matter if liberal or socialist).

King of Chinatown, Nick Grinde, 1939

A fascinating cast and an ambitious premise, but the scale is so small that the result feels more like a first sketch than the real thing. Unlike in DAUGHTER OF SHANGHAI, where almost every single event is triggered by her actions, Ana May Wong despite playing a doctor stays strangely passive throughout. The only thing she does accomplish turns out to have been completely in vain in the end. Most of the other characters aren't all that active either, though, it's more like at the start they are inserted into an already tight narrative structure, then everyone wiggles around a bit, a few things fall into place and well, that's the movie, the end.

Unlike most of the other Chinatown themed b films I'm watching right now this one at least tries a little bit to evoke a sense of place (although I don't think they make clear which city this is supposed to be set in).

Sexy Girls of Denmark, Lu Chi, 1973

Early shot at sex comedy from Shaw sexploitation specialist Lu Chi who later made the pretty out there THE STUD AND THE NYMPHO. This is tame by comparison, although his in your face approach to human emotions is already there. Lu Chi films are less about the erotic spectacle itself and more about what it does to the "receiving" subject and his surroundings. In this case we get lots of terrified reaction shots from Hongkong men (and sometimes women) confronted with big, liberated Scandinavian breasts. The shock seems to be so thorough that even the camera seldom holds on to a view of the scandalous objects for longer than a fleeting glance. Instead, every time Birte Tove or Ulla Jessen open their blouses, we are treated with an onslaught of violent zooms, flash frames, blunt allegorical cutaways (like to a girl greedily looking at and then biting into a sausage; that seems to be the kind of shot Lu Chi lives for), bumbling slapstick routines etc.

At some point the film gets so nervous about all that Danish flesh that it vanishes completely from sight, being replaced by a very chaste all Chinese romance and even a few overeager fight scenes.

The whole thing doesn't make a bit of sense (the film seems to forget its own explanation for the trip to Denmark as soon as Ulla Jessen puts out the first time), but scene by scene the manic, bonkers energy is often pretty beguiling. Last but not least, while in many respects this is the Hong Kong equivalent to all those shoddy European and American sexploitation films of the time (or rather, of a few years earlier), in terms of framing, lighting etc it has all the polish one expects from a Shaw film, which makes for a decidedly strange mixture.

The Christian Revolt, Nagisa Oshima, 1962


How to fight a losing battle. Really surprising that this isn't better known. To me it's much more engaging than THE CATCH and I guess most early Oshima. In a way it's a period version of NIGHT AND FOG IN JAPAN, another taking of accounts of the political despair after the lost ANPO fight, including reflections not only on the question of violence, but also on gender relations, the role of artists etc - but filtered through straightforward, technically extremely accomplished genre trappings and bathed in gloomy nightmare lighting schemes.

A series of intricate long takes often filled with dozens of extras enacting the chaotic but relentless mechanisms of history, punctuated by close-ups of isolated, glowing, vulnerable faces. I can only imagine how hard this would hit from a print.

Shadows Over Chinatown, Terry O. Morse, 1946

Pretty terrible, but in a fascinating way. The "public service" beginning already makes it clear that this isn't really a classic mystery any more, or rather: that it is no longer comfortable with being one. By now, after the war, Charlie Chan needs the veneer of social relevance in order to justify his continued existence as a silly fantasy crime fighter, and while the mockumentary rhetoric quickly vanishes into the background, the ensuing mystery never really picks up speed, relies on one stupid coincidence after the other and is constantly sidestepped by the vicious caricature of Mantan Moreland's antics.

What makes this especially insidious is that Moreland at the same time clearly is the best part of the film: he's not only by far the most energetic and versatile actor here, he also has the funniest lines and as childish as most of the jokes are, they could be pretty effective - if not for the implicit racist punchline constantly lurking in the foreground.

Uli der Knecht, Franz Schnyder, 1954

My first Schnyder film, and I guess I mostly like the mixture of elegant, classicist mise en scene and broad popular theater style acting, especially when it comes to the energetic bitch fight scenes the film obviously enjoys staging. It's very much a paternalistic vision, to be sure: the young act out here and there, but in the end it's always the gnarly patriarchs and their big-bosomed homely wives who lay down the law. Some may escape, but the film works overtime in making clear that such escapes (especially to the city) ain't worth it.

Still, I was surprised how different this is from the German rural melodramas (Heimatfilme) of the time, despite similar themes, similar techniques (there are even some quite beautiful musical interludes) and a similar conservative outlook. What's completely missing here is the sentimental side of Heimatfilm. There's no glossing over the hardships, especially the emotional ones, of rural life. The countryside isn't a space of idealized firstness, but always already invaded by social constrictions and a web of hierarchical gazes. This becomes most obvious in the crammed, claustrophobic interior scenes often emphasizing a malicious verticality, the inability of just about everyone to meet one another head on.

Drifting Detective: Tragedy in the Red Valley, Kinji Fukasaku, 1961

Sonny Chiba in his first starring role, literally splashing onto the screen, constantly rushing towards the camera, the joy of youthful violence, one energetic release after the other, culminating in him just blowing everything up in the end.

I just love how rich Japanese sixties pop cinema is. This has a completely different feel from the superficially similar Nikkatsu films of the time, much more cartoonish and slapdash, set in a much less stable world, switching back and forth, often from one shot to the next, between straightforward western imagery, supremely silly genre parody antics and a random, decidedly non-western crime plot. I guess the full-on western stuff works best, while the parody scenes often fall completely flat, but the mixture has its own charm.

Chinatown at Midnight, Seymour Friedman, 1949

Another documentary style postwar noir, this time on a rather small scale. Quite interesting as a comparatively thoughtful look at SF chinatown (there's even a scene detailing a chinese-american telephone exchange), but mostly devoid of any kind of thrills. To be sure, a decent transfer might help considerably.

Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda, 2018

That snow to baby transition in the beginning still is as close to perfection as any film scene in recent memory. Everything afterwards is much more straightforward than I remembered. The first time around the last episode starting with the train station was kind of overwhelming, threatening to derail the whole thing, but this time it felt like a natural conclusion: The world comes rushing in anyway, and sooner or later you just have to face it.Man with a Funky Hat: The 20,000,000 Yen Arm, Kinji Fukasaku, 1961
Sonny Chiba indeed wears a funky hat in this one, and there's always a lot going on, but everything feels so random I was a bit at a loss this time as to why I should even try to care. Maybe this just met me under the wrong circumstances.

Chinatown After Dark, Stuart Paton, 1931

More chinatown antics, this time with lots of yellowface and a few hints at pre-code depravity. Cheaply made and overall pretty dull.

Sesso nero, Joe D'Amato, 1980

Not much love on letterboxd for the darkest of all possible versions of I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. Here it's more like "I fucked a Zombie and then cut off my dick" - what makes it so overwhelmingly terrifying isn't the plot itself, though, but rather all that coldness and despair pitted against a vision of island paradise. So strange that this was the beginning of Italian hardcore - would be much more fitting as the end (of everything).

The Postman Fights Back, Ronny Yu, 1982

While both Chow Yun Fat and Cherie Chung are underused, aside from that this is pretty amazing. Very different from most 70s wuxia thanks to the Korean locations that establish a completely different relationship of natural surroundings and character. The landscape never vanishes as it does in most older, studio-bound productions, it's always there as an additional framing device. In effect, this often feels more like an adventure film than a wuxia, with the generous addition of not only inventive Yuen Woo Ping style fight scenes, but also a number of cleverly employed horror, exploitation and spaghetti western tropes. That awesome minigun scene would've made Corbucci proud.

18 Roughs, Yoshishige Yoshida, 1963

Again a bit at a loss as to what to make of it. Obviously extremely accomplished, especially when it comes to pitting the fluid long shot location work against the occasional claustrophobic affect image. Still everything feels rather uninvolved, there never is any kind of real investment in those wayward youth, and while the rape scene clearly isn't the most offensive of its kind in Japanese cinema, it's a bit disappointing that this is, once again, what it all comes down to in the end.

Anyway, Yoshida has long been a blind spot of mine and I guess I really should soon proceed to his more famous post Shochiku work.

Chinatown Nights, William A. Wellman, 1929

A sleazy early big city melodrama that, like most of the best of its kind, constantly tries to have the cake and eat it too. So while the film pokes fun on lurid slumming tours "discovering" Chinatown and white upperclass women longing to go native, Wellman's own vision of the "Tong Wars" devastating an immigrant community isn't one bit less outrageous. As repugnant as its politics often are (like when the threat of mass deportation is being reduced, and not just once, to a mere pawn in the game of love between Beery and Vidor) and despite a not all that well cast female lead, CHINATOWN NIGHTS still deserves a place in the American gangster film cycle thanks to its rather unique mixture of bustling gangland spectacle and claustrophobic crypto-erotic kammerspiel.

Mapping of a city, mapping of a woman: "Head Uptown, body Barbary Coast."

A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper, 2018

Had already forgotten just how glittery this is (even the washed out / bathed in white imagery of the second half is sprinkled with moments of pure color ecstasy), how beautiful Gaga is in this, and also about those wonderful Elliot / Cooper scenes. What I like especially is the fragility of the whole thing. On a scene by scene basis it's very well made but the transitions are almost always shaky and I can totally see Cooper directing pretty terrible films in the future, if he draws the wrong conclusions from his first one and shoots for strained introspection instead of pop melodrama next.

In the end it probably all hinges on "Shallow" being the great song that it is. If it wasn't, the whole thing might've faltered and I just love the film all the more for this gamble.

Pure Emotions of the Sea, Seijun Suzuki, 1956

Seaside nonsense comedy that probably wouldn't go down all that well with the animal protection crowd. At some point they're celebrating the "largest hauling of whales ever". There's also a guy who hides from his three girlfriends in a pile of lifebelts. With a 48 minutes running time it doesn't get a chance to overstay its welcome (which could've happened easily, to be sure), and Suzuki is obviously well-suited for material like this. Ditch the structure and go all in on the singularities.

America: Land of the Freeks, Ulli Lommel, 2018

Ethnographic filmmaking. In its better moments a better BORAT and the transgender storyline is actually quite touching. Still, 77 minutes of this is a bit much. Not because of the "craziness", but rather because this time, the craziness comes with rather conventional mockumentary trappings. This is actually one of Lommel's least out there films, and I suspect it might've been a bit more interesting if the man himself would've had the chance to finish it.

I could've lived with that one stupid Israel scene (Lommel's politics never really move beyond leftish-populist platitudes, so antizionism unfortunately comes with the territory), but to repeat it over the end credits is rather dubious.

Pale Flower, Masahiro Shinoda, 1964

Young, ambitious upstarts are trying to make their way to the top, eager to prove themselves, always keen on the latest gossip, while the older higher-ups have settled into a bourgeoise family lifestyle, making money and fathering children. Muraki though is neither young nor old. He's also not middle-aged, he lives outside time, in a world of primal sensation, of longing and violence. For him, the mob isn't a career but a state of mind, a chance to escape society's grip. He falls in love, because he recognizes himself in the woman. Or maybe he just thinks he does. In the end their pathologies aren't the same after all. While he is outside of time, she is anti time, rushing towards death instead of towards nothingness. But for a while, everything feels alright. Two faces, laughing and driving into the night.

twitter.com/dirtylaundri/status/1322964652142321665

Chinatown Capers, Wei Lo, 1974

Mostly just Polly Shangguan and Sam Hui strolling around San Francisco. Technically they do have a mission, but no one is in any hurry getting anything done. Just a pleasant array of stupid jokes, lively songs, and the occasional fight scene (most of them rather bland, only once, in a row in front of a christmas tree, the film suddenly finds all the right angles). Towards the end, things get weirder. Recovering Marihuana addict Sylvia Chang shows up (wearing a super stylish blue knitted hat), blackface is applied and a Richard Nixon cutout makes an appearance. Still, the hangout film vibe never really vanishes.

Polly dominates almost every single scene. She's lively enough throughout and Sam seems to be perfectly comfortable with playing second banana, tagging along while perfecting his juvenile lanky gait. Involving him more in the proceedings might've helped making this a bit more memorable, though.

Three Outlaw Samurai, Hideo Gosha, 1964

Absolutely marvelous, the clarity and expressivity of Kurosawa's samurai films (especially when it comes to character work), but coupled with a faster pace and aiming for another kind of darkness, less tortured, more analytical. The morals of decorum have broken down, but the system they used to protect still works, more gruesome than ever. In the presence of naked power, everyone is an outlaw, one way or another.

Another thing that aligns this with Kurosawa is a supreme sense of visual dramaturgy. Basically this enfolds as a constant back and forth between the same handful of characters, with some additional cannon fodder thrown in now and then, but Gosha manages to give every single scene a unique feel.

Secrets of Chinatown, Fred C. Newmeyer, 1935

While the American Chinatown-themed b movies of the 30s and 40s mostly are standard mysteries with a bit of exoticist decoration thrown in, in this Canadian production the racist imaginary is out in full force. Not only the plot about Chinese devil worshippers threatening white female flesh, but also an almost constant texture of paranoia: strange "orientals" shooting hidden gazes at each other, whispering in their foreign tongues. It's all completely over the top and sometimes maybe even a bit tongue in cheek (the kind of tongue in cheek that reinforces, rather than weakens stereotypes), but not necessarily badly made. Silent comedy veteran Fred C. Newmeyer knows hot to keep things moving, and some of his phantasmagoric imagery is quite effective.

Pleasures of the Flesh, Nagisa Oshima, 1965

Desire as an unhappiness machine. Love is what you buy with money embezzled from the embezzler who is also your blackmailer. In order to spite the woman you killed for. The deck is hopelessly stacked against you, but it is stacked against everyone else, too. Anyway, the longing just doesn't go away, and the textures of romance are right there, seemingly within reach, sometimes directly projected onto your (or her) face, it's just that in the end you don't consume them, they consume you.

White Slaves of Chinatown, Joseph P. Mawra, 1964

A gutter study in photogénie. Such a bizarre fetish object.

Egon Schiele: Exzesse, Herbert Vesely, 1980

A film that never trusts its better instincts. There are moments of pure aestheticist flights of fancy here, a woman's face rhythmically swallowed up by shadows and released again into the light, Malick style farmland glossiness, a naked female form pitted against painted glass. Vesely is also more interested in the women around Schiele than in Schiele himself, and this could've saved the film, especially when it comes to Birkin's Wally, a fascinating, obstinate presence. The film should've ended with her demise (and the outbreak of the war). Of course it isn't allowed to, because then all of that stupid genius artist vs the philistines crap the majority of the scenes consist of would've been wasted.

We get it: art is art, as long as it is "deeply felt". Sex is art, too, as long as it is dark and painful, and, if possible, a bit edgy. Vesely probably wants to be a turn of the century bohemian himself, living it up consumed by all of those dark and sexy feelings. Nothing wrong with that, but unlike someone like Thiele, in the end he's hopelessly stuck in the present: Instead of transforming his obsessions into a unified vision, he just uses them to dress up a rote biopic.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Kryptogefühl

Es gibt zwei Arten von Düsen im Pool, eine kleine, flache und eine größere, die sich nach außen wölbt und die breit genug ist, um ihr Inneres mit dem Finger zu erkunden. Das fasziniert mich, allerdings habe ich gleichzeitig Angst um meinen Finger, wenn ich das komplett harmlose, sterile Innere der Düse abtaste, eine Plastikmaserung, die nicht beißt, nicht einschnappt, nicht nachgibt. Die Düse hat etwas Obszönes, aber ihre Obszönität ist immer schon komplett entschärft. Was bleibt, ist ein Kryptogefühl, auf nichts (Materiellem) begründet. Über den Zweck der Düse mache ich mir zunächst keine Gedanken und bin fast enttäuscht, wenn sich ein paar Tage später herausstellt, dass sie dazu benutzt wird, den Pool in einen Whirlpool zu verwandeln. Noch bevor die Düse zu einem Geheimnis werden konnte, ist es auch schon gelüftet. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

last week in letterboxd

The Stormy Man, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

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

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

Abwärts, Carl Schenkel, 1984

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

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

Tango durch Deutschland, Lutz Mommartz, 1981

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

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

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

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

The Champion, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

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

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

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

The Eagle and the Hawk, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

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

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

Girlfriends, Claudia Weill, 1978

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

Four Hours of Terror, Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1959

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

Reise nach Lyon, Claudia von Alemann, 1981

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

Freelance Samurai, Kenji Misumi, 1957

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Sweat, Ulli Lommel, 1991

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

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

Killers on Parade, Masahiro Shinoda, 1961

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

Cream - Schwabing Report, Leon Capitanos, 1971

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

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

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Phantombilder

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


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


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


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


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

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Wie Werde ich Filmstar?, Theo Lingen, 1955

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

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

Zombi Child, Bertrand Bonello, 2019

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

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

Endless Desire, Shohei Imamura, 1958

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

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

Antebellum, Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz, 2020

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

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

The Blue Sky Maiden, Yasuzo Masumura, 1957

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

Männer, Doris Dörrie, 1985

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

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

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

Flesh Pier, Teruo Ishii, 1958

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

Kalt wie Eis, Carl Schenkel, 1981

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

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

Sex Crimes, Ulli Lommel, 1992

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

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

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

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

Age of Nudity, Seijun Suzuki, 1959

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

Red Pier, Toshio Masuda, 1959

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

Hubie Halloween, Steven Brill, 2020

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

Underworld Beauty, Seijun Suzuki, 1958

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

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

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

Orphea, Khavn, Kluge, 2020

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

Stolen Desire, Shohei Imamura, 1958

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

Heritage of the Desert, Lesley Selander, 1939

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

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

Heritage of the Desert, Henry Hathaway, 1932

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