Thursday, February 13, 2020

letterboxd backup (10)

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur´s Court, Tay Garnett, 1949

As a musical comedy this mostly falls flat - the supporting cast is great, but both Crosby and the songs are too tepid for any true zaniness to evolve (and zaniness clearly would’ve been the way to go, here). Luckily, somewhere along the line Garnett seems to have decided to develop the dramatic, rather than the satirical aspects of the plot. Starting with Crosby’s surprisingly dynamic duel with Lancelot, the film heightens the stakes (well, a little bit at least) and, from then on, continues to produce moments of some intensity, like the execution scene (with several heads being cut off-screen before Crosby saves the day).

Still, the only consistent driving force behind the whole thing might be Rhonda Fleming’s wardrobe changes.

Pet Sematary II, Mary Lambert, 1992

Lambert doesn't even try to one-up the high-pitched yuppie self-deprecration of the first film, but opts for a tale of almost relaxed, autumny, dusty smalltown americana, with a few decisive intrusions of craziness - especially, of course, Clancy Brown as the multipurpose asshole (cop / jock / stepdad) who wants to fuck like the rabbits he watches fucking in his spare time (a lot of animals in this). There's quite a bit of good stuff - the electrocuted movie-star mother who insists on coming back in different shapes and forms, Drew dressing up as a chubby, melancholic vampire, a very dedicated bully-performance by Jared Rushton, Lisa Waltz... The second half, after a reluctant and not well executed turn into horror, is pretty boring, though.

Die letzte Kompagnie, Curtis Bernhardt, 1930

Patriotic UFA war film whose director, producer and co-writer (+ probably quite a few crewmembers more) were kicked out of UFA for being jewish just three years later.

It starts with a black frame, accompanied by a gunshot ouverture, followed by a silent travelling over a stylized battlefield, with the corpses exquisitly draped over fences and ditches. A sculptural no-mans-land surrounded by the fog of war. Sound and image finally coalesce when Konrad Veidt summons the troops.

The fog is mostly lifted for the rest of the film, the world becomes a place of action and lines of sight again. The tension builds slowly, though, there's time for several songs (the music always triggers tableau-like tilts over the spent bodies of the soldiers) and a touch of female disturbance. Almost all of it is set in and around a mill, which makes sense because of the bursting flour bags in the finale.

(Unfortunately, the only survivng print is an english dub, done by producer Joe May himself; a technical marvel at the time, but still just as bad as most of these things have been to this day.)

Triumph der Liebe, Alfred Stöger, 1949

Atrocious adaptation of LYSISTRATA, set in somewhat pretty but completely air-tight and static historical sets probably leftover from a ns epic. Stagy in all the wrong ways, no rhythm, no visuality, no sex (ok, the latter kind of fits the source material; but then again, withholding sex only makes sense when there's desire to begin with). Anti-cinema.

The Rain People, Francis Ford Coppola, 1969

After passing a marquee advertising BONNIE AND CLYDE, Shirley Knight and James Caan enter a drive-in cinema - in the middle of the day, with no other customers and of course no film screening in sight. Like the couple in the movie Coppola makes clear they are not watching, they look like lovers on the run, only that they aren’t quite lovers, and neither are they really on the run. In theory, this is an interesting displacement: The external drama of Penn’s film (and its other predecessors) is toned down, constantly hinted at but never fully played out, sometimes openly parodied (Shirley Knight casually, tantalizingly walking towards Duvall’s cop car) - while the in the end much messier internal conflicts takes center stage. Like, especially, in the beautiful motel room / mirror scene, in which narcissistic self-images and erotic projections become interchangeable.

This is by far the best moment in the film, but generally THE RAIN PEOPLE works very well when it focusses on lengthy, intimate interactions. For a while, Coppola establishes an equilibrium of push and pull, movement and stasis that could lend the film a fleeting air - if there wasn’t always already an oppressive melodrama lurking underneath. Long before the dark - and imo stupid - turn when Knight ditches Caan in favor of Duvall, the flashy flashbacks (the Richard Lester like style inserts probably are the main reasons I ultimately didn’t like the film) insist on a psychological imprinting that just has to have consequences sooner or later. Coppola always strives for structure, and in the end this probably just wasn’t a good project for him.

James Caan’s soft, unfinished face though.

Der Herr auf Bestellung, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

Another absolutely wonderful von Bolvary / Reisch / Forst operetta film, this time set in a makeshift cardboard world and with a distinct, hyperreflexive slapstick feel. The music is more out there than usual, too, some of the numbers are shot through with syncopic elements that disrupt rather than double the visuals. The mighty Willi Forst has the world at his fingertips (he dances and flirts even with cars) and Else Elster as his lover and assistant is both his streetsmart equal and the source of a secondary, dark, melancholic streak running through all the madness.

To think that German mainstream cinema once looked like this...

Die Blume von Hawaii, Richard Oswald, 1933

Bat-shit crazy, even for Richard Oswald’s standards - a lot of the special brand of madness on display here probably stems from the Paul Abraham operetta this is based on, a wildly ambitious potpourri of "enlightened exoticism" (starting with Abraham’s probably most famous song, "Bin nur ein Jonny", done in blackface but hinting at a very real diasporic pain), an adventure story shot through with both colonial and anticolonial impulses, and romantic shenanigans even more convoluted than usually in the genre.

Oswald isn’t much interested in providing structure, he just goes along with the flow (see, for example, the location footage being thrown in once in a while, just to have a few markers of Hawaii here and there) which is probably the best approach for the material, anyway. Unfortunately, most of the actors can’t keep up with him. The one glorious exception is Ernst Verebes, who, in all of his scenes, assumes an attitude of manic detachment that fits the anything goes attitude of the film perfectly (Fritz Fischer is also good). Martha Eggers doesn’t have many chances to shine, though, in fact, she feels a bit lost - thrown around from one place and one identity into the other, she can’t assert herself in the same way as, for example, in DIE BLONDE CARMEN.

The Big Parade, King Vidor, 1925

I had seen this only once before, probably almost 20 years ago, on vhs (and my memory isn't very good, in general), but rewatching it I realized that long parts of the battlefield scenes had been burnt into my brain. Especially those harrowing shots in the forrest, the steady progress of the soldiers, not at all disturbed by the fact that some of them just drop dead on the spot. But also later, the bomb crater scenes (the desolation of the individual answering the rhythmic mass destruction in an almost dialectical manner), the long caravan right through the center of the screen etc. I remembered all of this clear as day, although seen isolated I probably wouldn't have connected most of it with THE BIG PARADE. Almost all of my most vivid war movie memories seem to stem from this single film...

I didn't have a lot of recollections of the first half of the film, but all the better - a chance to discover this beautiful, hilarious, muddy romance a second time. The barrel scene might now be my second favorite love at first sight slapstick routine after the one in THE LONG GRAY LINE.

Tennessee Nights, Nicolas Gessner, 1991

Johnny Cash sings half a song in the first few minutes, has two more lines, and then he gets the hell out of the film. Just in time, because what follows is mostly an embarrassment for everyone involved. Road-movie Americanas made by Europeans often are rather stale, and this one, despite the involvement of an american screenwriter, is downright terrible, a mixture of awkward prejudice and tacky romantization of decay.

Julian Sands holds the film together, for better or worse. At least the asshole part of his performance is on point. Stacey Dash, on the other hand, doesn't stand a chance against a script that uses her as a multipurpuse tool to address everything the writer and director always wanted to say about women and black people. Towards the end, there are at least a few moments of true craziness, Rod Steiger especially has fun as a small-town judge almost in the Will Rodgers tradition, deciding cases on the basis of their allignment with Bach's St Matthew Passion.

Das Lied ist aus, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

Looks like there's always an even better von Bolvary / Reisch / Forst film hidden somewhere; although I do suppose that this really might be their masterpiece. The operetta film, a genre always already excessively self-reflexive, can't outstrip itself by ramping up the speed of the twistings and turnings. But maybe, THE SONG IS OVER suggests, it might be able to do so by slowing down, by refusing (narrative) progress in favor of (musical) circularity, until we realize that it's not about us singing songs but about the songs singing us.

Fifty Shades of Grey, Sam Taylor-Johnson, 2015

A bit too much distancing involved in the discourse surrounding this. FIFTY SHADES isn't about BDSM, and also not about "the way we love now" (always meaning: not me, but all the others). It's about sexual fantasies, and sexual fantasies tend to be a bit awkward. Anyway, who are we to judge.

Still, it is rather bad overall. The unconditional focus on Ana's experience and soft-spoken Dakota Johnson's fascinating presence manage to carry things for a while. It also helps that Taylor-Johnson clearly knows about the ridiculousness of the premise. Unfortunately, it becomes obvious pretty soon that the film will go nowhere with all of this, mostly because, like everyone seems to agree, Christian is a black hole of nothingness.

Saure Wochen - Frohe Feste, Wolfgang Schleif, 1950

When the staff of a coal plant is asked to organize musical entertainment for a company celebration, discussions ensue (mostly along generational lines): Is the classic form of light opera still relevant for the present? And: What would an adequate socialist operetta look and sound like?

The film's answer to the latter question isn't all that convincing, unfortunately. Still, despite the conservative songwriting, SAURE WOCHEN has a certain freshness, stays clear of pompous state art (in fact, it makes fun of it several times) and the mix of veteran actors and young, unknown faces works well. Also, there's an interesting tension when it comes to the relationship between work and music: Is the emerging socialist operetta meant to be a transference of the factory principle to another, musical level (like in a montage sequence synchronising an upbeat tune with the mechanics of heavy industry)? Or should we rather think of it as a separate, equally important plain of experience ("we are like machines while working, we don't want to be machines when dancing")?

Einmal ist keinmal, Konrad Wolf, 1955

Strange that this is not better known, given that it’s the first feature of the most famous defa director, and also pretty great. A pastoral musical comedy with Heimatfilm elements, stunningly shot in beautiful Agfacolor, that starts with Horst Drinda falling out of a moving train and landing directly in the hay. There, he encounters the first woman. A few minutes later he is kissed on the mouth by a second one (the absolutely wonderful, red-haired Brigitte Krause) while sleeping. And on he stumbles through a plot that technically follows the operetta formula, but that plays out more like an ironic, erotic fairy tale: he wants peace and quiet and time for some deep reflection, but is constantly being led astray by a strand of red hair.

Once again, except for a few tunes sung in a weirdly charming, almost clumsy way by Drinda himself, the music is a bit on the dull side, and the big performance in the end feels almost deliberatley anticlimatic in its static staging. But this doesn’t matter much, because the whole film is more about private fantasies than about collective representation.

Silvesterpunsch, Günter Reisch, 1960

The steady level of movement and vitality is as forced as the "conflict" between sports and culture. In the end, the latter (vitality / culture) is thought of always only in the terms of the former (movement / sports). The ice revue finale looks beautiful in the subdued, rosy glimmer of Agfa-Color, though, Achim Schmidtchen is a good comedic actor in the screwball slapstick vein (a very very remote relative of Dennis O'Keefe, maybe) and Karin Schröder is a nice, fresh presence in her first role. Managed fun is better than no fun at all, I guess.

No comments: