Tuesday, February 25, 2020

letterboxd backup (17)

Jesse James, Henry King, 1939

"Shooting and robbing—it’ll just get in your blood, Jesse." This is a quite curious idea, if taken face value: a social phenomenon becoming, by way of repetition, a natural one. This points towards the unresolved tension underlying the script: In a world of manichean values, Jesse James either is a victim of circumstance, or he is just plain evil. In the film, though, he is both, not simultaneously but alternately. Unlike the frictions and oppositions in films like WAIT TILL THE SUN SHINES, NELLIE and THE BRAVADOS, this contradiction isn't really explored, but rather rushed over: the film constantly seems to forget, and then reinvent its own discourse.

Which, in turn, is mirrored in the film itself, in Henry Hull's wonderful newspaper editor who has a surefire solution for every problem presented to him: just shoot down whatever dog is in the way, this time. Still, lively and often extremely beautiful that it is, JESSE JAMES never quite rises above its premise; probably also because Tyrone Power is a bit out of his debth when pitted against both Henry Fonda and Randolph Scott.

The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah, 1969

Interesting to see this immediately after JESSE JAMES, because in a way Peckinpah starts exactly with two questions King avoids: What to do after the railroad has won? And: Is it possible to account, in and through a hollywood film, for not just the fact, but the experience of lives lived outside the rules of society?

I was a bit afraid of revisiting it (I skipped it during a Peckinpah series a few years back), but it hold up very well for me, this time. Peckinpah knows that mayhem usually is much more effective when the camera, like a machine gun, is attached to a tripod. And his love for Mexico shines through the many quieter scenes.

Le chat, Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1971

Maybe this just caught me on the wrong foot, but I don't know... for me it's just another example of well-made trash almost always being much worse than just plain trash. Also, make no mistake: Simone Signoret realy kills a cat in this film!

Immediately afterwards there's the one single scene out there enough to somewhat please me: Gabin standing in front of a site fence, smoking (in slow motion!) and looking at cats climbing through scaffolding (also in slow motion!).

The print was beautiful.

Herrliche Zeiten, Erik Ode, 1950

This contains a valuable and probably eternal lesson for everyone tempted to check out German "political cabaret": Just watch SAFETY LAST instead.

State Fair, Henry King, 1933

A beautiful film that grants a hog full characterhood (see also the cow close-ups in IN OLD CHICAGO). This could even have been explored a bit further: Rogers and the hog as a double act comedy team, with the hog as the straight man.

A floating tracking shot introduces the central setting as an almost otherworldly wonderland. But despite the state fair providing all kinds of pretences, or rather invitations for romantic entanglements (even in the nearby forest, the moss forms a readymade love nest you just have to throw yourself into) and despite the not yet enforced code allowing for rather explicit seduction scenes (the butterfly robe engulfing the screen), the two non-hog love stories are shot through with moments of doubt and self-questioning. Until the very last shot, in fact: Even the final kiss of Gaynor and her smooth journalist lover is framed by a poster of the fair. The moment the ordinariness of their relationship begins, the film ends.

Within Our Gates, Oscar Micheaux, 1920

A splintered, systematically overreaching narrative that might be best described as a series of complex interrogations built on the conviction that, in the end, no one is fully identical with him / herself. The harrowing flashback in the end is something completely different, though: here, the film acquires classical narrative density, the characters and images are connected by cause and effect, glances and actions, not, like before, by ideas, abstract oppositions and, rather strangely, dreams. An action image of racial violence that doesn’t completely explain the preceding scenes of desperate political efforts and displaced emotions, but that clearly is to be though of as their foundation.

One great moment: when the priest steps out of the meeting with his white backers, lays down his fake smile like a mask and admits to his corruption.

Berliner Ballade, Robert A. Stemmle, 1948

The jokes aren’t much better than in HERRLICHE ZEITEN (I was ready to throw in the towel as soon as I learned about the name of the protagonist), but the delivery does make a difference. Here, they are tied to Ode’s soft-spoken voice-over and to a somnambule, skinny Gert Fröbe drifting through Trümmer dreamscapes... Although the true vantage point of the film seems to be not dream itself (for dreams still are dangerous - a bit of daytime reality might slip in, somehow), but the world of childhood: a retreat into regressive, asexual fantasy.

Ute Sielisch is pretty awesome as a blonde cypher.

Parasite, Bong Joon-ho, 2019

Well-made but too self-contained for my taste, a series of smooth, risk-free movements on an admittedly interesting playing field. Much of the action hinges on the parents, who are decidedly flat characters (the body odour storyline is the kind of cheap, purely functional narrative stunt Bong’s obvious predecessors would never have resorted to in their films), while the much more interesting son and daughter mostly fade into the background after the first half hour.

Still, there are images that stick: Ki-jeong holding down the toilet seat and smoking while dark, muddy liquid squirts out from under her, those vertically clamped in figures trying to open up a secret passage ... and, on a more abstract level, the visual setup of the two huge windows, one in every family home, gigantic vistas that completely dominate the respective rooms, but that do not provide anyone with a proper perspective. In fact the imago of total vision seems to, in the end, blind everyone involved.

Subway in the Sky, Muriel Box, 1959

A decidedly small-scale mystery oddity set mostly in one appartment. It might make sense to view the main storyline as nothing more than a framing device for Knef’s wonderful, strange peformance of "Love Isn’t Love" in the middle of the film.

Love is only true when it feels a bit wrong.

Mission to Mars, Brian De Palma, 2000

When I watched this years ago, I couldn't get over the cosmology stuff - which didn't bother me one bit, this time. If there's something unredeemable about this it is the sometimes very bad dialogue and a few unfortunate casting choices, Tim Robbins above all else.

Otherwise, this feels surprisingly well-rounded and coherent. No one here has a real connection to earth, even the one terrestial scene at the start seems to flirt with microgravity. What follows is a truly star-bound film, a maiden flight of digital blockbuster aesthetics, a trip not toward abstraction (the "white cube" scene near the end is a misstep), but toward the pictorial spectacular and also toward pure affect (the power of the space helmet close-up; see also INTERSTELLAR).

Carlito´s Way, Brian De Palma, 1993

Secret weapon: Ingrid Rogers. Carlito might think Steffi "belongs to the club", but in fact she is the sole free agent here, her chosing Kleinfeld over Benny Blanco is the decisive move, setting in motion a doomsday machine that consumes the rest of the film. She is also the single person in the film who asserts herself in front of Carlito as a presence independent from fantasy. The first time she does this his gaze wanders from her to the dancer resembling Gail, who, in turn, never manages to emancipates herself from projection, from the diverse optical setups DePalma inserts her in.

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, William Greaves, 1968

I guess the reason for this being pretty awesome instead of unbearable might be that the "basic situation" the film is constantly reframing and commenting on, is specific and weird enough to introduce, each time it is taken up, an element of strangeness and also awkwardness that can never be quite accounted for by any of the meta-filmic shenannigans.

Baldwin´s Nigger, Horace Ove, 1968

Impressive rhetorics (even when he succumbs, only once or twice, to the anti-imperialist fallacies I can't stand any more... but don't mind me).

Rheinsberg, Kurt Hoffmann, 1967

Froboess is a marvel and Hoffmann generally directs with a reflexive, floating, unobstrusive sensibility seldom found in german films. The way the film carefully, but never prudishly skips around sex puts most of New German Cinema and its strained attempts at licentiousness to shame. Still, the combination of Tucholsky and Reinecke remains strange, and it just doesn't feel right to embalm Claire, this free spirit, in period nostalgia.

Moonwalker, diverse, 1988

Out there, but this is where he wants to be. Michael Jackson still seems to be the only modern pop superstar who manages to fully, reciprocally integrate his flamboyant eccentricities and his music. Both are inseperable from each other.

The "Smooth Criminal" segment might just be the 1980s Minnelli film that never was.

La noche le los mil gatos, Rene Cardona Jr., 1972

Repetitive, clumsy and sometimes hypnotic, like a helicopter hovering directly in front of you.

Kokowääh, Til Schweiger, 2011

Power-pop filmmaking.

Nessie, das verrückteste Monster der Welt, Rudolf Zehetgruber, 1985

Has some charms. Like something ugly and clunky on a flee market you (not I) might ponder buying for half a minute just for fun, before thinking better of it.

Das melancholische Mädchen, Susanne Heinrich, 2019

Less curious about the time and place we live in than KOKOWÄÄH.

Okay, might be a cheap shot... but this really frustrated me, because there are a few moments or even whole chapters that put their trust in performances or aesthetic instinct rather than buzzwordism. Some of these interludes are rather beautiful, but they are treated as interludes, as filler material: a music video style sequence, two people awkwardly yelling at each other in the kitchen, the ice cream shot in the end...

Everything else just made me very happy about not living in Berlin anymore.

Tiger - Frühling in Wien, Peter Patzak, 1984

Hell is other movies.

The Blue Lagoon, Randal Kleiser, 1989

Caught me at the right moment: a homogeneous vision, an oasis.

Das Superweib, Sönke Wortmann, 1996

Veronika Ferres in bed with Richie Müller, her head on his chest, her big eyes looking toward the camera, toward us...

A Change of Seasons, Richard Lang, 1980

A bit suffocating at the start, but when they reach the ski lodge, this almost feels like an episode of FRASIER. Also, Bo Derek wears an exquisit ski suit.

Suburban Commando, Burt Kennedy, 1991

Feels a bit like an overproduced sitcom pilot after a while. Still, well-crafted and reasonably funny.

The Cool World, Shirley Clarke, 1963

What a beautiful film... a richness of movement and texture saved from the abyss, all these fragile, trembling, crumbling oppositions of outside and inside, scripted destiny and random observations, male exhilaration and female exhaustion. The latter opposition is completely inversed during the majestic Coney Island sequence, when LuAnne vanishes into the beachscape dreamworld, becoming one with the city.

So far my only real regret about having to skip Locarno this year: I'll miss a 35mm screening of this...

She´s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee, 1986

Sex comedy probably isn’t the most natural genre for Lee, as it normally benefits from less confrontational, more relaxed forms of humor. Indeed, the way he positions Nola as the extraordinary object of the erotic spectacular doesn’t allow for much breathing room on her side. Plus, the actual sex scenes are the worst part of the film. On the other hand, Lee’s playfulness and discoursive openness is put to good use when it comes to pitting Nola’s suitors against each other and his vision of black hipster Brooklyn is generally extremely charming.

Midnight, Mitchell Leisen, 1939

"A shining example of trade over tradition"

Identity as a bounced check, love as the only risk investment worth a damn.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if this is both Colbert's finest hour and the best film ever made from a Wilder script. The key in both cases is restraint, the kind of restraint necessary to achieve true, no-holds-barred craziness. Leisen's decision to stay clear from all hysterics, for example, makes all the more sense when the scene with the fake phone conversation comes along: the birth of the perfect man-child.

Or the magnificent closing shot with one character after the other parading into and out of view, once again affirming their ultimate complicity in the game they had been a part of.

My favorite shot, though: Colbert's head resting on the pillow, her face turned away from the camera, an image of total, but incomprehensible self-sameness, the stillness in the eye of the cyclone.

I would screen it together with MYSTERIES OF LISBON rather than with RULES OF THE GAME.

Le daim, Quentin Dupieux, 2019

When one looks in a mirror and sees a jacket rather than a man. Although one of the ironies of Dupieux's cinema is, that what makes his films work are performances rather than concepts. In this case Dujardin is great and Haenel is even better, especially in her early scenes as a low-key irritating barkeeper.

Der Kongress tanzt, Erik Charell, 1931

Still amazed about the way Charell turns the whole world into music. One key aspect is that it is a process, and a destructive one, at that. It's not about a steady stream of music flowing through the world at all times, but about introducing a kernel of pure music, one simple melody and then feeding it with world, taking in ever more extras, sets, props, one sequence shot at the time. Until the music has used up everything.

Die - oder keine, Carl Froelich, 1932

In the end we are all flies circling around Gitta Alpar's light.

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