Friday, March 27, 2020

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Harnessed Rhythm, Jacques Tourneur, 1936

Analytic filmmaking exploring the power of close-ups and freeze frames organically leading into full-blown blockbuster affect. All of this is constantly undermined by an extremely irritating voice-over, but that might have been part of the challenge.

Cats, Tom Hooper, 2019

Everybody makes fun of Hooper, but by now it should be obvious that he makes truly eccentric cinema not by chance but out of conviction. Even a very bad film like THE DANISH GIRL almost comes alive if one manages to disconnect the interplay of overwhelming painterliness and carnevalesque performances from any notion of a social reality. Here, of course, we're in the realm of the aesthetic gaze from start to finish. This might just be the film he was born to make.

To be sure, I was susceptible to all those charms from the start - the trailer already was evidence not only of style, but of a willingness to commit to style no matter what. The cat designs indeed never lose their enchanting weirdness (I suspect the most important part are the sensuous human lips, flanked by whiskers), the choreography might be rather clumsy sometimes and the sets feel closed-off, but there's a different sparkle to every scene, a texture and variety modern effect films almost never have. Best all-out CGI in a non-Tsui-Hark-directed big budget film? Maybe an overreach, but even so: whoever makes fun of this deserves 1000 years of Disney rule.

So, going in I already expected to be pleased on some level. What I neither knew nor expected, though: CATS is a fucking great musical. The best thing about it might be the lack of plot. For once, we get a big budget effects film without any action-adventure hero's journey bullshit, Instead it's all about a cipher - slender, elegant and almost translucent - discovering a world of wonders. She enters a space of pure self-expression and finds happiness. (Sometimes I thought of, of all films, Hubert Franks 70s erotica extravaganza VANESSA... this might actually make for a nice double bill...)

"Born into nothing / At least you have something." How can one not be affected by this?

Trilogy of Terror, Dan Curtis, 1975

Karen-Black-themed anthology film with every subsequent part becoming even more Karen Black. A nice concept, somewhat undermined by the fact that the third and final part isn`t just the best one, but so obviously superior to the (okay) first and the (boring) second that it makes them vanish into oblivion instantly. In fact, it makes the whole world and everything in it vanish, except for Karen Black, a voodoo doll, and a telephone.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Philip Kaufman, 1988

I haven`t given the issue much thought, but I suspect that faux european art films made in Hollywood are almost always way more fun than the real thing. This one is unashamedly horny in a very 80s way. Daniel Day-Lewis really lost his way when he followed this up with award bait after award bait instead of with a string of direct to video erotic thrillers.

Dance With Me, Shinobu Yaguchi, 2019

Somewhat shines whenever Yaguchi leaves behind the high-concept premises and focuses on the smaller moments. The best song is just both leads singing along to the car radio, filmed in a static medium shot. Even this one fades out rather early, though. Generally, the film doesn't seem to trust its own musical numbers, most of the time rightly so. Unfortunately, at the same time, it desperately tries to be a full-blown musical. The result is a constant mismatch of form / style and ambition that might even be interesting in its own right on some level, as it might point toward a deeper, structural mismatch of social conditions and genre. Music is a medium of pressure, not of release, here.

Danger Circuits, Abdullah Al-Salman, 2018

A decidedly modest police procedural, even the short running time doesn't save it from being rather dull. The best part is a running gag about the slow-wittedness of a rookie cop. Generally, Al-Salman probably would've been better of taken his cues from workplace sitcoms instead of network procedurals.

(Although this one didn't do much for me, I'd like to find out more about the Kuwaiti film industry.)

Parallel World Love Story, Yoshitaka Mori, 2019

The emotional arcs may not really hold together, especially toward the end, but I was intrigued throughout. Love and memory and technology and fear of intimacy and Mayuko Tsuno's quiet pose, with her face turned away from the reluctant camera.

And Your Bird Can Sing, Sho Miyake, 2018

Frustrating because there clearly is something, here. The dark glow of the urban night, music as a decentering force, suspending time and subjectivity, even some of the dramatic moments, especially the ones focussing on Sometani, a much less strained presence than the other too leads... if it weren't for the absolutely atrocious sub-mumblecore script with every single scene being set up as a small reveal about one of the main characters. The images are curious, the film isn't.

BrainWaves, Ulli Lommel, 1983

Lommel's VERTIGO... the plot is only vaguely similar, to be sure, but it's shot in San Francisco, there's a faux Bernhard Herrmann score, and Vera Miles (Barbara Bel Geddes probably wasn't available) plays a Hitchcock mother. Slow but not quite as somnambulist as most of his other films I've seen, this feels a bit muted. Too much plot, the real Lommel strangeness only shines through once in a while (most clearly in the scenes with the blond tristkind).

Strangers in Paradise, Ulli Lommel, 1984

This is much more like it: Lommel's very own rock opera, a self-sufficent aesthetic/political cosmology forged with unflinching conviction out of material both autobiographical (Sage's backstory is based on the life of Lommel's father) and, for better or worse, ethnographic. As crude as this is as social satire, Lommel's fascination with american everyday culture is clearly real and a main driving force of all of his american films.

Strangely enough, the film also works as a touching self portrait: Lommel as the detached, ageless deadpan magician, forever calm in the eye of the picture-storm, curating the world around him with his remote control.

Warbirds, Ulli Lommel, 1989

Lommel's parallel cinema enters its Godfrey Ho phase with WARBIRDS, a TOP GUN ripoff built around aerial stock footage. The fascinating fight scenes somehow take the fighter jets themselves out of the equation, so we get lots of disembodied aerial shots intercut with explosions, but almost no shots of planes actually in the air. As if the gaze itself triggers the mayhem, without any intermediary physical-mechanical reality.

The non-fight scenes might be even stranger, especially the macho and buddy routines of the young pilots, no-name actors (some shared credits with d'Amato's New Orleans films - totally makes sense) fully embodying every line of the cardboard dialogue. I was especially taken with "cocky" but vulnerable Vince Costello (Cully Holland from d'Amato's wonderful DIRTY LOVE).

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I often wonder if cinema generally suffers from a certain overeagerness: it takes a lot of effort to make films, and once you get one of the ground, you therefore tend to stay on point no matter what. Even shoddy commercial (ie the best kind of) cinema often leans toward a notion of total vision that proves, more often than not, constricting. Lommel's cinema provides an alternative: films somehow willed into being without much obvious effort, not quite films without a reason, but films with a very private reason, films that mostly don't communicate their reason and that thereby free us to approach them differently, like objects from a hidden world coextensive with our own.

King of Boys, Kemi Adetiba, 2018

Synth score cross-cutting matriarchy! Nollywood blockbuster that turns out to be a sprawling, at times gloriously chaotic gangster epic about a woman who made it and who now rules the world by way of her facial expressions. So much energy.

Pierre et Jean, Andre Cayatte, 1943

A beautifully crafted diptych of desires and movements, some mirrored, some antipodal. In a way it's very much a film about the possibility of moral action during occupation: It all boils down to ignorance being bliss (and Noël Roquevert really is ignorance personified, here), because it's always the one who knows who has to bear all the weight, who has to make a decision and bear the consequences.

Shades of PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE in the first half, but Cayatte is after something completely different: his characters are not, like Renoir's, of the world, they are taken out of the world and put into an abstract moral/narrative space, where they are being set in motion through a number of push-pull-movements.

Renée Saint-Cyr is a strange presence and Jacques Dumesnil is huge.

Sleazy Dizzy, Chor Yuen, 1990

Somewhat uneven... The producers seem to have decided to go with the easy-listening-funk sampler someone picked up from the bargain bin instead of with a real soundtrack, and I'm not even sure Chow is cast in the right role while Kuan Tai Chen clearly isn't in his element. Sibelle Hu is great, though, and when the comedy-action-routines work, and they often do, this has a smooth deadpan flow. At the very least it merits a better transfer in order to find out how good it really is.

Der Priester und das Mädchen, Gustav Ucicky, 1958

A film of small images, of images of smallness, a drop from the rain gutter rippling the water surface of a rain barrel, a dying candle-light, secured behind a plastic cover. In its best moments a film about private retreats into loneliness and small gestures of liberation, like Winnie Markus removing her shoe and stretching out her foot. "Feelings have their own lives". Both Markus and Marianne Hold have their moments, but against the trinity of teutonic 50s masculinity - Rudolf Prack, Rudolf Lenz, Willy Birgel - they just don't stand a chance.

As much as I am on board, generally, with reappraising what was thought to be papas kino, sometimes the label does fit (even if this is, technically, an austrian film). The hard hitting, fateful, enraptured close-ups in the end evoke, if only fleetingly, the kind of german doomsday melodrama that mostly died with nazi cinema. Rightly so, of course, but DER PRIESTER UND DAS MÄDCHEN negates its own doomsday aspirations so thoroughly and unimaginatively, that it remains always already stilted, a film made in order for us to "be able to look back at the past without regret".

Underwater, William Eubank, 2020

A fetish film with the main fetish being texture rather than Kristen Stewart, a film about water pitted against solidity, water rushing along bolted frames, water tripping off surfaces both soft and hard, about light being diverted, fractured, splintered until it is indistinguishable from matter. We do not have receptors for the sensorial triggers the film provides, but we feel that we could have, that we could train ourselves to become these bodies, move like them, dive into darkness, face the Gigeresque monster (that is somehow suddenly transformed, in the film's most beautiful moment, from something out there and huge into a private fantasy). In another life.

Symphonie in Gold, Franz Antel, 1956

Rather watchable despite the complete dullness and sexlessness of the central romantic couple, with Fuchsberger being Fuchsberger and Germaine Damar sucking every bit of energy out of every scene she's in. The main saving graces are the ice revue numbers, starting slow but growing into full, blissful dementia during the last half hour. Even the scenes in between often held my interest, Antel's uninvolved direction leaves enough room for Moser and Philipp and Nicoletti and a modest collection of small excentricities.

Ist Geraldine ein Engel?, Steve Previn, 1963

60s sex comedies about playboys living it up are often hard to bear, and this really fits the bill down to the rapey vibes of some scenes. Still, the film is strangely affecting, mostly because of Froboess investing a lot in her seemingly throwaway character. All of her songs are confessionals, basically. Also Steve Previn´s smart, dynamic american mise-en-scene makes these Schlagerfilm stets move like they normally never do.

Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi, 2019


This is so dull and witless - every attempt at a joke that tries to move beyond "nazis are evil but also stupid" falls completely flat - that it took me some time to realize just how terrible it is even beyond its unappealing surface. Turning Hitler into a clown is in itself no reason for moral outrage. But installing Hitler as a dematerialized, ahistoric metacinematic gadget while at the same time positioning Elsa as the bearer of historical truth, the center of the main emotional arc and the point where all the fun stops really is kind of insidious. Because Elsa is, of course, the real falsification: the perfect wish fulfillment fantasy, she not only introduces the boy into adulthood, like myriads of smart, flirtatious, tomboyish-sexy indiewood girls have done before her, but also redeems, by way of her very survival, a whole nation from antisemitism. Elsa, not Hitler the buffoon, is the true obscenity here.

Also: not just dull and witless, but also ugly. Those rack focus shots hurt my eyes.

Zauber der Montur, Rudolf Schündler, 1958

A farcical military comedy that also features extensive crossdressing, a talking parrot, trap doors, a knight´s armor, people hiding in hay carts, a skeleton, a "catchy" title theme and Gunther Philipp really should end up with more than two and a half stars. Unfortunately, with the exception of a short bedroom scene, the direction is clumsy as hell, Juhnke is miscast in the lead role, and except for Philipp the supporting cast seems to be strictly the b-team. Lowkey fun only because some of the ingredients just cannot lose their flavor, no matter how bad the cook and how mediocre the recipe.

Blond muß man sein auf Capri, Wolfgang Schleif, 1961

Just wonderful... a treatise on sexual mores both joyous and conflicted, that would make a perfect companion piece to BARBARA - WILD WIE DAS MEER, the other great (ok: even greater) German island film of 1961.

Oversexed german secretaries travel to Capri in order to be wooed by oversexed Italian playboys. (To remind everyone just whom they fled from, Gunther Philipp also tags along. He mostly leeches around Ruth Stephan, though.) Only Karin Baal is reluctant to join in the fun, when entering Capri, she hides her hair under a phenomenal hat, but her stylish eyeliner gives her away. She is an introvert who likes to retreat into her private fantasies, but she is curious, too, and of course she scores the top Italian playboy - only to suddenly flee back to Germany in a hurry, into a fascinating, almost freewheeling third act. After Capri, things can never be the same again. Once you enter the dark woods of desire, you can never really come back.

I was really surprised to be that enthralled by a Wolfgang Schleif movie. I´m still not sure if he is a genuinely good director... the dialogue is clumsy at times and the "touristic" imagery is mostly a bust. But I still love almost everything about this, also because there´s so much of it, so many attractions: Birgit Bergen as an incredibly horny faux blonde, Inge Meysel and Walter Gross as Baal´s rumbling parents (Gross dreams about moving into a villa "with ten rooms and twenty toilets"), the Italian playboys putting on a "muscle show" and letting their bodies be measured by the secretaries... Even Baal`s German fiancee, to whom she, of course, has to return to once her Capri adventure is getting a bit too real, is wonderful. A character like this would be absolutely unbearable in most German films of the time, but Helmuth Lohner absolutely kills it with a melancholic krypto-slapstick performance.

Das Posthaus im Schwarzwald, Rudolf Schündler, 1958

Definitively some Jürgen Enz vibes in this one, though clearly not as personal a vision. Maybe a few Straub / Huillet vibes, too... those repeated, achingly slow pans over a Black Forest scenery that somehow remains unconquered, that refuses to be turned into sentimental, glossy spectacle....

Thankfully, there´s a lot of Kessler twins material. At one moment, they dance to an especially sassy tune, and then Gunther Philipp shows up - wearing a knight´s armor! This is, of course, almost too good to be true, and you´d think that surely it will be over in just one or two shots, but the scene goes on and on, for several minutes! When it is finally decided, after this extended cinematic blessing, that Philipp should be peeled out of his shell, Rudolf Lenz (who is nominally the lead but has virtually nothing to do in the film) is anxious: "Let´s be gentle, or he might get hurt."

Sperling und das Loch in der Wand, Dominik Graf, 1996

Loose bills flying through the streets of a 90s Berlin that is still all grey, grimy and brittle (the painted palm on the door of an ugly, unglamorous nightclub feels like a sardonic joke). There´s a surplus of capital drifting through the film, unattached, freewheeling, multiplying money that almost always tends to accumulate at the wrong places. Capitalism has won, but it isn´t a completely organic part of everyday life yet, it is something external, something excessive, it´s rules are still being negotiated (see the great scene with Pfaff and Ratzke playing rock-paper-scissors late in the film).

The buildup is slower than usually, but in its double focus on the economics and affects of crime this is a prime Graf-Basedow collaboration.

Der kühne Schwimmer, Karl Anton, 1957

More supreme silliness from the guy who brought you BONJOUR, KATHRIN. This time around, unfortunately, there´s only one truly out there musical number - a haunted house sfx extravaganza with Mario Bava colours! Otherwise it´s mostly long shots of cheerful misfits busy confusing each other and embarassing themselves. Except for Walter Gross´s contributions, who is supposed to be funny because he says everything twice - everything twice, he says! - the comedy is surprisingly lively and Karl Anton, too, has the good sense to place Gunther Philipp in the vicinity of a knight´s armour. Also featuring: a joke about the nazi era, a rather rare pleasure in German cinema of the 50s.

Wenn Poldi ins Manöver zieht, Hans Quest, 1956

Dull adaptation of a Nestroy play, focussing on the overcomplicated plot instead of the spirit. Philipp´s double role can´t save it, although he gives the film his best, pro that he is.

Bloodsuckers, Ulli Lommel, 1997

At the same time hardly watchable and something close to a masterpiece... a Lommel no-budget vampire film that feels like a bizarro Harmony Korine project not at all interested in conventional notions of hipness, a psychedelic young adult offshoot of the no future subculture 90s, sex without desire, drugs without a lasting high, everyone´s lowkey depressed but too far gone to have any chance of rejoining the mainstream. The no-name cast is once again great. Michelle Bonfils is like someone out of a gothic Amy Heckerling film, and Lommel miraculously dug up Samantha Scully, the lead from Hellman`s SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3. As he did in STRANGERS IN PARADISE, the director himself plays, with detached deadpan-sexiness, a masters-of-ceremony-type figure.

The pretty abysmal, colour-bleeding version floating around looks like it was partially shot and especially edited - Lommel inserts Marilyn Monroe home movie clips and behind the scenes footage of a porn shoot at random intervals - on video, although it probably wasn´t.

Das Go-Go-Girl vom Blow-Up, Rolf Olsen, 1969

Olsen probably is better with adventure / crime stuff than with overly comedic stuff, but this is immensely watchable. He flirts with topless Munich 60s slacker cinema and even tries out a student protest side plot, only to quickly ease into a smooth, agile slapstick mistaken identity farce like straight out of the 50s. Philipp and Arent easily dominate the film, the nominal young leads don´t stand a chance. Secret weapon Voli Geiler.

Aus der Tiefe der Zeit, Dominik Graf, 2013

Munich is crumbling. One of the fiercer Graf crime tv hurricanes, no more solid ground anywhere, although all those zooms and swish pans can´t quite hide the fact that the script doesn´t come together as well as usually. The switch after two thirds from urban sociology to historical investigation might make sense conceptually, but there´s just not enough meat there to justify it. The final twist feels like a cheap stunt. Graf probably would´ve been better off focussing on the dynamics of the faux bourgeoise family from the start, because everything with Meret Becker and Erni Mangold is absolutely wonderful. Becker especially is completely unhinged - an identity-shattering earthquake of a performance that should be celebrated like Adjani in POSSESSION.

Zwei Herzen und ein Thron, Hans Schott-Schöbiner, 1955

Well-oiled and especially beautifully shot if never really inspired fluff.

Hangup, Henry Hathaway, 1974

I had been looking for Hathaway´s swan song for years (I even briefly considered a transatlantic flight when a print was screened in New York in 2014). Now a 16mm transfer has surfaced... and while the aspect ratio is off and the runtime is almost 20 minutes short of the imdb listing, it allows for an okay first impression. At the very least it makes clear that this isn´t a rush job, but a thoughtful and at least intermittendly intense drug drama turned exploitation thriller held back by a few obvious weaknesses.

Elliott is a smooth, adequate lead, but Marki Bey´s character is the true center of the film and also its main problem. She´s somehow both the engine and the victim, the subject and the object of the plot, the focus of desire (and of a variety of gazes), but also the one who, by way of her actions, keeps everyone else one step behind most of time... To pull this off, she would have to be positioned as some sort of cipher or at least as a femme fatale, but Bey mostly goes for over-the-top soapy acting, thereby constantly calling attention to the improbablilty and constructedness of her role.

The film mostly falls apart in the last 30 minutes and while some of the problems might be due to the print (there are some obvious gaps, especially toward the end), I don´t think this was ever a complete success. Still, it´s a fascinating find, both as a somber, disillusioned take on blaxploitation and as a late Hathaway film, another one of his attempts to make sense of the new codes of violence and sexuality suddenly invading cinema. The two big action scenes especially are expectably great, especially the first one that has Elliot pushing (wunderfully puffy-sleazy) Michael Lerner several times straight into a television set.

Would make a fascinating double feature with Demy´s MODEL SHOP.

Bad Boys for Life, Adil el Arbi & Bilall Fallah, 2010

The whole film is like Martin Lawrence: completely inconsistent, overeager even when chilling but engaged and adaptive enough to make even mediocre jokes work - to be sure, almost all of the jokes are mediocre at best, just as everything else plays out like a stupider, livelier, and much less elegant version of GEMINI MAN. The action scenes aren´t all that over the top and generally a bit better than in most recent blockbusters. Some of the garish Florida colour schemes are quite nice, too. Also, El Arbi and Fallah do have an eye for comedic acting (mostly of the self-deprecating kind), and this goes a long way, most of all with Lawerence (who, between this and THE BEACH BUM, clearly is due for a major comeback), but also with the wonderful Pantoliano, while Smith struggles a bit in the more operatic scenes.

Make no mistake, a lot of this really is way too stupid, especially everything involving the team that insists on tagging along despite its obvious redundancy. The ending makes it clear that Sony tries to set BAD BOYS up as a FAST & FURIOUS style franchise, which is a terrible idea and will probably result in a couple of very bad movies somewhere down the line. This, however, mostly works against most odds.

Das Mädchen ohne Pyjama, Hans Quest, 1957

One thing I love about middle of the road cinema of the 30s to 50s: Even largely uninspired films often have at least one or two standout scenes, a few minutes engaging / eccentric enough to almost redeem the whole thing. In this case there`s Philipp meticulously and fuzzily measuring, by way of a crab-like gripper-arm, the "stocking-tension" of scantily clad female feet models, whom he only addresses with the numbers he has assigned to them... Some of the scenes of Philipp and Karlowa are very nice, too, especially her wacky seduction dance. Otherwise, dullness reigns. The quest to find a good Quest film continues.

Mikosch im Geheimdienst, Franz Marischka, 1959

As good a place as any to take a (probably not all that long) break from all those web-rips of german language klamauk, in order to grant my quickly melting brain some relief. This might even have been some sort of watershed movie back in 59: not just the first Franz Marischka film, but also the first Franz Josef Gottlieb film (he`s credited as "Mitregisseur"). Indeed, there`s some sort of new energy present, at times a darker exploitation undercurrent shines through and also quite a few of the jokes are actually inventive. The tone is crass in a refreshing way, less paternalistic, less inhibited, maybe even less sexist (not everyone will agree on that one, probably). Fast, shameless, and pleasure-oriented - I approve.

Shogun and Little Kitchen, Ronny Yu, 1992

Perfectly attuned sentimental action comedy, switching back and forth between Yuen Biao acrobatics, folksy Ng Man-Tat humor and Leon Lai´s more dramatic storyline. A film that makes a scene of Ng and Maggie Shiu discussing Shiu´s "boyishness" in the midst of a raging fire feel completely natural and touching.

In Hongkong cinema, cooking often is one of the best allegories of show business in general and the film industry in particular. Here, it´s all about the threat of pure, unhinged showiness, propelled by a surplus of capital and unhinged from tradition.

Marked for Murder, Lee Chiu, 1994

Tight bare-bones action, with a few Ninja´s thrown in (the director frequently worked with Godfrey Ho). It´s about HK and mainland police joining forces to battle a magnificently crazy looking villain. The set-up is straightforward ideological, an invocation of pan-chinese authoritarian sexiness, but when the plot gets rolling, things do not quite work out that way: The decision to include mainland troops in a hk police investigation inevitably leads to perpetual confusion, a series of doublings and misunderstandings, a climate of fundamental insecurity only temporarily glossed over by all those heroic shootouts. Beneath the muscular surface, paranoia reigns.

The action scenes are marvellous, the last one especially is all-out gorgeous. Early 90s Hongkong cinema never disappoints. Where else in film history could a super obscure low budget film without any star power have had access to this level of craft?

Tiger on the Beat 2, Lau Kar-Leung, 1990

Much less intense than part 1 (which I haven´t seen in many years, though), a routine thriller with a strangely subdued emotional arch, adequate, humble performances, dynamic action and incredible stunt work.

Conan Lee´s failed jump that put him in the hospital for several months is included in the final film not once, but twice, from different angles, followed by a shot of him bouncing back up on his feet completely unharmed. A perfect example of the necessary entanglement of truth (profilmic space) and lie (montage) in cinema.

The bruises of Ellen Chan, who has the fitting screen name "Sweet Dream", look way to real, too. At one point, she gets literally thrown under the bus several times.

Oyuki the Virgin, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1935

Mizoguchi`s STAGECOACH starts with a few pronounced bursts of energy, images of destruction triggering a burst of autonomous sound followed by vectors of linear, decisive movements, which are soon deflected, though, transferred into empty male gestures and inexpressible female interiority, helpless glances, ornamental stasis, floating cherry blossoms.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

UT

Das Untertiteln verändert den Blick auf Filme. In den Blick gerät Sprache als Geste, die nicht nur mimische, sondern gesamtkörperliche Vor- und Nachbereitung, wie auch Begleitung des Sprechens. Besonders aufmerksam werde ich für die Kunst des zum-Sprechen-Ansetzens, für das Intervall zwischen dem Öffnen des Mundes und dem Einsetzen des Klangs, zum Beispiel bei Max Hansen, der oft schon alles gesagt hat, bevor auch nur ein Wort über seine Lippen gekommen ist. Die Sprache selbst ist bei ihm lediglich ein Automatismus, der Hansens bereits im Gestischen komplett aufgehobenen Subjektivität gar nicht mehr bedarf und eben deshalb ganz kunstfertige Eigengesetzlichkeit wird. Eine Singstimme wie die eines Vogels; tatsächlich hat sein Mund etwas von einem Schnabel. Otto Wallburg wiederum ist schlichtweg kaum angemessen untertitelbar eben weil an ihm alles ansatzlos zum weniger sprachlichen als allgemeiner lautlichen Ausdruck drängt. Bei ihm verorte ich den Ton in jeder Phase seines Körpers, während er bei Hansen ausschließlich am Schnabel / Mund zu kleben scheint.

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Ciao maschio, Marco Ferreri, 1978

Gerard Depardieu as a brotherless, aimless Harpo Marx adrift in a strangely depopulated New York. No one is at home, here - the interiors never feel lived in, just as the exteriors never feel like public spaces. A world invaded and paralyzed by props.

The general air of weirdness, the jabs at popular culture, the casting of a porn star opposite Depardieu and Mastroianni: all of these are less punkish gestures than vessels for melancholia in one of the more interesting post 68 films. Social cohesion has been lost, irrevocably (the only collective project depicted in the film: how to experience rape), but the various retreats into private fantasy are being blocked, too.

In the end, masculinity, lost in its own perversions and mirrorings, burns down, while female, natural fertility lives on. This opposition probably is very much in line with Ferreri's worldview, but, in this film at least, the vitalist last minute solution doesn't feel utopian at all, but rather like just another dead end.

The Bounty, Roger Donaldson, 1984

"...and civilized men we shall die."

Bounty 84 is no longer a naive, straightforward adventure tale, but not yet a postmodern reappropriation. Donaldson tries for a more serious tone, and he also constantly suppresses politics in favour of interpersonal drama. The result is surprisingly dull for quite some time, this only gets affecting toward the end, when the death drive takes over.

Shakma, Hugh Parks, 1990

A bunch of badly dressed people lock themselves into an ugly building in order to play an extremely dorky game not even they themselves have any real interest in. Except for some decidedly awkward sexual tension here and there, they also don`t care much for each other. So, this really is the perfect, most realistic film about academia ever - even before a mad monkey turns up and rips everyone into shreds.

Tanya´s Island, Alfred Sole, 1980

As much as I admire the intuition to combine the genres of female given name erotica and monkey suit trash... aside from the intriguing prolog this really is a terrible bore.

Trog, Freddie Francis, 1970

One of the more fascinating ape movie finds. By 1970, the missing link theme probably already felt pretty outdated. The monster design, too, is beyond ridiculous, but both Frances and Crawford still double down on all of this by taking the premise extremely seriously. His direction is as sober and methodical as her performance is committed. She`s like a flower hell-bent on making the world a more colourful place. The opposing force, Michael Gough`s eloquent fundamentalism, is very well articulated, too. Everyone here has a one-track mind, maybe even a bit too much so, but the melodramatic ending still carries some weight.

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, William Beaudine, 1952

Like a single, long nightclub act, not really funny but always pleasant, a bit boring but smooth enough in the right company. Petrillo might`ve been better suited channelling Joe E. Brown than Lewis, his performance does feel desperate at times; and Mitchell is surprisingly sleazy for a 50s crooner. Drugged out Lugosi and the static mise-en-scene (not without a few surprising moments of elegance, though - like the scene of Petrelli and the gorilla rhythmically walking up and down) perfectly complement each other. The true highlight is Charlita, though, in what seems to be one of her very few non-bit parts. She really seems to enjoy every second she`s on screen.

Congo, Frank Marshall, 1995

Not particularly good, but still probably a bit underrated. For about an hour everything flows quite well in its crude ways - much closer in spirit to 30s / 40s pulp b-films / serials than anything Spielberg or Lucas ever did. Crichton`s might even be better served by Congo`s slapdash rapid-fire approach than by Jurassic Park`s winking smartness. The cast is mostly good, too (even Walsh has his moments) and it's one of guess rather few films with a female ape suit artist... Unfortunately it mostly changes gear after the discovery of the hidden city and turns into just another bland, chaotic blockbuster.

Piazza Vittorio, Abel Ferrara, 2017

"I'm not a journalist, I'm a filmmaker. Big difference."

Gorillas in the Mist, Michael Apted, 1988

Basically all non-ape scenes are dull and the politics are at least somewhat dubious... but if Sigourney Weaver laying her head down on moss and stretching out her hand, in order to make contact with a gorilla isn't cinema, I don't know what is.

Ratcatcher, Lynne Ramsay, 1999

Finds enough small wonders on a beaten path to make one wish it would've strayed just a little bit further.

Blonde Venus, Josef von Sternberg, 1932

Pretty much perfect and perhaps the clearest evidence that Sternberg isn't interested in the ornamental for its own sake. His cinema strives for (and maybe only in this film truly achieves) an aesthetic equlibrium in which a homeless shelter is just as spectacular and intricate a space as a fancy nightclub. Dietrich on the other hand is the unstable element, the shapeshifter, the decentering of every gaze. But she also introduces a sense of tragedy, a real weight this world of smoke and layers otherwise would never be able to acquire. Through her, it almost becomes tangible, like the turning figurines in the beyond beautiful (and, like the whole film, very Ophulsian) last shot.

6 Underground, Michael Bay, 2019

I guess it took Bay to transform Ryan Reynolds's passive-aggressive, misanthropic quips into an aesthetic force.

Max mon amour, Nagisa Oshima, 1986

The making and unmaking of a mental image. On one level a "biting satire", granted, but on another, more interesting level it's a gentle, generous, optimistic film about learning to live with a non-neurotic curiosity about the world and its feminin secrets. Also, one of the very films I've seen so far (CONGO is another one) with a female ape suit performer. She's very good.

Being John Malkovich, Spike Jonze, 1999

I'll probably always dislike the indiewood films of this era... although I might be getting a bit more tolerant. I still can't stand clever scripts buried in cuteness, but maybe that's also a form of honesty: MALKOVICH might be, at heart, about a need for cuteness overwhelming all other intentions, good or bad, about a desperate wish for the world to be cute. That might be a starting point. It is also about sex, which automatically makes it better than most other films of its kind.

Bob Roberts, Tim Robbins, 1992

Suffers from polemical overreach (see especially Rickman's and Esposito's characters), but its surprisingly rich in detail, especially about the inner workings of media. Robbins's performance is excellent.

Scarlet Diva, Asia Argento, 2000

Asia Argento, love child of Abel Ferrara and Klaus Lemke.

Unstrung Heroes, Diane Keaton, 1995

Has a sense of place (those narrow staircases in the family home... while the stairs in the psychiatric ward look like something out of a lavish 30s musical) and not much more. No control of performance, especially, everyone's set in his or her usual routine. Michael Richards didn't even get a haircut when driving over from the Seinfeld stage.

Miele, Valeria Golino, 2013

Floats by without registering much, even though Jasmine Trinca is a pretty awesome bodily presence. The way she leans on things, slightly awkward but also sportive, with a constant body tension not visible on first sight. The central relationship is interesting in theory, too: two people stabilizing each other but at the same time seperating themselves even more from the world. What's missing is a sense of orgency that goes beyond the level of the drawing board script. Its also too clean and too white and the cinematographer is way too fond of certain scope framing tricks like filming parts of a face in close-up and opening up the rest of the frame.

Lost River, Ryan Gosling, 2014

The Malick parts are better than the Refn parts. While it's beyond obvious that LOST RIVER is only the simulation of an original work, this doesn't matter all that much because cinema is made up of small sensations and a film that, for once, really makes use of Christine Hendricks's gothic 19th century gingerness already is on my good side.

Little Women, Greta Gerwig, 2019

Only truly comes alive during a not quite hour-long stretch in the middle, when the dramatic stakes are heightened and the weaker ensemble scenes make way for more intimate stuff, often filmed in symmetrical long shots, quietly oppressing but never crossing over into suffocating arthouse formalism. Fred's proposal to Amy, like a paper cut-out, Jo and Beth sitting on the beach with the sand drifting away from them, toward the camera. The latter is also one of the few moments in which the non-linear storytelling pays off, because it feels like an immediate reflex, an answer to emotional pain, and not, like in most other scenes, like simply doubling down on the point the film wants to make.

A few other scenes are beautiful, too... Gerwig is too good a director to not occasionally turn those storylines into somehing affecting. Also, like in the much better LADYBIRD, she knows how to make use of a limited colour palette and the cast is, unsurprisingly, great. (My favorite might be, strangely enough, Watson, but then again I also liked Meg best in the LeRoy version.)

It's just not a very Gerwig film. To make sure I don't sound like a broken record: The problem isn't the "woke rewriting". While some lines like the one about the north also profiting from the system of slavery might be a bit much, the enhanced focus on Jo's professional and private frustrations is perfectly grounded in both the material and Ronan's performance. It's more about the way this gives in to tired oscar bait movie conventions like the montage sequence when Jo finally writes her book; generally there's no real sense of the passing of time. And it's also a bit about Gerwig's fondness for showy dramaturgic tricks that even bugged me in LADYBIRD. Then, it was the mother circling the airport in the end, here it's the dream sequence. Might be an unfair and stupid perspective, but to me Gerwig is just a bit too comfortable with the textures and limitations of the kind of quality cinema she's drifting into.

The Last of the Mohicans, Michael Mann, 1992

Behind the waterfall, we will see. As if an early romantic painter had discovered cinema per chance, mastered it immediately and then, after having been told the history of the indian wars by several unreliable eyewitnesses, transformed it, with the help of a doped-up organ player, into a fantasmagoric animated picture scroll about the death of a nation (and a few small hints about the birth of a new one).

I had forgotten and probably never really known how absolutely perfect this is. Michael Mann mobilizing all the forces of classic cinema, thereby freeing himself to move beyond it. Although if you ask me today, this just has to be his findest hour. Saw it in 35mm, which I'm afraid once again is a must or at least a grace.

Wilde Maus, Josef Hader, 2017

Pretty wonderful for a while: a relaxed urban comedy, distantly evoking 70s Woody Allen. Directed so smoothly, you'd think that Hader has done this since forever. At first, the script feels unconsequential in the best of ways, as the film is completely driven by performance and both Hader / Hierzegger and Hader / Friedrich work perfectly together (most of the supporting actors can't keep up, though).

Unfortunately, this isn't enough to make an impact in the marketplace Hader is shooting for, and it also wouldn't be very austrian, I guess, so the film just has to take a heavy, existential, "meaningful" term and this, predictably, doesn't lead to a pleasant place. Still, the first 30 minutes alone put it way above most of the austrian festival hits I've seen over the years.

Le Gout des autres, Agnes Jaoui, 2000

Everyone has his or her neat little problems and when we dim them all down even further, to an equal, acceptable level and put a bit of Schubert in between we have a neat little french arthouse film. When played straight, like here, that's probably one of the least interesting genres there is, but there are some small pleasures, Chabat for example is rather interesting, oblique in a Richard Gere way.

The Age of Innocence, Martin Scorsese, 1993

They are beautiful enough in themselves, but for once I'm not sure whether all those Scorsese flourishes ultimately work for or against the movie. The lighthouse flashback at the end, with the waves of memory overflowing the image, would've probably hit much harder if the film had shown more restraint earlier when it comes to painterly effects. The textures of bourgeoise art aren't as flexible as the textures of pulp (see CAPE FEAR), they lend themselves to stuffiness far more easily.

All this doesn't matter, of course, when Michelle Pfeiffer sprawls out on the coach, opening herself up for Day-Lewis's kiss.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Tommy Lee Jones, 2005

Tommy Lee Jones directs his first film and it's like an old master's work, relaxed and self-assured, playful and poetic. The script might be too smart for its own good at times, but the way the nonlinear, meandering americana beginning organically flows into a folksy existentialist epic is just marvellous. Wellmanesque.

Little Man Tate, Jodie Foster, 1991

Foster's scenes with Hamm-Byrd are so wonderful, they overshadow everything else, which is mostly a good thing.

Ma femme est une actrice, Yvan Attal, 2001

Male hetero neuroses treated both naively and playfully. Like a Hong film, but directed by an unassuming fratboy, and also very french and featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg. Unfortunately, this sounds way more interesting than the film actually is.

Ordinary People, Robert Redford, 1980

Redford is an interesting director and in some scenes like the bowling alley date with Elizabeth McGovern or Mary Tyler Moore's breakdown on the golf court this shines through, but most of it is pretty heavy handed. When it works it works because of the cast.

‘...più forte ragazzi!’, Giuseppe Colizzi, 1972
Not necessarily one of the more inventive or more serious Spencer / Hill films, but they are still full of energy, the anarchistic streak is rather pronounced, the Oliver Onions title track is extremely smooth and, perhaps most surprisingly, there's quite a bit of seventies widescreen style.

Il traditore, Marco Bellocchio, 2019

Hard not to place IL TRADITORE next to THE IRISHMAN (if only because they're the two best films of 2019), but the comparison probably doesn't make much sense. This one isn't about a moral reckoning, but about a man choosing his own dance of death.

The Monster Maker, Sam Newfield, 1944

As far as signs of devilish mischief in horror films go, fingers too thick to play the piano may be one of my favorites so far. Also, C. Carrol Naish and Tala Birell make for a beautiful mad scientist couple.

Knives Out, Rian Johnson, 2019

People seem to be extremely generous with this; I mostly couldn't relate, though. Johnson is nerdy enough to construct a few nice mise-en-abyme whodunit mechanics, but he never transforms them into an engaging whole. Stylized mysteries like this only work when they're done with a certain nihilistic irreverence, a willingness to take risks with the characters (this is especially true when your film stretches out over 130 minutes instead of 65). Here the mystery is not about unsettling the world, but about "revealing" it, ie about letting it fall in line with preconceived notions. Also, Daniel Craig is grotesquely miscast, and except for Toni Collette and Don Johnson everyone else is underwhelming, too. I didn't even care for Michael Shannon and I always care for Michael Shannon.

Judy, Rupert Goold, 2019

Nothing against Zellwegger who is an honest-to-goodness showwoman trying to make the best out of a dire script and a general lack of imagination... but there's really nothing going on here, just go watch the Dalida biopic instead, you won't regret it.

Una primavera, Valentina Primavera, 2019

The patriarchy as witnessed from the passenger seat. Holds up on second viewing.

Just Like Weather, Allen Fong, 1986

Marriage as a constant negotiation about which dead end to pursue... and still, there's beauty along the way, once in a while.

The promised land, wherever that may be, seems to be just one phonecall away, but that phonecall will never work out. What's left are his dreams and her diversions. He wants to leave everything behind, she's constantly surrounded by pets and stuffed animals.

The pick-up lines of the sleazy veterinarian...

Girls of the Night, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1961

Life after prostitution. Breaking away from sex work is hard because of prejudice, and even more so because once you experienced it you recognize the pattern that come with it everywhere. Still, what gets me is not the eternal sameness of suffering, but Kuniko's abilty to adapt (this feels closer to Sumie Tanaka's scripts for Naruse than to Kinuyo Tanaka's work with Mizoguchi). When inserted into a farcical family melodrama she turns into a cheeky seductress, when thrown into exploitation hell she goes down kicking and screaming, the roses of romance make her bloom.

Very well made, a film of long shots punctured by close-ups that hit like bricks.

Hitler- Dead Or Alive, Nick Grinde, 1942

As dull as this unfortunately is for most of its running time, a poverty row film filled with wonderful character actors about an american businessman enlisting the mob in order to kill Hitler will never get less than three stars from me.

Konga, John Lemont, 1961

A film about looking, as engaging as it is clumsy. Starting with the premise (an ape monster as the missing link between animals and plants?) nothing really fits, but the stiffness of the presentation lends it an almost hypnotic feel. Both the carnivorous plants (one of them looks like a wobbly rubber dick with a tongue attached to it) and the ape costume are extremely absurd and treated with a touching earnestness perfectly in line with Michael Gough's seemingly endless monologues. Once the rampage starts, the film doesn't speed up but slows down, mainly because every tiny bit of monster action is drowned in a sea of statuesque, somber reaction shots (my favorite shot in the film: a group of men turning their heads like spectators of a tennis match - while observing the monster smashing the evil scientist to death). The climax is completely static: Konga standing next to Big Ben, waiting stoically for the military to take him down.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

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21 Bridges, Brian Kirk, 2019

Should've ended at dawn - the dense nighttime feel and look is the best thing about it. Aside from that it's surprisingly well-made police stuff without any desire to be more than it is. Boseman is a very solid lead, Miller might be a bit out of her depth.

I don't know how much the Russo's had to do with this, but it's indeed somewhat grotesque that they might invest their Marvel fame into producing the same kind of bread-and-butter genre cinema that is being put out of business by their own employers.

The Irishman, Martin Scorsese, 2019

Like all great Scorsese films it's completely straightforward and about very many different things at the same time. I'll have to see it again soon, but what impressed me most the first time around was its attention to different ways of speaking. This seems to be less about the breakdown of a world than about the breakdown of speech that follows it - with a certain, painful delay.

The Flying Fool, Tay Garnett, 1929

Strangely enough, my first William Boyd film. A nice one, with playful use of music and an early precode feel. Marie Prevost shines.

Eraser, Chuck Russell, 1996

With his cynical smirk, Caan is the perfect bad guy for post-ideological mid 90s action blockbusters like this one. Arnold, being reduced to a punchline automaton, has lost most of the manic energy of his 80s screen presence by this point, but Russell keeps things moving nicely, even though this only really takes off when he embraces the ridiculous wholeheartedly, like in the airplane scene, or, of course, when the reptiles rush in.

Ashik Kerib, Sergei Parajanov, 1988

Wacky and beautiful and fetishistic, extremely hybrid in its textuality, a film deeply immersed in vernacular traditions of performance and storytelling (this is not at all an exercise in obscurantism, it's all about turning the world into a colorful, intuitively graspable alphabet of life, love, sex and death), but at the same time a completely private, personal affair. Parajanov probably mainly shot this for himself. Still, there's an utopian, and maybe also mournful quality to it: in a better world, this is what popular cinema could look (and sound!) like.

Instinct, Jon Turteltaub, 1999

At least Hopkins probably had some fun doing this. Turteltaub, who sometimes makes perfectly nice National Treasure movies, really should stay clear from the temptation of quality cinema, though. The best thing about this is a 90 seconds behind the scenes video about the baby gorilla suit effect shots with Verne Troyer I found on Youtube.

The Young One, Luis Bunuel, 1960

A fascinating film, five people working through a maze of racist and sexual violence that is both perfectly represented in their mutual relationships and not quite graspable as direct experience. It`s not about negotiations, though, in a way the five characters do not even properly communicate, everybody is set in his ways, in his manner of speaking, except maybe for Evalyn, the only one interested in encountering perspectives outside of herself. Change is, when it does happen, a result of introspection, of a relentless probing.

The island isn`t something to be conquered as in ROBINSON CRUSOE, but it`s still very present as a fundamentally hostile environemnt exerting pressure on everyone equally. That very long scene of a raccoon devouring a chicken... In the end, only Miller remains here, resigned, maybe even relieved, having made peace with the fact that he, and perhaps everyone, is an island.

Osaka Elegy, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1936

For long stretches, starting with the super sweet shot of Asai's wife sleeping next to her dog, this plays more like a comedy of manners than like a melodrama. There's a stylish coldness to it that makes it hit all the harder once Ayako's loneliness becomes front and center. Sitting in her fancy flat, waiting for her old lover, wrapped up in her own smoke... Hurriedly leaving the house to meet her young lover, desperately hopefull... wasting away whistling behind the mosquito net...

Grave of the Fireflies, Isao Takahashi, 1988

A lullaby, all sweet and beautiful, it`s only that you won`t open your eyes ever again after closing them.

---

A film for Bazin and Cavell. If live action is, at the core, about negotiating the improbability of absence, because there`s always something in front of the camera, animation is about negotiating the improbability of presence, especially presence of a world, or a sister.

The Water Magician, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1933

The curious gaze of a glamourous female artist through the window of a stagecoach toward a stubborn, handsome young man sets in motion a conventional, but well-constructed melodrama. He is not worthy of her gaze, and in a way she knows this: it's her gaze, her choosing to look at him that makes him special. (This is made even clearer when she discovers him again, a bit later, on a bridge, virtually willing him into being by her gaze.)

Her following downfall is shot in a fluid, somewhat detached style and pierced by a number of close-ups of Irie (who I mostly know as a key Naruse actress of the late 30s; she's very good here, too). A stand-out scene is the ballet-like attack of the robbers.

I`m still not quite sure what a "water magician" actually does.

Sisters of the Gion, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1936

"Society has its rules."
(spoken while bowing in front of a shinto shrine)

Romance, Caterine Breillat, 1999

Private discourse written on bodies. Much more on faces than on the lower parts, though. Everyone's looking so strange, here. The calligraphy of her hair on Daceys features, Stévenin's sealed-off arrogance, Berléand's platonic ideal of ugliness, that cyberpunk-anime-style blond guy tagging along a few times... Siffredi's clumsiness (while not fucking) is the only human element.

Sansho the Bailiff, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954

hors-champ as a moral force

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939

That last scene with the parade being both a death march for Otoku and the ultimate reason for her fading away... her both killed by and mourned for by his visibility...

Nabonga, Sam Newfield, 1944

A bit slow at times, but if one can deal with the various shortcomings that come with the territory in a PRC jungle film, this has a lot going for it. Newfield is always good with actors, and here he has a fascinating cast: Julie London in her first film, a completely natural performance, assuredly handling Corrigan's gorilla and flirting with an awkward Buster Crabbe who is absolutely helpless when confronted with her charms (she really can't get her hands off him...); oldschool pros Barton MacLaine and Fifi D'Orsay (!) roaming the jungle with rather murky, undefined objectives, like free agents, ready for a paycheck, but not for any lasting commitments; and Prince Modupe easily transcending his black sidekick role and a few racist allusions in the script - he's the true center of the film, the only one reacting completely adequately to his surroundings.

The Straits of Love and Hate, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1937

Chosing to be a part of a double act comedy team over life with a weak father`s boy - the closest to a happy ending one can hope for in Mizoguchi, probably.

(I really wish there`d be a better version available, some of the outdoor shots look like they`d once looked beyond beautiful.)

A Geisha, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953

Two women cutting themselves off from the sphere of circulation, retreating into private spaces, no longer venturing beyond the confines of the dark alleyway in front of their tea house. Of course, this is not sustainable. The outside world is closing in, and the final collapse is signaled by a heap of presents Michiyo Kogure brings back into her rooms.

A Woman in the Rumor, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954

Another very methodical, analytic postwar Mizoguchi melodrama, too soapy to be one of his best, but Yoshiko Kuga`s earnest, upright figure navigating, and gradually getting sucked into the bustling, aching, strangely vast space of the bordello is incredibly touching.

(Films like this and A GEISHA might be a bit underrated because they tend to disemphasise camera dynamics in favor of set design, a less obvious marker of authorial agency.)

Link, Richard Franklin, 1986

I might just be excited about finally having found an ape film with ape action in almost every shot; plus there are obvious weaknesses like the annoying, overblown, percussion-heavy Goldsmith score. Still, I had lots of fun with it. Very inventive, constantly redefining its setting and switching between moods, even the last act mostly works with the whole thing turning into a quirky, tongue-in-cheek slasher. Elisabeth Shue is wonderful, too, and reminded me of Jennifer Connelly in PHENOMENA and LABYRINTH. Tough and curious about the world, but also receptive.

Ugetsu, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953

on making amends

Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director, Kaneto Shindo, 1975

Kaneto is more interested in the social origins of Mizoguchi`s cinema than in aesthetics, which works well in a film like this. A touching reconstruction and invaluable especially when it comes to the first part dealing with veterans from the film industry of the 1910s and 1920s and their embodied memories. Like the old cameraman repeating the gesture of simultaneously cranking the camera and pulling focus.

Les particules, Blaise Harrison, 2019

A good eye for amateur actors and teenage hangout routines only goes so far. The trippier segments wear their influences on their sleeves and never manage to transform them into something unique, while the love story would have needed much more commitment on all fronts.

Les Miserables, Ladj Ly, 2019

Scene for scene, some of it works quite well, especially in terms of exploration of space. The film constantly, starting with the very first scene, insists on the bigger picture, though, and it becomes clear very fast that, to arrive somewhere meaningful, it would need (and the Spike Lee comparisons do help, here) either a less contrived script or some measure of stylization. Ideally both. As it is, it never leaves arthouse potboiler territory.

Beau Travail, Claire Denis, 1999

Survives largely unharmed both its own canonisation and countless, mostly unbearable, imitators. I guess one of the reasons for this might be that Denis's images never come from a place of perceptual / ideological purity, but speak of a primal fixation and conflictedness.

In this case this means that readings of BEAU TRAVAIL as a critique of repression, while probably not completely wrong, miss what's really interesting about it: The foreign legion really IS Galoup's Brigadoon. The constellation of male and female bodies he perceives and at the same moment becomes a part of (both the perverted, colonial chivalry in his dealings with women, the simplification of sex by way of ethnic difference, and the sadomasochistically charged hierarchy among the men) is a very tangible version of the aesthetic sublime. When Sentain appears, this paradise is threatened, but at the same time it's heighened, perfected - the images become even more abstract, the last remnants of the empirical reality of post-colonial Djibouti drift away.

---

This might point toward a general problem I have with a lot of writing on Denis. Images like Binoche's fuck machine in HIGH LIFE or the vampiric excesses in TROUBLE EVERY DAY are often read as on some level liberating transgessions, or at least as evidence of a body-positive outlook, while the sometimes almost Riefenstahlesque (or let's just say: I really wish she'd direct a CONAN remake one day) stylisations in BEAU TRAVAIL are thought of in completely different terms: as critique of the most damning and self-evident sort. I'd argue that this is a misguided simplification in both cases. All three films (and probably some of her other works as well) depict fantasies of an aesthetic absolute that, in one way or another, transforms the shape, substance and sexual charge of our bodies. And in all of these films - another aspect most writings about her films seem to not care much about - these fantasies are rejected, not intellectually, but practically, violently.

The Life of Oharu, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1952

Still Mizoguchi's quintessential work for me. The scene that really broke me this time was Oharu imitating a goblin cat, maybe her only moment of true agency in the film.

Netherworld, David Schmoeller, 1992

Accumulates a number of very nice southern gothic horror motifs and goes exactly nowhere with them, but this aimlessness might be the biggest asset of the film. Like being stuck in a jinxed "country bordello" for ever and always.

Von morgens bis Mitternacht, Karl-Heinz Martin, 1920

Both me and the print were way too exhausted yesterday. I'm pretty sure there's something

interesting going on here, so I have to meet this one under better circumstances some day.

Opium, Robert Reinert, 1919

In a way the whole film revolves around a single image of densely layered orientalia set in China: a chinese man discovers his wife being seduced by a westerner. The shot is intricate, almost mise-en-abyme-like: the forms of the lovers are inscibed into a scene of frames and ornamental shadows, the betrayed husband approaches them like one would approach a painting, and then he turns his body toward the camera, thereby becoming part of the composition himself.

This image, repeated several times throughout the film, sets in motion a doomsday machine additionally fueled by, of course, opium. The drug has its own often repeated image, too: A title card set against a live-action backdrop of dancing, half-naked women. (There are "lurid" dancers in the background of many other scenes, too; it pays off focusing on them and their rather awkward, but also joyfull movements once in a while.)

Confronted with the quadruple threat of drugs, sex, ethnic difference, and jealousy, no one can hold on to his or her innocence, let alone sanity. In itself, this is nothing special in Weimar cinema (might almost be its default setting, in fact), but what's special about OPIUM is the way these threats permeate and transform the images. For once, an artistically ambitious Weimar film isn't drawn toward stasis and monolithic self-torment, but toward a flurry of sensuous, if completely corrupted activity. Toward maniacal image-making without hope for aesthetic salvation.

Schatten - Eine nächtliche Halluzination, Arthur Robison, 1923


Sets up an elaborate aesthetic matrix to play around with the usual themes of licentiousness and jealousy. At its core, it's about externalizing subjectivity, in a very methodical way: Once feelings are projected - whether onto a wall, or onto people - they change their form.

I should be very much on board with this, but I couldn't really relate to the stuffy self-seriousness that unfortunately goes along with it.

Friday, March 13, 2020

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Eye Candy, Katharina Kraft, 2019

Fascinating scene, fascinating protagonist... Really a shame this is so dull.

Searching Eva, Pia Hellenthal, 2019

A lot of the more stylized shots (like the one that looks like a rip-off of the opening of MILLENIUM MAMBO) do not work particularly well, but as an attempt of "writing" (instead of catching) an elusive life it's extremely fascinating.

Fleischwochen, Joachim Iseni, 2019

On the incongruity of body and world. A small masterpiece.

Madame, Stephane Riethauser, 2019

Some of the home movies are fascinating. Otherwise, a bit slick.

DDR - Ohne Titel, Peter Braatz, 1991

Searching for the sound of a country that just lost its dominant beat. Pointed observations and freestyle landscape jamming organically flowing into each other. (Among many other things: a cure for formalism.)

Una Primavera, Valentina Primavera, 2018

Notions of masculinity handed down straight from Mussolini closing in from all sides. What`s left are gestures of helplessness, and maybe a small shimmer of hope in the shape of a lively niece who is only casually impressed by the motorbike of her suitor. A strong film because Primavera isn`t interested in preconcieved notions and stays on the inside the whole time.

Last Christmas, Paul Feig, 2019

I thought for quite a while that this might be Feig`s best film: the same eye for relaxed, freewheeling acting as always (who would`ve thought after TERMINATOR GENISYS and CRAZY RICH ASIANS that Clarke and Golding are both natural romcom actors? I sure didn`t, and then there`s Michelle Yeoh, too), but much more control and a better script.

Unfortunately Feig seems to trust his better instincts less and less toward the end. The big revelation at the center of the script, which should (and could) have elevated the film toward pure cinematic romanticism, is treated like an awkward afterthought, and then hidden beneath all kinds of secondary resolutions. (Clarke`s encounter with Golding not only saves her life, but heals, by way of a rather clumsy wokeness overreach, everyone around her... thereby exchanging cinematic fantasy for social fantasy.)

Wuthering Heights, Luis Bunuel, 1954

The direction feels a bit more detached than in other mexican Bunuel films, but this suits the systematical madness of the material quite well; an irresistible drive toward the gothic, but experienced from a certain distance. Jorge Mistral is an excellent Heathcliff.

Frozen, Buck and Lee, 2013


In its best moments, FROZEN feels like a the romantic dream of a depressed barbie doll. It`s not without imagination and not even without a few moments of elegance usually completely absent in modern Disney films - most of these are centered around Elsa, who is a truly fascinating presence, at least in theory.

Still, this never had any sort of grip on me. I think this has less to do with the tired action-adventure plot and the terribly bland songs than with the visuals; as with most cgi animation, it seems like there`s an incongruity between the dynamic and the static elements of the image. The dynamic parts are too alive, everything flows too smoothly, thereby draining all energy from the static parts; and when they try to make everything move it just looks messy. To me, the world of FROZEN feels as lifeless as the backdrops in terrible 90s computer games like Myst.

Robinson Crusoe, Luis Bunuel, 1954

The necessary tragedy of instrumental reason.

La donna scimmia, Marco Ferreri, 1964

Back to ape films, finally. This is a strange and conflicted one, though. Basically it's a marriage drama disguised as a satirical comedy - or the other way around, it's never quite possible to get a grip on it, as both modes of address are constantly undermining each other. The setup is too ridiculous to be taken at anything other than crude allegory, but at the same time the psychological stakes and the slow pace undercut the farcical aspects.

In the end (and like most of the Ferreri films I've seen), it's more interesting in theory than in realization. Every single scene is played out painfully long, and Tognazzi is so dominant an actor that Girardot's quite nuanced performance never stands a chance. That might be the point, though.

Still, much better than almost all studio comedies I`ve seen in the last few years.

A Simple Favor, Paul Feig, 2018

Feig seems to have no sense for suspense whatsoever, so he settles for an ungainly farcical tone and ill-adviced shots at self-reflexivity (the whole vlogger storyline is terrible), both made bearable by the generally very good cast. I was mostly on board until the extremely annoying last 10 minutes. On the other hand, this is a very bad time to lose an audience.

Boyz n the Hood, John Singleton, 1991

Very good acting and all the iconic moments I remembered from watching this as a teenager are still there, but it's also much clumsier than in my memory. Basically all attempts at turning casual observation into moralist storytelling, or, even worse, political commentary, fall flat.

Monkeys, Go Home!, Andrew V. McLaglen, 1967

A repressed, permanently grinning bachelor drives into a small town and, with the help of four monkeys and Maurice Chevalier, destroys the local economy through wage dumping. In other words, a Disney movie.

In the end, what's really bad about this is that the monkeys are locked away in a room for most of the film.

Die Mauer, Jürgen Böttcher, 1991

Lots of interesting stuff, but clearly not the most engaging film one could have made at this particular space and time. Boettcher's detached style doesn't reap as many rewards as one may think, maybe because in the end the wall just isn't that cinematic an object. The best scenes treat it as a social space of a short-lived, somewhat awkward historical moment, a space for brief encounters between different social groups, before they returned to their respective quarters (where they've mostly stayed since).

Mossane, Safi Faye, 1996

Beautifully filmed with some striking images and an eye for female sensuality, but next to Faye's much more open-ended documentaries FAD'JAL and KADDU BEYKAT its straightforward approach is a bit disappointing.

Bride of the Gorilla, Kurt Siodmak, 1951

Uneasy mix of film noir and almost gorillaless gorilla movie. I love it.

Deadlier Than the Male, Ralph Thomas, 1967

Much more joyfull than expected, like a Bond film made up only of the smaller, more inventive scenes in between the cynical mayhem. Johnson is dull, but that gives the women more chance to shine. All the scenes with Sommer and Koscina are beautiful. The tender close-up of the peaceful, satisfied face of one of their victims immediately before they throw him off a balcony really took me by surprise. A pleasant film to die in.

Feuer und Eis, Willy Bogner, 1986

A surrealist game camouflaged as popular cinema: I see, I ski. I knew this would be a film for me as soon as I heard Emil Steinberger's warm swiss accent dubbed over images of Central Park. Loved every demented second of it.

Duel, Steven Spielberg, 1971

The radio interview in the beginning gets more ridiculous with every viewing. Makes one wonder whose paranoia we're dealing with, here. Still, as soon as the monster arrives, everything clicks.

Commando, Mark L. Lester, 1985

Arnie´s gaze.

Der Kurier des Zaren, Richard Eichberg, 1936

Walbrook elevates every film he's in and even besides that this has a sense of spectacle and movement largely absent in most other 30s German adventure films I've seen.

Mafioso, Alberto Lattuada, 1962

Lots of moving parts and still everything falling into place: must be a smoothly running machine. Take care that your thumb isn't cut off, though.

Just because you're allowed to touch real woman instead of those made of sand doesn't mean you've escaped.

Le professionnel, Georges Lautner, 1981

Well cast, good location work, a tight script, a pleasant sense of bodily roughness... but just a bit too much macho bullshit to get me engaged.

Peking Opera Blues, Tsui Hark, 1986
Life as a series of stage tricks, but this doesn't mean that love and death aren't real. Favorite moment this time around: the slow motion when it starts to snow.

Still waiting for a print that really does this film justice, though. Probably hopeless.

Boiling Point, Takeshi Kitano, 1990

I wouldn't be surprised if Kitano made this just for the baseball scenes - a perfect outlet for low-key absurdities. The one on the beach is especially beautiful. Otherwise it's a bit one-note, but I guess that's what deadbeat proletarian life on the outskirts of Tokyo might feel like. Develops a darker streak once Beat himself takes over.

Oeil pour oeil, Andre Cayatte, 1957

Two men battle it out in the desert, with a dead woman hovering over them the whole time. - Awesome minimalist-existentialist genre cinema driven by a perfectly articulated sense of moral obligation.

The Mechanic, Michael Winner, 1972

Surprisingly baroque. Even more surprising that it works smoothly from beginning to end. I wouldn`t have thought that Winner could pull off a scene like the one with the prostitute playacting a clingy girlfriend so well.

The Exterminator, James Glickenhaus, 1980

Heal it.

White Pongo, Sam Newfield, 1945

In William Nigh`s THE APE, a black killer gorilla collects spinal fluid, to make wheelchair-bound Maris Wrixon walk again. He succeeds but dies. In WHITE PONGO, Wrixon is stuck in the jungle, stalked by several men and a white gorilla that, in the final act, manages to abduct her. Then, a black gorilla shows up, fights the white gorilla, and saves Wrixon once again. What`s more, all gorillas aren`t gorillas, but played by the same man, Ray Corrigan, in different suits. In THE APE, the gorilla even diegetically isn`t a gorilla. It`s supposed to be Boris Karloff in a suit, but of course, Karloff never wears the costume, except for the scene in which he is exposed. In WHITE PONGO, Corrigan can`t play both gorillas when they`re in the same frame. Here, one of the gorillas (according to Ingo Strecker: the white one) had to be operated by a double. Which leads to the question whether all of those gorillas aren`t doubles to begin with. That`s the lesson the gorilla films introduce to cinema: It`s no longer just about the interconnection of actor and character, but about the three-way interaction of actor, character, and suit.

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While the film never quite manages to connect the gorilla stuff and the human interactions in any meaningful way, Newfield directs with the same laid-back ease I enjoyed in some of his westerns. He really seems to have felt at home directing this kind of shoestring budget quickies.

My Sommer of Love, Pawel Pawlikowski, 2004

I can easily imagine a great film about Emily Blunt luring Natalie Press into a satanic lesbian sex cult, especially when set against the warm, lush colours of the Yorkshire countryside. This, however, is just dull.

The White Gorilla, Harry L. Fraser, 1945

More gorilla madness with Ray Corrigan. This starts with a few people stuck in a jungle hut. Then Corrigan arrives in human form and tells a convoluted story, revealed in flashbacks, featuring two gorillas, one of them white ("the outcast of the jungle"; at least partly the same design as in WHITE PONGO) and the various exploits of a "tiger boy". The tiger boy part is snatched completely from a lively, if casually racist jungle adventure serial of the silent era, while the gorilla part consists of new footage. Of course, the gorilla themselves aren`t real, but suits filled with humans - in this case, Corrigan himself! So we see Corrigan "observing" alternatingly a fast-moving tale about silent-age hero types batteling lions and decidedly slow-moving footage of himself wearing different kinds of monkey suits.

Film lies 24 times a second.

Eva, la venere selvaggia, Roberto Mauri, 1968

This has Brad Harris in top shape, men in (very bad) ape suits, a mostly naked jungle goddess interacting with cute animals and lots of footage of an expedition walking through a very italian looking jungle accompanied by hypnotic, repetitive electronic music. In other words: EVA should`ve been much more than a 2,5 star movie, but unfortunately the director is some Roberto Mauri instead of Joe D`Amato.

Frozen II, Buck and Lee, 2019

Might even be a bit stronger visually, and the songs at least aren`t worse than in the first one, but this time around I really couldn`t find anything to relate to at all. The once again way too hectic action-adventure plot isn`t anchored in the characters, but is presented as a "political" debt (ie an accumulation of postcolonialist tropes strategically deprived of all specificity). It`s not about melting your inner ice palace, but about soldiering through some magical forrest, because this is what you have to do this week.

In the end: no need for outrage, just not my kind of film. The snowman really is extremely annoying this time, though.

Fight Club, David Fincher, 1999

I was a bit afraid of taking this on again, but once I made it past the strenuous opening montage, I was mostly on board, maybe even a bit more than back then, because the dark glow of Cronenweth`s images looks even more gorgeous when compared to today`s drab digital aesthetics. Also, unlike other 90s pomo epics such as NATURAL BORN KILLERS and MAGNOLIA (maybe my two worst repertory experiences of the last 12 months), this has a sense of both rhythm and humour.

Dr. Renault´s Secret, Harry Lachman, 1942

Deeply affecting horror film with J. Carrol Naish as one of the saddest monsters of film history, a creature virtually crippled by displacement and a deep sense of shame. There`s also Mazurki`s character, a distorted mirror image of Naish: he is also humiliated, but avoids becoming a monster (in outward appearance) by way of externalizing the violence he experiences.

Between this and the hilarious IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD, post-impressionistic painter turned b-movie auteur Lachman clearly is a subject for further research.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

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A*P*E, Paul Leder, 1976

Has an almost hypnotic charme at times. I wouldn't be surprised if at least 50% of the footage was snatched from instructional / image films produced by the south korean army.

The Ape Man, William Beaudine, 1943

A man dressed up somewhat like a gorilla goes on a rampage, with tactical support from a man dressed up even more like a gorilla. Beaudine directs without any dedication for almost an hour, but the last ten minutes are surprisingly quirky and effective.

Murder by Numbers, Barbet Schroeder, 2002

I had so much fun with this... and looking at the ratings here my guess is most people can't look past cheesy material in films made after the 70s. I mean, this one really earns its Hitchcock references. Also, I miss Sandra Bullock.

Selvi Boylum Al Yazmalım, Atif Yilmaz, 1978

What is love and why? A melodrama about the incompatibility of inner speech and outer speech. Also: a truck as matchmaker. Floored, even on youtube.

A Son, Mehdi M. Barsaoui, 2019

This one has, I guess, what funding bodies call a good script

Bina, Orcun Behramn, 2019

The audience I saw it with mostly wasn't happy. I'm kind of intrigued, though. Behram never manages to unite allegory and genre in a smooth way, but there's always full commitment to the scene at hand. Also, it's really very depressing, all those cool american horror films would never dare to go this dark.

Ceviz Ağacı, Faysal Soysal, 2019

Overstuffed and / but novelistic. Don't quite know what to make of it yet. It's about male melancholia and violence against women and the fact that both themes do not really come together might be the most interesting thing about it.

Dişçinin Korkusu, Murat Erün, 2019

Speaking directly. Heartbreaking.

Küçük Şeyler, Kivanc Sezer, 2019

Yuppie depression comedy, long-take mise-en-scene, well-acted, good use of location. A solid crowd-pleaser but very one note. The eternal crisis of masculinity, nothing ever happens on that front. Don't mind me, though, it will find its audience.

Bilmemek, Leyla Yilmaz, 2019


A clear-cut, topical tragedy embedded in enough detail to make it a bit more than just servicable. Good eye for faces.

Kadinlar Ülkesi, Sirin Bahar Demirel, 2019

Like almost always with films like this the quirky autobiographical essay rhetorics got on my nerves pretty much from minute one... but the home-movie style footage is great and, well, it's about moving to Tampa.

Omar ve Biz, Mehmet Bahadir Er, Maryna Gorbach, 2019

Again, lots of detail, and Cem Bender is perfect for the role (he could easily star in a bunch of dtv TAKEN rip-offs), but the main storyline is just too contrived to let this go anywhere interesting.

Aşk, Büyü, vs, Ümit Ünal, 2019

Love is an island. Absolutely wonderful, a film that trusts its actresses completely.

The Killer, John Woo, 1989

Come on baby light my fire. Pop cinema so pure that melodrama constantly melds into euphoria.
Had fogotten both how crazy this is and Danny Lee`s striped suit.

The Ape, William Nigh, 1940

Interesting one. Another ape that might not really be an ape on the loose (these classic hollywood ape films all seem to negotiate a deep-seated, but not at all clear-cut and not necessarily regressive uneasiness with the human form; its not about becoming-animal, but rather about inter-species playacting). Here, the ape is a killer, but he also makes a woman walk again, and the film refuses to pit those actions against each others.

Also, a touching Karloff performance and some nice deadpan smalltown stuff.

Él, Luis Bunuel, 1953

Every director planning to make an arthouse film about the deconstruction of masculinity should be forced to watch this first and then decide if he / she really can bring on anything that can stand besides EL even for a second. Would save the festival circuit lots of grieve.

Murders in the Rue Morgue, Robert Florey, 1932

It's a shame that Florey's most ambitious feature was cut down to the length of the programmers he was making for most of the rest of his carreer. I'm not even sure that the material suits him especially well, as the film is much slower and at times much clumsier than breezy gems like THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY or THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK, but it's a major exercise in style, maybe distantly related to Borzages LILIOM - expressionistic fantasy europe decor turning even more artificial after the addition to sound. It's also pretty sick, something I always appreciate.

The scene with the german, italian and danish guy one-upping each other's ethnic stereotypes is fabulous.

Dry, Stephanie Linus, 2015

High intensity medical melodrama, basically a single cross-cutting sequence followed through toward its logical, bitter conclusion: how to connect the lives of a black female doctor working in Wales and a suffering child bride in northern Nigeria? Its single-mindedness, not only in terms of narration, but also of the mise en scene, might work against the film's clear intention to also introduce a psychological dimension, but the emotional boosts toward the end, the overflow of pain and crying, stands on its own.

White House Down, Roland Emmerich, 2013

"Your first act as president is going to be bombing the White House?" An innocent fairytale from the Obama era. Chaotic, but always with a live pulse.

Body Language, Moses Inwang, 2017

Oddball Nollywood thriller about a serial killer seemingly hung up on strippers and birdwatching. Stylish and slow. A really strange performance by Ramses Nouah. A film about schizophrenia, but also a schizophrenic film, with mood / desire being inextricably disconnected from narrative / capitalism.

Moses Inwang might turn out to be a Nigerian Brian de Palma one day. This one probably is better suited for Ulli Lommel aficionados, though. (I hope there still are a few around.)

Jeans Blues: No Future, Sadao Nakajima, 1974

Might look, on the surface, like a rather tame, a bit too episodic exploitation take on american lovers on the run films (with good music, though), but the close-ups of Meiko Kaji's face, greedily swallowing up every ounce of mayhem, put it on another level: a modest film about the end of the world. Kaji also smokes a lot and pretty intensely.

Return of the Ape Man, Phil Rosen, 1944

Except for the title card there's no ape in sight, and the Yeti style "monster" featured here is a pure substitute; but the film generally is, quite consciously, more on the quirky side, and there's John Carradine, too.

Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock, 1954

I`m pretty sure THE GOLDBERGS has already been mentioned somewhere in the REAR WINDOW literature, but I thought of the connection for the first time yesterday. Especially regarding the courtyard: a discursive, conversational, social space in the series, a paranoid, forensic, visual one in the film. The difference between television and cinema, but also between 1949 and 1954 and between the Bronx and Greenwich Village.

Of course, both courtyards are surveillance dispositifs, and while there`s a not all that secret longing in Hitchcock`s film for the older forms of socialization still memorised in architecture (especially evident in the scene with the dead dog), the soft, organic form of neighbourly Goldberg surveillance is by no means less dangerous than the hard, atomized, technology-based surveillance in REAR WINDOW. What gets lost when when one moves toward Hitchcock, cinema and petty-bourgeois bohemian modernism (a rather vile thought: must Thorwald be driven out of the house because he isn`t cool enough?), is the direct contact with the audience through the window opening up into the yard. In THE GOLDBERGS, the yard is the natural and only origin of the audience`s gaze, while in Hitchcock's film we might, by way of the imaginary, occupy every single room of the building - except for the yard.

Drylongso, Cauleen Smith, 1998

Reclaiming the aesthetic, one LA backyard at a time. People just feel different in 16mm, more vulnerable.

Ensayo de un crimen, Luis Bunuel, 1955

Leave it to Bunuel to thoroughly deconstruct the Giallo years before the genre even existed.

Midway, Jack Smight, 1976

Not always well-made, especially the use of stock footage in the combat scenes... bot of course, these very images are absolutely vital, because this is a film still in contact with history. Not only through the decades old blurry, grainy aerial shots, but also through real-life Navy men Fonda and Ford and real-life Imperial Japanese Army aviator Toshio Mifune. Might have been one of the last of its kind: a film that evokes, in its somber, stately, melancholic tone, not only a specific event, but also a sense of shared destiny that has been lost since. In 1976, this might`ve bored the hell out of me (probably a meaningless thought, anyway), but today it almost moves me to tears.

Tarzan of the Apes, Scott Sidney, 1918

The opening animal montage in the beginning leading to the scene with young Tarzan and his ape friend, escaping from a trauma he has no faculties to relate to... all of this is pretty wonderful. Almost as soon as Elmo Lincoln takes over, the film almost completely falls apart, except for a few short scenes with Jane toward the end I couldn`t relate to anything anymore. Lincoln himself might be part of the problem, he`s just too weird a presence... although maybe it`s just that I`m used to smoother Tarzans... Also, it`s hard to judge from the incomplete print floating around what this might have been at one time. Still, it clearly is a version of Tarzan still knee-deep in the colonialism / racism / slavery discourses later adaptations tried to sidestep.

Son of Ingagi, Richard C. Kahn, 1940

Must be not only the first all-black creature film, but also one of the first films with a full-blown female mad scientist (not an assistant, but working completely on her own)? I can`t think of an earlier one from the top of my head... Anyway, it is much more inventive than most 40s low budget horror, there`s a nice, relaxed sense of humour and the cast is good, especially some of the supporting actors.

TGV, Moussa Toure, 1998

I remember being rather impressed by Toure`s LA PIROGUE, but TGV left me cold. The film focusses way too much on the external adventure of the journey; neither the individual passengers nor the dynamics during the ride ever really come into focus.

Mad Monkey Kung-Fu, Lau Kar-Leung, 1979

The emotional stakes are not quite as clearly delineated as in some of Lau`s other films. The death of Ah Mao is the most intense scene in the film; dramaturgically it feels like an afterthought, though... This should really have been all about avenging the monkey!

Still, setpiece for setpiece (+ the marvellous training sequences!) this is prime Lau. It`s all about the art of copying and synching up, almost mathematically: Lau = monkey leading to Ho = monkey leading to Ho = Lau = monkey.

Midway, Roland Emmerich, 2019

MIDWAY is one of his worst films, but still you got to hand it to Emmerich: It takes some kind of guts to put John Ford as a character in a film that can easily be described as the laziest, most wrong-headed version of THEY WERE EXPENDABLE possible.

Indeed, the short scene with Ford might be the only interesting moment in the film, because only here Emmerich acknowledges what takes front and center in his much more interesting disaster films: the inseparable association of visual pleasure and death wish.

My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown, Jim Sheridan, 1989

A bag of tricks. Many of them work.

The Monster Walks, Frank R. Strayer, 1932

Dull mystery with very little ape content, only very moderately enriched by a good Mischa Auer performance and a few effective gothic horror shots (Vera Reynolds in grief, stylishly leaning against a bedpost). Capped off with a particularly vile racist punchline. I try to find something in everything, but some films are just empty.

Status und Terrain, Ute Adamczewski, 2019

Deutschland im Herbst. Controlled execution of an interesting concept.

Bewegungen eines nahen Bergs, Sebastian Brameshuber, 2019

Such a beautiful film... on many levels, but maybe first and foremost as a film with an eye for the particular strangeness of cars.

Im stillen Laut, Therese Koppe, 2019

Frictionless feelgood doc, not without its charmes.

Sie ist der andere Blick, Christiana Perschon, 2018

Playfull, stylish, and often very funny.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Schönheiten

Für die Zeit nach der social isolation: Tickets in den vorderen Reihen ergattern (vielleicht gibt es Sonderangebote, um das Geschäft wieder in Schwung zu bringen) für Bühnenaufführungen, die auf Choreographie hin ausgelegt sind, die Körper als Notationssystem im Raum einsetzen. Vorne sitzend sich dann auf das konzentrieren, was über die Notation hinausweist, auf den Überschuss an Körperlichkeit, Atemgeräusche, hastige, dumpfe Schrittfolgen, quietschendes Parkett bei rasanten Bewegungen, die Plumpheit und Massigkeit von Gliedmaßen, das Ungelenke, das am Menschen gerade dann sichtbar wird, wenn er den Eindruck von Geschmeidigkeit zu erwecken versucht. Auch auf jene Differenzen zwischen den Performenden, die nicht nur als morphologische Oberflächenphänomene Vielfalt evozieren, sondern auf den eher taktilen als optischen Eigensinn eines jeden Körpers verweisen.

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The Learning Tree, Gordon Parks, 1969

A technicolor widescreen Kansas without an Oz to escape to.

How to Get Ahead in Advertising, Bruce Robinson, 1989

I appreciate the very committed turn toward the grotesque and especially the sub-Screaming-Mad-George SFX, but I can't help myself - to me, satire probably will always be the lowest form of comedy.

La fille inconnue, Dardenne Brothers, 2016

The social surgeon, now operating on the open heart of central Europe! Probably the worst Dardenne film since JE PENSE A VOUS, but I was still rather taken by the awkward mixture of socialist realist docusoap and girl detective crime procedural turned family melodrama. There are cheap dramaturgic tricks the Dardennes normally never use like Haenel chosing ideals over career (that whole arc is pretty terrible), and there's also some genuinely bad acting... but there's also Haenel's trembling upper lip when her goodwill pays off unexpectedly.

Atlantique, Mati Diop, 2019

A shame that this is downright drowning in art cinema cliche, because there are at least two much better films hidden somewhere in it: a smooth female hangout movie, and a full-blown, operatic metaphysical romance. What is definitively not hidden in it is a second LES SAIGNANTES.

Secrets, Frank Borzage, 1933

One of Borzage's stranger early 30s films. A lot of scenes are taken almost directly from the 1924 version, and the intricate montage sequence point back toward silent cinema as well. It´s also a supreme studio fantasy, some of the more extremely stylised scenes made me think of LILIOM... but the film never quite comes together, probably mostly because of the cast. Leslie Howard is almost comically unsuited for his role as a hardened westerner, and Pickford is unusually subdued throughout.

Le fils, Dardenne Brothers, 2002

I somehow never had seen this. It's amazing, of course, and the most obvious predecessor of LE JEUNE AHMED.

One From the Heart, Francis Ford Coppola, 1982

Favourite shot: Raul Julia being womanhandled.

Seven Sweethearts, Frank Borzage, 1942

It`s still surprising to me just how much of the Hollywood musical / light comedy tradition is indebted to the jewish-german operetta films of the early sound era - by not I would argue that this, and not the Murnau / expressionism influence should be seen as the true German tradition in american films. Here, Joe Pasternak, Walter Reisch, Franz Waxmann and S.Z. Sakall collaborate on a film which is very much in tune with the stuff all of them did in Germany before the nazi takeover.

The beginning is a case in point: The scene of one instrument after another picking up a melody alongside a street is taken almost directly from the beginning of the Reisch scripted TWO HEARTS IN WALTZ TIME, one of the first operetta films. The main plot is supposed to be a rip-off of a Ferenc Herczeg play, but there are other obvious predecessors, like THE MERRY WIVES OF VIENNA, another Reisch operetta film. In fact, Reisch probably put together the whole thing on a lazy afternoon, using a number of old and time-tested ideas, some his own, some not.

It`s clearly not Reisch`s best work, let alone Borzage`s, whose presence is felt only during some of the scenes with Grayson and Heflin, but it`s a delightful absurdity full of interesting performances (only Marsha Hunt is wasted on a terrible role). Sakall, who probably could play an ethnic patriarch of every provenance with his eyes closed seems to have fun settling for the rather unlikely dutch variety, Van Heflin is underdeveloped as a romantiv lead, but he`s mostly busy playing traight man to everyone else in the film, anyway, and while I`m generally not yet sure what to make of Grayson, this seems to be tailor-made for her. Her enthusiastic coloratura performances perfectly fit in with the almost surrealistic bizarro Netherlands setting.

The true auteur might be Waxmann, anyway. The musical numbers are surprisingly intricate and very strange - of course, a few wooden shoes here and there aside, they have nothing at all to do with the Netherlands, but are taken from the viennese operetta tradition. The film aknowledges this openly, by way of including an austrian conductor, played with Schubert-like dreaminess by Carl Esmond, another operetta film alumnus.

The Spanish Main, Frank Borzage, 1945

I was surprised just how much Borzage makes this his own: weird weddings, sm-undercurrents, love as playacting / playacting as love and, above else, an eye for the otherworldy beauty of studio-bound extravaganza. This must be one of the most excessively artificial production designs I`ve seen in Hollywood adventure films of the times. The last scene with the ship pitted first against the island cityscape transformed into dark, abstract shapes, and then against a heavenly, rosy dreamsphere is painterly cinema of the highest order.

Besides ANTINEA, this is the first color Borzage I`ve seen and I`m already sad about there being so few of them.

The Vanishing Virginian, Frank Borzage, 1942

I don`t think this navigates its nostalgic impulses just as well as similar films by Ford, King and Tourneur, if only because here, the object of nostalgia isn`t just a segregated society, but, at least in some of its threads, the very fact of segregation (in the beginning, when the black servant girls are integrated a bit too smoothly into the fabrics of family life, this felt like a possible starting point for a more conflicted line of investigation, but the film never really follows up on this). Still, I was rather taken with most of it.

Morgan is very good, and while I`m not always fully on board with Grayson`s singing, as the tomboyish family rascal she is pure delight, and generally all aspects of family dynamics are treated with a lot of care. The ending really amazes me - while there are just enough indications that Morgan`s defeat really got to him, and might just have destroyed him completely, just like his wife predicted it would, both he and the film decide to march on relentlessly, for a few more minutes, keeping up the facade, until being saved by "The End"...

Mannequin, Frank Borzage, 1937

Crawford escapes from dark staircases, giant, unpeeled potatoes and an aggressively wisecracking brother (Leo Gorcey, a rather irritating performance) toward high fashion, skyscrapers, and a love triangle treated with lots of nuance. Like in all good Borzage films, love has to stand the test of individualism. A strange, sometimes muddled script (seems like someone at MGM wanted an anti-union storyline in this one, no matter what), and still Borzage manages to transform it into something moving.

Lots of expressive side-face shots of Crawford. Some of the most beautiful cine-writing imaginable.

Smilin` Through, Frank Borzage, 1941

Rushing through the remaining Borzages a bit. Normally, I`d like to take it a bit more slowly, but I want to take a break from those auteurist projects, and won`t be able to without finishing this one. Anyway, SMILIN`THROUGH is a marvel, a minimalist epic of romantic extremism. Pale spirits drifting through the shadowscape created by their own desire, insisting that ghost love is real, too. Jeannette MacDonald is always ready to sing.

The Climb, Michael Angelo Covino, 2019

Starts with a nice idea: using a long-take to put two bodies under stress on severla levels. Unfortunately, the film goes on for quite a while after that.

Susana, Luis Bunuel, 1951

In the beginning, in the prison, Susana`s cell is invaded by animals: a bat, a spider, a rat - iconic, huge beasts, creatures of the dark, perfectly expressive on first sight. The inhabitants of the plantation she hides at after fleeing the cell look at her just as we look at those animals in the beginning: To them, Susana also is a primal being, a force of nature in the sense that her appearance is her reality. She`s also seen as evil by some of them, of course, but only in the terms of a conventional morality built on "keeping up appearances".

Still, once the film leaves the cell, it also leaves behind the world of the absolute, the expressionistic-surrealistic imagery, and enters the territory of the social, of the comedy of manners. Susana`s urges might be primal, but they also require technique. We see what the men she seduces don`t see: the scheming and maneuvering, the repeated manipulation of her wardrobe, the effort it takes to keep three lovers in play at the same time. Especially telling are the scenes in which the men observe, from a distance, the alluring shadow her silhouette casts on a window: what they succumb to isn`t (only) the suppressed real, but an image.

Flight Command, Frank Borzage, 1940

A good aviation film turning into a great Borzage films after about an hour. The turning point: Robert Taylor, while trying to entertain Ruth Hussey, throws down a bunch of spoons, and while he (who is not her husband) bends away from her in order to pick them up, she laughs uninhibitedly, and then she grabs, more or less unconsciously, his hand. He doesn`t even realize it, but she does, and despite her pulling her hand away immediately, the repercussions of this short touch are felt throughout the rest of the film. Walter Pidgeon gazing helplessly out of a window, the once almost desperately sociable Robert Taylor suddenly estranged from his comrades, Paul Kelly (what a face!) grieving for the lost innocence of the squadron, a plane blowing up in flames - all because of this one moment of one-sided intimacy.

Magnificent Doll, Frank Borzage, 1946

A lot of speechifying in this one, just to prevent David Niven from becoming king of America... One of rather few Borzage films that might indeed have been a bit out of touch with the time it was made in. Also, Ginger Rodgers somehow isn`t a very borzagean actress. The production design is beautiful, though.

Crazy, Stupid, Love., Ficarra & Requa, 2011

A comedy from the Blackberry era. Watching it I had no idea I had seen it already, absolutely nothing rang a bell. Well, according to my notes I did see it, I hated it back then, and I still mostly hate it now. Probably not quite for the same reasons. I used to really dislike Emma Stone back then, and while I did mostly come around on her (some bit players and a few moments of slower, lingering pace aside, she`s the best thing about it), now it`s Steve Carell I can`t stand.

American cinema used to be very good with bar / club scenes. What happened? And when exactly?

The Pride of Palomar, Frank Borzage, 1922

Supposed to be one of Borzage`s worst, and I don`t object. The xenophobia is mostly external to the main plot (Warner Oland mostly just hangs around at the edge of the frame, mischievous but passive, and in the middle of the film he decides out of the blue to head east for a while), but it`s vile nevertheless. The first ten minutes (before Oland and the evil, but white and therefore redeemable eastcoast capitalist arrive) are kind of atmospheric, but the straightforward, strictly goal-oriented adventure plot itself isn`t treated with much care. Still, I would like to see a print of this one day, if only for the location footage.

Letztes aus der DaDaeR, Jörg Foth, 1990

A curiosity from the off-screen space of (film) history, but also surprisingly evocative with some truly memorable shots.
"Die Kaputten sind die Nutten von den Ganzen"

Terminator Genisys, Alan Taylor, 2015

Pretty bad, but not nearly the worst blockbuster I've seen in the last few years and probably not even the worst Terminator film. There's a complete lack of visual imagination, but as a corny time travel soap some parts of it are rather entertaining, especially the scenes centered around Jason Clarke. Even the blandness of Courtney and Emilia Clarke fits this mode rather well. Also, the film knows how to make use of Schwarzenegger.

That´s My Man, Frank Borzage, 1947

Fascinating late Borzage, that plays a lot like his classics from the early 30s, only that this time, there's a racehorse, too. Strangely, the horse is both the main hook of the film and not really accounted for psychologically / dramaturgically, at least not in a conventionally realist sense. It's just always there, as an axiom, it comes with Don Ameche and just as he has to learn to overcome is desire for independence, McLeod has to learn to accept the presence of the horse, which just continues to be there, even in the very last shot.

La hija del engaño, Luis Bunuel, 1951

Minor Bunuel but major Fernando Soto performance (I guess... need to see more).

Dante´s Peak, Roger Donaldson, 1997

A disaster film about the victory of technology. Nature has gone sour, especially its liquid parts: a natural pool attacks two lovers from below; a bit later the water also prevents Brosnan and Hamilton from fucking because it turns brown; and finally, it kills off, after being transformed into a dark, acrid hellscape, the only character in the film who insists at being "close to nature" - a sentiment one must be punished for severely and repeatedly in the world of DANTE'S PEAK.

Our gadgets continue to work, though, except maybe for the bizarre spider-like robot, but that one might already have become too independent. It has to be beaten up, like a disobedient pet. Technology has to stay servile while shielding us from nature. The best technological object, therefore, is the car. After the start of the eruption, Brosnan spends the remainder of the film almost completely in his jeep. He retreats ever further into the machine, until he is, crammed in in the mine, almost crushed by its enclosing confines. Like in a womb... and when he's reborn a few moments later, the last scene has an unashamedly euphoric feel. Not at all concerned with mourning, we fly into a brighter future: nature has collapsed and technology has won.

The always reliable Donaldson directs with lots of energy, transforming a postcard-beautiful natural vista systematically into another kind of beauty, the beauty of the technological sublime. The CGI lava attack and the subsequent passage over the acrid lake are a triumph of synthetic cinema.

King Kong Lives, John Guillermin, 1986

Has its bland stretches (the direction of the action stuff is abysmal), but its romantic simplicity is alluring, at least to me. The parallel coupling of Hamilton / Kerwin and the two Kongs, the awkward suitmotion, Kerwin's unhinged performance, the army as the only, natural antagonist of love... there's a lot to admire when one isn't concerned with the boring notion of a well-made film.

Sportgeist im Alltag, August Kern, 1962

According to my (still limited) exposure, this is the best film about The Switzerland Experience.

Back Pay, Frank Borzage, 1922

Might have to see this again some day. This time it didn`t quite come together for me, although it foreshadows a lot of Borzage`s later motifs, and the long scenes of Seena Owen sitting at the side of a man blinded from war and love are truly audacious.

Stage Door Canteen, Frank Borzage, 1943

A relaxed and pleasant if overlong passage through wartime entertainment mainstays. My favorite is, of course, the Edgar Bergen / Charlie McCarthy number early in the film.

China Doll, Frank Borzage, 1958

As long as THE BIG FISHERMAN isn`t available in widescreen, this can be considered as the last true Borzage film alive. It`s a fitting ending: cinema/love as private fantasy, only accidentally taking the form of a popular, exoticist Hollywood melodrama.

Terminator: Dark Fate, Tim Miller, 2019

Not much more than an update of T2 for the woke era with (sometimes very) bad action scenes. The cast makes it work, though, especially Davis.

I`ve Always Lved You, Frank Borzage, 1946

the ultimate.

L'uomo, la donna e la bestia - Spell (Dolce mattatoio), Alberto Cavallone, 1977

An exploitation TEOREMA grounded in small-town reality, full of wide-eyed women ready to do anything in order to break away from patriarchy. Cavallone accumulates the obscenities systematically (see the parenthesis of the first and the last scene) but without any haste. The gaze isn`t lurid but matter-of-fact, with the occasional delirious foray developing organically from the proceedings. The ending made me think of SOUTHERN COMFORT.

Isoken, Jadesola Osiberu, 2017

Nigerian romantic comedy, supposedly a huge hit locally. Every move, generic as most of them may be, is thoroughly played out, no shortcuts: how to deal with the fact, that the "perfect man" one is supposed to marry is looking for a woman "standing behind me".

The Mise-en-scene is more about constellations and compositions than about dramatic tension. Lots of red and yellow, generally great use of color. The whole frame as canvas.

Ich kenn` Dich nicht und liebe Dich, Geza von Bolvary, 1934

Not enough music, but generally a bit livelier than most post 1932 operetta style German comedies. It's still possible to escape to Nice for a while and Forst and Schneider are wonderful.

Before the Rain, Milcho Manchevski, 1994

Tried to find something here beyond a few nice images (always a pleasure: location footage that looks like matte painting) used as backdrops for the allegorical zero-sum game, especially in the third part: When Aleksandr returns to the village, he enters a different, less strained cinematic mode for a while. The film suddenly acquires an eye for detail, like Aleksandr being startled by a dog. This doesn't last long, though, the pull of the self-created structure is stronger.

The Wedding Party, Kemi Adetiba, 2016

A madcap, but also relaxed Nigerian romcom blockbuster centered on a marriage ceremony and its immediate aftermath (how to make it from the alter to the wedding night). Not as controlled and visually beautiful as ISOKEN, but with even livelier performances and a similar sense of diligence when it comes to character work: All the main protagonists have to thoroughly account for their actions, and also for their inner life.

Best scene: A guy turns up out of nowhere with a gun and starts holding two people hostage, with no dramturgic, but very clear economic justification. One by one, other characters enter the room and are also held hostage and while the kidnapper slowly loses control of the situation, being held at gunpoint seems to help to disambiguate some of the previously hidden tensions.