Tuesday, March 31, 2020

last week in letterboxd

A Silent Voice, Naoko Yamada, 2016

The inner and outer spaces of adolescence, constantly dependent on each other and yet irreconcilable. A masterpiece.

Samurai Wolf II, Hideo Gosha, 1967

Stronger than the first, or at least more articulate. Every movement counts.

Der Tourist, Urs Egger, 1996

Watched this because the script is co-credited to Larry Cohen, on-screen as well as on imdb. Other than that, I found no details about his involvement online. It may even be another Larry Cohen, or some kind of inside joke. If, on the other hand, there really is a kernel of Cohen in here, it has been well hidden under a thick layer of german tv blandness. Because of its, however half-hearted commitment to genre thrills (the few "cinematic" touches point towards De Palma and the Giallo more than towards Cohen), DER TOURIST is not quite as annoying as your average TATORT and Christoph Waltz tries to make the best out of his underwritten role as a repressed serial killer. The broken marriage storyline on the other hand is beyond cringy, every single interaction between Raacke and Malton feels like two aliens playacting "human relationship" for the first time.

Killing, Shinya Tsukamoto, 2018

Stuck in a green and damp world, the only option left is to relate to each other bodily. Even when you´re being bitten, you push your hand through the wood again, towards the other. It´s not always clear how the primal forces governing the film´s strongest images (not even clearly differentiating between sex and death) relate to interiority and history, but in the end it´s probably the insistence on interiority and history that lends those images their edge, because this way they are never allowed to settle for the security of pure immediacy.

Also, I had forgotten about the frenetic feel of Tsukamoto´s cinema. Next to him, most other body cinema directors are dull protestants.

Her Tender Heart, Tang Huang, 1959

Returning from abroad, the aunt, who later on turns out not to be the aunt, stands before the door of a house she used to live in and traces with her finger the character of a name she no longer bears. A gesture of private memory that speaks of her insulated position in the film. She isn´t its main protagonist, but she´s the only one acting out her own melodrama, rather than someone elses. Her grief stems from an autonomous decision resulting in a space of autonomous affect, a space all her own.

The main plot is a confucianist melodrama of filial piety. It´s also triggered by the aunt´s return, but she´s not really a part of it, can´t be a part of it, because her own, more modern melodrama sets her apart, frees her from the net of dependencies the other characters can´t escape from. The main protagonist of the confucianist melodrama, a daughter stuck between differing loyalties, is often seen walking alone, too, but she can´t find freedom in solitarity. Her own melodrama finds its climax when she is transformed, during a tearful hug, into the physical replacement for the amputated leg of her father. Suddenly stabilized by her embrace, he lets go of his crutches.

The Scarlet Empress, Josef von Sternberg, 1934

A strange film, both more beautiful and more conflicted than I remembered. More terrifying, too, because all those translucent layerings, sprawling ornaments, the sexual spectacular, the exuberant artificiality, all that excess isn´t related to vitalism, to blooming life, but to a calcified and ever more calcifying social order. The real horror lies in the fact that the people and their surroundings are completely compatible with each other. Even those chairs carved into monsters form a perfect whole with the people sitting on them. The mechanics governing both the human and non-human parts of the mise-en-scene may be both intricate and uneconomical, but they´re still just that: mechanics. A mass ornament, removed from real-world politics and therefore without any alternative or instruction for resistance. This becomes especially evident in the finale, a ghost-like restructuring of the social and audiovisual order, a pre-arranged set of movements outside the realm of human subjectivity, like a revolution executed by a music box.

Dietrich, meanwhile, over the course of the film models herself into the automaton she had been from the start. Everyone´s a puppet, but she´s the only one holding her own strings.

Ihre Majestät die Liebe, Paul May, 1931

A lesson unlearned by most recent cinema (as far as it even engages with the topic): Love is never earned, but always granted.

Life Gamble, Chang Cheh, 1979

So much scheming that even the outlet of physical combat seems to be mostly closed-off for most of the runtime. Once the fighting does start, though, those beautifully designed, ritualistic bursts of violence turn out to have been worth the wait.

The Old Dark House, James Whale, 1932

Everyone is born with a private little secret. It doesn´t go away with age but only grows. Sooner or later it becomes so big that everyone is deformed by it in one way or other... and most of the time everyone´s better off to leave it at that.

A generous, laid-back hangout movie that just happens to double as a well-oiled horror comedy... Might not be the obvious choice but my favorite is Lilian Bond´s somewhat overeager insistence on having fallen madly in love, just now, this very moment, didn´t you see it? I´m really head over heels, believe me! Also, the dinner scene is marvellous, the authoritarian distribution of food, all that skewering. As if the violence, the mastery of nature implied in the gathering of food returns in a repressed form, as table manners.

The Dragon of Macao, Mio Ezaki, 1965

Routine nikkatsu action entry driven by Kobayashi´s cool arrogance. The blankest among many blank faces. The transitioning scenes, filled with hard-boiled desperation, are often better than the action itself. Some interesting cutaways.

Cleopatra, Cecil B. De Mille, 1934

From a time when Hollywood´s seduction techniques weren´t based on deceit, but on showmanship, just like the ever-expanding machinery of debauchery Colbert builds around herself in order to sleep with Wilcoxon isn´t meant to trick him, but to win him over, like an irrefutable argument. Wilcoxon´s homey, rumbling elegance, on the other hand, is a spectacle all of its own. Like Mature in SAMSON AND DELILAH (which is basically the same film in color), he falls in love from head to tow.

Sylvia Scarlett, George Cukor, 1935

No one jumps like Katherine Hepburn jumps in this film and I don`t think I ever need to see a Rivette of Pineiro film again, I can just watch this one over and over instead, it has all the same beats and always will give me much more joy because Cukor doesn´t try so hard and only follows where the bodies of his actors, and the fantasies inscribed into those bodies, lead him.

The Flu, Kim Sung-soo, 2013

Just as melodramatic and over the top as one can expect from a korean virus blockbuster, and just about a thousand times stupider. Might be comforting to know, in theory, that at least some films out there still clearly are stupider than the real world, but then again, this is just annoying. Every single character got on my nerves even before the mayhem starts and the ill-advised cross-cutting destroys the few somewhat forceful phantasmagorical moments later on.

The I Don`t Care Girl, Lloyd Bacon, 1953

A backstage comedy featuring three magnificent musical set pieces, each one a sexual melodrama and also a backstage comedy all its own, just as inventive but not as in your face as Berkeley. Even the Lloyd Bacon directed filler scenes in between have a certain stolid charm, all those clear-cut diagonal lines. Lots of Oscar Levant, too. Would like to see a print of this some day.

Panic in the Streets, Elia Kazan, 1950

Dynamic deep focus shots in cramped spaces, the kind of bravura cinematography that sometimes gets on my nerves, here it works, though, because Kazan keeps things moving and knows how to use actors. Even the quiet moments have a sense of urgency, especially the scenes with Widmark and Bel Geddes (who should´ve had more movie roles): intimacy intensified by the impossibility of physical contact. I love the over the top Widmark of the Hathaway films, but his controlled performance here clearly is on another level, especially when pitted against Palance who looks even more sculpted than usual.

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