Monday, March 02, 2020

letterboxd backup (18)

Steak, Quentin Dupieux, 2007

The more punkish vibes are entertaining for a while, but in the end they are a bad substitute for the effortless control of his later films.

Child´s Play, Lars Klevberg, 2019

Has enough energy to make even mediocre ideas work, and Plaza is an ideal choice for a role like this - because there's always enough going on, her natural weirdness never turns into mannerism. It's just that I still can't deal with the digital imagery in this kind of film, though. They do try hard to insert some sort of grime and dampness into the images, but mainstream hd shoddiness still almost always looks like an oversanitized dumpster.

The Hitch-Hiker, Ida Lupino, 1953

Even better than I remembered. A film about guns not as physical (or fetish) objects, but about the difference they inscribe into the world. "Face front"

Der Herr auf Bestellung, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

The Sprechautomat and the Fuchtelautomat.

Pierrot le Fou, Jean-Luc Godard, 1965

A few extremely beautiful moments (the car ride), but in the end the film never trusts its better = musical instincts.

Wrong Cops, Quentin Dupieux, 2013

Plain, completely transparent sunlight flooding the world of institutional rationality and burning out each and every brain cell.

I’m generally interested in the interrelationship of comedy and stupidity, and while Dupieux’s take on the topic stays a bit on the clinical side, his great work with actors mostly makes up for this. I had a good time.

Child´s Play 2, John Lafia, 1990

Stylistically, this is much more in tune with its content than the first film, if I remember correctly. Aside from the wonderful finale, the Chucky stuff itself isn’t all that inventive, but all those paranoid wide angle shots are quite effective, especially in the scenes centered around the swing. Also, the film does insist on the possibility that the foster family indeed could provide a loving home for Andy if things just would have went a little bit differently. This is not a complex film, but there are diverging forces at play.

Also, it’s a shame that characters like Kyle who are defined by attitude and gestural coolness rather than by narrative function and / or identity politics are rare these days. The way she first hands Andy a cigarette, and then snatches it away again...

Dene Wos Guet Geit, Cyril Schäublin, 2018

alice in surveillance-capitalist wonderland.

Midnight Cowboy, John Schlesinger, 1969

Reminds me of just how loud some of these New Hollywood films are. I want to calm the images down like an overeager pet, especially in the first half. There are a few very good scenes, the one in the diner, and also later on, when Voight (who is no Joe Dallesandro) and Hoffman (who is no, I don't know, Al Pacino?) start making house. But Schlesinger is too much in love with all of these pyrotechnics to develop any of this beyond tacky and only occasionally moving male melodrama.

Losing Ground, Kathleen Collins, 1982

Once you start researching ecstasy there's no telling where you will end up at. In this case, a dry, smart relationship comedy gradually makes way for rivettian playacting that culminates first in a magnificently awkward dance scene (five people suddenly finding it impossible to place themselves next to each other in one frame) and then in the kind of masterstroke ending that perfectly sums up the whole film and still seems to come out of nowhere.

Bill Gunn dominates the film a bit too much at times, which might be the point, but it also leaves a few very promising avenues unexplored.

Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe, Valerien Schmidely, 1941

The story emerges directly from the earth, not from nature, though, but from contested acreage. The soil is poisened from the start, from the first shot even (if I remember correctly), when a mysterious figure emerges in between two ploughing carts. The film spends quite a bit of time on the feud of two stubborn farmers, one bulky one stocky, while the experience of their children (one boy and one girl - the Romeo and Julia of the title, of course) isn't really played out, but this makes sense later on, because these scenes at the same time lay the groundworks for and destroy the very possibility of the love story that emerges after a time leap.

When the two main protagonists meet again, their fate has already been decided. Their love consists of nothing but make-believe, and they know it, the whole time. Even the most sensuous scene of the film, when he measures her foot (casting a shy glance up her thigh) in order to buy her new shoes, is shot through with the knowledge of futility. The only house they will share is made out of gingerbread, and even this one will break.

They are not just victims of circumstance, either, they constantly and repeatedly chose illusion over reality, confinement over freedom. When they do have the chance to escape their claustrophobic life and join the company of a group of drifters, she refuses. One shot shows the drifters as silhouettes strung next to each other, singing and dancing across the horizon, a perfect image for the unreachable outside of society.

What it comes down to is a slow drift toward death, a gloomy romance much more desperate than anything in Shakespeare (beyond the main setup, there isn't much that connects this to the play).

Was Frauen träumen, Geza von Bolvary, 1933

Von Bolvary's direction is stylish enough, he just knows what to do when he has an abundance of mirrors, veils, diamants and cigarette smoke at his disposal. What this lacks, though, is speed... by 1933 it is pretty obvious that german comedies, whatever else they might accomplish, just can't compete with something like Dieterle's JEWEL ROBBERY. The combination of Nora Gregor and Gustav Fröhlich also doesn't provide much excitement - while he is his usual herrenmenschy self, she tries to insert tepid psychological depth into what should have been a breezy, decadent surface delight.

The most important thing about this, though, is the realization that the nazi takeover, among so many other things, may also have prevented a series of wacky buddy cop films with Peter Lorre and Otto Wallburg from happening.

Scandal, Akira Kurosawa, 1950

Unfortunately I was a bit under the weather while watching it, and couldn’t quite keep up with the lose, meandering gaze of the film I liked so much the first time around. Towards the end, I felt it might be closer to Kurosawa’s later films than I remembered it to be, especially because of Shimura’s tortured performance.

That shot of Mifune and a christmas tree on a motorbike...

Ganja & Hess, Bill Gunn, 1973

Just like with SCANDAL I wasn’t really up to it physically, but from what I caught this is the real thing, an intense slowburn, no easy way out.

Reality, Quentin Dupieux, 2014

This is not even half of an idea, but let’s expand on it as long as it takes to turn it into a movie... I have a soft spot for this kind of thinking, and generally I once again enjoyed Dupieux’s way of ramping up the randomness, as well as the mindlessly hacked-off limbs of 80s classics floating around. Unfortunately, it lacks a stand-out performance and as an exercise in mise-en-abyme, it is clearly inferior to AU POSTE!

Phantom Islands, Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2018

a soft gaze meeting damp islands...

Child´s Play 3, Jack Bender, 1991

For a while it looks like the military academy setting could develop into something interesting... its hierarchical structure is more about playacting than about anything else, the authorities seem to be too busy cutting hair to do anything else, and they leave the rest to juvenile self-governance. Also: no one seems to have a grip on gender relations, everybody acts as if the gender difference just might go away if we ignore it (but refrain from cutting the girls’ hair).

But well, the film does nothing with this, the cast is mostly bland, the few interesting characters (Whitehurst, de Silva’s red-headed girlfriend) are wasted, and Chucky is endlessly roaming the halls, knifing away from one bad one-liner to the next. There’s just no energy at all in this, no sense of space and spectacle, no style, even the funhouse ending is done with a minimum of effort.

Five Graves to Cairo, Billy Wilder, 1943

Some of Wilder's more inventive theatrics delivered by a magnificent cast. The performances actually sometimes play against the narrative, in interesting ways. The most memorable character is the italian "opera singer", who has no real function in the plot. Wars come and go, but ethnic stereotyping is forever.

Wrong, Quentin Dupieux, 2012

Thanks to Dupieux's as usual good work with actors and his willingness to build scenes rather than just deliver punchlines this flows along rather nicely. Still, all too often it settles for random quirkiness instead of the madcap world-building his other films shoot for.

Prega il morto e ammazza il vivo, Giuseppe Vari, 1971

Magnificent, offbeat italo-western starting out in a postwagon station filled with layers of violence and psychosis, spatialized in crammed, angled cinemascope tableaus that still respect everyone's individuality. There's no release mechanism available, so things only get ever more crowded and tense, with Kinski's unhinged loose cannon performance providing a special kind of craziness, culminating in what must be one of the best uses of "Jingle Bells" in film history.

Then everyone still alive heads for a desert without horizon. In a cave, the question of penetration comes up. Afterwards, it's all about execution.

La morte scende leggera, Leopoldo Savona, 1972

Oddball thriller that, despite a few razor killings, doesn't feel much like a giallo, but rather like a low-budget-pulp-structuralist take on the haunted house genre. There are 80 rooms in the building Giorgio and Liz (Patrizia Viotti, a wonderfull, wide-eyed, round-faced presence, her hysteria attack in the shower is a scene for eternity) hole up in, and it feels like Giorgio looks into every single one of them over the course of the film. But in this case, opening a door never brings about clarity or at least some kind of new information. It just leads deeper into confusion and away from any notion of a stable reality. At one point, even the outside of the building becomes part of a dream-world.

By way of opening one door after the other, an initial murder is constantly mirrored, fractured, recreated, dreamed about, and when, in the end, some of the mysterious happenings are (supposedly) explained away, the film doesn't find closure, but breaks apart completely.

Suspiria, Dario Argento, 1977

Watching SUSPIRIA from a Technicolor vintage print was a joyfull experience, of course, and retroactively justified my not having revisited the film for at least 15 years. All the more so because, while I still appreciate the hysterically trashy ending, I couldn't help thinking that some of the more decorative parts already look a bit like a Guadagnino film. Just not my kind of Argento.

L´ultimo paradiso, Folco Quilici, 1955

Well-made ethnographic film produced before the reflexive turn of the genre. Its discourse is surprisingly complex and layered, coupling the documentary footage with narrative miniatures and a rather thoughtful voice-over (even the german dub is competent). Still, there's a clear contradiction between the search for the last untouched paradise and its "pure" inhabitants on the one side, and the clear-eyed reconstruction of tribal (and non-tribal) power structures. Immediately after we see young men throwing themselves from a high wooden structure in order to gain access to women, the voice-over insists, once again, on the innocence and firstness of indigenous culture...

The best part is centered around an islander boy who grows up to be a diver but is afraid of the water. He needs to grow not out of, but into fear. The underwater stuff is extremely beautiful.

Another story about a young man trying to escape his fate of becoming a fisherman by working in french mines illustrates the limitations of the film when it comes to political/historical thinking (those who go to the mines are the "malcontents of the islands", no need to dig deeper), but it is fascinating in its own right. Although the mondo films are still far away, this segment points towards the not always all that benign exotic islands softcore tradition of later decades. My favorite moment, probably in the whole film: The morning after her murky photo date with a sleazy american reporter, the polynesian dancer who "will not be a pin-up girl" after all still dances on, alone, on a turning ferris wheel.

In a way, a film like this might be more honest than the critical ethnographic stuff made later, because it acknowledges the filmmaker's own desire when looking at the world. Of course, all of this could turn into ugly exploitation easily. The film's saving grace might be its drive toward pure aestheticism. Even a few shots of young, topless girls plucking flowers in the sea feels more like a - very beautiful - genre painting than like a voyeuristic attack.

Questo si che e amore, Filippo Ottoni, 1978

Another angelic-boy-is-terminally-ill-and-then-he-dies film. This time, everything is settled from the start, he already has to stay behind a glass front, because every contact with the outside world might be the end. The buttons are right there in the open, from the start, but when Ottoni starts pushing them, it still hurts. There's a series of mirrorings - a children's television show about a ventriloquist doll, a visit at the zoo - that might point toward a more extensive reading of the film as a comment on the conditions of mankind in the age of electronic media: we are all bubble boys waiting for something real to touch.

In a rather wacko subplot, the boy composes a song about himself waiting for his estranged father - and then the father turns this song about his own assholeness into a professionally produced pop tune!

My favorite part might be the happy-marital-memories montage set to a wonderfully overblown soul duet.

Io non protesto, io amo, Ferdinando Baldi, 1967

Nice musicarello with prime donkey content. The songs are good and surprisingly diverse in tone and genre, but somewhat limited by the fact that almost all of them are sung by Caterina Casseli who doesn't have a particularly strong screen presence. Except for when she turns into a biker chick for one number. The choreographies often made me think of scopitones...

Mostly set in a decidedly pictoresque village (a shame that most of the colors were faded from the print), the film truly comes alive during a trip to the city, when a counterculture derwish called Doxs la rabiato (?) shows up.

L´ultima orgia del III Reich, Cesare Canevari, 1977

The melodramatic turn in the second half, when the phony period piece trappings are discarded in favor of more intimate settings, is kind of interesting, and glamorous Daniela Poggi is a good, surprising choice as lead actress. But, as the last shot makes clear, the film never really moves beyond its most obscene impulses, which, in the end, is tiring more than shocking.

Il piacere, Joe d´Amato, 1985

Near the beginning a shower of confetti graces the alleys and bridges of Venice, adding an extra note of pure visuality to the already excessively beautiful images: an act of cinematic enchantment, maybe some kind of baptizing. What follows is an erotic melodrama seemingly emerging directly and organically from set design and lightning, cast into a steady flow of revealing, but never obtrusive shots. Just two that stuck: when encountering his original love object for the first time, the wall behind Villeneuve, the main protagonist, flares up with a roaring, but exactly defined reflection of light, his obsession has become visible, a flame that will not cease to glow until the end. However, it is a limited glow, unable to transcend its boundaries. Later, one of the women who try to, in the absence of this love object, relax both his mind and body, is packing a suitcase. D'Amato films this in a long, single shot: through a door, we look into her room, which is filled with bright, warm light, while most of the frame is engulfed by another room and its dark, brooding exteritoriality. It's like watching a live operation on a pulsating heart.

Not only feelings, but the very concepts of lust and subjectivity are subdued, always on the verge of vanishing behind a drony, Laura-Gemser-induced opium daze. Sex, on the other hand, is everywhere, but as reflex, as compulsion, as paradise lost, every act a mere repetition, mirroring or perversion of an unreachable erotic firstness. Most perversely, this is even true when one has sex for the very first time. In fact, the two virgins swirling around Villeneuve are the least pure of all the creatures roaming D'Amato's shadowy memoryscapes.

I fidanzati della morte, Romolo Marcellini, 1957

A bit bumpy, but still a fascinating sport film with a rather strange psychological setup that, intermittently, threatens to derail the nominally straight-forward hero dramaturgy. While the male lead doesn't do much more than strictly necessary to manage both his carreer and the two women competing for his affections, his kind-of-nemesis, a race driver gone corporate, is a much more conflicted, interesting figure. In the end, the "true" couple reunites by seemingly condemning him to death. Somehow, both he and the "wrong" woman survive, though.

Aside from the plot, ENGAGED TO DEATH is a document not only of the motorsport scene of the time, but of the fascination with automotive culture in general. When two people have something pressing to discuss, they usually drive out of town in trendy little convertibles, both to escape the social pressure of city live and to enjoy a stylish car ride. The talk itself usually takes place pitted against beautifully somber cinemascope agricultural panoramas.

There's also a cute baby lion; although the childlike enthusiasm of Hans Albers might be even cuter.

Mania, Renato Polselli, 1974

After the opening, a magnificently deranged car chase scene, it's a bit disappointing that the rest of this horror psychodrama is set mainly in one single house. Things do get a bit repetitive, with a small cast of characters constantly managing to "surprise" and "unsettle" one another, while everyone is also cultivating, in an almost loving manner, his or her personal brand of craziness. However, there's a constant flow of wacko nonsense (including electric shocks delivierd by phone and what looks like sea snakes) to keep the interest up, and Eva Spadaro's uber-hysterical performance clearly is one special, singular path toward the cinematic sublime.

Jocks, Riccardo Sesani, 1984

Last night, the aliens landed on earth. We went there, it was rather awkward.


The dark, sparkling glow that pervades the film from the start, even in scenes set in bright sunlight, finally makes sense when the final space show extravaganza comes along: What might have looked like an ill-advised buddy comedy about two disco obsessed guys called DJ and Hi-Fi travelling an urban no-man's land with their colorful van, had been a report from another galaxy all along...

This is such a strange popcultural object that even a minimum of competence in terms of dramaturgy and comedic timing would've turned it into pure delight (like BREAKDANCE SENSATION 84 last year). Unfortunately, in its empirical form it does drag quite a bit, not the least because it never even starts to realize its rather obvious queer potential. This probably comes with the territory in Italian youth films of the 80s, but it's still a shame, because while the central heterosexual love triangle is a tepid, decidedly unenthusiastic affair, DJ and his moustached stage hand would've made a cute couple.

Patricia Moore, the female leg of the love triangle, is wonderful, though, nervously fondling her shirt while talking to the boys in her van (not because of shyness, but because she doesn't know what to do with her hands), and later on, her enthusiastic poses on the dance floor, which somehow always lend toward stasis rather than movement - the perfect embodiment of the charming incompetence the film exudes in its better scenes.

Quante volte... quella notte, Mario Bava, 1972
As sex comedy, only some of the scenes with Dick Randall work. Aside from this, Bava's mind probably just isn't dirty enough for the genre. The desperation and hysteria usually everywhere in films like this is largely absent here, and the Bava version of sexuality probably generally has more to do with comic books than with live, warm bodies. As a sexy comic book treatise about the interrelationship of gender relations and interior design, this does provide pleasant enough entertainment, though. I only wish the wonderful interlude about Noah's Ark would've been longer.

La violenza: Quinto potere, Florestano Vancini, 1972

Replaces Damiano's layered investigations with rather blunt, but forceful simplicity. In the courtroom scenes, the camera again and again circles around the witnesses, sculpting them, in collaboration with oldschool quality acting, into almost stereoscopic archetypes of life in the claws of all-encompassing corruption. The flashbacks are shot through with an air of futility and finality, they do not open up, but limit, and, finally, suffocate the action in the courtroom. The reality of Italy is, in the end, only represented by the eternal, deluge-like rain splashing against the vast, cinemascope-shaped window behind the prosecutor.

No comments: