Thursday, March 05, 2020

letterboxd backup (21)

Idioten der Familie, Michael Klier, 2018

A film of five interiors and their incompatibility. Family as echo chamber. Scissors and sexual microaggressions. Lilith Stangenberg drifting in and out of her private space. Florian Stetter might have made a great silent comedian.

Young America, Frank Borzage, 1932

It starts with juvenile court judge Ralph Bellamy slouching on the bench, delivering sympathetic justice, already making clear that what follows won`t be all that unsettling. Later on, there are a few more paternalistic framing devices, some of them rather clumsy, but Borzage still manages to evoke the world of the young as an autonomous entity, with its own rules and affects. The scenes with the extraordinarily freckled bully are great and the last meeting of Arthur and Nutty (dying while encountering the limits of his acting abilities) is incredibly touching.

According to Herve Dumont, this was supposed to be a John Ford project first. A fascinating thought.

High and Low, Akira Kurosawa, 1963

I had forgotten how great this (and probably almost all post 1960 Kurosawa) really is. A film about mapping the social totality and also the national totality of Japan (Mount Fuji!) from a non-subjective, but also not at all objective point of view. A distorted, uncentered, neurotic vision of a distorted, uncentered, neurotic world, built around (among many other things) an assymetric visual regime: The gaze from above, supposedly omnipresent and all-seing but in fact completely helpless, because it doesn`t know what to look for vs the gaze from below, precarious and completely realized only once, for a single, short shot, but target-oriented and deadly.

One of the key aspects is the way Kurosawa treats Mifune`s downfall. On the one hand, of course, he not only loses his job and his house, but also all narrative agency. On the other hand, though, this complete defeat isn`t connected to any kind of moral failing, neither in the presence nor in the past. In a way we are waiting for just that until the very end: When the kidnapper, before his execution, demands to talk to him, one could expect him to reveal a past humiliation he had to endure from Gondo`s hand. But what we get, instead, is a classic psycho performance. The kidnapper _really_ is pure evil and nothing but pure evil and this makes the film that much harsher and more radical, because we are not allowed to reframe everything we saw as part of a moral universe.

The ending hits so hard because both we and Gondo yearn for just this moral universe. HIGH AND LOW is an anti-humanist film by a humanist filmmaker, full of touching, heartbreaking details like the replacement shirt the father of the kidnapped son keeps holding in his hand while fearing and pleading for his boy`s life, but ultimately completely taken over by the world-crushing power of pure contingency.

After Tomorrow, Frank Borzage, 1932

The script is a bit dull, and the film doesn`t do enough with the backstairs melodrama setting to sustain the energy of the interesting skyscraper opening, but some of the scenes of Farrell and Nixon are extremely sensuous. At one time, they seem to be seconds away from jumping each other. Also, there`s a blond teasing with her leg directly toward the camera and Farrell`s mother at one point seems to be very eager to literally couch her son through his wedding night. Lots of sleazy precode bits in an otherwise rather harmless affair.

Tot ziens, Heddy Honigmann, 1995

Garrel actress Johanna ter Steege and a handsome, married man start an affair that is doomed to go nowhere from the start. The world around them is either to small or to big to make the film gripping. Also, it doesn`t escape the pitfalls of scripted naturalism (the clumsy leitmotifs, especially). The unobtrusive, low-key visual style is pleasant, though, and both of the main actors do have charme.

No Greater Glory, Frank Borzage, 1934

Everybody is immediately disarmed by Nemecsek when meeting him face to face, and still Nemecsek has to die. Borzage is hardcore.

Gitta entdeckt ihr Herz, Carl Froelich, 1932

My Gustav Fröhlich allergy prevented me from enjoying it more, but of course Gitta Alpar`s singing is a force of nature and the pool scene alone makes this a joy.

El-Khuroog an el-Nass, Hasan El-Sayyed, 2018

Emotionally high-pitched thriller/melodrama about a group of friends destroyed by one man's ambition to become a movie director. A desire for images undoing itself...

One of those films one can only encounter, outside their home markets, through in-flight entertainment, because film festivals never really dive into non-english-language popular cinema beyond a view fetish categories like japanese weirdness and hongkong action.

Living on Velvet, Frank Borzage, 1935

Weird and fascinating, an almost formless narrative with all dramaturgic motivation stuffed into the first few minutes and no attempts to "work through them" in any traditional way.

The early scenes of Brent and William hanging out display an air of nihilistic decadence and casual irreverence one seldom finds in classic hollywood. Once the love story starts, Brent's behaviour only grows more irritating and aloof, while Francis seems to decide that she's going to have her melodrama, no matter what, even if she has to do everything herself. The film never quite seems to get a grip on the central couple dynamic, but this failure somehow makes it much more interesting, maybe because Borzage really tries, almost despite the script, to understand both of them.

Tillsammans, Lukas Moodysson, 2000

I didn't realy expect this to still work for me, and in the beginning a lot of it did feel cringy, but somehow Moodysson's all-encompassing empathy always outshines his chea dramaturgic tricks. There aren't many directors who could sell me on naive communitarian optimism and even a shitty ABBA song.

Dead Souls, Wang Bing, 2018

Brutal. The embodied stories, the exploration of space and the combination of both. Everything is out there, in the open, bones slowly withering away a few minutes away from the village, no attempt at all to hide the scars of history - but only because they are cut off from discourse and, save for this film and a few books, there soon will be nothing and nobody left to give them any meaning.

Hell in the Pacific, John Boorman, 1968

Doesn't go much beyond an expert, methodical execution of a carefully and maybe even a bit too meticulously layed out plan. Looks magnificent, though, and the double subjective perspective works marvellous, especially in the beginning.

Man With No Name, Wang Bing, 2009

A film about a man cut off from the social world, but of course sometimes it is Wang Bing who does the cutting. For example, we do not follow the man when he is off to the market, selling his grain.

A strange film that at times feels more like a mission statement than anything else but still works as an encounter with a singular, specific human being.

Die innere Sicherheit, Christian Petzold, 2000

The scenes with Hummer (who has vocal fry or at least something like vocal fry; her voice was the clearest memory I had of this) and Bingul (shuffling toward the vending machine in his underwear) are gold. Some of the other stuff feels a bit stilted and overarticulate in the way most of Petzold´s pre-BARBARA films tend to be.

Fengming: A Chinese Memoir, Wang Bing, 2007

Obviously a starting point for DEAD SOULS, although there are striking differences in terms of agency. Compared to the protagonists in DEAD SOULS, He Fengming is much more in control, both of her story and of the filmic image. Wang is a vessel rather than an investigator, here.

The scene of her talking to another survivor on the phone in the end makes clear that the film is also about transferring an assignment: By telling her story, she makes sure that not only her suffering is recorded, but also that her mission will live on after her.

Ad Astra, James Gray, 2019

Not a subtle film, but subtlety is overrated. If done right, like here, I prefer to be hit with a sledgehammer.

Also, between this and INTERSTELLAR, Hoyte van Hoytema should be credited with inventing a new cinematic form: the space helmet affect image. Deleuze would have cried. Or should have, at least.

Bitter Money, Wang Bing, 2016

Evokes a lived-in space and as this probably is what Wang set out to do, it is a success. Still, the more narrative scenes feel strange, even if they, hard to believe in some cases, really aren`t scripted at all. Maybe especially then.

From Riches to Rags, John Woo, 1980

Starts like a Hui brothers comedy (even the title song feels like a rip-off of the one from PRIVATE EYES), only even more lowbrow and much meaner in spirit. Later it turns into, among other things, a Mack Sennett slapstick action extravaganza and a completely bonkers horror sfx-farce culminating in a lengthy DEER HUNTER-parody that also serves as a blueprint for BULLET IN THE HEAD. A lot of the comedy doesn`t work and unfortunately the most inventive part (the horror stuff in the end) also is the most tiring, but Woo is fully committed to all of it and there`s Ricky Hui, of course, one of the actors I`d gladly follow anywhere.

Gun Crazy, Joseph H. Lewis, 1950

Watched it this time mainly as a study of Peggy Cummins's face. Paid off.

Stranded, Frank Borzage, 1935

As a LIVING ON VELVET rehash with Francis and Brent reunited this is a disappointment; it's also generally rather messy, but in a fascinating way, with its uneasy mingling of new deal politics and Brent's sustained capitalist-authoritarian talk often crossing over in explicitly fascist territory (including comparing immigrants to bugs). In the end, liberal reformist Francis wins the day, but brushes his diction aside by attributing it to his arrogance. Which she is in love with, of course.

Brent generally is a bit irritating in this, but who could blame him, it is a terribly written role. Aside from that, there are some interesting scenes set at a construction side as well as a weird one in which Brent and Francis are driving four giggling "oriental brides" through town.

Chi l'ha vista morire?, Aldo Lado, 1972

The everything is rotten in high society plotline has been done more effective elsewhere and I just can't take Lazenby completely serious, no matter what he plays, but otherwise a nice Venice giallo with a criminally catchy Morricone score. Hysterizing the textures of old europe.

4 mosche di velluto grigio, Dario Argento, 1971

The reinvention of cinema: the four flies on grey velvet turn out to be a chronophotographic series, like Muybridge's horses, only much more erratic. In Argento's version of the zoopraxiscope there's multiplicity and motion, but no meaningful continuity.

This is wonderfully insane and well-cast and wacky and jarring (I guess many people moan whenever the mailman appears; for me stuff like that is one of the main reasons why I go to the movies). I like Argento much more when he, instead of completely giving in to his ornamental instincts, plays off a somewhat solid pulpy narrative backbone, which he does here.

Il mulino delle donne di pietra, Giorgio Ferroni, 1960

Stylish gothic horror with a strong if not fully articulated melodramatic core; the melodramatic undercurrents are at least as twisted as the horror stuff...

Those long shots, repeated several times, of the mill, like a living being standing upright, feeding on blood and feminity, an organism detached from sanity, causality and morality, but also fascinating and magnetic. One just has to explore its inner workings, those very dark romantic experiments in love. Of course, once you enter, you are part of the experiment, by default.

Pierre Brice, in a pre Winnetou leading role, is a bit out of his depth, but in a way, that only makes the film more specific.

Anima persa, Dino Risi, 1977

Caged desires in a magnificent Venice mansion, but no one really wants to break out. Or rather: as it turns out, the outbreak happened long ago and has since been turned into a control dispositif that makes it possible for everyone to go on living a long, unhappy life.

The texture might be giallo but the writing decidedly is not, mainly because this really is a written film first and foremost, maybe even in some ways a film about writing. The sounds and affects of horror take over once in a while, but they are strictly secondary to Gassmnn's monologues. It's his world we're inside of, and as long as we do not break away completely (a few strolls through Venice with sassy Anicee Alvina won't do), there's no hope for reentering history.

Just how beautiful these damp, pastel images are...

Tenebre, Dario Argento, 1982

A very 80s Argento, much more than PHENOMENA or OPERA. Cold, sportive, sporty (especially the dog), bright and garish colours, a complete dismissal of the textures of old europe in favour of shiny eurotrash with a hint of american prime-time soap opera, the still sick and twisted plotting ultimately boiling down to everyone being out for instant gratification, and toward the end just one axe murder after another.

Humanoids from the Depp, Barbara Peeters, 1980

Straightforward exploitation in the best of ways. Simple in premise and structure, lots of beautiful small-town detail (the band!), good location shooting and excellent casting, surprisingly descent monster design and a true sense of mayhem in the end. The scenes with the teenage couple in the beginning are especially great (her hand sliding toward his ass - followed by a pan toward the monster). Even better: There's a scene with another teenage couple later on, and the guy uses a ventriloquist doll to seduce his girl!

There seems to be differing takes on how much was reshot (resp how much of the reshot material ended up in the film) but I have to admit this didn't feel all that patched-up to me.

La donna della domenica, Luigi Comencini, 1975

Just another day of class warfare. Smart, blasé rich people living in stylish mansions, playing games of words and love while around them people are fucking in the bushes - a nuisance, just like a killer on the loose or a wrongful pronunciation of the word "Boston"; in fact, the problem isn't even the pronunciation itself, but the reasoning behind the pronunciation...

A smooth conversation piece effortlessly managing to integrate a few well-done suspence scenes... and then there's Bisset playfully, detachedly seducing Mastroianni, mostly by utilizing his class-based inferiority complex. Probably my favorite scene in the film has both of them in a garden, with each cut discovering her in another coolly tantalizing posture - leaning against the hood of his car, dreamily rocking on a swing...

Un tranquillo posto di campagna, Elio Petri, 1968

Not quite as bored by Petri's action painting as usually, maybe just because I saw it from a pitch-perfect print. Still, my main problem with his films remains the same: all that flurry is constantly, completely being repurposed for an ultimately rather reductive political argument (all the more obvious when seing this back to back with Risi's ANIMA PERSA, another film dealing with the return of the fascist repressed, but without all this macho posturing). A pretty oppressive version of "liberated cinema". Only Redgrave's character, by displaying a surprising amount and intensity of grief, sometimes breaks away from the ideological matrix.

Ravenous, Antonia Bord, 1999

Two men alone in the forest seeking death, one in order to devour it and thereby to overcome it, one in order to come closer to it, imitate it, explore it. When they return from the woods, the film hasn't all that many interesting places to go to, but the scenes in the forest, relentlessly driven by the high-pitched, repetitive soundtrack (one of the pieces reminded me of the ending of SOUTHERN COMFORT), will stay with me.

The Mafu Cage, Karen Arthur, 1978

A film about confinement that might be a bit too confined inside of its own concept at times... But thanks to Carol Kane, the tension never evaporates: She's swirling through the set like one of those fragile beings from the silent movie days, a bizarro Lilian Gish, with all of the naivete and childishness gone sour, even the curly hair isn't cute anymore, just stubborn and untameable. Lee Grant's feature-length slow-motion nervous breakdown is pretty awesome, too.

Might make an interesting double bill with Forsythe's HOUSEKEEPING: two films in which antisocial femininity and female companionship are inseperable from each other. While HOUSEKEEPING strives toward the outside and the future, THE MAFU CAGE retreats into the inside and the past.

Rambo: Last Blood, Adrian Grunberg, 2019

I wouldn't put it past my timeline to be offended by the scene of Stallone effortlessly crushing through a rusty border fence, but generally this isn't even particularly good at triggering the libs. Whatever else the people involved in the production were trying to accomplish, making a good action film clearly wasn't even on the list. You have to endure a whole rushed-through, decidedly third-rate TAKEN-rip-off, only once in a while enlivened by a close-up of Stallone's weathered face or a decent out-of-nowhere-performance (Fenessa Peneda is an interesting presence), in order to arrive at ten minutes of mayhem that are, indeed, completely out there.

This last scene seems to take place in Rambo's head more than anywhere else: the tunnels of Vietnam are being transformed into his cerebral gyri, and this time, the collapse really will leave nothing behind.

La polizia chiede aiuto, Massimo Dallamano, 1974

A widow visits the morgue to identify the body of her former, estranged husband. He has been mutilated by his killers, completely cut to pieces, so the coroner covers him up, leaving only the head visible. The widow, though, demands to see everything, "so I can take in everything they have done to the bastards". The coroner draws away the blanket - close-up of the screaming widow.

This is the film in a nutshell: everything must be out in the open, you just got to have the full experience, in order to arrive at an at least somewhat appropriate reaction. You don't know what will stick until you see it (and hear it; great score!). Therefore, the film fully commits to all of its diverging impulses, to the giallo chase scenes, to a magnificent car chase (the law being outgunned by the forces of chaos, even when it's just about hunting down a single guy on a motorbike), to the blood-trenched procedural, to the somewhat tender portrayal of the second state attorney, but also, shamelessly, to the exploitation: when tapings confiscated at the house of the leader of a child sex ring turn up, we might expect to hear just a few seconds of the recordings... but the film just throws several minutes of this stuff at us.

High-octane low-brow filmmaking of the highest order, a film that sticks his knife inside an already aching country, and starts twisting.

L'occhio nel labirinto, Mario Caiano, 1972

From the outside it's a stylish modernist house up there over the sea, but inside it's rather crammed and confusing, and the garage is a downright hellish deathtrap (while the strangely imposing garage door, opened and closed several times throughout the film, aquires a force well beyond all narrative meaning, like a threshhold between realms, an object of the absolute). A domicil of the rich and secluded, but no place for happiness.

Everything is slow and subdued, but still threatening. On the terrace, young people, boys and girls, half-nude and with covered eyes. are lying around - in shifting formations! Toward the end they even form a perfect circle, heads stuck together and bodies sprawled out.

They are here to be looked at, and sometimes to be played with, but the two people in control, an older woman and an older man, seem to have lost interest (plus, their sex drive seems to have become decidedly erratic over the years). When the killings start and the young people die, mostly without resistance, like flowers snapped of by the wind, they are looking for new attractions. One has just arrived, naked on the terrace.

What follows is far from a tight thriller, though, rather an uneasy hangout picture with a few killings here and there. There are a lot of diverging schemes flying around, but all of them seem to be arrested in mid-motion, even murder isn't the result of decisive action, but something that just happens once in a while.

Il gatto a nove code, Dario Argento, 1971

Proof enough that just like Jess Franco, Argento might have become a perfectly fine metteur en scene if he wanted to. I'm glad neither of them did, but this is a delight nevertheless, smooth, straightforward, completely self-assured, full of excellent location work and lowkey excentricities and Catherine Spaak's outfits are just sensational. That sex scene followed by the milky Hitchcock hommage... Argento's craziness shines through not as often as usually, but when it does it sparkles.

Das Kabinett des Dr. Larifari, Robert Wohlmuth, 1930

So much joy in the very act of talking. Still the most fascinating starting point for an imaginary alternative tilmeline of German cinema.

Somersault, Kate Shortland, 2004

Heidi in front of the mirror in the restroom, casting glances toward the lively party girl next to her, trying to get in tune with her energy. Heidi at the gas station counter, approaching the attendant for a job, trying to find some kind of connection, and arriving, out of the blue, at a submissive gesture (the red gloves... one of the best visual ideas in the film). Beautiful shots like that, fleeting moments of self-invention, keep the film going, even if they are constantly threatened to be drowned in narrative, visual and, especially, musical haevy-handedness.

Cornish is good and Worthington, despite having to shoulder almost all of the the most heavy-handed scenes, is surprisingly touching.

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