Wednesday, March 11, 2020

letterboxd backup (23)

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.

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