Thursday, March 19, 2020

letterboxd backup (26)

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.

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