Tuesday, May 12, 2020

last week in letterboxd

The Living Skeleton, Hiroshi Matsuno, 1968

Again a lot of plot for this kind of film and running time, but this time I didn´t mind. The revenge stuff, haunted by distorted faces and muzzle flash, plays like a fever dream, and although Matsuno throws in lots of horror staples from both the japanese and the western tradition, the whole thing feels organic, thanks to the beautiful widescreen mise en scene and Kikko Matsuoka´s eerie and alluring presence. A woman made for gothic glamour close-ups and for exploring ghost ships.

Might be thought of as an update of the Lewton tradition for more modern and blunter times, but once again I mostly was reminded of Bava, especially because of the miniature effect work. The love of craft, the beauty of enhanced artificiality.

Carnal Crimes, Gregory Dark, 1991

Glossy softcore neo-noir shot through with a cynical punk spirit. Linda Carol opens the film lounging by the fireplace speaking of true love, clad in a breath of nothing. Later on, she´s tantalizingly parading Skid Row before climbing a fire escape in order to enter a world of cheapo, readymade decadence. Her desires are triggered by images first and an imagemaker second: Martin Hewitt, a fashion photographer of slippery intensity, a pornographer´s idea of a 19th century romantic poet, living in a makeshift boheme apartments made for wide-angle shots and MTV erotica.

The sex scenes themselves are mostly sub MTV, though, artificial, unimaginative and unerotic. The sex is just bland raw material, in need of stylish refinement through photography and fantasy. For a while, when everyone´s pursuing rather mysterious fetish-goals, this is quite fun. Then again, the crime plot, which unfortunately insists on taking over at some point, is a complete bore. Still, there´s an unique air to it all, a daydreamy craziness, nothing is real except for Carol´s eternal teaze, or anti-teaze: promising nothing, giving away everything, and still remaining forever just out of touch.

Das häßliche Mädchen, Henry Koster, 1933

A complete joy, a slightly Pygmalion-related farce perfectly well-rounded and slightly off-beat at the same time. Starts out as an office comedy: the company is, once again, in love, with libidinous energy disrupting the work-flow. Wonderfully enough, most of it plays out in the lobby, a slow-motion slapstick ballet of inhibited desires, with Otto Wallburg as showstopper and a deadpan liftboy as secret weapon. In the end, a few items and feelings remain unclaimed, so they´re forwarded to the next setting: From the office to an apartment, from the apartment to a party, from the party back to the office. A perfect circle.

Max Hansen is rather subdued here, maybe because he realizes what a wonderful script he has this time. Dolly Haas is, of course, never ugly, but her makeover scene still is incredibly touching: a face (and only a face) discovering itself for the first time. The change in her physical appearance isn´t an end in itself, just a new piece of information. Adjustments will have to be made accordingly. The most important thing is, though, that her own attitude doesn´t change at all afterwards, she remains naive and tender throughout, completely oblivious to the scheming around her, and at the same time, of course, the true center of every scheme.

Body Chemistry, Kristine Peterson, 1990

Trashy female stalker thriller with a primetime soap feel to it. The interesting techno-noir stuff in the beginning mostly makes way later on for low-key kink and several lengthy scenes of two or three actors desperately trying to out-ham each other. The darker aspects of the script would´ve called for a stronger male lead, and while Lisa Pescia might be an interesting actress elsewhere, she doesn´t seem to quite know what to do with her role. At least, she tries to act in the sex scenes (some of them are a bit more specific than usually in those films: rather clearly defined movements), too, and has a moment when she stands naked, ass to camera, helplessly watching her lover leave, realizing that he doesn´t want to face his desires.

After having to stand on the sidelines for most of the running time, Mary Crosby steals the show during a party from hell worthy of her DALLAS past.

Katherina, die Letzte, Henry Koster, 1936

Probably one of the last masterpieces of the (exiled) Weimar tradition: a romantic comedy of social difference. Katharina´s resistance to Hans Holt is pure lumpen class consciousness, unenlightened but powerful nonetheless. Everyone needs to stay on his or her place, because that´s the way of the world. She´s not even asking for class solidarity, if she´s gonna make it, she´s gonna make it on her own terms: buying a cow, in order to no longer be treated like an animal herself. Love corrupts class consciousness like it corrupts everything else, but in the end the corruption stays on the level on plot mechanics and can´t reach Katharina´s pure heart. She loves only insofar as love is not just a game.

Like Dolly Haas in DAS HÄSSLICHE MÄDCHEN, Katharina is a holy fool, incapable of any falsehood, any pretense, and once again it is this very basic trust in the ways of the world, and in surface appearances, that makes her the center of every intrigue. In the end, of course, she who sees through nobody unmasks everyone. Koster doesn´t use this structure for moralizing, though, but revels in bittersweet ironies paradoxies, some of which stay unresolved even after the happy end. The film´s biggest stylistic gesture isn´t comedic but melodramatic: an elaborate, Ophülsian travelling revealing a break-up letter the illiterate Katharina confuses with (and, by way of her categorical emotional investment in it, transforms into) a token of love.

The art of Koster, but also the art of Franziska Gaal, who just might have been the prime comedienne of her time, a natural clown on the same level as Lucille Ball, but with wider range, a bumbling bundle of sweetness.

G.I. Honeymoon, Phil Karlson, 1945

From Karlson´s programmer beginnings, a mostly toothless and at times dragging sex comedy. Basically it´s about two people desperately searching for a place to fuck, but unlike Sirk´s somewhat similar NO ROOM FOR THE GROOM and Dwan´s not really similar RENDENZVOUS WITH ANNIE it doesn´t manage to overcome the strictures of the code. Still, it remains somewhat interesting as a snapshot of wartime mores and Gale Storm proves once again a nice b-movie lead.

Animal Instincts, Gregory Dark, 1992

Very pure in a way, pretty much the perfect definition of 90s mainstream erotica, made for secret teenage late-night viewings in the family living room. Not as baroque as CARNAL CRIMES, big tit centered sex in clean middle-class houses, filmed in a rather bland style with even lighting, the camera bathing in voluptuous female flesh. No confusion about priorities here: 90 % softcore 10% thriller. It´s all about Whirry, though the panorama of sleazy male assholeness around her is quite impressive, too. In the end, Maxwell Caulfield´s jock neuroticism easily beats out Carradine and Vincent. Caulfield, beer in hand, watching his wife fucking other men on a shitty tv screen, expressing neither arousal nor disgust but only a rather unspecific, grunty excitement: a repeated image that just has to tell us something about the mediascape of the 90s.

Der Kongress tanzt, Erik Charell, 1931

Come for the sweeping camera movements, stay for the facial expressions during the spanking scene, and be haunted for weeks by Paul Hörbiger, Heurigensänger from hell. "Und jetzt noch ein Rausschmeißer!"

The Whistler, William Castle, 1944

Castle`s deep love for the bizarre is evident in every single scene, he establishes a world of pure mystery, a complete suspension of the everyday pretty much with the first shot and has always enough ideas to keep up the tension within a rather simple plot. Joan Woodbury has great hair in her way too short scene.

Die Koffer des Herrn O.F., Alexis Granowsky, 1931

I thought Lorre was, like Eastwood, never young, but here he is and he´s weird and wonderful. The film itself goes for a "symphonic Brechtian" comedy style and certainly is interesting in theory, especially as an early sound experiment. Except for Lorre and a few of the more jarring expressionistic ideas I mostly wasn´t on board, though a decent print might change that.

The Other Woman, Jag Mundhra, 1992

The moment she finds photographs of another woman in her man´s jacket, Lee Anne Beaman takes off her clothes. To cry in the shower, but still... Desire is always tied to imagemaking in these films, seduction boiled down to visual mechanics: images triggering other images. Visibility is always total (within the limits of softcore, of course), spying always gets you all the angles, and the appropriate fetish shots, too, like in this case milk spilled over a black woman´s breast. Can this even be called a fetish shot, though, when there´s no visual or erotic latency? Hunting for images which are always already available is not the same as voyeurism. But what else could it be?

Once again, the illicit sex takes place in a loft-like structure, a wide space of pure visuality, almost like the optical apparatus itself; while Beaman´s sexless home has a claustrophobic, cerebral feel to it. Lost in her own encephalon, she ventures out... (A shame the thriller plot is so clumsy.)

Sexual Malice, Jag Mundhra, 1994

When Doug Jefferey initializes sex, he presses Diana Barton against the wall, and because he´s quite a bit taller than she is, her feet lose contact with the ground. The experience of being a few inches above ground: maybe that´s what she´s seeking.

Somehow I´m very fond of this. A very mechanical plot, slick camera work and rather inventive sets including a magnificent staircase, a highly repetitive, hypnotic score basically denying all possibility of development, learning, fulfillment: always the same sweet synth poison, the soundtrack of self-same capitalist erotic realism.

Barton remains a very private person throughout, while Samantha Phillips, who has a great, lowkey throaty voice, introduces a welcome dose of cheerful vulgarity. Doug Jefferey, according to his imdb bio, has been compared to the Marlboro Man.

The Power of the Whistler, Lew Landers, 1945

In the beginning, there´s an everyday impulse. Taking a chance on someone and then follow him to strange places while animals start dying offscreen. Later on, it´s about a race between external and internal discovery: Will they or will I find out first that I´m a psychopath. The pragmatism of american pulp noir: to treat psychological phenomena exactly like tangible reality, stuff to play around with.

A great concept that takes a few less effective turns towards the end. The direction is always inventive, though, and the cast is great, especially Jeff Donnell who seems to filter out the pure essence of every emotion she´s feeling before projecting it on her beaming face.

Die - oder keine, Carl Froelich, 1932

My obsession with this film still is in full swing. To smile like Gitta Alpar smiles...

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